21 January 2017

EMOTION AND POLITICS

Much of the rancor one sees in political life is basically rooted in emotion, and therefore irrational in its fundamental state. Ideology stems from the same root, which is also not rational, and hence the more ideological things become the less reason prevails and the more susceptible people become to nonsense claims, usually about the other “side.”  Now since the response is emotional it is also personal, which frequently involves projecting personal concerns or deficiencies out onto others, or society. That being the case it can never be ameliorated as long as that false understanding prevails, and so such people are never happy, and seemingly always angry about something someone else is doing. 

There have been many academic studies purporting to explain irrational political behavior, but it is always ends up as characterizing only the right, thus betraying the left-wing bias of their world view, especially in fields like psychology. For while there is an emotional basis for ideology, it applies to both sides, and in fact there is arguably more intense emotion on the left. This is evidenced in the remarks of an actress suggesting that the new President hates “foreigners” among other things, irrespective of the fact that he is married to one, thus attacking a yahoo straw man that does not exist.  It was a perfect example of an emotional argument making absolutely no sense. The angry response was also beneath the dignity of a President, along the lines of: you attacked me so I’m going to attack you.

Nevertheless, the emotional component is far more prevalent among those on the left. They are forever trying to shut up and silence anything they don’t like, or preventing others from speaking. Failing this they will attempt to organize boycotts that never gain any support, and indeed often provoke a reaction that is the opposite of their intent. They will also threaten and blacklist, i.e. entertainers who have the temerity to try and appear at a presidential inauguration. If they can’t get their way directly they will try and get in indirectly, i.e. by trying to boycott advertisers on a medium they dislike. It is true that corporations have folded with this kind of pressure from the left, though whether that will continue in the age of Trump is another question. There is thus a disturbing totalitarian proclivity to shut others down, cause them to lose business, or even to ruin their lives. 

Surveys also show that those on the left are three time more likely than those on the right to “defriend” someone on Facebook over political matters. The reason for this disparity stems from a world view, unique to the left; one that believes that all aspects of life have a “political” dimension, and are therefore fair game for political action. That vast array of activities and circumstances that exist for most people in the private sphere are an inconvenience for them. If something is not perceived as political they will politicize it, and obsessed with symbolism, they will seek removal of the most innocuous  item that offends their sensibilities, even if totally innocent of their mischaracterization. 

This does not necessarily apply to true “liberals,” at least to the extent that they are true to liberal principles regarding freedom of speech and thought, although they are more likely to cave into the hard left when it comes to unreasonable demands. But this totalitarian tendency to threaten or force others to behave or think a certain way or eliminate what offends their sensibilities has to be vigorously resisted. Failure to do so undermines the legitimacy of  liberalism itself. 


Thus the more ideological the perceptions the more emotional and irrational the attitude the outlook and behavior. This does not characterize all emotional responses to things, i.e. empathizing with suffering, a swell of patriotic feelings, listening to music, etc. but rather emotional reactions that underly ideology and that are political in nature. Anyone whose world view leaves them constantly miserable and compelled to make political statements needs to engage in some honest reflection as to why they believe what they believe with such intensity, and the consequences it has for their personal life. It means perhaps recognizing that personal needs are being projected out onto society. Finally it means examining why political perceptions are so intense, and how they can cloud what truly exists in the present moment. Quo vadis.

16 December 2016

THE RUSSIAN HACKS

According to US intelligence services there is little doubt that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computers. But as President Obama made clear today that is old news, something he confronted Putin about months ago. He further stated that after that it stopped. I share his puzzlement as to why it is an issue in the media now. 

Hillary Clinton now says that this was a factor in costing her the election, though it is unclear how that could have come to pass since there is no evidence anyone tampered with the electoral process itself. Mrs. Clinton seems to be confusing the DNC hack with her own problems with her personal email server, which is a completely different issue. Her negligence in that case, and her violation of various rules is what damaged her, if anything did. The DNC hack produced no information of any consequence, and the Wikileaks buildup was a total bust. Not a single thing detrimental to Hillary Clinton was revealed in the Russia-to-Wikileaks dump so it could not possibly have affected the election. The more salient reason why Hillary lost was the fact that she spent little or no time in places like Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Nevertheless this kind of security break ought to concern everyone, especially in Europe where there are upcoming elections. The US cannot tolerate this kind of interference, or potential interference in our electoral process and measures to correct this ought to be taken. However, in terms of damage or influence, there was none apart from some embarrassment on the part of people whose emails were hacked. Nothing of any real interest to anyone was revealed, so for the parties involved it was a waste of time. Going forward, we need to be prepared to resist this sort of thing, and if our servers are breached at this point it is our own fault. 


12 November 2016

THE 2016 US ELECTION RESULTS

Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States, and no matter what your feelings about that, his achievement is astonishing. A more improbable candidate is hard to imagine, yet he managed to defeat 16 good candidates for the Republican nomination, and, against all odds and expectations, then went on to win the general election. He managed to do this without the full support of some in the party, without an extensive ground operation, and in spite of a hostile media, elements of which went so far as outright collusion with the Democratic campaign. He was vastly outspent and virtually the entire establishment was aligned against him. As a result, he will enter office unencumbered by obligations to special interests and  unbeholden to anyone other than the people who elected him. 

His victory was a stunning rejection of elites across the board, as he was propelled to office by people who have lost faith in major institutions. The establishment that gravitated towards Hillary Clinton and the status quo was soundly rebuked in an election where the change candidate came from the right. The Democrats and their media allies, concentrated on the coasts, completely missed the undercurrent of anger and despair across most of the rest of the country. What little credibility the mainstream media had left has evaporated. They got it all wrong. 

Some of the losers are putting forward a ridiculously dark picture that is never going to materialize. Those who opposed Trump should realize that his election is not the apocalypse. The opposition expressing fear and anguish should understand that if the government finally succeeds in addressing long-standing problems everyone benefits. That will now possible as gridlock finally ends given that the Republicans now control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and most state governments. They must produce now, as there can be no excuse for failure. But they should also not make the same mistake the Democrats did with Obamacare, when they completely froze out Republicans. Major legislation that seriously changes things can only come about if it comes from consensus and involves the other party to assure continuity. The new administration and congress must accept the mantle they have been given with humility. 

The notion that a slight loss of the raw, popular vote makes the new administration illegitimate is ridiculous. Democrats had no problem with the Electoral College as long as it gave them a huge big-state advantage starting out. In addition Republicans won the congressional elections by three million votes and clearly have a mandate for change. Ironically incessant speculation about the collapse of the Republican party prior to the election now clearly applies instead to the Democrats. In the worst case, if the radical left now stirring gains control of the party they will be out of power for a long time. 

We are all exhausted by the endless campaign that culminated in the results on election day. The way elections are conducted in the US needs serious reform as I have argued repeatedly. At a minimum we must limit the campaign season along the lines of how elections are conducted in Great Britain. Nominations and campaigning should be limited to a few months, not two years. No one wants this kind of electoral process to continue save for the media which benefits from it immensely in terms of advertising revenue as well as “news” coverage. 


In terms of international commitments nothing is going to change that radically. Trump simply wants a better deal. He is a dealmaker, which means he is not an ideologue since making a deal necessarily involves give and take or compromise. I believe this will be his approach across the board and seemingly extreme statements are more akin to establishing a bargaining position. The US is not going to withdraw from the world or start a trade war that would benefit no one, and I believe that mutually beneficial trade deals will continue to be negotiated. At this stage it would behoove everyone to do as both Hillary Clinton and President Obama suggested- keep an open mind.  

28 October 2016

IS THE SYSTEM RIGGED?

When we hear the “system is rigged” what “system” are we referring to? The idea that there is any kind of overall “system” is a nebulous concept that went out with Marx. It is like saying that life is rigged. That is not to say there are not particular systems, such as the political system or electoral system, so the question at this time is really whether those are in any way “rigged.” In the US there is no overall national control of elections; nor is there even much in the way of state control. Elections are organized in a myriad of localities, each with its own system so that they cannot possibly be controlled by anyone anywhere. No one can rig that system. This does not mean there is no electoral fraud in some jurisdictions, but it is not widespread enough these days to throw an election, due to so many safeguards and vigilance on both sides.

What about other factors, such as media influence? Here there is clear and obvious bias against Trump, evident no matter what your political persuasion, and to a lesser extent against Republicans generally. This may be unfair but it isn’t rigged.There is definitely a herd mentality, not by any design or collusion, but ideological sympathy, and, more importantly, reliance on the same news sources. There is no question that the execrable New York Times regularly performs front page political hatchet jobs, so when the Times breaks (or fabricates) a “story,” most major media pick up on it because that is where they get much of their news from, especially in New York, still the media capitol.  These days reporters are more likely to be reading the Times than going out and actually finding news themselves. While that may be annoying to the right, the Times has little legitimacy beyond the left and the notion it is the “newspaper of record” is a joke, especially when there is free open competition and something like Fox News can draw more people than the other networks combined. 

But if these things are not exactly rigged, it does not mean the situation is not fair; it isn’t. But life is not fair. Most establishment institutions are against Trump, and elites are virtually united in their opposition to him. This includes those normally associated with the right, such as conservative intellectuals, as well a wholesale desertion of corporate backers not seen since the Goldwater candidacy. Thus the entire establishment is almost completely aligned with Hillary Clinton, whose campaign is flush with cash. So yes, the deck is stacked in this sense, but this is not the same as rigging, or conspiring to steal the election, for the process itself is largely immune to tampering.

Things are going well for these people, who believe they are part of a “meritocracy” and deserve to be where they are, but the only real merit system that exists is in professional sports, and to a lesser extent, science. Instead, these elites are more often people with good social skills, such as sucking up, connecting, networking, and playing the game rather than necessarily being the best at what they do, as well as just plain luck. This conceit also makes them largely oblivious to those who feel the “system” is no longer working for them. 

For what the elites are missing is the depth of the alienation of the working class along with a substantial segment of the middle, who increasingly have lost faith in established institutions, and no longer recognize the country they are living in. They have responded to Trump, who has managed to channel this sentiment  in spite of material provided by the elites, who are baffled by the seeming imperviousness to critical information by a substantial portion of the population. This “revolt of the masses” and Trump’s candidacy meanwhile threatens to delegitimize the whole process and Trumpism, or right-populism, will not disappear after election night. Indeed a more gifted politician could potentially take it over the top, for whatever the election outcome, Trump has succeeded in rattling the system to its core. 


04 September 2016

KEEP THE INTERNET OPEN AND FREE

If you appreciate the open freedom of the Internet then you must be concerned with something that is about to happen at the end of this month unless it is stopped. The Obama administration intends to give up management of the Internet and turn that function over to an international body, i.e. the United Nations. The American government does not, even now, directly control the Internet. It is managed by a private nonprofit NGO through the US Department of Commerce, which is about to be set loose to fall under “international” control. 

A substantial majority of my readers live outside of the United States and this should concern them as well. Anyone who believes in the free flow of ideas and information should appreciate that under the present system this freedom is absolute. There is no interference and no restrictions at all. Even in countries that attempt and sometimes succeed in censoring the Internet there is no control of information that can still appear elsewhere. This will certainly change if the UN or equivalent body gets ahold of it. There are repressive regimes all over the world that would like nothing better than to be able to censor and control information flows on the Internet. As I wrote two years ago when this noxious proposition first surfaced: 

One could argue that the Internet has long since become an international phenomenon and it therefore ought to be under the purview of an international body. However, there are many other instances of global standards being maintained by a particular country. For example Britain and Greenwich Mean Time, as well as other standards and measure. It is thus, not unprecedented for standards that originated in a particular country to be maintained by that country. Only a basic hostility to the US can account for a wish to change this. 
Furthermore the record of international bodies is less than impressive. There are many countries clamoring for various forms of censorship, and this is the surest path to that end. It will also provide the pretext for exclusion, i.e. of Israel, as has happened in other international bodies. How about Islamic, or any other restrictive standards? How about erasing something because some regime somewhere finds it offensive? This is effectively taking the part of repressive regimes rather than the people on the street. The possibilities for mischief are endless, but what is certain is that it will be the end of the wide open Internet. Some governments may   oppose the US hold on the Internet, but the people don’t because they trust it to be free and open. That will end the minute the US gives up control.


That moment has arrived. It is vital that the independence of the Internet be preserved. Otherwise dark forces will begin to interfere and call for the suppression of information, or worse, the promulgation of disinformation. All those who love liberty must make their voices heard and stop this transfer, or failing that, in the worst case make certain that ironclad safeguards are put in place to assure freedom of expression. The record of international bodies is not good in this respect, and we must be sanguine about the prospects if this transition occurs. The Internet has thrived because the present circumstances have allowed it to. If this “international” oversight materializes you can be certain that it will soon degenerate into control, changing from passive, detached supervision to direct, active management of content, domains, and expression. We cannot trust international safeguards given the atrocious record of hypocrisy at the UN with regard to “human rights,” and the huge discrepancy between the UN charter and the practices of its membership. The safest course is to keep the Internet exactly as it is now, where it originated and developed and has come to serve all of humanity without distinction. 

02 August 2016

A DISMAL CHOICE

In this election Hillary Clinton is the default presidential candidate, the person who will continue the policies of the current administration, by her own account. Given the high level of distrust, and low level of esteem in which she is held by a majority of the American people, Republicans simply had to nominate a not-Hillary, and would have likely cruised to victory in the presidential election. Almost any of the potential candidates could have filled this role, except for Donald Trump. He has managed to move the election dangerously close to being about not-Trump. The result is a clash between two negatives: not-Hillary vs. not-Trump, with the winner being the one who ultimately is perceived as less loathsome. Thus the campaign won’t come down to who would make the best president, but rather who would be worse, with people voting against a candidate rather than for one. 

This foreshadows a nasty campaign and a relatively low voter turnout as people become turned off by the whole process. Hillary has to run on the notion that things aren’t so bad, and for that matter that she’s not so bad, which is a tough sell. But fate has rewarded her with an even more problematic candidate in Donald Trump. Although he actually has the upper hand on conditions, i.e. things aren’t so good, in the mind of the public, his problem is not his policies, such as they are, but his personality. If he continues to respond rashly to every perceived slight, if he continues to display a lack of self-control and elevates trivia to an unwarranted significance he will certainly lose. For he will have converted the election from being about Hillary to being about himself. Trump would probably have a better chance if he kept his mouth shut between now and November, because the only way he can win is by keeping the election about Hillary.

Despite the negative impressions they have generated, it is Trump’s outbursts that have attracted a significant segment of the population, which indicates just how alienated they are. They don’t care about propriety and temperament. They want someone who is so much of an outsider that he will upend the whole system. This makes him immune from almost any exposure of past allegedly dubious business practices. They are against the existing order and the way things are going for them personally, and Trump offers at least the possibility of change. But that base is not enough to win an election. That will hinge of people who are undecided as to who is worse. 

Hillary, on the other hand, has to run against her own party if she wants to win, given how far left it has lurched. Her own primaries accentuate her weakness, being so objectionable that just about the worst candidate who could have opposed her came close to winning the nomination. She will win her party’s base, which may vote without enthusiasm, but that is not enough to win the election. She also has to convince and then add enough voters who think her opponent is even worse. 


There is something wrong with an electoral system that winds up giving people a choice between the lesser of two evils. There are the Libertarian and Green party alternatives, and the former could get enough votes to affect the outcome, but the winner will still be either Clinton or Trump. We must ponder how it is that a country so fortunate, rich, and still full of promise could wind up with such a dismal choice. The saving grace is that the institutional structure is still strong enough to prevent anyone from mucking things up too seriously, given federalism and the separation of powers embedded in the constitution. The Framers understood the fragility of human nature, and designed a system that could withstand incompetence, stupidity, and egomania. Nevertheless even they might be surprised at the dismal choice we face more than two centuries later. 

30 July 2016

CONSERVATIVE AGONY

There is considerable anguish amongst the conservative intelligentsia concerning the rise of Donald Trump. Virtually the entire establishment of conservative leaders, intellectuals, and pundits are united in their distaste and opposition to his candidacy, based initially on the perception that “he is not one of us,” followed by a firm commitment to the notion that “he must be stopped.” That these efforts failed miserably may be a testament to the possibility that the extent of their actual influence may not significantly exceed the diminutive circulation of their magazines. It also may be indicative of the reality that many self-identified conservatives hold radically different views as to what conservatism consists of, given the widening breach between the mass following of Trump and the conservative elites. The latter may well have painted themselves into a corner, from which there is no easy exit, by constantly vilifying Trump. Furthermore they may increasingly come to be perceived as “liberals” by a runaway base that may well have held different views all along. 

A case could be made that in this election Hillary Clinton is the conservative, given that she represents continuity, the status quo, the traditional political order, and that she is unlikely to upend the system in any way, notwithstanding her progressive posturing. In the area where presidents exercise the most power, international affairs, she is dedicated to the existing order that has been built up over decades and may be more hawkish than Trump in many respects. In fact given the way they have cast out Trump she would appear to be the logical alternative. The agony arises because these same conservative leaders have been implacable in their opposition to the Clintons over the years. I’ve never understood the intensity of that animus, at least on ideological grounds, given Clinton’s relative moderation, so it’s more personal insofar as many people think Hillary has a miserable personality and is basically dishonest. She may be an awful person, but we now have the spectacle of conservative elites actively opposing the Republican candidate for president which can only aide the election of the Democratic candidate they have loathed for decades. 

They have been joined by some Republican politicians, former officials and a considerable chunk of the corporate establishment and wealthy that last left the party in droves when Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate. But these former officials consist almost entirely of people associated with the Bushes, who were ultimately disastrous for the country and the Republican party when in power. Their departure is no loss for a party that can hardly be considered the party of the wealthy any longer as it becomes more of a Republican Peoples' Party, in the European sense, with a working and middle class base. This is not simply populist irrationality that liberals of the left an right would have us believe, but a natural reaction on the part of people who have not fared well over the last few decades. The problem is that the candidate who has successfully channeled these sentiments, Donald Trump, may be woefully unprepared to actually govern. But at this point Republican elected officials can do little more than support the national ticket if they want to avoid disaster. 


The net effect is that the conservative intelligentsia has been left out in the cold, with, from their standpoint, two unpalatable candidates. It is hard to see how anyone could support Hillary Clinton and still be a Republican. On the other hand, a process that began with 17 candidates, several of them attractive and well-suited for the presidency, has yielded what they regard as a populist interloper. Thus there is nowhere to go. This is a consequence of a deeply flawed system based upon primaries that few people vote in, an endless election campaign season, and mass media that exacerbate these conditions. Unless we reform the electoral system and give the power to choose candidates back to elected officials it is only going to get worse. Another electoral season is coming to a dismal end, so these days when I turn on the news I’m more interested in the weather.