Republicans: Party of Despair

“If I believed in what you believe, I’d kill myself.”

I recently said that to someone. The person in question is a Republican, but I don’t say it as a Democrat. I’m not a practitioner of partisan bickering and, in fact, I don’t like the entire sham of a two-party system. I also don’t say it lightly or disingenuously. I meant every word of it.

I’ve attempted suicide before and have often contemplated it many times over the years. When I make a statement like the above, I’m deadly serious. Just thinking about the Republican worldview makes me despair to the point of near hopelessness. If I were to believe that worldview to be true, what would be the point of going on?

I’m reminded of James Gilligan’s recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. I first learned of it from a book review which offers a great summary (I’ve posted it before, but it’s so important that I’ll post it again):

James Gilligan’s new book, ‘Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others’ (Polity Press, 2011) could be reduced to a few key statements, the main one being ‘Republicans are very bad for your health’. Gilligan, Professor and MD at New York State University, has combed the statistics on violent deaths (homicide and suicide), from 1900 through to 2007 in order to determine political causation.

His findings confirm what many have hitherto instinctively and experientially known: murders and suicides increase under Republican rule. Why? Because they also create inequality and unemployment, both of which produce an employer’s market that keeps wages down. In fact, unemployment figures – in rate and duration – have increased during every Republican administration, and decreased during every Democratic administration. Ironically, despite Republican policies that favour employers and cause greater levels of inequality and unemployment, their policies then inculcate shame amongst the unemployed – blind – or to coin a much-favoured Republican word, ‘evil’ to the fact that they are its main cause. The Republican ideology – hypocritical and misanthropic – fosters the most rancid shame that goes like this: can’t find a job? It’s your own fault. Lost your job? What did you do, must have done something. Not rich. That’ll be your own fault too – or ‘thats God’s plan for you’. Addicted? Can’t hold your damn liquor. Single mum? Slut. Had an abortion? Murderer and slut. Moaning about low pay? You should thank god you’ve got a job. The list goes on. It is a terrible, cruel, vicious circle in which people become imprisoned. In short, Republicans are architects of despair that leads to suicide, and of rage that leads to murder.

My emotional response to the Republican wasn’t just emotional. The facts speak for themselves.

Since reading that review of Gilligan’s book, I’ve bought and read it. I might consider it to be one of the most important books I’ve read in my life, despite it not being great literature. It is a simple and straightforward presentation of facts that can’t be rationalized away. The facts themselves aren’t the product of an ideological agenda for they are government statistics recorded over a 107 year time frame. No Democrat started recording this data with the evil plan of more than a century later showing that Democrats are better. It’s just the typical bureaucratic data gathering.

It really is mind-blowing. I wouldn’t ever have expected to come across data that so starkly puts the two parties in contrast. After the shock wears off, though, all that I feel is sadness. I don’t care about blaming one party and praising the other, but the data is what it is. It’s not even to say everything Republicans do that is wrong. It’s just that there is a vast discrepancy between their ideals and reality. Republicans need to do some deep soul-searching.

I honestly don’t know what to do with data like this. Republicans won’t pay attention to it and most people in general would assume that it’s mere ideological rhetoric fancied up in scientific guise. It’s the type of data our entire society, including both parties, doesn’t know what to do about. You won’t hear any Democrat bring this up in a campaign debate. You won’t come across Gilligan being invited on as a guest on all the major news providers.

In this way, everyone is complicit, especially Democrats. As the author explains (pp. 187-8):

What has made it so difficult or seemingly impossible for the Democrats to free themselves from Republican campaign rhetoric’s reversal of the truth and take credit for their success in ending epidemics of lethal violence in this country for over a century? They, and they alone, have done this. Could this be the downside of being ruled by a guilt ethic and inhibiting their aggression so much that they, the Democrats, often fail to defend themselves strongly enough to undo both the misinformation and the damage caused by their Republican adversaries?

It so often comes to culture from my perspective. Gilligan alludes to this in speaking of a “guilt ethic”. Republicans have their cultural worldview and Democrats have theirs, and the two have become intertwined like a codependant relationship.

But can they be separated? Instead of going back and forth between a Democratic decrease of misery and a Republican increase, couldn’t we have a dynamic that allows for continuous progress? Imagine what kind of wonderful society we might now live in if we had more than a century of continuous decrease of murders, suicides, unemployment and income inequality. Why does that seem so hard to imagine for so many Americans and even for so many partisan Democrats?

To return to the personal, I can’t state more strongly how much I don’t want to live in the Republican worldview of fear and hatred, outrage and despair, self-righteousness and judgment, blame and scapegoating. Yet like so many Americans I feel helpless against the power Republicans have wielded for so long. Nothing ever seems to change.

It’s not about my becoming a loyal Democrat and fighting on the side of good. I just want the misery to stop. I’d like to live in a world of hope. Life is hard enough as it is without creating further unnecessary suffering.

There was a line of thought I forgot to follow through on.

I mentioned culture. I was making the connection between an ideological vision and a cultural worldview. What do I mean by that?

The reason I brought up culture was partly just because the quote from Gilligan’s book seemed to allude to it. But I was also thinking of the larger context of my previous writings on ideologies and cultures.

I’m in a conciliatory mood. The campaign season is over. Like most people, I’ve had enough mindless partisan cheerleading for a good long while. Judging others is easy. The hard work comes with trying to compassionately undertand. I feel tired, sad and tired.

However, conciliatory mood aside, I’m not quite ready to roll over and die. This data sticks in my craw. What does it mean? How could this data sit there gathering dust for a century without anyone giving it much notice?

The data apparently didn’t fit the framework of American politics. Or maybe it was ignored because of political correctness. I don’t know. For whatever reason, it had been as if invisible in all mainstream political debate and, as Gilligan’s book has drawn little attention, the data remains invisible for all practical purposes.

Cultural worldviews can become reality tunnels. In this way, people become blind to what otherwise would seem obvious and common sense. This explanation is an important perspective for culture gets past the blame game. Despite how it seems sometime, most people aren’t tying to be willfully ignorant… any more than a bird flying into a window is trying to be willfully ignorant of the window. Likewise, Republicans aren’t trying to create a world of suffering and death.

No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. There isn’t any single thing that is wrong or problematic, no particular belief or value or policy that is in and of itself causing this increase of social dysfunction.

I even feel tempted to say that conservatism shouldn’t necessarily be blamed. Like all humans, there are good and bad conservatives. Like most ideologies, there are good and bad ways conservatism can manifest.

Still, conservatism must be held to account. What I was struck by is that this isn’t just a problem of American conservatives in the Republican Party. Along with the first quote above, I shared in the same earlier post some other research that shows the same correlation with the British conservative party. Of course, we Americans largely inherited our political system from the British and in return our political system has had much influence on the British.

It would be interesting to further test this correlation in other societies. Is the cause of the social problems, is it only particular traditions of conservatism, or is it something else enirely? Ultimately, I don’t know if the exact cause matters.

It’s more important to consider why it continues. Why do Americans vote for a party that leads to the death of other Americans along with leading to other undesirable results? What makes it such a compelling and attractive worldview, despite all the negatives? Why is the connection to the negatives so hard to see or understand?

One could just as easily ask these questions about the Evangelical worldview of apocalyptic End Times. There is something apparently compelling about dark visions. It probably isn’t accidental that the type of person drawn to Evangelicalism is also drawn to the Republican Party.

I wish I understood.

My Ideal Government

I feel divided about governmant.

I want a liberal government. This means a government that tolerates diversity and privileges no group. This means a government that isn’t oppressive and authoritarian. This means a government that is built on and promotes a positive, shared vision expressed through a sense of community belonging.

I want a conservative government. This means a government that conserves the best from the past and conserves public resources. This means a government that follows the precautionary principle, considering very carefully and with great deliberation before acting. This means a government that thinks about long term sustainability and values social order, both in terms of responsibilities and obligations, both in terms of the collective and the individual.

I want a democratic government. This means a government that is participatory and based on the consent of the governed. This means a government with transparency and accountability. This means a government that is separate from and independent from religious authority, corporate power, and the undue influence or unfair manipulation of any other private interest.

I want a socialist government. This means a government that puts public good above and before private interest. This means a government based on compassion and cooperation where there is a functioning safety net that ensures no one falls through cracks. This means a government that stops people and organizations from privatizing benefits while socializing costs (and other forms of externalizing costs).

I want a civil libertarian government. This means a government that upholds and defends basic human rights and freedoms. This means a government that allows and promotes individual choice to the degree it doesn’t infringe upon others, inluding future generations. This means a government that treats all people equally and fairly, no exceptions, no unjust discrimination or special privileges.

I say I feel divided because I live in a society that is divided, not because there is any inherent conflict between these political views. Instead, I see all of these as being inseparable. They are equally necessary for creating and maintaining an effective government while also guaranteeing basic moral standards.

So, despite there being no inevitable conflict on the level of theory, these ideological principles and values have never been fully nd functionally combined in a single government. Part of me is drawn to side with the anarchists, whether anarchosyndicalists or anarchoprimitivists. Maybe the problem isn’t in any particular form of government so much as it is a problem of big government or modern government in general. Civilization has grown so large as to have become seemingly unwieldy.

However, to some extent, government grew larger in response to the problems of small government or else entirely lacking. Complaining about the solutions that have developed isn’t necessarily helpful in dealing with the original problems that preceded them. Plus, we’ve become so adept at creating collective problems (war, overpopulation, plagues, mass starvation, pollution, global warming, etc) that we don’t have the luxury of ignoring collective solutions, assuming we don’t want all of civilization to collapse.

I’m fairly sure we are past the point of no return. We seem stuck on the path we are on, although we could always try to blaze a new trail in a direction never before taken. One way or another, we have no choice but to move foreward somehow. Some look forward and see dystopia or doom, but I’d like to believe that humanity might one day live up to at least a small fraction of its potential.

My Thoughts During Election Night

Before the Election Results Started Coming In 

————-

I’m curious about how likely others think Romney could win.
 
I remember that earlier in the campaign season all of the MSM experts kept stating that no recent president was ever re-elected with that high of unemployment numbers. That seemed mostly irrelevant to me for I saw a different dynamic going on. I predicted long before even the campaigns began that the election was Obama’s to lose. I still see it that way.
 
The real issue has been how willing Obama was to fight for it. I must admit that Obama hasn’t consistently fought hard in his campaign, especially in the first debate. The election would never have even gotten this close if Obama hadn’t started out of the gate so slow.As an independent, it is hard to get too excited about the whole thing. But it is fascinating from a larger historical perspective. We are in the middle of a major shift right now such as with racial demographics which is why the GOP has been so motivated to push voter suppression.
 
Does anyone think the GOP attempt at voter suppression has been successful enough to have a significant impact? Who feels Obama should have campaigned harder against this voter suppression and focused on it in his speeches?

The swing states typically are Midwestern states.
 
This is the same regional dynamic that has existed since the Civil War. The North eternally has to maintain the Midwest to keep the darkness of the South at bay. We Midwesterners live on the geographic boundary of ideologies and of cultures.
 
The Southern aristocracy didn’t like American democracy when they sought to first force slave laws onto the entire country and, failing that, when they sought to secede. The Southern aristocracy still doesn’t like American democracy. There is good reason for this. Their continued power is dependent on it.

If all Americans or even just all Southerners voted, the present Republican party would never win a single election. The large part of the population that doesn’t usually vote, especially in the South, votes Democratic when they do vote. If political participation increased, the South would be solid Blue. That simple fact scares shitless the Republican ruling elite and, sadly, scares many white people.

The saddest part about being a liberal American is knowing that you are part of the majority. On many key issues, the average American are surprisingly liberal. Polls showed, for example, that most Americans were dissatisfied with Obamacare because it wasn’t far enough to the left.
 
Why this is sad is that we have a conservative political system. It was intentionally created this way because the founding fathers were afraid of the lower classes which is why after the founding of the country only something like 8% of the population had the right to vote. This is why the electoral college was created. Most Americans don’t understand this. Americans don’t vote for the president. Rather, Americans vote for the people who vote for the president.
 
The problem with the electoral college system is that, because of demographics, it empowers the groups that have maintained power throughout US history. Low population states tend to be rural and rural areas tend to be conservative and white. Because of the electoral college, the vote of white conservatives is worth more than the votes of typical urban residents: minorities, liberals, feminists, gays, environmentalists, etc.
 
Along with political disenfranchisement, this is why the left has had to work harder to reach out to more Americans while conservatives can focus narrowly. If every American’s vote was counted equally, we would regularly have presidents far to the left of Obama.

After the Election Results Started Coming In

 
I heard the best comment tonight on Public radio.
 
They were discussing the Republican strategy of going for the white vote. One of them said that Republicans were hoping the white vote would be a winning strategy at least through this election before whites shift toward their position as the new minority. He then added, “The future came early.”
 
I’m glad to hear it. I’ve seen this shift coming since 2000. Republicans have been using a strategy that isn’t sustainable. And by doing so, they turned the growing minority majority and an entire new generation against their party. In time, they will come to realize what a steep price they have paid.
 
Will Republicans finally wake up to reality now that the future has slapped them in the face? They attempted voter suppression and now they’ve been publicly shamed. Last election, the youth and blacks gave victory to Obama. Now, women and Latinos have shown the GOP what power they have. The tide has turned.
 
I remember when I first heard about Romney picking Ryan. I instantly realized that Republicans were repeating the same strategy from 2008. They put forward a bland white professional politician and then paired him with a Tea Party right-winger. Since it didn’t work in 2008, why did they think it would work in 2012?

As an Independent, I don’t care about the partisan politics. I’m still not a fan of Obama or a supporter of the Democratic Party. No matter which of the two parties wins, the third parties I love always lose.
 
But in the end, I’m just another typical liberal who wants everyone to get along. Republicans have made clear that they don’t want to get along. Romney stated in no uncertain terms that he despise 47% of Americans. Other Republicans have said equally disgusting comments from claiming legitimate rape to dismissing minorities.
 
I don’t want to hate on Republicans. I don’t want conservatives to go away. Rather, I want them to the table as equals treating others as equals. I want to see them chastened and humbled. The right can get very ugly when they get full of themselves. Nonetheless, their voice matters as everyone’s voice matters in a democracy. I want them to understand this.
 
Republicans have a choice. They can learn a lesson and change their ways. Or else they quickly find themselves heading toward a fate of third party status… which is how the Republican Party began.
 
I understand that Republicans are afraid. I want them to know everything is going to be all right. America is a strong country. It is diversity that makes America strong. I hope they know that there always will be an open invitation to them to join the rest of Americans. We are all in this together.
 
Republicans hear this: Liberals, minorities and poor people aren’t your enemy. We are your potential allies in turning this country toward the future.

I’m constantly wondering what would allow conservatives to let go of their fears.
 
Obama is a socialist? Comparison shows that Obama holds the positions and promotes the policies that have been typical of moderate Republicans for much of the last century.
 
Democrats stole the election? Nonpartisan research shows voter fraud is extremely rare.
 
The fears of conservatives have nothing to do with reality or facts. They create things to fear and then they go about fearing their fearful creations. They don’t fear anything specific. They just fear anything that is new and different. They fear change. The fear they have never goes away because it simply shapeshifts into something else.
 
It’s sad. I understand fear. We all deal with fears. The world can be a scary place. It’s not like us on the left are living in a leftist utopia where all our dreams come true. We on the left fear growing tyranny more than even conservatives.
 
The difference is that conservatives have a way of getting stuck in a mindset of fear. Liberals can get pulled into fear like anyone else and it brings out the worse in liberals, but it isn’t where liberals like to dwell. Optimism is the natural resting point of the liberal predisposition. Liberals are curious about the new and tend to get more excited about the possibility of change.
 
Even conservatives are capable of thinking outside of fear. During economic good times, conservatives can become quite open and accepting of the world around them. But such moments don’t tend to last long and so the conservative never remains for long outside of fear. There is always another thing to fear just around the corner.But does it have to be that way?

We humans are capable of doing so much when we work together. All of civilization is a collective achievement. On the other hand, when we don’t work together, humans are vicious and destructive. Conservatives tend to only be inspired toward collective action when they wish to fight some perceived enemy and even then it isn’t really collective action so much as it is emotional groupthink, their group against everyone else, just an extension of self-interest.

What needs to change to help conservatives to trust democracy and believe in the American Dream again? What would help them to see strangers as potential friends and allies instead of enemies? What would help them to see all Americans as real Americans, to see all humans as worthy humans? What would help them to believe that win/win solutions are possible and desirable?

Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation

I was visiting my brother and his family up in Minnesota. My sister-in-law at one point brought up the topic of pacifiers. She had taken the pacifier away from her daughter a while back because there can be problems if pacifiers are used for too long. I commented that pacifiers aren’t even necessary since babies have been fine without them for millennia.

My sister-in-law gave a response that got me thinking. She said that it helps babies to learn self-soothing. It instantly hit me that the pacifier is a tool of enculturation. It is used to create self-independence and thus create the sense of individualism that is so highly prized here in the West, especially the US.

I’ve often thought that individualism, in particular hyper-individualism, isn’t the natural state of human nature. By this, I mean that it isn’t how human nature manifested for the hundreds of thosands of years prior to modern Western civilization. Julian Jaynes theorizes that, even in early Western civilization, humans didn’t have a clear sense of separate individuality. He points out that in the earliest literature humans were all the time hearing voices outside of themselves (giving them advice, telling them what to do, making declarations, chastising them, etc), maybe not unlike in the way we hear a voice in our head.

We moderns have internalized those external voices of collective culture. This seems normal to us. This is not just about pacifiers. It’s about technology in general. The most profound technology ever invented was written text (along with the binding of books and the printing press). All the time I see my little niece absorbed in a book, even though she can’t yet read. Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.

All modern civilization is built on this process of individualization. I don’t know if it is overall good or bad. I’m sure much of our destructive tendencies are caused by the relationship between individualization and objectification. Nature as a living world that could speak to us has become mere matter without mind or soul. So, the cost of this process has been high… but then again, the innovative creativeness has exploded as this individualizing process has increasingly taken hold in recent centuries.