Evil, Socially Explained

Here is one of the most interesting public poll results I’ve seen in a long time.

President Trump called the mass killings in Las Vegas last week “an act of pure evil” when many of his opponents were trying to blame the guns involved instead. Americans strongly agree that there is evil in this world but tend to believe society, not the individual, is to blame.

It is from Rasmussen Reports, Most Recognize Evil But Question If Some Are Born That Way. Two things stand out.

First of all, this is a left-wing perspective on environmental and societal influences on the individual. Even mainstream liberals, specifically of the economically comfortable liberal class, don’t tend to be this forgiving of individuals. That is why leftists can be as critical of liberals as of conservatives, as the two share a common worldview of post-Enlightenment individualism (in their preference of the egoic theory of mind over the bundle theory of mind).

The other thing is the source itself. Rasmussen is known for having a conservative bias. And that is in the context that no major polling organization has a reputation of left-wing bias. In general, polling organizations tend to be mainstream in their biases, which is to say they are more or less in line with prevailing ideology and the dominant paradigm. One would not expect any mainstream poll in the United States to put the thumb on the scale toward a left-wing worldview.

This is further evidence of the American public shifting left, even as the establishment shifts right. This puts public opinion more in line with the social sciences, especially anthropology, the most left-leaning of the sciences.

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Thoughts on Inequality and the Elite

I was talking to someone who is having troubles in their church.

The main problem seems to be that the church leadership is disconnected from the congregation. Issues are being promoted when no one has bothered to ask the average person what they want. The one place in our society where dialogue should be possible is in a church, but surely that is less often the case than would be optimal.

This is seen in every aspect of our society. It’s an inequality of power and opinion.

The leadership of my union, like many other unions, backed Clinton. Yet most union members backed Sanders. The leadership of the NRA fights gun regulation. Yet most NRA members support stronger gun regulation.

This phenomenon is even worse in the corporate media and corporatist politics. It’s not unusual two see two views being debated where neither view matches the public opinion of the majority of the population. In this case, the entire frame of discussion is disconnected from reality on the ground.

But it is most troubling to hear about this in a church. That demonstrates that this dysfunction is pervasive and built into how our society is organized and operates. It’s a profound inequality where most people are silenced and disenfranchised. As I’ve often repeated, the majority doesn’t even realize it is a majority.

All of this is carefully orchestrated by those in power, even those who wield power at the local level in a church. In many cases, those wielding that power don’t understand what they are doing, as they are oblivious to others. It’s too easy for people to take silence as agreement and support. This is how minority views can get portrayed as ‘mainstream’ and how, in the process, majority views are silenced.

I keep repeating this message. And many others have as well. But I don’t know that it can have an impact on our society. This inequality has become so entrenched that it would take mass conflict to dislodge it. A public awakening doesn’t come easily.

* * *

All politicians and political candidates should be required to answer poll questions that are identical to the public. Then the results should be widely disseminated and reported. There even could be an official report sent to every household.

Only politicians who hold a majority of their views and values to the left of the majority of Americans would be allowed to be called liberal or left-wing. But many politicians would fear this. The public would suddenly realize how far left they are or else how far right is the political elite. They’d be able to see that Sanders is a moderate, his views in line with most Americans on most issues. This would leave a large number of Democratic politicians to the right of the American public and all Republicans to the extreme far right fringe.

Why shouldn’t the American public be the standard of what is left and right? I don’t care who is ‘moderate’ by the standards of corporatist politics. I want to know who is a moderate according to normal Americans. If the views of the average American is considered extremist by corporatist politicians, then maybe the problem is those corporatist politicians and not the average American.

I have an odd idea. Maybe our representatives should represent us, considering that it supposedly is a representative democracy. At the very least, it would make for an interesting experiment. Maybe we could try it sometime just to see how it works out. If we didn’t like it, we could always go back to authoritarian plutocracy.

* * *

Positions on issues where Bernie Sanders agrees with and is representative of the majority of Americans, i.e., We the People:

– improving economy for lower-to-middle class
– decrease unemployment, poverty, & inequality
– progressive taxation
– higher corporate taxation
– stronger regulation of corporations
– opposition to neoliberal trade agreements
– universal healthcare
– decriminalizing drug use
– no more wars of aggression
– more effective environmental regulation
– taking action on climate change
– promoting alternative energy
– both gun rights and gun controls
– et cetera

Explain to me in what way Bernie Sanders is a left-wing socialist, in comparison to the American public. If he is a left-wing socialist, then so are most Americans.

* * *

Do you think Sanders was too left-wing to beat Trump? If so, then consider this. What motivated people to vote for him?

Well, Trump promised to stop big money political corruption, end neoliberal trade deals, force American corporations to manufacture in the US, bring jobs back for the working class, rebuild infrastructure, and make healthcare affordable for more people. It’s the exact kind of promises Sanders made.

Do you honestly think that voters looking for someone to make good on these promises would have chose Trump over Sanders? Of course not. The only reason they voted for Trump is because they had little if any trust that Clinton would do anything other than defend the status quo that was harming so many.

You can argue that Trump voters were naive. Then again, you could argue that Clinton voters were naive. Both candidates have spent their lives lying in order to get ahead.

If voters were looking for the lesser evil as they were told they should do, it shouldn’t be surprising that they chose the candidate who promised change, as they voted for Obama who promised change. Guess what? They actually do want change, even if voting for Trump was an act of desperation in response to a failed political system.

The moment was perfect for the Democratic establishment to have nominated someone like Sanders. That is assuming they would rather win with a progressive than lose with a corporatist, surely a false assumption to make. The Democratic establishment knew that Sanders would have had an overwhelming victory and that scared them, because it would have challenged their dominance of the party.

It turns out Sanders was a moderate by the standards of the American public. But in a radical corporatist system, we’ve lost the ability to recognize a moderate. It’s sad that a moderate like Sanders is treated as such a threat, more of a threat than Trump.

* * *

Daniel Drezner, in The Ideas Industry, criticizes the marketplace of ideas. But I’m not sure to what extent he understands the actual problem, in terms of leftist critique of capitalist realism and the destruction of the commons.

I did some searches in his book. It looks like it could be a decent analysis. Still, I wonder if he falls into the standard trap of focusing on the symptoms more than the disease. In the passage below, he dismisses the cause as being irrelevant, which seems like a self-defeating attitude if we are seeking fundamental changes at the causal level. To emphasize this potential weakness, I noticed throughout his book that numerous times he mentions capitalism and the marketplace of ideas while never bringing up the the view of a commons (a topic discussed by Howard Schwartz).

Problematic as that might be, Drezner does bring up important points. He discusses inequality, in how it relates to wealth, power, and influence. It’s not just those at the top have more but that using what they have they can control which ideas get a loudspeaker and which ideas get silenced. It’s unsurprising, as he points out, that surveys show the elite have entirely different values and agendas than the rest of the population.

This is a dangerous situation for an aspiring democracy. The elite control of the Ideas Industry could be called propaganda, since not only the ideas are controlled but the framing, narrative, reporting, and debate of ideas is controlled. It’s controlled by plutocratic funding and organizations along with corporatist political parties and corporate media. It’s because of this concentrated control of ideas that causes so many Americans do not realize they are a silenced majority.

Here is the passage from Daniel Drezner’s The Ideas Industry (pp. 62-5):

“While the rise in inequality has been concentrated in the United States, it also reflects a more widespread, global phenomena. Whether the cause has been globalization, the rise of finance, the economics of superstars, or the ineluctable laws of capitalism is irrelevant for our concerns. What does matter is that both wealth and income inequality are on the rise, and there are excellent reasons to believe that the concentration of wealth at the top could increase further over time.

“As the inequality of wealth has increased in the United States, so has the inequality of contributions to political life. Survey data show that the wealthy are far more politically informed and active than the rest of the public. […] The effect of economic and political inequality on the Ideas Industry is profound. On the one hand, rising income inequality and declining income mobility have bred dissatisfaction with the state of the American Dream. Since the start of the twenty-first century, poll after poll has shown that Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction.

“The most profound impact of rising economic inequality is on the supply side of the Ideas Industry. The massive accumulation of wealth at the top has created a new class of benefactors to fund the generation and promotion of new ideas. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find a profile of a billionaire that does not also reference an interest in ideas.

“Twenty-first-century benefactors are proudly distinct from their twentieth-century predecessors. The big benefactors of the previous century set up foundations that would endure long after they died. While many plutocrats had ideas about the purpose of their foundations, most were willing to trust the boards they appointed. […] Foundations set up by J. Howard Pew and Henry Ford also wound up promoting ideas at odds with the political philosophies of their benefactors.

“This century’s patrons adopt a more hands-on role in their engagement with ideas. Echoing billionaire Sean Parker, they largely reject “traditional philanthropy—a strange and alien world made up of largely antiquated institutions.” To twenty-first-century plutocrats, the mistake of past benefactors was to delegate too much autonomy to posthumous trustees. A new set of “venture philanthropists” or “philanthrocapitalists” has emerged to stimulate new thinking about a host of public policy issues. In contarst to the older foundations, these new entities are designed to articulate a coherent philosophy consistent with a living donor’s intent. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network have developed a large footprint in significant areas of public policy.

“Most of these new philanthropic foundations are obsessed with the “three Ms”—money, markets, and measurement. Potentially game-changing ideas are like catnip to plutocrats. […] The eagerness to please benefactors affects both the content and the suppliers of the ideas. […] In the Ideas Industry, thought leaders fiercely compete to get on the radar screen of wealthy benefactors.”

Environmentalist Majority

I keep coming back to corporatist politics, centered in Washington and Wall Street, and the corporate media that reports on it. This is what gets called ‘mainstream’. But the reality is that the ideological worldview of concentrated wealth and power is skewed far right compared to the general public, AKA the citizenry… ya know, We the People.

Most Americans are surprisingly far to the left of the plutocratic and kleptocratic establishment. Most Americans support left-wing healthcare reform (single payer or public option), maintaining the Roe vs Wade decision, stronger gun regulations (including among most NRA members), more emphasis on rehabilitation than punishment of criminals, drug legalization or decriminalization, etc. They are definitely to the left of Clinton New Democrats with their corporatist alliance between neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Hillary Clinton, for example, has long had ties to heavily polluting big energy corporations.

Maybe it’s unsurprising to learn that the American public, both left and right, is also to the left on the issue of climate change and global warming. This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up issue of environmentalism and public opinion. Labels don’t mean what they used to, which adds to the confusion. But when you dig down into the actual issues themselves, public opinion becomes irrefutably clear. Even though few look closely at polls and surveys, the awareness of this is slowly trickling out. We might be finally reaching a breaking point in this emerging awareness. The most politicized issues of our time show that the American public supports leftist policies. This includes maybe the most politicized of all issues, climate change and global warming.

Yet as the American public steadily marches to the left, the Republican establishment uses big money to push the ‘mainstream’ toward right-wing extremism and the Democrats pretend that their conservatism represents moderate centrism. The tension can’t be maintained without ripping the country apart. We can only hope that recent events will prove to have been a wake up call, that maybe the majority of Americans are finally realizing they are the majority, not just silent but silenced.

The environmental issues we are facing are larger than any problems Americans have ever before faced. The reality of it hasn’t fully set in, but that will likely change quickly. It appears to have already changed in the younger generations. Still, you don’t even need to look to the younger generations to realize how much has changed. Trump voters are perceived as being among the most right-wing of Americans. Yet on many issues these political right demographics hold rather leftist views and support rather leftist policies. This shows how the entire American public is far to the left of the entire bi-partisan political establishment.

When even Trump voters support these environmental policies, why aren’t Democratic politicians pushing for what is supported by the majority across the political spectrum? Could it be because those Democratic politicians, like Republican politicians, are dependent on the backing and funding of big biz? Related to this, the data shows Americans are confused about climate change. Could that be because corporate propaganda and public relations campaigns, corporate lies and obfuscation, and corporate media has created this confusion?

It is quite telling that, despite all of this confusion and despite not thinking it will personally harm them, most Americans still support taking major actions to deal with the problem — such as more regulations, controls and taxes, along with also greater use of renewable energy. The corporate media seems to be catching on and news reporting is starting to do better coverage, probably because of the corporate media simultaneously being challenged by alternative media that threatens their profit model and being attacked as ‘fake news’ by those like Trump. The conflict is forcing the issue to the surface.

This growing concern among the majority isn’t being primarily driven by self-interest, demographics, ideological worldview, political rhetoric, etc. False equivalency has long dominated public debate, in corporatist politics and corporate media. This is changing. Maybe enough people, including those in power, are realizing that this is not merely a political issue, that there is a real problem that we have to face as a society.

* * *

The ‘Spiral of Silence’ Theory Explains Why People Don’t Speak Up on Things That Matter
By Olga Mecking
New York Magazine

The Spiral Of Silence Keeps People From Speaking Out On The Issues That Matter Most
Curiosity

‘Global warming’ vs ‘climate change’
socomm@cornell

Climate Change
Gallup

Yale Climate Opinion Maps – U.S. 2016
by Peter Howe, Matto Mildenberger, Jennifer Marlon, & Anthony Leiserowitz
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Voters Favor Climate-Friendly Candidates
by Geoff Feinberg
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Most Clinton, Sanders, Kasich, and Trump Supporters–but not Cruz Supporters–Think Global Warming Is Happening
by Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, Geoff Feinberg, & Seth Rosenthal
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

More than Six in Ten Trump Voters Support Taxing and/or Regulating the Pollution that Causes Global Warming
by Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, Matthew Cutler , & Seth Rosenthal
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Sanders Supporters Are the Most Likely to Say “Global Warming” Is a Very Important Issue When Deciding Whom to Vote For
by Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, Geoff Feinberg, & Seth Rosenthal
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Americans Say Schools Should Teach Children About the Causes, Consequences, and Potential Solutions to Global Warming
by Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach, Connie Roser-Renouf, Seth Rosenthal, & Matthew Cutler
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Relatively Few Americans Who Think Global Warming Is Not Happening Think It is a Hoax
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Americans Who Think Global Warming Is Not Happening Are Concerned Range of Energy and Environmental Issues
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Americans Who Think Global Warming Is Not Happening Favor or Do Not Oppose Policies
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

2016 Election Memo: It’s The Climate, Stupid!
by Elliott Negin
Moyers & Company

Politicians at Sea
by Marina Schauffler
Natural Choices

70 Percent of Americans Have This Surp
rising View of Global Warming

by Sean Breslin
The Weather Channel

Ready and Organizing: Scientists, and Most Americans, Have Climate Change on Their Minds
by Astrid Caldas
Union of Concerned Scientists

Maps Show Where Americans Care about Climate Change
by Erika Bolstad
Scientific American

Many More Republicans Now Believe in Climate Change
Poll shows a big leap from two years ago
by Evan Lehmann
Scientific American

Half of U.S. Conservatives Say Climate Change Is Real
Trump and Cruz reject global warming, while more Republicans see it as a threat.
by Eric Roston
Bloomberg

Trump doesn’t represent American views on climate change: a visual guide
by John D. Sutter
CNN

Trump supporters don’t like his climate policies
by Dana Nuccitelli
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Did The Pope Change Catholics’ Minds On Climate Change?
by Maggie Koerth-Baker
FiveThirtyEight

Brief exposure to Pope Francis heightens moral beliefs about climate change
by Jonathon P. Schuldt, Adam R. Pearson, Rainer Romero-Canyas, & Dylan Larson-Konar
Pomona College

New poll shows Exxon CEO is closer to public opinion on climate than Trump
by Bill Dawson
Texas Climate News

How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps
by Nadja Popovich, John Schwartz, & Tatiana Schlossberg
The New York Times

Climate change is a threat – but it won’t hurt me, Americans say
by J.D. Capelouto
Thomson Reuters Foundation

Americans are confused on climate, but support cutting carbon pollution
by Dana Nuccitelli
The Guardian

Well Lookie Here, a Majority of Americans Support Restricting Carbon Pollution from Coal Plants
by Ellie Shechet
Jezebel

Surveys Show Major Gap Between Voters and Their Representatives On Global Warming
by Noa Banayan
Earthjustice

Climate Change Denial ‘a Problem’ for Republicans
by Steve Baragona
VOA News

Climate of Capitulation
by Vivian Thomson
The MIT Press

Conservatives can lead the charge to deal with climate change
by Susan Atkinson
The Pueblo Chieftan

Seeing What Is, Imagining What Might Be

“The politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of.”
~ Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party

This is how future generations will think about this era. It will be remembered as an age of endless fear-mongering and self-defeating lesser-evilism. It will be described as the time when the Democrats became the party of mainstream conservatism and Republicans became the party of right-wing populism, reactionary lite and reactionary full flavor.

Historians will point to this odd moment of the 2016 election when the main Republican candidate, Donald Trump, had a mixed up campaign platform—sometimes campaigning on positions far to the left of of the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. For example, there is Trump’s support of universal healthcare. The only other candidate supporting it is the supposed ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders whose support of such things, the establishment Democrats claim, is why he isn’t ‘electable’—despite most Americans also supporting universal healthcare.

Sanders is the most trusted and well liked candidate. Comparing his positions to public polling, it is obvious he represents majority public opinion. He is the only moderate candidate running for the presidency, not even close to being as far left as old school Democrats like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yet present establishment Democrats and the mainstream media mischaracterize him as a ‘radical’.

We live in strange times. We are watching a campaign season where a large number of supposed ‘liberals’ and ‘progressives’ in the Democratic party are fighting against strong positions on liberal and progressive policies. The political left doesn’t need an enemy party when they have the Democrats to rig the political process and undermine any hope of a functioning democracy. We have an anti-democratic Democratic party—just think about that. The sad irony of it is mind-numbing.

I have lost faith in the political system, to say the least. Like so many others.

Research shows that the political elite of both parties are disconnected from and unresponsive to the vast majority of Americans. The political elite even ignore the middle class, which makes it all the more sad how the middle class betrays the lower class majority by sucking up to the political elite in being good soldiers in partisan politics. Class war trumps all else, and even for Democrats class war is mired in a legacy of racism (e.g., the decades of dog whistle politics from the Clinton New Democrats).

I want to make clear, though, that I haven’t lost faith in the American public, even as the public has lost faith in America. For one, there isn’t much of a public to speak of, as we are so divided and disconnected from one another. Second, I really don’t see the majority as having many realistic options available to them. The political system is so controlled and the MSM so propagandistic. The only way the citizenry could force change is by taking to the streets and threatening revolution, but that is a major step to take. Most people would like to believe there is still hope for reform within the system, no matter how all attempts at reform have continuously failed.

If we had a functioning democracy that engaged and inspired, that represented and was responsive to voters. If majority public opinion mattered and politicians weren’t corrupt. If there was an effective education system and news media that led to an informed public. If the Democratic party was actually democratic and the Republican party actually republican. If there was a genuine progressive liberal movement and a genuine libertarian conservative movement. If all of this, then we’d be living in a very different country and we’d have very different kinds of elections.

In that case, past elections would have pitted those like Ralph Nader and Ron Paul as the two main party candidates, along with some viable third party candidates having forced wide spectrum of public debate. And, in that case, the present campaign season would have entirely excluded heavily disliked and mistrusted candidates such as Clinton and Trump—instead, the main competition would be between moderates like Sanders and principled challengers like Jill Stein.

That is what a functioning democracy would look like. Such a world wouldn’t have endless obstructionism and corruption. Imagine it. Imagine a world of continuous progress where every generation had a better life than the last, where instead of cynicism and defeatism most people felt engaged and hopeful. Imagine a political system that instead of demoralizing with lesser evilism inspired with the greater good. Imagine such a basic thing as a government that the American people trusted.

Simply put, imagine if we actually had democracy. Not just the rhetoric and appearances of democracy but the real thing. And not just a democratic government but a democratic society and economy, democratic in all ways and at all levels. Just plain democracy.

Imagine… a new era.

What is the majority and who represents it?

There is an interesting dynamic involving race.

The racist stereotype is that blacks are lazy and irresponsible. Therefore, white burden falls upon the superior race in their privileged position of greater wealth and power. This is a modern paternalism similar to the slaveholder’s noblesse oblige, the greater the power the greater the responsibility. It’s the job of the wise, benevolent father to take care his children, even against their will.

Yet actual behavior belies such claims. For the exact same crimes, blacks are arrested more, convicted more often, punished more harshly, and imprisoned longer. Heck, even for crimes whites commit more, blacks still get it worse. It seems that blacks are treated as if they are more responsible for their actions than whites, as if whites lack a full sense of responsibility and must be treated with kids gloves.

Isn’t that strange?

There is something hidden behind the overt attitudes. It’s not that people of each race are being treated as equally responsible, some failing that standard and others demonstrating their greater moral character and capacity. If whites were genuinely superior in their sense of responsibility, they wouldn’t be treated less harshly for breaking the law. If anything, they would be treated as clear moral agents deserving to be held more accountable—as we treat an adult more accountable than a child, a highly intelligent individual more accountable than the mentally retarded.

There is an interesting example that gets at this mindset. This is from Dangerous Frames by Nicholas J. G. Winter (Kindle Locations 451-463):

“Wittenbrink and colleagues conducted an intriguing experiment that demonstrates this sort of reasoning in the context of an extremely subtle framing that drew an implicit analogy across very different domains (Wittenbrink, Tenbrink, Gist, and Hilton 1997). After priming racial stereotypes for some participants, they showed them a series of animated videos involving the interaction of a single fish with a larger group of fish. These videos involved conflict between the fish and the group, but were ambiguous as to the individual fish’s and the group’s motivations (to the extent, of course, that animated fish can be said to have motives). They found that participants’ racial beliefs affected how they interpreted the videos. Those who believe blacks are lazy tended to hold the individual fish responsible for the interactions; those who believe blacks are discriminated against held the group responsible. What was crucial was that structural congruence between schema and situation mattered: racial stereotypes did not influence interpretation of a different video that did not involve conflict among the fish.

“This study makes clear the extent to which a schema can influence evaluation of a situation that bears little or no surface resemblance to the contents of the schema. In their example, the race relations schema contains cognitions about white and black Americans and the nature of and causes for their interactions. This schema affected interpretation of a cartoon about some fish. Two elements were necessary: accessibility and fit. First, the effect held only among participants who were primed for race – that is, who had the race schema activated and therefore made more accessible than it otherwise would have been. Second, the schema only influenced interpretation of a video that shared a structure with the schema. The race schema includes elements representing minority and majority groups and conflict between those groups. It also has a causal attribution for that conflict and corresponding evaluations of the majority and minority groups. When participants saw a video with that same structure (minority and majority groups of fish and conflict), they applied the schema and transferred the attributions and evaluations from the race schema. When they saw a video with a different structure (no conflict), they did not apply the schema.”

The racial frame elicits a psychological schema that appears to have at least two basic elements. It definitely involves conflict, but it’s not just group conflict, as one might assume. The other important part is that it is perception of majority versus minority and conflict thereof.

What catches my attention is that only the perceived minority is treated as an individual. The racially-primed individual fish is seen as in conflict with and hence a threat to the group of fish. As such, whites are the majority, those who get to define society. And in defining society, the white majority represents society. Whites are society. They are of the dominant group and, to that extent, they aren’t held accountable as individuals. That group of fish consists of individuals, but in the racially-primed mind they aren’t perceived as individuals.

The same pattern is seen with class. That is to be expected, specifically in a society such as ours where race and class have much overlap.

The wealthy may only be a minority, but they are the dominant minority. Also, they gain symbolic dominance in part by the fact that most of the wealthy are white and so members of the white majority. Wealthy whites get to represent all whites, just as they represent the entire white majority social order. As such, wealthy whites are the least likely to ever be held accountable as individuals. A wealthy white can never simply be an individual in a wealthy white society.

Unsurprisingly, wealthy whites are the least likely to be charged, arrested, and convicted of crimes. This is true often when it is well known that they are guilty. They hire expensive lawyers, they can stall court procedures, they get plea bargains, judges and juries give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.

Class is important not just for the wealthiest. Our entire society is a hierarchy of socioeconomic classes. This hierarchy is important for maintaining the social order. It creates distance, disconnection, and division.

It’s one of the ways that races are kept divided. Even poor whites don’t on average experience the same severity of poverty and economic segregation. It’s not even just race, but also skin tone. Lighter-skinned blacks are more likely to be wealthier. The middle class is full of light-skinned blacks. And as one goes down the economic ladder, the average skin tone gets darker and darker.

I’ve always known that socioeconomic class issues are important. But I’ve become increasingly aware of how central they are.

Even when you’re informed about such issues, they still effect you and often unconsciously. It is what creates conflicts between middle class and working class whites, between middle class and working class minorities.

These class issues don’t just take form as different life experiences but also different political ideologies and interests, problems and concerns. Obviously, most middle class people simply don’t get the problems of those less well off than them. There are also some less commonly understood factors, such as how the middle-to-upper classes tend to fall at ideological extremes and so are disconnected from the more politically moderate lower classes.

Despite the lower classes consisting of the majority of the population, the light-skinned middle-to-upper classes perceive themselves and portray themselves in the MSM as the social norm of the light-skinned majority social order. Oddly, when the moderate lower classes demand basic reforms to the system, they are seen as radical and threatening or simply irritating.

It’s as if the middle-to-upper classes, including liberals, don’t know what to do with the working class when they speak out. The middle class liberals in particular feel like they should listen to the lower classes and yet they also realize that these people, if they get too demanding, are a threat to the system they are part of. They can’t just overtly dismiss the poor, not even the poor minorities, as would many on the political right.

This creates cognitive dissonance that can’t be easily resolved. This puts the liberal class in an irritable mood. It puts the entire upper end of the economic spectrum on the defense against the challenges to the status quo. Their majority status and hence moral authority is being questioned. And if they aren’t the majority nor hold popular support of the majority, by what right do they rule in a supposed democracy?

The blatant force of political power and blatant privilege of wealth becomes harder to hide behind standard rhetoric. As a minority majority arises, racialized class conflict no longer is as effective as it once was. Now who are the individuals to be blamed?

A No Majority Future

I came across a Brookings Institute interactive map of a racial breakdown by age cohort (via Fred Shelley). It lets you look at each county or metropolitan area. It gives the total racial breakdown for the population and then shows it for each age bracket.

In my state of Iowa, it shows the data for both the county I live in (Johnson) and the metropolitan area I live in (Iowa City). They are basically the same thing and so the data is approximately the same. With the two youngest age groups (0-4 and 5-19 years old), the population here is already more than a quarter minority. For comparison, there are only a few percentage of minorities in the 80+ demographic.

The local media has obsessed about blacks. However, the largest segment and the fastest growth is seen with Hispanics. There is a definite increase of blacks along with an increase of Asians (and those who identify as 2 or more races), but the Hispanic population is nearly equal to the combined populations of blacks and Asians.

Still, it’s not too unevenly divided around here in terms of minorities. What is interesting is that both blacks and Asians get more attention as being somehow foreign. The former is presumably from the distant land of Chicago and the latter are largely students from other countries (at least in the case of the Asians, the perception of their being foreign largely matches the reality, as most are only living here temporarily). The local population, for some reason, seems less concerned and bothered by the Hispanic population. This reinforces my sense that Hispanics might find it an easier pathway into white assimilation, which would throw off the demographic numbers as many Hispanics might entirely stop identifying as Hispanic and simply identify as white.

The Hispanic growth and dispersal is increasingly typical (here is another good interactive map). Hispanics are the fastest growing racial/ethnic population in the US, and this is most starkly seen in the traditionally majority white Heartland (especially in the rural areas and in the most rural states) where Hispanics are drawn to the agricultural work and meatpacking plants. Many of these rural farming states tend to have smaller populations and so the increase of Hispanics is much more noticeable in terms of per capita.

Iowa is a typical state where the white population is aging, as younger whites move elsewhere. At the same time, young Hispanic families are moving in. This is how they will have a disproportionate influence much more quickly than otherwise would have happened. Hispanics aren’t just a big part of the future for the Southwest, but for many diverse places all across the country.

What caught my attention more than anything, though, was just the growing minority populations in general. I’ve been long fascinated by the emerging minority-majority. However, the name is a bit misleading. It’s just another way of saying there won’t be any majority at all.

The Brookings’ map that is in the first link is based on data used for a newly published book, Diversity Explosion by William H. Frey. He explains how significant of a change this is (Kindle Locations 137-141):

“The shift toward “no majority” communities is already taking place as the constellation of racial minorities expands. In 2010, 22 of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas were minority white, up from just 14 in 2000 and 5 in 1990. Sometime after 2040 , there will be no racial majority in the country. This is hardly the America that large numbers of today’s older and middle-aged adults grew up with in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and civic lives. One implication of these shifts will be larger multiracial populations as multiracial marriages become far more commonplace.”

We’ll all be minorities before too long, assuming we don’t die in the next couple of decades. The youngest kids are already a minority-majority, but it will take a while for that generation to be representative of the entire country. Fairly large parts of the country, as Frey explains, are already majority-minority (here is a map of counties over all and another map showing which minorities for which counties). But there is a big difference between majority-minority and minority-majority, although I suspect many people mix the two up, especially white people fearing that one particular group will become the new majority in the country, which if it does eventually happen it won’t be any time soon.

* Bonus factoid: “As of 2010, Anchorage’s Mountain View neighborhood is the most diverse census tract in the entire U.S. In fact, three of the top 10 most diverse are in Anchorage, followed mostly by a handful from the borough of Queens in New York.”

Black Majority in America

I have a question that I hope someone can answer. It is about the issue of a black majority.

For much of its history, South Carolina was majority black going back to the colonial era (see “Black Majority” by Peter Wood). So, when did South Carolina stop being a black majority state? What was the exact year or decade?

That is my basic question. I had some other related thoughts.

Frederick Douglass predicted the Deep South would have eventually become black majority. This failed to happen because of all the mass migrations of Europeans during the mid and late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

Now, the black population is growing again. It is possible that some state might become a black majority in the coming generations, depending on demographic patterns. Then again, there might be another mass migration from Europe to re-establish the white majority stronghold.

Hispanics are also growing faster as a population than are blacks. Many Hispanics are increasingly choosing to identify as white. They will probably go the way of other ethnic Americans and assimilate into American whiteness.

What will that mean for the black population? Will blacks still remain the official minority scapegoat for the nation? Why don’t blacks do what the Mormons did and start their own separate society?

If all the blacks moved to a single state, they would then have a majority and they could gain political control and self-governance. As a symbolic act, they could regain the majority they once held in South Carolina, but this time it would be different. It would be an interesting experiment.

Ruling Elite: Anti-Democratic Fiscal Conservatives

I was trying to explain why democracy matters to a conservative, but I was having a hard time.

Even though he believes in representative democracy, he has an elitist strain in that he doesn’t trust the average American, especially not the poor and minorities (even though he isn’t overtly/consciously classist and racist). He seems to think most Americans who don’t vote are simply lazy or something. He blames those who are disenfranchised rather than blaming the system that disenfranchises them. And he seems to think that the majority of Americans who support liberal policies (such as progressive taxes and social security) are simply stupid, ignorant or manipulated (in particular, what he perceives as stupid and ignorant poor minorities being manipulated by the liberal elite). But when average Americans stop being mindlessly apathetic and organize through grassroots democracy, he trusts them even less (Protesters are just violent thugs or potentially so, using force or the threat of force to unfairly get their way. How dare they try to force their majority opinion on the minority ruling elite! How dare they stop submitting to the paternalistic aristocracy that knows what is best for them!).

He does mean well (and I honestly mean that, no sarcasm implied). But he is an upper class white guy who grew up when the country was booming, when Americans were proud of their post-war global dominance, and when few would question the cultural dominance and political rule of whites and Christians. On the other hand, it was also an era of reigning liberalism (the whites and Christians ruling then were an entirely different breed than our present right-wingers). People at that time were joyfully and licentiously freed from the oppression of World Wars, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. This particular conservative and others of his generation benefited from the liberal and progressive policies that made this country great: public-funded infrastructure that helped create a massive manufacturing industry and high paying jobs, public-funded education that created a well-educated generation that didn’t go into debt becoming educated, a progressive tax rate that built the middle class, and on and on. He even worked in public-funded state universities for much of his career. But he sees none of this… or else just dismisses it or somehow sees it as not very important.

From his viewpoint: Fiscal liberals are simply naive despite having have accomplished all of these great things that he personally benefited from. And fiscal conservatives are somehow being realistic despite their policies (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Clauses theory, trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the rich, massive military spending, corporate subsidies, etc) having created and grown the permanent debt (and having eliminated the surplus when a Democrat created it with no help from Republicans)… along with, after decades of fiscal and social conservative rule, having created a society that is heading in the complete opposite direction from where society was heading during the era of liberalism and progressivism.

He basically is a libertarian, although more of what I’ve heard called an Establishment libertarian (ya know, the type that is represented by the billionaire corporatists at the CATO Institute: Rupert Murdoch, Koch brothers, etc; i.e., the plutocratic ownership class). As an upper class white man, he is largely detached from the experiences of most Americans. He is reluctant to admit that most Americans disagree with him. But even when admitting this he still dismisses that majority position. Despite his valuing freedom and fairness, despite his being personally moral, he just can’t bring himself to trust the dirty masses. He genuinely fears ‘mobocracy’. He is fine with a minimal democracy as long as it is run by a ruling elite that dismisses and ignores the majority (which is what our present government does). As someone invested in The Establishment, he has much to lose if real democracy were implemented. He seems to somewhat hold to the right-libertarian position that the rich don’t need government and the poor don’t deserve government.

Last night, I heard a perfect example of this type of person. It was on NPR and one of the guests was from the Heritage Foundation which is ultra-conservative. He argued that it would be wrong for a minority of workers to be allowed to force unionization on a majority of workers who didn’t support unionization. That is fine as far as it goes. However, it is hypocritical for someone like him to make this argument as he doesn’t trust democracy in the first place. Even if a majority of workers voted for unionization he would still consider it suspect because a majority is mobocracy (two foxes and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner; the opposite view being it’s better to have one fox and two sheep with a ‘representative’ government where the fox is the representative who decides what is best for all). Also, these kinds of right-wingers are perfectly fine with a minority ruling elite forcing their views on the majority of the population. They are being disingenuous in picking and choosing when they do and don’t want to support democracy, rather conveniently they tend to only support it when it favors their own positions and power.

It really sucks, though, to be this kind of conservative at this point in history, despite all the power conservatives wield. My conservative discussion partner mistrusts the poor, the working class (especially if unionized), minorities, traditional social conservatives (i.e., religious minorities who consistently vote Democratic), protesting activists, and the “Liberal Elite” (that he perceives as controlling the government, the media and academia). He even has some strong suspicion about big business when its involved in politics, but more because he is worried about government controlling businesses rather than the other way around. I guess the only people he truly trusts are people just like him: upper class or upper middle class, fiscally and socially conservative (i.e., right-wing) WASPs. This, of course, combines with the general conservative mistrust and sometimes outright fear of change. He is part of a shrinking demographic and all of the types of people he mistrusts are growing demographics. The fastest growing demographics are hispanics and blacks (both groups tending to be social gospel Christians), atheists and the non-religious, progressives and social liberals.

Such right-wing WASPs know they are losing political power and social influence, but they aren’t willing to relent with grace and generosity of spirit. They believe this is their country. They believe they deserve their position as the ruling elite and deserve their social and cultural dominance. This is why they’ve fought so hard in the culture wars which was their last stand and they’ve lost that war. The Tea Party was their final battle, their Last Hurrah. The average Tea Party supporter is to the right of the average Republican. And the average Republican, of course, is to the right of the average Democrat (and also to the right of the average Independent). But what many don’t know is that the average Democratic politician is to the right of the average American. These right-wing WASPs are so far right that they are starting to fall off of the end of the political spectrum.

They have good reason for worrying about their own growing irrelevance and obsolescence (aging implied as many are of an older generation). They maybe can’t save themselves at this point (at least not in their traditional role), but they sure can do massive damage to our democracy in trying to save themselves from having to share power equally and fairly with others. Pushing further to the right in reaction only guarantees and quickens the demise of their rule.

So, what is their plan to counter this seemingly inevitable trend? Obviously, democracy (including a functioning representative democracy) is the greatest enemy of their desire to maintain power and influence. But how to effectively undermine democracy while keeping a facade of democracy to keep the masses docile and obedient?

Well, propaganda is their best tool, especially considering they have the most influence over both mainstream politics and mainstream media (i.e., corporate media conglomerates). As Chomsky and others have pointed out, the propaganda model has been effectively used for a very long time. Unlike the past, ruling right-wingers can’t solely use and overtly rely upon violence to oppress the US population. More subtle methods are required: controlling the narrative of public discussion and of perceived consensus reality.

Another method is to shift the location of the reigns of power. When they ruled society through majority force and ruled culture through majority dominance (i.e., majority of WASPs), they could rule the government and so a functioning representative democracy was in some ways less of a danger. But they now mistrust the government since it has been for much of the 20th century becoming more egalitarian (by which I mean less dominated by the single demographic of male WASPs).

The neo-conservatives and neo-liberals (Establishment libertarians fitting in the latter category) have a similar strategy with only a slightly different emphasis. Both seek to privatize power or to otherwise control government by outside manipulation. This is how corporatocracy has shifted to inverted totalitarianism (a banana republic that continues to go through the motions of democracy, a puppet government ruled by a shadow government).

Other more average right-wing WASPs (such as the libertarian-leaning social conservative I was interacting with) aren’t among the ruling elite, although as upper class Americans some of them have a fair amount of influence on the ruling elite, and so they instead have a strategy of disempowering the federal government (that has been, at least in the past, the greatest force of civil rights). They do this by localizing power which means concentrating power at the local level where it can be better controlled (local religious and business organizations that are tied into the local Establishment of ruling elites, and yet also — unknowingly to the average conservative — more loosely and covertly (through professional and personal relationships) tied into the national and international Establishment of ruling elites; this being a way of ruling behind the scenes far away from the sanitizing sunshine of democracy). This is an attempt to return to pre-Progressive 19th century crony capitalism when local politicians and businessmen regularly colluded for power and profit (a time when the private army of Pinkerton agents was larger than the US military).

I should clarify an issue. Yes, there are conspiracies in the world. But most of this isn’t conspiracy. It’s just people acting in accord with other people (often family and friends) who share their interests, who share their way of viewing the world, who share their background. Humans have the tendency to identify with those like themselves and research shows this is even more true for right-wingers who are predisposed to groupthink and identity politics. The Establishment isn’t necessarily nefarious in a conscious or intentionally planned way. It simply represents the relationships shared by the upper classes (personal and professional, political and business, community and religious). The upper classes socialize with other upper class people. There is nothing surprising about that. The poor do the same, but it’s just that the poor don’t have the power and influence to form a similar establishment.

What these minarchist conservatives and right-libertarians don’t understand (or, in some cases, maybe understand perfectly fine) is that plutocrats, corporatists, crony capitalists, corrupt politicians and manipulative elites can control a small government just as easily as they can control a big government. In some ways, especially in a multiculturally diverse democracy, it probably is even easier for them to maintain their power on the local level of small government. Similarly, they can control an unregulated market just as easily as they can control a regulated market. The only thing that can stop corruption and concentration of power is a functioning democracy. The greater the democracy (i.e. the more it involves direct democracy, civic participation and grassroots activism) means the greater the protection against those who don’t want democracy.

All of this obviously makes me sad, even despairing at times. It almost makes me lose all hope in humanity. I was trying to explain to this particular conservative why a functioning democracy matters, why the majority matters. Thinking further about it, I came up with a way of explaining it which maybe conservatives could understand. It uses free market economics which they claim to love so much. Here it is:

Trying to have a democracy that ignores and dismisses the majority on a consistent basis is like trying to have a free market that ignores and dismisses the majority of small business owners and workers. A free market works (at least in theory) because there is competition. Likewise, a democracy can only work if there is competition. However, if the ruling elite clamps down on political competition by disenfranchising the majority, then that is no longer a free political system, no longer a functioning democracy. An economy where two corporations nearly monopolized every market couldn’t accurately be called a free market. So why, in context of a government where two parties nearly monopolize all politics, do we insist calling it a free democracy (or even a free republic for that matter)?

To claim the US is a functioning democracy is a convenient fiction used to assuage the guilt of our individual and collective moral failings, a way of avoiding the awareness of our individual and shared responsibility that would otherwise require individual and shared action to alleviate the injustice.

This free market metaphor for democracy might be close to reaching him in a way he could understand, but I still have doubts that he (and those like him) can be reached. His fear of commoners is just too great. He knows in his heart that most Americans disagree with him (because if he didn’t know this on some level, he wouldn’t respond with such gut-level mistrust). He’d rather disempower the majority than to risk genuine democracy (with all of its messy civic participation). As a well educated professional, he sees himself as having earned his wealth and power. Therefore, he believes his opinion is worth more than the opinion of the poor and the working class, maybe worth more than the opinion of even most of the middle class that is now struggling (the conservative belief in meritocratic rule where meritocracy is conflated with plutocracy). He isn’t entirely detached from the lower classes. He didn’t grow up super rich, but neither did he grow up poor. He just doesn’t understand, maybe can’t understand. Most importantly, he doesn’t comprehend on a gut level all of the privileges and opportunities of being a well off white male and all of the public-funded programs and polices that have allowed him to succeed. He lives in a fantasy shared by many other well off white males.

It saddens me because he is so normal, so typical. If you met him, you’d just think he was a genuinely kind and friendly person (which would be an accurate assessment on the personal level). He goes to church and he volunteers. He is always helping other people. For certain, he isn’t a greedy narcissist, a soulless sociopath, or anything like that. He simply is blind to those who are different from him. Or not exactly blind. On some level, he fears those who are different and fears what he thinks they would do to this (to ‘his’) country that he believes was built by WASPs like him. He is intelligent and well educated, but he just can’t understand.

This kind of moral split reminds me of Derrick Jensen’s analysis. In his books, Jensen describes how people become dissociated between different parts of their lives. For example, someone can do things at work that others would find emotionally distasteful or morally horrifying, and yet these people often can go home to play with their kids without any thought about what they were doing a few hours before. The two parts of their lives are absolutely split. I think a similar thing happens with personal life and politics. People can make political decisions (as politicians or as voters) about strangers that they could never make about their own loved ones or their own neighbors or the members of their own church.

When that dissociation breaks down, people make very different decisions. An example is that data shows social conservatives tend to vote against stem cell research, but if they personally know someone who could be (or could have been) saved by stem cell research they tend to vote for stem cell research. Morality can’t function when there is no personal investment and many people aren’t able to connect personally to strangers. Research, however, has shown liberals are better at and conservatives worse at empathetically connecting with strangers (it’s even a criticism conservatives make of liberals because they see caring about strangers such as foreigners as implying a split loyalty). Conservatives are what Ernest Hartmann calls thick boundary types. What this means is that a conservative makes a great surgeon in being able to disconnect their emotions from their work but also can make morally questionable decisions for the same reason of that disconnection.

As usual, I’m left with no clear conclusion, no understanding of how to move forward.

Is it simply a matter of people never changing? Is it true that change only happens when the old generation dies and new generations gain power and influence? If so, that is sad. Does this mean that in hoping for change I have to hope for the death of people like this conservative along with the death of the old generation of narcissistic Boomers (and those on the cusp of the Boomer generation) who have held onto power for far too long? That is a depressing thought. I don’t wish harm on them, but I do wish that their harm against others would end. I see the right-wing reign coming to an end and yet I fear that the after-effects of their reign could last for the rest of my life.