Public Good vs Splintered Society (pt 3)

I’ve been in a mood of retreat recently, less spiritual retreat and more battle retreat. I’m fed up with the whole shebang. Even NPR is pissing me off (NPR: Liberal Bias?“This is the type of issue I’m tired of posting about. But I’m posting it because the lying pundits and deceiving political strategists never tire… and, more annoying to my everyday interactions, because the un-/mis-/disinformed followers never tire.”).

It’s not just about disagreeing. It’s more fundamental. I want truth, authenticity. I want to know what is real, feel it in my gut. All the spin and rhetoric is getting to me. I’ve hit breaking points before, but this one is different. I’ve been studying history and politics in great detail for a number of years now. I’m not entirely giving up on that, but I can feel a part of me beginning to back off from it all.

Various things clarified this for me recently. What really pushed me over the edge was actually reading something inspiring, something that felt authentically real. The book in question is Homegrown Democrat by Garrison Keillor, the inspiration then led to sadness when I watched and listened to some mainstream media and politics. A while back, I was similarly inspired and saddened by reading Harvey J. Kaye’s Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (Thomas Paine was a classical liberal I could respect).

Inspiration and depression have always gone hand in hand for me. I’ve always thought that if modern society doesn’t make you feel suicidally depressed, then there is something seriously wrong with you. I say that only half humorously.

“From a certain point onward, there is a no turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”
 ~ Franz Kafka 

– – – 

Here is a long comment from a recent post where I expressed my feelings:

What Paine and many others realized is that civilization is built on and dependent on violence. All the good of our modern lives is inseparable form horrible violence. It’s a conundrum, but one that must be faced. The worst violence doesn’t come from a gun or not in a direct sense. There is no choice between violence or no violence in this world. A completely peaceful world is a nice utopia, but for right now we have to deal with the reality in front of us.

As for guns democratically controlled, this happened because they were controlled undemocratically in the past. The world is violent. That is just the way reality is, like it or not (which isn’t to say we shouldn’t aspire toward peace). It’s just that a gun controlled democratically is better than a gun controlled by a tyrant or a gang or a corporation. I’m not a fan of choosing between the lesser of two evils, but in this case there is no other choice… except by either fundamentally altering human nature or fundamentally altering all of human civilization (both being very long term projects that certainly won’t see fruition in our lifetimes, if ever).

Freedom from violence is an abstract ideal. The land you live on is made of the corpses of Native Americans who unwillingly sacrificed their freedom for yours. The products you buy are made through an oppressively violent global economy. If you own property, you are participating in the continuation of a history of colonial genocide and oppression. The land you own is theft from the indigenous and theft from the commons. The landless peasants, many who are homeless, still suffer because of an ownership class that defends it’s stolen land by use of violence, both public and private. How many more people have to die and how much longer does oppression have to last for the sake of these abstract ideals?

“I might disagree, for example if you were asserting that the label “socialism” can be interpreted to mean MERELY valuing the collective good, and fairness.”

I’m not asserting anything in describing what socialism is. I didn’t invent socialism. What I was doing is pointing out the fact that many people are misinformed about socialism. Many of the criticisms of socialism are against views that many socialists don’t advocate. ‘Socialism’ is a favorite straw man of American society, In response to this sad state of affairs, I was offering accurate definitions of socialism.

It’s just a fact that socialists care more about the common good than any other group. It’s the very heart of socialism: social good, social concerns, social-ism. Socialists merely point out that in an interconnected world as we live in it’s literally impossible to separate individual good from collective good, private good from public good. The distinctions between these things only exist in the human mind and in human language, but they don’t exist in the actual lived reality of the world we all share. I know many Americans don’t want to accept these facts. Still, the facts remain.

The distinction I put forth is that anyone who cares will always put people before ideology, including the ideology of ‘freedom’. The question is: Freedom from what and towards what? Whose freedom at whose cost? Too many people want to defend their own freedom while trampling on the freedom of others and then rationalizing that it isn’t their fault that their freedom is built on violence and oppression. People suffer, there are winners and losers, some are just inferior and deserve the horrible fate an oppressive society forced on them. In my heart of hearts, I hope such people one day experience the suffering of those they look down upon or simply ignore. The distinction I put forth is between those who know suffering in the marrow of their bones and those who live comfortable, contented lives.

I’m tired of ideology. I really don’t know how to communicate what I feel other than to say I feel frustrated. The freedom to be poor and oppressed isn’t a freedom I want. The freedom to live in a dog eat dog world is a freedom that makes me want to commit suicide, not joking. If that is freedom, then I’m with Derrick Jensen and I want to see civilization be demolished.

I’m tired of people who, while seemingly meaning well, promote an ugly view of society and of human nature. I’m tired of people who act patriotic about ‘America’ when it’s obvious they have little faith in what America stands for. To them, America just means an attitude of ‘me and my own’ (“Real Americans”).

And I’m tired of people who righteously defend freedom while not acknowledging that most people still live without basic rights and opportunities, that the freedom they defend is in reality just the denial of the freedom of others. Freedom can’t be taken away when it has yet to exist in our society (yes there is some freedom for some people, but even that limited freedom is mostly held by a minority… when freedom means wealth and power, then freedom no longer has any valid meaning).

I’m just plain tired. The worldview that America has come to stand for is something I feel compelled to stand against. Freedom has become a choice between Coke or Pepsi, between Republican or Democrat, between America or the Commies. It’s a simpleminded, black/white conception of freedom. It’s an empty, superficial freedom… just propaganda for mass control.

What inspires me is very simple: people caring about people. Not people caring about people because they think it will boost their own self-interest. Just people caring about people because it’s the right thing to do. We can worry about abstract ideals later… after the starving are fed, the freezing are housed, the sick and dying are cared for. Jesus didn’t ask for money before healing someone, didn’t wonder if such actions conformed to some abstract ideal of liberty. Jesus just helped people.

Basically, what I’m proposing is Midwestern liberalism which partly originates from the early settlers who brought along with them a pragmatic socialism (from Northern Europe). Midwestern liberalism/socialism is just basic Heartland values. The Milwaukee socialists were known as the Sewer Socialists because they were concerned about very practical issues of community life such as making sure there was clean air and water so that people didn’t get sick (which was a major problem with the rise of industrialization). The Sewer Socialists were proud of having a sewer system that actually worked (quite an achievement at the time), to have public services that actually served the public. They didn’t give a damn about ideology. They just wanted people in their community to be healthy and cared for.

Such simple pride in having a healthy community seems almost odd today, but such Midwestern liberalism/socialism still exists… at least in some parts of the Midwest. I was just reminded of this tonight while reading Garrison Keillor’s Homegrown Democrat:

“The state was settled by no-nonsense socialists from Germany and Sweden and Norway who unpacked their trunks and planted corn and set about organizing schools; churches; libraries; lodges; societies and benevolent associations; brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and raised their children to Mind Your Manners, Be Useful, Pay Attention, Make Something of Yourself, Turn Down the Thermostat (If You’re Cold, Go Put on a Sweater), Share and Share Alike, Be Satisfied with What You Have—a green Jell-O salad with mandarin oranges, miniature marshmallows, walnuts, and Miracle Whip is by God good enough for anybody. I grew up in the pure democracy of a public grade school where everybody brought a valentine for everybody on Valentine’s Day so we should feel equally loved though of course some valentines are more equal than others, some have lace and little flaps under which special endearments are written, and others are generic, printed six to a page with bumpy edges where they were torn on the dotted line. But you should be happy with what you get and Don’t Think You’re Special Because You’re Not. (Those people on daytime TV talking about how their parents never gave them the positive feedback they needed and that’s why they shot them—those are not Minnesotans. Nor are the people who go to court to win their children the right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance or not be in the room when other children are saying it.) We take pains to not be Special. If there is one meatball left on the platter, you do not take it, you take half of it, and someone else takes half of that and so it is endlessly divided down to the last crumb. Not a state of showboats or motor-mouths.

“[ . . . ] there is a high value placed on public services. If you call 911 in St. Paul, the cops or the EMTs will arrive within four minutes. In the Republican suburbs, where No New Taxes is the beginning and end of politics and emergency services depend on volunteers, the response time can be anywhere between ten or fifteen and thirty minutes.”

Keillor is the first person I’ve come across in a long while who captures that down-to-earth sense of the common good. It’s very Midwestern thing and so I’m not sure people from other parts of the country can fully understand it. In the Midwest, community has more centrality than individuality. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, it’s farming country. When it was first settled, farmers were fairly isolated and were dependent on their neighbors. They shared their resources to have schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, etc. They truly had a government for and by the people.

Second, it’s partly the religion of the first settlers. They were largely Catholics and Quakers who are very community-oriented. Catholics and Quakers built public schools, orphanages and hospitals where ever they settled. They put collective action and collective benefit above individual freedom and self-interest. It’s why the Catholic Church has often had an uneasy relationship to unbridled capitalism and it’s why the areas of the US with the highest rates of Catholic membership are also the same areas with the highest rates of union membership.

– – –

In case you didn’t notice from that comment, let me state it obviously: I’M TIRED! Lordy Lordy!

But, more importantly, I was impressed by Garrison Keillor. He is what is known as ‘good people’. I just finished reading his book. It made me so happy… well, while reading it. Paine made me proud to be an American. And Keillor makes me proud to be a Midwestern liberal. Keillor is so down-to-earth and easygoing. Reading Keillor’s words, I felt a genuine attitude of emotional honesty, an open-hearted sense of humanity. Whatever it is, it’s a rare thing. Some people thought Bush jr was the type of guy you could have a beer with by which I assume they were referring to his past as an alcoholic frat boy. Well, Keillor is the kind of guy you imagine having breakfast with in a cheap diner while discussing important issues such as weather, town gossip and last Sunday’s sermon.

However, it’s more than just that friendly, down-to-earth midwestern sensibility that values people over ideology and community over politics, that emphasizes the enjoyment of the simple things in life, that looks for the good in others while emphasizing that one is no better than anyone else. All of that is there in Keillor, but he also comes off as having great self-awareness and social insight. You can tell he has thought deeply and carefully. He isn’t expressing his opinions for the sake of proving that he is right and that those who disagree with him are wrong.

In thinking about Keillor, I was thinking of others of a similar authentic, easygoing bent. Some obvious examples are Jim Wallis, Noam Chomsky and Thom Hartmann. I might also add people like Henry David Thoreau, Philip K. Dick and Terrence McKenna. The common theme among all of these is a basic quality of humanness rather than ideology or ulterior motive. All of these people seem to genuinely like people, something I admire for the reason I too often fail at it. I realize I would be a better person if I was able to feel and express such empathy and compassion.

  – – – 

There is one part of Keillor’s attitude that is most relevant to my own recent focus. I described it somewhat in the above blog comment when I mentioned community as a traditional Midwestern value.

Community is such a simple thing, but these days it can seem like a strange alien artifact. Some American citizens are so messed up in the head that they think hating the American government is patriotic. Instead of being about people and community, patriotism has been made into self-righteous folk religiosity. Instead of being about democracy and public service, patriotism has become about partisan self-interest and xenophobic fear-mongering.

All of this got me thinking about individualism, specifically the American variety of hyper-individualism that became increasingly popular in recent decades. Although clearly popular among conservatives, it isn’t limited to conservatives. It’s not unusual for me to come across liberals who promote their own kind of hyper-individualism. There is a type of person who is so concerned about individual liberty and rights that everything else, at best, becomes of secondary value or, at worst, becomes entirely occluded from their vision of reality.

Basically, such a person can’t see the forest for the trees. You can point at the trees and they will see the trees and they might go on about the value of each and every tree. They might be sad as tree after tree is cut down or infested by insects or strangled by kudzu or becomes sickly from pollution, but they won’t put it all together, won’t see an entire ecosystem dying, won’t understand that when this particular ecosystem dies the entire life-supporting biosphere is further weakened. A rainforest, for example, can take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to form. But once destroyed they can’t be replanted. They’re just gone, a major source of the very oxygen we breathe gone forever (or at least gone forever as far as the human species is concerned).

 – – – 

I had an insight about where hyper-individualism came from in American history. I see two major factors.

Right from the beginning America has been a favorite destination of people escaping oppression, violence and various other kinds of suffering and horror. Many first generation immigrants were psychologically traumatized which led to a rootlessness. These people had a mentality of escape and Americans are always getting away and moving on, always planning escape routes. The Native Americans also were traumatized, but we hid their trauma by sending them off to places we didn’t have to see them.

The history of America has been trauma, victim becoming victimizer creating new victims. It’s our founding mythology, told and retold: slavery, religious persecution, indigenous genocide, revolution, etc. After independence was declared, there soon followed the Civil War which was in many ways just re-opening old wounds of revolutionary era conflicts. The Civil War ripped America apart and we’ve never really healed from it. We are still a divided people.

This is where the second factor comes in. The symbol of American (hyper-)individualism is the lone cowboy, sometimes fighting the good fight but reluctantly, always escaping a haunted past. Have you ever wondered what the haunted past was that caused movie cowboys to often be silent and at other times violent. In reality, many Wild West gunslingers (such as Jesse James) were Civil War veterans, quite a few Southerners. They saw many friends die in the war. A lot of them lost their homes and their livelihood. For a few, the entire town they left behind was burned to the ground. Some lost family members or even whole families (My dad was telling me about one of our neighbors in South Carolina who told him about how on one side of his family every male had been killed in the Civil War; and he explained to my dad that, after losing a war of that magnitude, such personal losses aren’t forgotten even generations later).

These were severely traumatized veterans and they didn’t go to therapy to heal their trauma. They were real men, and as real men they turned to booze and prostitutes, guns and adventure. Many went West because of their haunted pasts that were driving them to get as far away as possible. As the first immigrants escaped the horrors of other countries, the Civil War veterans were escaping the horrors of America.

Here is a clear description of the horrors, both collective and personal, of the Civil War and its aftermath (from Rebirth of a Nation by Jackson Lears):

“EARLY AS April 1862 Americans had a sense of what happened when massive assaults provoked massive counterassaults. Near Shiloh Church in Tennessee, Generals Beauregard and Grant threw armies at each other for thirty-six hours. As reports of the battle filtered back to the home front, the staggering losses mounted, eventually up to 24,500 killed, wounded, or missing on both sides. The numbers were numbing; in any case there was little popular protest, North or South. A few Democratic newspaper editors in the North, never too keen on the war in the first place, deplored the losses and demanded Grant’s scalp. No one knew that they had seen the future. Shiloh was only the first of many bloodbaths—the first of many indications that the most successful Union commanders would be the ones most willing to sacrifice unprecedented numbers of men. The West Point Code was on the way out.

“Neither side sought to avoid bloodbaths; both seemed addicted to frontal assaults (preferably uphill) on entrenched fortifications. The casualties were fearful, in the mass and in detail. The failed assault on Fort Wagner in July 1863 by the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth, the black regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, left an eyewitness aghast: “The ditch was literally choked up with dead bodies and it was possible to walk upon them for fifty yards without touching ground.” Those who survived often faced their own protracted horrors, as Walt Whitman reported from a Washington hospital: a Union soldier shot through the bladder, marinating in his own piss; a Confederate soldier the top of whose head had been blown off and whose brains were suppurating in the sun, surviving for three days while he dug a hole in the ground with his heel. These scenes were repeated by the hundreds of thousands. And there were many witnesses.

“Looking back on the war in Specimen Days, Whitman strained to capture the enormity of the evil unleashed by raw rage. After describing John Mosby’s Confederate guerrillas gunning down the Union wounded they had captured near Upperville, Virginia, Whitman then recalled the Union cavalry’s counterattack, capture, and summary execution of seventeen guerrillas in the Upperville town square, where they left the bodies to rot. “Multiply [this scene] by scores, aye hundreds,” Whitman wrote, “light it with every lurid passion, the wolf’s, the lion’s lapping thirst for blood—the passionate volcanoes of human revenge for comrades, brothers slain—with the light of burning farms, and heaps of smutting, smouldering black embers—and in the human heart everywhere black, worse embers—and you have an inkling of this war.”

“Whitman’s recollection of “the light of burning farms” underlined the other major feature of total war: the treatment of civilians as belligerents. Early in the war, Confederates fantasized about bombarding Northern cities, and Stonewall Jackson was always champing at the bit to bring the war to the Northern people. But despite Jackson’s murderous ferocity, the Confederates did not have the resources to sustain an aggressive war. Apart from the two abortive invasions that ended at Antietam and Gettysburg, the main damage done by the Confederate Army to the Yankee population was the tactically pointless burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1864. The chief Southern war on civilians was conducted in Missouri, by guerrillas and other irregulars who resisted the Union army of occupation and terrorized its civilian sympathizers, torching their property and gunning them down at random. William Quantrell and his guerrilla band in Missouri, along with John Mosby and his raiders in Virginia, led what might today be characterized as the terrorist wing of the Confederate insurgency.

“Confederate guerrillas practiced insurgent terrorism, the Union Army gradually embraced a policy that can accurately be characterized as state terrorism. By 1865, fifty thousand Southern civilians had been killed as a direct result of Northern combat operations. The policy was embodied in Lincoln’s General Order #100, authored by Francis Lieber, a German émigré, romantic nationalist, and erstwhile professor at the University of South Carolina. The first part of the order aimed to restrict “savage” behavior, such as the bombardment of civilian areas in cities or the pillage of farms; the second part eviscerated those restrictions by stating that any of them could be ignored in the event of “military necessity.” In a counterinsurgency campaign, the phrase justified shelling cities and torching farms. Like other insurgencies, the secessionist movement depended for its support on the local population. The recognition of that fact was behind Grant’s famous order to Philip Sheridan: “turn the Shenandoah into a barren waste so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their own provender.” Other rationales for treating civilians as belligerents foreshadowed contemporary excuses for “collateral damage.” Sherman bombarded Atlanta neighborhoods, he said, because the Confederates were using civilians as human shields. The mass of the Southern population was neither armed nor dangerous. But they were in the war, whether they wanted to be or not. Total war swept all before it.

“Conventional accounts of Appomattox and its aftermath have everyone rolling up his sleeves and getting ready to pitch into an expansive economy. But given the ravages of total war, North and South, one could just as easily describe a postwar landscape littered with lost souls. Consider, for example, how the war shaped the lives of two James boys: Garth Wilkinson James and Jesse James.

“James was the younger brother of William and Henry James, one of the two less favored sons in a talented, ambitious family. Plump, good-natured, and fervently antislavery, Wilky enlisted in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts regiment in September 1862. Both his older brothers managed to avoid the army, with their father’s approval and connivance. Henry James Sr. showed no such solicitude for his younger boys. But war would be Wilky’s one chance to step out of his brothers’ shadow. Transferred to Shaw’s Fifty-fourth, Wilky became one of the white officers who led the black regiment’s doomed charge on Fort Wagner. He was seriously wounded, hit by a shell in the side and a canister ball in the foot. After months of convalescence he returned to the Fifty-fourth, but he never really recovered from his wounds. He survived for eighteen years after Appomattox, in nearly constant pain from rheumatism in his wounded foot. He bumped from one bad business venture to another, beginning with the failure of his idealistic plan to provide recently freed black families an economic foothold by employing them on his farm in Florida. Having run through many thousands of his father’s dollars, he was finally disinherited and died in poverty in Milwaukee, where he and his family had been scraping by after several failed business ventures. For Wilky the war brought not regeneration but ruin. He was one of many men whose physical and emotional wounds never healed.

“James, in contrast, was not physically wounded but psychologically brutalized by the war. Coming of age amid the white-hot hatreds of wartime Missouri, he grew up in a world where casual murder was a manly sport and a rite of passage, the only conclusive proof that you had become (and remained) a man. He proved himself many times during the war, when he rode with Quantrell’s raiders. After Appomattox new opportunities presented themselves. In Missouri, ten years of blood feuds had bred widespread longings for retribution. Many returning veterans could not give up the habit of violence and helped to swell a postwar crime wave. Gunslinging became a way of life.

“Much of the violence was rooted in Reconstruction politics. Bushwhackers wanted revenge against Radical Republicans and money from the companies the Republicans financed. That was enough, among embittered Confederates, to make the James gang seem more than mere bandits and killers. But that is what they were. For fifteen years, they took money at gunpoint from banks and later from express companies, whose monies were being transported on the expanding network of railroads. They also killed a lot of innocent people. Throughout his short life, Jesse remained irresistibly attracted to arbitrary violence.

“Wilkinson James and Jesse James were both permanently scarred by the war, though in profoundly different ways. Wilky limped through the postwar period, failing at everything he tried, knowing that nothing he did would ever match the heroism of storming Fort Wagner. Jesse was filled with partisan rage and vicious notions of manhood that transformed him into a driven killer. The war ravaged lives in unpredictable ways and left a wounded nation.”

In the years following the Civil War, some gunslingers became idolized as heroic lawmen and others became idolized as anti-heroic lawless gunslingers. Jesse James, mentioned above, is a good example of the latter. And Virgil Earp is a good example of the former:

“Private Virgil Earp was still a teenager when marched off to war in 1862 leaving his wife with a baby girl just two weeks old. He would not see his wife or daughter again for thirty-seven years because in the summer of 1863, Ellen was told that Virgil had been killed in Tennessee. Heartbroken, Ellen took her daughter and headed west with her parents. Unaware of the reports of his death, Virgil served throughout the Civil War seeing action in Tennessee and Kentucky. His regiment was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland commanded by Major General George H. Thomas. By the end of the war, the 83rd Illinois had lost one hundred twenty-one men and officers. Private Earp was not among those who died. He returned home in the summer of 1865, three years after he left, to find his wife and baby gone and no way to contact them.

“Like tens of thousands of Civil War veterans, the Earp brothers headed west for a fresh start and new opportunities. For the next ten years, Virgil Earp moved around the country holding various jobs such as farming, railroad construction, and stagecoach driver. He married, divorced, and married again.”

Whether lawman or lawless, it was a popular romantic myth of violent justice where the individual determined his own sense of justice. There was not much if any government in the Wild West. Both heroic lawmen and anti-heroic lawless gunslingers were uneasy of the encroachment of civilization with a new brand of lawmen who were a privatized law and military force, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. There were more Pinkerton agents than there were US soldiers, and probably quite a few Civil War veterans were hired as Pinkerton agents. The lawless gunslingers were seen as heroes because they were fighting big businesses that used violence and oppression to get their way. This was an era that was fomenting the public unrest eventually leading to the Populist Era.

At the same time, this was the era of the Indian Wars which continued into the early 20th century. The Native Americans were fighting their last battles as the unions were fighting their first battles. Between Indians and Pinkertons, the Wild West cowboy was in the middle of enemies. It was a time of violence that created a culture of violence.

 – – –

Furthermore, this violence became the mythology which was permanently emblazoned on the collective psyche through early publications of the exploits of gunfighters and later on with movies.

After those earliest cowboy movies, the lone cowboy myth was being modernized during the Reagan Era when hyper-individualism took on new meaning. Reagan was the actor pretending to be a cowboy who pretended to be a corporate spokesperson and then a president. The romanticized myth of the lone cowboy helped get Reagan elected. It was at that time when macho hyper-individualism fully became the new American mythos: the lone cowboy, the lone rogue cop, the lone businessman. And I suppose it was no accident that the rise of hyper-individualism came at the high point of communist paranoia, communism after all being the antithesis of hyper-individualism.

It was the death knell of liberalism. Rambo was one of the first modernized versions of the lone cowboy. There is the book The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke which analyzes how a legend formed around the claim that many Vietnam vets were spit upon by protesters (Damn hippies!) when they came home. In that book, he attributes the origins of this legend to movies such as Rambo: First Blood where there is a scene of Rambo raging about the injustices he met upon his return:

Colonel Trautman: It’s over Johnny. It’s over!

Rambo: Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off! It wasn’t my war! You asked me I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win, for somebody who wouldn’t let us win! Then I come back to the world, and I see all those maggots at the airport, protestin’ me, spittin’, callin’ me a baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me?! Huh?! Who are they?! Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they yellin’ about!

Of course, this ignores that the anti-war protesters directed their anger and criticism at the political leaders and not the soldiers. It also ignores the fact that a fair number of Vietnam vets became anti-war protesters. But facts never get in the way of a good story.

Obviously, the Vietnam War was traumatizing to the American psyche similar to the Civil War. Both wars created a generation of physically and psychologically battered veterans many of whom felt victimized and resentful. And out of that trauma was born a sense of isolation and a sense of the individual being against the world. Rambo describes this in his words directly following the above speech about “all those maggots”:

Colonel Trautman: It was a bad time for everyone Rambo. It’s all in the past now.

Rambo: For you! For me civilian life is nothin’! In the field without a code of honor. You watch my back I watch yours. Back here there’s nothin’! Col. Trautman: You’re the last of an elite group. Don’t end it like this. Rambo: Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment. Back here I can’t even hold a job PARKING CARS!!!! UUHHHH!!!!! (Throws M-60 at wall and then slight emotional pause. He drops to the ground in a crouched position out of breath and very upset) Wha…I can’t…oh, I jus–omigod. Where is everybody? Oh God…I…I had a friend, who was Danforth. Wha–I had all these guys man. Back there I had all these fucking guys. Who were my friends. Cause back here there’s nothin’. Remember Danforth? He wore this black head band and I took one of those magic markers and I said to Feron, ‘Hey mail us to Las Vegas cause we were always talkin’ about Vegas, and this fucking car. This uh red ’58 Chevy convertible, he was talkin’ about this car, he said we were gonna cruise till the tires fall off. (upset pause) We were in this bar in Saigon. And this kid comes up, this kid carryin’ a shoe shine box, and eh he says uh ‘shine please, shine.’ I said no, eh an’ uh, he kept askin’ yeah and Joey said ‘yeah,’ and I went to get a couple beers and the ki–the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fuckin’ blew his body all over the place. And he’s layin’ there and he’s fuckin’ screamin’, there’s pieces of him all over me, jus like–! (frustrated he grabs at his bullet chain strapped around his chest and yanks it off) like this. And I’m tryin’ to pull em off you know? And ehe.. MY FRIEND IT’S ALL OVER ME! IT’S GOT BLOOD AND EVERYTHING! And I’m tryin’ to hold him together I put him together his fucking insides keep coming out, AND NOBODY WOULD HELP!! Nobody help me. He sayin’ plea I wanna go home I wanna go home. He keeps callin’ my name, I wanna go home Johnny, I wanna drive my Chevy. I said well (upset and breaking down) WHY I can’t find your fucking legs. I can’t find you legs. (softly now) I can’t get it out of my head. I fuc..I dream of seven years. Everyday I have this. And sometimes I wake up and I dunno where I am. I don’t talk to anybody. Sometimes a day–a week. (Almost inaudible) I can’t put it out of my mind…fucking…I can’t…….(totally sobbing now)

For the Rambo at the heart of our culture, the past is never past. The violence is continually relived.

Rambo, of course, was overly simplistic melodramatic violence porn. Maybe for that reason it had such an impact on the American psyche. Rambo expressed something that Americans felt, something that Americans wanted to believe. It gave all of the conflicts and doubts an emodied form. It put it all into the context of a story. And stories have a way of informing our perceived reality, our shared sense of identity.

 – – – 

I touched upon these issues in my book review of David Sirota’s Back to the Future. Here is the relevant section:

First, Sirota argues that the 80s was when violence became normalized. Violence became a central part of our collective psyche: movies, video games, etc. Part of this had to do with the Vietnam War, the first major military loss that shook America’s collective confidence and righteous nationalism. Americans had internalized the violence from the Vietnam War footage and were now trying to come to terms with the sense of national failure that came after the withdrawl from Vietnam. It was maybe something like a collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sirota does mention the Vietnam War. He talks about the explanations given such as what he calls the “hands tied behind their backs” myth. I guess the idea was that if the soldiers weren’t held back, they could’ve demonstrated some real violence that would’ve forced the enemy into submission.

Second, the obsession with violence was inseparable from the obsession with hyper-individualism. This partly was represented by fear and hatred of government, the belief that the government can’t do anything right, that the government is the enemy of the people, of local governance, the enemy of communities, of religions, of capitalism, the enemy of all that is good. In general, all collective action and activism was looked upon with suspicion. Nothing good could come from people working together cooperatively toward the common good. Only individuals (or else individuals working together for the purpose of profit, i.e., private contractors: The A-Team, Ghostbusters, etc) could solve problems. People couldn’t rely on government, the FBI, or the police to solve their problems… and, so, people instead had to hope for a hero figure to come to town. And it was considered admirable when things got done, even if it meant breaking laws and committing violence.

In that same post, I gave an example that resonates with my having been a child in the 80s, a child who watched all of those 80s shows and absorbed their lessons. The 80s didn’t make me into a conservative, but the scars of cynical hyper-individualism are upon me.

Reagan considered Family Ties one of his favorite shows and offered to be in an episode. Sirota considers that show to have been central. Many young conservatives took inspiration from the Alex P. Keaton’s rebellion against his liberal former hippie parents. Alex stated a classic line when he complained about his parents being arrested for protesting nuclear weapons:

“You know what’s wrong with parents today? They still think they can change the world.”

Many Republican and Tea Party conservatives still feel that way today. It’s something like a Calvinist sense of fatalism combined with the self-assurance of a car salesman. Nothing good can be accomplished collectively and so you might as well narrowly focus on your own self-interest. Rambo’s despicable spitting protesters became Alex’s naive yuppie parents.

As I recall, in that episode Alex’s parents were protesting nucler weapons in an attempt to revive the memories of their past activism. Even if well intentioned, these old former hippies are almost pitiful. Alex maybe correctly perceives them as having sold out for careers and a middle class lifestyle. And so maybe he reasons that it would save time by going straight to the selling out.

What is the point of trying to make the world a better place? What did the hippies accomplish? The answer from conservatives is that at best hippies accomplished nothing and at worst they helped destroy everything that was good about America. Specifically, the 60s hippies are the archetypal enemy of the idyllic 50s. It was all going so well until the hippies came along. Never mind the fact that the 50s was the era when liberalism reigned unchallenged. Never mind the fact that what ended the idyllic liberal 50s was the rising neo-conservatism of the 60s. Never mind inconvenient facts.

To me, facts matter. But in the culture wars, story matters even more. It saddens me that there is such a dark and ugly story at the heart of American culture. It’s a festering wound that needs to be opened in order to let out the puss and be cleansed. There is a conflict of narratives, a conflict that I feel like a knot in my chest. It’s scary to believe in something as great as the collective good. It’s so much easier to be cynical or merely focused one’s own individual life, one’s own private concerns. Why stick one’s head out onto what might turn out to be a chopping block? The veterans who fought the wars know that there is rarely much reward offered for their sacrifices. Most homeless people are veterans, forgotten and uncared for. The conservative politicians campaign on sending young men to war and upon their return they seek to cut benefits for veterans.

It’s hard to blame anyone in feeling cynical after such treatment. And it’s not just veterans. Recent decades have been an endless parade of lies and deceit, an endless betrayal by politicians who serve their corporate masters and their ideological bases. As I write, Washington elites are discussing how far they can get away with balancing the budget on the backs of the average Americans. Tax cuts for the rich and bailouts to the banks received less discussion than this.

 – – – 

Nonetheless, I refuse to believe that it has to be this way.

I know in my heart of hearts that humanity has such great potential. I want to believe in what America stands for. I want to believe in it in the way Thomas Paine believed in it. Yes, to believe so passionately is foolhardy. Even so, if there were no fools, there would never have been an American Revolution in the first place. If the founding generation didn’t foolishly believe in the common good they shared with their countrymen, they wouldn’t have fought for and won their independence. And none of us would be here to argue about the potential of the American Dream.

But I realize that my cynicism too often wins out. My cynicism is constantly confirmed and what little hope I have is constantly dashed. Still, I want to believe. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to fear of losing my job and becoming homeless, of going bankrupt because of health problems, of one day becoming yet another forgotten and lonely elderly person who barely gets by eating God knows what. I’m tired of it all. It’s so depressing because there is no practical reason it has to be this way.

It reminds me of how there is enough food in the world to feed every single person and yet hunger, starvation and malnutrition are widespread. If we spent even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of our military budget on medical research, we probably could have found cures or improvements for all of the major illnesses. If instead of spending money on fighting over oil we spent that money investing in R&D, we would already have viable, cost effective alternative energies. Rather than helping the poor, we build prisons to house the poor. Rather than funding public education, we fund the military-industrial complex.

In heartfelt despair and bewilderment, Derrick Jensen writes (The Culture of Make Believe, pp. 140-1),

“As this dawning dissonance began to tear at my insides, again and again I considered that the confusion must come from within, that I must be missing some simple point: No one could be so stupid as to kill their own planet, all the while chatting breezily about golf, “reality-based TV” (whatever that means), bulging stock portfolios, and How ’bout them Cubbies? What seemed profoundly important to me seemed of no importance whatsoever to most people, and what seemed important to so many people seemed trivial to me. I couldn’t wrap my my mind aroundit. Lawrence Summers promotes the poisoning of poor people, and is elevated to secretary of the treasury. People profess concern over child prostitution as they continue to promulgate the economic and familial conditions that lead to it. The United states bombs Vietnam to save the Vietnamese people, it arms death squads through Latin America to save the people there, it bombs Iraq to save the people there. I kept thinking: Is there something I’m missing?”

Endless violence. Endless stupidity.

I sympathize with those who seek to escape into stories detached from reality. But I also understand that stories have the capacity touch upon deeper truths.

“There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of the earth, and it is the language of our bodies. It is the language of dreams, and of action. It is the language of meaning, and of metaphor. This language is not safe, as Jim Nollman said of metaphor, and to believe in its safety is to diminish the importance of the embodied. Metaphors are dangerous because id true they open us to our bodies, and thus to action, and because they slip – sometimes wordlessly, sometimes articulated – between the seen and unseen. This language of symbol is the umbilical cord that binds us to the beginning, to whatever is the source of who we are, where we come from, and where we return. To follow this language of metaphor is to trace words back to our bodies, back to the earth.”
~ A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, p. 311

In the end, maybe I’m just hoping to find a story I can believe in.

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Public Good vs Splintered Society (pt 2)

This is a continuation of my thoughts from my previous post. I won’t summarize my thoughts from that post. So you probably should read it first to understand the context of what I’m writing about below.

 – – – 

I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t directly speaking of racism. There is something more fundamental that can manifest as racism but not necessarily. It’s related to xenophobia. More generally, it’s related to the conservative predisposition of fearing that which is different or new.

This type of fear doesn’t inevitably manifest in negative ways. Sometimes there are good reasons to be mistrusting or cautious… and sometimes not. Also, everyone including liberals are prone to extreme wariness and even fear at times, but research shows that conservatives are even more prone and that right-wingers are so prone they live in almost constant state of mistrust and suspicion.

This is important because it goes beyond fear. If you’re afraid of something, you probably won’t deal with it well because fear constricts your options of how to respond. A conservative who is afraid of the strange and new probably won’t respond constructively to the strange and new. Is it any surprise that right-wingers who mistrust the government also are very bad at governing? Is it any surprise that research shows that those who believe in conspiracy theories admit that they would conspire if given the opportunity? Is it any surprise that conservatives who dislike compromise seek to attack anyone who wants compromise and then blame the other party for their failure to submit to the conservatives’ position?

Liberals are the only demographic that has a majority support for compromise. This is very problematic for a democracy where compromise is absolutely necessary in order for the government to function and for different groups to be fairly represented by the supposedly representative government. In an increasingly diverse society, this is increasingly problematic. Conservatives will only ever agree to policies when those policies are in their favor which means when they have the power to enforce policies in their favor.

Well off white conservatives have always become anxious whenever new groups asserted their right to be fairly represented.

It happened when the second wave of Scots-Irish immigrants arrived. It happened with the Chinese and German immigrants later on. It happened when slaves were freed and when women got the vote. It happened with the Catholics and Jews who sought political positions. It happened with the Japanese during WWII. And now it’s happening with Hispanics and Arabs.

It doesn’t matter how many generations these people lived here. All that matters is that they were and in some cases still are perceived as being different.

Racism is often the end result of this xenophobia, but it is’t the fundamental issue. In America, there is this ideal of diverse people working together. Not just conforming. Some conservatives and right-wingers say other groups should conform to the WASP culture. It’s fine to be a Catholic or Muslim just as long as y0u keep it to yourself. It’s fine to be gay or an atheist as long as you don’t speak about it openly.

The WASPs will claim that their culture is and should be the dominant culture.

They will rationalize this in saying that this should be so because they are the majority. Well, once upon a time Native Americans were the majority before European diseases and genocide wiped out most of their population. In Texas, Spanish-speaking Hispanics are the majority. Should all Texans conform to that majority? Why not? Shouldn’t Hispanics be fairly represented?

When their majority argument is challenged, WASPs will simply say their culture should be dominant because it’s always been dominant. So what this dominance was created and maintained for centuries through horrific violence and oppression. Might makes right, after all.

In the end, as a good liberal, I don’t want to blame anyone, not even WASPs. I’m tired of the blame game entirely, no matter who it’s directed at. If you’re a genuine conservative, sure feel free be cautious about the changes happening in society. But enough with the fear-mongering and race-baiting. Don’t use bigotry as an excuse to hate the democratic government. Don’t promote class war to push away the ladder once you’ve made it to the top. Don’t distort Jesus’ message of love to defend a system of injustice and suffering. Conservatism has a healthy role to play, but radical conservatism is unhelpful, dangerous even.

Americans have proven to be able to do great things when we all work together. Republicans, Libertarians and Tea Partiers, I ask this of you: Please quit attacking what makes America great simply for reasons of your personal agenda. America isn’t just about the upper classes or whites or Christians. It never was and never will be.

During the Populist Era, Northerners and Southerners worked together to fight those seeking to take over the government and oppress the lower classes. In some of the first labor unions, blacks and whites worked together.

Earlier last century, conservatives didn’t hate the government but actually sought to create a government that was truly for and by the people. The Republican Party used to be the party of progressivism and moderation, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Republican Party helped create the infrastructure (the interstate highway system, the national parks system, etc) of America through progressive taxation including high taxes on the rich. The Republicans, instead of fighting their own dark fantasies about ‘welfare queens’, used to fight the KKK.

The Progressive Era was also a time when liberalism reigned. Liberalism reigned all the way through Nixon’s early political career. Some of the greatest progressives were Republicans. Eisenhower used the military to enforce desegregation. Nixon campaigned on helping blacks and later helped pass the EPA. It was a time when people believed that America was a great nation and that it was the responsibility of the government along with the support of the public to do great things. The government used to send men into space and used to build great technology such as the internet. The Progressive Era created high-paying jobs that were secure and had pensions. Manufacturing jobs were kept in America and Americans were proud of our growing economy. Everyone benefited. It was a good society where literally everyone’s boat was lifted. Progressives gave a generation affordable higher education and created the middle class.

This isn’t patriotic propaganda. This isn’t just history. We are still benefiting from the sacrifices our grandparents and great grandparents made to build this great society. For decades, we’ve been living off the work of past generations while allowing the infrastructure crumble around us. It’s become an age of hyper-individualism and endless wars, in fact wars that are often against the American people. Instead of wars on drugs, why don’t we have a war on political corruption? Instead of tough on crime against the poor and minorities, why don’t we have tough on crime against the corporatists and bankers who nearly destroyed our economy?

It’s not too late. We can take responsibility as generations past did. We could create a great society once again.

At times, it seems so simple. Maybe it is as simple as our collectively creating what we collectively hope for or what we colletively fear. However, when digging deeper, there are all kinds of factors.

I was reading the book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State by Andrew Gelman. The following passage caught my attention last night while I was thinking about why conservatives seem to trust less or value less the ideal of a shared community, i.e., community beyond their own in-group.

Looking at people who moved from red (strongly Republican) states: those who move to other red states are poorer, those who move to purple states are slightly richer (on average), and those who move to blue states are richest. Among those who moved from purple (battleground) states, we see the same pattern: the poorer go to red states, the richer go to blue states. Looking at those who moved from blue (strongly Democratic) states, we again see that the poorest went to red states and the richest went to other blue states. In fact, people who moved from one blue state to another are in the richest category, on average. This does not demonstrate that people move to states or regions that are more culturally compatible to them, but the data are consistent with that possibility. A related idea is that higher earners are moving to richer states because of the economic opportunities available for educated professionals in these places.

One link between economics, voting, and social attitudes has been noticed by journalist Steve Sailer, who hypothesizes that rich, coastal states now favor the Democrats because of increasing house prices, which reduces affordable family formation (marriage and childbearing), in turn limiting the electoral appeal of Republican candidates running on family values. Sailer attributes some of this home price difference to what he calls the Dirt Gap—coastal and Great Lakes cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are bounded by water, which limits their potential for growth, as compared to inland cities such as Dallas or Atlanta: “The supply of suburban land available for development is larger in Red State cities, so the price is lower.” The Republicans do better among married voters, who are more likely to end up in more affordable states that also happen to be more culturally conservative.

This reminded me of the distinction I noticed between more conservative Southern states where people value family as community (Scots-Irish fundamentalism and kinship ties) and more liberal Midwestern states where people value community as family (Catholic and Quaker focus on community-building: schools, hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, etc).

As the above passage describes, working class and lower middle class conservatives who vote Republican tend to live in or move to Republican states for a simple reason. Unlike poor social conservatives who vote Democratic, these slightly more well off conservatives have enough money to move and yet not enough money to move to the more wealthy communities. So they go to places where there are suburbs which means places with vast open land to build suburbs. The Midwest doesn’t have such vast unused space and maybe that is why the value of community has survived in the Midwest whereas it hasn’t survived as much in Republican strongholds.

The thing about suburbs is that they’ve tended to be very lacking in traditional community structure. People tend to work far away from where they live. Suburbs often aren’t designed for walking and often don’t have parks or neighborhood schools. They are the antithesis of community and at the same time they are the destination of socially conservative Republicans, especially those who are white (which is most socially conservative Republicans). Suburbs tend to lack multiculturalism and racial diversity which might be another thing that attracts socially conservative Republicans.

This cuts to the core.

Research has found that those who grow up with multiculturalism and racial diversity will as adults be more socially liberal. It’s probably also relates to the research that shows liberals tended to have many friends in their childhoods.

As such, the type of communities we create (rural farming, cities, metropolises, suburbia, etc) creates a particular mindset that allows certain ways of seeing community and disallows others. Community doesn’t just happen. It is created. And if we don’t create it consciously, it might not take very positive forms. We’ve destroyed the natural order (i.e., hunter-gatherer communities) upon which human nature evolved. Our society has become dysfunctional because it’s gone so far beyond our origins as a species. Returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle isn’t possible without the complete destruction of civilization and a mass die-off of most of the world’s population. A ‘natural’ (i.e., unplanned) community isn’t a choice that we have at this point. Even conservatives in refusing to invest in the larger community are creating a particular type of community.

From an anecdotal perspective, Garrison Keillor describes (in his book Homegrown Democrat) the difference between liberal city-dwellers and conservative suburbanites:

“[ . . . ] there is a high value placed on public services. If you call 911 in St. Paul, the cops or the EMTs will arrive within four minutes. In the Republican suburbs, where No New Taxes is the beginning and end of politics and emergency services depend on volunteers, the response time can be anywhere between ten or fifteen and thirty minutes.”

Keillor is basically what has in the past been called a Sewer Socialist. In an earlier time in Milwaukee, there were socialists in political positions. They were of the pragmatic (i.e., non-ideological) sort that is common in the Midwest. Like Keillor, they were proud to have some of the best public services around at that time. On a practical level, socialism just means that you care about your neighbor rather than seeing community as merely a collection of self-focused individuals.

Many Americans have so completely forgotten what community is. When they see community, they have a fearful knee-jerk response: Socialism! Communism! Oh no, those who care about the public good are going to destroy our society!

 – – –

There is one factor that explains the impossibility of discussing all of this fairly and openly. I recently came across research about the backfire effect.

Basically, the backfire effect is when someone becomes stronger in their beliefs (more unquestioningly dogmatic) when they are confronted by facts that contradict or disprove or bring doubt to their beliefs. It intuitively makes sense, although I’m sure there are complex psychological mechanisms behind it.

What is relevant to my discussion is the demographic most prone to the backfire effect. Do I even need to say it? Unsurprisingly, conservatives are more likely to become more dogmatic when challenged even when or especially when the facts are against them. Liberals, on the other hand, don’t necessarily change their beliefs with new facts; it’s just that they’re less likely to become even stronger in their beliefs which seems to imply that liberals perceive facts as being less threatening.

This puts liberals in an almost impossible situation. Is it any wonder that no matter how much liberals seek to compromise they rarely ever get any compromise in return from conservatives. Liberals love compromise, a weakness and a strength. It’s because liberals love to compromise that they are able to live in multicultural, multi-racial cities. Study after study shows liberals love anything new and different, including ‘foreigners’. But the typical conservative response to anything unusual, even rotting fruit as shown in one study, is to respond with disgust.

Love of compromise is one ‘failing’ of liberalism. The other ‘failing’ is love of knowledge. Even when a fact disagrees with a liberal position, a liberal is more likely to welcome the new info, even if just for reasons of intellectual curiosity. Most (by which I mean the vast majority of) academics, scientists, writers and journalists are self-identified liberals. It’s a combination of liberals loving knowledge and the love of knowledge inducing a liberal mindset. Sadly, the more conservative someone is the less they probably love knowledge, and studies have shown right-wingers are prone to outright anti-intellectualism.

So, what is a poor liberal to do?

The answer isn’t to give up on compromise and knowledge. The real problem is that many liberals don’t understand the conservative mindset. The dogmatic tendency of conservatives and right-wingers correlates to their religiosity. I suspect that religiosity explains one other thing. A fact by itself is less convincing to a conservative. What convinces a conservative the most is anecdotal evidence and stories. Essentially, the Bible is just a bunch of anecdotes and stories, an anecdote being a story is considered real. Also, the evangelical tradition is all about personal experience of God or Holy Spirit which is the ultimate anecdotal evidence.

Everyone loves stories, but I think conservatives put a special importance on stories in a way liberals don’t. To a liberal, a story is a story. To a conservative, a story is reality. The story of Jesus is real, despite the lack of historical fact and even despite the internal contradictions of the New Testament. The most powerful story is the story that is seen as fact. Such a story is especially powerful if it actually is based on fact. It’s not that conservatives hate knowledge, but between a fact and a story conservatives will prefer the latter.

This is why conspiracy theories and global warming denialism are so convincing to conservatives and right-wingers. A conspiracy theory is a story and global warming denialism is often couched in terms of conspiracy theory. It just doesn’t matter to many conservatives that it’s a fact that most climatologists agree that human-caused global warming is real. It doesn’t matter because climatologists aren’t trained, as preachers are trained, in telling a good story.

Liberals love story as well. I do think stories are more powerful than anything else. Stories are what cultures are built upon. Liberals fail when they forget this. As George Lakoff explained:

“Progressives too often fail to clearly state the moral principles behind the American tradition. Our arguments often sound like an abstract defense of distant “government” rather than a celebration of our people, our public, and the moral views that have defined our tradition and the real human beings who work every day to carry them out.”

The root word for ‘science’ means to split or dissect. The root word for ‘art’ means to put together or join. This might be why knowledge and story so often conflict, but they don’t have to. Knowledge and story can work together. Old stories can be taken apart so as to create new stories that bring together. In a multicultural society as we live in, we can take the pieces of our cultural heritage and form something greater than the sum of the parts.

Story can be the bridge that brings liberals and conservatives together. In the past, America had a story about a shared society and that story inspired many generations of people in the first half or so of the 20th century. The greatest story is that which is lived through collective enactment. I’ve often wondered what story (i.e., myth) we are collectively enacting.

The dangerous part is unconsciously enacting a story. When that happens, a society is controlled by the story, trapped in a narrative. We can be mere characters in someone else’s story, such as an ancient story from an ancient book, or we can be storytellers. As William Blake said,

“Invent your own mythology or be slave to another man’s.”

To translate that into the terms of this discussion: Invent our own cultural narrative or be slave to the narrative of another culture. Invent our collective sense of community or be slave to the broken remnants of the past.

If we react out of fear, we will create a society driven by fear. Such a fearful society will result in dysfunctional communities, isolated communities set against one another, broken communities where past traumas are never healed. Only an act of creation can heal. Only retelling the story of community can heal a community.

 – – – 

George Lakoff summarized well the situation we collectively face:

Democracy, in the American tradition, has been defined by a simple morality: We Americans care about our fellow citizens, we act on that care and build trust, and we do our best not just for ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors, but for our country, for each other, for people we have never met and never will meet.

“American democracy has, over our history, called upon citizens to share an equal responsibility to work together to secure a safe and prosperous future for their families and nation. This is the central work of our democracy and it is a public enterprise. This, the American Dream, is the dream of a functioning democracy.

“Public refers to people, acting together to provide what we all depend on: roads and bridges, public buildings and parks, a system of education, a strong economic system, a system of law and order with a fair and effective judiciary, dams, sewers, and a power grid, agencies to monitor disease, weather, food safety, clean air and water, and on and on. That is what we, as a people who care about each other, have given to each other.

“Only a free people can take up the necessary tasks, and only a people who trust and care for one another can get the job done. The American Dream is built upon mutual care and trust. 

“Our tradition has not just been to share the tasks, but to share the tools as well. We come together to provide a quality education for our children. We come together to protect each other’s health and safety. We come together to build a strong, open and honest financial system. We come together to protect the institutions of democracy to guarantee that all who share in these responsibilities have an equal voice in deciding how they will be met.

“What this means is that there is no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman or business. No one makes it on their own. No matter how much wealth you amass, you depend on all the things the public has provided — roads, water, law enforcement, fire and disease protection, food safety, government research, and all the rest. The only question is whether you have paid your fair share for what we all have given you.

“We are now faced with a nontraditional, radical view of “democracy” coming from the Republican party. It says democracy means that nobody should care about anybody else, that democracy means only personal responsibility, not responsibility for anyone else, and it means no trust. If America accepts this radical view of democracy, then all that we have given each other in the past under traditional democracy will be lost: all that we have called public. Public roads and bridges: gone. Public schools: gone. Publicly funded police and firemen: gone. Safe food, air, and water: gone. Public health: gone. Everything that made America America, the crucial things that you and your family and your friends have taken for granted: gone.

The democracy of care, shared responsibility and trust is the democracy of the American Dream. The democracy of no care, no shared responsibility, and no trust has produced the American Nightmare that so many of our citizens are living through.

Race & Wealth Gap

I heard something truly disgusting last night. The worst part is that I heard it on NPR.

Several guests were discussing how poverty and the wealth gap have increased and how it has increased the most among minorities. One factor given was that blacks are disproportionately employed in government jobs which have been hit the hardest because of funding cuts. One of the guests had the audacity to portray government jobs as just another welfare for blacks. He was arguing that even blacks who work hard for their money still are just being lazy welfare recipients. WTF! In the eyes of a bigot, minorities can’t win for losing.

He said this on the supposedly ‘liberal’ NPR. Did any of the other guests challenge his racism? No. Did the host demand he explain why he made such a racist comment? No. Apparently, no one on this NPR show thought it was unusual or immoral to express such bigoted views on public radio. I’m sure they were all upper class white people.

http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

Figure 3: Income and wealth by race in the U.S.

http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/151830/debunking_the_big_lie_right-wingers_use_to_justify_black_poverty_and_unemployment?page=entire

It’s a myth that should be put to rest by the economic experience of the African American community over the past 20 years. Because what Kern and other adherents of the “culture of poverty” thesis can’t explain is why blacks’ economic fortunes advanced so dramatically during the 1990s, retreated again during the Bush years and then were completely devastated in the financial crash of 2008.

In order to buy the cultural story, one would have to believe that African Americans adopted a “culture of success” during the Clinton years, mysteriously abandoned it for a “culture of failure” under Bush and finally settled on a “culture of poverty” shortly after Lehman Brothers crashed.

That’s obviously nonsense. It was exogenous economic factors and changes in public policies, not manifestations of “black culture,” that resulted in those widely varied outcomes.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/151809/white_families_have_20_times_the_wealth_of_black_families%3A_how_racism%27s_legacy_created_a_crushing_depression_in_black_america/?page=entire

It’s crucial to understand the relationship between wealth accumulated over generations and one’s economic prospects today. Central to that relationship is the concept of “intergenerational assistance.” That’s a fancy way of saying that a person’s chances to advance economically are very much impacted by whether his or her family can help get him or her started on the path to prosperity.

Cato Institute: Corporatist Libertarianism

What is the Cato Institute? Who funds it? Who has been on its board? What are the connections? What is their agenda?

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/cato-institute

“My contact with [Cato] was strange. They’re ideologues, like Trotskyites. All questions must be seen and solved within the true faith of libertarianism, the idea of minimal government. And like Trotskyites, the guys from Cato can talk you to death.”
~ Nat Hentoff, columnist

The Cato Institute was founded with Koch money just as the John Birch Society was during an earlier generation. As Koch money turned the Tea Party into astroturf, Koch money has turned the libertarian movement into astroturf. David H. Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, currently sits on the Board of Directors at The Cato Institute. Rupert Murdoch, the worst corporatist and media propagandist in US history, was on the board of the Cato Institute. The ties are numerous between the Cato Institute, the Koch family, and Rupert Murdoch. The Koch’s and Murdoch have been major players controlling the direction of the Libertarian Party, and both participated in creating the Tea Party astroturf. Murdoch took it a step further by using Fox News to align the libertarian ‘movement’ and the Tea Party with the neocon Republican Party.

http://www.truthwinds.com/siterun_data/media/mainstream_media/news.php?q=1298911375

You might think it’s all about what brings in the advertising dollars for Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox’s parent company, News Corporation. But it runs much deeper than that, involving key players at the Wall Street Journal, News Corp.’s crown jewel. The informal partnership between billionaire David Koch, whose campaign dollars and astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, have fomented the Wisconsin crisis, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is profoundly ideological — the ideology being the exponential enrichment of the two men’s heirs, all dressed up in the language of libertarianism and free enterprise. Together with his brother, Charles — also a big donor to right-wing causes –David Koch runs Koch Industries, the conglomerate that sprang from the oil and gas company founded by his father.

http://other98.com/infographic-mad-billionaires-disease/


Notice how the Cato Institute has been hiding it’s funding sources for years. Hiding this information implies a dishonest agenda. If they weren’t afraid of the truth, why would they hide it? Why trust a think tank that refuses to disclose basic facts behind its agenda?

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Cato_Institute_financial_data

Some of the key financial information on the Cato Institute‘s finances, based on returns submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, is:(based on IRS 990 returns)

Year Total revenue Program services Total Expenses Net assets
1993 6,085,321 [1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1994 6,421,265[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1995 9,338,834[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1996 9,473,622[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1997 11,160,734 6,321,351 9,814,776 11,055,652
1998 15,874,852 6,788,006 10,576,951 16,353,553
1999 13,349,590 7,559,568 11,794,075 17,909,068
2000 12,401,337 7,702,965 12,219,864 18,035,650
2001 17,631,255 8,593,972 14,045,306 21,602,805
2002 16,975,806 10,933,980 17,582,455 20,996,283
2003 12,975,701 12,583,901 15,630,490 18,341,494
2004 14,530,419 11,887,101 17,002,063 15,869,850
2005 22,656,851 11,228,618 17,065,056 21,461,645
2006
2007
2008

Let me clear up one point. As with everything, this issue is complex. It’s not as if the Cato Institute is a front for all big biz. Some of their public positions are actually contrary to the interests of some corporations in some industries (SourceWatch):

“Cato’s corporate fund raising may be hampered by its scholars’ tendency to take positions that are at odds with some of the interests of some large corporations. Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls “corporate welfare,” the practice of funneling taxpayer money to politically well-connected corporate interests.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82] For example, in 2002, Cato president Ed Crane and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope teamed up to write an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the abandonment of the Republican energy bill, arguing that it had become little more than a gravy train for Washington lobbyists.[83] And in 2005, Cato staff Jerry Taylor teamed up with Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club to attack the Republican Energy Bill as a give-away to corporate interests.[84]

The Cato Institute only represents certain corporations and only defends certain corporate interests. However, there is an undercurrent of corporatism in that Cato is supportive of global warming denialism, near-monopolies, deregulation, nondisclosure, corporate personhood, and the destruction of grassroots democracy. Basically, they are for anything that makes corporations more powerful and makes government (by and for the people) less powerful. Anyway, they certainly don’t lack corporate funding (e.g., energy companies that donate as part of their lobbying effort to stop environmental regulation) and most of the individual donations probably come from the richest of rich (i.e., the plutocratic class).

It’s confusing in the way all politics is confusing. Many corporations will fund a libertarian think tank like Cato Institute while funding a neocon politician. It’s the same reason they’ll fund a neocon Republican while funding a ‘liberal’ Democrat. Corporations like to cover all bases. So, the ‘principled’ rhetoric of a think tank or a politician is meaningless, just nice-sounding fluff, just political spin to obfuscate the issues, just faux ideology to manipulate the public. Political rhetoric is simply what corporations call marketing. Like the corporations it represents, the Cato Institute is selling a product and any means are justified in that agenda. Are there deeper agendas? Of course. But those deeper agendas wouldn’t be publicly disclosed just as their funding isn’t publicly disclosed.

Corporate libertarianism (AKA establishment libertarianism, libertarianism for the privileged) is a lot closer to neocon politics than it is to grassroots libertarianism. There are some very basic shared interests. For example, take the close connection between the libertarian Cato Institute and the neocon Heartland Institute:

http://grimstad.hia.no/puls/climatechange/nnm03/07nnm03a.htm

Lindzen and Singer are both associated to the Heartland institute and Cato Institute, extreme-rightist think-tanks and eager defenders of the big coal, oil, tobacco, arms, chemicals and asbestos industry – and funded by these. Heartland institute promotes the extreme neo-conservative approach to economy and regards any efforts by the government to restrict free market forces and big (American) multinational corporations as a nuisance, and perceives e.g. President Obama as a kind of a muslim communist. Government is regarded as an evil force that intrudes on private citizens and puts restrictions on private initiatives (read American multinational corporations). Governments should therefore be kept as small as possible to ensure “freedom”.

Some of the scientists associated to Heartland institute and other similar think tanks were witnesses for the American tobacco industry, claiming that it was not possible to prove a clear connection between lung cancer and smoking. The parallell between the tobacco industry and the big coal and oil industry is striking. It is now evident that smoking cigarettes is addicting and deadly. When the tobacco corporations understood in the 1980’s that they were facing a court trial with compensation claims to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, they invented the term ‘Junk science” about mainstream medical science, and mobilised “the merchants of doubt”. They had previously bought medical doctors to recommend cigarette smoking, and to claim that the purported hazards of smoking were hysterical. They bought spin doctors and connected these to PR-firms and think tanks. They gave the impression that the government is scaring the public to accept taxes on tobacco by making the warning texts on tobacco products mandatory. The message is that the government just pretends to protect us while in reality they manipulate us and extort our money.

– Again we see that the American coal and oil industry repeat history. – Even according to president George Bush, we all “are addicted to oil”. Lindzen and Singer defended the tobacco industry 20 years ago and still do, e.g. by claiming that passive smoking is harmless. They claim that the government is again trying to scare us through their “hysterical doomsday prophecies” – in reality just to increase taxes. Again scientists are bought and spin-doctors allied with PR-firms and lobbyists are deceiving the public: “there is no danger! Everything is natural! The big government and the UN are just after more taxes”.
-These persons act more like lawyers than scientists, defending their clients by any means.
It seems that if you are a very big polluter making very big money, spin-doctors from the Heartland-, Cato-, and George Marshal institutes will be there to defend you.
George Marshall Institute, Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, “Americans for prosperity” are all financed by oil-multibillionaires such as the Koch brothers, media moguls like Robert Murdoch with Fox news and other media forming his empire. In addition these think tanks have financial support from Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Philippe Morris and other tobacco giants and the big American coal industries:

The typical climate skeptic prefers to present himself as the underdog; the small, ordinary but concerned person, taking a stand against impersonal and corrupt bureaucracies, the “mighty UN” and oppressing, big governments that will do anything to increase taxes. (That there is a tremendous, ongoing transfer of power and capital from democratically elected representatives to closed boardrooms in multinational corporations is of no concern). He prefers being perceived as David fighting the Goliaths. However, when checking his sources of information – and money – you usually end up with ideas and support from wealthy American ultra-right think tanks, PR groups financed by big multinational corporations in coal, oil, tobacco, arms, GMOs, chemicals etc and lobbyist groups financed by the Arab-American-Canadian oil and coal cartels. For some reason the typical skeptic has never read the IPCC reports he claims to be so skeptical to, and he is never skeptical to the “information” disseminated by the Heartland institute.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Cato_Institute

Funder of Like-Minded Think Tanks

Aside from its own advocacy efforts, the Cato Institute has become a substantial funder of other “like-minded” think tanks around the U.S. In its 2006 annual report Cato lists 26 organizations and one individual it provided grants totaling $1,243,00 to. Groups the benefited from Cato’s generosity wereAgencia Americana ($30,000 “to help fund study on S.A. corruption”); the Philanthropy Roundtable ($5,000); the Manhattan Institute ($5,000); the American Enterprise Institute ($5,000); the Fund for American Studies ($10,000); the Bluegrass Institute ($50,000); the Cascade Policy Institute($25,000); the Ethan Allen Institute ($50,000); the Evergreen Freedom Foundation ($100,000); the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii ($40,000); the Illinois Policy Institute ($50,000); the James Madison Institute ($100,000); the John Locke Foundation ($20,000); the Maine Heritage Policy Center ($50,000); the Maryland Public Policy Institute ($40,000); the Nevada Policy Research Institute ($50,000); the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ($50,000); the Rio Grande Foundation ($50,000); the Show-Me Institute ($50,000); the South Carolina Policy Council ($90,000); the Sutherland Institute ($40,000); the Tennessee Center for Policy Research ($50,000); the Texas Public Policy Foundation ($100,000); the Virginia Institute for Public Policy ($25,000); the Yankee Institute ($68,000); and the Independent Institute ($60,000). In addition Jim Powell received $25,000 as a Hoiles Fellowship.[12] (note, the Cato annual report refers to the “South Carolina Policy Institute” when the correct name of the think tank is the “South Carolina Policy Council”. Similarly, the Maryland Public Policy Institute was misidentified as the Maryland Public Policy Center.)

[ . . . ]

Call for elimination of ballot referendum disclosure requirements

In March 2007, Cato, along with the Institute for Justice, called for eliminating disclosure requirements for those who contribute funds in support or opposition of ballot measures. One of the primary reasons the two groups cited was the high costs associated with disclosure requirements. At the time, these requirements were already weaker than those required for contributions to a candidate’s political campaign.[56][57]

Howie Rich, a real estate investor and Cato Board Member, had helped to sponsor sixteen different ballot initiatives in 2006. His major effort was the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or TABOR, which Rich attempted to place on the ballot in eight states. Courts in five of the states ultimately stripped TABOR from the ballot for numerous reasons, including what one Montana judge called a “pervasive and general pattern of fraud” by Rich and others in their campaign to pass the referendum.[56][58]

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, an advocacy group in support of ballot initiatives to reach progressive political and policy goals, believe that donor disclosure protects both the voters and the process of direct democracy from secret money and hidden goals. In response to Cato’s position, Kristina Wilfore, the group’s executive director, stated “The problem with being a front group for corporate fat cats like Exxon, Enron, and Howie Rich, is that you are always a little out-of-touch with the public…CATO aligning itself with more corruption in political giving is taking the side of the powerful against the people – and they call themselves libertarian?” [56][59]

[ . . . ]

Cato and Climate Change

Patrick Michaels, a former Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and an outspoken global warming skeptic. On its website, Michaels is listed as Cato’s only speaker on global warming. (Three others are also listed in the “Energy and Environment” category — Jerry Taylor on “gas and oil prices, energy policy, energy conservation and regulation”, Peter Van Doren and on “energy regulation, gas and oil prices” and Randal O’Toole on broader environmental policies.)[62] Pat Michaels represented the Cato Institute as a reviewer on Working Group III of the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC[63]

Michaels is Editor of the World Climate Report, a blog published by New Hope Environmental Services, “an advocacy science consulting firm”[64] he founded and runs. (Michaels biographical note on the Cato Institute website does not mention his role with New Hope Environmental Services).[65]

In an affidavit in a Vermont court case, Michaels described the “mission” of the firm as being to “publicize findings on climate change and scientific and social perspectives that may not otherwise appear in the popular literature or media. This entails both response research and public commentary.”[66] In effect, New Hope Environmental Services is a PR firm. Michaels’ firm does not disclose who its clients are[67], but in 2006 a leaked memo revealed that Michaels firm had been paid $100,000 by an electric utility, Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), to counter concern about global warming.[68] An affadavit by Michaels also stated that “public disclosure of a company’s funding of New Hope and its employees has already caused considerable financial loss to New Hope. For example, in 2006 Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc., an electric utility, had requested that its support of $50,000 to New Hope be held confidential. After this support was inadvertently made public by another New Hope client, Tri-State informed me that it would no longer support New Hope because of adverse publicity.”[66]

On a 2007 academic CV, Michaels disclosed that prior to creating his firm he had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and the Western Fuels Association. He has also been a frequent speaker at events organized by leading coal and energy companies as well as coal and other industry lobby groups.[69]

In 2009, Bob Burton noted that “in its returns, Cato reports that since April 2006 they have paid $242,900 for the ‘environmental policy’ services of Michaels’ firm. (In preceding years, New Hope Environmental Services was not listed amongst the five highest paid independent contractors supplying professional services to Cato.) In response to an email inquiry, Michaels stated that the Cato funding “largely supported the extensive background research for my 2009 book, ‘Climate of Extremes,’ background research on climate change, mainly in the areas of ice melt and temperature histories, and background research required for invited lectures around the world.” (Climate of Extremes was published by the Cato Institute in January of this year [2009].) Asked whether the funding came from a specific company, donor or foundation, Michaels wrote via email that there wasn’t “for this or for any of my activities.” (In case the Cato Institute knew of dedicated funding sources for Michaels work that he was unaware of, I also emailed an inquiry to the think tank’s media office. They did not respond.)”[70]

Funding

[ . . . ] In their 1996 book No Mercy, University of Colorado Law School scholars Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado describe a shift in Cato’s patron base over the years. “Early on,” they wrote, “Cato’s bills were largely paid by the Koch family of Wichita, Kansas. Today, most of its financial support from entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation.”[74] Though diversified, Koch Industries amassed most of its fortune in oil trading and refining. [75]

See the interactive map at the following link:

http://www.muckety.com/Cato-Institute/5002561.muckety

Cato Institute

Muckety news stories featuring Cato Institute
Koch money is finding its way to Madison.
February 23, 2011

People related to Cato Institute:

K. Tucker Andersen – director
Frank Bond – director
Edward H. Crane – president
Richard J. Dennis – director
William A. Dunn – director
Kevin L. Gentry – director
Ethelmae C. Humphreys – director
David H. Koch – director
Robert A. Levy – director
John C. Malone – director
William A. Niskanen – director
David H. Padden – director
Lewis E. Randall – director
Howard S. Rich – director
Donald G. Smith – director
Jeffrey S. Yass – director
Fred Young – director

Other current Cato Institute relationships:

State Policy Network – associate member

Cato Institute past relationships:

Whitney L. Ball – director of development

Charles G. Koch – founder
David B. Kopel – associate policy analyst
William A. Niskanen – chairman
Frederick W. Smith – director
Walter E. Williams – advisory board member

http://world-information.org/wio/infostructure/100437611704/100438658297

Examples of Mainly Corporate Funded Think Tanks: Cato Institute

Founded in 1977 the Cato Institutes 1998 budget made up US$ 11 million. Its funding consists of corporate and private donations (especially from corporations and executives in the highly regulated industries of financial services, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals industries) and sales of publications.

Catos corporate donors include tobacco firms: Philip Morris (Rupert Murdoch sits on Philip Morris board of directors) and R.J. Reynolds. Financial firms: American ExpressChase Manhattan BankChemical BankCiticorp/Citibank, Commonwealth Fund, Prudential Securities and Salomon Brothers. Energy conglomerates: Chevron CompaniesExxon Company, Shell Oil Company and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum InstituteAmocoFoundation and Atlantic Richfield Foundation. Furthermore the Cato Institute is funded by pharmaceutical firms: Eli Lilly & CompanyMerck & Company and Pfizer, Inc.,foundations, like Koch, Lambe and Sarah Scaife and companies from the telecommunications sector: Bell Atlantic Network Services, BellSouth Corporation, Microsoft, NYNEX Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Viacom.

http://proamlib.blogspot.com/2011/02/cato-kochs-and-public-sector-unions.html

There have been several articles written lately about the involvement of Koch industries with state Governor’s, particularly most recently with Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker.
Here are some good articles:
Below is a pdf document put out by the Cato Institute that clearly shows their objective of decreasing the power of Unions because of their ability to lobby and spend money for Liberal and Progressive issues and candidates.

“Labor unions play a diminishing role in the private
sector, but they still claim a large share of the public-sector
workforce. Public-sector unions are important to examine
because they have a major influence on government
policies through their vigorous lobbying efforts. They are
particularly influential in states that allow monopoly
unionization through collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is a misguided labor policy
because it violates civil liberties and gives unions
excessive power to block needed reforms. To provide
policymakers with greater flexibility and to improve
government efficiency, states should follow the lead of
Virginia and ban collective bargaining in the public sector.”

Click Picture to See Full Size

I would expect that there will be other conservative governors, from states other than Wisconsin, that will be trying to do away with collective bargaining too. There have been protests in Ohio and Indiana has a bill very similar to Wisconsin’s, See Indiana Senate Bill 0273.

From the article: Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts by Michael Cooper

“In Tennessee, a law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers passed a State Senate committee this week despite teachers’ objections. Indiana is weighing proposals to weaken unions. Union members in Pennsylvania, who are not necessarily facing an attack on their bargaining rights, said Friday that they planned to wear red next week to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin.”

“In many states, Republicans who came to power in the November elections, often by defeating union-backed Democrats, are taking aim not only at union wages, but at union power as they face budget gaps in the years ahead.”

“FreedomWorks, a Washington group that helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters for a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions — not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well.”

http://world.std.com/~mhuben/cato.html

Criticisms of the Cato Institute.

Part of the “Critiques of Libertarianism” site.
http://world.std.com/~mhuben/libindex.html

Last updated 08/27/10.

A “libertarian” quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders. Cato is an astroturf organization: there is no significant participation by the tiny libertarian minority. They do not fund it or affect its goals. It is a creature of corporations and foundations.

The major purpose of the Cato Institute is to provide propaganda and soundbites for conservative and libertarian politicians and journalists that is conveniently free of reference to funders such as tobacco, fossil fuel, investment, media, medical, and other regulated industries.

Cato is one of the most blatant examples of “simulated rationality”, as described in Phil Agre’s The Crisis of Public Reason. Arguments need only be plausibly rational to an uninformed listener. Only a tiny percentage will notice that they are being mislead. That’s all that’s needed to manage public opinion.


Links


A Critical Assessment of “Lies, Damned Lies, & 400,000 Smoking-Related Deaths”.
The Cato Institute, heavily funded by tobacco companies, hired Levy and Marimont to denounce statistics about smoking related deaths. This article refutes their key arguments, finding them unscientific and inflammatory.
Media Moguls on Board: Murdoch, Malone and the Cato Institute
An Extra! (the magazine of FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting ) article that describes how media giants use Cato to lobby Congress for corporate welfare and legal monopolization.
Why Privatizing Social Security Would Hurt Women
An Institute For Women’s Policy Research rebuttal to Cato Institute proposals and claims about Social Security privatization.
An Analysis Of The Cato Institute’s “The Case Against a Tennessee Income Tax” 
Senate finance panel examines Cato report, recognizes propaganda
Citizens For Tax Justice lay open the shoddy errors behind this typical example of the claims Cato makes. The Tennessee Senate finance panel also identified a large number of other errors.
Who knew? The Swedish model is working.
Paul Krugman points out that CATO and other conservatives were dead wrong in their predictions for Sweden, and that big welfare states do sometimes work well. From The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.
Libertarian Think Tanks
Tom Tomorrow’s “This Modern World” gives credit where it is due.
Do Windmills Eat Birds?
David Case, executive editor of TomPaine.com, exposes a quotation out of context by CATO in a case of pretend environmental concern.
Millionaires One and All
(PDF) Details the fallacies underlying the CATO Social Security Calculator. Under realistic assumptions, you’d accumulate 1/10th to 1/30th of what CATO estimates. Part of The Social Security Network.
Rethinking the Think Tanks
Sierra Magazine’s article detailing the corporate financing of anti-environmental propaganda from thinktanks like Cato.
Internet Bunk: The Junk Science Page
The CATO Institute is a corporate front that employs Steven Milloy to tarbrush opponents scientific arguments as “Junk Science”. Robert Todd Carroll’s excellent The Skeptic’s Dictionary details Milloy’s unscientific part in this PR campaign.
Zogby Polling For Cato Institute, Other Clients, Manipulates Findings To Misrepresent Public Opinion About Social Security
A poll based on spin, rather than real alternatives, yields more spin. From Campaign For America’s Future.
Cato Institute: “Libertarian” in a Corporate Way
Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy details how the CATO Institute represents its anti-regulation corporate funders, not libertarian individuals. The goal is to give corporate propaganda an air of objectivity by concealing its source.
The ‘freest economies in the world’.
John Berthelsen of the Asia Times points out that the Cato Institute’s ‘economic freedom’ index seems to have no idea of the reality of government intervention and market oligopoly in Hong Kong and Singapore.
NEW 5/06: Dogmatic Libertarians
John Fonte (in National Review) writes a conservative response to the dogmatic Cato position on open borders. He points out the obvious that somehow libertarians seem to miss: borders are important to self-governance for basic reasons of security.
NEW 5/06: The Cato Hypocrisy
David Brin describes “truly grotesque hypocrisies, putting shame to any pretense that these Cato guys are “libertarians,” let along honest intellects.”
NEW 1/07: Comments on “Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased”
Gary Burtless of The Brookings Institution severely criticizes the analysis of Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute in the Reynold’s paper Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased? The answer is yes, contrary to Cato propaganda.
NEW 3/07: The Denialists’ Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts
Chris Jay Hoofnagle details the public relations methodology of CATO and other anti-consumer, business-funded organizations. Count how many of these you’ve heard on your favorite topic: global warming, for example.
NEW 2/08: CFP’s Laffer Curve Video
Law Professor Linda Beale debunks the latest Laffer Curve propaganda video from the “Center for Freedom and Prosperity” and CATO’s Dan Mitchell.
NEW 11/08: Politics Compromises the Libertarian Project
Matthew Yglesias takes the Cato Institute to task for corporate shilling in it’s own “jornal”, Cato Unbound .
NEW 8/10: Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
Jane Mayer’s The New Yorker article on Charles and David Koch. They have financed libertarian propaganda with more than 100 million dollars over more than 30 years. They founded and control the major libertarian think tanks Cato, Reason, Mercatus, and others. See: Koch think tanks at SourceWatch.

Print References


The links here are to Amazon.com, through their associates program, primarily because of the review information. Books without links are generally out of print, and can often be easily found at AddAll Used and Out Of Print Search. Good sites for bargain shopping for sometimes expensive new books are Online Bookstore Price Comparison and AddAll Book Search and Price Comparison. Both of those list applicable coupons. Another is BookFinder.com.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber “Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future”
Details of the public relations and brownlash manipulations of CATO, Steven Milloy, and others.
Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado “No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda”
(Temple Univ. Press 1996). The influence of Cato and Heritage Foundations.

Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( mhuben@world.std.com ).
This document may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes if it is reproduced in its textual entirety, with this notice intact.

Public Good vs Splintered Society

I was talking to a conservative about local politics and economics. This helped me to clarify my own liberal views about this liberal community.

I’ve lived in this relatively small city (Iowa City, IA) for most of my life and I’ve worked in many jobs here, including the last 10 years spent working for the city. I’ve seen the town change and I’ve studied the town’s history. To put it simply, I’m ‘invested’ in this town. This town is my childhood home. This town is the only community I’ve ever felt a part of.

I’m not sure how typical this city is, but it’s a good example of a planned city. It originally was intended to be the capital of Iowa. They even went so far as to build the capital building around which much of the downtown formed, but the capital was later moved to a more central location in the state. Iowa City wouldn’t exist as we now know it if not for that initial taxpayer funded investment. Instead of a capital, we got the University of Iowa which also has brought in massive state funding.

However, this city doesn’t survive on just the taxpayers kindness. There are two hospitals, a Catholic hospital and the University hospital, the latter being one of the best hospitals in the country. There is also a thriving downtown with hundreds of businesses, although it’s of course changed much over time.

Also, Iowa City has many parks, recreation centers, public parking ramps, a very nice public library (plus the university has numerous libraries all open to the public), and a very nice pedestrian mall (where many of the businesses are located). At one end of the pedestrian mall, there is a hotel and a conference center, both having been built on publicly owned land (the hotel being built on the very public street that was closed when it was turned into a pedestrian mall. The pedestrian mall was built and the entire downtown renovated in the 1970s with public funding (some combination of federal and local). A mall was also built near the pedestrian mall and was planned by the city government as part of the downtown renovation. The mall now only is half stores and half offices for the university (besides it now only halfway serving as a mall, it seems to be thriving as well).

Near downtown, there is a historic district which still has the original brick roads. The city government has only approved buildings in that area to fit in with the historical architecture. There is a genuine care (by the public and by the local government) about this town’s history… along with care about its future.

All of these public investments have paid off massively. Iowa City has often been listed in various top 10 lists of cities to live in. It’s even a favorite destination for the elderly and the disabled because of our fine public services, including a large senior center downtown. And, of course, people from all over the country and all over the world come to Iowa City to either attend or to work at the university. Because of the university, we have the oldest writers’ workshop in the world and have been given the title of the first UNESCO City of Literature in the US. The pedestrian mall, the downtown in general, the various parks and recreation centers; all of these are extremely popular destinations. During the warm times of the year, there are bands that play in the pedestrian mall every week and there are several festivals. Between the university, the city and the senior center, there are always events, activities and groups available for people of all ages and interests. We have a fairly popular public access channel with tons of locally produced shows.

There is a strong sense of community in Iowa City, but community doesn’t happen on accident. It must be created through civic action, through public participation and, yes, through a willingness of taxpaying citizens to support it all. People are willing to pay for it because they believe in the vision of a thriving community. We have community theatres, including a theatre building that was saved through public donations. Furthermore, there are many churches in Iowa City that are strongly community-oriented. This town is a place where even the most destitute will find their basic needs met.

Community is an odd thing. It’s hard to measure its value. The only aspect that can indirectly be measured is land value which is mostly created through public investment in infrastructure (road building and maintenance, plowing, water, emergency services, etc). Without such public infrastructure, land has little economic value in and of itself. But even the land value doesn’t begin to capture the value of community. As social animals, we collectively are the value of a community. We swim in and breathe community like fish in water. Community is often easier to notice when it’s gone.

“Not much that we do in our personal lives makes much economic sense, just as most things we do for money make no sense in personal terms.”
~ A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, p. 138

For some strange reason, most American ‘conservatives’ no longer seem to believe in community. Yes, they like community, but they don’t like what is required to create community. They’ll argue that governments can’t create jobs. If that was so, Iowa City wouldn’t have a thriving downtown with a strong downtown business association. Maybe it’s a midwest thing. Iowa City is a very liberal city, but many people on the city council are business owners. Even business owners want public investment. The nice downtown wouldn’t exist without public investment. Iowa City is an example of what Republicans think is impossible.

Before Iowa City’s renovation, the downtown was becoming rundown. There had been political upheaval with riots downtown. There were many old buildings that weren’t being maintained. There were empty gravel lots all over. The downtown wasn’t thriving and many citizens were afraid to go downtown. It would have been easy to let the downtown turn into a slum or simply die as has been allowed to happen in many cities. It would have been easy to have privatized all the parks and public services. It would have been easy to lower the taxes on the rich using the rhetoric that this would increase job creation and trickle down. But if that had been done, the downtown would probably still be rundown.

It wasn’t just taxpayer money that saved downtown Iowa City. The money could have been wasted, even with good intentions. What makes Iowa City unique is that it’s filled with liberals (and traditional conservatives) who actually believe in community and are willing to personally invest in building community. When the downtown was renovated, someone or some group obviously had great vision and it was far from utopian. This vision was very practical in its implementation and in its results.

 – – – 

So, why don’t conservative Republicans have faith in community in the way liberals do. I’ve written about this before, but it continually bewilders me.

Why is it that Republicans only trust the government when they are in power?

Why is it that conservatives have so little faith in what makes America strong?

If conservatives truly believed communism was inferior, why did they have such immense faith that it was probable communism might succeed?

“The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.

“When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?”

This demonstrates my point. Liberals have less fear of enemies because liberals are more confident in American society, in the American public, in the American economy, in American communities, and yes even in the American government. Liberals simply believe in America. Full stop.

So, why don’t conservative Republicans have an equal confidence?

I’ve recently become more clear in a particular insight. Republican conservatives, for the most part, aren’t traditional conservatives. The American political tradition originates from the British political tradition. The British conservatives were the the traditionally conservative Tories; and the Tories defended the British government. Since the American revolutionaries were fighting the British government, by default they were fighting against the conservatism of their day, the Tories. Henry Fairlie clearly differentiated between traditional conservatives and modern conservatives:

“The characteristics of the Tory, which separate him from the conservative, may briefly be summarized: 1.) his almost passionate belief in strong central government, which has of course always been the symbolic importance to him of the monarchy; 2.) his detestation of “capitalism,” of what Cardinal Newman and T.S. Eliot called “usury,” of which he himself calls “trade”; and 3.) his trust in the ultimate good sense of the People, whom he capitalizes in this way, because the People are a real entity to him, beyond social and economic divisions, and whom he believes can be appealed to, and relied on, as the final repository of decency in a free nation. The King and the People, against the barons and the capitalists, is the motto of the Tory.”

A traditional conservative doesn’t hate his own government. The government is a social institution which maintains social order. There is nothing a traditional conservative cares about more than social order and there is no more basic manifestation of social order than government.

This was further clarified by another discussion I was having with the same conservative that got me thinking about all of this. In the second discussion, I mentioned the phenomenon of the black demographic (which applies to some other minority demographics such as Latinos).

Blacks mostly vote for Democrats. In fact, they are the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. This is interesting as they are conservative rather than liberal. Democratic-voting blacks are even more socially conservative and more conservatively religious than even the average Republican. The division between the two parties isn’t liberal vs conservative. Rather, it’s traditional conservatives (aligned with liberals) vs modern conservatives (aligned with right-wingers). There are still some traditional conservatives left in the GOP, but not many. They are the last remnants of the Eisenhower Republicans. Most people today label traditional conservatives as ‘moderate conservatives’ or even simply as ‘moderates’ because they are, after all, moderate compared to right-wingers.

As I’m bewildered by the right-wingers who call themselves conservatives, the conservative I was speaking with was bewildered by these minorities who are so traditionally conservative and yet vote Democratic. He genuinely thinks they are brainwashed. No, they are just religious. Upper class and upper middle class white people (the base of the Republican Party) simply don’t understand traditional conservatism, especially as it relates to religion. To a poor and disenfranchised person (i.e., minorities), religion plays a much more pivotal role. If you are a well off white person, you grow up with lots of advantages and privileges which makes life easy. The well off white person is less obviously reliant on community and so they can focus on a more individualistic worldview. Most black Americans don’t have such luxury. For them, religion is their community in a world that is often against them. Religion isn’t merely an individual choice, isn’t merely a nice moral group to belong to. For minorities, religion is about survival.

This is why blacks (and latinos) mostly vote Democratic. Liberals only make up a small portion of Democratic voters, far from being a majority. However, both conservative blacks and liberal whites are aligned in defending traditional conservatism. The only difference is that the former wants more involvement from churches. Minorities want churches to be allowed to accept government funding in order to participate in the improvement of their own communities. This love and appreciation of community (i.e., it takes a village to raise a child) is a shared ideal of conservative blacks and liberal whites.

Democrats only seem predominantly liberal as compared to Republican right-wing values and rhetoric. What many call liberalism, especially fiscal liberalism, is in many ways the same thing as traditional conservatism. Because right-wing Republicans have largely abandoned traditional conservatism, liberals have sought to defend it against those very same right-wingers. Right-wingers have increasingly become viciously critical of traditional conservatism. There is an obvious race element here. Most Republican right-wingers are upper class whites and most Democratic traditional conservatives are poor minorities.

I think race is the key issue. There is still some overt racism, but mostly it’s not racism as we normally think of it. Research shows racial bias still exists and that it’s often institutionalized. It’s not individuals who typically hold racist beliefs, rather what some call racialism. More generally, it’s a sense of xenophobia.

Let me shift gears for a moment and then I’ll return to the racialism/xenophobia issue.

Americans once achieved great things as liberals still envision. The interstate highway system which allowed the post-WWII industrialized economy to boom. The national park system which might be the best in the world. The publicly funded higher education that almost singlehandedly created the middle class by encouraging social mobility. America wasn’t made great through privatization and tax cuts. During the Great Depression, the federal government created jobs (building the court houses and city halls we still have today, building the trails and picnic shelters we still use today, etc). We now have higher unemployment than even during the Great Depression. In response, our present federal government (along with local governments) have decided to cut government jobs and cut any services for those who have their jobs cut. This is what is called cutting off your nose to spite your face.

When Americans believe in and value community, they build community. When they don’t, they destroy community. Social mobility once was increasing in America and now it’s decreasing. Economic equality once was increasing in America and now it’s decreasing. Both directions are choices we collectively make through public policies and public investments (or lack thereof).

Right now, Germans are doing great things in their society as Americans once did. I brought this subject up with the same conservative with whom I discussed these other topics. His response went to the core of the problem. He pointed out that Germany has a more demographically consistent population, i.e., less multiculturalism and less racial diversity. This is true. And this is how racialism/xenophobia ties back in.

The Progressive Era and the post-WWII period were defined by three factors. Immigration was low, taxes were high, and liberalism reigned almost entirely unchallenged. It was the mirror of what America has been in recent decades (and it has similarities to what Germany is now).  It was also a time of cultural conformity because of the uber-patriotism during the two world wars. It was a weird mixture. Blacks were expected to know their place and yet prosperity gave a freedom for liberals and traditional conservatives to fight for civil rights. Whites dominated culture. It felt safe to whites to fight for the rights of blacks. But later on when blacks began fighting for their own rights it was seen as dangerous, especially by right-wingers.

Anyway, what my conservative discussion partner was saying was that Germany’s present success isn’t possible in the US because US no longer has a conformist culture. To be cynical (maybe overly cynical, I don’t know), what this translates to is that upper class white Christians (meaning the present conservative Republican demographic) are only willing to invest in the common good when majority of the population is like them or is forced through conformity to be like them. Most upper class white Christians if they were being honest wouldn’t disagree with my assessment, although they would state it differently.

Here is where my liberal attitude kicks in. Change isn’t something to be afraid of. Or, rather, change is only made fearful through resistance. Conservatives end up creating their own worst enemies. Even if conformity is always good, that is all the more reason to invest in the public good. If you want other groups to conform, you should encourage them to participate in society. Attacking Muslims and blaming minorities will simply splinter society. Wars on drugs and poverty, Culture and class wars will simply create a society of conflict and mistrust. Conservatives face the dilemma of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

As a liberal, I’d point out that even change passes. Yes, whites are becoming a minority. Yes, atheists and the non-religious are a growing demographic. Yes, change is happening. But change has always been happening in America. To mistrust change is to mistrust what America stands for. The previous 1950s status quo was built on massive changes that happened in the late 19th century. Now we face the results of massive changes that occurred with the late 20th century. But, as liberals understand, a new status quo will inevitably form. Society has to once in a while stop to catch its breath before moving on.

This doesn’t mean, however, that change can be stopped. Taking a snapshot of one moment in history such as the 1950s will offer a very distorted vision. But even if you admire the 1950s, then seek to re-create the positive conditions that made that era great: massive taxpayer investments in the public good (instead of massive taxpayer investments in the military-industrial complex, in building more prisons, in oil subsidies, etc).

We as a society have a choice. We can continue to invest in the future (our children’s and grandchildren’s future). We can continue to support the social compact America was built upon. And we can continue to believe in the American Dream. Or we can isolate ourselves and hope someone else will solve all of the problems that we collectively face.

Other Americans being different than you (whether black or Muslim or whatever) is no excuse. To believe in America is to believe in Americans, all Americans. Just realize that to not support a democratic government is to not support America. A representative democracy must represent, fairly and equally, all Americans and not just a single group seeking to maintain it’s power and privilege. As a liberal, I have faith that America is even stronger than the cynicism and political opportunism of even the worse racist right-wingers. As Americans, we will overcome the difficulties that face us, but there are many difficulties that could be entirely avoided if we were willing to work together.

Backfire Effect, Oppressed Minority, & Political Divide

Here are just a few thoughts, but I won’t offer any complex analysis. This is just some info I’ve come across recently: (1) the backfire effect demographics, (2) the most oppressed minority, and (3) the main US political divide.

(1) The backfire effect is very interesting. It’s the cognitive behavior of someone’s beliefs becoming stronger when confronted with facts that contradict those beliefs. When dealing with such a person, rational discussion is impossible.

Anyone can be prone to the backfire effect at times, but only certain groups are consistently prone to it.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that conservatives are most prone. Liberals, on the other hand, may or may not change their beliefs when confronted with new info. However, most liberals tend to not becoming stronger in their beliefs in reaction to facts that counter their beliefs.

Looking at the research, there was only one other demographic I noticed that was also prone. This other group are those who are highly educated, specifically experts. For different reasons than conservatives, an expert believes he already knows more than others, at least when it comes to certain subjects. The expert is probably often right, but this often being right can lead the expert to not as seriously consider new info.

(2) The most oppressed minority isn’t what most people would guess. Researchers have asked Americans who they’d vote for as president. A majority would be willing to vote for a Mormon, for a woman, for a racial minority, and even for a homosexual.

Who wouldn’t most Americans vote for? Atheists. There has never been an openly atheist president and openly atheist politicians are rare.

I was listening to a radio show where a novel was being discussed. The novel apparently involved an atheist character. This led to several atheists to call in to express the prejudice they’ve experienced from Christians, especially in rural areas. The prejudice included ostracization and hate mail.

Atheists, and the non-religious in general, is a growing demographic. But Christian institutions continue to wield immense power in the US. Too often religious freedom simply means the freedom to be religious but not the freedom to be treated fairly as an atheist or non-believer.

(3) The strongest divide in US politics may not be what is portrayed in the MSM. The most loyal base of the Democratic party isn’t the progressive/liberal movement. In fact, it’s social conservatives who are minorities.

These Democratic party minorities are traditional conservatives, not right-wing conservatives as seen in the Republican party. These minorities are social conservatives who largely are evangelical protestants. As traditional conservatives, they believe in social solutions to social problems and they support social institutions to maintain social order. Traditional conservatives, unlike right-wingers, aren’t against government.

The major divide isn’t between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it’s between minority evangelical protestants and white evangelical protestants. The former is a growing demographic and the latter is a shrinking demographic, and at the moment they are at a balance point that hasn’t yet fully shifted. Most interestingly, the Democratic minorities are more socially conservative than the Republican whites, but the Democratic minorities are socially conservative in a traditionally conservative way. The Democratic party, oddly, has become the defender of traditional conservtism.

So, the actual political divide right now is between traditional conservatives and radical right-wingers. Liberals have for various reasons chosen to side with the traditional conservatives.

 

Knowns of Newspeak

“It’s a good question. But I think it’s not to say that we’re saying and I’m not saying that they, someone should’ve told me.
To my knowledge, certain things were not known. And when new information came to light in respect to my knowledge of these events and to the understanding when new information came to light the company acted on it.”
“And the company acted on it in a right and proper way as best the company could. But it’s difficult to say that the company should’ve been told something if it’s not known a thing was a known fact to be told.

~ James Murdoch
Testimony to Parliament
 – – –

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

~ Donald Rumsfeld
Department of Defense news briefing
2-12-02
 – – –  

“I dropped off the money exactly as per… look, man, I’ve got certain information, all right? Certain things have come to light. And, you know, has it ever occurred to you, that, instead of, uh, you know, running around, uh, uh, blaming me, you know, given the nature of all this new shit, you know, I-I-I-I… this could be a-a-a-a lot more, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, complex, I mean, it’s not just, it might not be just such a simple… uh, you know?”

The Dude
The Big Lebowski
(comparison made by David Kurtz at TPM)
 – – –

The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties

I was listening to NPR, as usual, while at work. I think it was during Diane Rehm’s show that I was listening to some guests talk about federal debt and related issues. From what I was hearing, I became so frustrated that I turned it off and nearly vowed never to listen to NPR again.

So, what annoyed me so much?

I’ve become increasingly exasperated with all mainstream media/news (NPR being as mainstream as it gets) and mainstream politics. Everything in the mainstream has been pushed so far right that it’s almost entirely disconnected from the reality of average Americans. Listening to the mainstream media, you wouldn’t even be able to guess how liberally progressive most Americans are (especially relative to most mainstream reporters, pundits and politicians) on the very issues the mainstream media ‘reports’ on. So, where is the liberal bias in the media? Since newspapers have a business section, why don’t papers still have a labor section as they had a half century ago?

My frustration with NPR, in particular, has been growing. About a month ago, I wrote about an example of NPR’s status quo bias. That example was more about a general cultural bias, although one that favored the capitalist ‘management’ paradigm. Last night’s example was more egregious.

The guests seemed to be the average type of person one expects in the mainstream. I realize that means they are, therefore, to the right of the average American, but still I was shocked by how far right they were. They didn’t seem to be right-wingers and yet they were stating far right positions as if they were centrist.

 – – – 

Let me give some examples.

Here is one that that I’ve noticed again and again. On NPR (and most of the mainstream media), you will rarely hear anyone admit that social security has never and will never contribute to federal debt, although interestingly I’m finally starting to hear it more in the mainstream (years after having heard it in the alternative media).

In fact, even most Washington Democrats like Obama have (for most of the recent years of debate) been unwilling to admit this either, despite it supporting the position they claim to advocate. Obama has the bully pulpit and could push the progressive agenda of protecting the social safety net. He did recently finally admit that social security has nothing to do with the debt, but then he followed that we still need to reform social security because now is the best time to do so. Why does he, after admitting the Republicans have been lying to and deceiving the public, then throw the Republicans a bone by telling them they have an open field to attack social security? He basically promises Republicans that he won’t defend the very cornerstone of progressivism.

The rhetoric that social security has anything to do with the debt is a right-wing talking point, but importantly it has been the talking point of all mainstream media and politics. I even heard Diane Rehm, in the past, talk about this as if it were an indisputable fact. I’ve heard it so many times that I can’t remember how often I’ve heard someone in the mainstream say that if we are going to get serious about balancing the budgets then we’re going to have to talk about social security.

This far right position is the centrist position of the mainstream, even though the vast majority of Americans disagree with this position. Of the mainstream media, only certain people on MSNBC will question this right-wing talking point and call out those who state it as a fact. But the most mainstream of the mainstream media (NPR, CNN, etc) will rarely if ever follow MSNBC’s example. What is odd is that MSNBC gets labeled as far left. Really? Left of what? Almost everything, including the American public, is left of the right-leaning mainstream.

New Poll Confirms Country is Clearly Progressive
Cenk Uygur

When asked what’s the first thing they would do to balance the budget, Americans had an unmistakably clear answer — raise taxes on the rich. It came in number one by a mile, with a whopping 61 percent.

If that wasn’t progressive enough, cutting defense spending came in number two, with 20 percent.

And if all of that wasn’t clear enough, when asked about cutting Medicare, only 4 percent were in favor of it. Only 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as a way to balance the budget.

Here is another right-wing talking point I heard last night. One guest said that the American public thinks the government is too big. Bullshit! That is fucking propaganda, corporate propaganda at that. Here is some data that shows actual views of the American public (from my post: US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):

America: A Center-Left Nation

It is one of the most fundamental ideological divides between the left and the right: Conservatives purport to believe that government should be as small as possible and favor market‐oriented solutions to social problems; progressives, on the other hand, see government playing a more vital role in meeting basic social needs, including infrastructure, economic security, education, and health care. As the most recent National Election Study (NES) data demonstrate, clear majorities of the public recognize the importance of a well‐run and well‐funded government to their lives and to the security and prosperity of the country, and, indeed, want it to do more.

On all three of the following measures, the public has moved in a more progressive direction. The number saying the government should be doing more things increased by 9 points from the 2004 study, the number saying government has gotten bigger because the problems have gotten bigger increased by 3 points, and the number saying we need a strong government to handle today’s economic problems increased by 5 points.

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Weakness of Conservative Opposition to Health Care Reform
By Ruy Teixeira

In recent polls, more of the public opposes than favors the health care reform bills in Congress. Conservatives would have you believe that the opposition plurality in these polls is a result of public distaste for a big government takeover of our health care system. Not so. In a December CNN poll, a total of 55 percent either favored the Senate health reform bill outright (42 percent) or opposed it at this point because its approach to health care isn’t liberal enough (13 percent). Just 39 percent said they opposed the bill because its approach to health care was too liberal.

Government is Good

If we are asked about this issue in the abstract, 45% of us say we want “a smaller government providing fewer services,” and 42% say that we want “a bigger government providing more services”– a pretty even split. But then when people are asked about specific policy areas, much larger numbers of people say they support expanded government services. For example, almost three quarters of Americans say they want to see more federal involvement in ensuring access to affordable health care, providing a decent standard of living for the elderly, and making sure that food and medicines are safe. And over 60% want more government involvement in reducing poverty, ensuring clean air and water, and setting minimum educational standards for school. These are hardly the answers of a people who want drastically smaller government.

Here is my third NPR example. On last night’s show, a caller asked: Does Obama genuinely believe in the far right positions he keeps giving into or is it that he has no room to negotiate further to the left? I can’t remember if one of the guests ever gave a direct answer, but the implied answer was that it was the latter. I do recall specifically that a guest described how Obama is playing on Republican’s turf which is what implies that it isn’t Obama’s turf.

I, of course, disagree. Obama is playing on mainstream Washington turf (i.e., right-wing and corporatist) because Obama is bought by the same corporate interests as Republicans. They are all serving the same master(s). It’s not that they are mere puppets. Rather, anyone who doesn’t dance with the one who brought them won’t dance for long. If you don’t play according to corporate rules, you won’t get corporate funding nor get a cushy corporate lobbyist job when you leave office. It’s just a sad fact of life that people are easily corrupted by money, power and fame. Also, we all tend to act according to the interests of those who are similar to us. Politicians tend to be wealthy and so it’s no surprise that they tend to share the interests of the wealthy.

Obama doesn’t fight strongly against Republicans because his own position is much closer to the Republican position than is his position to that of the American public. I don’t know to what degree he agrees with Republicans, but my point is even on those issues he doesn’t necessarily strongly disagree. For God’s sake, Obama is even against gay marriage, a staunch Republican position. Are most Americans against gay marriage? No.

Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority

poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.

This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.

As we noted last August, support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years. Below is an update to the graph from last year’s article, which charts the trend from all available public polls on same-sex marriage going back to 1988.

On a related note, another staunch Republican position is the Tough On Crime policy of which the War On Drugs is an extension. The American people think Marijuana should be legalized, something conservatives have always seen as dangerous to society.

Marijuana Legalization: Poll Suggests Public Support Growing

Data compiled by the Pew Research Center and drawn primarily from the General Social Survey has found a consistent trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but no poll so far has shown a majority in favor.

In a poll released Tuesday by CNN, 41 percent of American adults said they favored legalizing marijuana, while 56 percent opposed. Another poll, conducted early last month by the Pew Research Center, found 45 percent of adults supporting legalization and 50 percent against it.

[ . . . ] Demographic trends show that the movement to embrace legalization will likely continue: Both recent polls reveal younger respondents as the most likely supporters. In the Pew poll, the majority of 18-29 year olds (54 percent favor/42 percent oppose) and a slim plurality of 30-49 year olds (49 percent support/47 percent oppose) said marijuana use should be legal. In the new CNN poll, about as many respondents under 50 said they supported legalizing marijuana (49 percent) as opposed it (50 percent).

Who does Obama agree with, the American people or the Republicans? The Republicans, of course.

Other issues that Obama didn’t support the majority public opinion and instead ‘compromised’ with Republicans:

 – – – 
 – – –
There is nothing surprising about this. It’s just the type of positions that almost all politicians take these days.
 – – –
It wouldn’t be extremely different if it was a Republican as president. These positions are mainstream Washington positions, mainstream media positions, mainstream corporate positions. This ‘mainstream’, however, shouldn’t be mistaken as the average or majority position. If we had an actually functioning democracy, the mainstream would reflect the majority position and mainstream politicians would represent the majority of Americans. Instead, we have some type of plutocratic oligarchy, whether corporatocracy/soft-fascism or inverted totalitarianism.
 – – –
Obama’s positions on all these issues are the standard positions presented on NPR. But what about the views of the majority of Americans? As someone who has regularly listened to NPR for years, I can say that you will rarely hear reported any of the data I’m sharing here. It’s not a secret. The data I’m sharing even comes from mainstream sources such as Pew. There seems to be a disconnect between info known in the mainstream and the info reported in the mainstream. The most rational assumption to make is that most of the time it’s intentional when incorrect or partial information is reported or when information is entirely ignored. I’ve often wondered if all these mainstream media types are trapped in a media bubble, an echo chamber… but I don’t think that is giving them enough credit. These aren’t stupid and uneducated people.
 – – –
It does make me wonder, though. Diane Rehm seems well-intentioned. So why doesn’t she usually challenge her guests when they state misinformation? Why doesn’t she point out what the correct information is? Why does she most often just goes along with the talking points? Could it be that she genuinely is oblivious to all the type of info I’m sharing? Or does she think it’s not her job to help fairly and fully inform her listeners?
 – – –
Maybe it’s just the structure of mainstream media. NPR isn’t really all that different from corporate media. The ‘Public’ in NPR is very limited because much of their funding doesn’t come from the public, especially not the government that supposedly represents the national public.
 – – –

“As its federal funding came under threat,” U.S. National Public Radio increased its ad sales. “Public-radio stations now count 18% of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal government.” Corporate “underwriters” include Clear Channel CommunicationsStarbucks andWal-Mart Stores. “More on-air sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than lumped at the end of each show,” reports Sarah McBride. “And more minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible.” The trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but “weren’t bothered by” fundraising by direct mail or on-air underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener concerns “about corporate influence on programming as well as the number of messages” are increasing. [6]

Sponsors include:

In 2005 they received $3 million from the Ford Foundation.

Sarah McBride

As much of the media industry languishes in an advertising slump, public radio is on a tear, scooping up new sponsorship by mimicking the tactics of commercial broadcasters. On offer is public radio’s coveted, gold-plated audience.

But the increase in corporate messages is a delicate marketing strategy, since many of those prized listeners gravitated to public stations looking for the exact opposite: an escape from advertising’s constant hum.

These stories mention single payer. I can find no NPR news reports or other shows which actually focused on single payer or on the movement to achieve it.

Why is NPR refusing to report on what 60% of US citizens and the majority of health professionals want?

NPR’s web site provides lists of foundation and individual major donors but not of corporate sponsors. For that list you need to go to their annual reports. The latest report available on line is for 2005. Health and Long-term Care corporate sponsors in 2005 were:

  • $1 million+: Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Prudential Financial
  • $500,000 – $999,999: Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Allstate Insurance Company, Northwestern Mutual Foundation,
  • $250,000 – $499,999: AARP, The Hartford Financial Services Group, UnumProvident
  • $100,000 – $249,999: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
 – – –
 – – –
I think part of the mess we find ourselves in can be explained by the party system.
 – – –
George Washington explained in detail what he saw as the danger of political parties:

They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

“However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Like Paine, a danger he saw was that a country could develop divided loyalties and the people would no longer see themselves united in a common cause. This would lead to a weakening of liberty because it would spread mistrust and antagonism. One division he foresaw was geographical where parties would prey upon people’s prejudices and xenophobia. Another division had to do with foreign influences.
 – – – 
In Washington’s time, this made particular sense as a large part of the population had been born in another country or had close relatives still living in another country. A dangerous possibility was of a citizen who had loyalty divided between two nations. This still can be a danger today, but it’s an even bigger issue with globalization. Businesses (as well as business owners and investors) have less national allegiance once they become transnational corporations which are the very businesses that now have the most influence over our politics.
 – – –
The parties have become perfect vehicles for corporate interests. This is particularly problematic considering that mainstream media companies have been bought up by conglomerates that often are transnational. So the parties and the media, NPR included, that reports on them is increasingly influenced by the same global plutocracy.
 – – – 
Anyway, my frustration is that this entire corrupt system gets blamed on liberals.
 – – –  
NPR liberal? Obama progressive? In what alternative reality?

The democracy of e-books

Here is the link to a blog post by Quentin S. Crisp:

The business of books

The following are my responses. I want to be clear about one thing, though. These are my responses to my perception of Crisp’s presented view in this particular blog. My specific perceptions here, of course, may not be entirely accurate and most likely involves various biases and projections.

To speak of Crisp more generally, I like him and agree with him more than not. In this particular case, however, I found myself having a bewildered response in trying to understand why Crisp’s ‘loathing’ was so strong, especially as his loathing seemed directed at a group of people of which I am a member, i.e., Kindle owners. 

My first response:

I’m of the type who thinks change just happens and there ain’t nothin’ can be done about it. After civilization began, it was all downhill from there. I’m fatalistic about progress. I embrace it until civilization collapses. I’m curious where it will lead before then.

I bought a Kindle for various reasons, but my original reason was that I wanted something to replace my electronic dictionary. I still buy some physical books, not as much as I used to though. It’s a good thing because I was running out of room in my apartment.

By the way, why does “just sayin'” irritate you so much? I would assume it originates from American English. I’ve used the phrase “just sayin'” on occasion. I just find it amusing to say. It’s silly and stupid.

As I read your blog post, I must admit I felt some gut response to defend the world wide web. It’s ‘democracy’ in all of its beauty and ugliness. As Freck said in A Scanner Darkly, “Well, I like it.”

In early America, the government gave subsidies to presses so that it would be cheaper to publish newspapers and books. This would also meant more opportunities for writers. Of course, not everyone had a newspaper column like people now have blogs. But I’m sure the average published writing back then wasn’t all that well-edited. I was wondering about this. It would be an interesting analysis to look at first editions of books across the centuries to find out when writing was the most well-edited according to the standard grammar of the time period.

Having more writers does create more chaos. Even so, I’d point out that (since you were blogging about VALIS) I’m with PKD in having faith in chaos and the good it can safeguard. The corollary to chaos is innovation. Every age of innovation began with the crumbling of the previous age. We can’t know if it will lead to progress or destruction, but either way it can’t be avoided.

My second response:

On the whole I’m more sympathetic to chaos than order, as anyone who’s visited my flat can probably testify, but I think I’m most sympathetic of all to benign chaos – that is, self-regulating chaos of the idyllic kind which seems to be championed in the Dao De Jing, etc.

I’m also a man of much personal chaos. But there is a difference between one’s own chaos and someone else’s. And, as you say, there is a difference between benign chaos (benign to me, at least) and other varieties of chaos. I don’t know how benign PKD saw chaos, but he didn’t see chaos as an automatic enemy. He saw the divine as that which can’t be controlled, that which in fact will seek to avoid control. The divine sought hiding in the chaos so as to not to be found by the demiurgic forces that seek to control the world for their own purposes.

The argument that is always raised with any new technology, when anyone objects, is basically that “it’s all good” or “you can’t stop change”. But the same argument is never used in the case of politics. In politics, the points themselves are generally argued, and people, however stupid their decisions may be as related to the points, hardly ever just revert to “all change is good and/or inevitable.” So why do this with technology, which is, after all, as much of human manufacture as politics?

That may be true for some or even for most, but it ain’t true for me. I see two warring tendencies in society’s progress. There are those who see all progress as good and those see all progress as bad. An interesting middle position is that of Jeremy Rifkin in his book The Empathic Civilization. In Rifkin’s analysis, the progress of civilization is both destructive and creative. On the creative end, new technology (for traveling and communication) increases collective empathy. But it does so at a very high cost. Will our empathy for other people and other life increase quickly enough that we will find solutions to the destruction we’ve caused?

I don’t know. I just thought such a way of thinking might be applicable to this issue as well. Modern society changes ever more quickly which means much of the past gets lost. With the introduction of Western culture (including the Western invention of the book), many indigenous cultures are destroyed and lost forever. Likewise, with the introduction of new technologies, the traditions of the West can also become endangered. However, there is also a counter trend. For example, the digitization of books has saved many books from the dustbin of history. Some of these books only had one physical copy left remaining in the world, but now anyone anywhere can read them.

I think people have been hypnotised into thinking technology is inevitable and has a kind of universal objectivity to it, in other words, that it doesn’t have cultural implications or cultural bias. But all technologies have cultural implications and biases. Someone has made a decision somewhere to switch tracks to this or that thing.

Yeah, that is true. Even a simple technology like books hypnotize us into a certain way of looking at and being in the world. The printing press probably was the first to create or at least widely promulgate this perception of inevitability and universal objectivity. The vision of inevitable progress goes at least back to the Age of Enlightenment. More broadly, of societies around the world, a collective decision over generations was made to switch from oral to written, from stone and clay to scrolls and then to books and now to e-books. No single person or even group of people is making this decision, but this isn’t to say that individual choices don’t have influence. It’s just that individuals are increasingly choosing e-books. Still, you are free to think people like me are wrong or stupid for choosing e-books.

My third response:

I think that PKD must have been at least ambivalent towards chaos. In Valis, he identifies ananke, or ‘blind chance’ (also translated as ‘necessity’, or could that be ‘you can’t stop change’?), as a symptom of evil in the universe, and generally seems to equate rationality and order with good.
Oh yeah. I’m sure PKD was ambivalent about lots of things. I should’ve clarified my thoughts. I was partly referencing PKD’s view of what he called “God in the gutter” or “God in the garbage”. PKD was fascinated with chaos, not that he idealized it.

People accept free will in politics and other areas of life, so why not in technology?

I have no clear opinion about freewill. Part of me is attracted to the view of philosophical pessimism. I don’t think individuals are all that free. We act according to our natures and our natures were formed (with genetics and early life experience) long before we had any opportunity to aspire to become self-willed agents. And, on the larger scale of society, I suspect we have even less willed influence.

As I see it, freewill is a very modern concept, if anything created by and magnified by technology. Books are just one of the early technologies that have formed the modern sense of self. the book format was first used by the early Christians and it was that era when individualism was beginning to become what we know of it. With modern technology, people have an even stronger sense of self and of a self-willed relation to the world.

The problem you seem to be perceiving is that as the masses gain more freedom then more specific groups lose their monopoly on specific areas. When everyone can be a writer, everyone can influence the culture of writing, not just ‘professional’ published authors. Writing is no longer an elite profession. The internet and other new technologies have democratized writing and empowered the average person. For example, I’m just a parking ramp cashier and yet I’m talking to you, a published author. Online, I am equal to you and we’re both equal to everyone else. Power and authority have little meaning online, unless you’re one of the people who owns a major internet company like Google.

You have a sense, as an author, of losing power even as many people around the world are gaining power through more opportunities of reading and writing. But that isn’t how I see it. A small press author like you gets more readers from more countries for the very reason of newer technology. A century ago, you might never have been published at all or have remained almost entirely unknown. There are trade-offs. You gain more ability to reach more people but so does everyone else. Also, you have been self-publishing recently. Yes, you are more careful in editing, but because of limits of funds many small press publishers (whether self-published or not) often have issues with quality editing as it is very time consuming. I know Mike has bought expensive small press books with many editing problems. So why blame the average person for such issues? Why should anyone get to decide who can publish or not? Who would be on this publishing board of literary oligarchs?

I know you aren’t actually promoting oligarchy or anything. But how do you think the average person would be persuaded to your position? Considering the increase of writers among average people, you’d probably have a hard time even convincing writers of your position. This, however, doesn’t mean your position is wrong. Many of my own positions seem in the minority which doesn’t cause me to stop holding those positions. However, on this issue and as an American, I do have a healthy skepticism of any elite who wishes to tell the masses what they should do. Maybe if I were a part of the elite of professional published writers my views would be different… or maybe not. Matt Cardin bought a Kindle before I did. Mike is a collector of rare books and a lover of a fine book. He also has been considering buying an e-reader so as to not to have to read the expensive copies of books he owns.

There are a couple of factors I see.

First, there is an increase of freewill rather than a decrease. It’s just that there is greater equality of freewill (more opportunities to influence, more choices available) than ever before in all of the history of civilization. However, this creates other problems. As the ability to publish writing spreads to the lower classes, the upper classes lose control of defining correct and acceptable grammar. As the English language spreads to diverse cultures, British English becomes less dominant in defining correct and acceptable English grammar. For example, the more informal American English has become more popular because of American media.

Second, there is the development of large corporations. It’s ultimately not the average person defining writing and publishing. Large corporations (like Amazon and book publishing companies) aren’t democracies. This is probably where your insight fits in. These big businesses often promote a false sense of freedom and opportunity. What we’re experiencing is a shift of who is the elite controlling society. In the US, the founders were mostly an intellectual elite and small business owners who were actually fighting against a transnational corporation (British East India Company). But now such transnational corporations have taken over every major country and economy and taken over society in general. It’s the corporate elite, instead of the traditional intellectual elite, who now mostly control the publishing of books. It’s also large corporations who own most of the media companies (newspapers, tv, movies, internet, etc). It’s these companies who have the greatest power to influence language and there main motivation is profit, not maintaining the proud tradition of literature.

Eugenics was ‘progress’ and a new idea once. Should we have accepted it merely on those terms?

There is always the question of defining ‘progress’. I would, of course, agree that not all ‘progress’ is good.

However, I would point out that eugenics as a basic idea isn’t new. Spartans supposedly threw deformed babies off of a cliff. Male cats when they become the new alpha male will often kill the kittens of the former alpha male. The only modern part is that eugenics was able to be done on a larger scale and done with more precision. I would say that eugenics isn’t progress itself, although it can be used in the service of certain visions of progress.

I think everything I’ve said still stands. If there were concomitant spritual or social progress, technological progress would be simply useful, possibly irrelevant, probably harmless. But I don’t think that genetic modification, for instance, will represent true progress, because it will be an amplification of the steering will of a number of individuals in order to wipe from existence the possibility of certain other steering wills.

I also think everything I’ve said still stands. 😉

Actually, I don’t know to what degree we disagree. Like you, I’m not blindly for progress. Mabye less like you, I’m not against progress either. Like most issues, I’m agnostic about progress. It brings out my fatalist side. I can read someone like Derrick Jensen and find myself strongly persuaded. All of civilization (books and e-readers alike) is built on and maintained through massive dysfunction, oppression and violence. On the other hand, nothing has yet stopped the march of civilization’s progress, despite millennia of doomsayers.

I honestly don’t think it matters whether I like e-readers or not. I loathe lots of things and yet those things continue to exist. I loathe war and yet my tax money funds wars where worse things than Kindles happen.

I own a Kindle not because I have a strong opinion in support of e-readers but because I have a strong opinion about reading. I like to read and love books, in any and all formats. An e-book if it’s public domain is free and if not it’s still usually way cheaper than a physical book. As a relatively poor person, I can get more reading material for my money with e-books. As a person living in a relatively small apartment, I can from a practical perspective own more e-books than I could physical books. Even my public library already allows the public to ‘check out’ e-books. I personally like having my opportunities and choices increased. If that happens through e-readers, it is good by me. Or, if it happens by some other format, it is also good by me.

Similarly, I don’t see Kindle as a form of real progress, since what it does is allow people who don’t care about books and literature to call the shots.

Yes, I understand you feel strongly about this. But why does any individual get to decide which people are perceived to care? I suspect many of these people do care and some to a great degree. Like many normal people, I care. Don’t I matter? Defining who cares is like defining what is or isn’t literature, what is or isn’t art. In some ways, you might be right. Literature as we know it may be in the process of being destroyed. This is just like how Socrates was right that the oral tradition as he knew it was being destroyed by written texts. The ironic part is that Socrates supposed words are now recorded in text. It’s also ironic that your views here are recorded on a blog.

We don’t really know what will happen, and I hope the outcome ends up being more positive than negative, but I honestly don’t see much that’s positive coming out of it at the moment.

Yep. I don’t entirely lack hope, but in the long run I think it’s all doomed. We’re all just going along for the ride. Sometimes the ride is fun, often not.

Reading is already one of the most egalitarian of cultural media. It is an open university.

It’s true that it is to an extent an open university, but not equally so. Poor people in wealthy countries have a lot less access to this “open university”. And people in poor countries have had little access to it at all until very recently. The internet and e-books have opened up this “open university” to the entire world.

Now, however, Amazon have got the thin end of their wedge into reading, and I’m rather afraid (this seems to be the direction), that before long, Amazon (with Kindle) will be saying, “All those who want to come to reading, must do so by me, and my technology. All those who want to come to writing, must do so by me, and my technology. Keep up. Plug in. Buy the next model.”

The issue of transnational corporations taking over the world isn’t the same as the issue of e-readers, although like everything in life there is overlap. Right now, there are numerous devices (computers, tablets, pads, e-readers, smart phones, etc) that anyone can use to read almost any book (or at least any book that has been digitized) and such devices are becoming cheaper and more widely available. Right now, even poor people can access some kind of device that allows them to access the entire world’s library of public domain literature. I see that as a good thing.

Yes, many plutocrats would like to use the power and wealth of corporations to take over the world. They might be successful, but don’t blame the average person who simply wants more freedom and opportunity to cheaply and easily access reading material. In time, the natural trend of things should lead to open source e-readers being developed just as there are open-source computers and browsers.

The difference between us, in this matter, seems to be where we direct our loathing the most. The main problem I see is a plutocratic elite rather than the democratic masses. Democracy can be messy and ugly, but I think it’s better than the alternative. You seem to be equating the plutocratic elite with the democracy-seeking masses because the former is always trying to manipulate the latter. Even if the latter is being manipulated, why blame them instead of those who manipulate? Why not try to end their being manipulated rather than trying to end their having influence?

I realize that you have an old fashioned respect for the intellectual elite. I do too in many ways. I think the demise of the intellectual elite has had major problems. Maybe there will always be an elite. If so, I’d choose an intellectual elite over a plutocratic elite. In case you’re interested, Chris Hedges writes about the loss of power and influence among the intellectual elite in his book Death of the Liberal Class.

I would emphasize that this issue is part of a larger set of issues. Reading, writing and publishing are being democratized just as knowledge and education is being democratized. The first public library was only in recent centuries. For most of the history of ‘Great Literature’, most people had little or no access to any book besides the Bible and often not even that. Public education is likewise very new. I think it was Jefferson who helped create the first publicly funded university. Now, starting in the mid 20th century, almost anyone in the West can go to college if they really want to and if they have basic intelligence.

There is another tidbit of history related to American and British history. Thomas Paine was a working class craftsman. His father, a Quaker, taught him a love of learning and made sure he received a basic education. But lack of money and social position disallowed Paine to follow a scholarly profession. Fortunately, he went to London where he discovered many self-educated people. The lower classes weren’t allowed into the universities and so these people paid people to give them lectures. It was the rise of democracy that first took form through knowledge and education. From the perspective of the elite, this led to what was seen as chaos challenging tradition, the masses challenging authority. It probably didn’t look like democracy as we know it. During this era, there was much rioting and violence. An old order was collapsing.

The democratization of knowledge and education has led to problems in some ways. It created a literate middle class who mostly read crappy pulp fiction, but it also created a massive publishing industry that made books available to average people. It’s this pulp fiction industry that allowed someone like PKD to make a living at writing, despite the literary elite at the time thinking his writing was worthless.

I’m far from being an optimist, but apparently I’m the one defending optimism. I suppose I’m just playing Devil’s Advocate. Maybe it’s easy for me to be an optimist as I don’t have skin in the game in the same way you do. Your livelihood is dependent on book publishing. Nonetheless, I would point that, from a practical perspective, if you want to continue to make a living as an author, you should embrace e-readers. However, if principle is more important than profit, you are free to fight the Goliath to your dying breath. I wouldn’t hold that against you. We all have to pick our fights.