Advanced Theodicy for Practical People

Let’s see if we can’t get a little deeper into the question of theodicy, the question of why “god” allows evil to exist in the world. I am qualified to be your guide today, as I do consider myself to be both a man of science, and a man of the spirit. I see no contradiction in this, as I do believe my spiritual journeys have been empirical and evidence-based – at least in my own opinion. And all spiritual discussions and pronouncements, by anyone, need to be prefaced, of course, with the statement ”in my opinion.” I do believe, for myself, the evidence I’ve discovered for my spiritual understandings; however I do NOT expect YOU to also believe, necessarily for yourself, my evidence that I’ve discovered for my spiritual understandings.

And in the last few days since the tragic, and most likely terroristic, bombings in Boston Massachusetts, we have heard, on all types of media, a lot of poorly informed, artlessly expressed and just plain old silly and shallow discussion of what the world is like and how terrible it is that terrible things like this mass murder can occur. Let’s see what we can do to raise the level of discussion of these problems on the internet.

So why does “god” allow evil to occur in this world, why does “god” allow a hateful person or persons to fill backpacks with pressure cooker bombs filled with projectiles meant to cause severe and widespread injury and detonate them at a time of public celebration?

First off, as a spiritual person, this is why I put the word “god” in quotation marks, and why in my own writings I refer to the “Unknowable Universal Essence” as my synonym for words like God, Jehovah, Allah, The Lord, and so on. The image of an all-knowing patriarch who “knows” every detail of every life, who knows the course of every set of future events, is not an image that has ever attracted me spiritually, or one that comports with the reality of the spiritual Universe as I understand it. I do maintain that what I call the Unknowable Universal Essence “is present in” or “participates in” all the matter and all the energy in the Universe – yet please notice how this formulation is deliberately much more vague, uncertain and open-ended than the idea that a Fundamentalist Protestant Lord knows and controls your every future action. (And for the skeptical, I will point out that I specifically acknowledge that the “spiritual essence” I find to be present in the Universe as a whole, may well turn out to be some aspect of cosmic astrophysics which we humans just can’t yet understand or define scientifically.)

So, in my understanding of the “Unknowable Universal Essence,” it embraces ALL LIFE – viruses, mosquitoes, strange life-forms using non-carbon/oxygen chemistries in extreme environments – and it also embraces all apparently “non-living” matter as well. As long as matter and energy don’t violate the “laws” of physics and chemistry, they’re good to go in this Universe and be a portion of the universal love song. We do live with viruses and bacteria and cancer cells in our bodies nearly all the time. If the viruses or cancer cells grow stronger than the human body, I can be sad for you and your family, however the Unknowable Universal Essence is not offended. Or another example, we do live on earth with an atmosphere that helps keep our environment within a limited temperature range, while providing us oxygen to breathe and shielding us from the harsh environment of outer space. If the waste products of our economic activities upset that atmosphere so it can no longer be counted on to provide those elements of our convenience, the Unknowable Universal Essence will embrace the new life forms that evolve to thrive in the new, changed atmosphere which no longer supports our survival.

If you have an ideology that there is a one unified intelligence with Lordly Powers over all life, and which is specifically interested in earth-bound human lives over all other lives, then you do still have a problem with the question of “theodicy,” or why your Lord allows evil things to happen to human beings. And as I don’t really share your assumptions, I can’t help you much with a solution. The suggestion that your Lord who is especially interested in human beings, allows evil human behaviors to occur (over and over again!) as a test of individual human choices in a context of free will – making it all the more important to make non-evil choices – is as good an explanation as any other, given the assumptions.

As for the question of humans creating “evil” behavior which tortures, torments and murders other human lives, that, unfortunately, is a practical and scientific question which requires scientific answers (which we should be smart enough to provide). The problem is complicated further because the term “evil,” while it is a widely used term which everyone thinks they can recognize when they see it, is (like all the other words we commonly use when talking about “morality”) a subjective term of personal definition, rather than an objective scientific term with a definition that scientists can agree on. Everyone will have somewhat different definition of what “evil” or “morality” is (or should be), and there is no authority we can rest on to be sure of our definitions (besides the authority of having more human beings agree with our definitions of “good” and “evil” than disagree).

For today, we can say that the vast majority of humanity does agree that mass murder, for any motive, is indeed “evil” and is indeed to be condemned and repudiated. Nevertheless, we do find, and we will continue to find, that individual human beings do create for themselves sick, strange and angry psychological structures, and these same people will embrace divisive, arrogant and hate-filled versions of science and/or religion. From here it is but a short step for such angry people to gravitate towards choices of what human behaviors to give honor and status to, which enable political ideologies that allow them to think it is somehow “good” to commit specific mass murders in specific circumstances. And while many of the small minority that take these first three steps towards mass murder may never, fortunately, find the circumstances that allow them to express these murderous thoughts in action, a few will find themselves in economic circumstances that do allow them to gather the tools of murder, and the time and personal “security” to believe that they can and should take action on their murderous belief (whether or not they believe they can “get away with it”).

Humans create their own evils, just as they create their own positive accomplishments. As I’ve done my best to explain scientifically, we human beings create both good and evil through our creation and borrowing of our personalities/psychologies, through our creation and borrowing of specific philosophical, scientific and religious ideas, through our creation and borrowing of specific ideas of what human persons and behaviors should be given honor, status, and official rank/authority (a set of behaviors we understand under the heading of “politics”), and through our creation and borrowing of ideas of economic values, and our creation and distribution of specific goods and services to fulfill those economic values.

Our human lives, our thoughts and actions, our human history, are in the end our own human responsibility. I firmly believe our thoughts and actions are subject to scientific explanation. I do believe there is a universal spirit, which mostly feels like “love” to our subjective minds, which is present in all matter and all energy in this universe. This spirit may nourish us psychically to the extent that we seek it out. Yet if we wander twisted paths that lead to hateful and murderous behavior, the universal spirit will not directly interfere or intervene (to the extent that we remain within the realms of ordinary physics and chemistry.)

We like to think of ourselves as “good,” we like to think of ourselves as supporting the best values of humanity. We don’t like to confront ambiguous situations of mixed morality over which we feel we have little direct control, for example, being American citizens who believe in republican virtues and democratic values, who have somehow in the last 70 years created an over-arching military empire claiming supremacy over all human beings on earth, or the situation of being residents of the economically-advanced areas of North America and Europe in the last two hundred years, whose pursuit of economic values for our families and our communities (while neglecting the effects of the waste products of those pursuits) puts us in the position where our “goods” today seem to directly threaten the health and prosperity of our own children and all the future children of the world.

Fewer and fewer of us seem to believe in a patriarchal God who can or will rescue us from our own moral ambiguities. My understanding of the Unknowable Universal Essence tells me it will certainly not rescue us from our problems without a lot more specific, positive political and economic action, immediately taken, on our part. There is no “god” who is going to prevent human beings from being evil, there is no positive force in the Universe that is going to clean up our human messes for us. It’s entirely up to us, human beings. We can’t change the past that our human predecessors have given us, we can change our own thoughts and behavior going forward into the future – and my understanding of “morality” insists we get started on that process, right away.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Ron Brandstetter, Social Sciences, spiritual ron | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

No, Public Managers Shouldn’t Get Business Manager Salaries

Author’s note: This article is a result of my recent foray into local activism, investigating the situation of my dysfunctional local agency that provides water to myself and thousands of my neighbors. The results of that investigation are a bit too locally-specific for this website (however if you too are in this locality I’ll be glad to tell you about it elsewhere). However, the whole experience of interviewing local officials and trying to write up the results did lead to the larger argument that I make below.

I did try to write this up for some local publications, who chose not to use it. Here I am keeping the initial paragraphs that refer to the local political situation in 2013, however here are some notes to make things more clear for my global readers. Clackamas County is the local government where I live, with an overall population of about 384,000 people over a fairly large geographic landscape with a variety of urban, suburban and rural communities. It is one of 3 counties (with Multnomah and Washington Counties) that make up the “metropolitan Portland” area, which contains a third or more of Oregon’s population. Tri-Met is the local regional government agency, first formed in 1969, which provides bus and rail public transit services to the most urban portions of the 3-County metropolitan area. In the most recent elections, Clackamas County’s governing board of 5 Commissioners was won by a new majority group generally representing the Republican Party, right-wing “tea party” movement which claims to favor smaller government and lower taxation in nearly all circumstances.

No, Public Managers Shouldn’t Get Business Manager Salaries

Is TriMet trying to ensure that Clackamas County voters will ban their already-deeply-into-construction light rail expansion into Milwaukie and Oak Grove, setting up years of legal and political conflict to come? It seems that will certainly be one result of the news that came last week, that TriMet was secretly giving top managers a collective $910,000 salary increase – while raising fares, cutting routes, and publicly claiming that they had a pay hike freeze in effect.

That’s all very interesting to speculate on, and as a Clackamas County progressive activist I feel slapped in the face by TriMet’s fiasco. How can I stand up at a Board of Commissioners meeting and defend light rail after this fiasco? It was bad enough last June, when the little-noticed confab of labor and environmental activists revealed that even the progressive activists of the Laborers Union, who are getting some of the TriMet construction jobs, thought that TriMet was too focused on light rail and not enough on buses. Still, I defended TriMet’s light rail as an investment in the future – even though it was already clear that TriMet didn’t share my grandparent’s sense of thrift as a virtue. Now that we see it was an investment in a select clique, why should I give up my time for activism to fight the hordes of tea-partiers in any upcoming Clackamas County special elections against TriMet?

TriMet’s latest snafu, however, is only an entry point to a larger argument that I would like to make: we need to push back against the argument that is so often heard, “We need to pay public managers the top rates ever earned in the private sector, to attract the best people.” No, absolutely not, for two major reasons. The two environments of private business management and public government management are completely different, and we do not need to attract the greediest people to public government management.

I have been a self-employed (micro) businessperson full-time for 29 years, and have continued as a part-time businessperson another decade. Much of that time I have been an activist observing local governments. The two environments are completely different.

Private businesses experience a much higher degree of month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter fluctuation of basic revenue than public government administrations ever do. Perhaps the revenue fluctuations of the slowest, most stable industries can be compared to government revenues – but those are the businesses where most managers still make significantly less than six-figure salaries. Public government administration is generally far more stable than the business world, revenues will fluctuate with the most major ups and downs of the economy as a whole, but usually not too much more.

And in business environment, the manager’s decisions appear to be much more important for the entity’s revenue results than in public government. Now in the reality of millions of people engaging the marketplace in American life, many people are mediocre and many things even out over time, that’s how people and capitalism survive. Yet it can happen that if you the business manager make one or two bad guesses, while your competition rolls out a popular new product, you really suffer. And on the other hand if your latest brainstorm is a hit, while the competition’s new line stinks, you’re celebrating in the best restaurants. Government administration is generally not like that, a welfare agency or a water district doesn’t have competitors actively trying to take away their “customers.” A transit agency like TriMet does have to “compete” with cars and other alternatives in general, are they really doing such a great job that their managers deserve the top rates of pay of any categories of business managers? Further, when revenues do fall in the business world, managers are much more likely to be de-budgeted or sidetracked, if not fired — even if the shortfalls are not directly their fault. This happens much less often in the government environment, even if lagging results are in fact management’s fault.

A business plan does need to be tweaked every 30 to 60 days; intensely competing businesses are constantly responding to each others’ moves. A well-designed government policy and administration should need much less marketing attention: the revenues are coming in because the population needs your government service, and/or the population is legally required to pay their taxes. And while many types of government agencies have some legitimate need to maintain good public relations, frankly the decline of the print journalism industry offers the chance to pick up very experienced people for public relations management for less than six-figure salaries. If government managers are so great they need top rates of pay, why are they so seldom as cost-conscious and bargain-seeking as business managers can often be?

Frankly we don’t need the most selfish, most “gimme” managers in public service. Which brings up another part of the problem (and further illustrates the difference in the public and private environments). While being a highly successful business manager has many rewards, there are limits to how far the most selfish can “institutionalize” their power. Sure, this year your business is booming and you’re head of your industry group and you’re a big wheel in your political party, but in 10 or 12 years you probably won’t be all those things. On the other hand, the clever and selfish government manager, well-versed in the arts of the misleading press release, the rewarding of friends and the punishment of enemies, can entrench themselves in local government and politics and be a “power” for 15 years or more. Those powerful public managers are precisely the reason that bureaucracy is a dirty word, and that many citizens feel that government doesn’t listen to them. Do we really need to recruit and encourage such selfish managers with the top rates of pay for any industry?

Every citizen, every elected official needs to stay awake and fight back against the argument that “we need to pay government managers the top salaries of the most lucrative industries to attract good talent.” No, absolutely not. We should be able to offer public management jobs at rates 10-15% less than private managers in comparable categories are getting, and we should consciously be seeking people who see value in stability, who appreciate the lesser risks generally encountered in government service, and who feel rewarded by knowing how they are of service to their community.

I do believe that government workers making less than $50,000 annually should probably be getting raises; and saving money by getting better public agency management for less money is a great way to fund that goal. We don’t need the most selfish managers; if they really think they’re worth it, they need to go find those big bucks in the private sector. We do need managers who understand that the taxpayer is their ultimate employer, and that the taxpayer’s need for cost-conscious, service-oriented government is paramount in the public environment.

Business doesn’t exist to provide government or wisdom; it exists keep us all fed, sheltered and entertained, and give people incomes to do those things. Government does exist to do tough jobs that business can’t take on profitably. Let’s not get the two very different environments mixed up.

Posted in American Economic History, American Politics, History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Moments of History – Obama Should Know Better

As a historian and a follower of momentous political changes, I happen to think that President Obama did a pretty deft job in his public reactions, at least as far we know now, dancing on the shifting sands of the people-powered uprising and revolution in Egypt, over the recent 18 days from January 25th to Feb. 11th. However, there was an item in his prepared remarks after the resignation of Mubarak, on Feb. 11th, which was completely stupid and misleading, setting a very bad example for any young people who may have been trying to learn something from the occasion.

The President really should have known better than to make the silly statement he made; for charity’s sake, I will assume that this was a case of an unimaginative speech writer just trying to get something out quickly (and I’ve been in that position enough times in my business writing career).

In opening his remarks, Mr. Obama voiced the following words “There are very few moments in our lives where we have the privilege to witness history taking place. This is one of those moments. This is one of those times (source here).”

This idea that history only takes place at certain specific moments is a big part of a false world view, propagated in millions of old and new sources, that helps keep the average American (and every global citizen) stupid and powerless. “History is not about You!,” this false world view shouts. “History is only about kings and queens and powerful politicians. History is serious stuff, and it’s not for you, and it only happens at certain times when we say so!”

Well, I for one am here to say that’s not how life works, that’s not the way it is. And the Egyptian uprising is one of the best proofs that History is indeed about every one of us, it’s about every one of our seconds and minutes in real time in our real lives as ordinary inhabitants of this marvelously spinning globe we find ourselves living on. History is not just Hosni Mubarak, finally realizing after sundown local time on Friday February 11th that he needed to no longer be the President of Egypt.

History is, and must be, all about all the lives of all the 80 million-plus Egyptian people, every day over the last three decades, all of their thoughts and experiences, all the sights and sounds they experienced, all their joys and sorrows and indifferences, and how the totality of those experiences were present on the evening of January 24th, creating a mood which most palpably existed in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people even though on Jan. 24th it had not yet expressed itself in any tangible “political events” that outside reporters might have latched onto and written about. History was taking place that afternoon and evening of Jan. 24th, no less than it was 24 hours later on Jan. 25th when the mood of the Egyptian people did express itself in tangible events that could be reported, and every single one of the thoughts and actions of every one of the Egyptian people over the next 18 days made its small but vital contribution to the outcome that finally occurred on Feb. 11th, when Hosni Mubarak resigned the Presidency.

Now if Obama’s hurried speech writer had said something like, “there are very few moments in our lives when we have the privilege of witnessing Sudden Large Changes in Historical Patterns Which Are Immediately Obvious as Big Significant Changes,” I might be a bit more inclined to go along with that – yet again, President Obama’s own life and our recent times show that this is still an exaggeration that misleads us about the nature of History. And Obama of all people, should know that the choices of average citizens are crucial to the results of History.

Just to tick off a few of the Sudden Large Changes that have occurred to all of us over the recent years, there were the Republican gains in the 2010 elections, when tens of millions of average citizens in 2008 failed to turn out in 2010. These Republican Party gains were also aided by the moral travesty of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which may have been the revenge of the politically-biased Supreme Court faction for the election of President Obama in November 2008, which was based on Obama’s remarkable success in enlisting the average intelligent citizen to his cause. As Obama should know, his ability to accomplish this was indirectly fueled by the disaster of the Iraqi insurgency of 2004-6, which of course arose from the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. That American invasion was sold to Americans as a response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which almost certainly were the result of George Bush and Condi Rice ignoring the many warnings of this coming attack, and that incompetent administration was only in place because of the Supreme Court’s intervention and dubious decision in awarding the 2000 Presidential elections to Bush instead of Gore. As time goes by, the things that we thought were Sudden Large Changes in the 1990’s are looking a bit less meaningful, yet nevertheless these kind of sudden, highly visible and obviously momentous happenings that we think of as History are not, and never have been, “very few” moments in our lives, as President Obama’s harried speech writer would have us believe.

History is the story of us – all of us. Like any good story, it often works better as a convincing narrative if it is skillfully edited and condensed and presented by a creative storyteller. But even the dull bits of your ordinary life are part of the story – they are influencing your life, your ideas, your choices and your future actions. Even if you really are the dullest, most apathetic, disconnected, unmotivated consumer, your consumer choices are affecting our cultural and economic history, and your bad example is motivating someone else to take actions that will have an effect.

I’ll get off my hobby horse now, and let us both get back to work, if you’d like to hear more about how History really is the story of all human beings and what that means for each of us, I’ve got the condensed version of that story here. As long as you understand: History is not some big rare thing that happens to someone else, that we can witness History every moment of every day if our eyes and ears are open (even if we don’t always understand what we’re seeing and hearing), and President Obama, of all people, should know better than to repeat some speech writer’s prattle about the “few moments” of “history taking place.”

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Is There A Talking Lizard In Your Subconscious Mind? Hope versus Advertising

Is there a talking lizard, with a cute Australian accent, implanted in your subconscious mind? There should be, because they’ve been paying literally billions over the last few years to put it there. Nevertheless, despite all the evidence that the advertising industry has won, and American intelligence and individual freedom has lost in the battle over your mind-space, this article would like to take up the cause of hope, against the advertising industry.

In our world of capitalism and business, advertising is a necessary function of doing business. I’ve mostly been a small businessperson in my adult career, I’ve advertised my businesses, I’ve written ads for my own and others’ ventures, and for grassroots political causes I’ve been involved in. I want to advertise in the future, for business or political ventures I might become interested in. As a consumer, I’ve sometimes benefitted from discovering new (to me) products, or from sales opportunities or better prices that I learned about through advertising. Advertising is probably here to stay.

Yet as progressive citizens of the United States, as inhabitants of the earth who wish to see our grandchildren also enjoy a relatively supportive planet to live on, I hope it’s clear to most of us that most modern advertising, video advertising in particular, has far more negative economic and cultural effects than positive effects. Advertising is a form of pollution, a pollution of the personal space of each of us, a pollution of our culture’s common human space, a pollution of our culture’s common social space. Advertising pollutes our public discourse, it pollutes our inner thoughts. Advertising pollutes our family and social relationships, and advertising – false, lying advertising conceived in pure cynicism and hypocrisy with budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars – most certainly pollutes our political civic life. The advertising industry’s excellence of craftsmanship in their ability to manipulate our emotions from one second to another increases and exacerbates the negative effects of advertising on our common social space, even as it sometimes succeeds in its manipulative purpose of distracting us and making us laugh so a brand image can be implanted into our subconscious.

As citizens of the world who need a better future than our capitalist democracy is currently providing, I hope it’s clear to us that we cannot get to that better future without somehow bringing serious and fundamental reforms to the current advertising industry. Interestingly, the Supreme Court’s efforts to shield the freedom of advertising speech from government interference may have left two very interesting avenues for progressive action, arising ironically from the very excellence of manipulative craftsmanship in today’s video advertising presentations, and I’ll be discussing that after a few more introductory thoughts.

While I am here to criticize the advertising industry from a progressive stance, it’s important to note that people who value the preservation of their traditional culture, people who value the importance of their traditional religious beliefs, are precisely the people who should be criticizing the advertising industry the most. Modern advertising, with its desperate need to grab your attention, is perfectly willing to satirize any belief, make parodies of any cultural institution, or act like a bully to any identifiable population group – since it’s proven that an outrageous statement or image that seems to either defy cultural expectations, or exaggerate cultural prejudices, is an easy, and very effective, method for getting people’s attention. Video advertising in particular acts like a type of “super sulfuric acid” in slowly dissolving traditional beliefs and customs – that is, when it’s not acting like napalm or dynamite in directly burning and exploding traditional beliefs and customs. Yet somehow the cultural conservatives in America have become so unthinkingly “pro-business” in their reactions, that even though the modern advertising industry is more damaging to their cultural traditions, and to their ability to maintain their cultural traditions, than it is damaging to the culture of relatively iconoclastic, free-thinking left-liberals, American cultural conservatives can, at least so far, be counted on to unthinkingly defend the right of advertisers to peddle the type of lies and nonsense that are dissolving the authority and foundations of the traditional beliefs the cultural conservatives claim to revere so fondly.

Now let’s take a look at how the Supreme Court, in attempting to set up a corporate-friendly legal regime protecting some free speech rights for advertisers, has inadvertently set up a loophole through which intelligent citizens can try to fight back against the corporate behemoth of deceptive advertising.

TAXING DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING

The Supreme Court has ruled on the free speech rights of advertisers in a number of cases, which generally establish that businesses do have some rights to free speech in advertising – yet that “commercial speech” is a form of speech which may be regulated, if the government has a “substantial interest” in such regulation. A summary of the law can be found here.

The established case law is fairly clear, and on the face of things, it generally looks like a very pro-business stance on the part of the Supreme Court. (I’m a progressive and a radical, so I do hope and pray for a future where we can get a Supreme Court that favors the people’s interests over the business owner’s interests.) According to the existing rulings, commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment against government regulation if several conditions are met. The commercial speech must be for lawful products or services and must not be deceptive, the governmental interest must be substantial, and the proposed governmental remedies must “directly advance” the government’s interest, and not be “more extensive” than necessary.

Do you get it? Just about all modern big-budget video & radio advertising IS IN FACT DECEPTIVE! And in being deceptive, it is therefore subject to regulation, including the possibility of prohibition of such deceptive advertising.

Further, ambitious young legal minds should be sharpening their intellectual swords to go after the theory that ALL advertising aimed at implanting a branding strategy into the consumer’s subconscious is BY DEFINITION deceptive, since the consumer’s true interest is to be skeptical of all brand claims – and even if a brand is a reliable supplier of quality potato chips or adult diapers or whatever for some period of time, it is in the interest of the consumer to remain alert for the possibilities that other brands are just as good, that brands which aren’t spending huge amounts to implant their image through advertising should be able to deliver the product at a lower cost, and for the probability that the known brand will eventually change or decline in ways that are not to the consumer’s interest. Even if the known brand doesn’t decline, it may be overtaken by other brands improving their products and services. Branding strategies are entirely logical for businesses with the resources to carry them out, yet from the consumer’s point of view, they are fundamentally deceptive, their basic purpose is to implant a necessarily false idea in our minds, somewhere deeper than rational thought is able to form and hold the ideas that the individual actually wishes to hold.

So it is absolutely legal and constitutional to talk about taxing deceptive advertising, and/or advertising which is intended to amuse or distract the consumer while a branding image is implanted into the consumer’s subconscious mind (a strategy of deception on the face of it). It should be fairly easy to argue that the government does have a strong and abiding interest in protecting its citizen’s minds from deception, nonsense and selfish subconscious manipulation, as well as in protecting the federally-owned broadcast spectrum and other public forums from lies, deception and other forms of commercial pollution.

Again, the Supreme Court over the years has been trying to erect a fence that would protect the commercial speech of big corporations trying to get little citizens to hand over their money … but the over-reaching excesses of the corporations, in which EVERY automobile commercial has to have a disclaimer saying “uh, it’s not actually legal or possible to drive like we’re showing you,” where scores of huge corporations run ad campaigns filled with magical realities and foolish impossibilities and cartoon nonsense in order to sneak in a branding message to your subconscious, have created a situation in which the whole deceptive apparatus of modern advertising has placed itself in a trap where an active citizenry CAN demand regulation, according to the existing doctrines of the Supreme Court!

The inherent deceptiveness of branding campaigns is not just some fluke of whacky ad-men, it is part of a whole body of scientifically-planned, tested and proven theories of how to manipulate your thoughts to the advertiser’s advantage. No matter who you may believe yourself to be, no matter how strong-willed or individualistic you may believe yourself to be, the advertisers know exactly how to grab your attention with cultural images and emotion-inducing sound effects, they know exactly how to play your assumptions and prejudices to achieve any almost any mental effect they wish to create.

Is it in the interests of the advertiser to persuade you that white is black? They will carefully craft three different social narratives, each of which can be presented in 8 seconds, with very careful role casting and set design, showing social situations in which a person you can identify with does something silly or embarrassing, yet understandable – and all three will be tagged with the line, spoken by others addressing the embarrassed person – “Oh, you didn’t even know white was black?” This will be finished off with an eye-grabbing cartoon or computer generated image in which a number of white images are apparently visually transformed in black images, and with some appropriately punchy music will deliver the headline “White – Now it’s Black.” The negative images for white will have all been tested and proven to have negative emotional effects on people, and the positive images used for black will all have been tested and proven to have positive emotional effects on people. And it can all be wrapped up in thirty seconds.

Oh, and that’s exactly how they sell you cars, and how they sell you phone networks, and how they sell you prescription drugs and political candidates and everything else. And it is deception through and through, and citizens who care about their culture and the future of their culture should be able to lead their politicians to tax and regulate this commercial deception, no matter what outrageous claims the ad industry will come up with to defend themselves.

What would be an effective and efficient form of regulation, that would advance the interests of citizens and government without unduly burdening legitimate businesses that need to sell their products? I see a regime of taxation on total deceptive advertising spending, which would start with an absolute exemption on the first $100,000 or $150,000 that a company (or an individual) spends each year on advertising. So there will be no question of taxing your ads on Craig’s list for your garage sale, no question of taxing the flyers and coupons put out by your local pizza parlor or dog-washing salon. And even the worst fly-by-night hawkers of crappy Chinese plastic could put together a low-production-value 30-minute infomercial, with any kind of lies they like, and run it three or five times late at night on the cable channels, and not have to pay any tax because they are still under the $150,000 exemption. The intent of the exemption is to is precisely to exempt nearly all local businesses and everyone attempting to establish a business. A business would typically have to be up to $5-600,000 in sales in a very high-margin field, and up to $3 million or more in sales in most low-margin fields, before it would start feeling any effects of deceptive advertising taxes, no matter what they were saying or presenting.

For businesses that are spending more than $150,000 a year on advertising, I envision an after-the-fact tax rate of 3% to 12 or 15% of total spending, depending on the degree of deception that is found to be occurring. If advertisers were willing and able to limit themselves to provably factual statements about the virtues of their products, the availability at various retail outlets and prices, and non-exaggerated claims about the suitability of the products for various consumer needs, they get home free, no tax for deceptive advertising is incurred.

For the normal stretching of claims that occurs so easily once one starts writing an ad – “You’ll love the taste of new Sugar Oatie O’s!” – we have a category called something like “moderate narrative exaggeration” and it gets a tax of 3% of the company’s total spending on advertising (after the exemption). When we get presentations like a little drama showing the whole family being transformed by eating new Sugar Oatie O’s, or the ad that’s actually running currently that shows the woman going to her high school reunion and getting the guy she’s always wanted, thanks to her new skin-disease prescription drug – and not getting any of the horrendous side effects that are legally required to be listed that take up 90% of the ad’s time – we have a category called “extreme narrative exaggeration” and it costs a 6 or 7% tax. Using cartoon characters, human-like talking lizards and other magical realism to dramatize your message gets you a 9 or 10% tax rate. And going on the theory that branding campaigns are always deceptive, saturation buys of advertising space to run messages that use humor or other distractions to sneak in a branding message should be a special category of its own that also earns you at least a 10% tax rate.

And for those who need to put together a political advertisement that takes a third party’s negative interpretation of something that a politician said or did in the past, exaggerates that into a more direct threat-statement aimed at raising the fears of voters, uses creepy music and huge block-font print messages to work on voter’s subconscious emotional responses, and thus trashes one candidate while never mentioning the opposing candidate, and hides the ad’s sponsorship behind a committee name that has also been chosen to play on voter’s emotions, there needs to be a top, punitive tax rate of 15% or more, and legal language that prevents one individual or group of individuals from setting up dozens of such committees to game the initial exemption of the first $150,000 of ad spending to their advantage.

The tricky question is, of course, who makes all these judgements and interpretations to assess the tax, and I do see some sort of 5-person board, under the FTC or the IRS, to retroactively look at a company’s advertising over the previous time period and make a tax assessment. Of course the professional reactionaries and the economic libertarians would hate this, but it is a reasonable response that protects the interests of the government in ensuring that citizens are not being deceived, and that the common cultural space is not being overly polluted, gives businesses and political candidates an incentive to construct ads that are not deceptive, and does not unduly burden businesses – honest businesses incur no burden, and even the deceptive ones still get to poison the air with their crap. They just have to pay a tax on it, after a significant initial exemption, to compensate society (in the form of the federal government) for their misuse of the intellectual environment.

And if the professional reactionaries can still win an election without their deceptive negative ads, or even with them and paying a tax on them, of course they can put their flunkies on the board, and the board will suddenly find all sorts of excuses to give companies no tax assessment at all, or assessments at the lowest possible rates.

CAVEAT VENDOR

An even more elegant and libertarian solution to the problem of deceptive advertising lies in changing the legal assumption of “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware,” that underlies nearly all business and commercial law. If advertisers are put on the legal assumption of “caveat vendor,” or “seller beware,” and consumers are allowed to bring lawsuits against deceptive advertising, the problem practically solves itself. The rational company quickly learns to use just a few saving adjectives in its low-key, fact-based advertising – “you may find that new Sugar Oatie O’s really taste great, and probably help you start your day with the nutrition you need” – and the deceptive company either changes its behavior or gets quickly driven from the marketplace after paying off consumer’s successful lawsuits.

The potential for overwhelming courts and businesses with lawsuits under such a regime is real, and some rational limits could well be written into the law. Perhaps there should be a mandatory class-action requirement, the complainants would need to get 1% or so of the population of the jurisdiction to sign on to a class lawsuit in order to be heard – whatever number works out so that it is easy to reach it for truly abusive business liars, yet tough to reach for cases where there are more gray areas. Alternatively, plaintiffs might be limited to those who actually suckered for the ad and forked over money to the possibly deceptive business.

Other important details would be that cases must be brought in the complaining customer’s jurisdiction, and that companies must have proper identification on their products to enable victims of possibly deceptive advertising know who they’re looking for. And if such law does lead to a huge wave of cases that threatens to tie up courts, I would not object to procedural laws that set up special courts with accelerated procedures such as no oral arguments or appearances whatever, everyone would submit their paperwork and special judges would make their determinations within a 30 or 60 day time limit.

Again, if companies would just sprinkle their ads with “it may be” and “probably” they could argue their way out of most lawsuits, and thus over time lawsuits wouldn’t be sought in cases that were not likely to be won by the plaintiffs. Of course this might lead to lawyers aggressively specializing in assembling such classes and cases – and wouldn’t the Chamber of Commerce types have some fun going after a lawyer they believed made deceptive ads to do so? After an initial period of testing by both sides, it is likely the whole field could become self-regulating, with little or no burden on the courts. And the advertising the consumer is subjected to will hopefully be much less burdensome to both their conscious and subconscious minds.

For my satisfaction, either the law should be written so that the use of humorous distractions, cartoon characters, magical realism or unrealistically unbelievable social situations to establish branding strategies is necessarily considered deceptive, or judges need to establish this through case law. While I would still consider all branding strategies to be inherently deceptive to the consumer’s best interests, if companies could only carry them out in a fact-based way – “you may need plumbing products, and you probably want the best plumbing products. We’ve been making plumbing products for 85 years, thousands of independent plumbing contractors consider our products reliable and economical” – that would be a big reduction in contemporary intellectual pollution, and a big reduction in the amount of nonsense being carried around in the subconscious brains of hundreds of millions of consumers, and I would be happy with that.

I’m too much the historian to unequivocally look forward to unalloyed good endings in human affairs, yet I remain hopeful that a legal regime of “caveat vendor” that allowed the public to take legal action on their own initiative against deceptive advertising could lead to a much better environment in this area of human life, with only deceptive businesses being disadvantaged. Advertising could and would flow as before, in terms of volume, yet hopefully in a much more calm, fact-based atmosphere that actually showed respect for the customer’s intelligence. There would be no government board inspecting advertising either before or after the fact, and after an initial period when some grey-area exaggerations get some frivolous lawsuits, there would be no undue burden on honest businesses and political candidates, and only those businesses and political candidates who need to rely on deception to promote their causes would be disadvantaged.

And at the Fox News empire, they would trash me for “talking the fun out of advertising,” and I would be glad to bask in their criticism, knowing what I had done to help free the subconscious minds of my fellow Americans from their abuses and pollution.

GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE

Of course, all of this speculation on my part is far, far in advance of the actual state of American culture and politics at the beginning of the year 2011, and I could not criticize anyone who criticized this article for engaging in far-out fantastical speculation in this matter. It does seem more likely right now, that instead of my musings here coming true, that a future President Bachmann or Santorum would push to allow big corporations to use some sort of new microwave or neutrino-beam technology to send advertising messages through the walls of our homes and directly into our brains – just before that President bumbles into a nuclear war with China, the oceans die, and the cockroaches take over. (The talking lizards might then evolve in another million years!)

No, right now the weak and cowardly Congressional Democrats can’t even protect themselves against the hypocritically false, mouth-foaming TV advertisements that have been unleashed by the un-precedented Citizens United ruling from our biased Supreme Court; they certainly aren’t going to be passing any laws that put the brakes on big corporations. And even if liberals and progressives were able to win Congressional seats for a majority that actually represented liberals and progressives, the politically-biased Roberts-Scalia-Thomas clique that dominates our Supreme Court would make up some new arguments that invalidated the kind of laws I’ve been talking about in this article.

So we Americans who can still think rationally, without magical realism and talking lizards cluttering up our brains too deeply, we have tons and tons of work to do before we’ll be making any of the reforms I’ve discussed here (and I hope I’ve addressed those issues elsewhere). And there are so many pressing problems facing modern America, that reforming the sicknesses of today’s advertising industry is far down the list of domestic policy changes we’ll be making if we can ever overcome the obstacles facing actual liberal politics in 21st Century America.

Nevertheless, these are good issues to be thinking about and to be discussing, because the manipulative excellence of the craftsmanship in today’s video ads is only going to become more insidious, more penetrating of our personal mind-spaces, and more polluting to the kind of cultural and intellectual public common space we should be treasuring more dearly. And it is a good issue to bring before the public, as they do understand at some level that most advertising is nonsense and deception, and that’s why hundreds of millions of American consumers do their best to “tune out” advertising on a conscious basis (which of course leads the big advertisers to work even harder on reaching our subconscious minds).

And as a parting shot, there is one non-legislative program that sincere independents and liberals should be able to join in now, that takes on one of the worst portions of modern advertising’s assault on American ideals of liberty and self-reliance. In the wake of the tragic attacks on Congresswoman Giffords and Judge Roll in Tucson this January, there have been many calls for a greater civility in American public life. Well, can the rich, powerful and successful members of the National Association of Broadcasters do anything to advance the cause of civility? Yes, they can. The National Association of Broadcasters and the state broadcasters associations are fairly tight industry associations with a near-universal membership among broadcasters, and they do, if they wish, have the power to enforce some basic, minimum standards for negative campaign advertising over broadcast radio and television. We’re not talking about achieving utopia here, we accept that negative advertising will exist, just some basic minimums of civility. First, the attack must be based on something the target actually said or did in a reasonable past period of time, 2 or 4 years, and not based on the advertiser’s, or some third-party’s negative interpretation of what the target did. If the claim is that the candidate voted for/against a particular issue, but this vote was part of a large bill that addressed many topics, that would have to be noted. Second, all music is disallowed; they can have their claims in words, but they can’t have music’s ability to communicate (negative or positive) emotionality. Third, no photo-morphing of the target candidate into some other (negatively-regarded) person or image – no matter how closely the attacking advertisers want to tie the two together. All claims of a link between the attacked candidate and another negatively-regarded person or concept must be made in words, of course without music and without photo-morphing or jump cuts or subliminal images or any other video trickery. And fourth, any claims on the future behavior, or the results of the future behavior, of the attacked candidate must be reality-based and relatively civil. You won’t be able to claim “if candidate X is elected it will lead to fascism/communism/apocalypse!”, but you could say things like “if candidate X is elected he will most likely continue to vote against (our issue).” Fifth, if the negative ad is being placed by independent groups, they must include a brief statement of who they do wish to be elected to the position in question – no fair attacking the target and never mentioning the candidate they really desire (and if they favor abstention, a spoiled ballot campaign or a write-in or whatever, they have to say that). And finally, all images of guns or violence are disallowed in either negative or positive campaign advertising – no matter how closely the candidate wants to tie himself to such imagery. They can express their love of guns in words, but no showing one. It just isn’t civil, or conducive to civility.

This is an issue that well-intentioned people should be able to take to the National Association of Broadcasters and state broadcasting associations right now, and ask respectfully for attention and action. Of course the National Association of Broadcasters is not in the business of preventing its members from running advertisements, indeed it wants them to be successful which means selling more ads. But no ad spending need be turned away under this policy, they just need to craft their message with a little respect for our common future. The question is whether the National Association of Broadcasters is going to do something concrete to fulfill its purposes of making America a better place, and its broadcasters into even better and more respected citizens than they already are.

Or are they going to tell us, in essence, that spreading hate and incivility in our political life through deceptive advertising and negative emotional manipulation are just fine, as long as the members of the National Association of Broadcasters rake in the money during campaign season? (Unfettered by the Citizens United decision, spending on broadcast ads has already skyrocketed.) America’s good citizens who do wish for civility need to know the answers to these questions.

It would be great to see all sorts of independent, concerned groups from both political and the more general community raising questions like this with our broadcasters. It’s a small first step, on a very long road that will have to be traveled before the American people can actually have a tangible, meaningful victory over corporate power invading their most personal spaces. But the advertising flank is a good flank to fight on. Nearly everyone understands how annoying advertising can be, advertising is a very tangible evidence of corporate power over individuals, markets and governments, and the very excellence of the combination of scientific research and creativity with which ads now manage to manipulate us has carried the industry into a brave new world, where established law allows activists to find ways to legislate against their excesses.

Posted in Communication, Communication systems, Radio, Television, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Presidential Politics Is A Distraction for Progressives

(Author’s Note: I first wrote this article in December 2010. Upon re-reading it in Feb. 2015, I was pleasantly surprised by how relevant it remains. Thus I have gone through and added a number of references to specific personalities and events, bringing up-to-date for the 2015-16 American election cycle. A few other edits were performed in the hope of cleaner language. No major points where changed.)
(2019 update: Much has changed in American politics, with the emergence of young innovative and stongly progressive elected Democrats, better attitudes from the Democratic leadership, and the realization by up to 60% of poll respondents that Trump and the Repubicans present very serious threats to both American constitutional democracy, and to our very survival because of climate change. I will leave this piece as a museum piece of how I saw American politics just a few years ago; the situation of party grassroots feeling frustrated by party leadership may possibbly occur again, and thus make some of this relevant again to current events.)

The more things change, sometimes the more things stay the same. In both 2010 and 2104, just one month after the mid-term elections, the American Presidential primary season is already ramping up.

Presidential politics are the phase of our governmental system that gets the most attention from the media, and the most attention from the average citizen. Presidential politics is apparently meaningful, it’s definitely exciting, and it allows the average citizen a well-defined role: being a fervent partisan for their favorite candidate in public forums.

These general descriptions apply to conservatives and moderates as well to progressives; yet for progressives, there’s an additional factor. When we’ve had a role in electing a Democratic President in the previous Presidential election and that President appears to turn his back on progressives and the progressive agendas upon taking office – like Carter in 1978, like Clinton in 1994, and like Barak Obama in both 2010 and 2014 – the first instinct of progressives is to threaten to find a primary opponent to run against that incumbent disappointment, and to act, in an emotional and disorganized individual manner, to support any possible alternative candidates to that disappointing incumbent Democrat, whether those candidates are better progressives or not. (In the 2015-16 time frame, Hilary Clinton automatically takes the role of “disappointing incumbent,” as she has been identified with the Presidency since 1992, when she famously supported husband Bill against allegations of immoral behavior, rescuing his campaign and making possible his eventual win in 1992.) If alternative candidates are not readily apparent, we will tend to engage in endless speculation on “drafting” some ideal culture figure whom we believe – whether there is evidence or not – will provide the progressive leadership we’re not seeing from the existing elected Democratic office-holders.

These responses by progressives are indeed natural and understandable. Yet I am here to strongly maintain that this pattern of behavior is part of the reason that progressives are generally powerless and disorganized, and why elected Democratic office-holders continue to run away from the progressive base. We don’t need another un-organized “falling in love for all the wrong reasons” primary campaign in 2012 or 2016 that finishes with less than 20% of the primary voters. We do need a Congress that can pass serious, actually-beneficial-to-ordinary-Americans energy reforms & financial reforms & health care reforms WITHOUT the kind of added pork and business giveaways that Senators like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu specialize in. We do need a progressive political organization that is serious about changing the dysfunctional Democratic party, and that will be working on that goal in 2011, in 2013, in 2015, in 2017 and 2019 and on and on until the job is done.

Instead of continually “falling in love” with Presidential candidate father-figures (or mother- or sister-figures) in an individualistic way, and investing them with high hopes that will almost always be disappointed, I’m here to suggest a number of strategies and tactics that I believe – based on my experience in a number of mainstream and radical grass-roots political campaigns – will eventually pay off in a progressive movement that has real political power in elected offices, and real influence over the Democratic Party (or a successor party that we have created). I’d like to discuss these ideas in a series of subject topics (see below). And for those who are, rightfully, curious about who I am to be making these statements, there’s lots of interesting material at my website, especially the pages on my general political philosophy and the best of my past political advocacy articles and speeches.

GOALS – part 1

So what exactly is our goal, anyway, in our emotional desire to support new candidates against disappointing Democratic Presidents — including Hilary Clinton, with her resume of Presidential wife, Senator, Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic candidate in 2016 as the latest “disappointing Democratic incumbent?’ Is it merely to have the satisfaction of being “pure,” even if our dream candidate gets but 15% or 10% or even less in the primaries? Is it just to “send a message” to the Democratic Party establishment? There are plenty of ways to send that message, assuming the Party leaders are listening (which may be a big, doubtful assumption). And I do understand the need to feel “pure” after engaging in conventional politics – however it may be more helpful to our individual bruised psyches, and to our movement-building, to support mass public “purification” rituals for our fellow progressives, without confusing that need with our serious political work.

And we do have serious political work to do, if we are to prevent our democracy – and even our civilization – from collapsing under the weight of today’s political lies and corruption. Because of our own progressive grassroots weakness, and the unbelievable weakness of President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, our backs are against the wall: we must be able to achieve nearly-impossible goals if we are to have any effect at all. And if we are to save our grandchildren from a future of poverty and un-freedom, we need to have some very important effects on a dysfunctional governmental and economic institutional structure in America.

In my opinion, our progressive and radical political work must be clearly focused on 3 related goals (which are necessary to the ultimate goal of actually having political power). These three goals are: 1) replacing (or changing the behavior of) the approximately 70% of Democratic party office-holders at all levels of government who are basically corporate-owned or otherwise hostile to progressives; 2) reversing the disastrous Citizens United Court ruling (and related subsequent rulings from the Roberts Supreme Court), and otherwise reducing the influence of corporate money and corporate lobbying in American politics, and 3) reforming and changing the American mass media, to reduce their repetition of establishment myths and Republican lies, and allow our progressive truths to be told.

ORGANIZATION – part 1

The American right wing has a number of typical faults or problems that hurt their political efforts: basically their willingness to believe in silly lies that reinforce their fundamental racism and paternalism, and an over-riding hypocrisy that allows them to freely engage in the behaviors they condemn in others. However, we on the progressive side also have some typical faults as well. One of the worst, I will submit, is that part of our idealism and optimism that allows us to believe that we can achieve our goals without having strong organizations, which we ourselves give to and participate in, to press consistently for those goals. We do tend to believe that the “perfect candidate” will solve all our problems, we tend to believe that we will all “be there” when we are needed, without having any structure (besides the Democratic party) to make that happen. We tend to believe that the organizations we do have will continue to function well without our own participation, we tend to believe that “it’s OK” if we ourselves focus solely on our personal lives since “everyone else” will do whatever political work is necessary to change our unsatisfactory situation. .

I’m the historian, yet it’s not perfectly clear to me what’s at the root of these cultural failings on our side. Is it that we haven’t studied history and/or sociology, that we don’t realize how important organization is, for populations to achieve success in human life? Is there some truth to conservative accusations that our “counter-culture” is just too selfish and hedonistic? Is it an excess of anarchistic optimism on our part, that we want to believe so much in the “popular uprising” that we’re unwilling to understand the cultural and political work that has to be done to make such uprisings take place? It’s probably a combination of these and a few more, but whatever it is that’s holding us back, it has to stop – if we progressives are to be actually successful in political life.

GOALS – part 2

Perhaps part of the reason that we modern American progressives don’t do organization that well, is because when we try to do it at a grassroots levels we often “trip over our own idealism:” we are so determined to practice some ideal of perfect democracy, that we tie ourselves in ideological knots and drive away our potential volunteers.

The best example of this is the “Occupation movement” of late 2011: tremendous enthusiasm was generated for progressive criticisms of the establishment, and progressive suggestions for change in the initial phase of the movement. However, the organizers totally embraced a grassroots vision of idealistic democracy, allowing anyone to speak at length at never-ending mass meetings, with ideals of consensus preventing any serious decisions from being made. I don’t want to seem overly critical of the Occupation movement, and I hope that the people who got a chance to speak to thousands, that they otherwise never would have enjoyed, were personally uplifted and rewarded by this experience. This model of an ideal democracy satisfied the need for an alternative idealistic process to the existing big-money, managed-meetings practices that corrupt our local, state and federal democracy; but it must be admitted that this type of “organization” failed completely at generating sustained involvement by people who were not able, because of jobs and families, to give all their time and energy to the Occupation movement, and failed completely at maintaining the original enthusiasm and transferring this feeling to new, more effective movements/organizations. The vision of idealistic democracy in which every person, no matter how personally uninformed and ineffective they may be, had an equal voice, was a major factor in allowing the larger visions of the movement degenerate into simply defending the ideal of occupying public space for the purpose of occupying public space.

The pre-2011 example of American progressives “tripping over their own idealism” that I am most personally aware of, was in our attempts at creating a Green Party (most active from about 1990 to 2004). Generalizing broadly, this represented absolutely wonderful people as individuals, who could not achieve any great success as a group, in part because they were constantly tearing themselves apart in the search for a perfect organizational process, and because their attempts to form a “perfect platform” from the ground up every two years actually became a negative value which turned activists off, because of the endless boring hours that can be sucked up in a never-ending process which culminates in a useless “laundry list” of radical idealisms that does not line up with the major desires of any actual populations of human beings. Furthermore, the people who are most likely to attempt domination of committee meetings insisting on one specific point of ideal platform are seldom the people you really need in a grass-roots campaign, the ones who will get out and knock on doors and make phone calls to sell the campaign message.

It’s counter-factual, unwise and unproductive to dream or expect or insist that progressives are all going to agree on one ideal platform. The American racists and authoritarians and bible-thumpers can easily unite around a few basic proverbs and myths – it’s the same proverbs and myths their grandparents had a hundred years ago, the same ones they’ve followed all their lives.

Progressives are never going to easily unite around one set of slogans, because we are the people of complications. If we could have remained simple, we might still be simplistic conservatives … but we have experienced life in its millions of complicated ways, and we have all had our own paths to reach our own individual progressive understandings, and we are not just one race coming from one religious background. It’s complicated to be us! There is absolutely no reason why progressives coming from Black urban struggles should have the same ideas as progressives coming from the union movement, or progressives coming from intellectual and artistic backgrounds, or Hispanic-American progressives of various national backgrounds. We are not all the same, and it’s silly to expect us to all to agree to the same priorities, the same platforms and ideologies.

We progressives are never going to all have the same ideologies and ultimate priorities; yet if we can keep the list small, we should be able to share the same GOALS that will guide our political work. First of all, we need to gain significant political power to enact fundamental reforms, for the sake of our children.

To gain that significant political power, we need to replace (or change the attitudes of) the approximately 70-80% of Democratic Party office-holders – at all levels!! – who are not serious about fundamental reforms. And to accomplish that, there are two further goals we need to work on: changing/overturning the Citizens United court decision (and later Court decisions aggravating the power of dishonest money in politics), and changing the so-called “mainstream media,” so that they are not constantly repeating conservative myths as truths, and are not constantly belittling or demonizing our progressive truths. Do you remember what they did to Howard Dean? Even if there was an ideal version of, say, a Russ Feingold or an Alan Grayson who led a 2012 primary campaign against Obama, or an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders upholding progressive values in 2016, and progressives were flocking to join, apparently – in the media’s un-real version of our world — it just takes one trumped-up talking point of mainstream media scorn to de-rail the whole thing and keep progressives marginalized. I don’t have a final answer for how we’re going to be able to prevent that … but it has to be a part of our basic goals to at least work on preventing that kind of media nonsense from being more powerful than our democratic voices.

ORGANIZATION – part 2

For progressives to gain significant political power, we have to confront the problem of the Democratic Party. Many of our office-holders can talk a good game: back in the ‘80’s, I had taped Mario Cuomo’s great speech to the 1984 Democratic Convention, and I re-listened to it quite a few times in the bleak years of Reagan and Bush the elder, even as I was transitioning to Green Party work, and it really helped me keep going. Yet the reality was that neither Cuomo nor his party was ever in a position to actually work on realizing any of the grand ideals he pronounced, and they never really tried too hard to get in a position where they could work on fundamental reforms to help realize the grand ideals so many of us share. Because of the mass-media consumerist model of politics (and a lack of real commitment to any ideals higher than just getting re-elected one more time), Democratic party office-holders at all levels thought their greatest need was for campaign funds, and thus they worked much harder for corporate elites who could make big donations than they ever worked for ordinary working class and middle-class Americans.

This was apparent to me back in 1990, and it led me then to seek out the nascent Green Party, and to pledge myself at least 10 years of effort to see if we could create a better political party. Well, it turned into 15 years and for a time I was an elected Green Party official and an official spokesman, and we were able to do some things well … but we weren’t able to make a real dent in the Democratic Party. Our few successes brought forth a backlash among some grassroots Democrats (and nearly all organizational Democrats) blaming us for Republican victories, and what little influence we had earned in the ‘90’s shrank during the right-wing ascendency of the early G. W. Bush years – and in part because of our own green habit of “tripping over our own idealisms.”

So here we are, apparently stuck with today’s dilemma for progressives who seek fundamental reforms in American politics. The Democratic Party office-holders and party establishment will always be tilted to the center and the corporations: they think they need the money, and they think their lobby-demanded sellouts are more credible and legitimate than our grassroots progressivism. You can’t change them working solely from inside the party, they will always be able to claim their sold-out elected official is a “stronger candidate” than your grassroots primary challenger. And until you can build a darn good alternative organization, their “get-out-the-vote” efforts and big-bucks TV ads will overwhelm your efforts. And you can’t change them working solely from outside the party: you’ll always be short of funds, you’ll always be marginalized and challenged by the media in ways they don’t apply to the 2 big parties, you’ll always be severely handicapped by the very nature of our electoral system and “first-past-the-post” vote-counting system, since significant splits in one of the 2 big parties helps the opposite big party – and the 2 big parties know that, and thus will never allow any significant electoral reforms that might allow third parties to exist and prosper.

So, we grassroots progressives can’t beat the sold-out do-nothing Democrats working solely within the party, and we can’t beat the sold-out do-nothing Democrats working solely from outside the party … I don’t know all the details, but clearly the way forward is for grassroots progressives to build a functioning organization which is dedicated to the goal of changing the Democratic party, and which is determined to work BOTH inside the party and outside the party to do that. We must challenge the corporatist/cowardly office-holding incumbents at all levels in primary challenges, and we must be ready to have alternative candidates lined up to run in third-party challenges to the worst of these incumbents, the Mary Landrieus and the Ben Nelsons, in cases where it won’t allow the insane Republicans to hurt our constituency populations.

If we can only get 100,000 people for this new organization, we won’t have any electoral power, and we’ll have to be dedicated for further education, recruitment and organizing for our side. Yet when we begin to get 8 or 10 million voters who are dedicated to changing the elected Democrats (or changing their attitudes) we can begin to play at politics with the big boys … and when we can get to 20 or 30 million voters who will follow the lead of our organization, including being ready to change party registrations from Democratic to other ballot lines on tactical considerations as often as state laws allow, we will begin to have real electoral success for our progressive ideals.

I don’t think we have to start re-inventing the wheel entirely from scratch in building this new organization. There are some organizations on the left that I admire and try to support already; I really like the attitude of, and the advertising campaigns that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC, also known as Bold Progressives-dot-org) is producing (but they need ten or forty times more supporters than the 650,000-something they had in 2010). Moveon.org has gotten 5 million people through 2010, to come to at least one meeting or sign up at least once on the internet – and that’s tremendous! I believe their organizational model has some very good features, yet I do wish they were at least one or two steps more radical, and more clear on the need to change the existing Democratic party. However, even if the best we could do was to boost their official membership into the tens of millions, and boost their active membership to 10 or 20 percent of that total, that would be a very good start for progressives over our current status. For the portion of our work that is going to take place outside the Democratic party, we must be willing to work with (and/or be prepared to try to take over) any and all existing small leftist parties that have ballot status in any state, whether they’re Green, Socialist, Working Family, Independent or whatever.

I’m also strongly of the belief that any progressive organization we create needs to take advantage of the fact that people are different, not to try to deny it by forcing everyone into the same organizational box. For progressive political work, the basic difference that needs to be accounted for is one of temperament. On one hand there are people who tend to highly value civility; they’re not attracted to loudly raised voices, they generally prefer trying to work within existing institutions. And on the other hand are those who tend to believe strongly that political “evil-doers” need to be confronted, who enjoy demonstrating and picketing and writing angry letters, who are impatient with the long slow work of persuasion. Thus I very much want to see a progressive political organization that is frankly set up with a “moderate caucus” and a “radical caucus,” to allow people to choose the organizational style that better suits their personality; this is especially necessary if the organization is going to be trying to work both within the Democratic Party and outside of it.

Both types of temperament are necessary to us, we are going to need both the patient persuasion within the Democratic Party and the occasional loud confrontation with the corporatist elements that are trying to defeat us; why not set ourselves up to take advantage of both impulses? I do see these “caucuses” as being loosely enough organized that a person can work with the moderates on one issue, and with the radicals on another, if they so choose; and for the minority of us who can always see the advantages and disadvantages of both paths, and/or for those who are ambitious to be recognized, there will be a “leadership caucus” that requires working explicitly with both the larger caucuses.
This type of organization can be very difficult to lead, and very threatening to leaders who are not secure in their democratic values; yet I strongly believe that part of the change and evolution we progressives need to undergo in order to succeed is to be able to build an organization that recognizes and honors our varying temperaments, an organization that is able to deal with members’ needs and messages that are necessarily mixed, and is able to deal with wings of a movement that are almost always moving at different speeds or for differing priorities.

CONCLUSIONS

Anarchism and voluntarism may be very nice impulses … but several decades of pursuing them, individualistically and without serious organization, on the progressive left have left us without power, and with little hope of ever gaining any. Unlike our opponents on the right and our so-called allies in the centrist Democratic power, we do not wish power for its own sake, or for our own selfish opportunism: we need to gain a share of political power in America to enact fundamental reforms, to secure the blessings of liberty and (relative) prosperity for our children and grandchildren.
To do that, we need to be far more organized than we already are. If you’re not comfortable with me saying that, take it from a much better writer and leader than myself, author Bill McKibben of 350.org. “[The COP 16 Climate Summit Meeting here in Cancun is] just like a family reunion aboard the Titanic. We can’t keep doing this… It’s on who has the power. And at the moment, that power rests in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and their allies in governments around the world. And until we build some independent outside movement power to push back, then we’re going to get scraps from the table, at the very best.” (And the source I took that quote from has another nice long essay on the need for organization from another well-known progressive leader, Ronnie Cummins.) And in my opinion, it would be very helpful if that organization had a clear commitment to the goal of changing the personnel and/or the attitudes of the existing Democratic Party in America.

I’ve done the voluntarist, no-funds grassroots organizing thing in several campaigns now. In my experience, it’s easy to get up emotions on the left for playing in Presidential politics. Nearly everyone is very interested in Presidential hopefuls and possibilities, most everyone has clear opinions on their favorite candidates and their non-favored candidates. And as soon as you start talking about state-level or local politics, the energy and interest drop right off. It’s easy to find 10 people excited about drafting some ideal cultural figure as a Presidential hopeful; it’s practically impossible to find 10 people interested in a serious primary campaign against some local Democratic city officeholder or state legislator who happens to be a completely sold-out pig. The people who are ten feet outside that district aren’t interested at all, and even the people in the district would usually rather play ineffectively at Presidential politics than get serious about the real work that needs to be done in that district.
On the optimistic side, I have also done the “take-my-small-business-all-over-the-country” thing for many years, and I am optimistic that the cultural majority is on the progressive side. Unfortunately it seems that 80% or more of the culturally progressive majority in America is not currently interested in progressive politics: some of them are young jerky guys totally absorbed in their video games, many of them have an unnecessary pessimism over “politics can’t work” or “the establishment will always crush us,” many are just too busy/distracted with their personal lives, others are emotionally tied to supporting centrist Democrats. But we do have hundreds of millions of culturally progressive Americans we can talk to and try to convince to take part in the work that is needed to make America the better land we all know it can ideally be. And even if we are only successful with a minority of those culturally progressive Americans, we can get tens of millions of people working in organizations like – or even better than! – boldprogressives-dot-org and moveon-dot-org.

So if you’re not already a member of one of those two groups, go join up right now, and send them some money. If you think you’re the only progressive in your area, focus on one local Democratic officeholder who very much needs to be challenged in a primary election, and do what you can to start organizing that campaign – you might be surprised at the allies you will find. I’m always ready to help start a new more radical organization if people think that’s needed, and I have some credentials as a democratic leader. But please, please, please … do something to help save this country from itself, and do something more focused, more long-term and more organized than just sitting with your computer and crying about Obama or Hilary Clinton, and fantasizing about some ideal Presidential candidate who will magically enact all our progressive values without any serious effort or work on our part. You owe it to yourself, you owe it to our children and grandchildren.

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Dear Tax-Haters: It’s Not Really Your Money

I’m sorry to have to be the one to burst the bubble of the all the people who are so worked-up over taxes in America, but one of their favorite arguments is extremely shallow.   I’ve heard it for years now, and this argument of theirs really does deserve a lot more scorn, ridicule and organized push-back from the left that it gets.  You can and will hear this argument in any tavern in America, in any type of public forum.  “It’s my money,” they say, over and over, and with a finality that shows that they think it’s a “trump card” that ends the debate.  “It’s my money, why should the government take it away from me?”

Yes, within the context of the modern capitalist economy, it’s your earned (or unearned) income.  You worked the job and got the paycheck, or you owned the business and got the profit, or you had rich relations and you got the gift or inheritance.  The bank account has your name on it.  That’s all great.  But in the larger picture of human life on earth, you can only get that money in an American bank account because you are, metaphorically, “standing on the shoulders of giants.”  You are very much benefiting from the efforts of all the previous generations of Americans who created this wealthy society within these national borders, you are very much benefiting from the efforts of all the knowledge-workers of all the past centuries who domesticated the plants and animals, who discovered and perfected the metallurgy and chemistry and other sciences that separate us from the non-technological human societies.

Let’s get it straight: you can only make your money (which is, after all, only a symbolic means of transaction that allows you to command a wide variety of physical and social resources) in the context of an advanced society.  If you were a pre-historic hunter-gatherer, if you were a peasant in the European middle ages, if you were an Indonesian street-vendor or a Filipino/Bolivian/Somali/ or Yemeni farmer today, you could not and would not be able to make the kind of money and enjoy the kind of comforts we have in America today – no matter how sharp you were, no matter if you were the smartest, hardest-working Somali farmer that ever existed.

Whether you’re a skilled, conscientious worker in a prospering field, or a hard-working, dedicated businessperson, you can only earn your money within the background, the context of a prosperous American nation.  You can’t earn your money without the national road network that makes it possible for all of us, and for all the goods in our advanced economy,  to get back and forth (so much more easily than in our own past, or in the present in many other lands).  You can’t earn your money without the generations of civic peace that previous Americans have enjoyed.  You can’t earn your money without the past efforts of Edison and Tesla and many others in taming electricity, and the achievements of Franklin Roosevelt and many others in subsidizing and promoting a national electrical network.  Even those of us who are raving peaceniks could not earn our money without the either the (relative) world peace that our grandparents made possible by their military and economic efforts (and personal sacrifices) in the World War II era, or the prosperous economy that has been subsidized and stimulated by massive defense spending in the decades since World War II.   (Understand your Keynesian economics, the spending stimulates the economy even if all or portions are wasteful in a narrower perspective.)

Your ability to make “your” money depends on the American effort to create a public education system, which gives us a population base with a common language, a common understanding and culture that makes it possible for us to have generally prosperous national economy.  Your ability to make “your” money depends on the scientists and engineers who made it possible for us to have metal tools, to have productive agriculture, to have miracles of chemistry and computer technology.  Could you have done any of this if we were still all at the level of Bolivia or the Congo, scratching the earth with inadequate tools all year to get a handful of food, walking miles to get water each day, struggling against heat and cold without modern appliances?  No, you could not.

Could you enjoy the home you may own, without the civic peace provided by local and national government?  The instinctive libertarians and anarchists among us, who are most apt to be out there hating taxes with all their might, are also among those who are most apt to insist on their rights as property-owners.  “It’s my land, it’s my house, I don’t need the damn government telling me what to do with it” – we’ve all heard the rhetoric, often from a close relative, friend or neighbor.   Yet it is precisely these same low-information libertarians and anarchists, with the guns our society has allowed us to have,  who would make all our neighborhoods into mini-war zones as their greed and boundary disputes escalated into firefights, if we did not have the civilizing force of local government and local police restraining them. Ask  the Afghans and the Somalis – it’s hard to make good money when your neighborhood is subject to violent feuds.

Whatever comforts you may enjoy, whatever family you may cherish, and yes, whatever money you may earn, is based on a common civilization that we today were lucky enough to be born into.  If this was 500 years ago, you never could have gotten to today’s prosperity no matter what you did.  If you or your parents or your great-great-grandparents hadn’t picked up and immigrated here, you could never get to today’s prosperity in the majority of locations around the world.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously noted, taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.  Those conservatives who believe that America is intrinsically an exceptional nation – perhaps even blessed by God –  should be the most devoted to paying their taxes.   The proposition that I would agree with is that America has enjoyed a very exceptional history, especially before 1950 or so, which has made our generally high standard of living possible, and for which we need to pay something back to ensure that these high standards remain available to our children and grandchildren.  Sure, any particular government program, and any particular bit of taxation, should be subject to continuing social scrutiny, but the basic principle remains.  Taxes are the price we pay for living in an advanced economy that allows us to earn the money to support our highly-refined lifestyles.

There are many possible ways we could screw up this civilization; I’ve been collecting and considering all the scenarios since the ‘60’s.   But just to end on a note that I’d like to expand on in my next book, if you are seriously worried about a collapse of civilization, you’re not going to be able to save yourself by hoarding your money in order to surround yourself with guns, gold and tuna fish cans.  That is only going to make you a target for the next bigger thug who wants your guns, gold and tuna fish.  It is much more likely that survival and any eventual return to higher living standards will come through a knowledge of basic and advanced sciences, and the creation of real social networks that can offer real emotional and physical support in times of crisis.  Knowing your neighbors will be much more important than fearing them; being able to adapt and create will be more likely to bring success than retreating into a fortress.

Civilization is a fragile construct, and it requires a fair degree of maintenance.  Sitting with your snacks on the couch while you wail with Glenn Beck about the “evil” government stealing “your” money is about the direct opposite of investing in a future that will support us all.  Do question the specifics of your government. Yet if you truly don’t understand why you need a government, and that you will need to pay for it somehow, and that it took a lot of past government and social cooperation to get you the money that you enjoy today, and that the government (even if it is often wasteful and inefficient) represents a social bridge between the investments of the past and the prosperity of the future, then you are little more than a “hemorrhoid” on a society whose amazing prosperity you do not deserve to share.

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Why Opinion Polls Aren’t As Scientific As Claimed

My previous attempts to elucidate this theme in various blog-comments postings don’t seem to have had any effect, so let’s go through it all one more time. There is a fundamental misrepresentation, a basic exaggeration, being perpetrated by companies doing telephone opinion polling, which makes their claims of “accuracy” false and meaningless.

Modern opinion polling rests on several assumptions that generally have enough validity that nearly all scientific observers agree on them. However, one of the most basic of assumptions is, I hope to show, simply not capable of being realized in the field, given certain basic behaviors and attitudes in the American public as a whole.

The first basic assumption that the modern polling industry relies on is the idea of measuring a population by the technique of “random sampling.” To put it as concisely as possible, the idea is measuring a whole population by measuring a small part of the population; the scientific assumption that’s being made is that you are getting a “random sample,” a small part of the whole that can serve as a valid example of the whole.

Let’s take the example of loose socks in a big drawer, hundreds of loose socks, some of them white, some of them black, and some of them red. You want to get an idea of how many socks you have of each color, without counting all the socks. Now, if all the socks are thoroughly mixed up, you can just close your eyes, reach in and grab a big handful, and that’s a “random sample.” There was no attempt to get more of one color than another, The socks were all mixed up and not sorted in color-groups in various areas already, there was no “I’m reaching two inches more to the right and not to the left because it looks like more white ones over here,” no bias of any kind in your selection, and again those socks really were thoroughly mixed, so your sample of the entire sock drawer is indeed a truly random sample.

The second assumption is that you can then count your random sample, figure out that you have 40% white socks, 35% black socks and 25% red socks in your sample, and that this is a good representation of your total sock drawer. Knowing your statistical theorems very well, there are then formulas you can apply to compare your sample size to your total “population” of socks, and say, based on these formulas (sorry, it was 35 years ago I studied this stuff in college, we both need to hang out at websites like this), “I have confidence that percentages found in my random sample will match the percentages in my total population, plus or minus 2 percent, 95% of the time.”

Now look carefully at what we’re saying here at the end of the previous paragraph. The sample population is never going to be a perfect representation of the total population. However, based on various experiments that have been done with physical objects which can be mixed up pretty randomly, our formula tells us that with a total population of X and a sample population of Y, in 19 times out 20 that we pull a sample of that size, the percentages we find in the sample will be within Z% of the percentages in the total population. However, because our samples are truly random, 1 time out of 20 that we pull a sample of size Y from a population of size X, we will get a whacky, strange distribution, and the percentage we find in the sample will NOT be so close to the percentages in the total population.

This is glossed over in the typical reporting on polling, where at the most they’ll say something like “847 adults were contacted by telephone for this poll, with a margin of error of +/- 5%.” When you go to the official report of the poll, they will have the more scientific language like “the margin of error for the total sample is +/- 4.5% at the 95% confidence level,” and they assume you know what that means, which is what I tried to explain in the previous paragraph. 19 times out of 20, IF THEY HAVE GOTTEN A TRULY RANDOM SAMPLE, data from a sample of this size should come within a range of 9 points of what we would find if we could truly interview everyone in America. The 20th time, the sample data could be even farther from the total population.

However, the whole problem is they just can’t get a truly random sample by telephone. The official report of a typical poll will say “based on 1007 interviews with adults August 8th to 11th 2010.” The number they need to tell us that they don’t tell us, is how many calls they had to make to get 1007 valid interviews.

Have you ever made 100 or more “cold calls” to the general population for any reason? I’ve done it at least five time, using lists of varying quality, for different political causes since 1994; especially in 2006 and also in 2008, I tried to be an avid caller for the phone banks organized by MoveOn-dot-org, which would typically give us lists of registered Democrats to call in states across the country.

Polling Company workers in Nevada, 2010

Polling Company workers, Nevada 2010, copyright Las Vegas Sun

On the West Coast, in making 100 calls, you might typically get 35 answering machines, 20 busy tones, 5 non-English speakers, 5 grumpy immediate hang-ups, 5 undoubtedly sweet old grandmas & grandpas with very little connection to the world of current politics, and 2 or 3 whackos of indeterminate age and background with absolutely no connection to the world of reality. That’s over 70% of your calls wasted, and if you got 20 or 25% of your calls to a competent adult who allowed you to give your message, that’s pretty good.

When MoveOn had us calling New York it was over 50% answering machines and in Connecticut it was over 70% with answering machines, many of which had threatening messages for non-approved callers, and less than 10% of calls answered by actual human beings. By contrast Texas was relatively full of talkative people, and Indiana was practically a land of “Leave It to Beaver”stereotypes minding their landlines, something like 60 to 70% of calls to Indiana Democrats found competent adults ready to talk.

Overall, in the average American phone poll, you’re going to be very lucky to get 30% of your calls to be picked up by a competent adult, even at that rate you have to call something like 3300 numbers to get 1000 interviews, and it’s much more likely that to get to 1000 completed interviews, they’re having to make 4000 to 5000 calls. And it is in those 3 to 4 thousand calls that don’t result in completed interviews, that the perfect randomness needed to achieve the stated margin of error is being lost.

Some people are concerned that survey calls are only being made to landline phones, not cell phones, and that there would be significant differences in the two populations. Many survey companies, however, are trying to reach cell phones too (using computer-generated random phone numbers, in the hope a certain percentage will reach valid cell numbers). What I’m trying to say is that there are probably subtle yet not-insignificant differences among all the types of situations you reach in trying to use telephones as a survey tool. On a given day, the answering machines, busy tones and not-at-homes may not be evenly distributed among Republicans and Democrats, and the care that the survey company’s interviewers take to be patient with the marginally coherent seniors will have a huge effect on the results obtained from that 5 or 10% of the population. When 60 to 70% of American adults are just not available to even hear you say “would you like to participate in our survey today?,” you just can’t say that you are actually getting a random sample of the public. The “tail” of people who will talk to you is wagging the “dog” of the people who can’t/won’t talk to you, there are scores of psychological and sociological self-selection factors which make it highly unlikely that the minority you can reach by telephone is representative of the majority you can’t reach by telephone.

The biggest problems come with the “refuse to take the survey” segment – which can get up to 20% or more of your total calls, including the “grumpy immediate hang-up”response. I say it is extremely problematical to assume this segment is evenly distributed among all political feelings, and that depending on the season and the region and persons depressed or optimistic about their political tendency’s prospects, there can be all sorts of social and personal dynamics which cause liberals, or conservatives, or other identifiable subgroups, to disproportionately refuse to take the survey – or to disproportionately volunteer to take the survey – in other words, making the whole sample not actually random. And finally it’s almost certain that the 3-5% who manage to live in this modern world without telephones at all have very different characteristics than the majority who do have telephones; however, this group may also be a group with very little voting participation as well.

This failure of telephone surveys to reach a truly random sample is easily visible, I believe, in the published results of public opinion polls in the relatively few cases where there are multiple companies reporting on the same election races (Presidential races and high-profile Senate and Governor races). If these various companies were all reaching truly random samples, the reported results should be much closer to each other’s results than the published findings we see, which is that different companies can report results that differ by 5 to 7 points or more – in other words, differences that are equal to or greater than the claimed “margin of error.” And when we track the results of different companies on the same question over time, and we get more than 20 published results where the highest and lowest results, even on similar dates, are 8 to 10 points apart, all on polls which supposedly have scientific margins of error less than that range, then we have clear, empirical evidence that these companies are not actually getting scientific results which fall within the claimed margin of error 19 out of 20 times. They aren’t getting truly random samples, and their true margin of error is much higher than claimed.

I do believe that the variations from true randomness that are experienced in telephone polling are themselves highly variable from one day to another: the busy-tones and refuse-to-answers may be tilted to conservatives one day, and toward liberals on another, and that these variations are actually helping the polling companies stay close, in their results, to the trend in the population as a whole (which, remember, is the “unknown” value that polling is attempting to measure).

Yet when we consistently see that differing companies trying to measure the same election race or issue find results that differ by 5 points or more, it should be clear that the claims of a “scientific” calculation of “margin of error at the 95% confidence level” are simply not being achieved in telephone polling, because they are not actually achieving a random sample of the population. Yes, we can regard the results of a particular poll as a “snapshot in time” of the public attitudes – but when they claim a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 points, or 5 points, the problems of lack of randomness in their sample means that the true margin of error is probably 2 or 3 times what they claim – when they claim a 4% margin of error, it’s probably an actual margin of error or plus-or-minus 8 to 12 percentage points.

So please, readers and writers, don’t treat poll numbers as if they are dependable, closely accurate or God-given. There is a reasonable chance that the polling company got it right – IF you mentally double the stated margin of error. Yet always remember, the claimed margins of error in American public polling are not being achieved, because no polling company can actually achieve a truly random sample of the public in the age of answering machines, and the prevailing social and personal attitudes that lead 5 to 20% of the Americans you can reach to say, “no thanks, I won’t answer your questions today.”

Posted in 2010 Elections, American Politics, cell phone, landline, opinion polling, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Arguing About Morality is like, so Useless …

Various threads on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish over the last month or two, and the much-quoted opinion of Judge Vaughn Walker in the California gay marriage case, are calling me to put on my philosophical hat, to set out some philosophical drinks and snacks and a metaphorical water-pipe to try to entertain and inform my guests, on the subject of morality. Morality is one of the most human of concepts: every society has one or more, nearly everyone across the globe in all eras has been pretty sure that they understand what it is, and nearly everyone believes they use, hold or embody a significant piece of it in their lives.

Just mentioning the word morality tends to send our minds up into the heights of abstract thought. Judge Walker gets us back down on the ground, and headed on the right path, by reminding us that thoughts of morality are not a sufficient basis for denying people their rights, in a modern constitutional democracy. “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

I would just like to pound the point a little further and deeper: morality is not a great basis for any kind of civic discussion or rational argument in a diverse democracy, because in the final analysis morality is always subjective. As I first wrote 30 years ago, morality is a classic case of a “mental event,” an event that occurs only within the minds of human beings. You may believe that your morality comes from a Holy Book, or from a Divine Judgement or some other source beyond the human mind, yet as a historical-philosophical kind of guy, I will forever argue that morality – just like several other abstract concepts that are near-universal in human thought such as beauty or justice – cannot be found in the real universe in any place but inside human heads, and I defy you to show me any other physical location where morality exists.

It’s actually a touching tribute to our creativity, to our ingenuity in finding reasons to justify that which we already prefer, that so many people vaguely believe that there is some abstract ideal of morality that could be found if we would all just look for it nicely. This Platonic ideal of a universal morality is a strong enough stereotype to recur again and again in all types of utopian philosophies, but it just doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell, in any type of reality. Even in societies much less diverse than our own, in which all individuals seem to follow one particular religious-ethical-moral set of beliefs, individual A can never be fully sure that individual B understands every situation calling for a moral judgement precisely the same way that A understands it. Even though their main beliefs may come from the same set of social institutions, from the same proverbs and the same books or traditions, their individual development and experiences brings about subtle or large differences in understanding.

Morality is essentially your own belief about which persons and what behaviors should be honored and respected, by you and by others, in a “proper” social order.

These differences in moral understanding, among individuals in a homogenous society, may not amount to much in the ordinary course of peaceful life. However, it’s always in moments of crisis, in times of testing, that the differences in interpretation of the same tradition – and/or the willingness of B or C to sacrifice their goods or social positions, or other desired values, as morality may demand in moments of crisis – demonstrate the subjective basis of morality in human life, as individuals take actions that create individual and/or social conflicts. In short, even when everyone supposedly shares the same morality in societies much less diverse than our own, people find reasons to do things, and others find reasons to yell and scream and fight, because they say those things the first people did are immoral. This is one of the basic dynamics of both small-group and large-group historical action, in all lands and in all times.

On the other hand, the strength of social systems of morality is shown by the vast majority of individual cases, in which individuals do accept the dictates of the dominant moral system of their group, even though it “gores other parts of their ox,” to alter the old proverb, and individuals do feel great regret for their lapses in being able to follow the dominant morality. And haven’t we all known cases of people who are so prepared to accept a negative judgement on themselves, that it seems they are blaming themselves for self-imagined moral faults that no one else even noticed?

Despite the subjectivity of morality, and the slipperiness of individuals in choosing whether or not to be bound by social systems of morality when push really comes to shove, concepts of morality are deeply rooted in human thought, and will never disappear from human thought. If you understood my system for analyzing the four simultaneous, overlapping social sciences that each of us are creating in our every moment of choice in our every day of human action and interaction, you would find it easy to understand how thoughts of morality are oh-so-basic and constantly self-generated in the average human animal, since morality essentially arises from the intersection of the two most social of the four simultaneous, overlapping social sciences. These would be what I call “the science of explanations,” which you would probably call by one of its more common names such as philosophy/ science/ religion/ ideology, in which humans are constantly creating and distributing explanations of what our world is about and how it works, and what I would call the science of politics, which begins on the most basic level with humans creating and distributing systems of what other persons they accord honor, status and rank to (which gives a foundation to the extreme elaboration and institutionalization of governmental structures in modern society, which house the narrow range of behaviors that are commonly called “politics” in American democracy in the era of idiotic electronic media).

You follow all that? In short, you (and everyone else) are constantly creating and distributing explanations of how the world works, and you are constantly creating and distributing ideas of persons and behaviors that you respect and honor. Morality is basically a combination of the two, a set of explanations of how the world works which depends on honoring and respecting certain behaviors in certain situations (and disrespecting other behaviors in those situations). Morality is essentially your own belief about which persons and what behaviors should be honored and respected, by you and by others, in a “proper” social order. You can’t be much of a human being if you aren’t constantly giving and receiving these two types of ideas, the philosophical and the political, if you aren’t deeply affected by the explanations you choose to use and the social behaviors that you choose to respect or disrespect. To have and hold and use concepts of morality is a very, very deeply rooted structure in human personalities.

Yet despite how deeply they may be rooted in our personality structures, concepts of morality remain fundamentally subjective as well. I cannot get into your skull and understand your sense of morality in the same way you understand it; you cannot get into my skull and understand my sense of morality in the same way I understand it. In the typical society of a few hundred years ago, one could generally be sure that one’s neighbors and acquaintances in a city would be members of one’s same culture that shared the same basic moral postulates: the prevailing religion, an understanding of the local kinship systems and beliefs, and so on. In such circumstances, there’s a small point in arguing about morality: while you and your interlocutors are unlikely to convince each other of your rightness, at least you might clarify differences in your interpretation of your overall shared moral system, or even find areas of contradiction or ambiguity in the moral system your society has evolved.

In today’s diverse societies, however, while you may believe that your own morality is founded on the finest principles and supported by the most divine angels, you never know about your neighbor, your co-worker, the guy in the next car on the freeway or the passenger in the next seat on the transit system: she may believe herself to be a devotee of Cthulhu or Cheney, or any other variant of a bloodthirsty ideology which believes you should be cut down mercilessly if you get in their way. A modern American Christianist Palinite’s moral system has little or no relation to the diverse sources and experiences that create and define the many subgroups of the American cultural left, for either side to make arguments based on their vision of “morality” and expect the other side to accept it, is to admit and announce that the speaker has no understanding of what drives the cultural opposition to their program.

We’re going to have arguments: but let’s try to keep them on sounder grounds than the subjective terrain of morality. Do argue about philosophy, about the explanations that we use to make sense of the world (and remember, I use the word “philosophy” to include all of the content implied by the words “science” and “religion”). These arguments aren’t likely to be highly fruitful either, yet presumably there is an underlying reality that each side can claim to provide better explanations for, and over the centuries we might be able to say “the bulk of the evidence favors this particular side of the argument.” Do argue about politics, about which persons and personality types should be respected, about what behaviors should be honored and rewarded and what behaviors should be dishonored and punished in various ways. This argument may often degenerate into arguments based on competing moral systems, yet again, keeping the focus on the basic question of political science in human societies, which persons are we respecting and why, may in time help clarify the issues and choices and improve people’s decision-making skills, and improve the outcomes for human societies as a whole.

Morality may feel, inside our minds, as if it is supported by outside forces larger than human beings; the moral choices we make (even if we do not “make “ those choices consciously) may seem, inside our minds, to be at the very core of our persons, of our self-images of who we are and who we wish to be. That’s fine, that’s great, that’s the way our human minds have evolved. Yet society has also evolved, and in a multi-cultural melange such as our modern United States, morality is so subjective and so non-transferable among individuals, there is simply no ground to be gained by arguing that “morality demands we do this and that.” (Quibbling digression: among today’s right-wing Palinites, it’s part of their ideology to claim that their moral system is the only possible moral system that can ever be, so that when they say “morality demands we do this and that,” it’s a defensive, self-isolating maneuver that reinforces cultural attitudes within their own camp. The maneuver does defend that particular ground within their camp, but gains no ground outside their already-existing territory.)

Even in the less diverse societies of the past, morality was always a subjective value, a mental event that existed only within the minds of human beings (even if they claimed that their morality had divine or eternal foundations of some sort). In today’s society, morality has become so completely subjective, it is really quite useless to argue about it, or from it, in any way. The basic science of explanations, philosophy/science/religion, has itself been shattered into a million apparently subjective shards which give no compelling guidance to a diverse, even self-contradictory, social system we barely understand (and in which our major media channels seem to be actively trying to prevent understanding). Until we can come to a better consensus on basic explanations of reality – something we can hopefully do before we totally destroy the planet that supports our human lives – we won’t have any hope of convincing anyone of anything based on concepts of what we call morality.

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The Power of Voting Against

Is this a summer of discontents? It certainly seems less than satisfactory to me, mainly because of what management is doing to me in my first job situation, yet also for a certain lack of vigor, of spirit, in the progressive political landscape. Most major features of the progressive political landscape remain largely as they have been for a number of years: our government is captured by the war machine that relentlessly wastes the taxpayer’s treasure in ill-defined adventures of foreign war, our “mainstream” or “lamestream” media can be counted on to pick up right-wing narratives with ease while burying progressive truths, and approximately 70% of Democratic Party elected officials at all levels are fearful corporate whores who cannot be counted on to advance a progressive agenda. The specific scenes of this summer are mostly disheartening: the constant outrages from the Fox/Breitbart arm of the media, the Gulf Oil spill that seems to symbolize our collective guilt in the slow-motion murder of Mother Earth.

The major new feature in the landscape is Obama and his administration; without trying to summarize the millions of words of arguments that have graced progressive websites since his emergence, it’s best to say that his description depends on your own point of view. For optimists, he is a glass half-full, and for pessimists he is glass half-empty; he’s either a bulwark we can build upon, or an obstacle impeding progress. And since progressives have not acted, for a million individual reasons, to create our own political organizations of sufficient strength to make the Obama administration and/or the Democratic Party react to us, we continue to be forced to react to their needs and agendas, sometimes serving as their cheering section, and sometimes harassing their guarded flanks.

Thus the major narrative of the late summer and fall is already set: the battle of Democrats and Republicans for Congressional (and statehouse) seats, and the question of how the Democrats may act – or tell stories – to energize the progressive base, which, if we turn up sufficiently at the polls, may and should hold the power to stop any advancing Republican tide. (Author’s update: oh well, the Democrats and ourselves failed spectacularly. In round numbers, overall voting turnout fell from 125 million in 2008 to about 75 million in 2010.)

My modest proposal here is that each of us on the progressive side protect our own most cherished goals and ideals by a simple act – resolving to vote in November, AGAINST those candidates and parties which you fear the most. The rhetoric and bandwagon effects of political campaigns want you to have positive reasons for voting for their candidate – that’s in their interests, not in yours. Protect your own ideals, your own most favored causes, by searching out and voting against the candidates and parties that most threaten your causes – acting in your state and locality, according to your ballot choices, using your best judgement as you see fit.

I have generally been on the left margin of the Democrats since the 1960’s, generally supportive (and loving the rhetoric in most convention speeches), yet well aware of the corporatist/security-state allegiances of most establishment Democrats, and ready to bolt for any rational leftist alternative. I have also practiced voting against in the vast majority of my choices on local and national ballots since I was first old enough to vote (in 1972, for McGovern, taking a long bus ride in my janitor’s uniform to get to the polling place, on the West Coast and people on the bus already had radio news that the networks were calling it for Nixon).

Indeed, some of the cases where I was most involved in voting for a candidate – Carter in 76, Clinton in 92, Nader in 00, Kerry in 04 and Obama in 08 to list the nationally known cases – have been the most personally and politically disappointing to me in their longer-term results. By contrast, my patient habit of voting against what I considered to the be the most evil and inimical choices presented in all those dozens of now-forgotten local government and state legislature and Congressional races through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the present, has, I believe, contributed to the modest defense of the modest freedoms and democracy we continue to enjoy in the corporatized, global-security-state-empire of the United States of America at the beginning of the 21st Century.

And to digress just a bit, let’s consider the two biggest drop-offs in our dwindling freedoms and democracies. The first in my opinion, was the Supreme Court’s disgraceful decision of Dec. 12, 2000, handing the Presidential election to G. W. Bush. I’ve long held that both the Democrats and Greens shared some culpability for that monstrosity, as we both ignored how determined the Republicans were to steal that election. And in retrospect, both Dems and Greens should have come together to vote against Bush, and that was a big failure of progressives that I’ll take my share of responsibility for.

Unfortunately, the second biggest drop-off in our freedoms and democracy took place under the last six years of the Clinton Administration, as establishment Democrats eagerly embraced corporatist free trade policies, corporatist-elitist modes of political organization, the relentless expansion of the national-security-military empire, and other Republican/elitist policies and ideas. This trend did send me away from the Democrats in those years, and while the vehicle I chose to organize and vote against these policies (the Green Party) has so far been a disappointment, at least I was sincerely working for what seemed the best and most promising choice at the moment – even as I accept that the very-long-term judgement of history on the wisdom of my choices is yet to be made, and will rest on long-term outcomes that lie still in the future.

On your ballot this November, in your locality, you won’t have any clear-cut national-crossroads choices; at most you’ll have a Senatorial or Gubernatorial race with some national dimensions, or maybe a Congressional race that draws some interest outside the district. You’ll have state office and local office races in which, most likely, all candidates are non-progressives at best, and at worst all candidates are known elitists and/or corporatists, if not ranting racist neocons or tea-partiers. You’ll have to consider carefully your choices: which one do you dislike the worst? And what is the best vehicle for voting against that choice? Each of us will have to come to our own conclusions, as best we can.

In my voting history of “against” over the last four decades, in 19 cases out of 20 I have come to the conclusion that the Republican candidates are most frightening, and that the Democratic candidate is, often despite many known flaws, the best way to vote against the Republican. But not always! I remember voting against Feinstein (for mayor) and Boxer (for Congress) back in California in the 80’s over specific issues I found important, I have voted for third party candidates on occasion and for about 10 years I worked really hard to help organize a third party.

So maybe you too will find, as I am finding in 2010, that most Republicans are the most fearful, and that most Democratic alternatives will be the most effective way of voting “against.” Perhaps some of you will find 3rd party candidates on your ballot to be an effective vehicle for “against;” and a few of you may even be so alienated from corporatist politics that you embrace the “Leninist” theory of voting Republican to “make things worse” in order to cause some reformative convulsion in the future (although in my historical opinion, this almost never works out). And if you do even up marking a candidate’s box for “against’ reasons, always be sure to write several letters and make several phone calls letting that candidate know, what their own flaws may be and why you can only support them in a “voting against” stance. Somebody may actually be listening, once in a while.

Whatever choice you may end up making, let me be a small voice reminding you not to get caught up in bandwagon effects that cloud your judgement, in the dubious-but understandable desire to be part of something positive, something positive in a larger movement of progressives and liberals that can be emotionally-satisfying in these dis-satisfying, discontent-filled times. Keep your own counsel. Protect your own most deeply-help values. Don’t get too caught up in day-to-day mainstream media mudslinging. Most of the choices on your local ballot will probably be unsatisfying and conflicted; decide who you hate the most, and how you can most effectively protect yourself. Use the power of voting against.

Posted in 2010 Elections, American Politics, Democrats, Greens, Republicans | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Introducing the Next Revolution

Hello, I’m Ron Brandstetter, and I’d like to thank you very much for clicking on my advertisement. This is my website, I’ve written everything on here, if you’d like more information on me and this site, please go here for a brief overview. When you have the time, I’ve got a 14-page article for you to read, I think you’ll find it useful in your understanding of why human beings do the things we do.

I’m not a professor, I’m not a researcher with a white coat and a clipboard. Yet I am the guy who went looking for the truth, starting back 50 years ago, and I never took the easy answers, I never got completely discouraged by the confusions of our human lives, I never gave up despite all the people telling lies to somehow get some money or attention out of it. I’ve been looking for the truth of our human lives in the streets, on busy city sidewalks, and out on rural roads, I’ve been looking for the truth in the faces of the people I meet in all kinds of situations. And I did manage to get a “Highest Honors in History” degree from a good school along the way.

And while I’ve never found one truth that works for all human situations, I have managed to pick up a set of basic questions that help one get, relatively quickly, to a better understanding of what people are doing, what they might be thinking, and why they might thinking and doing those smart and silly things they do.

If you are ready to start on the serious matters now, please go here and read my article. Otherwise, bookmark this page or go ahead and copy or download the article and save it so you can read it later. This is all original material, it is very different than any other scientific analyses of the human being that I am aware of, you will not find this material anywhere else. It is my intention to get a much longer and more thorough version of this material out to you in book form, as soon as possible.

The ideas that I present are not an ideology, not a dogma. I am not telling you what to think. I do have my own strong opinions in politics and economics, and you can find them on the other pages and posts of this website, yet for the most part I try to keep them out of this 14-page article introducing my re-booting of the social sciences for the 21st Century. I am not going to be telling you what politics you must have, or what economic ideas you must have, I am not trying to hurt or change whatever ideas you may have now about religion or science. However, I will be talking about you and your neighbors — and all of humanity through all of time — and how and why it is that we do carry around ideas of politics and religion and economics and science.

I don’t claim that I have all the answers to all the questions. I do claim that I have a scientific framework for looking at the questions, which makes it more easy — compared to today’s many differing, and confusing, ways of considering the social sciences — for YOU to find out YOUR own answers to the questions YOU find most important about this world of humanity that we live in.

So please, find a little time to read and consider my article, “The Experience of History in the 21st Century: Welcome to the Omelet,” which summarizes this new framework for understanding the social sciences. If you’re a fast reader in English, you might be able to read the article in 15 minutes. Yet it is a relatively “thick” article that covers a lot of material using a lot of complex sentences, so please do go as slowly as you need, in order to read and understand the material I’m presenting. I am trying to say things that are true, about ALL OF HUMANITY — and I do want you to think about what I’m saying, and how it relates to the people you do know of in your direct experience, and how it relates to what you know about all the world and all the people in it, from your education and what you learn from newspapers and television and radio and internet and everything else. So please do take your time to read this piece, it’s fine if you have to go over some sentences and paragraphs two or three times or more, I want you to think about what I’m saying and how it relates to your life, how it relates to your experience.

The ideas I’m presenting grow out of a very simple concept: every human being is important. Every single human being who lives now, or who has ever lived, is important in the story of all human beings.

And furthermore, every single human being is also important in the creation of the human sciences, every single human being is involved in the creation and distribution of these things we call psychology, philosophy, politics and economics. Indeed, I will be arguing that every single thought and action that you may have, is involved right now in creating the science of psychology, as well as in the creation of religion, science, and philosophy. And your thoughts and actions are also creating politics and economics, right now, right “here” wherever you are.

So it’s time that you got more involved in all of this — the future of your world does depend on your thoughts, your actions, your responses to the many challenges we’ll have to face. And it all starts with clicking here and reading my article. Thank you very much, we very much need to get busy building a better humanity to live in a better world.

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The Experience of History in the 21st Century: You’re in the Omelet

Congratulations — we’ve made it deep into the world of the 21st Century of the Christian Era. The human population keeps growing in numbers, and it also keeps growing, as far as we can tell, in complexity: new subcultures, new political movements, new wrinkles in the old existing complexities.

And perhaps like the man who never realized he was already speaking in prose, you may not always be conscious of how your every moment, your every choice, contributes to the creation of what we call History — The Story of People, and What Happened to Them. You, your life, is a part of History, now and then and every moment forward.

It’s all very hard to keep up with at times, and I’ve tried to define myself as a historian — one who keeps up with it, and tries to make sense of it for you — even though I’ve never gone, academically in the field of History, past my own college degree.

I’ve had a busy normal life, mostly working as a self-employed businessperson, I’ve enjoyed enough failures and disappointments of my own incredibly high standards that I can admit I’m not the best at keeping up with it all. I am a news junkie and have been since 1958, and I’ve essentially made a living as an adult by being a (hard-working) know-it-all, so I do have pretty good idea, I hope, of the major trends, yet I’ll admit that a lot of the details have passed in and out of my brainspace, never to return. You can and will find me wrong on a detail of history if you let me start lecturing on any of my favorite themes without doing any research first.

Nevertheless, I do believe that I’ve had some success in creating a formula that helps make sense of things — and it’s a democratic, open formula that allows each person to be their own social scientist in understanding and making sense of the human reality we find ourselves enmeshed in. If other folks like it, it could even be the beginning of the Democratic Revolution of the Social Sciences. If you can take a few minutes, I’d like to try tell you about it. (Please continue reading here.)

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Doubly Damned: Nepotist and Libertarian

The big buzz the day after the May 19th primaries is the victory of Senatorial candidate Rand Paul in Kentucky: huzzah, huzzah the tea party has scored a victory over the Republican establishment, and particularly over smarmy Mitch McConnell, the senior Senator from the Bluegrass State.

There was a short period in the 70’s when I tried to be a “left libertarian,” but it was pretty hopeless against the hordes of right-wing libertarians. And while I still do highly value political liberty and admire the spirit of the libertarians in defending that principle sometimes to the extreme, I have really had it with the stupidity of the “free market” economic ideology. Writing The Get-Ready Man in ‘79 and ‘80, I actually feared Marxism more, as I perceived it stronger on ground than the free-market wingnuts. From today’s perspective, however, that shifted pretty decisively with the victory of Reagan in America, the Gorbachev era in the soon-to-disappear Soviet Union, and China’s conversion to capitalism under Deng Xiao Ping. Today the nonsense that is free-market ideology seems as powerful, and as out of control in wrecking actual operating economic systems – like right here in America over the last 4 years – as Godzilla raging through Tokyo in one of those cheesy old movies.

I wrote it in 1980, I’ll no doubt be writing it in 2020: there is no such thing as a “free market” and there has never been an actual society that survived or evolved with anything approaching truly free markets. Prejudice and taboo have governed buyers and sellers in every land, as far back as we want to take the historical evidence. Marshall and the other late Victorian economists who first theorized on the “free market” defined it by a number of conditions that practically never appear in reality, such as equal information among buyers and sellers. Maybe there are markets in anarchic modern Somalia that approach Marshallian freedom in that the ignorances of buyers and sellers are equalized or offsetting; but in more advanced societies than that – in other words, nearly all societies – markets are fundamentally relationships of power. This power most often rests with sellers in stable times; there are however markets where buyers hold the majority of power.

And I’m not even going to get into the arguments for the superiority of regulated capitalism over unregulated capitalism in the actual performance of capitalism as an economic system.

So I have no sympathy at all for that side of libertarianism. And if the tea partiers and libertarians wanted to totally lose all my respect for their charms, they would choose their hero by nepotism rather than by merit, thus demonstrating that all their “anti-elitist” rhetoric is mostly “anti-smart-people” rhetoric, since the first thing they do in creating a movement is to exalt a new elite based on the principle of nepotism.

OK, sure, nepotism was part of the family/tribal structure of tradition that held civilization together in the prehistoric era: but today, in modern America, it fundamentally represents a laziness of leadership and journalism that is indeed busy installing a new elite that directly contradicts the ideals of democracy. I hate nepotism in the Kennedys and the Bidens and lousy Landrieus, I’m sure not gonna put up with it in any Pauls or Palins.

Somewhere in the files of TPM comments in the last few years is a long rant I wrote on the anti-nepotism Constitutional Amendment, which rigorously defined nine varieties of family relationship for which a second family member could not hold the same Federal, state or local office as a first family member. Even that amendment, though, would still not stop the attempted creation of family political “dynasties” – in American democracy, remember! – with the assistance of lazy members of the media. A second family member would just have to be careful not to run for exactly the same offices as their relative; a Rand Paul would be perfectly free to run for the Senate in a different state than his father represented serving in the House.

Since then, however, I’ve thought of a common law reform that would hopefully be even more effective in striking at the essential ally of the would-be family dynast: the lazy or dense journalist who gives the unqualified relative credibility as a candidate, just because of his family relationship.

This would be a simple change that created new grounds for a lawsuit: any person who felt herself qualified for an office could sue any journalist who mentioned the relative of any serving or recently-serving politician as being qualified for an office, without also mentioning ALL OTHER persons who might also be qualified for that office. This would effectively stop the lazy journalists from dropping the hints of powerholders regarding their sons or nephews; and without that advantage in name recognition and sheer repetition from the journalists, persons who are NOT related to current politicians would have a fairer chance to compete in the unfair, unfree circus that American politics most often seems to resemble these days.

Libertarianism, despite its faults, is as American as apple pie. Nepotism, unfortunately, is something much older and deeper that can and will, if given a chance, strangle America’s relatively recent and high-minded ideals of democracy.

Posted in -KY, 2010 Elections, American Politics, Libertarian | 3 Comments

Breaking News – Government Endorses Ron’s First Book!

Using the logic of the advertising and public relations industries, it can now be said that the American government unofficially endorses Ron’s first great book, The Get-Ready Man (1980).

In a public service announcement promoting college assistance programs available from the federal government, heard recently on KPOJ radio in Portland and other stations, the announcer recites how many outcomes you may think to be ‘impossible’ – like going to college with government assistance – are in fact ‘possible.’  Towards the end of the announcement, the narrator clearly says “Change your belief systems!”

As well-informed readers will know, this tagline amounts to an unofficial endorsement of Ron’s first book The Get-Ready Man, which opened to a detailed explanation of the concept of belief systems in Chapter 1, gave the first version of “Ron’s omelet of the social sciences” in explaining how belief systems come to occur in individuals and societies in Chapters 2 and 3, tried to analyze belief systems of the present world in Chapters 3 through 9, and confronted the necessities of changing belief systems as we move into the future in the two final chapters 10 and 11.

Indeed, through the present day, Ron is not aware of another contemporary book that has dealt so explicitly and comprehensively with the problems and promises of  human belief system.  (Of course, as an old married man busy making a living, Ron’s reading of History and Philosophy have fallen off since the 1980’s).

Ron heartily welcomes this endorsement of his work by the government of the United States, and looks forward to the day when he joins hundreds of millions of Americans in convincing and/or forcing that government to take its own advice and change several of its own highly disfunctional and unsustainable belief systems.

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