24 August 2020

The two party system in the US

A succinct explanation of how the two-party system emerged in the US, and why it was able to function for so long before an inevitable breakdown.

The Framers thought they were using the most advanced political theory of the time to prevent parties from forming. By separating powers across competing institutions, they thought a majority party would never form. Combine the two insights—a large, diverse republic with a separation of powers—and the hyper-partisanship that felled earlier republics would be averted. Or so they believed.

However, political parties formed almost immediately because modern mass democracy requires them, and partisanship became a strong identity, jumping across institutions and eventually collapsing the republic’s diversity into just two camps.

Yet separation of powers and federalism did work sort of as intended for a long while.

The Protocols Of The Elders Of Sodom

A glorious rant from Hal Duncan

The greatest moral battle of our time? We quite agree, David Cocksucker. This is indeed the single most crucial battle in the field of modern mores. Why, it is also the single most crucial battle in the field of modern ethics. You understand the difference here, right, David Cocksucker? Ethics. Where you use a combination of reason and passion -- we'll call it "wisdom" for short -- to judge the rightness and/or wrongness of behaviour. Versus mores. Where your only judgement is whether to obey or disobey the unquestioned (and for many unquestionable) societal imperatives of whatever authority, real or imagined, you have abrogated aforesaid wisdom to.

[...]

Anyway. Yes, you are right, David Cocksucker. This is the greatest moral battle of our time. For we who have signed our names in blood and spunk to the Protocols of the Elders of Sodom (to give the Homosexual Agenda its true name) seek nothing less than the complete destruction of the moral fabric of society. We don't need your steenking mores, David Cocksucker. We have ethical judgement. We have the aesthetics of empathy, a passionate reason which drives us to love our fellow man (in all senses of the word). Moral fabric? We're gonna pull that rug right out from under your knees, burn it with the flag you worship as false idol and light our post-coital cigarettes on the flames.

Toolkit to save the country

The start of a linkpile of useful online resources

The Citizen's Handbook

Practical assistance for public citizens
A treasure trove of articles about the specifics of how to do democracy, from local organizing to governance at scale. Plus the website is nicely done, made to be read.

Beautiful Rising

Inspired by the concept of a “pattern language,” Beautiful Rising teases out the key elements of creative activism:
  • Stories
  • Tactics
  • Principles
  • Theories
  • Methodologies

Community Tool Box

  1. Creating and maintaining coalitions and partnerships
  2. Assessing community needs and resources
  3. Analyzing problems and goals
  4. Developing a framework model of change
  5. Developing strategic and action plans
  6. Building leadership
  7. Developing an intervention

...

23 August 2020

Nouning Considered Harmful

This is originally from Scott Madin of Fineness And Accuracy, posted at Shakesville. I meant for years to write about this but then he said it better than I ever would. I wish that Team Social Justice would adopt this norm.

Anyone who wants to see our society become less divided rather than more, and in particular anyone who wants to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other forms of prejudice and modes of oppression, should try hard to avoid the practice, and refrain from calling a person a sexist, or a racist, or a homophobe, instead applying those descriptors to his or her actions.

18 August 2020

Feeling seen

A word from Nils Gilman:

Piketty is precisely my age, and has apparently been on precisely the same political trajectory. That trajectory is defined by two formative aspects of our youth: on the one hand, we're both children of post-68 leftist intellectuals, who passed to us in equal measure a respect for the values of socialist humanism and a distrust for the institutions of political power; on the other hand, the central political experiences of our childhoods were the belligerent revanchism of Reagan/Thatcher, the corrupt cynicism of Mitterand/Gonzalez, and the feckless foolishness of Gorbachev—capstoned by the collapse of Eastern European Communism in the very year we reached our majority.

Along with the impression left by post-Tienanmen China's capacity to generate (highly inegalitarian) wealth, this collapse produced two crucial psycho-political instincts in people of our specific age and political upbringing. First, it generated a deep disbelief in the utopian nostrums of so-called actually existing socialisms, which we were just old enough to have believed was a "permanent alternative" to liberal capitalism, but just young enough never to have personally committed to, despite our upbringings. (This is a very microgenerational experience: for those even four or five years younger or older than us, at least one of these does not apply.) Second, it led us to appreciate the economic importance of price mechanisms, innovation and competitiveness, without generating any love for capitalism as a system or any respect for the self-regard of the rich, who people with our background regard less as exemplars of meritocracy than as avaricious parasites. For us, TINA is the Big Lie of our times: just because socialism failed as a political project was no reason to believe the story (that the Right in our countries told about the lesson of this failure) that capitalism was humane, and not still an ecologically rapacious form of social vampirism.

What I find beautiful about Piketty's book is that it crystallizes and speaks to and for this worldview — that is, to the sensibility of a “red diaper” GenXer. It is a book written by someone who watched the socialist-utopian eidolon of his elders implode, without ever buying into the liberal-utopian promises made (or the sense of political limits imposed) by the successor regime(s).

Whoa. That is very nearly me, as well.

It is at once comforting and discomforting to see myself reflected in this way. To find that one is not alone is always a pleasant surprise ... but it also demonstrates how a lot of the way I see the world is historically and culturally contingent. Which is to say: likely wrong.

10 August 2020

The American Dream

In the US we talk about “The American Dream” with a hazy shared sense of what we mean but this often hides disagreements. For a long time I described it like this:

Hard work and moral virtue manifest material prosperity; in fact, all three of these are the same thing

To my surprise, it turns out that we can name the person who originally coined the expression, a guy named James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book Epic Of America.

That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

And of course, George Carlin unforgettably said:

The owners of this country know the truth: it's called “the American Dream” because you have to be asleep to believe it.