Monday, October 24, 2011

Debate v. Dueling Lectures

One big mistake people often make is to assume that they're the baseline; the norm by which all others should be judged.  They all imagine that they're the obvious default position, and anyone who disagrees with them is close-minded and stupid, because they have the normal position, which requires no explanation or proof.  As if such a thing exists.

And I don't even mean this just for politics, but for everything.  In every debate, argument, or heated discussion you hear, people always assume themselves to be the open-minded, clear headed moderate; while anyone who disagrees is a close-minded fool with their heads up their rears.  And they do that, not by positioning their arguments to be open-minded, or by actually being open-minded, but by positioning the point of the debate itself, so that whatever their point is, that's the one that's open-minded.

And so they're not arguing about whose facts and opinions are relevant, but rather, they're arguing about what the entire debate is about; yet they don't realize that, as they're so pisspoor at debating that they imagine they're having a real discussion.  And so you have a Christian who insists that the debate is about whether or not the Atheist can prove that God doesn't exist, while the Atheist insists the debate is about whether or not the Christian can prove that God does exist.

And these simply aren't the same debates, as both sides are insisting that the other side has to prove their argument; and neither of them sees the need to prove their argument.  And since the Christian isn't proving that God exists, the Atheist proclaims victory by saying the default position is that God doesn't exist.  And since the Atheist isn't proving that God doesn't exist, the Christian proclaims victory by saying the default position is that God does exist.  And they both agree that the other person is close-minded for not seeing this obvious logic.

And of course, the big joke here is that the reason they're doing this is because neither side can prove their point, which is why they keep insisting that the debate requires the other person to prove the point.  And this is something I learned a long time ago, which is why I'm agnostic; thus removing me from the requirement of proving anything.

My big secret to any debate: Find the winning argument and stick with it.  And if you can't support your claim, don't make it.

And seriously, pay attention to this the next time you see a bad debate.  You'll realize that they're probably not even engaging in a real debate, but rather, are merely jockeying for position as to what the debate is about; with both sides insisting that the subject of the debate is how they're open-minded and don't need to prove anything, while the other person does the same thing.  It's quite funny, once you realize that.

When Headlines Lie

And this came up because I saw a headline at TPM titled Mission Accomplished?  Questions Remain For White House on Iraq, Afghanistan.

And this headline clearly implies that our plan to withdrawal from Iraq was in question, even referencing the "Mission Accomplished" jab at Bush's attempt to pretend the conflict was over early; as well as an outright claim that questions remain.  And as evidence that I'm not imagining this, I should note that all the pro-Obama people didn't like the headline because of this implication, while the anti-Obama people liked the headline and used it as a pretext to knock Obama for his position on Iraq.

Yet…I read the article, and it was a series of questions and answers from a Whitehouse conference call and had absolutely ZERO unanswered questions.  Not even one, as the article wasn't an analysis piece about unanswered questions.  It merely reported a Q&A from a Whitehouse guy answering questions and had no analysis at all.  In other words, the headline was the exact opposite of what the article was about.  And while I'm sure there are still many more questions remaining, there wasn't one remaining question listed in the article; so the headline shouldn't have said there were.

And so I pointed that out, as well as mentioning that the writer of the piece, Susan Crabtree, has been making a habit of writing speculative articles that imply damning information; which upon further reflection turn out to be bogus.  And while I made it quite clear that the article was helpful, as it was mostly a dictation of the conference call, the headline gave the exact opposite impression; acting as if there were reasons to believe the answers were still in doubt.

Here's my opening shot:
Questions remain?? What questions? This article had questions, and then gave answers. And that would mean that the questions DON'T remain. Are there OTHER questions about this? Or was this a misleading headline to feed into people's worries that the Obama Admin is doing something sneaky? If anything, the headline should have been "White House Answers Questions on Iraq, Afghanistan," as that's what the article was about. Answers, not questions. And if there are still questions remaining, then maybe you should have told us what they are.
Dumb Debate

And so for someone to disagree with that, they'd need to show that the article asked lingering questions, or that it showed the troop pull out was in doubt.  But that's impossible, because the article did neither; nor did it purport to.  It was just a bad headline that didn't belong on the article.

But of course, the world wouldn't be complete unless there was at least one person to tell you you're wrong, and so I had a guy twist everything around, and insist that my criticism was wrong; due to my pro-Obama bias.

What was his point?  That the article was good, but the headline was intentionally misleading, and that's a good thing, because that's what newspapers do.  And anyone who criticizes that does so because they hate any article that doesn't praise Obama.  Seriously.  He agreed with everything I wrote, except he felt my criticism was wrong because it's good for headlines to trick us.

Here's his opening statement:
Actually I thought this story provided answers by the administration to questions many have raised, including myself. You people are so Obama crazed any article that does not claim him the greatest person ever sucks in your opinion.
And note, his first sentence was in agreement with what I wrote.  My problem was the headline, not the article.  And he never disputed that.  He just kept insisting that I was mad because it was a pro-Obama article that didn't praise Obama enough; even though I kept telling him that I liked the article.

He went on to say "The aricle IMO is pro Obama because it gave the Obama administration an opportunity to dispel rumors and innuendo," as well as saying "sometimes the story contradicts the headline to foil those that read the headline and comment without reading the story."

Got that?  It's pro-Obama propaganda for the Obama Admin to tell people what their plan is, thereby dispelling rumors and innuendo.  And he insisted repeatedly that the reason for the bad headlines was to trick trolls who don't read the articles so they'd write stupid comments that didn't apply to what was written; and this is a good thing.  As if the best way to combat trolls is to have them write comments that are even worse than normal.

Right.  And he kept insisting that *I* was the one digging my hole, and needed to quit digging.

Defining the Debate

And the problem is that he refused to engage on what the argument was really about.  The argument was about my statement, so he needed to say why my statement was wrong.  Yet, he agreed with most of what I wrote, while his point about misleading headlines was embarrassingly dumb.

So instead, he flipped things around by ignoring what I wrote and insisting that I was mad because the article didn't do more to praise Obama.  No longer was the debate about the misleading headline, as he insisted that the debate was about my inability to rationally think about stories involving Obama, and he refused to back down from that, no matter how often I told him that we were in agreement.

Here was his final comment:

I know when to quit. TPM, you're bad, bad, bad website with your tricky headlines.
Susan Crabtree, you don't like our Obama and I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Happy y'all? Good night.

In case you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm.  I kept saying this was about the headlines and not Obama, and this guy couldn't see passed that, and kept insisting to the end that we were mad about an attack on Obama.  And as long as he kept thinking this was about Obama, rather than taking our words at face value, it was impossible for us to even engage in debate, as we simply weren't discussing the same things.

He was trying to mock our love of Obama, while we were trying to get TPM to not have bad journalism.  And seriously, this wasn't a big deal.  I wasn't going to boycott TPM over this or anything.  I was merely calling an attention to an example of bad journalism, in hopes that TPM wouldn't do that again.  I wasn't trying to make a federal case about it or anything.  But once he attacked my credibility, what choice did I have but to defend myself?

And because I defended my position and didn't capitulate to a nonsense argument, I was automatically deemed a close-minded fool, deserving of mockery and derision.  Anyone else see something wrong with this?

The Rules of Debate

And as I said, this is fairly standard in any bad debate.  Not only are they not listening to their opponent, but they refuse to even engage in the same debate.  Each side is trying to position the argument to one that favors them, as it requires their opponent to prove their point, or insists that their opponent is biased against the truth.

And sadly, they never really engage in the actual debate at all.  They're just flailing about, as they lack the intellectual capacity to form real arguments and support them.  And the problem here is that people assume that the point of debate is to convince the other person that they're wrong. When, in fact, the point is for people to share their POV's and the facts supporting those views in order for both people to hash out Truth.  I know that sounds quaint, but that's the idea.

Unfortunately, since most people don't even know why they believe what they believe, as it's often just emotional appeals and team politics (i.e. Repub v. Dem, Christian v. Atheist); they can't ever really explain why they believe what they believe. Therefore, they lack the very tools required to engage in even a basic debate. It's like trying to row a boat without any oars: Nothing hits the water and they just sit there frustrated and looking stupid.

If you can't explain to someone why you believe what you believe, then you can't possibly engage in real debate. That's why the vast majority of debates are dueling monologues, which serve no other purpose than a pretext to insult others and feel satisfied that everyone really is as stupid as they imagine them to be.

And sadly, even when I play by the rules and attempt to engage people on their own terms,  I can't get people to make a proper debate.  Because again, they can't support their assertions, and if you're not willing to immediately accept what they've said without question, then you're close-minded and don't know what you're talking about.  As much as people pretend to loathe insult wars, when you ask them to support their claims, you really freak them out.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

High Finance is Hard Work

I'll admit that I'm not much of an expert on anything.  I make it a point of knowing enough about everything to understand the world around me, but I tend to not go overboard with it, and only get in-depth on subjects that I need to get in-depth on.  As long as I know more about something than the person I'm talking to, I probably know enough.

Sadly, that really isn't a very high standard, as most people haven't a damn clue what they're talking about.  And for people who know they don't know what they're talking about, that's fine.  People who lack the intellectual capacity to understand high finance or economics really shouldn't bother with these fields, as they're extremely complex; and even I, with my infinite capacity for knowledge, generally only know enough to know that I really don't know much about any of it.

For example, while I can easily follow the typical Paul Krugman column, I've read some of his real work and immediately recognize that I'm barely following along.  I get the concepts, but I doubt I'll be asked to teach a class on them any time soon. And while I'm a CPA and technically have the expertise to audit any bank on Wall Street, I would most assuredly turn down any such assignment as I'd be in waaaaay over my head.  That's why I keep things simple and only handle small business clients, so I can make sure I'm always the smartest guy in the room.

Don't Know Much About Anything

And what troubles me is how many people imagine themselves to be experts on these subjects, because they read a few websites by people who tell them what they want to hear, or watched a documentary that painted Wall Street as a bunch of thieves.  The guy I wrote about in my last post actually attacked me for having taken college classes on these subjects, as if that's somehow the mark of the Devil; sarcastically writing:

Well from your the brief CV, I see that you're the intended product of everything the US has come to expect from higher ed...McLuhan, Postman, et al, would concur.

Congrats on your education.
And while I don't know who McLuhan and Postman are, I can only imagine that wasn't a compliment.   Apparently, knowing what you're talking about is now proof that you don't know what you're talking about.  I guess anti-intellectualism isn't limited to the Republican Party.

Expertise in One Easy Step: Step One: Watch Movie

Meanwhile, I had another debate on that same thread with a guy who repeatedly insisted I was a "nitwit" because I refused to watch several documentaries that taught him that the banking and insurance industries are a Ponzi scheme, yet refused to explain what that meant.

As I pointed out, the victims of a Ponzi scheme are the investors, while the investors in the banks are the ones who were reaping the obscene profits he was upset about.  And Ponzi schemes don't really have profits, while banks are reaping huge profits.  In other words, this would be the opposite of a Ponzi scheme; where the investors make money fleecing the customers; not unlike many legitimate business models.  And yet, as much as he insulted me for saying this, he refused to explain why I was wrong unless I watched the documentary first.

He also insisted I needed to watch a documentary that covered the issue of businesses that buy insurance policies for their employees, with the business listed as the beneficiary.  And even after the employee stopped working there, the policy stayed in effect.  And this is something I read about years ago and was covered in Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story, which I found interesting, yet ultimately flawed, as Moore didn't seem to know much about how the banking industry worked either.

And yeah, it's ethically questionable for a business to do this sort of thing, and yet...where's the harm?  This is essentially a wager between a business and its insurer, and as long as the employer isn't murdering the employee, I fail to see how this has anything to do with them.  As calloused as this might sound, the employee is incidental to the wager, not a victim of it. 

And so I pointed that out, saying that I didn't see how this hurt the employees, and asked him to explain how I was wrong about that.  Yet he refused to explain this and insisted that I had to watch the movie before he'd discuss it.  So I told him I wouldn't watch the movie, because I think movies are a bad way of learning things, as they're hard to fact check or research.  And for this, he wrote "Of course not. So from the bottom of my heart I say, "GO FUCK YOURSELF!" ... I have wasted enough of my time with you. You are a nitwit, and intellectually corrupt."

Seriously.  I never insulted him.  I didn't use harsh language.  I merely told him that I wouldn't watch these movies and for him to explain his point or find me a website to read it at.  After all, if he feels so seriously about these issues, surely he can explain what the problem is.  But no, he continues to refuse to explain anything, and the longest explanation he gave during the whole debate is when he thought I was a conservative and lectured me about all the stuff Fox News doesn't cover.

And that's a big problem with many progressives, as they only know how to attack conservatives.  But if you're already on the left, accept the same facts they accept, and still refuse to agree with their baseless opinions; they freak out and resort to insults. 

Don't Know Shit About Shit

But of course, he couldn't explain any of this, because he didn't know what the problem is.  He watched these films because he was already upset at the financial system, and they filled him with rage against the machine.  He was angry and he wants us all to be angry.  Yet...he can't actually explain what he's angry about, because he doesn't know a damn thing about this stuff.

Why?  Because high finance and economics are sophisticated subjects that require years of study, and can't be taught in two hours on a movie screen.  I mean, I took three semesters of economics, two semesters of finance, loads of accounting classes, lots of real world experience, and I read articles about this stuff all the time; yet if I was brought into Goldman Sachs and told to make a lot of money with all their resources at my disposal, I wouldn't have a fucking clue where to start.

Seriously, you are NOT going to learn this stuff from a damn blogger.  Nor did your time spent reading Paul Krugman's columns against Bush prepare you to understand what's wrong with Wall Street.  And for god's sake, you will NOT learn this spending two hours watching a movie, no matter how angry it makes you.  I know it's not fun or sexy to say this, but these are TOUGH FUCKING SUBJECTS AND YOU PROBABLY DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.

And what's so hard to understand about that?  Are we REALLY to imagine that Wall Street is as simple as a bunch of thieves conspiring to steal from our bank accounts, as many on the left assert?  Try going there and see how far you get.  More likely than not, you don't even know enough to get an internship as a gofer, not just because you don't kiss the right rings (though that certainly helps), but because they'd expose you as a know-nothing fraud in under a minute.

Wishful Conspiracies

And the point here isn't that we can just trust what these people are doing, as we obviously can't.  Wall Street has shown repeatedly that it loves to get high off its own supply, and there's no reason to think that trend won't continue.  Nor do we have to choose between accepting things the way they are or trash the whole system, as we already know how to deal with these problems, if only Republicans would step out of the way and let us do them.

The point is that this is complicated stuff, and if someone's giving you the impression that Wall Street just stole our money, then that someone doesn't know what they're talking about.  Yes, there are huge problems.  No, it's not as simple as basic theft.  And while it's our duty to get a working knowledge of how the system works, that shouldn't allow us to imagine that this is all there is to it.  You might know that Credit Default Swaps were used to screw things up, but that doesn't mean you really know what they are.

Because the problem isn't that there's some cabal that's screwing us over to steal our money.  That's the fantasyland scenario that implies that this is all a game and we're really always safe the whole time.  No, the reality is a whole lot fucking scarier: Nobody is in charge.  The bankers who almost brought our financial system down really almost brought our financial system down.  That wasn't a hoax.  They really believed they had discovered a new Fountain of Profits, and did some scary fucking stuff that really did require billions in bailouts to fix.

When America Was Vegas

There's this myth among many on the left that the banks were intentionally screwing us before the crash, engaging in risky practices for their own profits; while the rest of us got hurt.  But of course, this was a game we ALL played; or at least those of us who dabbled in home purchases.  I myself once used my home as an ATM, agreeing to an ARM because I knew I'd cash out before it came due.  It was a risk, and I knew what I was doing when I went into it; and it worked to my advantage.  In fact, millions of Americans profited from this system.

And that's the thing, the vast majority of people who bought homes during the boom knew they could have rented, but chose to buy a home at a higher price, because it was an investment.  Housing prices were going up and up and up, so it just made sense to get in on that.  It was free money for everyone.  And as long as the housing prices kept going up, it was a smart investment.

And that's exactly what the bankers thought, too.  They weren't tricking us. Or if they were, they were tricking themselves, too.  Because once the bubble popped, they were screwed too.  We were all in the same boat and anyone who's pretending as if the banks completely ripped us off has rewritten history.  Did they do bad things?  Yes.  Was there actual fraud involved?  In many cases, yes.  Was this a one-sided screwing that took us all by surprise?  No, that's just not what happened.

The Gamblers

And so, yes, Wall Street got bailed out and Main Street, didn't.  But of course, since the majority of taxes are paid by the rich because they have most of the income, it wasn't the middle class who paid for the bailouts.  It was the rich.  And the majority of that has already been paid back.  And if they knew the housing bubble was going to pop, they wouldn't have done what they did.

And that's just how it is.  No one group was fully responsible for this.  No one group profited from it.  And this most definitely wasn't a conspiracy by a Wall Street cabal so they could loan us money at high prices and foreclose on us at low prices.  That doesn't even make sense.

Seriously.  If a bank loans you $200k to buy a home and sells it as a foreclosure for $160k, they lost money.  And while they try to recoup that with hidden fees and deceptive practices, they still lost money.  And who got the $200k?  The previous homeowner, not the bank.  And if the previous owner bought that home for $160k, then he's the one who got the profits; not the bank.  That's where the money went.  And of course, nobody put a gun to anyone's head to buy these homes.  These were investments, and as we all know, investments can also depreciate in value.  The profits on all these homes weren't made by the banks, they were made by the sellers.  That's what made home flipping so damn popular.

And that's why we need to learn this stuff, because it really is too complicated even for the fat cats on Wall Street.  And so we need regulations to protect them from themselves.  These people really did almost bring our financial system to its knees, and it wasn't a conspiracy.  And the more people realize that, the more they'll realize the need to focus our attention where it will really make a difference: Washington.

We don't need to destroy the banking industry to save America.  We just need a Congress that will help save it from itself. And that means we need to get rid of as many Republicans as possible.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fighting the Dumb Fight

Over on Facebook, I was in what might possibly be the dumbest argument ever with a dude who started off by writing:
The SCOTUS is little more than the Judicial Branch of the Ruling Elite, while the POTUS and Congress (the Executive & Legislative branches of the Oligarchs) take their marching orders from K-street... I would say that 'Democracy's for sale...', but we do NOT have a democracy in the US; that's a bad joke.
And it went downhill from there.  I'll just tell you the punchline: After lots of insults  and repeated demands for me to explain why I hate America, he ended up deleting many of his posts, so it'd look like i was just arguing with myself; which he bragged about doing in his final comment.  Simply hilarious.

And the saddest part might possibly have been his one actual attempt at making an argument, which I'll repeat verbatim:
In both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany:
wages were cut drastically
domestic programs were rolled back
huge subsidies were given to heavy industry
labor unions were broken
taxes on the very rich were greatly reduced or eliminated altogether
workplace safety regulations were ignored or abolished...
I KNOW none of this sounds the least bit familiar, but as a matter of FACT, that's how Fascism gained power...that's IS what's happening here...just a fact.
And of course, NONE of that stuff has happened.  Are Republicans attempting to do many of these things?  Yes.  But if this guy's theory is correct and the so-called Oligarchs control all three branches of government and our political fighting is just theater, then...why haven't these things actually happened yet?  What are they waiting for and why are the billionaires spending so much money trying to make it happen, if they already control everything?  After all, you don't have to bribe a politician you already control.

And I kept making that point while refuting every point he made, asking him to explain why none of these things have happened if the Oligarchs already control everything.  And I never got anything even resembling a response.  Just lots of insults about how stupid I am and how I need to read more, because I'm obviously a victim of the corporate media.  The only example he gave proving that these things were happening was the bizarre claim that QE 1&2 somehow cut government spending; and refused to explain even that.

And this kind of thing is just too sad, as this dude clearly thought he was the savvy one, yet he couldn't even attempt to explain any of this.  And his example of how we're falling victim to the fascists was obviously borrowed from someone else he trusted, yet...why?  None of this stuff has happened, yet he was attacking me for not seeing that it has.  And hey, i'll admit that I might not know everything, yet he couldn't even attempt to explain any of this, and instead kept asking me repeatedly "Why do you hate America."  All I wanted was a good debate, and this guy couldn't even do that.

And what sucks about all this is that, if he's worried about these things, there IS a solution: Support Obama and the Democrats.  It's that simple.  Republicans want to do these things, Obama's obviously fighting it off, so why not join the cause?  And that's because he's convinced that it's already too late, and so nothing will work.

And this is the sort of thing we need to combat.  We'll never convince conservatives to vote Democratic, yet there are lots of people who don't like Republican policies, yet have become convinced by others on the left that there's nobody left to fight for them, and reject Democrats just as much.  We need to put a stop to

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nothing for Evil

A Facebook friend asked a question about the nature of evil, and here was my response:

I don't believe in evil and find that, unless we're simply defining it as "really really really bad," the entire concept is a red herring. Because the point is that it's some thing inside people that's somehow so beyond the normal level of behavior, that mere mortal flaws aren't enough to have caused it. Yet, would could that possibly be?

For example, is Hitler evil. No, of course not. He was a product of his genetic makeup and life experiences, and those things combined together to form a warped mind who imagined that he was the victim of some vast conspiracy and countered that by taking vengeance upon the people he imagined were conspiring against him. And he aspired to create a new world with a master race of people who would make the world a better place.

In other words, he was nuts. And why? Because he was evil? No, because of a mix of his genetic makeup and his life experiences, neither of which he had any control over. After all, what can we use to make decisions other than the genetic makeup and life experiences that came before them; which again, we have no control over. what point did "evil" enter the picture? This isn't to excuse his behavior, as humans need to draw the line on certain behaviors for the sake of everyone; yet, when you really think about it, you realize he was just as much a victim as anyone else. He didn't "choose" to be a delusional paranoid. Why would he? He didn't "choose" to be a sociopath. That's how he was born and he had no more control over that than you had with the color of your skin. He did the things that seemed right for him to do and he obviously didn't think there was any reason he shouldn't.

Because that's the thing, there *IS* no real freewill, as we're just doing what our genetic makeup and/or life experiences dictate we do. And there *IS* no evil. There's just crazy people doing horrible things and if you were born with Hitler's genetics and lived his life experience, you'd have done exactly what he did. To suggest otherwise is an absurdity. Hell, we can even add a soul to the picture and it STILL doesn't change anything, as we wouldn't have any control over what sort of soul we had either.

And really, the whole thing's a farce, and while it's still necessary for us to punish people for doing bad things, we always need to remember that it's not their fault and that we're only punishing them for the good of everyone and not because it's anything personal we're holding him responsible for. Evil is just a label we use when we don't want to admit that the world's a crazy fucking place that really doesn't make any sense to anyone. Don't let yourself believe otherwise, as it's just a delusion. This shit just doesn't make sense. I know. I checked.

Part II

There's the old joke about the girl who thought the world rested on the back of a turtle. And the professor asks her what the turtle is standing on, and she says it's another turtle. And he asks what *that* turtle was standing on, and she says it's yet another turtle. And so he asks, "well, what's at the bottom of all these turtles?" And she says "Oh no, you can't trick me. It's turtles all the way down."

And that's exactly where we are with any system that posits "freewill" and "evil." Whether you believe in the Christian god, or Hinduism or whatever else people might dream up, you still get to a point of origin where we had to make that first decision that was based upon something that was out of our control, and that's the point that started us on our way.

If God created our soul in Heaven and that turns into Charles Manson, then God and society created Charles Manson. If the Pope was a good aardvark in his past life, which had been a bad human in the life before, and started with whatever it is Hindus believe we all started with; then it's whatever the Pope was given at the beginning, as well as society, that made the Pope who he is.

There can be no other explanation. At a certain point, we have to acknowledge some starting point which is at the bottom of the stack of turtles, and that's what's holding the turtles up. We cannot be held truly responsible for what we do because we are simply products of our genetics and environment. There is no other piece that could be missing, because if there's another piece, than that too is something that was out of our control.

Even if you picked your soul and your parents and everything else about your life, at some level you're basing those decisions upon something that was out of your control, so you can't be held responsible for the decision you made.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Anything Goes

One of the scarier aspects of many people is their undying belief that everything's going to work out alright.  And while that's a positive attitude to have, it's entirely naive and quite possibly fatal.  Because there are no guarantees in life and everything can get a lot suckier than it already is.

The Sun might explode, the killer might be in the house, the alien missiles might already be on their way; and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.  There are no promises and the world is a scary scary place.  That's one reason I can't take any of this stuff seriously, as it's all a crapshoot without much rhyme or reason, and the best we can hope for is to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

And part of that means that Might really *does* make right, and by nature, the strongest get to have anything they want.  Absent of any other agreement, me and my buddies and my weapons get to run roughshod over anyone who can't stop us.  But that's not much of a way to live, so people agree to work together under any rules they can, and then punish people for violating those rules.  Not because the rules are inviolate, but because we need to have rules and those were the rules we decided upon.

How Governments Formed

And that means if a warlord can gather enough followers to establish rules over his own territory, that's what happens.  And if someone can establish themselves as King of England, then that's what happens.  And if the King's top men get enough strength to force the King to relinquish some of his powers, that's what happens.  And that's how we eventually got to democracy.  I learned that from Winston Churchill.

And in our current system, we're not a democracy because we have to be a democracy, or because it always picks the right policies, or as some courtesy to us peons who aren't rich enough to field our own private armies.  We have a democracy because it's the best system for getting everyone to agree to work together and do the right thing.

You're given a voice in our government so that you're vested in seeing it continue and flourish.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and it doesn't matter which outcome you get, as long as you keep playing.  And anyone who might deign to remove our voice does so at their own peril, as it's the only thing that's keeping them as well fed as they are.

The Commies Are Coming!

But too many people don't see this.  They imagine that things will always be as they are, and can't fathom the possibility that things could be any other way than how they are.  And so they think we can get rid of child labor laws without kids getting hurt, or dismantle our financial system without hurting the small businesses that rely on them.

And we see this with George Will, who referred to Elizabeth Warren's speech on shared sacrifice and the Social Contract as her "collectivist agenda," writing:
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession. 
The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.
Greg Sargent already did a good job of showing how Warren's speech was making the exact opposite point that Will said it did.  So I wanted to address a deeper point: Why *can't* society choose to take as much as it damn well pleases?

Now before you think I've gone all crazy on you, I promise, I'm not suggesting such a policy would be advantageous, advisable, or sane.  But on a theoretical level, why can't society do this?

Because of course society can do this.  Society can do anything it wants.  Society can wipe their butts with the Constitution.  Society can legalize rape.  Society can choose to end childbirth.  Society can do anything it damn well pleases, unless someone can stop it.  Because there are no real rules.  There are no guarantees of democracy or peace or anything else for that matter.

And we know that, as we see what happens in places like Somalia, and Africa, and Nazi Germany, and anywhere else where injustice reigns.  The natural state of things are that you can do whatever you can get away with, period.

A Natural State

And the reason that doesn't happen is because of the social contract.  We don't kill one another because we realize that's mutually destructive for everyone, which is why lawful countries are generally superior to lawless ones.  Who wants to set up a factory if they know a warlord can come in and steal everything with impunity?  But we outlaw theft by choice, not because we need to.

And the reason we allow individuals to reap the benefits of their efforts is to encourage people to work hard, as that's what's most beneficial to society.  But there's no god that promises such things.  That's by the grace of society.  We built you up; we can take your ass out.  And if there's a god that has a problem with that, then he'll have to deal with us in the next world.

And if we help educate you, and build roads to facilitate your business, and educate your workers, and protect your factories, you're expected to pay for it.  And since the rich get more benefits from society than the rest of us, they're expected to pay more than the rest of us.  Not because they're doing us a favor, but because we're the ones who helped set them up in the first place.

That's the deal: We let you have lots of great things so you can make your fortune, but we get a piece of the action on whatever it is you make.  And we get to change the terms of the deal whenever we like.  That's not even disputable.  That's how it works and if you don't want to build a fortune under these conditions, then don't.

And it all comes down to us doing what's mutually beneficial for all of us.  And the more someone imagines they can build their empire in spite of the rest of us, the closer they are to learning otherwise.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Simple People Demand Simple Answers

This is the kind of post I invariably get a little hack for from folks to the left of me, because I *dare* to criticize anyone on the left; in accordance with the rule that anyone to your right is a prime target, while anyone to your left is a saint you should be worshipping.  Thusly, this one will once again prove that I'm an enemy of the people.

Because there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who base their theories on the facts, and those who base their facts upon their theories.  And unfortunately, people on both ends of the political spectrum are going to fall into the latter category, and the further to the ends they are, the further into fact-making mode they'll be.

Because that's how they ended up there in the first place.  They don't really know how the world works, but they're convinced it'd always be better than this, if only their enemy wasn't working so hard against them.  For righties, it's based upon a childish belief that America was once a better nation, before the socialists and minorities screwed things up.  For lefties, it's based upon outdated economic theories of the 19th century, back when the economy was simple and small enough to actually be manipulated by a handful of powerful men.

Expert Is as Expert Does

And so you have people on the far-right who believe there's a socialist cabal which is intent on destroying the nation by engaging in class warfare on the rich in order to destroy the middle-class, while those on the far-left believe there's a Wall Street cabal that's engaging in class warfare on the poor in order to destroy the middle-class.  And if you're foolish enough to disbelieve in these theories, then it's a clear sign you're part of the problem and should be treated as the enemy.

Oh, and without a doubt, both sides are convinced that Obama is in on it.  Righties will tell you that everything he's doing is the opposite of what should be done, even if it's what they said should be done a few years earlier; while lefties will tell you that everything he's doing is too little too late, and only made things worse by making people believe he was doing something positive when his policies couldn't have done anything at all.

And when all the experts agree that Obama's policies were certainly helpful, those experts are to be ignored by both sides.  Apparently, an "expert" is only knowledgeable to the extent that he tells you what you wanted to hear; and his expertise is limited to the expertise of the person listening to them.

Self-Evident Class Warfare

And where is the proof of this cabal?  It's self-evident: The middle-class is being hurt by whichever side is supposedly engaging in the class warfare on the heroes.  Therefore, it *must* be that this cabal exists and is the cause of all this.  Case closed.  Now let's get our torches and run the bastards out of town!

And seriously, for them, this constitutes proof.  They don't need to see transcripts of what this cabal is saying during these secret meetings.  They know the Koch brothers are talking about how they can further erode the middle-class, while Obama secretly meets with his mentors Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright to discuss how to destroy religion in our nation.  They *know* it.  I mean, how else can these things be happening unless it's intentional sabotage by the enemy.

And basically, these people have their theory of what's happening, and reverse-engineer the facts until they get the only possible answer.  And deep down, these people truly believe that America will continue to grow and its people prosper, unless there were a cabal doing something to stop it.  And it's all based upon a simplistic model of how economics works, as if a $14 trillion economy can easily be manipulated by a handful of bad men.

It's the Demand, Stupid

Because there's another explanation for our economic woes: Low demand.  People don't have money to buy stuff, so businesses can't hire more people and produce more stuff, which means people don't have money to buy stuff, so businesses can't hire more people and produce more stuff.

That's it.  It's that simple.  That's basic economic theory for decades, and it all makes sense.  And it doesn't require a secret cabal of Wall Street bankers and Chicago-style Islamasocialists.  And in this situation, if Big Business decided to use their cash stockpile to hire more employees and produce more stuff, they'll lose that money and eventually go out of business.  That's because you can't sell what people aren't buying.  They might as well just take their cash stockpiles and burn them.

And this makes all the difference in the world.  If you think you're being held down by a secret cabal intent on destroying you, your only recourse is to destroy them.  If capitalists or socialists are waging class warfare on us in order to break us down and make us their economic slaves, then a mere economic policy could never provide any help.  But...if it's simply a matter of increasing demand, well, we've got an app for that.

Because of course, none of this would be good for either side.  Big Business isn't enjoying this, while socialists don't want to see their people suffer.  Both sides want a return to the 90's, where demand was high, the stock market was booming, and unemployment was unreasonably low.  And sure, Big Business is doing ok right now, but they'll be doing much better once the economy picks up.

And if one side succeeds in destroying the other side, we'd see economic ruin on all sides.  This only makes sense to people who don't understand economics and imagine one side could keep taking a bigger slice of the pie until they had the whole pie.  But of course, that would only make the pie vanish.  And they'd know that, if they had even a basic idea of how our economy really works, instead of a simplistic 19th Century model of a puppet-master pulling strings.

No All-Powerful Enemies

But...none of this is sexy.  None of this involves an evil cabal or a simple plan of how to defeat them.  Instead, it's all about increasing demand by using blah, blah, blah, time to fall asleep in economics class; assuming they even took one, and they probably didn't.  No, it's much better to see this as an epic struggle of good versus evil, than to hit the textbooks and try to figure out how the world really works.

And since I say this kind of boring stuff, both sides are convinced that I'm a "useful idiot," in accordance with the rule that if you can associate the other side with a Nazi or Soviet, you've already won.  Because yeah, the Koch Brothers really do have get-togethers where they discuss how to grow their fortunes using the political system to their advantage.  And there really are socialists in our country who get together to figure out how to take wealth from our wealthy oppressors and give it to their rightful owners.

But...these aren't all-powerful cabals that can give orders to the President and other powerful people.  These are competing interests all fighting for the football, and sometimes they win and sometimes they lose.  The Koch Brothers aren't far-sighted villains intent on destroying the middle-class; they're shortsighted fools who enjoy playing the game so much that they can't see how it'll end up hurting them.  It's not that they're greedy.  They're just bored men looking for a purpose in life, and making money and grabbing power is the game they enjoy best.  Perhaps someone should buy them a Wii.

And like it or not, there's no Big Daddy that can control our economy, and no guarantees that the economy will prosper if we remove these enemies from their position of power.

As it turns out, the world is a scary place and things really *can* get all fucked up on their own; and there's little we can do about it, unless we work together and try to fix things the best we know how.  And in this case, that involves using the government to increase demand until the economic pump starts working faster on its own.

And while there's nothing sexy about that, that's just how it works; and we don't need a revolution or a crackdown on Alinsky socialists to make that happen.  We just need to use the basic economic tools that are already at our disposal.  Oh, and Obama's job's bill.  That'd be a start.

Take Back Congress: Support Obama's Jobs Bill

Over at TPM, I was in multiple discussions with people over the Wall Street protests and what it is they're supposed to achieve.  It's obvious that the movement has no concrete goal beyond "Fix things," yet if you say that, you'll get deluged with individuals giving their personal idea of what the movement will achieve.

And that's great but...there's no agreement between them at all.  Seriously, I get responses ranging from a return to Glass-Steagall (which I approve of), all the way to Constitutional Amendments banning opinionated news; which is more than a bit problematic.  And then you'll find weird rants against police states, based upon the horrors of not being able to use a bullhorn in downtown Manhattan.  I'm sure the folks in North Korea feel much solidarity with us over that lost freedom.

These people are so elated to finally have a group of people to yell at Wall Street with that they haven't yet grasped that there's no common goal.  They all know what to do, even if they can't agree as to what it is.  And that bugs me, as there's great potential to this movement, if only because it gets people's attention.  Yet I get meaningless slogans that even Tea Partiers could agree with, like "Take back our government" and "99%er: With Us or Against Us."  And they act upset that I don't instantly know what these things mean.  Hell, 99%er looks like some weird web sign that my kids might use.

And my biggest fear here is that we'll have a bunch of nutballs saying nutty things while pretending to represent the views of all liberals, just as we saw in the Bush years, when everyone who disagreed with Bush was symbolized in the media by hairy people holding silly puppets and simplistic signs about blood and oil.  These people are convinced that they're the antidote for Republican tactics, entirely unaware that they're a key feature of the plan.

My Solution

So I came up with my own quickie goal, which not only is a good use for the movement, but it's attainable: Let's support Obama.  Specifically, his plan with the jobs bill, which isn't just good policy, but good politics too..  He already set us up for this one, and we can help mow down the opposition for him.  Here's what I wrote:

The solution is simple: We need to let Congress know that liberals are pissed and will rain hellfire on anyone too conservative for Obama's job bill.  That's a concrete thing that we can rally behind and use as a good litmus test heading into the next election year.

Is it *enough* progress?  No, but it's a start and it's attainable.  Nothing gets success like success, and if conservative Dems and Republicans in swing districts realize they face unemployment next year if they go against the bill, that'll get their attention.  And that means we vote with our wallets this year and promise to vote in person next year.

We don't need to take back our government.  We need to take back Congress.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Candidate Flawed v. Blank Slate

For as much as polls serve a real purpose and can be more representative of public opinion compared with actual elections, if they're done properly; there's one type of polling question I don't like: Comparisons of a known candidate with a generic candidate.

And yeah, that can have some usefulness in determining a general sense of how popular a candidate is, yet the implied notion the media portrays is that the known candidate is soooo unpopular that he can't even beat any opponent of the other party.  And so it's considered a huge weakness if you can't beat a generic candidate.  And that's utterly bonkers.

Because the problem is that a generic candidate has no real flaws, no negative record, and no skeletons in the closet; while the known candidate most probably has all of these things; at least to some extent.  And once the eventual opponent surfaces, they too will have flaws and negative records and skeletons in the closet.

Obama v. Generic

And we see that right now, where Obama's compared to a generic candidate and shown to be doing badly.  But so far, there are NO Republican contenders who are even close to being flawless.  In fact, they're all so incredibly flawed that the party is reaching out desperately for any Republican to step in to run against Obama, including relatively moderate Republicans who have said they wouldn't run, and who have a closetful of skeletons himself.

And so this Obama v. Generic is entirely dumb, as it only shows Obama's bottomline support, of people who will support him no matter how awesome the opponent is.  But if the opponent is an extremist who is also viewed as flawed by his own party, then all bets are off and you're going to see lots of numbers shifting to Obama.  Not because they'd always support him, but because the Republican was such a freak that it scared everyone to go for the president.  Because there simply is no Republican whose positives outweigh the negatives.

And finally, there's the issue of how far out from the election we are.  I've looked at poll numbers from previous presidential elections and can tell you that the actual numbers don't really start shaping themselves until about a month or so before the election.  Before that time, you'll have the more fervent supporters who have already made up their mind, but these are the same people who never change.  While the precious swing voters who make all the difference don't start paying attention to this stuff until the election approaches. 

And in a political cycle like ours, the hardcore voters will tend to lean right because they're already so upset, while the undecided are more likely to go for Obama.  And the more Republicans ratchet up the hate rhetoric, the more they'll flock to Obama.

Even Gallup Knows it's Dumb

In Gallup's recent Obama v. Generic poll, we got this little tidbit towards the bottom:
Thus, the results more than a year ahead of the election do not have a large degree of predictive ability, and underscore that things can change greatly in the final year or more before an election.
Then...what exactly was the point?  Moreover, 15% of those polled don't even have an opinion, including 22% of independents.  22%?  That's more than half the number of independents who support Obama.  And of course, the biggest joke is that there isn't a single Republican who polls as well as the Generic Republican candidate.  So every Republican is getting beat by the Generic Republican, but because Gallup didn't poll for that, they won't tell anyone.  And so this is just an exercise in futility.

This stuff might make reporters and political junkies feel better, as they usually prefer horserace analysis over issues; but it has very little predictive value and should always be ignored.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

You Can't Fix What You Don't Understand

As a follow-up to my last post, I had someone respond to what I wrote, saying:
They're not lawyers writing up legislation. They're demanding that the political elites start representing everybody and not just the champagne swillers cavorting on their wall st balconies. Its up to the elites to propose the remedies.
But of course, Martin Luther King wasn't a lawyer either, yet that didn't  prevent him from identifying racist laws or identifying specific inequities we needed to fix.  He didn't just say "end racism."  He said, "End Jim Crow Laws."  You don't need to write legislation to have a basic idea of what you want done, yet these people imagine you can go from Slogan to Solution simply by holding a sign long enough.

And what's so troubling here is that these people really seem to imagine they're experts on this subject, yet refuse to accept any responsibility for getting it done.  They imagine their job is simply to show up and shout "Fix everything."  Well, that's great, but when the protesters themselves can't even give a basic idea of what those fixes are, how can the "political elites" know what they need to fix?

And that's also why they're so frustrated with Obama.  For them, fixing things is as easy as talking about it, and then it'll get done.  And since Obama hasn't fixed everything in this manner, it can only be because he's not trying.

Lazy Protesters v. the Banker Cabal

And seriously, this just won't do.  These people imagine they're the responsible ones taking a stand, yet they refuse to do any of the hard work.  Holding a sign is easy.  Crafting good legislation is extremely difficult, even under the best of conditions.  Yet these people not only want to leave the legislation to legislators (which I understand), but refuse to even identify basic solutions to our problems.  And that's just lazy.  It's no different from Tea Partiers who rant against Obama, yet can't identify any specific areas to fix.

These people aren't trying to change the world.  They're wanting to live in a fantasy, which makes them heroes combating villains; yet without any actual combat.  Hell, they don't even think they should be arrested for breaking the law!  They say Wall Street bankers broke the law, well what law?  They say we need to make things more fair, but don't even know exactly what is making things so unfair.  They're just the messengers, they say.  It's for others to figure out what needs to be fixed.  And that's just lazy.

And of course, the real problem is that they don't even understand how complicated our system really is, as they've got this insane idea that there's a ruling class that works together to do whatever they want.  And a media elite that gets together and determines what will and won't be covered in the news.  And that's not sane, and if anyone is basing their "fix everything" solution on the idea that a cabal can get together and fix everything, it's no wonder they can't find any solutions, because they don't even know how our system works.  And you can't fix what you don't understand.  They know bankers are stealing our money and that's good enough for them.

And so that's why they're so frustrated when we call them aimless.  Because they really do think the bankers on Wall Street will soon get together and decide to stop being bad.  It's just that simple.  And after that, Obama and the GOP will get a call from this bankers cabal and be told what laws they need to pass and everything will be happy and fair.  Huzzah!  Fixing things is as talking about it.

Now I'm going to go hold a sign telling my kitchen to clean itself.  I mean, I'd do it myself, but I'm no maid; so this is the next best solution.  It's got to work.

Wall Street Protesters Demand Better Slogans

As you've probably heard, there's a group of people protesting on Wall Street.  What are they protesting for?  The end to greed and inequality, as well as the prosecution of Wall Street fat cats for breaking laws that probably don't exist.

Seriously, TPM had an article about this, which mentioned that the goals of the group weren't really defined, as the protesters themselves disagree about what needs to be done.  Sure, they all agree to a basic level of "greed is bad," but beyond that, there are no actual policies they can agree to.

And many readers took exception to that, condescendingly writing comments like the following:

The aim uncertain? Really, TMP, really?!
The aim is stop the corporate greed, restructure the financial system, hold accountable the crooks who cause the financial meltdown, stop the corporate loop holds, make the 1% pay their responsible share, end BIG money politics.
Now what part of that don't you understand?
Oh, ok.   Stop greed, restructure financial system, and hold people accountable.  Of course, now I know *exactly* what I'd be supporting if I sent them money: Feel good slogans and a general dissatisfaction with the way things are.  Great.  Let me bust out my checkbook.

Slogans v. Policies

Below is a comment I wrote there, which I'm sure the person would disagree with, without being able to explain why it's wrong.
Ok, the part I don't understand is: What the hell does this mean?

Stop corporate greed? That's not a policy, that's a slogan. Restructure the financial system, how? Hold the crooks accountable? How? The ones that obviously broke the law are being prosecuted every day, but most of what went on was legal. End big money politics, how? Seriously, these aren't real goals, these are generic concepts. But unless they have a basic plan for what they want done, this whole endeavor is for nothing.
We're never going to stop greed, though we can certainly bring back laws and regulations we used in the past to prevent the abuses of greed, as well as making our laws more effective. But until these people have a basic idea of what those remedies are, then this whole thing is an exercise in futility. As things stand, I have *NO IDEA* what exactly I'd be supporting if I supported this movement. Are we talking a few tweaks to our laws, as I think we need? Or are we talking about a radical overhaul of our entire system, as many of these people say they want? Because that's something I most definitely would NOT support.

Until some specific goals are outlined, this movement isn't going anywhere.
And what's sad is that the reason these people don't understand why this is a problem is because they don't understand exactly what it is that Wall Street did wrong.  I'll be considered a corporate stooge for not agreeing with them, because they have no idea how vague all this is and don't know enough to realize it.

It's like going to the doctor because you're coughing up blood and his prognosis is that you're sick.  And you'd be like, "Well no fucking shit I'm sick, but what's wrong with me?"  And all he could do is to continue to tell you that you're sick while belittling you for not agreeing with his assessment.

Where's the Crime?

One commenter insisted that the "crime" was in taking our money and denying it for public services, yet I suspect he'd have a hard time finding that law on the books.  And that's one of the problems, in that what most of these bankers and brokers did wasn't illegal; while we already HAVE been prosecuting the ones who broke obvious laws.

And so we'd have a nice policy goal right here by identifying exactly what they did wrong and making it illegal.  But since these people already believe crimes have been committed, that's not a policy goal they can have, because they imagine we already have laws about it.

It's the same as with people who accuse Obama of "war crimes," completely unfamiliar with what a war crime really is, as they imagine every war they don't agree with is criminal.  Needless to say, the Hague has a slightly different standard for these things.

Protesting the Wrong People

Because yeah, greed and inequality are bad, and there certainly ARE many things we should do to fix these things.  But seeing as how all these remedies need to happen in Washington, which Republicans control and who will NEVER agree to ANY of this stuff...what's the point?  When MLK protested, he had a specific goal in mind and addressed it to the people who could do something about it. He didn't go to the KKK headquarters and demand they stop being racist.  He took it to the people and said which things needed to be fixed.

These new protesters, on the other hand, have picked a fairly useless target to protest (Wall Street bankers who will merely laugh at the protesters), instead of picking actual targets who we have leverage on and who have the power to do something about it (elected officials).  In fact, the best use of their energy would be to target Republicans and right-leaning Dems, to put the pressure on them.

But of course, they'd STILL need to know what they wanted these people to do.  They need to identify specific areas that need to be fixed, not make vague demands about changing our entire system from the ground up; as if that really meant anything.  I mean, who exactly would do this, when the main people who understand best how Wall Street works are the very ones screwing us in the first place?  While many of these protesters know they don't like Wall Street, they have never bothered to learn exactly what it does, beyond taking our money and screwing us over.

Reinstating regulations on the size of these banks and the risky activities they engage in is a practical goal; which is acheivable.  Trying to "end greed" is not one.  Nor is demanding that we arrest people for being greedy.  Until these people can give us a better idea of what it is they want us to do, they're unlikely to see much success.

As much as I'd *like* to be able to support them, I can't possibly do so until I know what I'm supporting.  To do otherwise is absurd.  Yes, the patient is sick, but until I'm given some idea of what the doctor wants, I can't possibly know if I support it.

When Libertarians Dream

I have a confession: I've kinda got a soft spot in my heart for hardcore libertarians of the Randian-anarchist variety.  Because they're just so damned earnest in their beliefs.  For as much as they like to believe they're the cynical reality-based objectivists Rand idealized, just a quick review of their basic belief system exposes them to be the wide-eyed dreamers they really are.

Like with their belief that everything will work out, as long as government authoritarians step out of the way and let people live their lives.  But why?  Why do they assume that nature will protect them, when they fully acknowledge that anything goes and the weak should perish?  More importantly, they can never explain how, without laws and government, they could possibly prevent authoritarians from taking over and forming a tyrannical government.

Because that's the thing: It's not as if our governments just formed themselves overnight or were imposed upon us by aliens.  Instead, our current system is the product of thousands of years of people doing whatever the hell they want, and this is the outcome.  This is how anarchy arranged itself.  Human history has been a long experiment in anarchy, and so far, it's led to powerful men ruling our lives with laws, taxes, and police.  I mean, duh!

And yet these people really imagine that they'd be the masters of their domain, if only the power-mongers stepped out of the way and let them do their thing; completely unaware that Rand was arguing on behalf of the power-mongers, whether she knew it or not.  It just doesn't occur to these innocent naifs that power-mongers will always exist and that government and democracy is the best proven method for dealing with them.

These people aren't looking for a new solution to government; they're looking for a do-over button, in hopes of trying it again.  But unless your system of anarchy can prevent me and my buddies from taking over, then a do-over is the last thing you want.

Lassiez Faire Fairies

And so I read with relish when I stumbled upon such a person discussing his trials and tribulations with a like-minded group of anarchist libertarians.  It was part of a movement called Lassiez Faire City, which apparently was setup in Costa Rica, as a way of finally establishing the libertarian utopia they keep imagining can exist.

As he explained it:
LFC was an organization that had some publicity in the mid-nineties for gathering money in a trust to found a free city. Unfortunately, it couldn't find a willing government with reasonable land, and the project lost steam. It was reinvented as a project to create an independent, sovereign state in cyberspace, with physical territory as a longer-term goal. Dodge City was the most visible arm of the project to outsiders, being a sort of web-based BBS with message groups, internal email, and access to various LFC projects being tested, such as an internal stock exchange.
Needless to say it didn't work.  And from what I read, the whole thing sounds like a total scam, with the people in charge bilking the rest out of their hard earned money.  And what's so hilarious about this is reading the libertarians complaining about this, while continuing to go along with it.  And rather than realize they were scammed, they instead think the people running it just didn't understand the philosophy properly.

But of course, that's completely backwards: The guys running this thing understood Randian libertarianism perfectly. It was the suckers who were confused.  The leaders came up with an idea for making money and reaped the benefits of their idea.  It's not their fault that the people who gave them the money had a different idea in mind.

I mean, what would you think about an online group that was established to sell web services, and yet their only income source were "founders" who paid $5000 a pop for the privilege, and rather than provide the services they were supposed to provide, they instead used funds to "sponsor teams of kids across the world on internet projects."  Right.

And when anyone questioned this on the messageboard, they were attacked, censored, and finally banned from the group; never having received answers to their basic questions about where the money was going and why they weren't hiring more programmers to finish any of the projects.  Needless to say, they didn't get their $5k back after they were kicked out.

Now, the natural assumption would be that it's a scam, right?  I mean, duh.  The money didn't go to teams of kids across the world.  It went into the pockets of the people running the site.  Duh.  And yet these libertarians were so infatuated with their fantasy world that they refused to admit to this possibility, and preferred to believe that the offending leaders of the group didn't understand libertarianism well enough.  And really, that's just tooooo cute, right?

But as this page from 2003 will attest, when the group finally split up, having collected millions of dollars from Randian suckers, all they had to auction off was an encrypted email service that had been created by a separate group, as well as posters showing what their ideal city would eventually look like.  How precious.

Building on Quicksand

And just so you understand, I actually agreed with much of what the guy said and believe him to be quite intelligent...when he wasn't talking about our "terrorist government" and his inability to realize he had been scammed, anyway.  And that's what makes it so mystifying that he could be so stupid about all this.

But of course, no one is truly all-intelligent or all-dumb, and it was likely the shaky Randian foundations in his brain that allowed him to be so blind to reality, while the other parts of his brain functioned properly.  It's like someone building a house and placing the bedroom over quicksand.  The rest of the house might be fine, but you'll need to find somewhere else to sleep.

And the funniest part about reading his story was that so many of his complaints really boiled down to him not being in charge.  He kept coming up with good ideas about how things should be done, ranging from encryption on software to the seating arrangement at the LFC bar in Costa Rica.  And since they weren't doing it "right," they were wrong and part of the problem.

And that's the thing: He had his idea of how things should be done and was miffed that no one was following his suggestions.  Typical Randian: It only works when they're the one in charge.  That's why Ayn Rand was the undisputed voice of her movement, while everyone else had to shut up and repeat what she said.  That's not the outcome of her philosophy; that was the point.

Our Momentary Ego-Thing

And really, the whole damn thing was a farce.  Even if these people weren't scammed, and I'm sure they were, they were still stuck in an authoritarian group that ruled with an iron fist, instituted arbitrary rules, and dealt with dissent with censorship and banishment.  Seriously.

And yet like abused wives, they'd send private emails to one another, quietly complaining about this in hopes of changing things for the better, rather than understanding that they were part of the dumbest group on the internet and needed to move on.  I'm sure Ayn Rand, a world-class cult leader of her own, was laughing in her grave about this one.

From that 2003 page, I found this little bit of hilarity:
Freedom lovers need community -- not just "cybercommunity," which we have, but real-world communities and networks of mutual interest and support. But we tend to be absolutely lousy at long-term cooperative endeavors. The most philosophically "pure" of us, especially, seem to lose sight of the fact that, in order to accomplish anything with a group, we have to put the group goal ahead of our momentary "ego-thing." 
Uhh, looks like someone forgot the entire lesson of everything Ayn Rand wrote.  I mean, putting the group goal ahead of the "ego-thing" is the very anthesis of Randian thinking.  That's why the rest of us know it's so ridiculous, dummy.  I mean, duh.  The whole point of their philosophy is that individuals don't need the community, as communities are parasites that drain the talents of the individual.  I knew that simply from watching Foutainhead, as it was the whole point of the movie!

Yet, these people are convinced that if they work together as a team and follow the unwritten rules of everything, we'll finally get our ideal society that has no rules and abhors teamwork.  And it's that exact sort of delusional obliviousness that makes them so damn adorable.

It's because of people like this that Ayn Rand didn't have to work for a living.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

When Ideology Meets Reality: The Contradictions of Liberal Conservatives

What's so annoying about talking to my rightwing mom is that I *know* that she's a liberal.  She's *totally* a liberal.  Once you get passed the rhetoric and listen to what she really wants, they're all solutions that can only come from a liberal, while the conservative policies she advocates are responsible for the problems she's complaining about in the first place!

And it's not just her: Almost EVERY conservative really wants liberalism, if only they'd allow themselves to think it.  And if they could erase our minds and grab our policy solutions on everything, they'd gladly do so and be grateful that they finally got a platform that makes sense.

Yeah, they'll wail about how unfortunate it is that Obama's stifling the economy with all that uncertainty caused by him not doing what they were told he was going to do (i.e., anti-gun Islamic socialism), but underneath it all, they know the problem is lack of demand and would like nothing better than to use stimulus spending to pay businesses to build things and improve what we have...if only that wasn't the liberal solution.

Let Them Eat Chalk!

Like with the issue of free lunches for children.  Seriously, I'm of the opinion that a proper nutrition is essential for a child to learn and believe that all school children should be given a basic free lunch that is hardy enough to sustain them for the day, not just as a benefit to the parents or the child, but to the school.  Hungry kids don't learn and have more behavior problems, period.

As things are, when schools do have meals for children who can't pay, it's usually little more than a PB&J with a pint of milk; as if that was adequate nutrition.  And older students are simply told to do without food all together.  Seriously.  If the student doesn't have money, they just have to tough it and go hungry.  And again, it's for the benefit of the school, other students, and society if children are properly fed.  So if any parent feels they can't afford to feed their kid and want to take advantage of these programs, I say, let 'em.  As long as the funds go towards feeding a kid, I can't imagine what the problem would be.

And that shouldn't even be controversial.  Yet conservatives don't like the idea of any free lunches, and as Montana millionaire Rep Dennis Rehberg (R-$$) believes, the program is probably rife with fraud of parents claiming to make less money than they do in order to have their children fed with tax dollars.  Because yeah, the $600-$700 a year these people are costing us is really going to be worth the added layers of bureaucracy required to make sure it's not happening.

But of course, that's why their ultimate goal is really just to get rid of the lunch program all together, and as noted in my last post, that means that their only solution can be one that involves getting rid of the lunch program.  The idea that anyone's getting a free lunch is deplorable enough for them, but to think that someone might get their kid a free lunch fraudulently...well then, that's the final straw and it's time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Apparently, 'tis better that many children go hungry than one kid get fed erroneously.

No Free Lunches

And my mom feels that exact same way.  Every time we get started talking about free lunch programs, she's instantly against them.  But then, she gets into an odd strain of thinking, as she begins to discuss another reason the lunch program is bad, based upon her personal experience: It's too difficult to get.

And that's from when she was involved with the Catholic school at her church and lamented how they couldn't get the free lunch program because there were too many hoops for them to jump through and bureaucratic audits to make sure the money wasn't being spent fraudulently; and they didn't want to follow the regulations.

That's right: She was complaining that more children weren't getting free lunches, and that there were too many safeguards in place to prevent fraud.  And yeah, on the surface, that fits the conservative line, as it's all about government red-tape and whatnot.  But...the underlying message is quite clear: We need more free lunches.

Her ideology and rhetoric tell her to hate free lunches.  Yet in practice, she understands the importance of these programs and would like to see them expanded; which, of course, is the liberal position.  While the conservative position is to deny these programs all together and make everyone pay for their own lunches.  I tried explaining that to her, but to no avail.

Government is People

And we see this sort of contradiction all the time.  People who complain about fraud in Social Security and Medicare, who also complain about red-tape making it difficult to get benefits or doctors willing to accept the limited payouts.  Or they complain about government interference in healthcare, yet rant endlessly about how their health insurer screwed them over and tried to deny them care while lying to them about it; as well as lamenting the high cost of healthcare and wanting someone to do something about it.

And really, you can see this again and again, as long as you stay away from their rhetorical hand grenades and keep the focus on reality and their real problems.  And the secret is to look for the openings and push past the rhetoric.  You might not see when they're pushing for liberal policies, but it's there.  You just have to keep them talking about reality and actual problems, and not the fantasy problems talk radio and Fox warn them about.

Because ultimately, they don't really want conservative policies.  They don't want a free-for-all which allows the powerful to trample them.  What they want is that ideal world Rush Limbaugh keeps telling them about, where everyone takes care of everyone and no one needs Big Daddy Government getting in the way of that.  And if they could only internalize the idea that the government is people, and is our way of ensuring that everyone takes care of everyone, they wouldn't be suffering from these contradictions.

But until then, they'll keep attacking big government until it finally steps out of the way and lets us work together to fix our problems collectively.  Sigh...

Conservative Problem Solving: Don't Dream It, Be It

The problem with conservatives is that they look at how they imagine the world *should* be, and then work backwards to determine the best way of making life work exactly like that; no matter how unrealistic that may be.  Moreover, the only problems they see pertain to how life doesn't match how they imagine it should be, and their solution is simply to deny the possibility that any other life is advisable.

For example, they "know" that Mexican citizens shouldn't be living in our country.  And so they develop all sorts of rationales for why they shouldn't be here; complaining about how they don't pay taxes and get lots of great perks that regular citizens don't get, and how they don't learn English and are lazy.

But of course, the easy solution for that would be to create a citizenship program which required immigrants to learn English and hold a job for a certain amount of time.  Problem solved.  They'd pay their taxes, learn English, and work hard.  And that's not such a crazy solution, as Obama's already suggested it.

Yet...conservatives can't endorse that policy because they aren't REALLY trying to solve the problem of lazy foreign parasites.  Their REAL problem is that Mexican citizens shouldn't be here, period.  If your solution doesn't fix that, then they don't want to hear it.  I mean, not that they're racist or anything.  It's just that...Mexicans just shouldn't be here, period.

No Teen Sex

Or like the problem of sex.  They "know" that no one should have sex unless they're married and ready to have a baby.  And they insist this is important because of the risk of unwanted babies, sexual diseases, and the sheer misery of having sex without God's approval.

But of course, we have easy solutions for that too: Pills, rubbers, and abortions.  And if you don't want to live with your god's disapproval, get a new god.  Problem solved.

Yet...conservatives can't support that policy because they aren't REALLY trying to solve the problem of unwanted babies and sex diseases.  In fact, they actually encourage such things, as punishments to the sinners and warnings to the others.  No, their REAL problem is that they don't want people to have sex unless they're married and ready to have a baby, and the mere suggestion that you can have sex under any other circumstance is abhorrent.

...unless you're the one wanting to have sex, in which case you can go ahead and do it, and then beg for forgiveness if you're caught.  But no one else is allowed to do that!  Only the special people for whom the rules don't apply.

The List Goes On

And you can go on and on with these sort of examples.  They believe that you can grow the economy by removing billions of dollars from it and firing lots of workers, and so their solution can only involve those fixes.  They think the free market should solve all problems, so their only solution is to go back to the days when the free market was screwing everything up.  They believe that regular folks are actually SMARTER than the people who understand what they're talking about, and so their solution is to get all the experts out of the way so the plain folks can institute their common sense policies and practical advice.

The list goes on and on.  Seriously, if you look at a conservative solution, you've already found what they were looking for.  There's no point in doing anything, besides aiming directly for your target and going for it.  You want a society where men are men and women stay home?  Then treat women like slaves and gays like outcasts.  You think drugs are bad?  Outlaw drugs.  It's all soooo simple when all you have to do is to act out your solution.

And these people simply can't see anything else.  To even *suggest* that we accept an imperfect world is to advocate for imperfect worlds.  And that's why they really do believe that we want Mexicans stealing our resources, doing our daughters, and enlarging our government.  We're looking for solutions that still permit these horrible outcomes, so these must be the things we want.

To conservatives, solving a problem is as simple as denying the possibility of any other outcome.  If you can dream it, be it; and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.