Saturday, May 14, 2005

Interesting Experiment

OK, to get to some core issues here, let's try the following. It will be hard and challenging to all of us. Let's each of us (including Allen) post the three things he or she finds silly, hypocritical, wrong, or in any sense negative about his or her own party/political philosophy/what-have-you. Let's keep it to the present day, so we can be future-oriented. Let's see what comes up.

No wriggling out of it allowed -- e.g., "I am disappointed that the Democrats aren't more liberal." That's not what I'm looking for, even though I actually believe what I just wrote.

My turn:

1. Democratic support for totally unfettered globalization. I put this on empirics, not on ideology -- it's becoming clear to me that the free flow of capital only (but not of labor, and without environmental standards) is simply wrecking the planet environmentally and impoverishing nations unnecessarily, which breeds discontent, and is thus a serious national security issue. I don't actually see this as "liberal vs. conservative," which is why I'm fleshing out my specific views here.

2. Constantly saying Bush is "stupid." He's not, and it pisses me off. I've done it, yes -- but he is NOT stupid. He's quite clever, especially politically. He's not an intellectual, for sure, but he's not stupid, in the sense of "mentally unfit." I actually think he plays that up; worked for his Dad, the "master of low expectations." It gets us nowhere.

3. Air America. I know this will get me some flak, but I've listened on and off, and unless it's changed recently, I don't see how matching Limbaugh with Limbaugh-left helps anything. It's the soundbite, insult-ridden nature of AM radio and much of the rest of the media that favors emotional reaction and short-circuits thought. I believe that, in general, people are rational enough to self-govern. That's kinda what this country is founded upon. I have a problem with any media outlet that fosters irrationality, however unintentionally.

To clarify: give me back Firing Line with an hour of constant, usually respectful, intelligent, but pitched debate, on which you might actually see a Noam Chomsky or a Gore Vidal have more than six seconds to respond to a complex issue. Where does this happen nowadays? Even Charlie Rose only gives about 20 minutes tops per guest. DemocracyNow! is the only place where you can get, sometimes, an hour of unfettered talk -- and they tend to invite the right, too. The tabloidization of the media has to be reversed, and that will require both a bottom-up revolt (happening, I think, on both sides -- red and blue -- witness the joint outcry on media consolidation) and a top-down recognition of the actually huge market demand for long-form political discussion.

Who's up next? :)

20 Thoughts:

Blogger Doug said...

A huge comment, from something I wrote recently, to flesh out my problem with globalization:

What is globalization? Since 1945, international trade and economic activity has greatly increased and this increase is accelerating. Improvements in transportation, communication, and information technologies have made this accelerating increase possible by making economic activity increasingly rapid and inexpensive. International institutions have become more powerful at the expense of nation-state sovereignty. The World Trade Organization (WTO) regulates trade agreements among nations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) makes loans to indebted developing nations as long as they promise to follow a “neoliberal” economic model by privatizing government-run enterprises such as electrical power grids and water supplies, deregulating the private sector, and removing trade barriers. The World Bank makes loans to developing countries for large-scale public-works projects as well as smaller loans for social needs from the medical to the educational. A global popular culture and neoliberal consensus, both of which are largely American in origin and nature, have spread as large multinational and transnational corporations have taken advantage of freer trade and economies of scale.

The great promise of globalization -— one that may still be fulfilled -— is that the rising tide of economic activity would raise all boats. This has not happened. In fact, the rate of growth for the poorer half of the world’s nations has been reduced by half. Aside from India and China, progress on poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, and literacy has slowed in the poorer nations, while prosperity for most of the “first world” -— Japan, the United States, and the European Union -— has accelerated. Even this acceleration has not been universal within the first-world nations -— especially in the United States the bifurcation of rich and poor has increased over the last three decades to the point that some commentators worry about the disappearance of the middle class.

Social dislocation and conflict have followed quickly on the heels of economic upheaval. Movements of people within and between countries have always occurred, but such migrations are now occurring on an order of magnitude that is truly novel. Sometime in 2005, for the first time in human history, most of the world’s population will live in cities, much of it in Dickensian poverty. Mass migration from rural to urban environments has been accompanied by a rise in emigration, legal or not, to first-world nations. These migrations have been exacerbated by the IMF’s strict requirements for granting loans. As basic services (utilities, rent, education, healthcare) have become more expensive in developing nations as a result of enforced privatization and deregulation, and as local industry and agriculture has buckled under the impact of enforced trade liberalization, many in developing nations have either left their home country altogether or have been forced into a life apart from their families as “guest workers” in first-world nations, sending money home to support their families.

Traditional cultural beliefs and norms clash daily with their Euro-American counterparts, which are disseminated by transnational corporations via all media. A fundamentalist reaction in all world cultures has gathered force in the face of a perceived threat of Western dominance. International terrorism is the most militant wing of this reaction. Ironically, the most sophisticated practitioners of terror have taken full advantage of the mechanisms of globalization in order to fight the Western values they oppose. Al-Qaida, for example, uses the Internet to organize and recruit from an expanding pool of socioeconomically dislocated and disenchanted individuals, hides the movement of its members in the confusion of mass migration that no nation can control, takes advantage of deregulated capital and currency markets to raise funds, shops at semi-legitimate international arms markets to acquire increasingly destructive armaments, and employs increasingly cheap transportation not only to coordinate attacks, but also, infamously, as weapons of attack. Al-Qaida is also well aware of how global media hyper-coverage compounds the “terror dividend” of its attacks. It uses this fear to manipulate target nations into reacting in ways that will help al-Qaida spread its message. The final irony is that al-Qaida, unlike conventional state-sponsored terrorist groups, is itself unconnected to any one nation. Like the enterprises that spread the Western values it deplores, al-Qaida is itself essentially a decentralized, entrepreneurial transnational and multinational corporation that happens to be devoted to the production and distribution of an anti-globalist political movement.

Globalization is unstoppable. However, humanity can shape the nature of globalization, and this is the great debate that must occur within and among nations. Thus far, capital and currency exchange have been efficiently globalized. First-world nations have insisted on and received much access to developing-nation markets. The developing world, however, has begun to demand equity and parity. A consortium of developing nations, led by Brazil, walked out of a recent round of WTO negotiations to protest the US and EU’s refusal to expose their agricultural products to international competition. Environmental, labor, and social justice movements are themselves globalizing, gaining strength through numbers. One can see the potential emergence of a global regime of collective bargaining between those groups and the IMF and WTO. Globalization may still raise all boats on a permanent surge of economic activity if the fruits of that activity can be more widely and fairly distributed and if a reasonable balance can be struck between unrestrained economic activity and labor rights, environmental preservation, and social justice. Globalization’s current incarnation, however, threatens to founder all boats in a race to the bottom.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 8:27:00 AM  
Blogger pawlr said...

The Neo-liberalism you describe being foisted on the world's poor wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't completely hypocritical on the part of the first world economies. The LAST thing the industrialized world wants is fully open trade, which would expose them to direct competition. Which leads me to one of my biggest beefs with the Democratic Party - advocacy of "protectionist" trade controls on products for which we have no competitive advantage (like Steel, Ag products, Coffee.) Lifting these outrageous subsidies would actually cause underdeveloped countries to compete in the global economy with those products it is most apt to produce...

John Edwards was the latest incarnation of this retrograde policy rehash of the Dems. Trade controls only muddy the issue of declining standards of living in this country - Dems are always more consistent intellectually and economically when they focus on investment in education and infrastructure to help strengthen the country and make new, better paying jobs, not by "protecting" jobs that were obsolete for our economy long ago.

Of course, at least the Dems advocate using government power to create jobs, rather than relying on the largesse of plutocrats who are mostly hiring overseas anyway.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I agree with you on that, Paul, basically. I think the kind of dualistic "fer it 'r' again' it" attitude (I'm quoting Abraham Simpson here, not making a comment about "rubes") is encouraged by the he-said/she-said media "coverage" we get, in which something as complex as globalization is dealt with in 14 seconds. It's way more complex than that...as you rightly point out.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I forgot a HUGE one, re: my original post, so I'll allow myself a #4:

Relativist theories of knowledge and epistemology.

Just plain silly and wrong, IMHO, and easily demonstrated to be such. As I have to run, I will leave that demonstration for later, if any care to hear what I have to say about it. Nothing irritates red/conservatives/whatever more than the notion that "liberals" have no sense of truth or morality whatsoever, which is usually just a simplification, but NOT always, as I well know.

Saturday, May 14, 2005 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger A.T. said...

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Saturday, May 14, 2005 8:24:00 PM  
Blogger Pelty said...

I will take a stab at this, but it is a tough question because I certainly have no interest in associating myself w/ the GOP, but they do tend to be closer to my POV than do the Dems. Anyhow, here we go...

1) The war. Do not get me wrong, I supported the president and the war because he sold it as vital for national security; Hussein had WMDs and he was ready and willing to use them. You had better be dang sure that this is right before starting a war and it sure seems that he (Bush) was willing to act before all the evidence was in. Now they try to sell it as a war of liberation. Give me a break!

2) A general sense that the GOPers in the Senate would rather preserve their own hides than do the right thing. The fact is that the nonsense occurring over judicial nominees could be and should be put to an end. The so-called "nuclear option" is not radical in any sense; it would simply force the Senate to do what they have been doing wrt judicial nominees for the past 225+ years. Advise and consent, not a super-majority.

3. I think that the party lacks conviction in the arena of abortion. They fail to articulate good reasons to be against the procedure and why the pro-life option is friendly to both women and children and then they really attempt to skirt the issue simply because it is a political hot potato. If they truly believe that it is wrong, that it is inhumane, and murder (and maybe some or most do NOT feel this way; hard to say), then why not stand up and fight for it? I mean, if it is truly the taking of human life and they presumably do not advocate this, then wouldn't someone stand up for the potential victims. I am sure that any person, liberal or conservative, that visits this board would stand up against someone who was murdering another human being (again, this is presumably the POV of pro-life politicians), but it seems as if those who are in power make very little effort in this area (w/ the exception of the Santorums of the world). Some might call this pragmatic; I call it gutless...

Sunday, May 15, 2005 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Doug - we should link to Allen's blog in our nav:

http://thethornblog.blogspot.com/

Monday, May 16, 2005 8:52:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Thanks, Pelty!

Even though I don't agree with your position on abortion, it's absolutely impeccable logic, what you write. If you believe it's murder, you ought to be fighting it.

On that note, if it is truly murder, why wouldn't prolifers be at the forefront of birth control -- free and widely available? That's the best way to prevent unwanted pregancies, given that abstinence, to me, requires a level of faith in human nature that is clearly not warranted. Humans are constantly in estrus, unlike most mammals -- the best thing to do, if you're against only unnecessary deaths and not against sex per se, is to push birth control hard. Sure, those who want to be abstient, more power to 'em. But study after study in teh NEJM and Lancet, et al, show that it basically doesn't work all that well.

I kinda liked Clinton's view on it: make abortion as rare as possible through the above, but keep it legal for those situations in which the woman's life is in danger (an adult life is worth more to me, morally, than a fetus' -- understandably a debatable point), or for those rare -- really rare -- occasions in which the pill or Norplant fail: about 0.001% of the time.

Given very serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, I can't understand why anti-abortionists/prolifers wouldn't be all for free or nearly free condom distribution. The WHO has already deemed HIV/AIDS the worst medical disaster in human history -- yes, even above the black plague. That's a scary thought.

Later. Dug

Monday, May 16, 2005 9:39:00 AM  
Blogger Pelty said...

Thanks for the link to the Thornblog!

Monday, May 16, 2005 1:26:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yw, Pelty!

Paul: check out the series of articles I posted earlier from the McKinsley Quarterly on Offshoring...I haven't yet had time to read them, but since McK is one of the leading consulting firms in the world, it'll likely be non-Edwardsian (and a quick perusal of the collected titles bears this out). Will read when I finish my book proposal...under the gun over here! :)

Monday, May 16, 2005 4:49:00 PM  
Blogger A.T. said...

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Monday, May 16, 2005 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Thanks, Allen! A lot to comment on, but just one point: being a moral or epistemological relativist does not logically or even historically follow from an atheist/agnostic viewpoint. Examples abound, but George Orwell springs to mind. Complete atheist, and a democratic socialist to his last breath (no matter what some on the right try to make of him -- I've read 1300 pages of his collected essays; he never once wavered from democratic socialism...just stating a fact, not making a normative statment). However, he was neither a pacifist (got shot in the throat fighting the fascists in Spain) nor a relativist about epistemology or morality. Noam Chomsky's another good example. Folks can base their views on human nature (without ignoring massive cultural diversity in values) without recourse to a diety.

I'm not saying you have to thus drop your faith; I'm just pointing out that moral relativism doesn't not automatically follow from non-theism.

Monday, May 16, 2005 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger A.T. said...

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005 6:26:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Hey, Allen:

If by "arbitrary," you mean "not based on an extra-human power or force," then by that definition, you have to be correct. My point is, I don't think that it's fair to apply religious constraints on what non-religious thinkers think. In other words, it's logically possible for a humanist (or whatnot -- no point in getting too hung up on labels) to find a universal grounding in morality based on the fact that we are one species with certain wants and needs. As Chomsky has shown that the amazing diversity of language can be boiled down to a few general principles (an innate, universal grammar), so can, analogously, a humanist ethicist ground behavior in human needs. I don't see how the maxim of arranging society to allow the maximum number of people (in principle, all) to achieve their self-chosen, self-directed potential (in all areas) is somehow not a non-theistic universal basis for action.

Our own Constitution never once mentions God, let alone a Christian God -- a bunch of folks sat down and worked through a social contract with each other, open to amendment (the genius of it) as times changed.

Furthermore, the fact that mores clearly evolve doesn't mean they are totally arbitrary -- they're just not rigid. It once was that a black person counted for 3/5 of a white person in this country. We got over that.

Historically, just as there are far too many religious folks who fought the good fight (MLK, to name one) to somehow bring a blanket condemnation down on religion per se, as some would, so, too, are there oodles of non-theists (Orwell, to name one; Camus, to name another) who equally fought the equally good fight. They shouldn't be "disenfranchised," so to speak.

I imagine if Orwell and Camus (and myself -- not that I belong in that crew, of course) were somehow wrong, against all evidence to the contrary, a just and benevolent God would understand, don't you think? If Christ ate with the lepers and said "he who is sinless should cast the first stone," I can't imagine He wouldn't happily sit down, Canae-like, and have a nice drink with Camus and Orwell. He was a forgiving guy, if nothing else.

Thus, I don't worry much about the provenance of a benevolent, flexible, loving ideology. There's precious little of it being practiced, so I think it's a sin to keep like-minded folks apart on matters of metaphysics when real people are suffering needlessly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 9:34:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

One quick question, Allen (and I know you're busy -- respond when you can):

If culture drives politics, which I would tend to agree with, what drives culture?

A sticky issue that historians and social theorists of all stripes have been debating...well, perhaps since before the Greeks! So, I expect no definitive answer. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 9:45:00 AM  
Blogger A.T. said...

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger pawlr said...

Relativism as its practised today is more of a strategy than a belief system. You can see this strategy employed by the Christian Right in their drive to get "intelligent design" considered on the same footing as "evolution". For them, its okay to be a relativist in Science, if it advances and absolutist Moral position.

There are very few true Relativists today, and practically none outside of academic and buddhist circles in the U.S., so much so that its really not worth talking about. All political constests come down to a conflict between competing absolutist positions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005 5:37:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Not sure the option is between total skepticism (i.e., relativism) and absolutism. There is such a thing as degrees of certainty. Folks on left and right have a problem with this, as it requires maintaining a certain amount of doubt. But that's the human condition: unless we're gods, we can't know everything. Thus, we have to make informed guesses based on incomplete evidence. Of course, some "guesses" are so well informed that they rise to a 99.9[bar] level of certainty, such as: gravity, natural selection, relativity theory, quantum theory, etc. Ironically, that last theory is at the core statistical. I am not an absolutist, nor am I a relativist. This dichotomy is itself a "religious hangover" -- I say, learn to live with doubt, even if that doubt is infintesmally small. The legal standard "beyond a reasonable doubt" is the best way to approach epistemology and actual knowledge-claims. Works for me; works for plumbers, as Gould so brilliantly put it in the article I posted on Creationsim. Why shouldn't it work for all of us in all areas of knowledge? It's basically begging the question to insist upon religious certainty in any field other than religion, especially when religion strays into politics or science, especially. My position is, religious certainty only exists in religion, geometry, and logic...and not even in logic, according to 20th -century philosophers whom I don't pretend to understand.

So, Paul, the choice is not so binary as you maintain.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Allen's comment on faith is an interesting one. I think theologians (can't quote 'em, but seem to remember this; they may be Catholic, not sure) have drawn a distinction between "reasoned faith" and "blind faith."

To break it down, here's a reasonable faith: I believe that if I press the key next to "backspace" on my keyboard, I'll get an equals sign. Let's test that: =. Guess I was right!

Here's another reasonable faith: I believe that if I drop a pen I'm about to grab after I finish typing this, it will fall to my floor. Let's test it out...yep, it worked (I swear to you, I really just dropped a pen! :) )

Here's an example of blind faith: None of us actually exist; we are all brains floating in a vat imagining all of this (or butterflies dreaming we're humans, or any other variation on this familiar trope). Can I test this out? No, by definition, I cannot. Why, then, should I believe this? Well, I really shouldn't, interesting an idea as it is. To actually believe this wholeheartedly is to start to shade into psychosis.

Another unreasonable faith: Every time I'm not looking at someone, that person turns into a big blue Smurf. Is this testable, even in principle? No. Is faith in this idea reasonable? No. Would I be institutionalized if I maintained it? Yes, I guess, if I started causing trouble because of that belief.

Now, the really tough cases are not at the extremes, as per usual.

So, is it a reasonable faith to beleive that after 150+ years of constant ratificiation from a number of different sources of knowledge, experiments, and scientists from all over the planet (each with different backgrounds, biases, cultural and otherwise) that natural selection is not the only but certainly the driving force in evolution? Yes, I think so. The only reason people resist it is because they believe that it goes against the literal meaning of a book written millenia ago. Now, even if you believe that book to be divinely inspired, you do not need to believe that each word is literally true (especially since it has been translated countless times, and edited by many a conclave). Nor do you need to believe that an omnipotent God couldn't have thought up the rules for evolution (or gravity or whatever) and set it running.

Now, personally, I do think that it's quite hard to be a religious evolutionist, but historically, I know that many have been -- and without being creationists or "intelligent-design"-ers. Theodosius Dobzhansky, who wrote the most important book on evolution since Darwin, Genetics and the Origin of Species was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian. Others, like Stephen Jay Gould, who was born Jewish but who was basically an agnostic/atheist, obviously didn't believe. But Gould acknolwedged (or "argued") that there were "non-overlapping magisteria" (an overly fancy word for "domains") one of which was occupied by science; the other by faith.

I personally never bought this, as I said, but I'm not arrogant (or blind) enough to make the error of extending my conclusions to all of humanity. Live and let live, but don't pass off something based on religious faith (not blind, but also not "reasoned" in the manner set out above -- that is, liable to experiment and potentially falsifiable) as science and force it to be taught to children, who don't know any better.

I call that a political movement and an intrusion of religion into the government; I believe in the separation of church and state, one of the founding principles of this country, if not THE founding principle.

So, to get back to faith -- sure, depending on how you define it, we all live by faith. I believe I'll be able to draw my next breath, based on all past experience. I also know that it won't work someday; again, based on experience -- in this case, observation. But "faith" must be defined in order to continue the conversation at any level of specificity.

Interesting post!

Thursday, May 19, 2005 3:15:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Real quick: to forestall an understandable misunderstanding based on what I just wrote:

I do NOT believe that all religious faith is unreasoned. I was defining "reasoned" belief in a very strict sense in the context of that post.

I do think -- and know, if not personally -- that one can have a reasoned faith (using the broader meaning of the term); not all religious faith is blind faith -- even if I disagree with it, fundamentally. Yes, I meant that pun. :)

Also, ideologies (not meant perjoratively) of all types can be mixed and matched to an amazing degree -- evidence of the innate intelligence of all people. Thus, I have a great friend who was actually born atheist, but became born-again. However, her political beliefs -- liberal, for lack of a better term -- have not changed one iota, even though her worldview has changed diametrically. This is simply a fact, and shouldn't come as much surprise to anyone familiar with human nature.

Which brings me back to my touchstone point: I really, honestly do not care AT ALL where one's belief in fairness, social justice, and progressive causes (yadda, yadda) comes from -- Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammad, Orwell, Camus, Sartre, Freud, Erich Fromm, Chomsky, the Bahgavad Gita, or Boy Scouts. It don't matter none, and no one should be arguing about provenance while Rome burns, nor should their be some litmus test -- on the left, right or center -- on such matters.

The founders were right; learn from 500 years of pointless slaughter over religion in Europe and just leave that stuff alone and keep it out of the government completely.

I particularly dislike the mobilization of religion in the name of political parties that's happening right now. Folks are getting kicked out of churches for being Democrats. Wait -- Christ ate with lepers and protected Magdalene, but these Christians can't tolerate someone who voted for Kerry? That dog don't hunt. (Yes, I'd be equally pissed if I found the parites reversed in what I just wrote.)

OK, break time/play time is over for me! This is my siesta: yet more typing! This is why I have a split keyboard: forestalling the inevitable carpal tunnel syndrome that looms in my future.

Would love to hear any and all responses to this stuff; I like philosophy, especially when it's used as a basis for action and not navel-gazing.

Thursday, May 19, 2005 3:31:00 PM  

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