A Disquieting Suggestion

by John Holbo on February 22, 2016

As CT-regulars know, I am a compulsive reader of Rod Dreher’s blog. The occasion for today’s post is this Dreher post. He quotes a reader:

Obergefell was clearly a crisis point for social conservatives. We lost the public debate on gay marriage; but more important was how we lost. Gay marriage showed that there was a great gap between what social conservatives want to say, and what the rest of the public is willing or able to hear. In short, what the process revealed was the inability of social conservatives to articulate, in a publicly convincing way, the basis of their own beliefs. The most striking fact about the whole process was this inarticulacy. When the crucial time came, SCs could not find the words to explain what they believed. For me, that was the crucial “revelation.”

I think you’ve decided that the problem is a retreat from Christian foundations of moral understanding. But whatever the cause is, we have a continuing responsibility to try to articulate these values in a way that is comprehensible in a secular debate — to correct our own inarticulacy. We have a responsibility to articulate our values, whatever their religious grounding may be, in a way that makes sense to people who do not necessarily share that grounding.

Dreher sort of agrees and then goes on for a while. And, I have to say: I still honestly don’t know what Dreher’s argument is. I’m not even totally sure he thinks Obergefell was wrongly decided. (I know he thinks it will lead to excesses but that’s a separate question. You could be opposed to affirmative action, and think Brown v. Board of Education led to affirmative action, without thinking Brown was wrongly decided. You could also think Brown was wrongly decided, in a technical sense, yet admirable in its effects.) I was going to write a long post dismantling all the problems I think I see in this post. But, you know what? – been there, done that.

Let me try a fresh approach.

The reader’s note, and Dreher’s response, reminds me a bit of the opening to Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, which is a key Dreher text. So let me attempt a light rewrite. (You can consult the original ‘disquieting suggestion’ via Amazon look-inside, if you want to see where I’m coming from.)

Imagine that modernity were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of social breakdowns is blamed by the general public on the believers in radical personal autonomy. Widespread riots occur, whole shelves of books on Derrida burnt, adjunct professors of cultural studies lynched, Twitter accounts deleted and Brooklyn and San Francisco-based coffee shops have their front windows shattered. Finally, a Know-Everything political movement takes power and successfully abolishes ‘political correctness’ in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining SJW’s. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive modern radical autonomy, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all they possess are fragments: Weezer’s Pinkerton album, from 1996; a worn VHS tape in which Charo and Tim Conway guest star on an episode of The Carol Burnet Show; a Supreme Court opinion written by Anthony Kennedy; no fault divorce and same-sex marriage; a (half-incinerated) copy of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals; a (bullet-riddled) copy of Our Bodies Ourselves; a complete, unread 12-volume set of Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music of Time novels; a well-thumbed paperback of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land; a pair of very baggy pants; an iPhone, with various games and online dating apps installed; a selfie stick; Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne; a painting by Courbet; several Mark Levin podcasts; a “Make America Great Again” t-shirt; a painting by John Currin; a pornographic DVD; a copy of Cards Against Humanity; 36 hours of cute cat videos and one episode of Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency (all that remains from the purge of YouTube, as part of the Benedict Omnium Option, as it was known); season 2 of Hannah Montana on DVD. Nonetheless, all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of ‘modernity’, ‘individualism’, ‘political correctness’, ‘social justice’, ‘secular humanism’ and ‘godless liberalism’. Adults argue with each other about whether Charo is funnier than the pants are baggy, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving lyrics to all the songs on Outkast’s 2000 album, Stankonia, although much of the lexical meaning has been lost. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not actually all that transgressive at all. For everything they do and say conforms to certain canons of radical individualism but those contexts which would be needed to explain in what sense this is so have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.

In such a culture men would use expressions such as ‘cuchi-cuchi’ and ‘heteronormative’ and ‘cisgendered’ and ‘huuuuuge wall’ in systematic and often interrelated ways which would resemble in lesser or greater degrees the ways in which such expressions had been used in earlier times before cultural knowledge of the underpinnings of modernity had been so largely lost. But many of the beliefs presupposed by the use of these expressions would have been lost and there would appear to be an element of arbitrariness and even of choice in their applications which would appear very surprising to us.

OK, let me explain the joke. The reason Dreher doesn’t have an argument against SSM, in particular, is that, if he’s got any argument, it’s the MacIntyre argument against the whole banana (modern moral discourse and thinking). But that’s totally useless, by itself, as an argument against any particular expression or effect of modernism, such as SSM. In MacIntyre terms, Dreher is pulling a reverse-King Kamehameha. He’s reinstating apparently arbitrary taboos – against homosexuality, for example – in the hopes that doing so will conjure some lost, original, coherent, sensible whole. But why would that work?

Let me say that again. Modernist individualism has had any number of results over the centuries, from Charo to same-sex marriage. (You grant we would have had no Charo, at least not as we have known her, without the sorts of things MacIntyre thinks were philosophical missteps, such as Nietzsche’s works.) But, just as it would be strange to attempt to reconstruct Nietzsche’s philosophy by watching old Carol Burnet reruns, so it would be strange to take a small step towards halting the glacially inexorable civilizational encroachments of Nietzscheanism by banning an old sitcom. It would be arbitrary, rather than rationally incremental. Even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that MacIntyre is right that modernism has been a huge, self-undermining moral mistake, it doesn’t follow that you can disaggregate that universal harm, as it were, socking away a little bit into each and every knock-on social effect of modernism, from Bernini to selfie sticks; much less reverse-engineer the harm back out of existence, by degrees, by banning these effects.

Even if Charo causes the collapse of Western Civilization, a bit, is it obvious that this is also true of her guitar playing? Would banning her music help at all, in halting Nietzsche? The fact that she is more or less caused by modernism is not a proof that everything she causes, in turn, is a further cause of yet further harm along the same lines. Perhaps flamenco guitar is ethically innocent of any tendency to induce decay.

Dreher invokes wholesale collapse: divorce, decay, the fraying of social fabric, the coming anarchy. But he provides no suggestions as to why allowing gay people to marry, in particular, would increase that, rather than decreasing it, at the retail level. There are obvious arguments to the conclusion that SSM will strengthen marriage as an institution. Dreher does not consider those.

“People are not persuadable by reason, mostly because they do not share the premises on which the arguments are based. We have to accept that.”

Well, we can’t know that until we hear the argument – which I think we still haven’t; so the ball is in Dreher’s court. But it seems like the premises will have to concern the sociology of SSM; not pure MacIntyre-style reflections about philosophical mistakes leading to global tendencies towards social collapse.

Dreher thinks, I think, that folks on the other side don’t get the MacIntyre bits. But if you’ve got a bug in your ear about something – Bart Simpson, twerking, SSM – it isn’t enough to hand people a copy of After Virtue and say ‘read it!’, as if that explained why being so bothered by this, to a seemingly disproportionate degree, is really sensible and proportionate.

“I had the arguments down pat in my head, but my heart refused to accept the consequences, until I had driven my life into a ditch.”

I think most people – myself, for example – will find it intelligible and intuitive that Dreher feels the need for the sort of semi-utopian intentional community-building he is currently engaged in. His Benedict Option stuff. (I’m not saying everyone will share the specific desire for that option, but – being good individualists! – we readily get it about options like this being attractive. We’ve read about the hippies, even if we haven’t studied the Bible.) What people find bizarre, and rightly so, is the inference from the fact that, to some degree, modernism drove Dreher into that ditch, to the conclusion that, to some degree, SSM must be driving people into ditches. Why should it be?

Suppose Dreher kept the Benedict Option but dropped opposition to SSM – for other people, who don’t want the Benedict Option. Would anything be lost?

{ 485 comments }

1

bruce wilder 02.22.16 at 5:28 am

He gives an example: a young, working-class woman, who has been living with some guy for the canonical 7 years (of itch fame) and the relationship has gone bad, and the he of the couple, though a lazy often underemployed sot, has control of the finances of the couple, including her savings and property, so she does not have the resources to simply leave and fears the loss when she does leave.

The implication is that she would not have acted in this foolish way, if the taboos were still in place that would have pressured the couple to marry.

The implication is also drawn that upper class people handle this situations better, because they are educated and legally and financially savvy about protecting their assets.

What isn’t drawn is the implication that, if the taboos were still strong, she could not leave, because she would have no option to divorce and no claim on shared property or financial resources.

Dreher wants to argue for a ill-remembered scheme of social control while considering neither effectiveness, nor price nor cost. So, he retreats into a pose of superior wisdom and forgets the rest.

2

js. 02.22.16 at 5:28 am

we have a continuing responsibility to try to articulate these values in a way that is comprehensible in a secular debate — to correct our own inarticulacy. We have a responsibility to articulate our values, whatever their religious grounding may be, in a way that makes sense to people who do not necessarily share that grounding.

So Rawlsian! Who knew?

3

js. 02.22.16 at 5:32 am

Very funny, Holbo. (And I mean that in a good way!)

4

pretendous 02.22.16 at 5:39 am

Perhaps instead of thinking about each element of modernity as being loosely connected into a large package called, “modernity,” the removal of any of which element’s direct causal relationship to the removal of the whole package is tenuous and undertheorized, the SCs adopt a more retributive theory of social justice, rather than a deterrent one.

JH, your argument works against those who see their political opposition to SSM as comprising one step on the long road to that awesomeness-that-we-used-to-be-way-back-when, because all you need to do is point out that their efforts are too unfocused to actually accomplish their yoooooge project. But if SCs see their opposition to SSM as a punishment for (or an attempt to punish) those who too gleefully partake of modernity, then there’s nothing arbitrary about making SSM or cotton candy jelly bellies or the X games the target of your political mobilization. I suspect that most SCs fall into the retributive, rather than deterrent, theory of social justice. Therefore, they probably think there should be any SSM because the people who would benefit from it don’t deserve to enjoy those benefits on account of their excessive self-reliance, hedonism, and individualism.

5

Ben 02.22.16 at 6:10 am

What kind of porn is on the DVD?

6

John Holbo 02.22.16 at 6:17 am

“What kind of porn is on the DVD?”

Crooked Timber is a family blog, so something wholesome.

7

dr ngo 02.22.16 at 7:15 am

Just look for the category “family” on any porn site. You’d be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’t.

8

Asteele 02.22.16 at 7:18 am

The great bikini off-road adventure, which isn’t really porn, but in their benighted state they don’t realize it.

9

Asteele 02.22.16 at 7:22 am

More substantively, instead of modernity in general, aren’t we really talking about the sexual revolution being what he wants to undo.

10

greg 02.22.16 at 7:54 am

Religious social conservatives should seek to be more like their Christ, rather than take issue with the motes in the eyes of their brothers and sisters.

That is just what their own teachings say. That they make such issue is a sign of, and indeed likely motivated by, an awareness of what are, in their own terms, their own failures.

I do not think their Christ would be amused by those who, calling out His name the loudest, are the least forgiving, imprisoning the largest number of their brothers; who take from widows and orphans; who in His name and on faint pretext, kill many thousands of strangers in distant lands, and who bend knee to (in their terms,) the worshipers of Mammon and their servants.

11

MilitantlyAardvark 02.22.16 at 8:00 am

I suspect that Dreher, in his confused and wambling way, doesn’t really want to undo modernity, so much as he wants people to tell him that his beliefs are best and they wish they could be like him. What really gets to Dreher is that the beliefs in which he has invested so much should be not merely a subject of disagreement or indifference but even ridicule and contempt by the largely imaginary community of liberals and SJWs living inside his head. He sees himself as persecuted when, as far as I can tell, the overwhelming majority of people neither know nor care who he is, what he does or what he believes. Dreher wants very badly to threaten to take his ball and go home and have everyone else be aghast at the prospect of losing his wisdom and benevolence from their meager existences. Unfortunately, he’s just smart enough to realize that the world would shrug and go back to whatever it was doing without missing a beat – and that’s what really galls him. Such are the trials and tribulations of those who confuse narcissistic self-pity with the quest for the divine.

12

Niall McAuley 02.22.16 at 9:33 am

A problem with the quote from Dreher’s reader is that it leads to a false dialogue between modernists and the Christian Values crew. Following that advice, the anti-sexual-revolutionistas have to try and create a secular argument which supports their position.

But when they do, it’s a fake. Even the people putting it forward do not believe because of the argument, they make the argument because they believe. It’s like a school debate argument – constructed to support a given conclusion, and not actually the reason anyone in history ever came to that conclusion.

Unsurprisingly, such arguments are generally bad. But refuting them changes nothing, since nobody believed anything because of them anyhow.

13

Frederick 02.22.16 at 9:53 am

The primary conceit of “social conservatives” such as Dreher and their nostalgia for the return of old time mommy-daddy father-knows-best patriarchal religion is that they pretend that by referring to the Bible, “Jesus” (whoever he really was), and their tribalistic cultic God-idea, that they are therefore committed to something completely different and SUPERIOR to the secular paradigm which now patterns every minute fraction of the modern world.
In fact it could be said that, contrary to their self-righteous angst etc, they are all fiercely committed to the secular/modernist paradigm. To me the benighted politics that they advocate is ample proof of this.
Furthermore if anyone seriously considers the modern intellectual, philosophical, and Spiritually informed critiques of conventional religion they will, if they are at all honest, find that there is no basis in Reality for any of the conventional religious presumptions and ideas. Indeed most of it should have been thrown away with both hands in the first few weeks of any truly serious philosophy class.

14

casmilus 02.22.16 at 9:58 am

“The Benedict Option” doesn’t amount to anything more than a speaking tour and a book deal. Beyond that, it’s just the same old no-TV-and-homeschool formula that is already accepted practice in the social conservative subculture Dreher earns his bread from.

I used to be a Dreher fan, but I’ve got tired in the past year because it’s just not fun anymore. The pseudo-intellectual mask doesn’t have much glue holding it in place and it blows off awfully quickly to reveal the banal little bigot underneath. And, as he admitted, what really “keeps me awake at night” is just the thought that his viewpoint isn’t the dominant one in conservatism anymore. It’s the loss of relevance, not correctness that is scary. He is becoming the most pathetic figure of multiculturalism: the “community leader” who is unknown and unregarded by their “community”.

He’d be interesting again if he could think beyond his cliches, and realise that he is not a victim of a “tyranny of relativism” but its opposite: a tyranny of a particular official morality, just not the one he accepts.

15

Frederick 02.22.16 at 10:00 am

Furthermore, it could be said that their world-view was summed up in the (then) hugely popular sado-masochistic snuff-splatter Mel Gibson movie The Passion, in which the “hero” representing every single human being, and humankind altogether, is systematically beaten to death.
To me this review sums up the dark cultural significance of this unspeakably vile movie:
http://www.logosjournal.com/hammer_kellner

16

ZM 02.22.16 at 10:06 am

In Australia we had a good mini series about modernisation and religion when I was growing up, it was called Brides of Christ and was about Nuns during the Vatican II period, with some religious in favour of modernising and others very upset by all the changes.

http://youtu.be/4FEBAZC30G0

There was a Jesuit, Pedro Arrupe, who spoke about the need for them to modernise

“Jesuits must be brought abreast of the world in which they breathe and are able to face with intelligence and love the world of tomorrow.

Many Catholics are afraid of this new world when all that they were, took for granted, that made human living so serene, have been questioned, turned inside out, subjected to radical revision. At the risk of startling you, let me tell you quite honestly: it is not this new world that I fear. After all, God is there – however difficult it may be at times to discover Him.

I am rather afraid that we Jesuits may have little or nothing to offer this world, little or nothing to say or do in this world to justify our existence as Jesuits.

I am afraid we will repeat yesterday’s answers to tomorrow’s problems, take a way men no longer understand, speak a language that does not speak to the heart of living man.

If we do this, we shall more and more be talking to ourselves; no one would listen, because no one will understand what we are trying to say.” 1970

I think Dreher is not so sound on this really. For instance in the article he goes on about Turkish slums being better since people are religious, but African slums are worse not being as religious, and American slums too.

I feel like saying same sex marriage is wrong due to the effects on religiousness which has trickle down effects on whether slums are better to live in or not, is sort of very unsound theology.

17

ZM 02.22.16 at 10:06 am

18

Mdc 02.22.16 at 11:19 am

The term “modernity”, and the abstract big-think it facilitates, has poisoned many a mind.

19

John Holbo 02.22.16 at 11:36 am

“Obergefell was the result of a gate being torn down, several steps previous. Effect, not cause.”

Well, if the problem really is “Marbury v. Madison”, or something like that, Dreher could say so. Or if the problem is “Griswold v. Connecticutt”, Dreher could say so. Or if it isn’t really legal at all but moral, he could say so.

“Trying to reconstruct a way of thinking without a living example”

To quote that guy on the cart from Monty Python: “I’m not dead yet!”

20

casmilus 02.22.16 at 11:42 am

But does MacIntyre himself have the resources to oppose SSM?

In “Three Rival Versions Of Moral Enquiry” the chapter “Too Many Thomisms?” acknowledges that the tradition has many various branches and interpretations. It’s not any better than modern liberal theory if we are concerned to establish “firm foundations” in place of “shifting sands”.

A few months ago RD was getting very agitated about a young theologian who had written a paper suggesting Aquinas was more in line with Judith Butler than any modern “social conservative”. That’s not prima facie ridiculous, unless your sole interest in the Great Men is to provide a few classy namedrops amongst Readers Digest opinions.

The bigger mystery is how anyone can be a “christian conservative” and give their lives to the idolatry of worldly traditions and old things, when all that is just dust that will pass away, the only permanence is life with Christ outside of time.

21

MilitantlyAardvark 02.22.16 at 11:55 am

@19

“That’s because it was the way it was achieved that is the problem. “

No, the “problem” is that a small, incoherent and pointlessly angry section of the community can’t stand the fact that it was achieved at all. Nothing would placate them, because they have no interest in anything except chewing the last sour shreds of their fear and malice.

“That’s because it was the way it was achieved that is the problem. Or taking a step back, the way people justified the way it was achieved. “

And here we see the infinite causal regress of self-pitying bigotry as practiced by pseudo-conservatives. If one excuse doesn’t convince, cobble another up and explain that it precedes the discarded version. When the latest excuse fails, cobble another one up and….

22

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 12:20 pm

MilitantlyAardvark,

I suspect that Dreher, in his confused and wambling way, doesn’t really want to undo modernity, so much as he wants people to tell him that his beliefs are best and they wish they could be like him. What really gets to Dreher is that the beliefs in which he has invested so much should be not merely a subject of disagreement or indifference but even ridicule and contempt by the largely imaginary community of liberals and SJWs living inside his head.

I think this is unfair to Rod (who, for the record, I’ve known for years, consider a friend, and have met multiple times), but it’s not inaccurate. On Dreher’s better days, he’ll acknowledge that he really doesn’t have in his collection of preferences a desire to undo modernity (go back and read his paeans to David Bowie when he died, for example); instead, his basic desire is simply to not have what he imagines to be the mob, the majority, going after his religious preferences…and since his religious preferences are tied up with various real-world phenomena (marriage mostly obviously, but many others as well), that means when he sees what used to be majority assumptions about public behavior and traditional Christian sexual morality being challenged, he figures it’s circle-the-wagons time. And lately, admittedly, it’s been circle-the-wagons time pretty much all the time. Again, when the question is framed the right way, he’ll acknowledge that his BenOp solution can have too much of the atavistic and reactionary bundled along with it (I’m thinking of a long, aching e-mail from a gay reader which he posted not long ago, and his very thoughtful and humble response to it), and he’ll emphasize that he doesn’t want to recreate the past. But then some other reader will send him some other example of supposed SJW/transgendered offensiveness, and off he’ll go again.

23

John Holbo 02.22.16 at 12:27 pm

“go back and read his paeans to David Bowie when he died”

I was actually going to make that argument. Where’s the proof that David Bowie has not been singlehandedly more damaging to western civilization than SSM?

24

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 12:27 pm

John,

Well, if the problem really is “Marbury v. Madison”, or something like that, Dreher could say so. Or if the problem is “Griswold v. Connecticutt”, Dreher could say so. Or if it isn’t really legal at all but moral, he could say so.

I’ve been on Rod’s case about this general point for years. Whether he likes it or wants to acknowledge it or not, he’s making use of actual theoretical, historical arguments in making his BenOp case–mostly agrarian and classically republican ones–and he needs to own up to them and think through the differences between the paths which those different arguments imply. (Saying everything started to go bad with Marbury can make sense, but it wouldn’t be the same sense necessarily as saying that everything started to go had with Griswold.) Of course, in saying he “needs” to do that simply betrays my (and your) preference for arguments that the broader public–including those of us who may be sympathetic to his points for our own theoretical reasons, but don’t follow his conclusions–can engage with. But if the BenOp project really is ultimately just being written for those which a traditionalist understanding of Christian sexual morality, then perhaps he’s right to kind of dismiss my whining to him about how his whole project is undertheorized.

25

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 12:32 pm

For whatever it’s worth, here’s an exchange between me and Rod which lays the above argument out.

26

casmilus 02.22.16 at 12:42 pm

Which one of you is “panda”?

27

John Holbo 02.22.16 at 12:50 pm

“then perhaps he’s right to kind of dismiss my whining to him about how his whole project is undertheorized.”

People who wave copies of “After Virtue” at other people don’t get to dismiss other people complaining that you are undertheorizing. Make bed. Lie in it.

28

MilitantlyAardvark 02.22.16 at 12:51 pm

@Russell Arben Fox

It seems more than a little strange for you to suggest that I am unfair to Dreher and then proceed to say essentially what I have just said about him in your own words. You apparently agree with me that he doesn’t actual want to dismantle modernity, and that he (over)reacts to what you call an “imaginary mob” going after his own preferences. Which is just what I said in the citation from my comment that you post as the introduction to your complaint that I am being unfair!

Perhaps I am missing some brilliant logical subtlety on your part?

29

JoB 02.22.16 at 12:52 pm

Well, the real insight is that the wagons are always tighter together. Today it’s SSM but 20 years ago it was very much just SS. The overlapping consensus just keeps on increasing in area in these matters and that’s why people get desperate in trying to draw a line once and for all. It’s just easier for conservatives to take a maximum of economic modernity if there is a diversion discussion on moral modernity. They know they will loose the diversion with respect to the moral argument (otherwise they wouldn’t so easily progressively cave in to a lot of stuff they defended so absolutely a short while ago), but meanwhile they win election after election.

If anything moral relativism is a basic fact of conservatism because each and every year, it is necessary for them to abandon another strict point of view under the progressive insight growing in the public domain. You win elections by opposing the next moral “hazard”, not by turning back the previous one.

30

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 12:54 pm

No, Aardvark, you’re right; I’m probably just responding as a friend.

31

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 12:55 pm

(Referring to #29 above.)

32

MilitantlyAardvark 02.22.16 at 12:59 pm

@John Holbo

“People who wave copies of “After Virtue” at other people …”

Surely that depends on whether they are first editions on the original, authentic vellum or not?

I must confess that I am curious to know what people define as “western civilization” for the purposes of this debate. I suspect that part of the *ahem* failure to communicate is caused by the different meanings that people attach to the term. Personally I blame the barbarians and Christianity (hendiadys! hendiadys!) for our modern falling away from the echt mos maiorum.

33

bianca steele 02.22.16 at 1:10 pm

ZM,

That was a great show! It was the one where the Mother Superior gave one of the nuns a talk about fingernails, right?

John,

Maybe a contest of parodies of that passage in AV?

34

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.16 at 1:18 pm

JH: “Let me try a fresh approach.”

Since this post isn’t engaging fruitlessly with some sort of argumentative detail, I’ll try again too: Dreher’s basic problem is that he sees his own imagined community but can’t imagine the other side as having its own community. The culture that he doesn’t like he imagines as atomized individuals, victims of modernity and what people on the left would call capitalism.

Where I live there was a utopian community called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. It was dedicated to an intensely moral modernism in which “the rights of all are equal without distinction of sex, color or condition, sect or religion.” It was formed in 1842.

And the concerns of that community are historically continuous with the concerns of the left now — something like Black Lives Matter has many of the same concerns. When I bring this up on this blog, posters here notably don’t get it, but this history is important, and the basic conflict is not really between individualist modernism and small-c conservative community. It’s between two different long-standing communities.

35

michaelnewsham 02.22.16 at 1:22 pm

“I was actually going to make that argument. Where’s the proof that David Bowie has not been singlehandedly more damaging to western civilization than SSM?”

Certainly more so than Caitlynn Jenner, about whom RD did a fair number of posts

Russell Arben Fox/panda: big fan of your stuff over there.

36

Russell Arben Fox 02.22.16 at 1:32 pm

Rich,

Where I live there was a utopian community called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. It was dedicated to an intensely moral modernism in which “the rights of all are equal without distinction of sex, color or condition, sect or religion.” It was formed in 1842. And the concerns of that community are historically continuous with the concerns of the left now –something like Black Lives Matter has many of the same concerns. When I bring this up on this blog, posters here notably don’t get it, but this history is important, and the basic conflict is not really between individualist modernism and small-c conservative community. It’s between two different long-standing communities.

In a way, this is a nice expression of one of the reasons why I find Rod’s writings valuable and his arguments important–because he’s addressing himself, whether he realizes it or not, to a conflict between moral and community visions. The fact he dresses his community up with a bunch of mostly unjustifiable civilizational jargon isn’t a condemnation of him, I think; after all, pretty much every intentional community or visionary of community ever has done the same (certainly Steve Jobs wasn’t slack in presenting his vision of individual technological empowerment in world-historical and universalist terms).

37

michaelnewsham 02.22.16 at 1:33 pm

JoB #30
“Well, the real insight is that the wagons are always tighter together. Today it’s SSM but 20 years ago it was very much just SS. “

Yeah. I don’t know how many times I’ve read RD saying “Of course we don’t want to throw people in jail just for having gay sex- you liberals and your paranoia- check out what we’re actually saying.”

Then again, that’s exactly what Scalia was saying in his dissent in “Lawrence, with the full support of the Catholic Church.

Same thing with contraception and divorce. They fight it as long as they can; then claim of course they don’t want it to be illegal.- they just want tolerance.

38

bianca steele 02.22.16 at 1:59 pm

“I had the arguments down pat in my head, but my heart refused to accept the consequences, until I had driven my life into a ditch.”

After some amount of time trying to read this kind of thing charitably, I’ve come to the conclusion it means something like this: “I could talk the talk about treating people kindly, but all the time I was treating them like sh*t; but now I realize what I was doing; and therefore I’m now going to talk the talk about my certainty that YOU are doing what I used to do. I slept with a a different person every night and never called the next day; you had a three-year live-in relationship; don’t you see you’re no better than never?” Up to them to persuade me, the reader, that’s not what they mean.

39

bianca steele 02.22.16 at 1:59 pm

than me. weird autocorrect

40

David 02.22.16 at 2:25 pm

As an amateur in this discussion, I’d always taken McIntyre’s central insight to be that, progressively from the later middle ages, moral debates which were once “at home in and intelligible in terms of a context of practical beliefs and supporting habits ….. have now lost that context” and so people are talking past each other. (From the Prologue to the Third Edition). This context (which was not only religious but also based on the classics) has lost favour almost totally today, except on the fringes of politics, but the lack of agreement about what should replace it has produced debates, or arguments, that as McIntyre says are “shrill and assertive”, reflecting different and incommensurable points of departure.
Of these the most successful, by far, has been personal social liberalism, which promotes a doctrine of radical **** you individualism which is easy to understand, and is very attractive, at least in the short term, because everybody wants to do exactly what they like, don’t they?
As it happens, I’m no fan of the “conservative” (in the US sense) values expressed in the article, but I think it has to be recognised that the success of this kind of radical individualism also represents a problem for all of us on the Left who don’t subscribe to its tenets, and who worry about society as a whole. Today, unlike fifty years ago, the question “is X or Y acceptable in terms of its overall effect on society?” is not regarded as valid if it conflicts with some adult person’s right to do what they want. This is why its much harder to make arguments for economic justice than it used to be, because the counter-narrative, of people doing exactly what they want to do in the name of economic “freedom” has become so deeply entrenched. It’s a shame that today issues of community and the wider implications of individual actions are identified with bible-bashing zealots, when they used to be central concern of the Left.

41

AcademicLurker 02.22.16 at 3:05 pm

Today, unlike fifty years ago, the question “is X or Y acceptable in terms of its overall effect on society?” is not regarded as valid if it conflicts with some adult person’s right to do what they want.

A bit of an exaggerate, yes? Look at the War on Drugs. “Is the use of (some kinds of) drugs acceptable in terms of its overall effect on society?” has indeed been regarded as valid and until recently it was uncontroversial that the answer “no” should be enforced through massive amounts of state sponsored violence. The idea that it wasn’t considered a legitimate question because it conflicts with “some adult person’s right to do what they want” doesn’t exactly match up with reality.

Likewise the ongoing debates and scandals regarding sexual assault on campuses. “Are the current social arrangements and sexual mores on college campuses acceptable in terms of the amount of sexual assault they permit?” is a question that’s being very actively debated by those very radical individual liberals who supposedly can’t ask such a question because it “conflicts with some adult person’s right to do what they want”.

42

AcademicLurker 02.22.16 at 3:06 pm

exaggerate = exaggeration.

43

JoB 02.22.16 at 3:10 pm

michaelnewsham@38

Isn’t that good news, that they’re continuously on the back foot in these discussions? It is frustrating how slow the progress is every time but at least progress is being made. These things are afaics good examples of synthetic a priori: things like SSM have to be – but just need time for their ‘truth’ to be discovered.

By the way there’s so much talk of modernism in this thread, it makes me wonder whether post-modernism got swept under the carpet.

44

bianca steele 02.22.16 at 3:20 pm

FWIW, after reading that passage from AV many times, I’ve concluded that the problem I have with it is that AM (like the Marxists he was then repudiating, and like C.S. thing RD quotes) interprets “can talk the talk but not walk the walk” as a historical condition and not an ever-present possibility. He might be right (whatever the analogy is meant to prove), but he proves too much. Of course, that’s not a conclusion that’s going to satisfy people who blog about big-ticket politics. But it’s mostly what allows them to do the kind of thing Rich talks about.

45

Ze K 02.22.16 at 3:29 pm

All this modernity/liberalism/rationalism/individualism stuff is good shit. It shouldn’t destroy the western civilization. The only problem is, it’s experiencing a bit of “dizziness from success”, feeling superior, trying to delegitimize everything else, branding all other worldviews as evil. It’s turning totalitarian. You want SSM? Sure, have it, why not. But leave another M for the conservatives, the one they like. What’s the big deal? Compromise, coexistence, respect, not domination.

46

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.16 at 3:29 pm

“By the way there’s so much talk of modernism in this thread, it makes me wonder whether post-modernism got swept under the carpet.”

Is there any real politics around post-modernism? I always got the impression that for all of the talk around it it came down to a basically apolitical stance, or at least that it was just as easily used by the right as the left and therefore didn’t imply any particular politics.

47

Anderson 02.22.16 at 3:31 pm

“Just look for the category “family” on any porn site.”

Oh, hell no.

48

jake the antisoshul soshulist 02.22.16 at 3:36 pm

I do not read Dreher except for the occaisional isolated quote. But he seems to be trying
to walk a tightrope of justifying “traditional values” with secularish arguments, rather than arguing that those “traditional values” are the laws of God. The latter being the typical argument of religious fundamentalists.
I find Dreher’s attempts doomed to failure, since it is basically trying to make non-authoritaran arguments for authoritarianism.

49

MPAVictoria 02.22.16 at 3:37 pm

Dreher’s comments about Syrian refugees removed any doubt about what his “Christianity” really is. Small minded bigotry that he wants to impose on the rest of us.

50

JoB 02.22.16 at 3:40 pm

@47: Google gave this: http://www.allaboutworldview.org/postmodern-politics.htm

It doesn’t seem a bad text but I probably you’re right. Anyway, conservatives used to bring their attack on post-modernism, not so much on modernism. As I said – I believe they like modernism for the benefits it brings them.

@48: I think you’re right. Define the next thing to fight for and they’ll put their energy on that so you can get the present thing over and done with. This is what happened with the law on euthanasia for the chronically ill in Belgium anyway (where, by now, we are more and more in a discussion about the right to die).

51

Niall McAuley 02.22.16 at 3:44 pm

You want SSM? Sure, have it, why not. But leave another M for the conservatives, the one they like.

My own Opposite Sex Marriage seems to have been completely unaffected by the legalization of SSM. What happened to the conservatives’ M?

52

Ze K 02.22.16 at 3:55 pm

Oh, I don’t know, have M and M’, one for all couples and one old-fashioned, retro-style. With two different colors of certificates. Maybe that would work.

53

Plume 02.22.16 at 3:56 pm

The “reasonable” and logical position on same sex marriage is this: If you don’t want to marry someone of your own sex, don’t. That others might want to is none of your business and doesn’t impact you in any way, shape or form. It’s not threat to your marriage. It’s no threat to the institution itself. It’s just an expansion of folks admitted to the (soon to be divorced) club.

It’s like being offended that a local ice-cream shop changed its offerings from just vanilla to adding dozens and dozens of new, even exotic flavors. If you love vanilla, and believe it’s the only flavor anyone should ever eat, don’t order those other flavors. But when some people come into the shop and order Gonzo Berry Chocolate Death Swirl Thai Coffee Lima Lemon Quake with mangolicious coconut flakes, because they can, you should just thank goddess that you’re the superior chap with unassailable taste and would never do such a thing. Grab your vanilla and run.

54

Plume 02.22.16 at 4:10 pm

Of course, the real problem is basing any public policy on religion — as in, bat-shit crazy superstitious nonsense, used for thousands of years to control people and drive them to do really terrible things to one another.

Steven Weinberg is, of course, correct:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

Am currently reading Stacy Schiff’s very interesting The Witches: Salem, 1692. It’s stunning to learn how truly fascistic those old Puritans were, and how they drove their own communities half insane with endless talk of the devil, endless talk of hell and damnation, which led half a dozen very young girls to begin wave after wave of accusations of witchcraft . . . and this spread to dozens more accusers and accused, with mothers turning in their daughters, daughters turning in their brothers, brothers and daughters and mothers and fathers and grandmothers turning each other and their neighbors in to the Salem Inquisition. I’m about 285 pages into it, so do not know the full story, but they’ve hung several men and women already, have dozens and dozens of the accused locked up in deadly jails, including little girls they’ve chained up and barely freeze, as they suffer through deep freezes and high heat. Confess! Confess!! or you will be hanged!! And when they do confess, they are.

Organized religion throughout history has created mass hysteria which runs the gamut from mass murder to RFRA. No sane society would allow one single law or public policy to come from it, and especially not from individual interpretations of this or that faction.

That said, I likes MacIntyre’s book when I read it in the 80s.

55

Glen Tomkins 02.22.16 at 4:10 pm

@19,

Find a better example of the supposed evil consequences of loose living.

It is reasonably clear that STDs spread best, get their highest attack rates in a society, when that society represses sexuality. We get results such as Victorian England saw, with a small prostitute class set aside to fulfill needs denied elsewhere becoming a rich culture medium for STDs, which were then spread far and wide because many men would have at least infrequent sexual contact with this high prevalence group. Just so, in the US, but not so much elsewhere, there was such a huge prejudice against gays, that anonymous sex was the only sort of sex that many could risk. So we had bathhouses filling the same role as Victorian houses of prostitution, and HIV was spread even to many gay men who only had such anonymous sex rarely in such places, and then by them to gay men who never had anonymous sex. In countries that did not have our peculiar moral compass, we didn’t see HIV become gay predominant.

So, sure, there are moral consequences here. Throw nature out the door and it comes back in through the window. When society chooses to listen to ignorant moralists, it always ends badly.

56

Adam Hammond 02.22.16 at 4:16 pm

” Such are the trials and tribulations of those who confuse narcissistic self-pity with the quest for the divine.”

I just have to express my thorough enjoyment of that sentence! Thanks.

57

casmilus 02.22.16 at 4:17 pm

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

As long as inanity like that is offered as the “enlightened” attitude, then it will always seem attractive for various persons to revere hollow idols like C.S.Lewis and the rest of the Dreher statuary, just as an act of intellectual defiance.

58

Glen Tomkins 02.22.16 at 4:17 pm

I can’t even begin to entertain the basic ideas here — that there might be such a thing as modernity that might be categorically different from the rest of human experience, and that the definitive difference might be individualism — if only as fun counterfactuals to play with. Some ideas are too incoherent to even play with.

59

Niall McAuley 02.22.16 at 4:18 pm

Ze K: I would be OK with a new marriage certificate titled Officially Not Gay Marriage Certificate in a manly blue colour (available on request for conservatives), as long as I can get an official Star Wars themed marriage certificate with a picture of me and my wife being given medals by Chewie in front of that crowd from Triumph of the Will.

60

casmilus 02.22.16 at 4:20 pm

“That said, I likes MacIntyre’s book when I read it in the 80s.”

Dreher’s use and misuse of AV, and how he smooths down the difficulties and cuts out the hesitations, is a fine example of a serious book being simplified for polemical purposes. Does anyone know if AM himself is aware of what is being done in his name?

61

Plume 02.22.16 at 4:23 pm

casmilus,

To each their own. I think it says, in a very short space, what is in fact the truth. And I’ve done the legwork, the research, the study, the personal observation and reflection to earn that view. To have earned recourse to said quip.

62

Plume 02.22.16 at 4:30 pm

Casmilis @60,

As mentioned, I read and really liked AV back in the 1980s, but can’t remember really what it was about. Need to reread it. It’s been roughly 30 years. But I’m guessing you’re right about Dreher’s misuse.

63

bianca steele 02.22.16 at 4:38 pm

What I like about MacIntyre’s books is that, by and large, he doesn’t punch down. This means that he moves ever farther to the right, which I like less, but is at least clarifying. The vestiges of Marxism and Calvinism disappear from the writing. He disposes of Nietzsche and Foucault and Deleuze, after having exposed their differences from Thomism and modernism, and moves on. Apparently, he can’t or won’t put up a defense of those.

But Dreher’s shtick is to be in there with the sinners. His only move, once he’s done lamenting the stuff he misses about the past, is to share with them the latest thing he’s realized about why they’re all wrong. Inevitably, he’s going to miss some things he’s wrong about. But his only move is really, all y’all are horrible people.

64

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.16 at 5:03 pm

The individualist defense of SSM misses the point about opposing communities just as much as Rod Dreher does. Clearly it doesn’t hurt any existing individual traditional marriage if SSM exists. But most supporters of SSM didn’t actually want to be in a same sex marriage. They wanted to live in a society in which same sex marriage was available to people, because they wanted to live in a society that held to certain ideas of fairness.

In that sense, no, there can’t be “tolerance”, and no, conservatives can’t have their own kind of marriage. We all live in one society and it either holds more or less to our principles or theirs. People can choose whether they get married or not but society as a whole only gets to make one choice about the range of choices available to individuals.

Note that the talk of utopian communities upthread may make people think of isolationism and localism. This isn’t always true. The particular community that I used as an example wasn’t just trying out communal living, it was also a center of national political action and had every expectation of exporting its values (e.g. helping to end slavery).

65

Donald Johnson 02.22.16 at 5:44 pm

This Weinberg quote cited by Plume is amazingly stupid–

“With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

It’s the no true Scotsman thing–I could easily point to well-intentioned “good” secular people supporting humanitarian interventions or misguided exercises in social engineering that go a teensy bit awry or torture in ticking time bomb cases or I could just ask if every single supporter of Marxism is evil, given how Marxist governments turned out, but would hear a ton of reasons why those people weren’t good or were in fact “religious” in some sense. In other words, no true Scotsman stuff.

On Dreher, some of his posts are very good–I was going to link to one someone linked to in the other thread, about why so many people are supporting Trump because the economic policies of the Republicans and neoliberal Democrats have destroyed their lives. He’s worth reading, even if some posts make you want to scream.

66

Donald Johnson 02.22.16 at 5:48 pm

Shorter me–ideology can make good people do evil things. It doesn’t have to be a belief in the supernatural.

67

Plume 02.22.16 at 5:55 pm

rich @64,

“But most supporters of SSM didn’t actually want to be in a same sex marriage. They wanted to live in a society in which same sex marriage was available to people, because they wanted to live in a society that held to certain ideas of fairness.”

I’m a hetero individual, and I don’t want to be in a same sex marriage. But it’s not just about “certain ideas of fairness” — though that is a big part of it. For me much of it boils down to protecting all citizens and society as a whole from theocracy, which I view as extremely anti-democratic and obscenely oppressive. One of the best framework for fighting this is is secularism, which we have in America, though it’s been eroded by endless pressure from the religiously wrong. It is also the case, in my view, that civic law should be 100% immune from those pressures, that they have zero place in any adjudication between competing interests, and holders of religious beliefs should never be accorded special privileges not given to non-believers.

(That brings in another set of ideas of fairness, of course.)

It goes without saying that the state should not have the power to police thought, belief, feelings and the like. But once a person chooses to redirect and translate their thoughts, beliefs and feelings into actions others may not welcome, then the state has a right to step in. People can believe what ever they want. But they can’t act on these beliefs, if the old “swing my fist in any direction until it hits someone’s nose” kicks in.

When a person lets the crazed views of Iron Age nomads rule their thinking — and all too often cherry picks what is convenient to believe or dismiss — society should “tolerate” this, as long as it remains in their own heads. But if they choose to impose their superstitions on others, then society must say no.

In short, yes, it’s about wanting a society where gay people are treated equally under the law, and not as second or third or fourth class citizens. But it is also ab0ut the larger framework for a society that welcomes a pluralism of thought, belief and feeling, under the rubric of democracy, but won’t allow any one faction to drown out the rest via recourse to texts written 2500 – 2000 years ago.

68

Plume 02.22.16 at 6:08 pm

Don @65,

It’s about as far from the true Scotsman analogy as you can get. It has nothing to do with any kind of purity test or the like. It’s saying what is self-evident and blatantly obvious about having “faith” in the unseen and worse. The obvious dangers involved in this, and the snake would have bit you history.

Having faith in the unseen as “told to.” Having faith in the existence of all of those “as told to” people we have never been able to prove existed at all. Having faith in the interpretations about the as told to people who we can’t prove existed, and the total lack of questioning any of this from the get go.

And to make it even worse . . . . the passionate belief in the faith of those interpretations of the as told to and on and on and on.

Nothing comes close to this. No ideology has this trail of centuries and centuries of the non-existent to follow, or this massive accumulation of myth and legend to deal with. No ideology comes remotely close to dynamics of religious belief, because they all at least start somewhere, with actual human beings we know existed, and we have their own words in front of us, and we can study these words, etc. etc. and their entire output is not myth and legend, allegory and poetry, but, instead, at least shoots for some semblance of non-fiction.

69

Stephen Frug 02.22.16 at 6:13 pm

“What kind of porn is on the DVD?”

Rod Driveher, After Virtue IV: SSM Corruption.

70

Jonathan Mayhew 02.22.16 at 6:20 pm

Dreher makes the argument that marriage is a wonderful thing and that there is no credible argument against same-sex marriage any longer, except in an alternate universe.

71

Trader Joe 02.22.16 at 6:30 pm

@67 Plume
Your rant against religion betrays your own stated views and makes you no better.

If I choose to embrace a religion and believe it helps me understand my place in the world, helps me define my own humanity and helps me see the good in all persons, who are you to say that’s wrong? I am not evangalizing. I’m not asking you to convert. I respect your view. Perhasps considering having respect for those who are religious and also able to use their religion as a cornerstone for their moral views.

When you cherry pick certain among the religious who do as you describe (and I fully agree that there are those that do), you betray your own bias and unwillingness to see that there are many, many, many who embrace a religion and are none of those things you say. I support SSM (and many other things) despite what my religion might preach but support of either doesn’t negate both. People can be more than the sum of their parts.

Have a think about that the next time you choose to group all ‘regligious’ the same way some religious would group all ‘gays.’

72

Plume 02.22.16 at 6:41 pm

Trader Joe @71,

I did not group all religious people together, and made the important distinction between beliefs and actions. I made the further distinction between those who believe in myths and legends and those who don’t.

I was raised in a Christian household which did not accept the supernatural aspects of Christianity, but did do its best to follow the humanitarian teachings — which could be called a “secular philosophy” in a sense.

Also, I have practiced Zen Buddhism, from that same secular perspective, and found no need to believe in certain myths and legends in a literal sense, but chose to draw lessons from them when it comes to how to live in this world.

To me the key is the literal acceptance of these myths and legends, or understanding them in a poetic sense. In short, I see a major difference between fundamentalists, literalists and other ways of integrating religion in one’s life.

I don’t know you beyond reading a few of your posts here, but I’m guessing you do not fall into the literalists camp.

If so, I wasn’t talking about you at all.

73

David 02.22.16 at 6:47 pm

I don’t think fairness has anything to do with it, actually. Gay people always had the same right to marry as anyone else, just not each other. Fairness originally meant making homosexual practice legal, and ensuring that its practitioners were not discriminated against. What the SSM lobby wanted was extra rights, that others did not have, and to change their de facto status (which most people were perfectly fine with) into a de jure status enforceable by law. In this sense, they resembled any well-funded special interest group that wants to change the law.
The real issue, though, is how this debate was framed, essentially as one about rights. The question “is it good for society as a whole?” was not raised, and as I recall, even to refer to it was regarded as unacceptable. A society which consistently refuses even to pose the question of what is good for society as a whole is likely to get into trouble eventually, on some subject or other. As others have said, in practice there are subjects where the effect on others is taken into account (drugs, pedophilia) which demonstrate the hypocrisy of the individualist approach to some extent. But even then, the debate is often framed as being about attacks on the rights of others, as is usually the case with objections to the legalization of pedophilia. We are, in other words, a long way from the virtuous society of Macintyre (and Aristotle).
And we can argue forever about whether religion is secularism is the worst offender, but that’s irrelevant. If I’m a convinced Christian who believes that Jesus told me that it is unacceptable to take human life under any circumstances, and if I refuse to serve in the military and try to dissuade others from doing so, then stories about the evil-doing of Renaissance Popes are not going to change my mind, because I know that what I think is right, and that’s it.

74

AcademicLurker 02.22.16 at 6:51 pm

David@73:

Where is this “society which consistently refuses even to pose the question of what is good for society as a whole”? I haven’t seen it. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

75

Plume 02.22.16 at 7:00 pm

David @73,

You’re kidding, right? You took this from the Onion?

No. If gay people can’t marry someone of their own sex, then they don’t have the same rights as heteros. Obviously.

As for “what’s best for society as a whole.” I’m fine with asking that question. Go for it. There is no logical argument against same sex marriage on those grounds, in reference to the “greater good.”

As for bringing in what Jesus told you: He never says anything at all about same sex marriage, abortion or contraception. But right-wing Christians have claimed they are opposing these things on religious grounds. Now, Jesus did say divorce was wrong and equivalent to adultery, and his god said adulterers should die. This along with ordering the death penalty for:

Getting tattoos
Wearing mixed fabrics
Eating shellfish
Planting more than one crop in the same field
Talking back to parents
Being an unruly child
Working on Saturdays
Failing to scream out loudly enough if raped in the city
And if you’re not a virgin bride on your wedding night

Death penalty, from the god of the bible.

Given this, why on earth would any sane society allow religious exemptions for “belief”? It sets up the perfect slippery slope, with hundreds of death penalties and abominations to work with just in Deuteronomy and Leviticus alone.

76

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.16 at 7:13 pm

David: “Fairness originally meant making homosexual practice legal, and ensuring that its practitioners were not discriminated against. What the SSM lobby wanted was extra rights, that others did not have […]”

Well, there you have it. Not fairness at all: extra rights that others don’t have.

There’s no way to have a serious conversation or argument with someone who believes that the right to marry is an extra right that other people don’t have and that fairness has nothing to do with it. Since SSM is now accepted in the U.S, I don’t have to pretend to have that argument.

77

Kalkaino 02.22.16 at 7:36 pm

I’m with Plume here. People will be people, some good and some bad, according to their innate temperaments and the hand they get dealt. But it does seem that religion really turbocharges and, above all, aggregates the universal, latent tendency towards atrocity. People don’t really go off on crusades unless they’ve been sold, off the rack, as it were, “a whole-souled sentimental apparatus.” Donald Johnson wants to say that it’s not religion it’s “ideology,” but how closely the truly pernicious secular ideologies (Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, Ayn Randism etc) have resembled religions: they have their prophets (or demigods) their “Bibles,” their litanies, hymnals, costumes, rituals, and above all their demonology. Your extraterrestrial anthropologist would certainly classify all of them as religions — cults if you prefer — and laugh at any attempts to debunk this sensible taxonomy.

As Kierkegaard argued in various ways , when you try broadcast the inwardness that constitutes religious impulse, you invariably pervert it, or perhaps invert it – turn it to the banalizing evil it is supposed to displace. It is to this phenomenon that Erasmus refers in his little koan from the Adagia, “Speak of the devil and he shall appear.”

78

Ze K 02.22.16 at 7:48 pm

But then anti-religious true believers (so-called “New Atheists”) are hardly an exception. Same shit.

79

Merkwürdigliebe 02.22.16 at 7:55 pm

I would suggest the common thread uniting the worst sources of human impulses, whether explicitly religious or secular, is dogmatism and an (outwardly) unshakable conviction of one’s righteousness.

Once an unassailable truth has been revealed and the one and only path set forth, all is permitted in its name.

80

Plume 02.22.16 at 7:57 pm

Kalkaino,

The other key aspect — and I think this applies to the three monotheisms of the Levant more so than any other organized religion — is the belief in the ultimate authority/power in the universe, who is perfect and infallible and should never be questioned. It seems pretty self-evident how dangerous this is.

Found this in Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: An experiment conducted in Israel by a George Tamarin, who was later fired for it. He used a group of 8-14 year-olds and formed two groups. He told one group the story of the genocide of Jericho, as written in the bible. He told the second group the same exact story, but substituted a General Lin for Joshua, and set the whole thing in China 3000 years ago. He asked the children if they approved or disapproved, and to what degree.

In the first group, 66% of the Israeli kids voiced total approval, 8% partial approval and 26% total disapproval. They were also asked to elaborate from there.

The second group, the one told about the genocide as if it were Chinese history, more than reversed this. Just 7% approval and 75% disapproval. Same exact story, with different names and setting.

81

John Atkins 02.22.16 at 8:02 pm

@Merkwurdigliebe

My name is Ted Cruz and I approve this message.

82

Gareth Wilson 02.22.16 at 8:07 pm

Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” is a strange source to quote, I know. But it does have a scene where the lead furiously asks someone how anyone’s marriage is affected by the gay couple two doors down getting married, and if it is, how is that their problem? Those last five words are very revealing: pure, uncut, individualism, explicitly rejecting any consideration of the consequences to society.

83

Merkwürdigliebe 02.22.16 at 8:14 pm

@80

Well… this is to a large degree a matter of semantics,* actually, and a trap into which the Western monotheisms unfortunately fall because they popularly perceive God as a personified wizard idol, despite their own core commandment not to do so.

If you rephrase it as the “ultimate authority/power of the universe” (which is what I’m convinced it’s really originally getting at), then you can’t really argue with that on any level. You can’t very well rebel against the universe; you simply have to accept what it throws your way.

* One rather convincing explanation of this phenomenon goes to the subject-verb relation of the Semitic languages – in which (just like in English) every verb must have an express subject. Which creates an unwarranted assumption that there is an actor behind every action. So things can’t just happen, God had to do them.

84

Plume 02.22.16 at 8:40 pm

@82,

That distinction is huge. The difference between immanence and a transcendent ultimate power. Spinoza versus a modern day creationist, in a sense.

Of course, being commanded by a supposed supreme being to worship it, and commit genocide for it if others don’t, should have been a major tip off. That being couldn’t possibly be perfect or infallible or even transcendent, and demand those things. Only humans could. This is why certain Gnostic factions seemed to have the better vision of things, seeing Yahweh as a demiurge of sorts, with a still higher power above him. Something like Ekhart’s god beyond god.

Philip Pullman plays with this idea a bit in his YA series, His Dark Materials.

85

oldster 02.22.16 at 9:03 pm

I side with Donald Johnson:

“ideology can make good people do evil things. It doesn’t have to be a belief in the supernatural”

as against Plume’s quote of Weinberg:
“for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

The salient examples in the 20th century make the point clearly enough, and the fact that they took on some *trappings* of religion is a red herring, or at best an argument for another day.

But what I’d like to know, and I ask from a position of genuine historical ignorance, is the following:
have their been evil, non-religious ideologies that lasted more than 50-100 years?

Hitlerism burned itself out in under 30 years. Leninism had a longer lease on life, but the ideology was deader than a doornail decades before the wall came down.

Have there been long-lasting, multi-generational, non-religious evil ideologies?

If not, then we might be able to say that religion, while not uniquely productive of evil, is uniquely productive of sustained, multi-generational, tradition-founding evil. And that would be kind of interesting around the margins.

86

SamChevre 02.22.16 at 9:10 pm

oldster,
I would say strong-form racism (formal, de jure differences in legal status of races) is an evil ideology that lasted from the 1500’s until the present.

87

nick s 02.22.16 at 9:12 pm

Is Dreher still just an Orthodox convert or has he ascended his stone pillar yet?

88

Kalkaino 02.22.16 at 9:13 pm

Plume,

I think that the monotheisms do present an especially sticky case. When all moral authority is vested in a single, moody, arbitrary, capricious, decidedly-male and yet also infallible (though unconsultable) entity, complications will invariably ensue. Historically speaking, this entity seems mostly useful as a skyhook: the reason why I don’t have to apply things like fairness, proportionality, justice to people whom I wish to exploit or torment. God just wants it that way (in my interpretation), and who are we to question?

This said, I can get behind a religious thinker like Hillel: “That which you hate, don’t do to others — all the rest is commentary.” Problem is, that’s a mighty short text for a sermon. Hard to make a living out of just that. Witch-hunting commentary, on the other hand, that’s always a growth industry, as long as you can shift with the fashion in witches.

89

Merkwürdigliebe 02.22.16 at 9:16 pm

Various local flavors of national chauvinism have had a fairly long and terrible life, especially in east Asia. We could argue whether to count those as proper ideologies though. But while they are usually quite shallow and rarely go beyond the formula of tribalism + tradition, they are still transmittable ideas affecting human behavior… Memetic prions as opposed to the viruses of ideology, perhaps.

90

oldster 02.22.16 at 9:17 pm

SamChevre–

Huh. Nice. I think you’re right about that.

91

Donald Johnson 02.22.16 at 9:17 pm

“Donald Johnson wants to say that it’s not religion it’s “ideology,” but how closely the truly pernicious secular ideologies (Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, Ayn Randism etc) have resembled religions: they have their prophets (or demigods) their “Bibles,” their litanies, hymnals, costumes, rituals, and above all their demonology. Your extraterrestrial anthropologist would certainly classify all of them as religions — cults if you prefer — and laugh at any attempts to debunk this sensible taxonomy.

Exactly the move I predicted. How about liberal humanitarianism or Western colonialism and not just the religiously driven kind, but the economic ideology that led the British to starve millions of idiots (“Late Victorian Holocausts” is my source there).

But sure, if every ideology is going to be identified as “religious”, then religion is what is needed to make good people do evil things. So the next time an Obama fan defends drone strikes (I have a particular person at another blog in mind), I can say it is religious fanaticism at work. And in a way, yeah. But then everything is religious.

Merk upthread said it best–it’s dogmatism that causes mass slaughter. I like your posts, Plume, and you might think that your brand of Chomskyan anarchism could never be used to justify mass slaughter, but give it a chance–it probably could. I expect fanatical Esperantists could probably justify a linguistic-based genocide, given the opportunity. (Joking–I don’t know any Esperantists. Well, one, but he’s a Methodist, so if he kills someone it’s Wesley’s fault.)

92

Donald Johnson 02.22.16 at 9:18 pm

“Starve millions of idiots”

Good God. I think that was a spell check algorithm at work, or maybe some weird mental glitch on my part. Profuse apologies.

93

Francis 02.22.16 at 9:45 pm

Marriage is a millennial-old institution, that in the last 100 years or so has seen the following changes, some which Dreher approves of:

— the end of couverture laws,
— the end of formal bars against women working in various professions,
— the right of women to have a separate legal existence, even during marriage,
— the right of women to vote,
— the right of married couples to use contraception,
— the right of elderly, infertile and incarcerated to marry,
— no-fault divorce,
— the existence of the Pill,
— the rise of feminism,
— the end of marital rape exceptions,
— the widespread availability, even to single women, of various forms of IVF,
— adoption being allowed to single individuals.

So, no, marriage is no longer about raising kids. It can be about that, but it can be much more (or less, depending on the individuals involved).

Yet after all that, what really sticks in Dreher’s craw is SSM? I get it, at least a little. All the other changes could be ignored. You can simply choose not to see that the nice family in the next pew has only 2 kids, 1 kid, zero kids. But if it’s two guys holding hands, well you can’t not see that!

94

JoB 02.22.16 at 9:59 pm

David @ 73: ‘Gay people always had the same right to marry as anyone else, just not each other.’

Just contemplate the beauty of this inverse categorical imperative:

– Romeo and Julia always had the same right to marry as anyone else, just not each other
– The coloured woman and the white man always had the same right to sit on the bus, just not next to each other.
– The immigrant always had the same right to social security, just not the same one as us.

Maybe it was after all meant as irony. Still it’s conservatism in its one-liner essence.

95

Kalkaino 02.22.16 at 10:07 pm

Donald Johnson,

Oh drat I fell into your wily semantic trap!

Maybe. Every system of belief requires a leap of faith somewhere (even empiricism) so perhaps it’s pretty tricky to parse out the religious from the ideological and the cultic. Still the trappings and behaviors of some nominally secular confederations are a lot more like those of “religions” than are some others — and I suspect that these tend to promote harm more than less leader-obsessed, ritualistic groups. That’s an empirical question that could be resolved.

Offhand I can’t think of many atrocities perpetrated in the name of “liberal humanitarianism” — perhaps you’ll enlighten. But I don’t think you can divorce Western colonialism from Christianity, not with a hose and crowbar. This includes perhaps the “economic ideology” that starved the Indians (?) Irish (?). Many of those God-fearing gentlemen responsible saw their victims as heathens and thus their empathy failed to engage.

Besides, I agree with Plume: many people do evil quite independent of religion. I just happen to think that religion (especially Western religion) is an especially efficient aggregator of the evil tendencies common to us all.

96

Donald Johnson 02.22.16 at 10:14 pm

Don’t feel bad, kalkiano–few can escape my wily traps when I set them properly.

Most of America’s recent wars. justified or not, were in the name of truth and justice and goodness and so on. Probably all of them. Some liberals supported the Iraq invasion on those grounds, while others supported the overthrow of Qaddafi or “moderate” rebels in Syria. Some liberals (up to a point) supported our glorious efforts in Vietnam. I think there were liberals in France who supported France’s civilizing mission in Algeria. I think one could extend the list quite a bit.

I just bought Richard Seymour’s “The Liberal Defense of Murder”, which is, I think, a history of liberal support for this or that horrific atrocity conducted in the name of whatever the current liberal causes were. But I’ve only skimmed it. I actually bought it as a sort of pained reaction to the support for Clinton which is espoused by so many American liberals.

97

Lisa 02.22.16 at 10:15 pm

You don’t need to wholesale reverse modernism. You only need to revert back to traditional gender roles. We had those and we had modernism. For a long time, actually. Do you think it was inevitable modernism would change gender roles? That’s pretty idealist. Economics surely played a role. Once these started to erode, the norms upholding sexual choice also started to go. New norms exist, of course–but they are too voluntarist for this crowd.

What the fundamentalists truly want in their heart of hearts is a reversion to traditional gender roles and strict social enforcement thereof. A certain religious interpretation looks like a good vehicle for that. But there are non-religious methods to getting it. And you see a similar rejection of same sex sexual relationships among animists, Hindus and traditionalist Buddhists. And plenty of ardent Jews and Christians are cool with SSM. But if you are cool with it, you are cool with a lot of other things that for others are the erosion of the social fabric itself.

You might need modernism as fuel for the fire but the tinder involves many other social shifts.

That’s why everything goes to hell once SSM is normalized. Everything is hanging by the thread of traditional gender roles and SSM snips the thread.

98

Mike Furlan 02.22.16 at 10:34 pm

Sorry, but a lot of this looks like a matter of professional courtesy giving Ron Dreher a break for ideas that would invite scorn here if broadcast from a rusty pickup flying a tattered reb battle flag.

Daniel Larison is another example of someone “in the club” who gets a free pass. There are certainly thousands of others.

99

David 02.22.16 at 10:38 pm

@Job and others. Oh dear. My point was that the arguments for SSM, although formally couched in terms of fairness and equality, were in fact about something else. This is not actually that hard to understand, and goes back to ways in which we search for some coherent philosophy to guide our thinking in the absence of one which is supernaturally imposed on us. Macintyre’s point (and I don’t have the book in front of me now) was that we no longer have a common starting point or set of concepts in which to discuss. Thus, two Catholics (I suppose) could discuss the question of SSM and disagree strongly, but would be doing so within a commonly agreed ethical framework. That would not be possible between (say) a catholic traditionalist and some of the readers of this blog. For non religious-traditionalists, which I suspect is most of us, we need another set of guiding principles than those revealed by some divine figure. The dominant (though not the only) principles of the moment are those based around concepts of equality and rights, both modern ideas. It’s natural that defenders of SSM would express themselves in those terms, just as in earlier ages they would have used different frameworks.
I presume Job @93 is being deliberately obtuse, since I obviously said the opposite of what he implies. Old fashioned left-wing thinking (maybe its a generational thing) was concerned with universal rights, so of course you had the same rights irrespective of your color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin etc. A lot of progressive social activity in the 60s and 70s was aimed precisely at establishing and defending those rights. But rights have now become a competitive, aggressive, market-based struggle between identity groups. You can argue for SSM as an equality issue if you like (personally it doesn’t bother me at all as an idea) but only by stretching the concept of equality to breaking point. The point however is not what you or I think, but that conversations on this kind of topic tend to become very rancorous very quickly (see the discussion about religion above for another example) because people simply don’t start from the same premises.

100

Merkwürdigliebe 02.22.16 at 10:39 pm

@96

I think the SSM issue is so problematic to christian social conservatives for a closely connected but a more direct reason – it fully and irrevocably legitimizes sex for pleasure.

Christians in general have a giant problem with human sexuality (and you don’t need to go further than three, four verses into the Sermon on the Mount to find the origin of this complex). With “traditional marriage” you can still pretend that society only approves of sexual relationships that have childbearing as their core purpose and make-believe that all the fornication only happens on the margins and kids these days and shades of moral gray* yadda yadda…

But gay couples can only have sex for fun, so if society explicitly formally approves of their union, the implicit approval of recreational sexuality inevitably comes with it. And I think that is the issue conservative Christians are deep down so uncomfortable with. Because this is truly irreconcilable with the overwhelming consensus on the meaning of the scripture and with all the associated psychological baggage compounded on this winless struggle over millennia.

*In no way referencing the allegedly terrible book. Although I kind of applaud it for culturally normalizing kink.

101

Trader Joe 02.22.16 at 10:39 pm

@72 Plume
I’m not sure I took from the comment @67 quite the qualifications (i.e. literalists only) that you assert in 72, but thats fine. In religion there is never a clear line that says “mythology starts here” and two pilgrims in perfectly good faith can draw the line at different points. Your point seems aimed most exclusively at those who choose to be intollerant regardless of their line drawing and on that I’d concur.

Where I think I differ, and in-line with the some of the subsequent commentors, is whether religion is a sufficiently unique impetus for intollerance. It most definitely is and has been, but there are are plenitude of other motivations available in different countries and in different eras.

Apropos of Dreher, he seems to be looking at the end of a parade and being disappointed that its different from the beginning of the parade without being able to appreciate that a parade wouldn’t be a parade if it was the same thing over and over.

102

Merkwürdigliebe 02.22.16 at 10:45 pm

@98

I think I see what you’re getting at, but the equality of the right is a matter of phrasing.

Are gays equally entitled to marriage as such? Yes, just like any other person, they can marry someone of the opposite sex.

Are gay equally entitled to marry the person they love, as hetero people are? No.

It’s just a matter of deciding which category to consider salient for the purpose of evaluating equality – the gender of the spouses or the relationship between them?

103

Alan White 02.22.16 at 11:42 pm

Certainly one big problem for religions in general is the distinction between certitude and certainty. Faith is a super(natural)glue that bonds them far too often, impregnable to rational distinction.

104

PatinIowa 02.23.16 at 12:19 am

On the subject of post-modernism and politics, it’s fairly obvious to me that some post-modernists were intensely political, even when they were doing theory, and others less so. Case in point, Foucault:

“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”
― Michel Foucault, The Chomsky – Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

and

“The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
― Michel Foucault

He was active in the anti-psychaitry movement and especially in opposing the oppressions of the prisons. As with many, during the seventies the amount of time he spent on the picket line diminished and the amount of time he spent writing increased.

But, to grant part of the point, he didn’t seem to be interested in formulating or pushing a coherent ideology, so…

105

Patrick 02.23.16 at 12:19 am

I find it vaguely obnoxious that “social justice” is being treated as equivalent to “radical personal autonomy.” It is no way. It is the wing of liberalism that rejects radical personal autonomy. This is rather explicit. On virtually every major issue on which social justice draws criticism from anyone other than actual conservatives, it does so because its norms and arguments are critical or and incompatible with radical personal autonomy.

106

PatinIowa 02.23.16 at 12:22 am

This is a genuine question for SamChevre or anyone who might know:

Would strong form racism have existed as long as it did (especially in the US) without some underlying religious warrant?

107

SamChevre 02.23.16 at 12:30 am

I’d expect (it’s not an area where I’m an expert) that any strong social ideology, in a society with a religious ideology, will become entangled with religious views.

I do not think that strong-form racism required a religious ideology; you see it in societies with widely differing religious forms. It’s widespread in the US, in Great Britain, in Spain, in China, in India…

108

Rich Puchalsky 02.23.16 at 12:31 am

David: “Macintyre’s point (and I don’t have the book in front of me now) was that we no longer have a common starting point or set of concepts in which to discuss. “

If anyone was wondering what right-wing postmodernism is, here’s an example. We “no longer have a common starting point or set of concepts” so there is no way in which anything can be said to be fair or not fair. You have your concept of fairness and my system of discourse has another one so yours is at best meaningless and at worst totalizing to me.

This B.S. got popular in the U.S. just around the same time that it became critical to convince everyone that science really could tell us that anthropogenic global warming was happening. The right wing got a lot more political mileage out of different people having their own incommensurable versions of truth than the left ever did.

109

Patrick 02.23.16 at 12:37 am

I guess I should also add- I find it more than vaguely annoying that people in comments (and even the OP!) keep acting like Dreher just suddenly started having a problem with modernity when it involved SSM. No, he didn’t. Even the linked article is really explicit about that. His objections to SSM are, explicitly, built on more foundational moral intuitions he holds about the proper way society should treat sexuality, and the importance of strong moral norms as a guiding force for human behavior.

I don’t agree with him on… uh, any of that. But I can at least read the words on my screen and remember them long enough to comment. Come on.

110

Anderson 02.23.16 at 12:45 am

I apologize for not having read the whole thread, but if Dreher has enunciated ONE actual detriment to himself arising from The Marriage of Adam & Steve, would some kind soul please point me to it?

Because I doubt there is one, which reinforces my impression of Dreher as a hateful, miserable little person.

If he would ever trouble himself to read the Bible he pretends to revere, he would come upon verses suggesting that the Christian *should* find himself (it’s “himself” before the NRSV) at odds with The World.

But that isn’t good enough for Dreher. I suspect that, truly, he already has his reward.

111

Plume 02.23.16 at 1:11 am

Donald,

Merk upthread said it best–it’s dogmatism that causes mass slaughter. I like your posts, Plume, and you might think that your brand of Chomskyan anarchism could never be used to justify mass slaughter, but give it a chance–it probably could. I expect fanatical Esperantists could probably justify a linguistic-based genocide, given the opportunity. (Joking–I don’t know any Esperantists. Well, one, but he’s a Methodist, so if he kills someone it’s Wesley’s fault.)

Thanks for that. In general, with exceptions, I try not to say never, though I fail more than I want to. So, no, it’s actually not my belief that libertarian socialism could never, ever be used to justify mass slaughter . . . . but I think it would take an enormous pretzelization/distortion/perversion of things to do so, whereas other isms have texts which just flat out revel in slaughter. The three monotheisms of the Levant, for example, have sacred texts which feature genocide, ordered by their god, repeatedly. And the Christian End Goal — if one takes it literally — is the mother of all genocides. Everyone on earth dies if they don’t accept the Christian god. And it doesn’t even stop there. These poor souls are condemned to eternal torment in the Christian hell, which is itself a sign of sociopathic imagination.

As far as I know, Chomsky and the leftist intellectual history he draws from and agrees with . . . just doesn’t have this ingredient.

So, yes, any vision of “how things should be” can be bastardized, perverted, hijacked, made grotesque. Any vision can be abused and misused. But some visions present us with all the key ingredients up front, explicitly, and we don’t have to dig deep for the underlying id or subtext or read between the lines. It’s just there. In plain sight. Throw in that ultimate, never-to-be questioned cosmic authority and it’s a very dangerous mix . . . . which takes us back to Chomsky and left-anarchism in general, by way of great contrast. One of its main pillars is:

Always question authority. Always question assumptions. Make them justify their authority, non-violently, democratically. Treat it as a temporary loan from us, from we the people, not a permanent sinecure, etc.

No gods, no masters.

112

Ze K 02.23.16 at 1:13 am

Rich Puchalsky: “If anyone was wondering what right-wing postmodernism is, here’s an example.”

It’s ironic that between Rich Puchalsky and David, it’s Rich Puchalsky who is right-wing here, being super-enthusiastic about reforming some meaningless quasi-religious government-sanctioned ritual so that a few more bourgeois professionals could get their fair-share of pathetic middlebrow satisfaction.

Which kinda confirms the point of the absence of a common set of concepts…

113

Anderson 02.23.16 at 1:24 am

“some meaningless quasi-religious government-sanctioned ritual”

Easily the most despicable thing I have read this month. And I’m on Twitter.

114

Plume 02.23.16 at 1:27 am

Anderson @111,

The things is, the bible does have injunctions against same sex relations. But it also, as mentioned upthread (76), depicts a god who tells his chosen people to kill in his name for truly insane reasons. Which should call into question all of his injunctions. All of them. If some authority figure is crazed enough to demand the death penalty for unruly children, divorcees, people who get tattoos, women who are raped but fail to scream out loudly enough, and brides who aren’t virgins on their wedding night . . . . among dozens of other truly despicable and insane “thou shalt nots” . . . . this is clearly not someone we should ever follow. And that’s not even counting his multiple genocides and his ultimate End of Days finale.

The beauty of Christianity, Judaism and Islam — when it appears — stems primarily from human beings struggling to find truth, justice and beauty in the face of extreme sadism, injustice and ugliness . . . . all too often created by their god himself. I find it, in many ways, a (a very hopeful) testament to the potential greatness of the human spirit that we work so hard to find those roses in deep dark swamps . . . . and that we keep doing this, decade after decade, century after century.

115

Anderson 02.23.16 at 1:31 am

115: largely agreed. Those religions, in their brighter moments, are triumphs of interpretation over texts.

Doesn’t stop Dreher from being a loathsome hypocrite, though. Contrary to the spirit you describe, he misinterprets his book in support of *increased* hatred.

116

Plume 02.23.16 at 1:33 am

Anderson, that’s a very good way to put it:

“Those religions, in their brighter moments, are triumphs of interpretation over texts.”

117

Peter T 02.23.16 at 1:35 am

Minor note:

“We get results such as Victorian England saw, with a small prostitute class set aside to fulfill needs denied elsewhere”

Actually, a large prostitute class. It was a common way of earning a little extra (or averting destitution) among housemaids, working women, newcomers to the city and many others. At least 10 per cent of the female population of London and Paris are thought to have resorted to prostitution. And not so much a class, either. As with their modern counterparts, most went on to lead perfectly ordinary lives.

118

Lisa 02.23.16 at 3:57 am

@Merkwürdigliebe Maybe. I thought it could explain why they think everything will totally fall apart same sex couples can marry–and therefore have socially sanctioned relationships. The family in their minds is patriarchal in structure–and there needs some kind of rigid boundary over who does what and who is what–particularly for social authority to be apparent. I know of no modern authoritarian who did not persecute same sex relationships and valorize traditional gender roles in some way or other. It’s such a recurrent motif of social disorder for there to be any mixups. Think ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ where the dad wears an apron and brings James Dean’s mom dinner on a tray and therefore James Dean is ruined forever.

But if it is about sex itself and sex for pleasure I guess the undermining comes from the fact that everyone will be able to screw everyone and then no one will be afraid to leave their wife for the boy next door. The reason I didn’t think it was this is that why get all bent out of shape over marriage as a result? Marriage keeps the lid on sex.

119

parse 02.23.16 at 3:59 am

Plume, do you agree with Holbo when he says “There are obvious arguments to the conclusion that SSM will strengthen marriage as an institution.”

If you find those arguments convincing, and you don’t want to strengthen marriage as an institution, then you could be opposed to same sex marriage. That’s the source of my own continued opposition to it. (To be clear: I’m opposed to it as an institution, not as a legal right. In a perfect world, neither gay nor straight marriages would have state recognition with attendant legal privileges.)

120

Plume 02.23.16 at 4:40 am

Parse,

I couldn’t care less about the institution of marriage, and the talk about “traditional marriage” is nonsense. What was “traditional” in most of the world for thousands of years was men being able to marry several women and treat them as virtual slaves. Those women, who were often just girls, had little to no say in the matter up until the 20th century, and in some parts of the world, they still don’t. In America, we still had legal marital rape on the books in dozens of states until 1981. Not to mention the way children have been abused within the context of marriage and the nuclear family.

My thing is that it’s flat out wrong to treat gay people as second, third or fourth class citizens and to deny them equal protection under the law. And I detest the “faith-based” aspect of the argument, and am against it being allowed one iota of impact on civic law. I think it’s wrong that religion can be used in a secular society to privilege believers above non-believers, and to enable their imposition of their views on others. The easy answer for one’s religious beliefs being against it, don’t. Just don’t marry someone of the same sex, if your beliefs proscribe this. But you damn sure need to provide public accommodations and issue marriage certs regardless of your beliefs. We don’t live in a theocracy, thank goddess.

I see it as a stretch to say you don’t want to strengthen the institution, therefore you are against same sex marriage. If your aim is to weaken it, then you would have to apply the same opposition to hetero marriages as well. As in, y0u’d just be against anyone getting married, and you wouldn’t differentiate between same sex or hetero.

Is that your stance?

121

John Quiggin 02.23.16 at 6:47 am

My wife and I just rewatched Brides of Christ. I can endorse ZM’s enthusiasm at 17 above.

122

Niall McAuley 02.23.16 at 7:22 am

The talk of “erosion of society” is an example of the fake debate I spoke of earlier. Dreher and the conservatives claim that they don’t want SSM because erosion of society, but it’s a fake-out. You could spend a hundred years producing figures showing no erosion, and they wouldn’t care – they would still oppose SSM.

Their real reason is because literal Paul/Leviticus, but they can’t admit that, because that reason means nothing to anyone who does not accept Paul/Leviticus as authorities.

123

Gareth Wilson 02.23.16 at 8:03 am

Marriage between cousins really does erode society, and you’d be able to make exactly the same individual freedom arguments for it as you can for SSM. We’re just lucky there’s such a cultural stigma against it in the West.

124

michaelnewsham 02.23.16 at 9:10 am

Though I’m banned over there, one of the reasons I still like to visit is things like this, where, after page on page of telling people they need to re-adopt the old disciplines and rituals of the Church (of whichever variety he’s currently following) and reject the spineless decadent indulgence of modern liberalism, he’ll come out with

Antwerp, Belgium. I’m in Flanders this weekend for a very long overdue visit to a good friend. For the occasion I’ve made a brief suspension of my no-meat Lenten discipline, in order to eat one of my favourite things: friet met stoofvlees, fries covered in Flemish beef stew (cooked in beer—of course!)

It’s like his fondness for the Stones- “Lord, give me the Ben-Op; but not just yet.

125

Stephen D. 02.23.16 at 11:12 am

@100

The point however is not what you or I think, but that conversations on this kind of topic tend to become very rancorous very quickly (see the discussion about religion above for another example) because people simply don’t start from the same premises.

Surely, by definition, this is true of all moral disagreement?

126

Salem 02.23.16 at 11:31 am

the truly pernicious secular ideologies (Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, Ayn Randism etc)

Oh Lord, don’t ever stop.

127

pensans 02.23.16 at 1:05 pm

How Obergefell Changed My Marriage:

The day before Obergefell, the legal elements of marriage in all U.S. states still included a consent to sexual relations. If I entered into marriage without an intent to engage in reasonable sexual relations, the marriage was void; furthermore, if one spouse defrauded the other about the intent to have children or a known disability to have children, then the marriage was voidable. On the day before Obergefell, if I appeared in court and admitted that I unreasonably withheld sexual relations from my spouse or had lied about my willingness to have children, that was a fault in my marital conduct and it was relevant, especially in the majority of states that preserved some role for fault in divorce proceedings. That was black-letter law. So, despite all the prior progressive-feminist modifications of marriage (e.g., making marriage covenants less binding than commercial contracts through no-fault divorce), which Kennedy ridiculously claimed in Obergefell had made marriage stronger, the pre-Obergefell legal institution of marriage still reflected what had always been affirmed to be the essence of the marriage, though it had stripped by progressives of what traditionally had been considered the most appropriate consequences of such a consent. Still, the changes were all with respect to what had been considered natural consequences of marriage, not its essence, going all the way back as far as history is recorded.

In order to extend “marriage” to persons of the same sex, Kennedy had a choice: he could either classify homosexual “intercourse” as sex or he could deny that sex was of the essence of marriage. He chose the latter course. In doing so, he altered the legal essence of every marriage and separated U.S. “marriages” from the every other institution historically recorded under that name. In other words, Obergefell was not a case that rested on an equation of homosexuality and heterosexuality. It was a case that held sex was not of the essence of marriage.

Now, given that marriage had already been stripped of most of its traditional consequences (e.g., it’s no longer strongly binding because of no-fault divorce, it lacks strong consequences for property and legal personality of the spouses, it doesn’t protect custodial rights of faultless parties over children after dissolution), it is certainly true to say that Obergefell didn’t have strong practical consequences for heterosexual marriage, in one sense. But Obergefell made a practical difference to social conservatives because the legal definition of marriage had until that point still honored the importance and uniqueness of entering into sexual relations under a covenant of mutual faith and commitment. We think that it is good for society and individuals and true (in the sense in which Cicero spoke about the possibility for a law to be true rather than just an exercise of power) to differentiate covenants pertaining to sex from other contracts. It is good to give them special honor and consideration, and a host of practical supports which the law had already stripped away.

So, my opposite-sex marriage was altered by Obergefell. It used to be a legal right reflecting and reinforcing my spouse and my own commitment to fidelity in consent to sexual relations. Now it isn’t. Does this harm me because it doesn’t affect my pocket book? Kennedy, actually, has repeatedly explained why physical, economic harms are not the only ones that the constitution protects. There are important social harms that come from refusing to recognize a status even if nothing practical turns on it. Recognition is itself a social good. Obergefell changed the legal recognition and dignity afforded to my relation with my wife. Previously, the legal institution recognized our mutual sexual consent, and now it refuses to do so. Our sexual consent is outside the ambit of marriage. After Obergefell, our marriage can be defined only with respect to a consent to be bound together in forms of association not including sex.

In this sense, Obergefell would have been less damaging if it had held that homosexuality and heterosexuality were the same; both led to sex. But it didn’t. It held that sex is not an essential aspect of marriage. I lost social recognition of my permanent consent to male-female sexual relations with my spouse, and homosexuals did not gain it. Neither homosexual or heterosexuals can enter into a socially recognized legal form around sexual consent. Sexual consent is no longer part of marriage.

128

Clay Shirky 02.23.16 at 1:29 pm

Late to this thread, but there is another meta-elegaic aspect to both Dreher’s complain and his readers: they seem to know (or at least sort-of get) that they cannot win an argument with people who do not share their premises, and that the hell of vigorous defenses of tradition is that they are self-eroding after a short time.

All those conservatives demanding that everyone think about how unthinkable gay marriage was ended up eroding the very thing they relied on, which was a vaguely Haidtian sense that homosexuality is somehow impure.

(The canon died the same way. The argument about who goes on the canon was never settled, but the canon itself was over when people not represented on it became strong enough, within the academy, to start arguing about it’s construction and purpose.)

And the most famous backfire of a Dreher-like willingness to argue, out loud, for doubling down on conservative virtues, came from Scalia, who in U.S. v. Windsor ended up penning the most cogent argument in favor of gay marriage:

The real rationale of today’s opinion, whatever disappearing trail of its legalistic argle-bargle one chooses to follow, is that DOMA is motivated by “‘bare … desire to harm’” couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.

129

Plume 02.23.16 at 2:07 pm

Salem,

To me, it’s a major stretch to say Nazism is “secular.” In reality, Hitler worked extremely hard to court the Church and get it on his side. He also made frequent use of the bible to support his hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism originates with the gospels and the belief that the Jews were “Christ-killers.”

As for Ayn Rand. While she was an avowed atheist, few of her followers are. In fact, most of them seem to be right-wing Christian males, often with strong Dominionist attachments, especially those in love with Ron Paul. And if they’re not Christians, they seem to believe in a god through the back door, in the form of “natural rights.” In conversations with them, I’ve noted their refusal to admit to the “cosmic authority” aspect of belief in “natural rights,” even though it doesn’t work without divinity in some form, immanent or transcendent. This is their basis for “property rights,” which (it seems at times) they’ve all but elevated to a supreme being.

As Yuval Harari would note, it’s still fiction. One could argue it’s a necessary fiction, echoing Stevens by way of Nietzsche. But it’s still a fiction. And from my point of view, it’s not at all necessary.

130

parse 02.23.16 at 2:32 pm

I see it as a stretch to say you don’t want to strengthen the institution, therefore you are against same sex marriage. If your aim is to weaken it, then you would have to apply the same opposition to hetero marriages as well. As in, y0u’d just be against anyone getting married, and you wouldn’t differentiate between same sex or hetero.

Is that your stance?

Yes, it is.

131

parse 02.23.16 at 2:33 pm

Edit: “Is that your stance” in my previous post should have been included in the italicized text.

132

Glen Tomkins 02.23.16 at 3:14 pm

@123,

And no, not even “literal” Paul/Leviticus, whatever that means.

133

jake the antisoshul soshulist 02.23.16 at 3:24 pm

@Plume #129
I like to point out to conservatives that the only thing that Ayn Rand and Karl Marx would agree on was religion.

I have not yet reached a conclusion about whether the distaste for “sex for pleasure”
or the social necessity of controlling sexual behavior came first. I tend to lean toward the materialist rather than psychological view.
But then, I tend to imagine Adam and Eve humping like bunnies in the Garden.

134

Plume 02.23.16 at 3:27 pm

@123,

“Their real reason is because literal Paul/Leviticus, but they can’t admit that, because that reason means nothing to anyone who does not accept Paul/Leviticus as authorities.”

I agree. But, again, why the cherry picking? If they truly believe their god is infallible, omniscient, above all questioning and the ultimate Grand Poobah of cosmic authorities, then why not also push for the dozens upon dozens of other “abominations” he lists, with their attendant death penalties too?

I would still be radically opposed to everything they stood for, but could at least grant them consistency of principle — if they did that. They pretty much ignore 99.9% of what their god condemns and latch on to one or two pieces of the sociopathic puzzle to support.

After decades of trying to discuss this with fundies, trying to understand why they do this cherry picking, I’ve given up. And I don’t see why we, as a secular society, should have to walk on eggshells for them. They haven’t earned this “sensitivity” toward their views, feelings, etc. etc. Their doctrines and dogmas and orthodoxies simply don’t warrant “respect.”

135

Plume 02.23.16 at 3:32 pm

jake @133,

You could also point out to them that Rand benefited tremendously from the Soviet system which promoted education for girls and women, contrary to Czarist Russia. And, that once she got to America, it was FDR’s WPA program that enabled her to get her start as a writer. She would later take advantage of Social Security and Medicare as well.

IMO, she was a hack writer, a sociopath with a third-rate mind, and her followers are generally worse.

136

PatinIowa 02.23.16 at 4:13 pm

I just like to ask why they don’t seem to like this verse all that well:

“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

I suppose the answer is “I don’t want to be perfect.” (Bring on the Belgian poutine!)

137

bianca steele 02.23.16 at 4:36 pm

Late to this thread, but there is another meta-elegaic aspect to both Dreher’s complain and his readers: they seem to know (or at least sort-of get) that they cannot win an argument with people who do not share their premises, and that the hell of vigorous defenses of tradition is that they are self-eroding after a short time.

Yes, and yes to your next paragraph, too.

Something that goes unsaid is something that’s so mean to Dreher even I hesitate to write it (I try not to be shrewish, after all), but if he is so concerned with proper authority, why would an authoritarian perspective support his writing? I suppose he presents himself as a poor victim of the terrible education the modern world provides–of course in the old days, he might not have gotten a college education at all–but it would seem his blog is justified by the right of everybody to express themselves, no matter how unqualified they are, being God’s child and all, which would seem to be somewhat self-undermining. I suppose saying it’s hypocritical is actually more charitable, but raises more questions.

138

Mdc 02.23.16 at 5:09 pm

Traditionalism is maybe a natural consequence of dying traditions, but it also actively corrodes them.

139

Salem 02.23.16 at 5:14 pm

You seem to have missed the point, Plume. I was merely pointing out the absurdity of listing “Randism” (Objectivism?) alongside Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism as the “truly pernicious secular ideologies.” Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism birthed the slaughter of millions. Randism birthed a few turgid novels – and, I guess, a recent, unwatched movie, but if we don’t blame Marx for Stalin, then we shouldn’t blame Rand for the film adaptation.

But it’s of a piece with this site’s weird fascination with libertarianism. The destruction wrought by Peronism, the Khmer Rouge, Juche – these things pale into significance beside the fact that Rand maybe influenced Paul Ryan.

140

Plume 02.23.16 at 5:34 pm

Salem @139 and 127,

Given that you said this (@127), and only this:

“Oh Lord, don’t ever stop.”

I’m guessing no one got your point, if your point was as stated @139.

But, going from 139, I can now respond by saying the history of capitalist destruction dwarfs that of Stalin and Mao, many times over, if we go by sickness, death, wars and environmental destruction. It’s not at all close.

Lovers of capitalism — especially right-libertarians — spend most of their time condemning the Soviet Union and Maoist China, while completely ignoring the far greater (and much longer term) horrors wrought by capitalism, which are ongoing. They ignore its history of mass slaughter, pillage and plunder, slavery, wage-slavery, Dickensian and Darwinian hells . . . its mass theft of land from “the peasants,” from indigenous peoples, Native Americans, the enslavement of those peoples and the mass theft of natural resources.

There never would have been a capitalist system if not for this death and destruction, rape, pillage and plunder. It never would have gotten off the ground, nor would it be sustainable. And it is the first economic system in history with an internal imperialist logic. No other economic system before it had imperialism baked in, as one of its laws of motion. All previous imperialism came about from political and aristocratic foundations and drives. Capitalism is the first economic system to be organically imperialistic, whether or not the politics match up.

141

Chip Daniels 02.23.16 at 5:39 pm

I think the moment I changed from being a conservative to liberal was when I realized that there was no Golden Age when things were better.

Its not that everything was worse- there are plenty of things about the past that were honorable and beautiful, things we should embrace. But even before the New Deal, before the Sexual Revolution, before SSM, there were cruel and unjust relationships.

And its not that modernity is without flaws, or that individual autonomy doesn’t have costs. Its just that its not possible to unwind exactly the strand of modernity responsible for one horror, without picking up another.

The bit about reverse engineering an imagined world is spot on. It makes me think of the Islamic fundamentalists who grew up in modern Arab states, having no personal memory of the caliphate, but who are fanatical in their insistence that things would be s much better under one.

That’s why Dreher can’t articulate opposition- opposition to SSM requires that he craft an alternate vision of a just and kind world in which gays cannot marry, and he can’t square that circle.

142

Plume 02.23.16 at 5:39 pm

See the seminal, classic, essential study by Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism, for the best single description of what makes capitalism unique and unprecedented, and why.

See also Michael Perelman’s must-read study, The Invention of Capitalism. He is especially good on primitive accumulation and in his usage of political economists, like Smith and Ricardo, in their own words.

143

EB 02.23.16 at 5:49 pm

But there is an argument, available to Dreher, and not based on belief in his brand of (or any) Christianity. It’s that all cultures develop behavioral norms. They especially develop these norms around types of behavior that are big-stakes for the individual and for the culture as a whole. Therefore, norms around sex and sex/gender roles, which have big implications for family formation and stability, are always part of the mix. When large numbers of members of the culture start to resist those norms, it may go well both for individuals and for the culture in the long run (votes for women after the success of the suffragist movement) or it may not (polygamy in fundamentalist Mormon sects). In the end, if behaviors around sex and gender are seen as ONLY beneficial to the individuals engaged in them, but not for the culture at large, the culture will resist. And sometimes the culture is right to resist. Serial monogamy among heterosexuals with children is after all frowned upon for practical reasons. Dreher could argue simply that SSM harms the culture (though I and many would argue that it does not), but instead he gets lost in a big tangle of arguments about modernity, natural law, etc. So I see no reason to take on the burden of countering his arguments.

144

Ze K 02.23.16 at 6:00 pm

“Traditionalism is maybe a natural consequence of dying traditions, but it also actively corrodes them.”

How so? Both parts, I mean. It seems to be holding up well over time, as long as your social circles are not too diverse, and conditions stay more or less the same. What worked for your parents will work for you too, makes sense. Wikipedia tells me Mr Dreher grew up in a small town in Louisiana.

145

Ragweed 02.23.16 at 6:23 pm

There is a bit of a straw-man going on with the arguments around the literal interpretation of the bible, in that throughout much, and I would even go so far as to say most, of the history of the three main Abrahamic monotheisms, interpretation of scripture and law has been the norm and literal interpretation has not.
Judaism has not taken a literal interpretation of the Talmudic law since sometime before Roman occupation – basically the last 2000 years – instead focusing on an ever-evolving series of commentary, in which multiple completely contradictory interpretations of the same scripture are completely normal (and all considered true). There are a few exceptions like the Karaites, but the bulk of Judaism follows the rabbinic tradition
Christianity dispensed with much of the old law with the notion that Christ was the new covenant, which in and of itself is an interpretation of some pretty ambiguous passages in John and the Pauline letters. The dietary laws are explicitly dispensed with in Matthew 15:11*. And for much of Christian history under the Catholic Church there were a whole batch of provisions that were designed to allow and accommodate local traditions and customs that had nothing to do with anything in the bible.
Up until the 19th century there was pretty universal understanding that Christian scripture was not to be read literally, but that much of it was allegorical and metaphoric, and needed to be interpreted. This did not mean that there was wide-open-interpret-as-you-will toleration – those disputes were often quite bloody – but they were disputes over interpretation. It was only in the mid-late 19th century that there developed a minority Christian movement to read the bible literally, and even that was largely an illusion. The Hebrew and Christian bibles are too scattered and contradictory to make any kind of coherent literal sense. The result was that you have people like Pat Robertson arguing that Adam and Eve’s children all married each other, and that sibling incest was OK back then, because they were closer to Eden, and therefore less stained by sin, so there were none of the harmful genetic mutations that are behind the incest taboo.

So really, Christians have not had an issue with shellfish, or tattoos, or wearing mixed fabrics for the last 2000 years, and punishment of adultery and other such things have been governed by local traditions rather than the Talmudic laws. For the most part, they have followed interpretations and theological arguments that give reasons for why certain portions of the old-testament should be followed, and others should not. But to somehow attach these as Christian beliefs, or claim that they should be Christian beliefs, is to argue for with something that even those who claim to read the bible literally don’t follow. So while bringing it up makes for some fun reducto ad absurdum, it doesn’t really address what motivates modern religious conservatives. It is like attacking evolution by pointing out flaws in The Origin of Species, when evolutionary scientists are like “there’s this thing called DNA we discovered a few decades back…”

(*it is also worth pointing out that if Matthew 15:11 frees Christians from following the dietary laws, it also clearly permits gay sex, so long as it is oral.)

146

Ragweed 02.23.16 at 6:27 pm

Damn – I hate the way that that the text editor strips out paragraph brakes. Apologies for the “wall of text.”

147

Ragweed 02.23.16 at 6:42 pm

Plume @129 – There is actually a lot of scholarship on the historic roots of Christian anti-Semitism, and it really does not support the ideas that it originated in some “Christ killer” justification (though that came later). Generally it is believed that Christianity adopted certain anti-Semitic frameworks when it spread into the Greek and Roman populations. Originally Christianity was a debate between Jews as to what the proper course of Judaism should be, and all of those “you generation of vipers” statements and attacks on Jews in places like Matthew and Mark were clearly meant to be one Jew talking to another. But once Christianity spread to Greek and Roman communities, then it was like “you aren’t those Troglodytes we heard about who don’t eat bacon are you?” and then Christians suddenly decided they were Not-Jews.

148

steven johnson 02.23.16 at 6:46 pm

Also relevant to much of the commentary is a review of Jerry Coyne’s Fact vs. Faith by George Scialabba. In it, the reviewer manages to imply that Nazism wasn’t religious, that it was matched (exceeded?) by the mass repressions in the USSR and that the famine in Cambodia was a policy decision.

None of those propositions is true.

On the face of it, the notion that the extermination of Jews is because of a secular ideology is insane. Any notion that racial and religious bigotry and somehow separate phenomena, or that either or both aren’t equally about nationalism has no merit whatsoever. It just has the authority of beloved prejudice.

Sending trainloads of people swept up en masse to gas chambers is in no way comparable to kangaroo courts and administrative punishments in the USSR. Not only is there no real comparison in numbers, there is a clear difference in kind. The inflated numbers bandied about by propagandists rely on attributing all famine deaths in the USSR (and China) to policy, while ignoring any and all famine deaths in capitalist empires. In one sense this is right and proper, as for capitalism it is indeed simply business as usual, instead of a crisis.

Attributing the horrible deaths in Cambodia simply to Khmer Rouge bad minds excuses the US war. Years and years ago it was common to estimate one million dead. As the realization that the bombing disrupted the hydraulic economy of Cambodia, and must have caused many, many deaths, the number of dead was doubled…apparently to make sure the Khmer Rouge were worse. It’s like making sure you estimate higher numbers to show how Stalin and Mao were worse than Hitler. I have never figured out what kind of person can read about a situation where people were so desperately poor they couldn’t afford to kill their enemies with guns, but had to use plastic bags instead, without wondering what role such desperate straits have had to play. (Ditto, machetes in Rwanda.)

As for the notion that something called “dogmatism” is responsible? Insolent misanthropy. There is no real dogmatism without dogmas, which in practice are indistinguishable from conventional wisdom.

149

Plume 02.23.16 at 7:29 pm

steven,

Lotsa good points.

And our involvement in Vietnam was primarily a matter of making sure our capitalists could make massive profits there, which might be shut off from them if “Communism” took hold. We are responsible for more than three million civilian deaths in just that war . . . and roughly 2-4 million in Korea, which also was primarily about keeping capitalist markets open. The vast majority of our “official” wars in the 20th and 21st centuries, along with dozens of coups, covert wars, covert backing of right-wing dictators and the like . . . . these were all about protecting, defending and expanding capitalism globally.

Throw in the famine you talk about, in Ireland, in India and in pretty much every British, American and European colony, along with flat out chattel slavery and slave-like working conditions . . . and you’ve got tens of millions more deaths attributed directly to capitalist practices. The Black Book of Capitalism estimates several hundred million deaths directly attributed to capitalism, and as many as a billion if we add indirectly. Hell, just cigarettes alone kill millions of smokers every single year worldwide, and hundreds of thousands non-smokers. In America, it’s roughly 400,000 and 44,000, respectively.

If anyone has to justify their allegiances and ideologies, it’s capitalists.

150

Patrick 02.23.16 at 8:37 pm

EB at 143- Dreher is very clearly referencing a world view which encompasses organic society conservatism, with all that entails. People are ignoring this aspect of his argument for one of the following reasons-

1. In spite of their fancy degrees, they don’t know enough poli sci 101 to recognize an organic society conservative world view even when it’s spelled out for them.

2. Pwning him about a lack of measurable short term negative results of SSM is emotionally satisfying even though they know his position doesn’t predict any.

3. Organic society progressivism is on the rise, so it’s tactically convenient to phrase Dreher’s position in non organic society terms so as to avoid accidentally undermining ones own position on other issues.

As someone who never bought organic society nonsense in the first place, it’s frustrating. I’d rather see it faced head on, because I think it’s a point of view that loses fair fights, and I like seeing it take a fall.

151

EB 02.23.16 at 8:54 pm

Patrick @ 149: all good points. Although I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss “organic society” as nonsense. The idea is often used as cover for nonsense, but there is a core of value there, just not necessarily a core that lends itself either to conservative or to progressive agendas.

152

RJ 02.23.16 at 9:25 pm

1. Organic society views are arbitrary impositions, dangerous and scary. I’m happy to acknowledge Dreher as a very clear example of why such a view needs to be specifically declared off the table forever. I want my freedom.

2. The fact that D cannot find measureable short-term problems with SSM is yet another illustration of a vacuity of organic society views. Those that want such a society are free to establish one elsewhere. Please, yes, leave me out of it.

3. I used to see the charm in left-wing organic society, but now I fear it.

I don’t ignore D so much as deny that his view has any legitimacy. It has no moral import; it’s noise. And yes, this even taking into consideration the many drawbacks of anomie. I’ll take loneliness over ‘obey or else’ any day.

153

William Berry 02.23.16 at 10:24 pm

@ragweed: you don ‘t use html for paragraph [breaks]. Double return at the end of the last sentence of the para does the trick.

154

SamChevre 02.23.16 at 11:12 pm

RJ,

Can I just note that “if there’s no measurable short-term problem, there’s no possible problem” can also apply to climate change, or bank regulation.

155

dr ngo 02.23.16 at 11:25 pm

Attributing the horrible deaths in Cambodia simply to Khmer Rouge bad minds excuses the US war. Years and years ago it was common to estimate one million dead. As the realization that the bombing disrupted the hydraulic economy of Cambodia, and must have caused many, many deaths, the number of dead was doubled…apparently to make sure the Khmer Rouge were worse.

I know some of the scholars involved in this revisionism. Attributing their careful analysis to a desire “to make sure the Khmer Rouge were worse” is both stupid and rude.

156

RJ 02.23.16 at 11:26 pm

Those are easy to measure.

157

geo 02.24.16 at 2:10 am

steven @149: Did I really imply all those things? Sorry, I didn’t mean to. — george

158

Plume 02.24.16 at 3:59 am

Geo @158,

Just read your review. Very well done and witty, especially your depiction of “God” welcoming Russell and others.

I’m now wondering if Steven perhaps misread you. You seem far more in agreement with Coyne then at odds with him, and sympathetic to what he was trying to do in the face of crackpot voices like Berlinski’s. I think you tried really hard to look at all angles and channel Kundera’s concept of democratic voices having their say.

Also, Berlinski’s quote here . . . . is beyond absurd in its assumptions, to put it all too nicely:

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals, Brown Shirts, Black Shirts, gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.19

There is no evidence that all of these people were unbelievers, or even more than two or three, and we have nearly two thousand years of Christians slaughtering each other, Jews, Muslims, indigenous peoples, enslaving millions, stealing their lands and so on, and who knows if they believed their god was watching them do this. All we know is they committed genocide and atrocities galore. It is incredibly ignorant for Berlinski to try to make this bogus point that unbelief necessarily leads to carnage without care . . . both because he can’t read minds and he’s conveniently forgetting the genocide and atrocities committed by practicing Christians, etc. etc . . . . and the numerous examples of genocide and atrocity in their sacred texts.

Your review takes a very sensitive topic and treats it carefully, ecumenically, in the secular sense of the word. Thank you.

;>)

159

LFC 02.24.16 at 4:15 am

I don’t care about Dreher’s views and haven’t been closely following the thread, but I wonder whether steven johnson views Eric Hobsbawm as a ‘propagandist’ when he writes (The Age of Extremes, p.380-81, emphasis added):

Stalin…was an autocrat of exceptional, some might say unique, ferocity, ruthlessness and lack of scruple. Few men have manipulated terror on a more universal scale. There is no doubt that under some other leader of the Bolshevik Party the sufferings of the peoples of the USSR would have been less, the number of victims smaller. Nevertheless, any policy of rapid modernization in the USSR, under the circumstances of the time, was bound to be ruthless…. Difficult though it may be to believe, even the Stalinist system, which once again turned peasants into serfs attached to the land and made important parts of the economy dependent on a prison labour force of between four and thirteen millions (the Gulags) (Van der Linden, 1993) almost certainly enjoyed substantial support, though clearly not among the peasantry (Fitzpatrick, 1994).

This is from a roughly 20-year-old book by a leftist historian who was a member of the Communist Party for a large chunk of his life. Not even Hobsbawm describes the Stalinist system as a matter of some “kangaroo courts and administrative punishments” (to quote the comment @149).

160

LFC 02.24.16 at 4:21 am

Plume @159
I’m now wondering if Steven perhaps misread you [geo]

Someone who treats Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge as, basically, hiccups, and blames the Khmer Rouge entirely on U.S. bombing is probably more than capable of misreading a book review, by geo or anyone else.

161

Peter T 02.24.16 at 4:32 am

The Stalin vs Hitler body-count contest is mostly simply tedious. But it’s telling that almost all the feverishly-obsessed counters omit the 40 million plus dead of World War II in Europe from Hitler’s total, despite near-universal agreement that Hitler started the war and the centrality of aggressive war to Nazi doctrine. It’s like “oh, well, everybody did war..”

162

Salem 02.24.16 at 1:26 pm

[Capitalism’s] history of mass slaughter, pillage and plunder, slavery, wage-slavery, Dickensian and Darwinian hells . . . its mass theft of land from “the peasants,” from indigenous peoples, Native Americans, the enslavement of those peoples and the mass theft of natural resources.

I have no wish to engage you in another of your tedious rants about capitalism. But even you must admit that none of this can possibly be blamed on Ayn Rand.

163

SamChevre 02.24.16 at 1:32 pm

near-universal agreement that Hitler started the war

If you use the most-common starting point (the invasion of Poland), Hitler and Stalin BOTH started the war. (Also, I’m not sure where 40 million comes from, unless it includes late-30’s USSR deaths, which are very difficult to blame on Germany.)

164

JoB 02.24.16 at 2:33 pm

@David: “I presume Job @93 is being deliberately obtuse, since I obviously said the opposite of what he implies.”

I may have been obtuse but certainly not deliberately so. If you said the opposite of what I thought you implied then I say sorry.

I really can understand why people might oppose SSM. I do not see that it’s impossible to start from the same premises (although it might be difficult, might turn rancorous and/or might take time to involve everyone including Catholic traditionalists). I also just don’t see this competition thing: what is claimed in SSM afaics is that a secular state gives the same rights (treatment, …) to all of its citizens or couples of citizens. I assume there are catholic gay people who would like catholic gay marriage but here indeed the basic premise is one to be shared amongst catholics. As a non-catholic myself, I am not going to have opinions on that (although, for sure, I guess we can all share the premise that groups of individuals can decide their own group rules AND the premise that there are limits even to that – such as are expressed in laws against sects).

165

Plume 02.24.16 at 3:48 pm

Salem @163,

I’ve never seen you here before. We have no history of discussing anything. So not sure where you get off saying “another of your tedious rants on capitalism,” but, whatever.

I didn’t blame Rand for what came before her, obviously. But I do blame her for giving (faux) intellectual underpinnings for otherwise despicable, sociopathic beliefs, and egging on millions of Americans — especially young, white, Christian right-wingers — to turn their own selfishness and sense of victimhood into a movement. That movement has greatly influenced many Congress critters, governors, mayors, state reps and scads of CEOs, which in turn has made it easier for them to treat their fellow human beings like shit, and the earth as their cash cow.

Now, if you want to defend Rand, I suggest you engage with someone else. I despise her and everything she and her followers stand for, so it would be a waste of your time and mine.

166

LFC 02.24.16 at 4:29 pm

The Stalin vs Hitler body-count contest is mostly simply tedious.

I have no great interest in that ‘contest’ (and my comments above didn’t address it).

the centrality of aggressive war to Nazi doctrine

agreed

To clarify: My objection to s. johnson’s remarks was not that he ranked Hitler ‘above’ Stalin in the body-count and distinguished Hitler from Stalin in terms of aims and methods and consequences — that’s fine — but rather that he tended to minimize Stalin’s actions in general.

167

Donald Johnson 02.24.16 at 4:34 pm

Returning to repeat my earlier point and more importantly, to provide a complicating link–

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2016/02/fernando-cardenal-rip

Weinberg’s statement was simply wrong–religion is not the only thing that can make a good man do evil things. All the evidence regarding how religion has inspired countless atrocities is true (or largely true–I wouldn’t accept every individual claim), but it doesn’t support Weinberg’s statement. This is elementary logic.

Now on the link– someone might try to argue that only religion can inspire a person to the kind of moral greatness attributed to Cardenal in that post. They could point to people like Dorothy Day, etc… And this would be equally illogical.

168

Donald Johnson 02.24.16 at 4:36 pm

169

MisterMr 02.24.16 at 4:45 pm

@SamChevre 164

According to wikipedia, the total death toll of ww2 was

“c.70,000,000 to c.85,000,000” people:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

so I’m not sure why the 40,000,000 number for Europe sounds strange to you, if anything it sounds small.

170

Plume 02.24.16 at 4:50 pm

Donald,

I don’t think he was really trying to say “it’s the only thing that could possibly make good people do bad things.”

Whenever someone tries to distill ideas into apothegms, by definition, they have to be short, to the point, and not spin out into multiple realms. It’s not supposed to take every situation into account. It’s not supposed to deal with a multitude of different (potential) factors, or hedge one’s bets along those lines.

It’s a short and concise statement, meant to make people think. And my guess is the author realized some of that thinking would be critical of the focus on just religion.

That said, I don’t think someone can accurately argue that organized religion isn’t up there at the top, and nothing else has that element of a cosmic authority who can’t be questioned baked in. No non-religious ideology has that, by definition.

171

Bruce Wilder 02.24.16 at 5:21 pm

Of course, the religious might take the view that religion is a path by which people come to distinguish deliberately good and ethical behavior from chaotic impulse, and not incidentally acquire (and generate) the social support and spiritual motivation to act accordingly. That hypocrisy lurks in the shadows cast by the light religion shines isn’t evidence against religion’s power of moral illumination.

172

Plume 02.24.16 at 5:37 pm

Bruce,

Yes, they might take that view. But it’s not the religion itself that helps them do this. It’s their own innate moral compass, acting in fellowship with others who have moral compasses as broad. And since these exist inside and outside religion, and no evidence exists that they appear more often inside, then the process of elimination tells us religion per se has nothing to do with it.

There have also been several recent studies that show that children raised in religious households — they focused on Christian and Muslim — actually tend to be much more selfish and meaner than those raised outside religion. As in, organized religions actually created unnecessary barriers for the expansion of moral compasses, which good people then have to overcome.

Which makes perfect sense to me, especially when it comes to Christianity. It is based on “personal revelation,” and being “saved.” As in, the believer, him or herself, being saved. It’s obviously the most extreme apotheosis of “me first” one can get . . . because it teaches that one’s personal beliefs are essential to one’s personal salvation, and not that one’s deeds in the world, or desire to make the world a better place, count. And it adds even more to that trip via threats of personal damnation. So you’re taught from Day One to think in terms of your own escape from hell, and your own potential for heaven. This existential choice logically leads to a kind of heightened self-centeredness which is extremely hard to overcome.

And when people do, it’s not because they’re following the tenets of Christianity itself, ultimately, it’s because their own innate sense of extra-religious morality and ethics gets them past this and broadens their area of concern.

In short, they believe in much better fictions, which humans have developed over time outside (and sometimes in opposition to) the religious tradition, often folding this back into those traditions themselves.

173

rea 02.24.16 at 8:36 pm

In other words, Obergefell was not a case that rested on an equation of homosexuality and heterosexuality. It was a case that held sex was not of the essence of marriage.

I’m not sure of the logic behind this, unless you are under the impression that gay people don’t have sex. I give you my personal assurance that they do.

174

Trader Joe 02.24.16 at 8:39 pm

@173
As you wish, but much of this differs from my observed experience.

You speak of people having their own moral compass and their “own innate sense of extra-religious morality ” which I can perfectly agree with, but I don’t think the standard off-the shelf human unit comes equipped with this switch configured in the “positive” position…its a switch that must activated manually and in my view, world religions are one of the service providers that can cause that switch to be flipped.

It goes without saying that sometimes that switch is flipped to the “negative” position and it also goes without saying that religion isn’t the only way that switch can be flipped….but my experience tells me that morality has elements of both learned and in-born behavior and to exclude externalities (your answer implies you favor the innate over the leanred) ignores an awful lof of history.

175

Plume 02.24.16 at 9:35 pm

Trader Joe @173,

No. I’m really big on nature and nurture. A positive environment helping to bring out the best in all of us. I also believe a negative environment can suppress the good and reward the bad, or give it wings, etc. And all the variations between good and bad.

Obviously, it’s complex.

This is why I favor the kinds of systems that have never been tried on any national scale, and it’s why I despise the one currently in place. Because I think the one currently in place rewards selfishness, competition, pits us against each other needlessly, focuses far too much on climbing the ladder instead of living, loving, caring for each other now, in the present, here. I think hierarchies, especially towering hierarchies, bring out the worst in humans, and we need to flatten them as much as possible. And we shouldn’t be thinking about rewards in heaven, especially not on an individual basis. It’s hard enough to focus on the present. John Lennon really said it beautifully in Imagine.

Other key studies recently: It’s been shown that children have an innate sense of fairness and equality, which is later beaten out of them. Several studies have shown that when it’s left up to little kids, they will insist that toys and food be apportioned equally to everyone in a room, even if it means extras are thrown out. They see this as “fair.” They see it as unfair if one child has more of something than another.

And, in Virginia, a recent experiment showed that humans, when confronted by threats to their safety, have roughly the same brain patterns when they see themselves under threat or their friends . . . and that merely holding the hand of that friend calms those brain waves.

We often unlearn things that are quite positive, naturally, and learn things that encourage selfishness and brutality. I just don’t see the three monotheisms of the Levant as effective sources for the good. They have far too much negative history and deeply offensive texts . . . and we can easily find their positive elements elsewhere without that baggage.

176

Ragweed 02.24.16 at 9:37 pm

“especially when it comes to Christianity. It is based on “personal revelation,” and being “saved.” As in, the believer, him or herself, being saved. It’s obviously the most extreme apotheosis of “me first” one can get . . . because it teaches that one’s personal beliefs are essential to one’s personal salvation, and not that one’s deeds in the world, or desire to make the world a better place, count.”

Yet again, this is not a universal, nor even a majority Christian belief. The idea that Christianity is bases on a “personal revelation” or personal salvation is a recent Protestant development. From at least the 3rd Century CE to Calvin, ones deeds in the world and ones duty to be part of a Christian community was primary. Even in the Catholic Church, today, salvation does not come from belief alone, but from ones actions and avoidance of sin. Sometimes this took the form of obedience to a hierarchical and authoritarian social order, and sometimes this took the form of ones responsibility to care for others and build compassionate, egalitarian community, but in either case it was fundamentally a social compact and tied to ones actions.

Even in the case of forgiveness and absolution of sins, throughout most of Christian history there were responsibilities and required actions attached to forgiveness. It is only 20th-21st century evangelicals who hold that hold that personal belief can be some sort of get-out-of-hell-free card.

177

Plume 02.24.16 at 9:54 pm

Ragweed,

I agree with a lot of that. It does depend on the time, place, era and denomination. But even if you go with the “good deeds” angle, you still have to look at what were considered “good deeds” by the originators of church doctrine. They had nearly as many bizarre and truly despicable rules and expectations about purity, cleanliness, gender, power relations within families, etc. etc. as the monstrous laws depicted in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. “Christianity” was still primarily a Jewish sect for its first three centuries, and it really didn’t break free from the vast majority of Iron Age repression until well after the Enlightenment, even in “progressive” circles . . . and it seems not to have done this yet among right-wing evangelicals.

I’m just not seeing a religiously based source for the good things done by Christians (or Jews or Muslims) over the centuries — as strange as they may sound. I actually think they do good things despite Church history and the original tenets of Christianity, which, after all, call for an End Times finale of mass slaughter of every human on the planet who does not accept Jesus as savior.

Yes, you and many others can respond that not every Christian believes these things literally, etc. But that actually means you reject the words in the bible and what they call for. Thankfully, of course. But it’s still a rejection. As you would also reject Yahweh’s call for dozens and dozens of death penalties in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, etc. Again, thankfully.

So where does that rejection come from? Since it’s a rejection of Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) texts, how can it be religiously based?

178

hix 02.24.16 at 10:04 pm

Belief is not even a necessary requirement for salvation in catholic doctrine. The concept of it being a sufficient one is an (almost only ) american fringe cult special that ive always considerd deaply disturbing.

179

Plume 02.24.16 at 10:10 pm

hix,

I think “belief” became a key point of attraction for converts, and was pushed by Paul to bring in gentiles. Jews were expected to conform to extremely tough laws, rules, regulations, etc. etc. in order to get “right” with their god. Belief wasn’t enough by any means for Jews. Paul tried to expand the pool of potential converts by saying you didn’t have to obey Jewish dietary and other types of laws. Belief was more important than anything else . . . . but ragweed is correct that this didn’t really take on critical mass until the Protestant Reformation. It was, however, in embryonic form as early as Paul, his followers and their wresting control of the Church from James and his followers.

180

Trader Joe 02.24.16 at 10:42 pm

@176 and 178 Plume

Actually I don’t see that we’re that far apart as far as end-points, I think we differ substantially on means to ends, but that’s choice we each make. All good.

What I’m not sure I understand is your insistance that since the Christain religions committed evil in the past that this negates their potential to do good in the world today. The church, the Bible, the clergy, these are all tools and pieces within a broader whole. If a terrorist uses an iPhone to facilitate shooting up a work place I don’t assume that all Apple products are inherently evil and have no place in my understanding of good.

I’ll not press the matter any further, I’m not here to suggest I’ve got it right and others don’t, I can be as wrong on this as anything else. Religion is a choice among many like marriage, learning to drive, learning to shoot, smoking or boxers vs. briefs….it comes with both rewards and consequences that are in the aggregate inseparable and I accept that, but at the individual level they are separable.

I can believe in a particular religion without feeling the need to kill in its name or accept the 10 commandments without acceptance of every literal word of Leviticus. This seems very similar to your willingness to believe communities of people can work together to solve problems, help one another and do good….if you believe people can do that outside the scope of a religion, why can’t they do it underneath that umbrella as well.

181

Ragweed 02.24.16 at 10:59 pm

“Yes, you and many others can respond that not every Christian believes these things literally, etc. But that actually means you reject the words in the bible and what they call for. Thankfully, of course. But it’s still a rejection. As you would also reject Yahweh’s call for dozens and dozens of death penalties in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, etc. Again, thankfully.

So where does that rejection come from? Since it’s a rejection of Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) texts, how can it be religiously based?”

Why should any of these texts be read literally? Why is a failure to read the texts literally a rejection of the texts? In some cases it is non-sensical to take the texts literally. You keep citing the end-times slaughter, and yet I think Revelations (and much of John for that matter) is clearly an example of a text that was allegorical to begin with and encoded with many levels of meaning, none of which were ever meant to be literal. The Talmudic laws and the various reasons for death penalty are part of the historical record of a people. Why do they need to be followed strictly 4000 years later, when god sent a new revelation that overturned many of those laws, some explicitly, with Christ (for Christians)? or when the laws were no longer possible after the destruction of the Temple that was at the heart of them?

Or to put it another way – what theological justification is there to read scripture literally? Judaism dispensed with that notion at least two millennia ago. What religious justification is there for doing otherwise?

[Side point – the Gospels of Luke and John, and many of the Pauline letters for that matter, were not part of a Christianity that considered itself a branch of Judaism, which is why they thought Jesus was a divine being, as opposed to Mark and Matthew, where he wasn’t.]

182

Peter T 02.24.16 at 11:04 pm

LFC

My comment was not intended to rebut yours, but just a side-note.

183

Ecrasez l'Infame 02.24.16 at 11:17 pm

I’m just not seeing a religiously based source for the good things done by Christians (or Jews or Muslims) over the centuries — as strange as they may sound.

It’s Christ. Christian’s believe Jesus turned up, preached his revelation, founded the church and that they have a personal relationship with God. That’s the source. You don’t believe this and don’t have access to it, so you assume Christianity is basically just a book. It’s not.

But that actually means you reject the words in the bible and what they call for. Thankfully, of course. But it’s still a rejection… So where does that rejection come from? Since it’s a rejection of Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) texts, how can it be religiously based?

Jews wrote the books that form the OT roughly 800BC-100BC, Christians wrote the NT 50AD-150AD. These then were turned into bibles (very late, the Catholic canon became dogma at Trent in 1442AD). So the important bit of Christianity is tradition and the Church, not scripture. Bibles are the product of the church, not the other way round. You can’t deduce Christianity from the bible, it an oral tradition that existed before bibles.

184

Plume 02.24.16 at 11:21 pm

Trader Joe @181

“What I’m not sure I understand is your insistance that since the Christain religions committed evil in the past that this negates their potential to do good in the world today.”

I apologize if this is the impression I made in my posts. It’s not at all what I was trying to say, or what I believe. I think Christians frequently do great things in the world, and that the church not only has potential to do good but has for many centuries done just that.

I’m saying this is not due to “religion” per se, but because when humans get together to work together on X, Y or Z, they can and often do accomplish wondrous things. They can and do make these things happen under the umbrella of religion and outside it. Which makes me believe the umbrella of religion is not what counts — or these things would only happen under it. It’s the getting together with common goals, good intentions and aspirations that matter.

A diverse group of believers and non-believers do not need a religious motive to start a food bank for the poor, for instance. And if a purely Christian group does the same, it too does not require a religious source — not for its acting together or for its goals and aspirations. Merely being humans together on this planet is enough. There is no need for anything more. And I think innately we know this. And given the enormous diversity even within religious expression across the millennia tells us no particular religion is needed for good things to take place.

I think organized religion is largely a means to gather together in fellowship, to find common fictions to believe in, and in this way it can often be beautiful and extremely healthy. But the underlying reason we take beneficial actions in the world is not via any organized religion. It’s something much more fundamental than that and much harder to express.

185

Plume 02.24.16 at 11:45 pm

Ragweed,

I’m not suggesting it should be read literally. At all. I’m tremendously grateful than many Christians don’t. My point is that the good things about organized religion develop largely as a rejection of the texts used as the ostensible foundation for that religion — rejection or selective avoidance and emphasis of certain texts.

The Christian Church has for centuries referred directly to those texts when it wants to claim “god said” this or that in order to provide authoritative support for doctrine. Since it is a religion of revelation, it must do this. It can’t (generally) point to things unsaid, or the flock will just take this as the opinion of the church and not divine revelation, which often weakens the force of their doctrines and dogmas. Yes, they can often squeeze out things that don’t exist in the bible, like the Trinity, or brush past key texts that render everything else moot, like Jesus’s prophecy of the End Times happening in the 1st century . . . . but this does take masterful sophistry by the Church, and they can’t go to that well often.

Also, it’s important to remember, when one talks about the supposed early severance from Judaism: Jesus was a Jew, raised by Jews, surrounded by Jews, and he taught the coming of the kingdom of the Jewish god. Everything he said, at least as recorded in the bible, indicates he had no intention whatsoever of founding a new religion, or that he himself believed he was god or the son of god. That all came much later. He also insisted that he came to fulfill scripture and the laws of the prophets, not revoke them or destroy them. Which is why it’s a bit of a stretch to say the OT can be dismissed. Unless we call it something else. Perhaps Paulism. The early proponents of Jesus as Messiah all thought of him as the Jewish messiah, not something separate and new. From what we know — and it isn’t really very much — most believed he was mortal, not divine, and the “adopted” son of Yahweh, not equal to or the same as the Jewish god.

Again, that all came much, much later. Bart Ehrman is very good on this transformation, as is Richard E. Rubenstein. The latter literally wrote the book in the subject.

186

dave heasman 02.24.16 at 11:51 pm

plume @173 –

Which makes perfect sense to me, especially when it comes to Christianity. It is based on “personal revelation,” and being “saved.” As in, the believer, him or herself, being saved. It’s obviously the most extreme apotheosis of “me first” one can get . . . because it teaches that one’s personal beliefs are essential to one’s personal salvation, and not that one’s deeds in the world, or desire to make the world a better place, count.

Catholic social teaching?

187

Plume 02.25.16 at 12:49 am

dave 187,

Since those teachings exist all over the globe, throughout recorded time, and are in no way unique to Christian cultures, it can’t be said to be dependent on Christian beliefs or the Christian religion. They’re not something that was absent from the world before Christianity came about. They were here before it and widespread.

I’m still trying to find something good that is dependent upon Christian belief or religion itself, rather than humans, regardless of religious affiliation or belief. And I’ve been looking ever since I saw the light at age nine. Grew up in a Christian household, then discovered mythology and comparative religion, and the light bulb went on for me. Over time, this led me from agnosticism to atheism.

Throughout time, all across the world, in thousands of different cultures, humans have had this same desire to get answers to the basics. Why are we here. Why do people die. What happens to us after we die. And they have always sought divine help, protection and support. Thousands of different gods and goddesses. Thousands of names whispering in our heads. If there is only one god, why the multitude? Why did it take 200,000 years before Home Sapiens ever even heard the name Yahweh or Jesus? And why was that only with one small, relatively insignificant tribe, in one small place in the world?

One would think that if they truly were the creators of heaven and earth, there wouldn’t be different gods and goddesses in China, India, Africa, the Americas, Europe, etc. etc. One would think this would have been “revealed” to us 200,000 years ago, or at least with the dawn of the “higher civilizations” like Sumeria. Why is it the case that no one in history has ever worshiped gods and goddesses that were unknown to them via the usual route of cultural transmission? As in, if Christians today, even the most passionate and certain, had been raised in ancient Egypt, they wouldn’t have worshiped Yahweh or Jesus. It would have been Isis, Horus, Osiris, and so on.

It’s all fiction we invent to help us get through the darkness and out of the cave, or find others to fellowship and warmth. We invented the gods and goddesses. They didn’t create us. And we don’t need them in order to thrive and do great things in the world.

188

Patrick 02.25.16 at 1:01 am

I have absolutely no idea how or why anyone would try to defend Christianity by suggesting that the book of Revelations be read metaphorically. “Metaphor” doesn’t mean “any interpretation I like is valid.” The metaphor you derive from it is still going to be rooted in the text.

Or it isn’t necessarily… As far as the theological justification for reading things literally or metaphorically… if we’re going to talk theologically speaking, then theologically you might as well read the entire Bible as a cookbook. Theologically, you begin with a set of religious commitments and read the text in light of them.

This isn’t a joke. One of the biggest theological perspectives on the Bible around is that it is inerrant- by any rational standard it is not, but if you begin with the assumption that it is, and are willing to accept any reading no matter how strained, you get an inerrant Bible.

But there’s a cost to doing that.

We use the word “meaning” to refer to a lot of things. We might talk about the ideas the author of a text intended to convey, or the conclusions likely to drawn from a text by a given audience (of which there are many, with many perspectives). We might talk about the personal meaning a text has to us, or the idiosyncratic things it makes us think about. We might talk about the meaning created if we apply a set of formalist rules to a text, of which there are many as well.

Each of those has their own claim to legitimacy in specific contexts, when we’re asking certain questions. And each is less valuable in other contexts, when we’re asking other questions.

There are significant swaths of the Bible for which a metaphorical reading is poorly justified using, well, pretty much any of those claims to legitimacy, save the theological one of “I have a pre existing commitment to reading the text in this way, therefore I shall.” But that’s a subset of the idiosyncratic and personal reading category of interpretive methodologies, and once you’ve adopted it, any claim you make to your reading being of any use to anyone other than yourself depends on how well you can extra textually substantiate that pre existing commitment.

Which is why this is such an unpopular theological perspective. Adopting it implicitly undermines claims to theological legitimacy rooted in the text of the Bible.

189

js. 02.25.16 at 1:15 am

@Patrick/EB/RJ:

Any references on the “organic society” thing? I’m vaguely familiar with the term but don’t know a ton about it—and would like to know more. (That, by the way, seemed to me the one interesting subthread on here.)

190

js. 02.25.16 at 1:23 am

…Unless you just mean communitarian critiques of liberalism (or what used to be called that), about which I do know a semi-decent bit.

191

Patrick 02.25.16 at 1:43 am

I don’t have any good links off the top of my head… I’d be googling the same as you. Its a concept that originated with Burke.

But the basic idea is this:

There is a major and traditional strain of conservative thought that argues that societies develop over long periods of time as complex, interdependent sets of values and ways of living, subject to an almost evolutionary pressure that causes values and ways of living that don’t “work,” where “work” means something like “functions well as part of the whole,” eventually die out, leaving behind only values and ways of living that have something to recommend them.

But because society is a complex and interconnected set of values and ways of living, the reasons these things “work” may not be immediately apparent. Specifically, the down stream effects of making widescale changes to the value systems and means of living in a society may be astronomical, but they may not immediately kick in (because values don’t change in an instant) and they may not be easy to identify.

This point of view is generally coupled with a precautionary principle that argues that social engineering and rapid progressive change amounts to monkeying with a complex system without understanding how and why it works, and that we should be extremely reticent to do so unless we can be absolutely sure that we aren’t going to break society in the process.

To give an example, conservatives like Dreher, in fact Dreher specifically, typically draw on these ideas when discussing things like the change from a society endorsement of marriage as a sort of vocation to the current ideal of companionate marriage- in Dreher’s world view, the value shift that led to thinking of marriage in modern terms was a monkeying with the machinery of society without understanding its implications, and in retrospect, people like Dreher view all sorts of changes as having stemmed from it- high divorce rates, out of wedlock births, community breakdown in poor neighborhoods, etc. In fact, I’d be pretty surprised if Dreher doesn’t view that companionate marriage thing as a subset of a larger societal shift he probably similarly opposes, from a sort of role based society in which people find their place within a larger whole, to an individualist society that does a poor job of teaching people what we might call templates for how one “ought to live.” I don’t know everything Dreher writes, but if that’s his view, it would certainly be true to the typical form for conservatives of his apparent type.

Now to be clear, I don’t believe in the organic society concept.

But I’m sure Holbo is aware of it. Which is why I see him as being deeply disingenuous in this thread. Under Dreher’s world view, asking for specific negative consequences to SSM is ridiculous. Under Dreher’s world view, society is like a car being driven blindly down a rocky hillside by progressives, smashing into rock after rock along the way- and gay marriage is like swinging the steering wheel slightly to the left on the way down. At most, its going to change exactly which rocks we hit as we continue to careen out of control. Under Dreher’s world view, the best he can do is advocate maybe hitting the breaks, hoping that we’ll slow a little, and hoping that we don’t hit quite as many rocks on the course we’ve already set for ourselves.

192

Cranky Observer 02.25.16 at 1:52 am

= = = There is a major and traditional strain of conservative thought that argues that societies develop over long periods of time as complex, interdependent sets of values and ways of living, subject to an almost evolutionary pressure that causes values and ways of living that don’t “work,” where “work” means something like “functions well as part of the whole,” eventually die out, leaving behind only values and ways of living that have something to recommend them.

But because society is a complex and interconnected set of values and ways of living, the reasons these things “work” may not be immediately apparent. Specifically, the down stream effects of making widescale changes to the value systems and means of living in a society may be astronomical, but they may not immediately kick in (because values don’t change in an instant) and they may not be easy to identify. = = =

That’s not inherently implausible, and mirrors the observations I’ve made of US business practices over the last 30 years and the changes therein. But I’m darned to heck if I can figure out how to reconcile it with fundamentalist (or just strong) Christian beliefs. Christianity requires firm belief in a fundamental revealed wisdom – which is inherently contradictory to the concept of organic evolution of structure. Yet many conservatives who use the “organic conservatism” themes as you describe them also strongly advocate for Christian belief and use of Christian dogma in organizing current secular society. It’s a puzzle.

193

js. 02.25.16 at 1:52 am

Patrick — thanks! That’s very helpful, tho I am realizing that I am rather more familiar with the view than with the term. (Oddly, or not so, Google’s turning up lots of links to Durkheim on organic solidarity!)

In any case, I am very much inclined to agree with you, and will try to find out more.

194

Rich Puchalsky 02.25.16 at 1:56 am

If you’ve read a lot of posts on this blog, you know that Corey Robin (to oversimplify) basically doesn’t think that conservatives really believe in this “organic society thing”. Instead he thinks they are reactionaries. But when any of us say this about Dreher, we’re flaming or derping or otherwise not engaging in the conversation about Dreher that we are supposed to have.

195

SamChevre 02.25.16 at 2:00 am

Cranky Observer @ 193,

The key reconciling concept, for people who believe both (I’m one), is frequently unexpressed, or badly expressed. That is that the revealed truths are both factual, and interpreted in functional rather than dysfunctional ways because the dysfunctional ways didn’t work.

For factuality, there’s a great quip: the reason that you don’t put diesel in your car’s gas tank, and the reason the instruction manual SAYS don’t put diesel in your car’s gas tank, are the same reason; it will stop working if you do that.

196

John Holbo 02.25.16 at 2:01 am

“But when any of us say this about Dreher, we’re flaming or derping or otherwise not engaging in the conversation about Dreher that we are supposed to have.”

For the record, I think Dreher is a reactionary. But it’s too simple to say that if people are reactionaries they can’t also believe in the ‘organic society thing’. There’s no reason why you can’t have both. (It’s not like it’s some absurd dessert topping/floorwax conjunction.) The most common dynamic is, I’ll wager: reactionism fuels confabulation on behalf of ‘the organic society thing’.

197

Rich Puchalsky 02.25.16 at 2:13 am

I tend to think that the most prominent test, in a U.S. context, is Social Security. A supporter of organic society should, by now, have accepted that our society has come to terms with it, absorbed it or whatever, and that taking it away would now be a larger change than leaving it. But instead the right wants to do away with it. Basically nothing that goes against authority / hierarchy can ever be organic enough to be part of organic society: society always has to be reverted back to before it existed.

198

bianca steele 02.25.16 at 2:18 am

I tend to assume people talking about “organic” society mean metaphors of society as an organism, something that can have diseases, grow old and die, and so on–in a more literal way than Durkheim, and I’d think significantly discredited–or at least something that can’t be broken apart, with individuals having about the importance of corpuscles. But probably something like Burke is more what is meant.

199

LFC 02.25.16 at 2:19 am

@Peter
LFC My comment was not intended to rebut yours, but just a side-note.

Sure, understood, I just figured I’d take the opportunity anyway to clarify what I meant.

200

Plume 02.25.16 at 2:24 am

Patrick brings up some essential points. The reason why a “literal” reading of religious texts is so important is to compare and contrast, beyond our own idiosyncratic readings, our own projection of what ought to be. It should be the baseline, the starting point in deciding to use these texts as moral exemplars in comparison to, say, a Harry Potter novel or Shakespeare’s plays.

If people choose to read the books of the bible poetically, metaphorically, always looking to project the good into them, even though the literal texts depict a god who constantly commits genocide and so on, why not choose texts already non-violent, loving, regardless of whom one worships, peace-loving and inclusive? If a text actually requires us to ignore what is on the page and instead fill it up with our own moral compass, with our own sense of how things should be . . . . doesn’t that prove that we don’t need those texts in the first place? We already bring enough to our reading of those texts not to need them anymore, or the organized religion based on those texts.

Again, a Harry Potter novel or a play by Shakespeare should suffice. A song by Dylan, Lennon, Cat Stevens or Joan Baez brings us closer to our own moral compass, etc.

201

Ze K 02.25.16 at 8:27 am

So, what would this righteously humanistic, super-moral, and super-selfless ‘moral compass’ say about this suggestion: instead of mercilessly trolling countless millions of people by changing the meaning of the mating institution they perceive as magical, why not simply create a new, parallel, government-sponsored mating contract with the same exactly legal characteristics and consequences?

202

TM 02.25.16 at 8:29 am

195: it would be (mildly) interesting to pursue the Organic Society aspect further. For example, how do people like Dreher manage to convince themselves that whenever some tradition they particularly like is in decline, that is not evidence of the “organic society” evolving “naturally” as it has always done but must be due to “social engineering”, progressive elites “monkeying with the machinery of society without understanding its implications” etc. Marriage would of course be a prime example.

203

casmilus 02.25.16 at 9:19 am

@177

“Yet again, this is not a universal, nor even a majority Christian belief. The idea that Christianity is bases on a “personal revelation” or personal salvation is a recent Protestant development.”

Yes indeed. When Americans generalise about religion, they need to take care they aren’t assuming their homegrown variety is the whole story. It’s not even the whole story about Christianity.

204

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 10:49 am

Ze K at #202 writes: why not simply create a new, parallel, government-sponsored mating contract with the same exactly legal characteristics and consequences?

You mean something separate, but equal?

205

TM 02.25.16 at 11:39 am

JH 197: It’s not exactly news that reactionaries often pretend (and maybe believe) that their reactionarism (is that a word? it should be!) is derived from some deep philosophical principle. Does it really matter? (A topic for another Holbo post!) In any case, if you agree that Dreher is a reactionary, why not make that clear in your Dreher post, perhaps in the title or the first paragraph, so we will be spared from arguing that in future?

206

Ze K 02.25.16 at 11:47 am

“You mean something separate, but equal?”

Surely you’d view your preferred mating contract/ritual as morally superior, while the traditionalists would feel the same way about theirs. Seems like a win-win to me.

207

Salem 02.25.16 at 11:48 am

I tend to think that the most prominent test, in a U.S. context, is Social Security. A supporter of organic society should, by now, have accepted that our society has come to terms with it, absorbed it or whatever, and that taking it away would now be a larger change than leaving it. But instead the right wants to do away with it.

Sure, but if they think that it’s worked out badly, then they can still want to do away with it, on balance. It’s not “never ever make a change,” it’s “changes carry large, unknown risks.” Changing things “back” can never quite happen, for the reasons you point out, but changes “back” should be less risky than novel changes. They would not favour a sudden abolition, because of adaptation, and reliance, and transition costs, but they might favour phasing out the programme over time.

208

casmilus 02.25.16 at 11:52 am

The traditional way of spinning the “organic society” yarn is to emphasise that, like the body, it has distinct head and limbs, with distinct roles of command and service.

209

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 12:06 pm

Ze K: If that’s a yes, you may want to look up “separate but equal”, it has some legal history.

To answer your new point: I do regard my preferred mating contract/ritual as superior, which is why I was delighted to vote to allow same sex couples to use it.

Regarding it as superior and voting to prevent same sex couples access is very clearly bigotry.

210

TM 02.25.16 at 12:10 pm

192: “people like Dreher view all sorts of changes as having stemmed from it- high divorce rates, out of wedlock births, community breakdown in poor neighborhoods, etc.”

And as often has been pointed out, divorce and teen pregnany rates are highest in the most conservative red states with the highest religious observance. An inconsistency that Dreher et al. simply ignore, which to us ordinary rational people means that they don’t really care about these social effects at all, they are just a pretext for supporting a reactionary agenda, but then, we are just ordinary rational people and don’t have John Holbo’s superior sensitivity for conservative brain processes.

I strongly recommend the book The Marriage-Go-Round by Andrew Cherlin, where it is shown that family structures are more stable in secular welfarist societies like Sweden and Germany than they are in the more religious and more “family values”-conservative USA. Not just marriages are more stable but in fact, unmarried relationships with children in for example Sweden are more stable than marriages in the US.

This brings me to another issue. While conservatives/reactionaries have always railed against certain phenomena of modernity that they claim erode and destroy everything they hold dear, it is striking that American reactionaries in particular tend to have close to nothing to say about the destructive effects of capitalism on family structures and conservative values (*). This blind spot sharply distinguishes them from their major (continental) European counterparts, and sharply distinguishes American Evangelicals from Roman Catholics. This to me is where it gets interesting: Conservatives have always been suspicious of capitalistic modernity. Why are American conservatives/reactionaries so fervently pro-capitalism?

(*) Think of Walmart forcing its employees to work on Thanksgiving night, and self-proclaimed family values conservatives are too busy being outraged about the design of Starbucks cups to even notice how families are being torn apart by capitalistic profiteering.

211

magari 02.25.16 at 12:19 pm

TM, that’s the product of the Republican party, which had two wings to satisfy: its business elite and its (racist) social conservatives. They sold the conservatives on the need to promote capitalism by equating the later with hard work and just desserts, and equating the losers (particularly the black woman with children) with laziness and greed (the welfare queen). Hence the Republicans could unite these groups and strengthen as a party through issues like welfare reform.

Joe Soss et al’s Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race synthesizes this history very well.

212

MisterMr 02.25.16 at 12:20 pm

@TM 211

“Why are American conservatives/reactionaries so fervently pro-capitalism?”

Disclaimer: I’ve never been in the USA so I’m speaking mostly on conjecture.

In my opinion, a very important part of what we generally call “conservativism” is hypernationalism.
The USA, during the cold war, created a myth that the USA is the paladin of capitalism, that as a consequence represents freedom and everything that is good in the world (the russians, on the other hand, saw Russia as the paladin of socialism and everything that is good in the world).
This kind of self image links “conservatism” in the USA to lasseiz faire politics, but in reality the “conservatives” are in mostly for the nationalist vibe, whereas the plutocrats use this to their advantage.

For example, in the USA I think that it is normal to hear that socialism is unamerican, but in Italy, even the most ardent antisocialists would not say that socialism is “unitalian”.

213

TM 02.25.16 at 12:21 pm

207 et al, this is a red herring. In the US in particular, (hetero) people have always been free to choose whatever marriage contract they prefer. In most of Europe, the legal act of marriage is performed by the state according to state law using a specific legal formula, and the church marriage which people may opt for separately has no legal force in itself. In the US, it is the priest, guru or minister of the church of Star Trek (not sure if that exists but I would be very surprised if it doesn’t) who performs the actual legal act using whatever religious or non-religious language they prefer.

214

Plume 02.25.16 at 12:25 pm

Ze K @202,

“So, what would this righteously humanistic, super-moral, and super-selfless ‘moral compass’ say about this suggestion: instead of mercilessly trolling countless millions of people by changing the meaning of the mating institution they perceive as magical, why not simply create a new, parallel, government-sponsored mating contract with the same exactly legal characteristics and consequences?”

It doesn’t “change the meaning.” That’s just the religious right’s desperate spin. And who died and made them king of the world to decide any of that anyway?

It has always meant different things to everyone who enters into marriage agreements. And there is no such thing as “traditional marriage,” which varies from culture to culture, through time. Ironically, of course, in the bible it often meant one old dude marrying several young girls at the same time, with the young girls having no say so in the matter. And if those young girls weren’t virgins on their wedding night, and this was discovered, the god of the bible says “kill them!!”

We are a democracy. We supposedly have equal protection under the law. We don’t have a theocracy. Religious persons don’t get to set “meaning” or decide for everyone else what constitutes a legal contract in this country. Sorry, but a sane society wouldn’t let the barely closeted bigotry of religious nutcases dictate who gets to marry and who can’t. It’s not their call and their own absurd bigotry, which they claim is based on (Iron Age, barbaric, misogynist and grotesquely ethnocentric) sacred texts isn’t relevant . . . . and they shouldn’t be catered to when it comes to civic law and public policy.

But the real key is this, if we go by just the cold logic of the situation. Same sex marriage can’t possibly “change the meaning” of marriage for hetero couples. Their marriages remain absolutely unaffected by what others do. It’s still a marriage just like it always was, at least until they get divorced.

215

Ze K 02.25.16 at 12:28 pm

“Regarding it as superior and voting to prevent same sex couples access is very clearly bigotry.”

See, and with two different contracts it’d be even easier for you, Big-Endians, to enjoy despising the Little-Endians (and vice-versa), since they’ll be easily identifiable by color-coded mating certificates. I just can’t see any downside to my suggestion…

216

TM 02.25.16 at 12:28 pm

212 agreed, we know who benefits, but it doesn’t really *explain* the inconsistency.

217

magari 02.25.16 at 12:53 pm

Yes it does, at least in part. What you call an “inconsistency” was generated by the Republican Party as an electoral tactic. That it could work was premised in the black question, which is unique to the US. Then there are two general background conditions: (1) the Protestant spirit of capitalism, and (2) Americans are not trained to think critically about capitalism, whether Democrat, Republican, Christian or secular. On that note, where the Cold War left off, neoliberalism has picked up.

218

Plume 02.25.16 at 12:53 pm

Ze K @216,

The downsides are many. Among them: encouraging more religious nutcase activism on behalf of “changing the meaning” of our system from democratic republic to theocracy.

Seriously. It’s far easier for you to just go about your own business, mind your own business, live and let live. If you are against same sex marriage, don’t get married to someone from the same sex. Problem solved. Case closed.

That works for the Kim Davises of this world, too.

219

Plume 02.25.16 at 1:01 pm

MrMister 213,

Several good points. But many Russians didn’t see the Soviet state as “socialist” at all. Many took Lenin at his word when he said they’d have to institute state capitalism first . . . . and then they never got around to switching to socialism, which requires actual democracy, inside and outside the workplace. The people, not dictators (or political parties), also own the means of production under actual socialism, and that obviously never occurred. I doubt if most Russians were fooled by Soviet propaganda on the subject, from 1917 through 1991.

220

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 1:44 pm

Ze K – you seem to be under the impression that the two sides are gays and traditionalists.

Here in Ireland, the referendum result was 62% Yes to 38% No. Most of the people who voted to allow SSM were not gay, and most of the straight people who voted, voted Yes.

Creating a separate-but-equal civil-marriage-that-isn’t-called-marriage, apart from the legal issues with such a thing, would not satisfy the majority of straight people who want gays to have access to the same civil marriage status.

221

Salem 02.25.16 at 2:18 pm

The association between conservatism and capitalism is present throughout the Anglosphere and so cannot be explained by reasons peculiar to the USA.

I think the explanation is that many conservatives in these countries see “capitalism”* as a key part of their cultural heritage. I don’t think they’re wrong in that. France, Spain, etc have very different histories. So they are no more worried that their tradition of “capitalism” will undermine their tradition of Thanksgiving than they are that their traditional religion will undermine their tradition of Maypoles. Both might happen, but that’s how cultural streams fight it out, and it’s not alarming.

* Though they would be more likely to put it in terms of secure property rights and a “free market” etc.

222

Lee A. Arnold 02.25.16 at 2:21 pm

John Holbo: “…can’t know that until we hear the argument – which I think we still haven’t; so the ball is in Dreher’s court. But it seems like the premises will have to concern the sociology of SSM; not pure MacIntyre-style reflections about philosophical mistakes leading to global tendencies towards social collapse… ”

Dreher may not really care. This has nothing to do with intellect, intellect will be twisted as required; and the sexual fear is a separable issue. The main mechanism seems to be that Dreher is trying to answer his need for further spiritual experience within the framework of traditional ritual religion.

I predict that Dreher’s return-of-ball would continue to exhibit his mistake in believing that traditional religion is the only source of transcendent consciousness.

I further predict that the modernist response will continue to exhibit the opposite mistakes, in believing either 1. that transcendent consciousness doesn’t exist, or 2. that it is attainable by modern moral codes or Dylan lyrics, and/or 3. it is fully achieved in epiphanies, creative flow states, appreciations of nature or sunsets, etc.

I think we should ask everybody involved in this conversation, including Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor, to enroll into one of the many university-sanctioned programs of psychedelic experience. Stop wasting your own time, people!

Then afterward, ask everybody to write a book review of this excellent new release from Columbia University Press:
http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Knowledge-Psychedelics-Religious-Experiences/dp/0231174063

223

Ze K 02.25.16 at 2:25 pm

“you seem to be under the impression that the two sides are gays and traditionalists”

How could you get the impression that I’m under this impression? Isn’t comment 53 clear enough?

And why would it dissatisfy anyone on the liberal side? Is the word ‘marriage’ sacred to you? What if we spell it mariage, and pronounce it in the French fashion?

224

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 2:40 pm

I get that impression because you think that creating a new category covering gays but not including traditionalists could satisfy everyone.

But I am already married – creating a new separate gay marriage would have me lumped with the bigots, not the gays. Not voting for that.

225

Plume 02.25.16 at 2:42 pm

@222,

Thing is, very few Americans know what “capitalism” is, how it came to be, its effects, or what makes it unique and unprecedented. Fewer still if they’re conservatives. They tend all too often to confuse “capitalism” with commerce and trade, and think the latter can be used interchangeably with the former.

They also don’t realize that America wasn’t close to being a capitalist society until after the Civil War. Prior to that (at least) 80% of Americans weren’t capitalists, didn’t work for capitalists, could avoid capitalist markets, worked for themselves, were small farmers, craftspersons, artisans, and engaged in self-provisioning and small scale production. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that we flipped that 80/20.

See Steve Fraser’s The Age of Acquiescence for the history. And for the (conveniently) forgotten history of American anticapitalist resistance.

They also really need to read The Origin of Capitalism, by Ellen Meiksins Wood, and The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman. The former is possibly the best single description of what makes capitalism unprecedented and why . . . and the latter is among the best books ever written on primitive accumulation and the impact of the early political economists on the rise of capitalism . . . . how it rose and why.

226

Ze K 02.25.16 at 2:46 pm

So you divorce and get maried, thus making the conscientious choice. Something to be proud of, and a great excuse for a party.

227

Plume 02.25.16 at 2:47 pm

Ze K @224,

Using your rationale, it would have made sense to divide white heteros who married other white heteros from other racial and ethnic combinations and set up separate licenses, etc. When Loving V. Virginia came up for debate, people were screaming about it “changing the definition of marriage” too.

Again, best solution to your problem — and it is just your problem and people who think as you do — don’t marry someone from the same sex, if you oppose this. Case closed. Problem solved. No need whatsoever to set up separate drinking fountains with special signs on them like “heteros only” or “gays only.”

228

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 3:07 pm

Ze K writes So you divorce and get maried, thus making the conscientious choice.

No, thank, I’d rather extend equal rights to gays than jump though hoops to avoid offending bigots.

But perhaps your scheme could be used in other areas. Saudi women could be allowed to chip even though they could still not drive. We could have Miscarraige for mixed race couples, Totes for women, faux-reedom for blacks.

It could catch on!

229

Stephen 02.25.16 at 3:14 pm

MisterMr@213; “The USA, during the cold war, created a myth that the USA is the paladin of capitalism, that as a consequence represents freedom and everything that is good in the world”. My impression was that the US belief that America represents freedom and everything that is good in the world substantially predates both the Cold War and extensive capitalism; indeed, that belief seems to have been held in some parts of what is now the US well before the US was founded. Am I wrong?

Plume@220: I have distinct memories from the 1970s and after of Russians, and pro-Soviet people in Europe, praising “actually existing socialism”. I can see why you might regard that as a misnomer, but did those who used it mostly believe it?

230

casmilus 02.25.16 at 3:20 pm

But does “Holbo” = “panda”?

231

Plume 02.25.16 at 3:30 pm

Stephen,

I can walk that back to say, well, we really don’t know. I was responding to a comment — which I may have misread — that seemed to say all Russians saw the Soviet Union as a paladin of socialism. Given the huge fights on the left from Day One, and the fact that the Bolsheviks were never the “popular choice,” and continued leftist criticism of their reign, I just don’t see how even a majority of Russians would viewed the SU that way. But, who knows? Perhaps they did. And it’s not as if we can access numerous, reliable, popular surveys of Russian opinion.

It just doesn’t strike me as likely. But I could be dead wrong.

232

Patrick 02.25.16 at 4:07 pm

Random comments.

1. Having two types of marriage seems like both a giant waste and an arguable first amendment violation.

In the status quo, I am in no way obliged to personally view your marriage as equally valid to mine. If I want to join some sect that claims that marriages are fraudulent unless you jump through some theological hoop, that’s my religious right. But that’s a personal judgment. I have to accept that the public sphere is shared, and that my personal religious judgments only extend to that territory that is properly private and my own.

Creating multiple forms of marriage so that I can pretend that my true marriage isn’t being equated to that of you heathen non believers, well, I know excessive entanglement precedent took a lot of shots from our recently deceased friend, but this doesn’t seem to be an area the government needs to fiddle with. It seems more appropriate to do the usual- let everyone have their own churches that so their own things and preach awful stuff about each other, and stay out of it. One legal marriage, a million private religious opinions on what counts as religiously valid marriage, done. Everyone is being treated equally.

2. Dreher may be a reactionary who pretends to be a Burkean conservative, but if he explicitly argues in Burkean conservative terms and you try to refute him by imputing reactionary politics to him, refuting those, and declaring that you’ve defeated his position, you are indeed derping. If nothing else, at least make explicit that you’re not answering what your opponent said, you’re reconstructing what you think he meant and attacking that.

3. TM at 203- the usual argument is to either 1) claim that the shift in attitudes is being imposed top down by the courts and media, or 2) claim that the underlying problem is essentially the way modernity causes all cultural change to happen too fast across the board, and that conservatism is a needed break on an out of control train. I personally don’t buy it, to be clear. I don’t think the entire “society was the way it was because it works and changing it might break things” argument works. For every example you can name of a cultural group having it’s traditional way of living broken by modernity sending it’s members into a spiral of social distress, you can make another that adapted just fine, or still another where insistence of maintaining the old ways in the face of modernity seems to be at the root of their distressed situation.

233

TM 02.25.16 at 4:13 pm

222: For most Americans, capitalism and socialism are just buzzwords. It used to be that the former was good and the latter bad, now a new generation is having a fresh look and deciding that if socialism is what they have in Denmark – universal healthcare and free education and so on – then maybe it’s not bad at all. But that is beside the point of the question I’m asking. The Thanksgiving example I cited is a specific example how capitalism destroys family coherence but you don’t have to talk about it in those terms. You can just say that it’s wrong to force mothers away from the Thanksgiving table just because a few people want to go shopping on a day that traditionally (by the most American of all traditions no less) is dedicated to family reunion. It’s an easy case of defending traditional family values and most Americans surely support the family side against Walmart (without necessarily defining this as opposition to capitalism).

Yet American conservatives/reactionaries opt to be on the other side, the side that obviously promotes the destruction of family values. And I ask why, and I also ask why progressives don’t more forcefully take the opportunity offered by these kind of conflicts to call out the hypocrisy of the conservatives.

234

TM 02.25.16 at 4:23 pm

233. “the usual argument is to either 1) claim that the shift in attitudes is being imposed top down by the courts and media, or 2) claim that the underlying problem is essentially the way modernity causes all cultural change to happen too fast across the board, and that conservatism is a needed break on an out of control train.”

Again it’s interesting that traditionally, when argument 2) was made by conservatives (e.g. the Popes – not just the current one but really any modern Pope), it included at least some suspicion of capitalist materialism. A “conservatism” that laments cultural change but embraces its major driver – capitalism – is a contradiction in terms.

235

Rich Puchalsky 02.25.16 at 4:40 pm

Salem: “The association between conservatism and capitalism is present throughout the Anglosphere and so cannot be explained by reasons peculiar to the USA.”

True, but:

Salem: “I think the explanation is that many conservatives in these countries see “capitalism”* as a key part of their cultural heritage. “

I don’t think that this is true. I think that conservatives oppose things like Social Security because they want a social distinctions to be preserved, and the foremost distinction that most people are involved in is not capitalist / prole, it’s worker / nonworker. You can see this as motivated by ancient cultural beliefs about free-riders if you like, but in any case I don’t think it has much to do with capitalism or even “capitalism”. It has to do with shaming people and feeling pride that you aren’t one of those people.

Patrick: “Dreher may be a reactionary who pretends to be a Burkean conservative, but if he explicitly argues in Burkean conservative terms and you try to refute him by imputing reactionary politics to him, refuting those, and declaring that you’ve defeated his position, you are indeed deriving.”

But what are we doing in this thread? Arguing against Dreher? He isn’t here. Are we arguing against Holbo’s interpretation of Dreher? Or are we looking at Dreher as an interesting example of a more general cultural phenomenon? If the last, Dreher’s particular formal argument isn’t really what we’re looking at.

236

bianca steele 02.25.16 at 4:48 pm

TM makes good points. If we had Christian Democrats as a voting option in the US–and if organized religion in the U.S. had a different history, maybe–someone like Dreher would see that as an option, or might have twenty years ago, and wouldn’t have been politicized the way he was. It seems like the point is mostly academic, though.

237

Ze K 02.25.16 at 4:50 pm

“some sect that claims that marriages are fraudulent “

It doesn’t have to be claimed as fraudulent, just different. One purely secular, the other one traditional, quasi-religious, as perceived by traditionalists.

You don’t need, for your marriage, the religious component. All you need is the legal component, the ‘rights’. I can’t find any justifiable reason for you to traumatize people, to drive people into ditches, for something you don’t need or care about.

238

TM 02.25.16 at 4:58 pm

238, again, in the US everybody is perfectly free to view their marriage as traditional or not, religious or not. They can choose whatever marriage ritual they like performed by almost whoever they like. What is your point?

239

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 4:59 pm

But Ze K – your wish is already granted! No-one wants to force religions to marry gay people in their rituals or sacraments or whatever, just like we don’t oblige them to remarry divorced people.

240

MisterMr 02.25.16 at 6:54 pm

On the russian nationalists being pro soviet VS american being pro capitalism:
It depends on the meaning of the term “conservatives”, I think that russians in the 90s that were still pro-soviet can be described as “conservatives” in various senses.

On the “marriage with another name” idea, in Italy just today a law was passed, that created “civil unions”, a sort of marriage with another name for homosexuals.
The law passed against a lot of oppositions, and the “civil unions” actually give a lot less rights than marriages (a left leaning party, Sel, voted against the law, I suppose on the ground that it was too discriminatory for homosexuals).
Nevertheless, self described “pro family values” partyes and movements still hate the law and are still promising to repeal it, so I don’t think that the idea of “marriage with another name” can work in pratice.

241

Niall McAuley 02.25.16 at 7:04 pm

We had a civil partnership law in Ireland too. Quite rightly, activists treated it as a stepping stone only to full equality. The same will happen in Italy, and the folks who fought civil unions will suddenly decide they are great if marriage is on the table.

242

Collin Street 02.25.16 at 8:03 pm

You don’t need, for your marriage, the religious component. All you need is the legal component, the ‘rights’.

Sure. But I’d rather extend equal rights to gays than jump though hoops to avoid offending bigots.

And the point is: legal — thus social — recognition of the existence and validity-of-existence of gay people is what causes the problem for the bigots. There is no way of giving equal or even sorta-kinda-equal-ish rights to gay people without forcing bigots to live in a world where gay people have some sort of right to be and exist as gay: compromise proposals, anything that reduces the “trauma” to bigots of acknowledging that people can legitimately “be gay”, fundamentally defeats our purpose here.

We don’t do it that way because a hefty fraction of the population is ignorant of the above and conflict-averse, we work through wishy-washy pointless compromise positions rather than ripping the bandage off, but that’s the underlying social dynamic.

[we don’t want to enable even private bigotry through any public action. You can be a bigot, but don’t expect society to make space for you in any way. If you find it confronting to have some sort of fundamental aspect of your nature-as-a-human rejected that way… well, you’re not exactly in a position to claim that that’s wrong, are you?]

243

Patrick 02.25.16 at 8:29 pm

Ze K- I agree that the only thing people are entitled to is the legal component of marriage. But I don’t see why that would entail needing a civil union setup as opposed to the status quo, in which we’re all free to privately believe that each other’s marriages aren’t “real” in a religious sense, if that’s what we’re wont to do.

We already have civil unions. They’re called “marriages.”

244

Plume 02.25.16 at 10:05 pm

“I can’t find any justifiable reason for you to traumatize people, to drive people into ditches, for something you don’t need or care about.”

That’s what white men used to say when there was talk of women getting the vote, blacks being able to join the Club and swim in “white’s only” swimming pools, the “lower classes” being out and about, rubbing shoulders with the gents and so on.

If some people are “traumatized” at the thoughts of gay people getting married, well, that’s their problem, and likely a result of their parents’ brainwashing them, along with their ministers.

Not society’s problem to deal with — at all. Conservatives are always talking about “taking personal responsibility,” right? Then those who are “traumatized” should do just that. Buck up. Pull yourself up by your own boot straps and tough it out. Or start a local chapter of Bigots Anonymous and work through a twelve step plan. You already have that “higher power” thing working, as you often remind us.

Not our problem if you can’t.

245

John Holbo 02.26.16 at 4:20 am

“In any case, if you agree that Dreher is a reactionary, why not make that clear in your Dreher post, perhaps in the title or the first paragraph, so we will be spared from arguing that in future?”

Isn’t it fairly obvious that Dreher is a reactionary?

246

Ze K 02.26.16 at 8:34 am

Patrick “We already have civil unions. They’re called “marriages.””

No, you’re wrong, obviously. There is a large number of your fellow citizens who perceive ‘marriage’ in quasi-religious, traditionalist terms, not as a legal contract. That’s an undeniable fact.

The question is whether millions of your fellow citizens, whose understanding of ‘marriage’ is different from yours, deserve consideration, acceptance, accommodation. Or whether they only deserve mockery and hatred. I see that many here view it exactly in these terms, and that’s good.

247

TM 02.26.16 at 9:03 am

JH: “I still honestly don’t know what Dreher’s argument is.”

248

TM 02.26.16 at 9:06 am

Ze K 247: That was some very effective trolling but it should be enough. Please no more feeding the troll.

249

John Holbo 02.26.16 at 9:09 am

TM, are you suggesting there is tension between seeing Dreher as a clear reactionary and not being able to tell what his argument is (such as it may be)? I don’t see the tension.

250

Niall McAuley 02.26.16 at 9:13 am

Ze K writes @#247: There is a large number of your fellow citizens who perceive ‘marriage’ in quasi-religious, traditionalist terms, not as a legal contract.

I would strongly advise any such people to consult a lawyer before entering into any form of marriage.

251

casmilus 02.26.16 at 9:30 am

From a Catholic perspective, all remarriages of divorcees whose ex-partners are still-living, are invalid. I don’t think anyone’s ever cared about that in US politics, have they? Not enough to demand their “religious liberty” be respected.

I’d be fascinated if this is not the case.

252

casmilus 02.26.16 at 9:33 am

I don’t believe Dreher has any consistent philosophy. I think he just takes whatever he read last week and tries to work it into the usual cultural-conservative talking points. I don’t think he cares much for the detail of “After Virtue”, beyond the executive summary that Modern Liberalism Is Bad.

253

TM 02.26.16 at 9:45 am

Just teasing, JH. If you think trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries is a worthwhile use of your time, who am I to disagree ;-)

254

John Holbo 02.26.16 at 10:10 am

“If you think trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries is a worthwhile use of your time, who am I to disagree”

It is, in fact, one of my hobbies, and I would not fault anyone for taking up knitting instead.

255

Ze K 02.26.16 at 10:18 am

“I don’t think anyone’s ever cared about that in US politics, have they?”

Well, a couple of Kennedys had to get their marriages nullified, by Vatican. And it was in newspapers. So, apparently some did care.

256

TM 02.26.16 at 10:26 am

Please please no more feeding the troll.

257

Rich Puchalsky 02.26.16 at 1:29 pm

OK, we’re all agreed that Dreher is a reactionary in addition to being a Burkean conservative (or possibly, faking being a Burkean conservative). This is the peanut butter and chocolate that conservatives long ago smashed together. What seems to distinguish Dreher is the role reversal of who he imagines kicking out of society. Usually conservatives are all about sending various social rejects to the camps. Dreher has given up on that and is envisioning retreating to a sanctuary with like-minded people.

But there’s nothing about this that is really argumentatively different, is there? In both cases there’s supposed to be separation of us and them. When the conservatives imagine victory, they imagine sending us away. When they imagine defeat, they imagine having to seclude themselves.

258

Niall McAuley 02.26.16 at 1:57 pm

Well, there is also Galt’s Gulch, where they seclude themselves and win.

259

TM 02.26.16 at 2:22 pm

192 “But because society is a complex and interconnected set of values and ways of living, the reasons these things “work” may not be immediately apparent. Specifically, the down stream effects of making widescale changes to the value systems and means of living in a society may be astronomical, but they may not immediately kick in (because values don’t change in an instant) and they may not be easy to identify.”

211 “And as often has been pointed out, divorce and teen pregnany rates are highest in the most conservative red states with the highest religious observance. An inconsistency that Dreher et al. simply ignore, which to us ordinary rational people means that they don’t really care about these social effects at all, they are just a pretext for supporting a reactionary agenda”

Case in point:

“The abortion rate was lower … where more women live under liberal abortion laws.”
Why? Because laws restricting abortion tend to be most prevalent in places where contraception and comprehensive sex education are hard to obtain, and in which sex and childbirth outside marriage are anathematised. (…) Western Europe has the world’s lowest termination rate: 12 per year for every 1000 women of reproductive age. The more godly North America aborts 19 embryos for every 1000 women. In South America, where (when the figures were collected) the practice was banned everywhere, the rate was 32. In eastern Africa, where ferocious laws and powerful religious injunctions should – according to conservative theory – have stamped out the practice long ago, it was 38. (…)

Facts, who needs ‘em? Across the red states of the US, legislators have been merrily passing laws that make abortion clinics impossible to run, while denying children effective sex education. In Texas, thanks to restrictive new statutes, over half the clinics have closed since 2013. But women are still obliged to visit three times before receiving treatment: in some cases this means travelling 1000 miles or more. Unsurprisingly, 7% of those seeking medical help have already attempted their own solutions. (…)

The religious conservatives who oppose these measures [contraception etc.] have blood on their hands. They are responsible for high abortion rates; they are responsible for the injury and death of women. And they have the flaming cheek to talk about the sanctity of life.

George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com/2016/01/13/sex-pests/

260

Plume 02.26.16 at 2:46 pm

Ze K,

“The question is whether millions of your fellow citizens, whose understanding of ‘marriage’ is different from yours, deserve consideration, acceptance, accommodation. Or whether they only deserve mockery and hatred. I see that many here view it exactly in these terms, and that’s good.”

No. The question is why you keep insisting that this should go beyond their own choices. I don’t think anyone is saying they shouldn’t be able to view marriage the way they do. Go for it. Good for them, if that’s the way they feel about it. They just don’t get to impose that view on others.

It’s not rocket science.

261

bianca steele 02.26.16 at 3:22 pm

@Rich,

One problem is that it’s not entirely clear how what Dreher’s proposing really could come out of MacIntyre’s argument, because (a) the idea of a new Benedict Option is playing a rhetorical role, a defeatist one at odds with what’s presumably MacIntyre’s preferred doctrine, as the extended analogy John quoted from is, and (b) Dreher and his family
are not in a position to do literally what a Benedict Option would entail, or to call for such a thing for lots of other people in their position, because what it literally calls for is letting lay religion pretty much universally collapse. So what Dreher is actually doing is calling for a kind of adaptation of Russell Fox’s ideas to the right, and using those ideas in support of tradition conservative exclusion. All that part doesn’t really come from MacIntyre.

262

Lee A. Arnold 02.26.16 at 3:28 pm

John Holbo #255: “It is, in fact, one of my hobbies, and I would not fault anyone for taking up knitting instead.”

I applaud the first part of this, but disagree with the second part. Don’t be caught knitting!

My point at #233 above is not to ignore the intellectual arguments of religious reactionaries. It’s just to remind us that these arguments are NOT their primary motivations, even though the religionists, themselves, believe them to be. Thus, our hope for deep intellectual engagement which might lead to agreement is unrealistic.

You may think I contradict myself. Because as you know (and as you have admonished me), I occasionally argue at Crooked Timber for a hundred comments and more, in order to follow a reactionary interlocutor. This is usually when I don’t understand the underlying psychological mechanism. (And occasionally I pursue the intellectual egotists who write egregiously offensive stupidities. No matter which side they are on.)

They are not always trolls, by the way. Someone who disagrees with you is not necessarily a “troll”. That originally had a different internet meaning.

Far from ignoring them, “trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries” may be the only tool we have, to try to avoid an immediate bloodletting. This may soon be pertinent. Soon we may be running headlong into World War III.

Observe: In the US, Trump is preaching that ol’-time economic nationalism — “get the jobs back, take their oil”, etc. — and he is getting a big response out of his supporters. This was the predominant kind of political-economic argument on ALL sides, just prior to World War II.

Trump had reached a ceiling of support — but has maintained it long enough to begin to pick up more support, now. His partisan competitors prove ineffective to challenge him, then they drop out, and some of their supporters move over to him, in the usual partisan way. This political development too has frightful prewar precursors. The reactionary religionists will be getting on board.

No taking up knitting, we need all hands on deck. Reports from real conversations, two different locations in my neighborhood, yesterday:

Trump’s blue-collar supporters tell me that it’ll be all right. But they don’t understand that the economics he is preaching won’t work except as illusion, that it will beggar the rest of the world, and that it will lead to more unrest and bellicosity everywhere. Tried to explain it, to no avail.

And of course they do not see Trump as evil. But, I ask, he already courts evil in his willingness to stand alongside racism, hatred. Isn’t that dangerous? Supporters respond that Trump is not racist, he is “just saying what needs to be said: others are taking advantage of us,” etc.

The emotional, economic, and intellectual indicators are falling into alignment. We have seen this before. It unleashes a dangerous situation which can move beyond anyone’s control.

Since Karl Polanyi’s great book, we have understood that this species of political danger has been an ongoing feature of the new economic system since it fully arose in the 18th Century. We’ve already seen some horrifying outbreaks.

How to fight it? Employing our systems-theoretical intuition of “new emergence”, we might take a fragment from Heraclitus, and guess that will always come a little differently. “Trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries” may be the only way to prepare, to anticipate possible scenarios, to try to defuse it.

“It won’t be flood, it will be the fire, next time.”

263

Plume 02.26.16 at 3:53 pm

Lee @263,

Trump’s supporters, in large majorities, significant pluralities or sizable percentages, support denying entrance to all Muslims; shutting down mosques; establishing a database just to track Muslims; outlawing Islam; support the display of the confederate flag; the Southern side in the Civil War; believe Lincoln was wrong to free the slaves; support banning of gay people from America.

(From the NYT)

Measuring Trump Supporters for Intolerance

Our media (with exceptions) have done a tremendous disservice by trying to say good things about his supporters, and more than a few TV pundits have all but mainstreamed Trump’s fascism. It’s not enough to say, or suggest, that it might all be for show — and it might be. They still owe it to Americans to say clearly, and often, that what he proposes, and what his fans support, is fascism.

264

Ze K 02.26.16 at 4:05 pm

@Plume “They just don’t get to impose that view on others.”

Plume, brother, I find it difficult to argue with you, on account of you sometimes sounding sort of fundamentalist. And I mean this with all due respect and in the nicest way possible. And I’ll admit that in your own universe your opinions are perfectly consistent, so what’s there to argue about?

But okay, I’ll try: come on now, how can you seriously blame traditionalists for imposing the view that only 10-15 years ago was everyone’s view?

It’s exactly the opposite. You’re imposing your view on them, your super-modern (and undoubtedly super-moral) view that they are not ready to accept. Not yet. Due to their limitations: they’re only human. So, cut ’em some slack.

265

TM 02.26.16 at 4:06 pm

Lee: “Far from ignoring them, “trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries” may be the only tool we have, to try to avoid an immediate bloodletting.”

Maybe I shouldn’t bite but… by what mechanism would “trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries” avoid bloodletting? Unless I got you wrong, you say that convincing the reactionaries through intellectual engagement is unrealistic.

266

bianca steele 02.26.16 at 4:15 pm

This is why Ze K has always been my favorite troll! Toleration of Islam isn’t universally accepted yet! Don’t you think your support for the First Amendment is sort of . . . unfair?

267

Plume 02.26.16 at 4:32 pm

Ze K @265,

Um, I’m far, far from being “fundamentalist.”

Not sure how many different ways I need to keep saying this:

I don’t care how “traditionalists” view marriage. It makes no difference to me, and I’m not in any way trying to impose my views on them. They are free to look at marriage any way they choose. If they want to view it as sacred and ordained by Yahweh, good for them. In their own lives, with their own choices, they are free to pursue that view. They just don’t get to impose their view on the decisions others make. It’s that simple.

Again, this is really, really easily solved. They believe marriage is between a man and a woman — though, again, if they actually followed their sacred texts to the letter, they’d be just fine with polygamy, and what we would now most certainly consider illegal ages for girls to marry. They would be just fine with girls being forced into these marriages by parents, or elders, or various aristocracy, etc. etc. But let’s put that aside for now . . .

They get to match their views to their own actions by NOT marrying the same sex. I have zero problem with that, and it’s case closed. It’s none of their business who others marry. It’s not their business if others decide to marry outside their ethnicity, their religion, their book clubs, whatever. Just as it’s none of our business if “traditionalists” decide to hetero-marry, stay within their ethnicity, religion or book clubs, etc. etc. None of our business. None of their business. To each their own.

That’s “freedom and liberty” in a nutshell.

“Imposing one’s views on others” in this case would be forcing other people to obey your own view of what marriage is, denying them the chance to marry whom they love, denying them equal protection under the law, forcing them to adhere to your view of what THEY should do with their lives. It’s obviously not “imposing one’s views on others” to say you are free to be a traditionalist in your own life, with your own decisions, but not others.

All that said . . . . tell me, please, are you just trolling, or playing devil’s advocate? Or do you actually believe what you’ve been posting? Am I missing something?

268

TM 02.26.16 at 4:56 pm

“tell me, please, are you just trolling? Am I missing something?”

Does a bear shit in the woods? Is the Pope catholic? (:rolleyes)

269

Plume 02.26.16 at 5:01 pm

TM,

Do you feel better now?

I don’t collect a dossier on people here, and was absent for a few months. So, please pardon me if I didn’t know it with certainty before hand.

roll eyes, indeed.

270

geo 02.26.16 at 5:23 pm

Lee @263: Soon we may be running headlong into World War III.

This is quite a shock. Based on your previous predictions, I’ve been looking forward to a future of universal leisured abundance and vibrantly hyperconnected democracy.

271

LFC 02.26.16 at 5:45 pm

Lee A. @263
Trump’s blue-collar supporters tell me that it’ll be all right. But they don’t understand that the economics he is preaching won’t work except as illusion, that it will beggar the rest of the world, and that it will lead to more unrest and bellicosity everywhere. Tried to explain it, to no avail.

Perhaps a more Socratic approach might be indicated, e.g.:

Q. You like Trump’s pledge to “bring our jobs back,” don’t you?
A. Damn right.
Q. Exactly how will Trump bring our jobs back?
A. Well, he’s going to send his big-business friends, real dealmakers and negotiators, to bargain hard with the Chinese and others and lay down the law to them.
Q. And the Chinese are going to tell them to go fu*k themselves. Then what?
A. [no answer]

272

Stephen 02.26.16 at 5:47 pm

Lee A Arnold@263: “Trump is preaching that ol’-time economic nationalism — “get the jobs back, take their oil”, etc. … This was the predominant kind of political-economic argument on ALL sides, just prior to World War II.”

If you had written BOTH sides I would have supposed you might have meant the US Democrats and Republicans, pre-Pearl Harbor. I’m not sure that would have been an accurate description, but I don’t always understand the US.

But since you wrote ALL sides I can only suppose you meant all states involved in the war that started rather earlier. As a description of the arguments prevailing immediately pre-war in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Greece, Jugoslavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China … well, inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

Which should not be taken to mean that I do not regard Mr Trump with hatred, ridicule and contempt.

273

Bruce Wilder 02.26.16 at 5:47 pm

Lee A. Arnold: the economics [Trump] is preaching won’t work

Not everyone agrees.

Preaching against the preaching has the great weakness that the legitimacy of the technocracy and its doctrines has been called into question by events and evolutions. The “very serious” are objects of ridicule and contempt, when they are not performing self-parodies. If ordinary people do not understand an rationalist’s argument, they are likely to suppose that they are being snowed. And, they may be right. It is a characteristic of the times, no?

274

LFC 02.26.16 at 6:02 pm

Ian Welsh (linked by BW):
What Trump wants to do is to use tariffs to return production to the United States. He has mentioned a 35 percent tariff on cars produced in Mexico, for example.

This will severely hurt the Mexican auto industry and increase immigration pressure. The Trump wall won’t keep it back b.c it’s impossible effectively to wall off a 2000-mile border. A laid-off Mexican auto worker, incensed and driven to despair, will take flying lessons, get his hands on (with the help of a Mexican drug cartel) a small private plane, and manage to fly it directly into the White House while Trump is in residence. Trump will be seriously injured and hospitalized, during which period his vice president, Charlie Sheen, will run the country. Hooray.

275

LFC 02.26.16 at 6:03 pm

And it will all be the fault of BW. ;)

276

Plume 02.26.16 at 6:11 pm

Bruce,

Welsh makes a coupla sensible points, but seems to leap over his own remedies, attributing to Trump things he has no intention of doing. Such as, making sure Americans learn how to craft/produce things they can’t right now, or won’t — to make up for those imports they won’t be buying. He’s never talked about investing enough in education, training, trade schools, artisan schools, or doing the necessary government prodding to ensure capitalists shift or add new industries.

And his tax plans — while incredibly vague — call for deep cuts for the rich. He will have YUGE deficits, like every other Republican candidate.

He’s also never supported universal health care in this campaign. Not sure where Welsh is getting that.

Welsh also sounds incredibly naive when he says Trump will tax the financial sector. He’s a billionaire, and highly dependent on that sector, with no history of interest in hurting them. He’s also always been highly dependent on government bailing him out. Several bankruptcies, and he’s always taken advantage of the obscenely unfair way the laws are written to crush the poor and help rich debtors.

Unless he’s writing something for the Onion, most of it is nonsense.

277

Bruce Wilder 02.26.16 at 6:16 pm

Stephen @ 273

Of course, even within the context of U.S. politics during the 1930s, there was scarcely any agreement. The New Dealers were pressing forward with a vision of public management of the economy in many detailed ways, ranging from vast public infrastructure projects to complex regulatory and subsidy regimes: stabilization of farm prices, replacing the gold standard with a managed currency, the TVA, Glass-Steagall, support for industrial unions and so on.

There was, of course, a laissez faire opposition that promoted austerity and deflation — the villains of Polanyi. One could argue that Herbert Hoover and Heinrich Brüning occupied similar positions as laissez faire conservatism came to confront the economic crisis its negligence and dogmatism had created, but their stubbornness called forth different responses.

278

Bruce Wilder 02.26.16 at 6:21 pm

Plume @ 277

Welsh’s view is not my view. I think Trump’s 3rd Grader’s rhetoric is stream-of-consciousness, not anything like a political program.

Welsh is angry, angrier than I am by far, and it doesn’t do his argument any good. But, he has a point about Trump being something other than a neoliberal. In a kleptocracy, set a thief to catch some thieves.

279

Cranky Observer 02.26.16 at 6:25 pm

= = = All that said . . . . tell me, please, are you just trolling, or playing devil’s advocate? Or do you actually believe what you’ve been posting? Am I missing something? = = =

The hidden issue here is public accommodation + Civil Rights Act: the goal is to normalize and permit religious discrimination in commerce (cake bakers and the like), weakening the establishment clause and taking another prepratory step toward theocracy

280

Plume 02.26.16 at 6:43 pm

Bruce,

I can see a lot of that. Especially your description of Trump’s speeches. I forced myself to sit through one and came away from it rather amazed at its incoherence. It reminded me of Sarah Palin word salad, though Trump takes this further by often interrupting himself and seemingly having quick discussions, Trump with Trump. Zig zagging all over the place. All in short hand, accented with a lot of hand gestures.

But he has his audience riveted, apparently.

To catch a thief. That’s interesting as well. Perhaps that’s what the Clintons, Obamas and presidents in both parties tell themselves when they appoint the endless stream of folks from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, etc. etc.

We are so screwed.

281

Plume 02.26.16 at 6:52 pm

@280,

I agree. And the right is really, really good at this. They do it relentlessly, year after year after year, and fool all too many people left of center by bombarding Americans with the crazy, so we think we dodge a bullet when the Dems settle for something less crazy — that the right has foisted on us in the first place.

Like, demanding no abortions, even in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother. So “liberals” get into the habit of thinking, “Well, as long as we can keep those three exceptions in there, we’ve won.” And so on. They’re not seeing that they’ve been punked, and are playing the entire time on the right’s side of the field.

And even when the Dems hold some degree of majority power, they still think it best to compromise endlessly with the enemy, to be “reasonable” and “adult” about things. The right doesn’t waste its time with that. It never cares what the Dems or those of us on the left think about anything. It just keeps moving the Overton Window its way with an overwhelming amount of theocratic lunacy, economic lunacy, social injustice lunacy, etc. etc. And Dems think they win if they only have to cede 75% of the territory to the right, rather than 100%.

Drives me up a wall.

282

Bruce Wilder 02.26.16 at 7:09 pm

LFC @ 275

I thought Lee A Arnold @ 263 had a valuable and instructive point.

283

Lee A. Arnold 02.26.16 at 7:11 pm

Stephen #273: “Since you wrote ALL sides…inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.”

“UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Greece, Jugoslavia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China” were all on ONE side, so we could make it easier by discussing the general attitude of their populations to post-Depression economic policy and the Treaty of Versailles, before WWII reinforced the need to protect their interests again. Hitler’s rise to dominance was by appeal to economic nationalism in the disaster caused at Versailles. Japan was in serious economic trouble and saw the US as a growing threat to its own search for resources.

284

Bruce Wilder 02.26.16 at 7:19 pm

Political anacyclosis never stops, but it does tend to bring us back around sometimes.

285

LFC 02.26.16 at 8:12 pm

In a move that gives opportunism a bad name, Christie has endorsed Trump. Disgusting.

286

Lee A. Arnold 02.26.16 at 8:27 pm

TM #266: “what mechanism would ‘trying to uncover the hypothetical arguments of reactionaries’ avoid bloodletting?”

If it hasn’t happened yet, then either 1. something is holding them back, therefore find out what that is, –and/or– 2. there must a number of people in the middle, as yet unconvinced by them, so make sure you are prepared to counter the arguments that are coming. Doesn’t mean it will work, of course!

287

Stephen 02.26.16 at 8:36 pm

Lee A Arnold@283: do you really think that the attitude of the UK government towards the Axis countries pre-1939 was “ol’-time economic nationalism — get the jobs back, take their oil”? Or their attitude to the Versailles settlement?

If you do, please look up Munich and appeasement some time. Ditto for the other states I mentioned, including most astonishingly China, Australia, Greece and Finland.

You are entirely right when you write that for the states I mentioned “WWII reinforced the need to protect their interests again”. Well yes, being invaded or threatened with invasion by militarist dictatorships does tend to do that. Are you really suggesting that it should not have?

You are also right when you suggest that your first description does apply fairly well to Germany, Italy and Japan. Hint: not everybody was on their side, and you did say ALL sides.

288

Collin Street 02.26.16 at 8:53 pm

Lee A. Arnold @263
You may think I contradict myself. Because as you know (and as you have admonished me), I occasionally argue at Crooked Timber for a hundred comments and more, in order to follow a reactionary interlocutor. This is usually when I don’t understand the underlying psychological mechanism. (And occasionally I pursue the intellectual egotists who write egregiously offensive stupidities. No matter which side they are on.)

See, I believe I understand the underlying psychological mechanism.

[on the Trump issue: As near as I can figure, Trump wins votes because he is, genuinely, the best candidate on the republican podium. He’s pretty terrible, but there’s essentially no criticism you can make of him that can’t be made just as well or stronger about all the other options.]

289

Lee A. Arnold 02.26.16 at 8:55 pm

Geo #271: “This is quite a shock.”

You always make me laugh. I have a serious question for you in Marxist intellectual history, if you don’t mind. To what extent have you found that modern thinkers still accept the theory that material conditions create psychology? As I understand Marx this is not quite his theory. He described “alienation” more or less an economic condition, a divorce from profits. I may be wrong about that. But somewhere further on, alienation developed into a full theory of psychosis, a mental divorce from reality, caused by the material relations. Was this in the 1950’s? Who did this, and when? (Lacan?) And is it currently accepted?

290

LFC 02.26.16 at 9:20 pm

He described “alienation” more or less an economic condition, a divorce from profits.

For Marx, alienation under capitalism is more like separation from the process and products of one’s own labor (in contrast to an artisan or craftsman, say) and, at a more metaphysical level, from one’s ‘species-being’. Bertell Ollman wrote one of the classic studies on Marx’s concept of alienation. Prob. still in print.

291

Raisuli 02.26.16 at 9:27 pm

LFC@272

“Q. And the Chinese are going to tell them to go fu*k themselves. Then what?”

I could see this part being sort of plausible 8 or 10 years ago. Right now, though? China’s economy is struggling and is likely to only get worse by 2017. I think their options for recovery are severely limited; the US is arguably the only reliable major source of demand on the scale China needs. The EU certainly can’t be looked to as a destination for picking up any potential US slack in that regard.

I feel like any actual trade hardball from the US could do massive damage to China (and let me be clear, I’m not saying this would be a positive global development). Even just the credible threat of it, if public and known, could do damage. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the leverage Trump would wield here.

292

LFC 02.26.16 at 9:31 pm

Raisuli @291
Maybe right. OTOH there are U.S.-based companies heavily entangled w China’s export economy, and they might exert pressure in the other direction (i.e., vs. a Trump effort to play ‘hardball’). I don’t know.

293

bob mcmanus 02.26.16 at 10:16 pm

289: And what makes you believe that material conditions are philosophically separable from individual psychologies? I’ll bet it’s alienation, that’s what.

For Lacan, if I may be so foolhardy, “individual,” “self,” “me” “here” are simply signifiers, no more no less part of the immediate environment (the Symbolic?) than this video screen, text, ambient temperature.

“The unconscious is the sum of the effects of speech on a subject, at the level at which the subject constitutes himself out of the effects of the signifier … we depend on the field of the Other, which was there long before we came into the world, and whose circulating structures determine us as subjects”

The Marxian dimension includes the fact that Capital (or Patriarchy) is language is media and renders itself (we render it) invisible in the neurotic imaginary of individual choice/freedom in a market.

294

Lee A. Arnold 02.26.16 at 10:24 pm

Stephen @287: I suppose I am guilty once again of my own sort of fuzzy expressionism, and shouldn’t have written, “just prior to”, but just, “prior to”. Because I find it hard to understand the War Guilt reparations as anything other than born from the same attitude also exhibited by Trump in last night’s debate in the US, for example. The fact that public attitudes later changed, to be more sympathetic to Germany’s plight, then to justify Hitler’s seizure of German-speaking territories, and finally to attempt to avoid more war, does not amount to a sudden acceptance by Depression publics of the wonderful promises of open international economic policy. So this is all I meant, but your isolation of the arising of military dictatorships from the economic-nationalist components in the origin of this chain of causation, suggests that my explanation may not appease you.

295

John Holbo 02.27.16 at 12:53 am

Rich: “But there’s nothing about this that is really argumentatively different, is there? In both cases there’s supposed to be separation of us and them. When the conservatives imagine victory, they imagine sending us away. When they imagine defeat, they imagine having to seclude themselves.”

Yep. It’s pretty much the same. It’s purity expressed either as an impulse to expel, or an impulse to enclose.

296

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 12:55 am

294: Then Marxism is really advaita Vendantism, minus the Hegelian immanent Absolute, plus a theory of a quasi-quantifiable relative value for the reflected image.

297

geo 02.27.16 at 1:09 am

Lee @290: I think the word “alienist” long predates the word “psychiatrist” as a term for someone who treats the mentally ill. As Wikipedia says, “Alienist is an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist [which fell] out of favor by the middle of the twentieth century.” I don’t know of any connection between that word, the Marxist term “alienation,” and the existentialist term “alienation.”

There’s also a legal sense of “alienation.” Inalienable rights are rights that are you can’t be deprived of, hence to alienate is to deprive of or separate from. As far as I understand the Marxist term, it refers to this legal sense. The total social product is achieved by all workers together and ought to belong to them all together, inalienably. Instead, through the mystification of capitalist property relations, they are separated (“alienated”) from what they have collectively produced and ought collectively to own. To explain how capitalist law and ideology accomplishes this neat trick is the purpose of Marxist theories of alienation.

The existentialist sense of alienation is much looser, I think. It just refers to the fact that, among those people for whom religion and metaphysics no longer provide a generally accepted frame of reference, the world feels strange (Latin, alienus) and homeless.

By the theory that “material conditions create psychology” I assume you mean historical materialism. That is indeed how most people, including many self-designated Marxists, understand the theory. It’s a pity Marx never got to spell out his ideas on the subject, because I’m sure he would never have sanctioned such an oversimplification. Material conditions do not create psychology/ideology/culture. What material conditions do is constrain psychology, ideology, and culture, in exactly the same obvious and commonsense way that environmental conditions constrain the evolution of species: by favoring or disfavoring spontaneous, unpredictably generated innovations. This is, I suspect, why Marx was so excited about Darwinism. Darwin took the mystery and metaphysics out of natural history, and Marx took the mystery/metaphysics out of social and political history.

298

js. 02.27.16 at 1:14 am

Re “oversimplification”: Also worth remembering what Marx was arguing against. The emphasis would be extremely different if Marx were arguing against the background of doctrines prevalent in the 20th century or early 21st century anglosphere.

299

kidneystones 02.27.16 at 1:20 am

To echo BW, Lee @ 263 makes a valuable point, as does Raisuli @ 292.

For a minority there is no discussion. Republican candidate X is racist, xenophobic, tool of the Kochs, evils, blah-blah. Ditto for the minority of GOP supporters.

The principal benefit (ahem) of an inter-dependent trade relationship to all parties is the reduced chances of military conflict. There’s considerably less chance of military conflict in the South China Sea for example, as long as factories in China keep manufacturing products for Japanese, Korean, and American companies. The problem is that American workers have finally tumbled to the fact that cheap products from China means lower wages and fewer manufacturing jobs in the states (roughly). A colleague pointed out that the reason Trump and Sanders soar may be because the interests of the majority (those being screwed) now align closely. I’ve made this point before. When we strip away the rhetoric we discover that core supporters of all candidates name the economy and jobs as their main concern.

What people here and elsewhere can’t seem to grasp is that the pain and fear of more pain is now finally at a point where stopping the pain is the only concern of a large number of perfectly normal voters. Trump supporters are not racist anymore than Sanders supporters are anti-capitalist. Indeed, from what I can see supporters of both candidates are remarkably free of doctrinaire concerns. Trump has more support from primary-voting minorities than any other candidate. New Hampshire confirmed that all but the richest and oldest Dem voters support Sanders. That’s a whole lot of middle-class and upper middle-class liberals, moderates, and right of center Dems who can’t stomach 4-8 more years of more of the same only worse.

A bet against Trump is a bet that most voters are ready to support the interests of the 1% for another 4-8 years. Because the ‘Dems are the party that protects the interests of the poor and middle-class’ is an argument that holds no traction whatsoever with voters living outside Dem bubble-land. That’s the point. Indeed, the argument is already seen as fiction by many within the Dem party. If Dem primary voters believed for a second that HRC and the Dem elites represented anything but another 8 years of supine surrender to special interests, there would be no support for Sanders.

The race for the Republican nomination is effectively over. Dem supporters need to ask themselves whether they really believe the pain and fear manifest in support for Trump and Sanders is likely to disappear anytime soon. Voters gave Dems two chances to elect a change candidate and instead got best friend to the banks both times. Voters aren’t going to make the same mistake a third time. Clinton is going to wear those Goldman Sachs speeches around her neck like a mill stone/albatross/tire every day she now until the election and after. Libya, ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty’, scripted speeches and secrecy, are exactly what Americans don’t want.

They’ll live with Sanders or Trump warts and all because more of the same isn’t going to cut it. Lots here have been clamoring for revolution or real change for a very long time. Perhaps that’s why so few recognize it now that it’s on the door-step.

Support Sanders and get him into the WH, or say hello to President Trump.

300

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:03 am

I have no liking whatsoever for Rubio, but watching on youtube just now the clips of the portions of last night’s debate where Rubio questions Trump on health care reveals Trump’s discomfiture and total inability to explain his health care ‘plan’, such as it is, beyond one or two stock phrases.

Trump has less understanding of public policy and issues than an intelligent fourteen-year-old. He is contemptuous of the electorate he purports to empathize with. That contempt is reflected in the fact that he cannot be bothered to even *pretend* to have thought about policy.

Meanwhile kidneystones is concerned about HRC’s flaws and failings. What about Trump’s much larger flaws? kidneystones says little or nothing about them. It’s not just the xenophobia. It’s the basic contempt for the electorate: Trump thinks people are idiots. People are justifiably angry about all sorts of things, but they are not, on the whole, idiots. That’s a main reason I think Trump will lose to the Dem nominee, whoever the nominee is.

301

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:05 am

p.s. Do not read the youtube comments below the clip: vile and disgusting. (In fact don’t read comments on youtube, period.) People *on the whole* are not idiots, but some people are — I use the word loosely — sick.

302

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:13 am

Even reading that Lacan passage quoted by mcmanus, I think I’d almost rather read people slinging vile insults on youtube.

303

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:14 am

correction: After not “even”. sigh.

304

Plume 02.27.16 at 2:20 am

Geo,

This is really concise:

“Instead, through the mystification of capitalist property relations, they are separated (“alienated”) from what they have collectively produced and ought collectively to own. To explain how capitalist law and ideology accomplishes this neat trick is the purpose of Marxist theories of alienation.”

And most Americans can’t fathom this. Nor could I as a young person. I, too, had been brainwashed by our system into believing that, of course, the owner of a business gets to own the production of his — at the time, it was pretty much always a male — workers. Now? After exposure to leftist thinkers, especially over the last three decades, it’s difficult for me to see how I could ever have thought that okay — other than noting the brainwashing.

Also, when you bring up Darwin and Marx. Kristin Ross’s excellent (but too brief) Communal Luxury provoked so much thought . . . the text and what I read between the lines. When she mentions how (19th century) Russian evolutionists differed from Darwin about his survival of the fittest. Their take was that we humans survived and thrived not by fighting each other, in direct competition for scarce resources, but in uniting to fight against obstacles in our environment. This led me to think that Darwin may well have been influenced by the ascendant capitalist mode, its competitive laws of motion, its kill or be killed, Grow or Die, survival of the fittest logic . . . . and how that may have crept into his theory. The Russian evolutionists had a different take on the way humans interact, cooperate, survive. They drew different lessons from different economic forms, perhaps.

Yuval Harari’s take seems much closer to the Russians, and is a fascinating update.

The Rise of Humans TED Talk

305

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:35 am

I don’t understand why a self-identified revolutionary like mcmanus wants to deprive himself of actual tools for the analysis of capitalism. Capital is not language, capital is not media, capital does not “render itself invisible in the neurotic imaginary of individual” choice in the market.

These mystifications (“capital is language,” “capital is media”) prevent one from recognizing and analyzing what capitalism is. Whatever capital or capitalism is, it’s not language: language predates capitalism and ‘capital’ by thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, of years — unless you adopt a definition of ‘capital’ so broad as to be useless.

306

Collin Street 02.27.16 at 2:50 am

> Trump has less understanding of public policy and issues than an intelligent fourteen-year-old.

Like I said, he’s clearly, indisputably, the most suitable of the republican candidates.

307

kidneystones 02.27.16 at 2:57 am

@301 Thanks for demonstrating, again, your cruddy reading skills. I conclude by remarking that Trump’s flaws, and those of Sanders are immaterial in this cycle: “They [voters] ‘ll live with Sanders or Trump warts and all because more of the same isn’t going to cut it.” That’s the point. You believe clearly that a majority of voters want more of the same only worse. I disagree.

Your anti-Trump invective, btw, carries the snap and sting of a dust fairy. You’ll need to do better. Polls (do you ever bother to avail yourself of any?) confirm that voters across the board are concerned about the economy and jobs. That’s supporters of all candidates.

This will come as a big shock to some, I know, but back in 2008 Dem primaries produced an enormous level of acrimony when a young man with almost no experience doing anything other than ‘finding his identity’ and writing autobiographies (2) upended the established order. He promised a different kind of politics. Americans are living with the results.

Many here have no idea at all it seems that African-Americans have born the brunt of the pain as most of the wealth created in the last 8 years has been funneled into the already brimming coffers of the 1/2 of the 1 percent. Roughly 7 years ago, newly elected President Peace Prize signed his first executive order closing Gitmo to the acclaim of the world. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/22/hillary-clinton-diplomatic-foreign-policy

Except, of course, Gitmo remained open for the entire four years of Drone Strike’s first term. And as we enter the final year of Drone Strike’s second term, Gitmo remains open. That’s the problem HRC faces. HRC is the face of the Dem sell-out to the banks, to the GOP security apparatus, and most important to the past, and frankly she looks it. Voters will be inundated with ad after ad after ad of HRC denials, coughing fits, and broken promises, reminding voters that this is an individual all know too well.

Support Sanders, or get Trump. There is no door number #.

308

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 3:08 am

Aw hell.

The use value of a drill press is making rivets.

The exchange value of the drill press is something like “the depreciated amortized and securitized expected future earnings in a projected global political economy in equilibrium with assumed factors of production blah blah.”

And I am accused of mystification while Krugmanites are hard nosed realists.

Paragraph two above is not an objective reality, the drill press gets exchange value in and only because of a discourse network, a social communication system, overlapping linguistic communities.

Part of this is cybernetics and information theory. But then if you read the Lacan above, I think people are also language. We can know nothing else.

309

LFC 02.27.16 at 3:13 am

Rising inequality of wealth/income in the U.S. and wage stagnation and outsourcing etc are all long-term trends dating from the late ’70s (or before, in some cases). The last 8 years in this respect continue longstanding trends. Shd Obama have paid more attention to this? yes, definitely. But it would not have been reasonable in any case to expect much more than a start at reversing the trend. Voters are almost always concerned about the economy and jobs. I understand the sources of anxiety, anger, frustration. But in this case the maxim tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner doesn’t apply.

310

LFC 02.27.16 at 3:15 am

mcmanus @309
can’t respond now. later.

311

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 3:17 am

The commodity ain’t a thang. The microchip ain’t worth nothing outside of it’s supportive environment.

The commodity is a relation. Do you see relations existing outside of language and discourse? The commodity as category (?) was created with a material change in forms of discourse.

Discourse is material. The processes and forms of power exist only in the discourse.

Enough, I have important things to do, like watching 4th graders battle bug-eyed monsters.

312

js. 02.27.16 at 3:21 am

Trump being something other than a neoliberal

It is true that ethno-nationalists are something other than neoliberals. Cold comfort for some of us; apparently warmer for Bruce Wilder.

313

kidneystones 02.27.16 at 3:22 am

@ 310 Shut-up and clap!!

According to you, there is no Sanders’ revolution. The angers of Sanders supporters is entirely unjustified once we take the broader view. Who knew?

Once the all the wealthiest realize how damn grateful we should all be to be bent over the barrel by the Dems and the GOP, all will be well. Good luck with that, if this is your idea of an argument and say hello to teh Donald.

314

LFC 02.27.16 at 3:26 am

The angers of Sanders supporters is entirely unjustified once we take the broader view.

I most definitely did not say that (speaking of reading skills).
Let me spell it out as clearly as possible: the anger of Trump supporters is understandable but does not ‘justify’ their supporting Trump. I didn’t say anything about Sanders.

315

kidneystones 02.27.16 at 4:10 am

@315 Not only are you unable to read what others write, you seem unaware of what you write yourself.
You @310: “Shd Obama have paid more attention to this? yes, definitely. But it would not have been reasonable in any case to expect much more than a start at reversing the trend.”

Therefore, (it follows implicitly), any and all anger with Obama’s efforts (ahem) to stem the flow of money from everyone to the richest, to employ your terminology: “would not have been reasonable.” Your bizarre choice of ‘would’ rather ‘is’ offers further proof that your regard the crushing burden of income inequality as an abstract, rather than a fact.

Your original comment at 310 makes no distinction between Sanders or Trump supporters, but deems (implicitly) all anger and frustration with Obama as ‘unreasonable.’

Please try harder.

316

ZM 02.27.16 at 4:14 am

bob mcmanus,

“The commodity ain’t a thang. The microchip ain’t worth nothing outside of it’s supportive environment.

The commodity is a relation. Do you see relations existing outside of language and discourse? The commodity as category (?) was created with a material change in forms of discourse.”

If the commodity is a good or involves a good (meaning something material not necessarily something ethically good) rather than wholly a service, the commodity is both a thing and a relation/category.

This is a topic of interest to me presently, due to a group of indie musicians and their film maker friends using their employment status as creative industry content providers to comoditise stalking and harassing me, over an 18 year period, 1998-2016ongoing.

In this case the commodity is a number of things, and the categories are products – such as records – and services – such as live concerts – and also promotional materials – such as photos – and they are also crimes.

I can’t think of many other examples of this sort of commodity except something like snuff films, which are murder and products.

The police are not happy at me telling them they need to investigate this as I am reporting an incident 1998-2016ongoing, as they are not pleased at having to investigate metaphors and allusions etc in 18 years of indie music, but there is no regulation that prohibits stalkers from use of metaphor and allusion , as you cannot regulate crimes.

As you see, no customers knew these commodities constituted crimes, until I started bring this to public attention. So the commodities category in the social imagination can begin to change due to me bringing new information to light which was previously hidden, being another crime, conspiracy, which I am trying to popularize as the collective noun for indie musicians.

But the commodities remain as things, once I change how they are perceived as a category, being a crime, the continuing material existence of which is very upsetting, as even once I get them all withdrawn from sale and from circulation in law abiding sites like YouTube I see no way I can get everyone in the world to destroy their physical copies of the criminal commodities – so the material existence is quite a significant factor in commidities, as while discourse about them can change, and classification can change, the material stuff of them remains.

317

Bruce Wilder 02.27.16 at 5:46 am

LFC @ 310: all long-term trends . . . it would not have been reasonable in any case to expect much more than a start at reversing the trend.

Apparently, capital does not “render itself invisible in the neurotic imaginary of individual” except when the individual is you, LFC.

318

Collin Street 02.27.16 at 6:50 am

You @310: “Shd Obama have paid more attention to this? yes, definitely. But it would not have been reasonable in any case to expect much more than a start at reversing the trend.”

Therefore, (it follows implicitly), any and all anger with Obama’s efforts (ahem) to stem the flow of money from everyone to the richest, to employ your terminology: “would not have been reasonable.” Your bizarre choice of ‘would’ rather ‘is’ offers further proof that your regard the crushing burden of income inequality as an abstract, rather than a fact.

Not so: you’re deriving an absolute conclusion [“any and all”] from a statement framed as a tendency [“much more”].

[and no doubt you’d quibble about making firm conclusions on the basis of minor wording variations… but you’re doing the exact same thing with “Your bizarre choice of ‘would’ rather ‘is’ “. You’re trying to do the same thing, it’s just that you’re shit at it.]

319

Collin Street 02.27.16 at 6:51 am

Enh; tag problems. People who are smart can work it out.

320

js. 02.27.16 at 7:20 am

I guess I always knew that CT threads were a place where crotchety old white men (#notallcrotchetyoldwhitemen) hung out and wrote treatises that three of their five best internet-friends read and big-upped. But along certain lines, the predilections of the crotchety old white men were not so dissimilar from mine, and also along certain lines, the crotchety old white men had smart things to say that I liked reading. So it was all good times.

And then Bruce Wilder starts talking about how a white ethno-nationalist, one who wants to kill Muslims with bullets soaked in pigs’ blood and who, when asked about a black dude severely beaten at one of his rallies, says: he had it coming to him (roughly)—Bruce Wilder, who practically reigns supreme on these threads—starts talking about how this white ethno-nationalist is in fact preferable to the likely Democratic candidate, who—well quite simply is not a white ethno-nationalist.

And… everyone nods their head sagely. Presumably at least, because other than myself, I can remember maybe 4-5 people objecting or providing pushback. It’s a clarifying moment, just in the most horrible kind of way.

Of course, for Bruce Wilder the clarification is probably that I am a neoliberal. Or worse, that I am brown, so any concern that I have could never be more than “tribal”. More power to him, I guess.

321

bruce wilder 02.27.16 at 9:25 am

js. @ 321

Acknowledged.

322

Ze K 02.27.16 at 9:58 am

Interesting. I don’t follow the election campaign, and comment 331 here was the first time I heard about “a black dude severely beaten at one of his rallies”. I googled it, and I see it was a “black lives matter” protester. He got beaten by a mob chanting “all lives matter”. I googled that and I found out that “all lives matter” is a racial slur.

““‘All lives matter is a new racial slur,” Marissa J. Johnson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seattle, said on Bret Baier’s “Voter Revolt” special.” (NY Post).

“In 2015, in America, those three words, “all lives matter”, are a racist slogan. Any other interpretation is wrong.” (some journo as the guardian’s commentisfree).

Thanks for bringing me up to speed on this!

323

Peter T 02.27.16 at 10:21 am

Ok. I confess to being a (non-grumpy) old white man.

Well said, js. And gracefully acknowledged BW.

324

Brett Dunbar 02.27.16 at 12:06 pm

Production being alienable is a good thing from the point of view of the producer. If a thing is alienable that means that you are able to stop owning that thing. This allows you to sell it, use as security for a lone and essentially it is what allows you to monetise it and convert it into something that you would rather own. Hernando de Soto’s advocacy of granting formal property rights involves converting an informal and inalienable de facto possession, which cannot be transferred by a legal procedure, into a fully alienable formal property right. This makes it an asset which can be used as security on a loan.

325

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 12:08 pm

Geo @298, Thank you, once again.

326

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 12:24 pm

bob mcmanus: “Do you see relations existing outside of language and discourse?”

Well, yes. Not *human* relations, but most of the important economy is not human but rather ecosystemic. Phrasing economic matters as if they emerge from language naturally leads to treating the ecosystem as if it has no inherent economic limits and as if the relations obtaining among nonhuman entities have nothing to do with us.

327

Peter T 02.27.16 at 12:57 pm

I had always thought the Marxist notion of economic alienation was alienation from the process of production, not the product of it.

328

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 1:11 pm

In a sense, religious reactionaries believe that wrong social relations of “sex, marriage, childbearing” (Dreher refer’s to these relations as “society’s concept of”) must necessitate a certain alienation in spiritual production.

329

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 1:20 pm

js.: “Presumably at least, because other than myself, I can remember maybe 4-5 people objecting or providing pushback.”

“Providing pushback” is a tremendously bad-faith activity, at least on CT threads. It’s an excuse for condemnation by various people who do little for social justice themselves other than denounce people — the favored method being to denounce other people for not denouncing enough.

Bruce Wilder is valuable on these threads because he can actually read and understand what other people write, something that very few people here can do. If I was going to have a serious discussion about this, I’d point out that — as evidenced by the recent discussion on global warming issues — I’ve already implicitly concluded that neoliberalism is better than a lot of the likely reactions to neoliberalism, such as Trump’s. “At least it’s an ethos”, etc., or rather, at least it’s a currently existing world system that is capable of addressing certain problems. But it’s impossible to have that conversation here without counter-denunciations by people writing about how can I be an anarchist if I “support” neoliberalism etc.

With regard to the “kill all Muslims” eliminationist speech, I don’t whether you live in the U.S. or have done so for a while, but eliminationism has been a feature of discourse on the right here for as far back as I can remember. That doesn’t excuse it, but puts it in context. Bruce Wilder has written that he believes that Trump wouldn’t really follow through on his speeches. I think that’s a mistaken calculation, for what that’s worth, and I think that it’s sad that BW wrote about how people obsessively compared candidates to see which was marginally better and then proceeded to do just that. But I’m not planning to vote so I don’t have to compare.

330

LFC 02.27.16 at 2:01 pm

1) B Wilder:
Apparently, capital does not “render itself invisible in the neurotic imaginary of individual” except when the individual is you, LFC.
I think of “imaginary” as something collective; therefore I don’t think individuals have their own “imaginaries” — but admittedly I’ve never looked up the word, just drawn inferences from the way it seems to be used in certain contexts.
My point @310 was (1) Obama shd have done more on this and (2) one probably can’t reverse a 35-yr trend in 4 years but one can begin to do so — and Obama should have made that start. If you, BW, think (as I don’t) that the forces of capital completely precluded him from doing that, you shouldn’t have voted for him, or anyone else probably, in ’08.

2)@mcmanus: w/o parsing all this discourse stuff, I wd just say I think the commodity is a thing, albeit of a special sort (which is pretty much what Marx said, iirc, in Capital v.1.

331

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 2:24 pm

The Reification of “-Isms”. …Now playing, in all theatres!

Neoliberalism is not a thing. It is a name for the current pushback of lassez-faire, with a tiny bit of redistribution acknowledged to help keep everyone in the big churning maw. “Current” meaning, “since the Hayekian bafflegab.”

To take one exhibition, Philip Mirowski’s book, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (which came after The Road to Mount Pelerin) lists over a dozen different tendencies (I don’t have it sitting in front of me to do a recount) of neoliberalism. With, (again as I may faultily remember,) no simple definition.

I do remember that Mirowski comes back to all the features of the social cognitive-bias which emerged fully into public consciousness late in the 18th Century:

A. lowered use of cognition, & imperviousness to evidence, which is explained away. B. reliance upon in-group opinion for risk assessment and response. C. justification of the status quo, & tendencies to authority, authoritarianism, and stereotype of the “other”. D. fear of death and thus the need to find meaning in it.

Recognize this yet?!

Fear of “neoliberalism” as the foremost monster under the bed, has SAME etiology and epidemiology as the fear of naive Marxists that material relations must make psychological realities (and therefore, capitalism must be smashed, before even beginning to improve society) and the fear of religious reactionaries that traditional social doctrine must be adhered to (or else people cannot find the transcendent state of consciousness).

332

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 3:29 pm

Calling any use of a sweepingly descriptive word “reification” is an Argument 101 tactic: always true in some sense, rarely helpful. If it matters, I argue that there is an implicit world system, that “neoliberalism” is as good a name for it as any, and that since all political words refer to bundles of tendencies neoliberalism is a no worse descriptor than other words in this regard.

333

bianca steele 02.27.16 at 3:39 pm

js. @ 21: Bruce Wilder, who practically reigns supreme on these threads

The people have spoken–who are the rest of us to disagree with the Chosen One?

334

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 4:22 pm

Use of the word “neoliberalism” diverts and distracts from the full reach that should be evident in a proper name for the present world-system, which is something like “An Epistemological Disaster.”

I often feel that often we should be stepping outside of these topics, and focus on this strange social-cognitive-bias that has arisen and is running the world, as the primary thing that underlies the lesser reifications.

Social scientists appear to repel themselves from grasping the obvious, perhaps due the fact that it seems to be in a new ontological category. It is a sort of socio-emotional organism. Perhaps this makes them uneasy. It could lead to problems of social explanation that they would rather have put away.

Of course, social scientists could mark it all down to the pseudo-Bayesian sways, in the Hebbian learnings, amongst the motor neurons.

And thus, they could trudge forward into their sciences less shakily, reinforced in the reassurance that they have not rejected methodological individualism, for their next journal paper.

Or, they could just follow James Joyce, who saw it clearly by 1939: “It is a sot of a swigswag, systomy dystomy, which everabody you ever anywhere at all doze.”

The book-writers I know who have found the most number of serious clues about this (other than Joyce the treasure-trove — seriously! Joyce described himself as part “philosphe”, and he was no mean intellect) are Arthur O. Lovejoy, Charles Taylor, and Corey Robin. All of these writers including Joyce have traced our problem back (in one way or another) to the 18th-century split in the public consciousness, dealing variously with the interconnections among philosophy, millennial cosmology, poetry and art, religion/secularism, and political economics. But of course there are hundreds of other writers who have found clues for the collection.

Neoliberalism ain’t a tenth of this.

I stumbled over it when studying the counter-intuitive results in climate-change communication showing that some of the stronger deniers of global warming have HIGHER scores in math and science. That popped right out at me: this is an epistemologically puzzle! Studying the social-science bibliographies, I found that there is a already a tiny older political science literature with a small but solid set of clues, found in empirical data.

335

mdc 02.27.16 at 4:33 pm

“Marx took the mystery/metaphysics out of social and political history”

Not all metaphysics is mysterious. I think “materialisms” of the past are often misunderstood as just claiming that all that exists is formless, mindless stuff; and that everything else is a fiction, or an illusion, or an emergent epiphenomenon. But Marx isn’t that sort of materialist at all: social history can’t be understood without understanding man as species-being, for example. This is metaphysics!- it’s part of an argument at the level of first principles about what really exists.

336

RNB 02.27.16 at 4:44 pm

I found David Kotz’s book on the rise and fall of neo-liberalism very helpful. Here is a short summary of the argument.
http://triplecrisis.com/understanding-contemporary-capitalism-part-1/
http://triplecrisis.com/understanding-contemporary-capitalism-part-2/

Has Obama broken with neo-liberalism by reintroducing management of aggregate demand, regulation of basic industries and the financial sector, anti-trust enforcement; has he worked to eliminate tax cuts and loopholes for the rich and business; has he strengthened collective bargaining and take action against the casualization of jobs and new abuses in the gig economy?

Or is Obama best described as working within what Kotz calls the neo-liberal social structure of accumulation?

What role has the Supreme Ct. played in the strengthening of neo-liberalism? Just to give an example. Dow Chemical just paid out almost $1 billion in the settlement of an anti-trust lawsuit because with the death of Scalia Dow had no confidence that it could overcome the Bill Clinton- and Obama-appointed Justices.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-26/dow-cites-scalia-s-death-in-settling-urethanes-case-for-835m

I would have to guess Clinton would appoint a Justice similar to Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan. Also even though Hillary Clinton has sat on the Wal-Mart board, I would imagine that she would appoint a Justice who would not have thrown out the class action law suit of women workers against Wal-Mart. That too was a 5-4 decision, with the Bill Clinton and Obama-appointees ruling in favor of the class action lawsuit of women.

But to the extent that neo-liberalism has been partially defined by skyrocketing CEO pay, it would seem that Sanders’ highly progressive tax proposals would serve as some disincentive for CEO’s to capture Boards to demand outrageous pay as most of the pay would be taxed away under Sanders on the implausible assumption that he gets his tax proposals passed through Congress.

337

RNB 02.27.16 at 4:52 pm

@321! It’s easy for a lot of people to forget just how threatening for many of us Trump’s fantasy of a Muslim-American celebration over 9-11 was. Trump is in some ways the lead clown at the circus, but he would not have to follow through as President to make life hell for many Americans. In fact he can make life hell just by keeping the national stage that he now enjoys.
But he has said such things and got to be a jokester on Saturday Night Live and have MSNBC throw softball pitches at him.

338

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 4:58 pm

I had always thought the Marxist notion of economic alienation was alienation from the process of production, not the product of it.

Well, yeah

Feudalism;industrial capitalism;finance capitalism;late capitalism/neoliberalism/digital marxism

I just don’t find the classical analyses that focus on the 9-12% of the economy in factories that useful anymore. Of course, global, combined and uneven development.

The premises include the supposition that the globalized Indian programmer working on a green card in San Jose is some sort of exploited proletarian, with a somewhat different class consciousness because of the immateriality of her labor, the precarity of her job and psychogeography, her neoliberal independence and self-production etc. There are some who thinks she represents a new or different class, but I am not one. There are two classes, until there is only one (capital), and then there are none.

The alienation comes from neoliberal ideas of self-ownership, self-creation, self-production, identity formation and filiation. We think we are capital when we think we own ourselves.

339

RNB 02.27.16 at 4:58 pm

I really think the Sanders opposition to Clinton has misfired by attacking her on her positions on crime and welfare in the 90s. Sanders record was not much different; he is not proposing a reintroduction of welfare. Clinton has strong support among African-Americans.
The real issue remains the contributions of actors from the UAE, Qatar and KSA made to the Clinton Foundation as Hillary Clinton was approving arms sales to those countries. She also oversaw a huge spike in sales to Australia, and the Clinton Foundation received $10 million from Australia. Perhaps Sanders has been discouraged from making these attacks because the Republicans are unlikely to run on a platform of tying arms sales to human rights records, but a super PAC could certainly hit her hard over this in the election season. I want to know how she is going to respond.

340

Plume 02.27.16 at 5:03 pm

The use of “neoliberalism” is the center-left’s weak-tea way of criticizing the inevitable results of the current system without having to be critical of the system itself. It’s just one more word to use as a protective coating for capitalism, another modifier to slap on so attention is directed away from the noun. Very similar to the right’s critique of “crony-capitalism,” calling it “neoliberalism” continues the delusion/illusion that we just need a better adjective in front of capitalism, and all will be well.

In a sense, the center-left wants to get us to a time (that never existed and can’t exist) of “democratic capitalism,” while the right wants nothing at all to taint the glories of capitalism unbound. The left near-center wants the adjective. The right near-center and further right wants to absence of the modifier.

The vast majority of people to the left of the center left just want the entire thing obliterated and replaced.

Basically, if cigarettes equal the economic model, the center-left wants filters to reduce the ill-effects. The right wants nothing between you and your cancer-stick. Smoke ’em straight. Puts hair on your chest.

To me, and left-anticapitalists in general, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to just get rid of the cigarettes altogether — then, of course, you don’t have to worry about the crony add-on or neoliberalism.

341

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 5:11 pm

Mackenzie Wark “Althusserians Anonymous” Feb 26, 2016

“Even as a recovering Althusserian, I am thankful for this break Althusser makes from the metaphysics of essence and appearance. That metaphysic remains the ideological field of theories of eternal capitalism, in which the essence of its economy never changes, and any new feature is ‘just circulation’ or some other such non-thought. Althusser is the beginning of a way to think historically again”

“One might pause here to note that this set Althusserians on a course of seeing the relations of production as the crucial and determinate component of the economic ‘instance’, not the forces of production. This had a certain utility when expanded out into a concept of relations of production and reproduction…”

342

bruce wilder 02.27.16 at 5:28 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 330

You make me sound like a hypocrite with regard to my criticism of the way thinking and perception are distorted by combining obsessive lesser evil comparisons and partisan manicheism.

LFC @ 331

Deftly done. It is a bit late to apologize for my tone, but I do regret it a bit.

343

geo 02.27.16 at 5:56 pm

Rich @330: I’m not planning to vote

You should vote for Jill Stein: http://www.jill2016.com/plan. And so should everyone else who lives in a non-swing state.

344

bianca steele 02.27.16 at 6:03 pm

Anyway, somewhere MacIntyre says the character for our Nietzschean time (roughly) is Frederick the Great. Which, on the topic of Trump, seems about right.

345

Plume 02.27.16 at 6:06 pm

One way in which “neoliberalism” is useful, is in designating a kind of point along a downward trajectory of fewer and fewer governmental checks on capitalist doings. It’s more destructive than the Keynesian model, because it gets us closer to no checks at all. No checks is basically just slavery. Currently, in Thailand, for instance, especially in their fishing industry, we see something far worse than “neoliberalism,” and very, very close to chattel slavery. Capitalism with next to no government interference — other than to prop it up and externalize most of its costs.

Neoliberalism is heavy deregulation — but regulation still exists; increasing privatization — but there is still a public sector; lower and lower taxes on the rich and on business — but taxes still exist, etc. etc.

The other end of that spectrum, however, has never been what conservatives believe it’s been: Heavy, anti-business interference, which necessitates “capitalism unbound” as an antidote. In reality, at least in America, even at the height of the regulatory state for business — arguably the 1930s thru the early 1970s — business and capital were still granted massive advantages by our government. Labor has never had that time in the sun. Not at our most “liberal” times via the three branches or the state apparatus overall. We’ve always pushed through massively pro-capital trade agreements, signed on to or created pro-capital international governing bodies, and directed the vast majority of bailout funds toward business and the rich. And despite the endlessly silly complaints from the right about the EPA, it has been largely nothing more than a speed bump in the way of business, and still has yet to even test roughly 79,500 out of the 80,000 chemicals in use . . . . while banning only five.

In short, once capitalism became dominant in America after the Civil War, “the state” has never, not once, worked to balance the interests of labor and capital, and has always put its thumb down on capital’s side. It’s just been a matter of how much weight over time.

346

Plume 02.27.16 at 6:07 pm

Geo,

I voted for her in 2012.

Haven’t made up my mind this time, but if Sanders wins the nom, it’s likely Sanders. If Hillary wins, it’s like Stein.

347

William Timberman 02.27.16 at 6:17 pm

bob mcmanus @ 339

We think we are capital when we think we own ourselves.

Yeah, well…. Refuting the neolibertarians of Silicon Valley is a bit like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel — a temptation to the frustrated and belatedly bloodthirsty leftist, but pretty thin gruel when all is said and done. The complexities of the relationship between the individual in all his 21st century glory and the social-political-economic collective of ancient renown have become more visible, and more fraught, since the great intellectual upheavals of the Enlightenment, but as late as this very moment, they remain as fundamentally impenetrable as ever. If everything is language, how do you explain music, dance, masking, or any other absorbing, yet arguably pre-linguistic engagement between us and the rest of creation?

348

RNB 02.27.16 at 6:29 pm

@347 You can vote for Sanders but he does not have a team that could actually challenge Wall Street through specific, technical executive action. Yes, this (below) comes from another Clinton “hack”, but it shows that the Republicans obviously see a lot at stake in striking down Obama’s reforms of the financial sector which Clinton would continue (the Dow case above indicates how hard the most powerful businesses will fight for a Republican sweep in the general). You give Wall Street what it wants by voting for Jill Stein instead of the Democrat.
http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/financial-reform-sanders-us-election-by-jeffrey-frankel-2016-02

349

Brett Dunbar 02.27.16 at 6:41 pm

Far from being anti-democratic capitalism seems to be the only economic system compatible with democracy. On taking control of Hong Kong China almost immediately abolished democracy. It seems that the far left are afraid that given the choice the people will chose to reject socialism, while capitalism works most effectively in free society. Capitalist South Korea and Taiwan are robust democracies officially socialist North Korea and China are totalitarian tyrannies.

350

Plume 02.27.16 at 6:44 pm

RNB,

I disagree with you about that. The Dems play good cop to the GOP’s bad cop, and it’s all kabuki. They both make things a hell of a lot easier for billionaires, and they both work for them. Obama’s so-called Wall Street reforms are cosmetic only (google Alexis Goldstein. She does a great job on showing why), and he never prosecuted the banksters, when the nation would have backed him for that. He’s a classic neoliberal, as is Hillary.

In a sense, the Dems are even worse than the Republicans, because they set the limits of the possible for “progressive” policy and action in Washington, and they do so pretty much all on the Republican’s side of the aisle. Basically, voting for the Dems gets us Republican policies without Republicans getting any blame for them. The Democratic party is the place where really great lefty ideas go to die.

The most generous I can be is to say the Dems look out for the 1% and the professional class — say, roughly, the richest 10%, give or take. The GOP looks out for the 1% and throws bones to wannabe one percenters. But at least when the GOP is in power and things go to hell, right-wing ideology takes the hit. When the Dems are in power, they enact center-right mush and the left still takes the hit.

And my lone vote for Jill Stein won’t give Wall Street a thing. Obviously. It’s the proverbial drop in the ocean.

351

js. 02.27.16 at 6:47 pm

I’ve already implicitly concluded that neoliberalism is better than a lot of the likely reactions to neoliberalism, such as Trump’s

Yes, you have—quite clearly.

eliminationism has been a feature of discourse on the right here for as far back as I can remember.

In some sense, sure. But—and I do live in the US and have lived here for two and a half decades—this feels qualitatively different. Give me one example from the last 2-3 decades where a political candidate from one of the major parties was openly saying the kinds of things that Trump is and getting the kind of traction Trump is getting.

That aside, I’m glad you’re actually talking about the right. Part of my problem is that with all the focus the evils of neoliberalism (which are real), the specific dangers posed by the right, esp, in the US, have been all but forgotten.

Bruce Wilder has written that he believes that Trump wouldn’t really follow through on his speeches

But we don’t need to speculate. Black and brown people being beaten up at Trump rallies is a thing that’s already happening, not a distant future possibility.

Also, objections needn’t be ad hominem.

——

bianca steele @334:

I should perhaps have rephrased that bit.

352

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 6:48 pm

RNB: “You can vote for Sanders but he does not have a team that could actually challenge Wall Street through specific, technical executive action.”

So if Sanders wins, no ambitious left people will come forwards who want to supply specific, technical agendas now that they have a President who will actually listen to them. Or, somehow, he won’t hire these people. Is that it?

Normally I don’t bother with this, but come on. “You give Wall Street what it wants by voting for Jill Stein instead of the Democrat”? Geo said that people should vote for Jill Stein if they don’t live in swing states. I guess that Wall Street is supposed to be empowered by people merely thinking that Jill Stein’s ideas are good?

I’m not going to vote for Jill Stein because my vote is purely symbolic, and at a symbolic level it would be encouraging people to do something that I think is fundamentally wrong-headed. But I’m not justifying that with scary talk about what Wall Street does or does not want with respect to symbolic “choices”.

353

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 6:51 pm

348: Wiki on “Signifiers and Signified”

“And while words are the most familiar form signs take, they stand for many things within life, such as advertisement, objects, body language, music, and so on. Therefore the use of signs, and the two components that make up a sign, can be and are – whether consciously or not – applied to everyday life.”

Of course post-structuralists (Lacan) trying to get past metaphysics, Idealism, and imaginary distinctions of essence and appearance deny the existence of signs and signifieds. Only signifiers, metonymy and metaphor.

And I stop short of signifiers and pre-linguistic perception/cognition because of the dangerous temptation to the metaphysical, for example much feminism with its direct knowledge of the different body.

354

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 6:55 pm

js.: “That aside, I’m glad you’re actually talking about the right. Part of my problem is that with all the focus the evils of neoliberalism (which are real), the specific dangers posed by the right, esp, in the US, have been all but forgotten.”

I agree that the right is not the same thing as neoliberalism. I describe neoliberalism as the ideology of the governing managerial class. As such, it’s a type of liberalism: it’s quite compatible with managerial concerns about not holding potentially useful people back due to accidents of birth like gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion and so on and only holding them back due to the accident of birth of how much money their parents had.

Whether Trump is now openly saying what used to only be implied through dog whistles is a question that I’m not well suited to answer. But the basic text on this in the U.S. context is Oscines’ stuff on eliminationism, which includes the “conveyor belt” effect through which ideas that were once confined to the extreme right get mainstreamed.

355

Plume 02.27.16 at 6:58 pm

Brett @350,

Capitalism is, by definition, anti-democratic. It’s an autocratic, top down, hierarchical economic system, at the micro and macro levels. The boss decides. He or she doesn’t hold votes or give equal say to workers before making decisions. It wouldn’t be “capitalism” if he or she did. And the boss also appropriates what workers produce, steals the fruit of their labor from them, and then decides how much to pay them for what he or she stole — which shouldn’t be legal in the first place.

And there is no real democracy in a society if it does not include the economy. In Western liberal democracies, it does not.

And, please, there are thousands of different ways to organize society and the economy. It’s not a Binary choice. It’s not just our way or the State Capitalist systems of NK, the old Soviet Union or China — none of those countries ever remotely approached “socialism,” much less “communism,” which is the absence of the state.

If people could choose between actual socialism and capitalism, they’d chose the former. Actual socialism has never been attempted on any national scale, the biggest being in parts of Spain in the 1930s before Franco crushed them. Boiled down, it just means the entire society is democratized, including the economy, and the people own the means of production, not political parties, juntas, dictators or private autocrats. Everyone has equal voice and equal say, and “the state” is actually a fraction of the size we have currently. Real socialism radically flattens hierarchies and moves society toward an end to all class divisions, period.

Capitalism requires a massive state, and one that must always grow to keep up with the Grow or Die First Imperative of that system. Real socialism, OTOH, is local, small is beautiful, cooperative not competitive, fully democratic and federated, and needs a mere fraction as much government, etc. It’s democracy incarnate.

356

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 6:59 pm

“Oscines” should have been Orcinus, i.e. David Niewert.

357

RNB 02.27.16 at 7:00 pm

The question of power has been central in the Republican debates–the project of freely exercising US power without concern for human rights or the need for other foreign leaders to appease their citizens, the right to assert sovereign control over US American territory, the willingness to use others’ greater dependence on the US to extract more concessions from them.

There has been little recognition of the structural power the US enjoys not necessarily in any given dyadic relation but in writing the rules of the game in regards to trade, intellectual property, adjudication of disputes, decision making in the IMF and the World Bank. The power talk has been more relational than structural, one could say.

I do think Trump has hit on one real issue though he has no idea what he could do about it, and that is the role of the dollar in the US international system. As an anchor currency, US actors may be free of certain exchange rate risks and transaction costs; and there could be a whole host of other advantages (I have to read Benjamin Cohen and Eswar Prasad http://www.thedollartrap.com/). But the US is not free to devalue its currency to boost its economy since its actions may be counteracted by movements in the currencies that are pegged to it.

358

js. 02.27.16 at 7:02 pm

OK. Let me ask the question another way. When was the last time a candidate’s supporters were beating up people at rallies, with essentially encouragement from the candidate himself? Or do you not think this is a significant development?

359

js. 02.27.16 at 7:03 pm

My last is a response to RP @355, the last paragraph in particular.

360

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 7:04 pm

“…dangerous temptation to the metaphysical, for example much feminism with its direct knowledge of the different body.”

Rewrite maybe as “temptation to the mystical, for example some feminism with its pre-cultural unmediated apperception of the essential female body.”

Perception and signifiers is deeper than I want to go, like I understand Husserl or something. Though I am trying to study visual language (not Metz) and cognition.

361

Plume 02.27.16 at 7:13 pm

Neoliberalism is center-right, ideologically. When a person is critical of it, they are being critical of the right, not the left.

The “liberal” part in the word refers solely to “liberalizing” the markets, which is an old-timey desire of the right. But, as Rich mentions in 355, it is compatible with “social liberalism,” which is center-left, basically, because billionaires couldn’t care less if the power elite is diversified, as long as the hierarchies themselves hold. It doesn’t matter to them that Tim Cook, for instance, is gay, because he will make decisions that conform with the interests of the financial elite, and not seek the flattening of hierarchies. See workers at Foxconn for proof of that.

There is a massive difference between removing certain barriers for people who seek to rise up the ladder . . . . and making it unnecessary to climb anything in the first place. The real left wants to end the necessity of the climb, to remove that as something we have to waste our life-time doing. The center-left basically wants to make sure there is no racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality discrimination preventing that rise. Boiled down, an identity politics versus a class thing. The illusion of meritocracy versus the reality of economic apartheid.

To me, if we flatten the pyramid, we all but eliminate those social barriers in the process. We achieve a far greater form of equality and defund all apartheids. But if we concentrate on identity politics and avoid class, the massive class divisions remain. And they disproportionately impact women and minorities in the first place.

362

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 7:43 pm

js.: “When was the last time a candidate’s supporters were beating up people at rallies, with essentially encouragement from the candidate himself? Or do you not think this is a significant development?”

Off the top of my head, I remember that Bush campaign rallies used to require loyalty oaths and that protestors were arrested and taken away by police for wearing the wrong T-shirt, with the full approval of the Bush campaign. It’s true that this was official violence and having supporters beat up people is unofficial and therefore may be considered to be closer to mass right-wing fascism rather than the familiar, comforting American carceral state.

363

LFC 02.27.16 at 7:48 pm

Bruce Wilder @343
Noted. Thanks.

364

LFC 02.27.16 at 8:09 pm

RNB @358
There has been little recognition of the structural power the US enjoys not necessarily in any given dyadic relation but in writing the rules of the game in regards to trade, intellectual property, adjudication of disputes, decision making in the IMF and the World Bank.

Right. There are Repubs who understand this but one does not expect it to be mentioned much or at all by those Repub candidates who do understand it; smacks a bit too much of multilateralism and intl law for them. (Some qualifications apply to the ‘structural power’ notion but there is definitely something to it, for sure.) My sense is that both Repubs and ‘establishment’ Dems, while not talking much about this, appreciate it: on the Repub side it is more likely to be viewed as ‘the most powerful country exercising the privileges that are its due’, and on the Dem side more likely to be viewed as the U.S. as guarantor of the ‘global liberal order’ (e.g. Ikenberry). Largely the same thing but with a different rhetorical gloss and emphases — more or less.

365

js. 02.27.16 at 8:17 pm

366

js. 02.27.16 at 8:23 pm

RP @363 — As I said, this feels qualitatively different. Perhaps it doesn’t to you. But even if you’re right, it suggests to me that someone like Clinton is vastly preferable to Bush, Trump, etc. The evils of neoliberalism are real but the dangers posed by the US right are an order of magnitude worse.

But of course, this is just the partisan manicheism of my identity-politics addled brain, an expression of tribal concerns and nothing more.

367

bob mcmanus 02.27.16 at 8:27 pm

There has been little recognition of the structural power the US enjoys not necessarily in any given dyadic relation but in writing the rules of the game in regards to trade, intellectual property, adjudication of disputes, decision making in the IMF and the World Bank.

Panitch & Gindin, directly on point, got a lot of attention in 2012. Also Varoufakis, Streeck . You may have missed them cause they are Marxian.

362: Women-men, gay-straight, Republican-Democrat, anarchist-communist, high culture-pop culture, Ford-Chevy, Pepsi-Coke

Difference can be productive, profitable and fun! Viva la difference and jouissance! Push it til it breaks capitalism!

My difference is that I think moral and ethical dimensions of difference are simply means of gaining comparative advantage in the commodification of affect and aesthetic preference.

368

novakant 02.27.16 at 9:41 pm

And, please, there are thousands of different ways to organize society and the economy. It’s not a Binary choice. It’s not just our way or the State Capitalist systems of NK, the old Soviet Union or China — none of those countries ever remotely approached “socialism,” much less “communism,” which is the absence of the state.

Indeed, so I’m not sure why you keep on peddling an imaginary, ideal socialism – mixed economy / social market economy/ the “nordic model” have been successfully implemented for decades in various countries until neoliberalism / globalization came along.

369

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 10:05 pm

Bruce Wilder #343: “the way thinking and perception are distorted by combining obsessive lesser evil comparisons and partisan manicheism.”

Where do you see serious evidence of these distortions, or of any pernicious effects? Voters pretty much make up their own minds in consultation with their friends, not due to some lesser-evilism argument by an op-edder or talking head. The evils of “lesser evilism” are usually understood at a young age, by teenagers in their B.S. sessions. Whereas belief in light v. darkness is usually restricted to the likes of Dreher columns and Crooked Timber neoliberalism threads.

370

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 10:19 pm

Brett Dunbar #350: “capitalism seems to be the only economic system compatible with democracy.”

“Seems to be” ain’t worth much, given that:

1. the evidence is historically rather short in the grand scheme of things (only the last 250 years, during which some of the evidence has been rather equivocal, to put it delicately), and

2. the evidence is that the market system is ending scarcity, while remanding most people into lifetimes of lesser incomes and producing greater inequality.

So “capitalism” may be an historically rather short epoch, while the demand for democracy makes greater amounts of socialism inevitable.

This is the argument of one of the great conservative economists (and one of the 4 or 5 greatest economists of the 20th Century) Joseph Schumpeter, who thought that democratic socialism is not only possible it will eventually be UNAVOIDABLE. No one has yet refuted his argument on either structural or psychological grounds.

371

TM 02.27.16 at 10:28 pm

Lee 287, with respect, I asked a straightforward question and I can’t make out any meaning in the words of your answer, at least nothing related to the question.

372

Brett Dunbar 02.27.16 at 10:32 pm

Calling the command economies of the communist dictatorships “state capitalism” is an utterly ridiculous description. A command economy is just about as far from capitalism as it is possible to get. Capitalism involves a market operating to set prices and production without state diktat. The communist states had the government set prices and production quotas centrally attempting to entirely suppress the market.

There aren’t all that many possible approaches to setting up an economy. Free markets seem to work better than either a command economy or the highly controlled markets of the mechantilist and corporatist state.

Feudal non-market systems were workable in pre-modern situations as there was very little short term change so once you had a working set of relationships they could work with minor adjustments for long periods. More centralised command economies, such as that of the Inca Empire could also work under those circumstances. They however break down as the economy becomes more dynamic.

The concept of the state withering away is a pure fantasy, it has never been observed to happen. Communist parties have tried very hard (the massive piles of skulls do indicate serious effort) to make Marx’s speculative fantasies come true. The result has been command economies and tyranny. Capitalism has been at its most successful in the advanced western democracies. A capitalist economy makes the bourgeoisie numerous and collectively wealthy, they then tend to push for democratic government to give them a role in government.

373

Brett Dunbar 02.27.16 at 10:41 pm

So far democracy has been pretty strongly linked to capitalism. Those attempting to build an economy on non-market lines have done so without establishing genuine political democracy with competitive elections, apparently afraid that given the choice the people would reject them. While there are several examples of a dictatorship with a capitalist free market economy successfully becoming a democracy.

374

Lee A. Arnold 02.27.16 at 10:58 pm

TM 372, Please restate your question. Why would knowing the hypothetical arguments of people who can’t be convinced, never tell you something possibly useful, about their next possible moves?

375

TM 02.27.16 at 11:25 pm

I’m with js. American liberals have this particular delusion that they think things here won’t ever get really bad, something like fascism will never happen here, and therefore we shouldn’t really worry about the threat posed by right wing extremism. The delusion comes in different flavors. On the more radical side, you hear the view much expressed around here that it’s all neoliberalism anyway and there’s no real difference between the system parties and so on. The more centrist version used to be to flatout deny that there was anything extremist going on in US politics – there are simply liberals and conservatives alternating in democratic government, nothing to see here, and anyway both sides do it (the radicals also have their version of the “both sides do it” myth). Ironically it seems that while, forced by Trump, the centrists are finally starting to come to terms with their delusion, the wannabe radicals still remain determined to pretend that it doesn’t really matter whether a centrist liberal or an openly racist right wing extremist wins the presidency. Thanks guys great job of promoting the revolution.
(Btw memo to Plume: you must be in serious condition if you really think that “the vast majority” Americans left of center want capitalism “obliterated and replaced”.)

I wish people around here, before making up their minds about “lesser evilism”, would contemplate the sheer cruelty unleashed in recent years on poor and minority people, the vicious attacks on women’s reproductive freedom, the rollback or attempt thereof of practically any kind of regulation of the fossil fuel industry and other polluters, wherever Republicans have had the power to enact their political vision. The reckless poisoning of thousands of residents of Flint by a Republican government in order to save a few dollars is emblematic and should be front and center in this election campaign at all levels, if progressives are worth their salt.

376

bruce wilder 02.27.16 at 11:39 pm

Lee A Arnold @ 370

I think arguments are mostly about rationalizing impulses, preferences and choices, after the behavioral fact. We discuss these things because humans are a social species, we want to reassure ourselves and others about our place in society and amidst society’s dynamics.

I blame economists and philosophers for giving us the impression that governance is strictly forward facing: a matter of expectations, estimates and forecasts — a gamble, a cost-benefit analysis. I think in real life, governance is backward-facing. The rudder is at the back of the boat. We steer by correcting errors, learning from mistakes. We advance down the ol’ slippery slope, facing backwards.

It seems to me that lesser evilism rationalizes mistakes in ways that obscures that we have even made one. This may be especially true when we are not actually making a choice, but are being asked to simply acquiesce in choices made for us. We still rationalize those choices, and may hide our own passivity and insignificance within the chosen rationale, or perhaps even dress it up in a melodramatic garb.

377

Rich Puchalsky 02.27.16 at 11:50 pm

js.: “As I said, this feels qualitatively different.”

Well, you asked about when this last happened, and it didn’t take long to recall the last GOP President. At the beginning of the contemporary GOP sainted Reagan became prominent by calling out the National Guard on protestors at Berkeley. In between there were a whole lot of other incidents, including quite a few done by police against Occupy protestors as Obama shrugged.

But those were political protestors and not people of some ethnic or religious category and presumably that’s the difference. But of course police and non-police have been shooting black people in America for the crime of being black continuously during this period. This is the wonder of democracy that Brett Dunbar extolls: the state carries out the people’s will and tortures, kills, and imprisons just as the people want it to.

So I’m losing track of what’s supposed to be extra special about Trump saying kill them all. That he’s saying it openly? I don’t think that it’s really a secret to most people.

378

TM 02.27.16 at 11:54 pm

“I’m losing track of what’s supposed to be extra special about Trump saying kill them all”

Wow.

379

bruce wilder 02.27.16 at 11:55 pm

TM @ 376

I think many centrists are in denial about the extent to which things have gotten worse, much worse, and the two Parties have openly cooperated in making worse, normal.

380

Scott P. 02.28.16 at 12:20 am

“Real socialism, OTOH, is local, small is beautiful, cooperative not competitive, fully democratic and federated, and needs a mere fraction as much government, etc. It’s democracy incarnate.”

Given that, by your admission, there has never been a ‘real socialist’ state, on what basis do you confidently make this assertion? Other than a desire to promise rainbows and ponies.

381

RNB 02.28.16 at 12:29 am

382

kidneystones 02.28.16 at 12:45 am

The level of fantasy Trump statements is wonderfully unreal. We have the “severely beaten” protesters and Trump proclaiming that he’d like to “kill them [black people] all.

Bruce Wilder is entirely right about the level of denial, but I’d say this denial is most virulent in those on the left and right, rather than the center. The center is often uninformed, but quite aware they lack facts. Partisans on the right and left are quite happy to assert expertise despite lacking even the core facts.

Has anyone ever heard, or read Trump advocating the death of anyone other than terrorists? I just searched and may have missed it. Ditto the images of “black man severely beaten.” I searched for that damning piece of evidence, and was forced in the process to view a disturbing number of images of men beaten for different reasons. The “severely beaten black man at the Trump rally” didn’t display so much as a bruise. His BLM shirt was not visible at all the time when he was dragged from the Trump rally. The current charge against those involved in the altercation is a misdemeanor. The victim claims a mild concussion. I received one of those, at least, playing rugby in high-school. At a time when black men, women, and children continue to be beaten (really beaten) and shot in indefensible numbers l find myself unable to muster any sympathy for this form of protest and his claims of being ‘beaten.’

I’m well aware that rhetorical excess is all part of the fun, but internalizing these little stools as ‘fact’ doesn’t add much to any understanding of the dynamics, or any adult discussion of the risks we face.

There are real risks from a Trump presidency that go far beyond fantasy beatings. These include his recent threat to tamper with the first amendment so that rich people can sue the ass off anyone who writes something they don’t like. Others, include likely trade wars even with friends and allies, among others. It looks as though HRC is going to add to her delegate total in S.C.

Underestimating Trump’s political skills has taken us all to this particular juncture. Rather than try to correct our approach to Trump, many seem bent on doubling-down on the stupid – more mockery, more insistence that ‘nobody will take Trump seriously’, more HRC will beat him in a heartbeat (see Jeb Bush), and generally more smug, self-satisfied, ignorance of the actual dynamics and facts of the race.

Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US is a case in point. When people were asked at the time specifically if “They agreed with Donald Trump that Muslims should be banned from entering the US until security measures improved” about a 25% agreed. When the same question was broached with “agree with Trump” removed, the numbers doubled to roughly 50%. That’s the baseline for support of Trump’s approach, not the ceiling.

I do not want to see Donald Trump as the next president. However, the smug complacency of my intellectual and moral superiors and their general indifference to fact makes this prospect increasingly likely. I remember exactly the same smug smirks when Reagan stepped onto the national stage.

It’ll be great watching the same folks who wouldn’t lift a finger to get Sanders elected start whining that Americans will be “forced” to choose between HRC and Trump.

Cue BW, Engels, and Bob. (All of whom I respect a great deal, by the way.)

383

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 12:49 am

Democracy gives you a choice. In a two party system Hotelling’s law predicts that they will tend to very close together and more or less in the centre of the effective electorate. If the left’s response to believing that the centre is too far to the right is either not to vote or to vote for irrelevant and unelectable left wing candidates (Nader in 2000 for example) the perverse effect is to move the centre of the effective electorate to the right. The fringe right doing same thing has the same effect in the other direction.

One argument for lesser eviling is that that way you end up with less evil. In the case of the US currently either of the Democrat candidates are better than any of the Republican candidates.

Some of the problems with US policing seems to be excessive localisation. Each tuppence ha’penny town wants its own police force, each of which wants its own SWAT team,the SWAT team want to use their toys so they can get funding renewed so they end up deployed in the field in situations that don’t call for it.

384

kidneystones 02.28.16 at 1:01 am

One final (really) note on Trump’s political skills and Reagan. Trump understands better than any other candidate the importance of controlling the news cycle. Fox and others jumped on Trump’s problems with policy questions in the last debate. Within hours Trump drove that headline off the front page by playing the Christie endorsement card. As Trump himself allowed, Christie sought out Trump almost as soon as the NJ governor dropped out. The Christie announcement in Cruz’s backyard was a masterstroke, a ‘ 4fer’.

Gingrich, no fool, observed that Trump is a constantly evolving [lizard] adapting, learning, and changing each week. Trump knocked out the Bush money machine, confounds the Kochs, and all conventional wisdom and still people here and elsewhere treat Trump like a lightweight.

As I noted before, Trump is entirely happy having his enemies treat him like a clown. We’ve got him right where he wants us. And we’re too dense and smug to know it.

Stupid him.

385

Plume 02.28.16 at 1:09 am

Brett,

We went through this before. Capitalism has caused many, many times more deaths and far more destruction than any other economic (or political) system in world history. It’s not at all close. It is also the first economic system in history that is, itself, innately imperialistic. Its own competitive laws of motion and Grow or Die imperatives lead inevitably to imperialism — require it, guarantee it. No other economic system, in and of itself, has ever had the need to constantly conquer new territories, both within a nation’s borders and beyond them. No other economic system has ever required so massive a bureaucracy to keep it propped up, defend it, expand it or bail it out.

Yes, the Soviet Union was indeed a state capitalist system, as Lenin said when he first implemented it. It never moved on from there to actual socialism, which would have required full on democracy, including the economy, and the people owning the means of production. That obviously never happened.

You, like most conservatives, constantly confuse capitalism with commerce in general, or commerce in general with capitalism, and simply don’t get how unprecedented and unique it is. Do yourself a favor and read The Origin of Capitalism, by Ellen Meiksins Wood, and The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman, and then we can make some headway, perhaps, in these discussions.

386

Plume 02.28.16 at 1:12 am

TM,

Notice I said to the left of the center left, not to the left of the center. As in, those of us well to the left of liberal.

387

Rich Puchalsky 02.28.16 at 1:23 am

kidneystones: “We have the “severely beaten” protesters and Trump proclaiming that he’d like to “kill them [black people] all.”

Well, you can find a lot of fantasy statements if you take things that aren’t supposed to be Trump quotes and instead pretend that people think they’re quotes.

I await instructions about the exact calibration of the degree of concern that I should have about a possible Trump presidency. Especially since there is nothing substantial that I can do about it in any case.

388

Plume 02.28.16 at 1:23 am

Scott P @381,

On the basis of the logic of it scaling up well and to the nation’s beneft. On the basis that it would be radically beneficial to the vast majority of humans on the planet, and the planet itself, whereas our current system is only beneficial to a tiny percentage, while causing tremendous destruction and misery for billions. Capitalism is also burning up the planet. It’s not sustainable.

Even in America, the supposed land of opportunity, just 5% to 6% of the population ever makes even six figure incomes. Roughly 95% of individuals never will. And just 20 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom half of the nation combined, with the 0.1% holding as much as the bottom 90% combined.

It’s truly amazing that people even here cling to it — of course, most of you likely are in the professional or managerial class which does quite nicely. Probably in the richest 10%. Easy for people in the upper socio-economic class to dismiss alternatives out of hand, for everyone else, when they’re quite comfortable with their lot in life. But in a nation with a median individual income of roughly 30K, most people can’t say they live in comfort. And then there’s the “developing” world to look at, think carefully about, and be ashamed.

389

RNB 02.28.16 at 1:24 am

From someone considered a HRC shill: jeez, I am not happy about Sanders’ yuge loss in SC today. I do not want him to go away, and thankfully he won’t heed calls to drop out. Also, what are to make of big primary wins in states that your party has no chance of winning? This result surely does not prove that Sanders is not electable in a general election or that Clinton is more electable in a general election.
We still have unfavorability number on Clinton that is higher than 50%. But I don’t imagine that more than 65% of the eligible electorate will vote in the general, so she only needs to turn out, say, 35% of the electorate to vote for her. She’ll have older women mobilizing for her. She has more enough people favorably predisposed to her. They just have to be the people who vote, and those who are unfavorable have to be disproportionately among that 35% of the population that is too cynical or alienated to vote.
Also Sanders does not seem to have turned out the youth today, and this raises concerns about a campaign heavily dependent on a historically unreliable part of the population.

390

RNB 02.28.16 at 1:37 am

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/271022-trump-stares-down-protester-wearing-kkk-endorses-trump-shirt
Wouldn’t call this an attempt to put some distance between himself and the Klan, especially with the harkening back to the good old days. In fact, Klan sympathizers probably understood Trump to just have had removed from his rally a silent, slightly “ethnic” protestor who was criticizing their organization and convictions. And that’s probably what Trump wanted to convey.

391

hix 02.28.16 at 1:42 am

Trump is just another somwhat cultural adapted version of people like Le Pen, Haider or Wilders. Had to happen eventually that someone like that would get the nomination on the republican side in a primary system to select the candidate. In a way its surprising it took so long. The candidate that is much harder to understand from experience with european politics is Sanders.

392

Lee A. Arnold 02.28.16 at 1:42 am

Bruce Wilder @ 370,

Sure, those are the ages-old lessons that are astonishingly well illustrated in Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. Maybe never done better.

But your argument here seems to be that 1. a voter for Hillary Clinton is likely (perhaps even necessarily) guilty of semi-conscious lesser evilism & manichaeism – and why? because 2. Hillary is an irredeemable neoliberal, and 3. neoliberalism is 100% (and irredeemably) evil.

What is the conclusive evidence that any of these three are necessarily true?

How are they to be proven in a way that does not fall into the faults of (say) Rod Dreher’s religious method of argument?

393

Lee A. Arnold 02.28.16 at 1:45 am

More steps toward fascism? Yesterday Trump advocated changing the libel laws beyond current protections, so public figures who don’t like negative press coverage can claim that they are purposeful “hit pieces”, and thus drag the press into court for massive damages. In other words, intimidation. No matter what political party you belong to, & no matter whether you like the New York Times and the Washington Post or not, this is an anti-First Amendment proposal. And totally crazy unnecessary — fSupreme Court case, NY Times v. Sullivan (1964) put protections already in place — is this all about him? Video:

394

Bruce Wilder 02.28.16 at 2:32 am

Lee A Arnold @ 390

Really I have no idea what you are on about.

395

Plume 02.28.16 at 3:10 am

Brett and others: If you’re at all interested in debating/discussing capitalism and its possible alternatives with me, my email is ctplume at yahoo dot com.

That way we can avoid at least one possible sub-thread here — though, at this point, it looks like it’s not the only one.

;>)

396

Alan White 02.28.16 at 3:56 am

Dr. FOX Trumpenstein took the body of Reagan, the heart of Beck (not the singer), the brain of Limbaugh, the spleen of an 8th-grader playground bully–and with the lightning bolt of O’Reilly to supply it–IT’S ALIVE–ALIVE!!!

I cast any given Koch as Igor doing the grunt work.

397

js. 02.28.16 at 4:20 am

Ah, yes.When all else fails, accuse your opponents of being irrational and melodramatic. Nicely played (if a tad obvious). Well, you (BW), kidneystones, et al can have your white nationalist playground. Enjoy the win, I’m fucking done.

398

ZM 02.28.16 at 4:44 am

That is also an argument technique used against Val when she brings up feminism and environmental issues too, js. She mentioned CT comment threads can be unwelcome for non white or non male etc commenters due to this sort of thing. It must be alarming with the sorts of things Trump seems to be saying, but maybe it will build stronger alliances who will campaign against this sort of racism, that’s happened in Australia before, but it’s an ongoing issue here too which white people have the luxury of only having to care about on a personally theoretical level, although maybe concerned about people of color they know.

399

Ze K 02.28.16 at 8:02 am

Re: manicheism and lesser-evilism

It seems like manicheism is gone from the realm of presidential elections, and electoral politics in general. The idea of “progressive politics” is dead, the Obama presidency drove the last nail into its coffin. Now it’s overwhelmingly (if not completely) satanophobia; defeating the protest vote, saving the ass of the establishment.

That’s what it looks like to me, and if I’m right, this an interesting development, no?

400

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 8:36 am

So called state capitalism bears no relationship to capitalism it was a simple command economy. While a capitalist system depends on the market and private investment to build privately owned businesses. Lenin was not only a tyrant far more vicious and murderous than the Tsar had been, he was also a liar.

Capitalism is pretty pacifist internationalist and anti imperialist, once you have substantial trade links with another territory then you have wealthy lobbyists against war, as they export to and/or import from there and warfare destroys trade.Even if their are negligible trade links it is most unlikely that the value of trade would justify the cost of war. Mercantilism could provide an apparent justification for war but as Smith argued the benefits of monopolising colonial markets was far less than the costs of warfare, hence his support of the American rebels. Capitalist states were rich enough that they could afford to waste money indulging nationalism with imperialism without going bankrupt, it was still a massive money sink. Egypt attempted to engage in imperial expansion in Sudan and went bankrupt, imperialism was a cost not a benefit.

401

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 8:45 am

If you want to move US politics to the left then it seems that the best thing to do is vote for Saunders in the primary (unlike Corbyn he seems to actually be electable) then vote for whoever gets the democratic nomination. Clinton while to the right of Saunders is still significantly to the left of the Republican candidates. Trump is a dangerous populist. He shows the scapegoating of some chosen victim group typical of populists. However much you might dislike Clinton she’s better than that.

402

Ze K 02.28.16 at 9:25 am

I get the impression that perhaps neoliberalism has failed already, and state capitalism (the PRC-style) is indeed the winning model and the way to the future.

The EU economy, the epitome of neoliberalism, hasn’t been able to even recover to the pre-crisis (2007) level, while China just keeps on growing, 8-9%/year on average…

403

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 10:58 am

China isn’t really a command economy anymore. It’s still a despotism but it has shifted to an increasingly market based economy.

Europe’s poor performance seems to be due to basically ignoring the lessons of the 1930s, austerity feels virtuous and is therefore popular stimulus feels self indulgent and is therefore unpopular. So repeatedly democracies have engaged in self destructive austerity.

There seems to be good reason to be sceptical of China’s official economic statistics. Both other data is inconsistent with the claimed headline figures and the fact that in 1989 the published statistics of the defunct east European dictatorships turned out to have been almost entirely fictional.

404

Ze K 02.28.16 at 12:35 pm

Well, I don’t see any reason to be any more skeptical about the numbers produced by the dictatorship of 90-million-strong CPC, than by an oligarchy controlled by a few prominent families, as is common in the west. Like I said, the CPC model appears to be far more successful, by the most common measure. And it was flexible enough to radically reform itself in the early 1980s. And strong and decisive enough to crush the ‘color revolution’ of 1989. So, I’d say, the CPC model is the front-runner now.

405

Ronan(rf) 02.28.16 at 1:54 pm

I don’t know, the left have been calling for a “populist” alternative to technocrats and elite rule. Well, here it is.

406

Shylock Homeslice 02.28.16 at 2:03 pm

Ze K, 1) China’s growth claims are lies. Everybody but you seems to know that. 2) China is still crashing, and has a long way to go. They had a massive bubble, which is bursting little by little, because the government keeps stepping in to stop it. People who are paying close attention generally seem to think this will be going on for a few years.

407

Ze K 02.28.16 at 2:50 pm

What is the average growth rate of the PRC GDP over the last 30 years, according to the people who are paying close attention? For the US it’s 3.5%.

408

Plume 02.28.16 at 3:20 pm

Brett @401,

Again, please read the two books I mentioned. Capitalism started in Britain and got going due to the forced expulsion of “the peasants” from their lands, the coordinated crushing of non-capitalist production via small farms and small, local producers, and it moved on from there. Britain forced capitalism down the throats of its unwilling colonies — Ireland, India and parts of the Americas at first, and extended this throughout the world. Slavery was a huge element in primitive accumulation and in the building up of large fortunes — both directly and indirectly. Locke, for instance, as John Quiggin notes in Jacobin, made a fortune on the slave trade, and American and British financial houses owed most of their fortunes to the slave trade.

Throw in the massive theft of land from Native Americans and native peoples all over the globe, the rubber barons, the robber barons, endless wars to smash resistance to capitalism, and you have hundreds of millions dead — literally. And global capitalism keeps chugging right along. Empire is sustained by capitalism, for capitalism, on behalf of capitalism in the modern world.

409

Plume 02.28.16 at 3:29 pm

Also, capitalism is M-C-M and exchange value. The capitalist purchases labor power (as a commodity) in order to produce commodities for sale/revenues, which he or she appropriates from workers. It’s based on the slave model, where the workers do not own their own production, the fruits of their own labor.

In the Soviet Union, a political party replaced private ownership, but kept the same basic model in place. Workers didn’t own their own production under the Soviet system. They had no say in pricing or their own remuneration. The “owner” was the state.

That’s state capitalism.

The Soviets also built national markets — which is capitalist. Capitalism unifies once disparate, separate, unlinked and local markets, and forces everything to become subject to competitive laws of motion under that unity. Non-capitalist economic systems remain fragmented, autonomous, and in the case of actual socialism, cooperative, not competitive. Two centuries of socialist theory and practice also point to use-value production, not exchange-value production. The Soviet system chose exchange value and raced with the West to produce the most (Red Plenty). It also completely ignored yet another of the main goals of real socialism:

Radically increasing leisure time, as a kind of “peace dividend” that comes from the end of for-profit work.

410

bruce wilder 02.28.16 at 4:01 pm

I have not brought up the Rule of 72 lately, but it might be helpful as a way of gaining historical perspective. The Rule of 72 is a heuristic that says the period of the institutional cycle in politics is 72 years; the driver of change that makes the cycle sometime seem so uncannily regular is generational change: the half-cycle is marked by the upper bound on leadership careers. Certain events associated with radical moments of institutional change tend also to bunch up political careers, so the cycle of institutional change and the underlying generational turnover can reinforce each other.

Simple illustration: 1917 – 1953 – 1989. Another: 1788 – 1824 – 1860.

I am not suggesting that anything magical is going on. If you like, political institutions are organic enough to have a lifecycle and institutional regimes necessarily alternate between periods of stable evolution and crises requiring restructuring. Similar crisis points in British or French history do not have quite such perfectly spaced intervals, though they come pretty close. And, actual crises are not isolated to a red-letter date; they are processes playing out over a variable number of years.

One implication is that history has its echoes. It seems to me that U.S. politics can be better understood, if you realize that the institutional regimes put in place 70 or 80 years ago have played out and are up for renewal. The wave elections of 2006-8 and the GFC crisis were echoes of the Great Depression and the New Deal, and the elections of 2016 and the gathering international crises of the present are echoes of 1945.

The architects of the domestic and international economic system put in place in 1945 at the end of the terrible traumas that began in 1914 had certain experiences and resources and possibilities, chief among them the common experience of political and economic systems failing catastrophically. We are aware of the possibility of such catastrophe only more remotely, as stories we imagine and the lengthening shadows of a dark future rushing toward us.

Marx’s famous remark about history reproducing tragedy as farce and Twain’s quip about history not repeating, but sometimes rhyming, get at the implications. We do tend to prepare for the last war, to learn the wrong lessons and we forget.

Things are different now. The American political system has evolved over a long period of stability into something unworkable and it has broken down, vomiting out Trump in reaction to the cancer of corruption consuming the society. And, the international system setup in 1945 around the stabilizing hegemony of American idealism and economic advance is breaking down with the evaporation of economic capability into financial fraud and extinction of idealism by corruption and cynicism.

I do not think neoliberalism, the ideology of the elites running the creaky world system, is evil. I think it is false and empty. It originated as a cover story for policies of disinvestment and dismantling, half a cycle ago, when taking apart the system built up in the first half of the full cycle now completing was naturally on the agenda. We need architects and builders, but the two great political Parties have evolved into a wrecking crew and a salvage operation, respectively. And, they just keep doing what they have been doing since roughly 1980.

411

Plume 02.28.16 at 4:26 pm

@411,

Interesting analysis.

Your second example could also show a bit of the exhaustion of “revolution.” Hard to pin its start down, but if we say 1776; war’s end in 1783; Constitution in 1788; French Revolution from 1789-99; European revolts in 1830 and 1848 . . . then pretty quiet again until 1871, with another failed revolt in the Paris Commune . . .

Steve Fraser, in his excellent (though slightly flawed) The Age of Acquiescence, notes the huge difference between American reactions to the First and Second Gilded Ages. A strong, fierce, vibrant anticapitalist revolt in the first case; a weak, often apathetic one in the second case . . . . makes me think that the neoliberal consensus has major advantages existing now as opposed to a hundred or two hundred years ago. People seem far less willing to fight back.

Science may hold a pretty basic answer for a good bit of this: We humans tend to fear losing stuff we already have a great deal, and are often willing to endure horrible circumstances (and systems) if they just . . . let . . . us . . . . keep our stuff.

Good TED talk here by Laurie Santos:

Laurie Santos: A monkey economy as irrational as ours

412

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 5:38 pm

The USSR was not in any sense capitalist it was a straightforward command economy, calling it state capitalist is a lie, capitalism uses open competitive markets as the primary structure of the economy. Lenin’s use of the term is a total oxymoron as the command economy he was describing is about as far from capitalist as it is possible to get.

The pre-nineteenth century merchantilist system also wasn’t capitalist, while it and corporatism make some use of markets they also used extensive state intervention to foster monopolies. Capitalism doesn’t really start until the nineteenth century you start to see the dismantling of trading monopolies with for example parliament systematically removing the East India Company’s trading privileges and monopolies, the abolition of guild privileges, the abolition of the corn laws, the reduction and elimination of tariffs &c. This was done based on the observation that those parts of the economy that were largely free of regulations, e.g. in the suburbs outside the purvey of the guilds were cheaper and higher quality.

413

Bruce Wilder 02.28.16 at 6:24 pm

capitalism uses open competitive markets as the primary structure of the economy

Speaking of lies, that’s one.

A capitalist economy is a money economy; it uses scarce money and debt as the primary system for scorekeeping and resource allocation for a system in which the means of production is largely controlled and concentrated as private property.

As Nick Rowe has pointed out, Keynesian demand management works because aggregate demand is effective demand — that is, demand with money behind it and the structure of production and distribution has ready, excess capacity: firms want to sell more at current prices if only someone will show up with cash in hand wanting to buy it. The Soviet economy, back in the day, had money, but money wasn’t the scarce element and it wasn’t used as the primary mechanism of scorekeeping. Very often there was more effective demand than goods available for sale and people stood in line.

But, a capitalist economy is not a “market economy” at all. There are very few actual markets in the U.S. economy, most of the important ones are financial, exchanging financial securities or key commodities which have been financialized for some reason. It’s all about the money. But, for the most part, the economy is composed of often vast administrative hierarchies. It isn’t an absence of bureaucracy that distinguishes a command economy from a capitalist money economy.

There’s an economic theory of price formation in markets, but it is irrelevant to the actual economy, except as a dogma of the civic religion. Actual prices are administered and actual resource allocation is accomplished by administrative fiat. The doctrine of a self-regulating market is just a political shield for the predatory conduct of the capitalist elites that dominate the society thru corporate hierarchies.

414

Shylock Homeslice 02.28.16 at 6:35 pm

Well, I don’t feel like looking for the best numbers available, but poorer countries can grow much faster than richer ones. We’ve been over this before. Not saying the Chinese government hasn’t done some things right.

415

Plume 02.28.16 at 6:51 pm

Brett,

It’s as if you’re stuck in the 18th century, having a talk with Adam Smith over a scotch, next to his fireplace, completely removed from the real world, as you both describe utopian systems to each other that will never be and can’t ever be. You keep ignoring the entire history of capitalism, how it rose, the massive damage it wreaked in its ascendance, and how this continues to this day.

In short, you believe in fairy tales.

At least I admit that theoretical socialism has never been implemented, beyond small-scale practices, anywhere in the modern world. You continue to assert that your utopian dream-vision of capitalism has, and that everything is beautiful and free and perfectly wondrously democratic and peace, love and joy for all and sundry, simply because of this magically beneficent system that exists solely in your head.

And Bruce is correct here:

“There’s an economic theory of price formation in markets, but it is irrelevant to the actual economy, except as a dogma of the civic religion. Actual prices are administered and actual resource allocation is accomplished by administrative fiat. The doctrine of a self-regulating market is just a political shield for the predatory conduct of the capitalist elites that dominate the society thru corporate hierarchies.”

The idea that the Soviet Union can’t be capitalist because it was “command and control” completely ignores the fact that the capitalist system can’t survive anywhere without a massive state bureaucracy . . . You’re just confused because Western “command and control” by the state is spread out more than in the Soviet system . . . spread out between governments, too. But take away their global “command and control” system(s), and it dies in days. We know this because it keeps going into recession or depression and the “command and control” powers of capitalist states keep bailing it out — oftentimes beforehand to prevent these crises. Before, during and after them, in fact.

416

Ze K 02.28.16 at 6:54 pm

“Lenin’s use of the term is a total oxymoron as the command economy he was describing is about as far from capitalist as it is possible to get.”

What Lenin defined as ‘state capitalism’ was his New Economic Policy, NEP. That was indeed a market economy, albeit under strict government control. Similar to today’s PRC. Existed between 1921 and 1928.

After that, it wasn’t a capitalist system anymore: no market based pricing, or wages, or investments.

417

Plume 02.28.16 at 7:00 pm

Boiled down, it’s right-wing myth to think of the capitalist system as this free and independent thing, just mutually agreed upon commerce with little oversight from governments and no government planning needed . . . . in stark contrast to the Soviet, NK or Chinese systems of tight, centralized controls.

In reality, no economic system in world history has required tighter controls, more planning, more state intervention, support, defense or bailing out. No economic system in world history has required even a fraction of a fraction as much bureaucracy to keep it afloat.

Right-libertarians say they want minarchy and capitalism. But all the evidence points to the fact that they can’t possibly have the former if they keep the latter. A publicly held, fully democratic, local, autonomous, cooperative and federated system could do quite well with that sliver of a government. An economic system that was non-profit, cooperative and didn’t have capitalist laws of (competitive) motion could get by with very little hierarchy and very little “state.” But capitalism can’t. Its nature is to grow, expand, conquer new markets, fight against barriers and this will always need gigantic amounts of state support to hold it all together.

Its Grow or Die drive is to unify otherwise fragmented markets into one. No entity can hold that together other than the state. Many states, in fact, working together toward that unity.

418

Plume 02.28.16 at 7:10 pm

After Lenin, Stalin used a piece-rate system, where workers could earn more by producing more. They were incentivized to do so. Sounds quite like commission-sales work in the capitalist system. And Russia was always in an intense competitive war with America and the West to outdo us in production.

Nowhere is that a part of socialist theory or small-scale practices, going back two centuries. Socialism, the real thing, was always based on a cooperative model, and one major goal was the reduction of work hours, taking the “peace dividend” earned by throwing out the profit motive. No need to create profits for the bosses . . . . that instantly makes it so most workers could cut their days in half. At least. This never happened in Russia, China, Cuba, NK, etc. etc.

The Soviet Union (et al) was never “socialist” in any way, shape or form.

419

geo 02.28.16 at 7:16 pm

@396: my email is ctplume at yahoo dot com

So “Plume” is your real name! I always assumed it was a nom de Plume.

420

Plume 02.28.16 at 7:23 pm

Geo @419,

Good one.

;>)

No. Not my real name. Plume comes from the brilliant imagination of a certain Belgian surrealist, Henri Michaux, one of my favorite poets. I just set up an email address to help organize some online chaos.

421

Brett Dunbar 02.28.16 at 10:41 pm

@414 Not to put too fine a point on it, that is total bollocks.

As a consumer I have the power to chose between a variety of different products at a range of different prices. The various brands of for example baked beans are in competition with each other. The same applies to cars, financial services, housing, computers, petrol. In fact much of the economy has competition. One major function of the state is to prevent collusion when the number of businesses is relatively small

422

Plume 02.28.16 at 11:28 pm

@421,

As a consumer, you get to choose from among the products and services capitalists pick for you. You have zero say in any of that. You have zero say in pricing, wages, variety, quality, work conditions, benefits, waste, duplication or pollution. And as companies get large enough, they tend to work things out with other companies, so the “competition” is largely cosmetic, as are the differences between products and services.

Ever really price cars, for instance, and notice how close they all are to one another? And how much they look alike?

Capitalism started out mastering mass production for the masses, which destroyed small farmers, artisans, craftspersons, and so on. This drove these people into the factories, when once they were their own bosses. Through the decades, this has only gotten worse, and products more and more alike — in price, quality and so on. Mass production for the masses by mass man. Soon to be by robots.

Now, my guess is it wasn’t the director’s intention of make this a kind of statement on capitalism and consumerism, but it was the first thing I thought of when I watched it. The main character had just come back from Iraq, goes shopping for groceries, and finds himself staring up and down the aisle at endless sameness of sameness.

423

Ronan(rf) 02.28.16 at 11:38 pm

I agree with js above.

It’s one thing to want to develop a more complicated picture of Trumpism, it’s another thing entirely to think kidneystones is the man to lead such a critique.

424

LFC 02.29.16 at 12:07 am

@Plume
“endless sameness of sameness”

I see a few things going on when I look at the shelves of the grocery store (supermarket, whatever) I go to most often. Among the national brand-name companies there is not a lot of price competition, but there is some effort to ‘differentiate’ the products and churn out ‘new’ wrinkles on old products. E.g., what lawyers call the ‘trade dress’ (for instance, the way a box of crackers looks on the outside) is periodically fiddled with in an attempt to create at least the appearance of novelty (which is often more irritating than anything else, but that’s a side point). Or a cookie manufacturer will add a different flavor and then trumpet it as ‘new’ on the box. Well, it is new, though the reaction of many consumers may well not be the rhapsodies into which the company hopes to propel them.

Static ‘sameness of sameness’ in a literal sense is abhorrent to this kind of capitalism, which assumes that consumers must be periodically presented with variations, however trivial in some cases, on what they’ve seen before. It’s the same with technology products like software: I don’t want ******* Windows 10, I’m fine with Windows 7. But the imperative to continually offer ‘new, improved’ twists on things seems hard-wired into the executive mentality.

As for price competition in the supermarket, I do see it when the store-chain itself (which is typically owned by a big conglomerate of some kind) creates its own line of products and sells it below what the national brand names sell for. But that’s about the only instance in which price competition in this setting is really noticeable, afaict.

425

Peter T 02.29.16 at 2:08 am

Getting back to MacIntyre, I thought his point about appropriate conduct deriving from the ongoing practice of the relevant community was useful (and parallels Wittgenstein’s point about language). But on the issue of whether our moral intuitions are now so fractured as to provide no coherent basis for communal agreement, he is wrong to think that they were ever whole or coherent. The more we explore subaltern history, the less whole and the more contested the past appears. The nodding agreement of the VSPs should not be taken for the assent of the whole.

426

TM 02.29.16 at 9:46 am

402: Words of reason from Brett Dunbar. Never expected to write that on a CT thread.

BW 411: Great analysis, now we just need to know when the cycle starts.
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Aquarius.

Plume 387, my mistake. Still, if Sanders counts as “to the left of the center left”, he certainly doesn’t stand for “obliterating” the entire system of capitalism.

427

Collin Street 02.29.16 at 10:31 am

As a consumer I have the power to chose between a variety of different products at a range of different prices.

Sure. But the point is, this — and things like this — are actually only a tiny fraction of the decisions made in an economy: most, in fact nearly all, decisions are business-internal, and those are by-and-large not “market based”, but technocratic, planned, what-have-you. Market-based allocation processes are actually a pretty small part of what’s going on: an important part, but not a huge part, and certainly not the only part that matters.

Which isn’t to take away from the reality of the autonomy you do have, just to point out that it’s less — much less — of the economy than you think.

428

casmilus 02.29.16 at 11:10 am

@426
“Getting back to MacIntyre, I thought his point about appropriate conduct deriving from the ongoing practice of the relevant community was useful (and parallels Wittgenstein’s point about language). But on the issue of whether our moral intuitions are now so fractured as to provide no coherent basis for communal agreement, he is wrong to think that they were ever whole or coherent. The more we explore subaltern history, the less whole and the more contested the past appears. The nodding agreement of the VSPs should not be taken for the assent of the whole.”

Yes – this is the trouble with Philosopher’s History, it focusses on ideas, and hand-waves about “world-views” which are presumed to be shared and important. And then propagandists like Rod Dreher pick out the bits they like the sound of, to weave a tale about how the past was “enchanted” and the wicked scientists/liberals/whoever ruined it all.

I think MacIntyre’s disquieting suggestion is a correct picture of how western religion has collapsed in to a void in which terms like “grace”, “salvation”, “redemption”, “free will” and so on get debated without reference to the frameworks that gave sense to them, and instead there is a fruitless preoccupation with “religious belief” as a phenomenon detached from its historical contexts. But that’s not a suggestion that suits anyone’s reforming/reactionary agendas.

429

Plume 02.29.16 at 3:24 pm

Colin@428,

You make an excellent point about internals and the importance of those decisions. But I think you’re overdoing the “autonomy” part. Again, we as consumers have the illusion of choice, with perhaps two main components for that illusion.

1. We can only choose between things capitalists offer us — and they offer us only the things they believe they can make money on. Exchange value is key, not use value. Not what’s in our best interest. But what is in theirs. It’s a similar illusion to our political choices, by the way, as we know from several recent surveys that our politicians don’t even listen to the 99% and do what they do after listening to the 1%.

2. The sameness of products and services. This goes back to the dawn of capitalism, when it destroyed small farmers, hand-crafted goods, house calls, an emphasis on long-term quality and one’s good name, etc. With its (capitalism’s) mass production of sameness, these small craftspeople could not compete, had to quit their home/local business, where they were both owner and worker, to go to work in the factories for peanuts. This dynamic would later force mass immigration to America, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the “old world” lost its old ways of making things one at a time, to order. And the more people immigrated to centers of capitalism, the more people had to immigrate to centers of capitalism, etc. etc. Primitive accumulation on overdrive, inexorable.

It’s the illusion of choice, not the real thing, both from the workers’ standpoint, and the consumers’.

430

Plume 02.29.16 at 3:35 pm

TM @427,

Never said Sanders was in favor of that. I think he’s a Democratic Socialist, pushing new New Deal proposals, none of which are “radical.” As in, his agenda isn’t even DS, much less S. It’s just that the American political center has shifted so violently, tragically to the right for the last 40 plus years, his rather tame, common sense proposals are seen by all too many as “far left” and crazy. They likely wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in the 1960s — especially on free public school tuition. New York and California already did that, and most states paid for the bulk of tuition costs at that time.

I prefer him to every candidate running for the two major parties, but I don’t think he goes nearly far enough. Probably because he doesn’t think he can push the envelope further than he has. The Dems have done too good a job truncating the left, setting up their firewall, working always from the Republican side of the aisle instead. Clinton probably did more to kill the left’s place in our political system than Reagan, and Obama has continued that legacy. I see Hillary as more of the same.

431

TM 02.29.16 at 4:00 pm

Who are “the vast majority of people to the left of the center left” who want capitalism obliterated? Are you talking of 1% of the population, 10%, 25%? Just curious.

432

RNB 02.29.16 at 4:00 pm

I think relevant to discussion of consumer choice that I have not been following
http://evonomics.com/nobel-prize-economists-say-free-market-competition-rewards/

433

Plume 02.29.16 at 4:15 pm

TM,

I have no idea how many left-anticapitalists exist in America, today, so I can’t answer that. I do know, however, that if Americans were exposed to left-populist alternatives and could see them in action, they’d dump capitalism in a heartbeat. It only works well for the rich, and works okay for the professional and managerial classes. Roughly speaking, the richest 10%. Everyone else would do ginormously better under a non-capitalist, egalitarian, cooperative, democratic system.

Just think about these stats and then tell me if people wouldn’t rather be co-owners of a completely democratic economy in which their voices had equal weight, and there was no 1%, etc.

The richest 1% hold more wealth today than the bottom 99% combined. The richest 0.1% more than the bottom 90% combined. Just 400 Americans hold more than the bottom 61% of the nation combined, and the richest 20 Americans hold more than the bottom half combined.

You’re in the richest 5-6% if you make 100K or more. Roughly 95% of the nation doesn’t and won’t ever. Worldwide, the richest 62 humans hold more wealth than the bottom 3.6 billion.

Capitalism is obviously an epic failure in doing even the most basic thing an economy should do: Distribute resources, income and access to everyone in a just and fair manner. It obviously redistributes the vast majority of all resources, wealth, income, access and (consequently) power to the very top of the pyramid. Why would the people from at least the 95% area on down want to keep it in place? Especially when you factor in environmental catastrophe which is hard-coded into its internal logic drives.

434

RNB 02.29.16 at 4:26 pm

No discussion of the New York Times piece on Clinton’s advocacy of bombing Qaddafi’s forces? If one reads Jeffrey Sachs in conjunction with the articles, Clinton appears as an agent of the deep national security state using any opportunity to oust by military force a regime more favorable to a US rival (Iran, Russia or China) than to the US and its allies (France, UK)–whatever the social cost on the people living under the targeted regime. For Sachs, Clinton continues the foreign policy thinking that reached its apotheosis under George W. Bush.

I think that this misreads the evidence of Clinton’s views on Libya. Haunted by her husband’s inaction in Rwanda and Srebrinica, Hillary Clinton seems to have thought that something had to be done to protect civilians against the desperate, dying Qaddafi regime. Her thinking here seems to have been similar to Juan Cole’s, not George W. Bush’s. Both Clinton and Cole underestimated how the NATO bombing would escalate the situation and the nature of the opposition to Qaddafi and the violence that they could do to innocent partisans of the Qaddafi regime.

But it’s not clear what violence Qaddafi would have carried out in the absence of a NATO counter-weight; but certainly this was not a fabricated threat such as Cheney’s about WMD in Iraq. Qaddafi was already striking civilian populations. And it seems that France and the UK would have carried out bombings regardless of US involvement.

At any rate, I do not think Clinton’s actions indicate that she is an agent of the deep national security state. Perhaps her actions in Syria would bear out this claim. But then there is the evidence of her willingness to engage in diplomacy with Iran (something Sachs ignores) and her choosing the chief negotiator Jake Sullivan as her senior policy adviser.

Again I welcome much more critical evaluations of HRC’s foreign policy record and views.

435

casmilus 02.29.16 at 4:45 pm

@430

“We can only choose between things capitalists offer us — and they offer us only the things they believe they can make money on.”

It does still happen that they bet wrong and lose money on the deal, because no one wanted to buy. Ask anyone who worked in marketing or advertising. Or Hollywood.

436

casmilus 02.29.16 at 4:47 pm

If you want to condemn an action by HRC, how about her flying in to Haiti to view the disaster area straight after the earthquake?

How many relief supplies were delayed while her plane took up runway space for a photo-op?

437

casmilus 02.29.16 at 4:49 pm

I strongly recommend Chris Batchender’s novel “U.S.!” to everyone on this thread.

I also recommend “Sacco And Vanzetti Must Die!” by Mark Binnelli, though that’s a bit bleaker and doesn’t have so many laughs.

438

Plume 02.29.16 at 5:03 pm

Casmilus @437,

Yes. Actually, they bet wrong a lot. Which is why most start ups fail. This is yet another bit of evidence regarding capitalism’s overall inefficiency — which also produces mass waste. Because it doesn’t produce to order. It produces in hopes of future sales — in hopes that good marketing can provoke those future sales. And these companies often borrow money to get those start ups going, which then fail, and they can’t pay back their loans, and then our pro-Capital laws kick in and “we the people” all too often end up paying for that bad debt.

What if we produced according to democratic ordering? At the community level. Asked up front, “Town, what do you want? What do you need? How much of X, Y and Z? Held town meetings about this, for everyone. Not just for “reps.” But actually so that everyone has a voice. We could mix in person debate with online and no permanent “leadership” to facilitate this. Rotational, temporary, by lottery, perhaps. All of this under the umbrella of a new constitution, with communities federated across the country . . . . grouped, perhaps, by regions, regions under national umbrellas. But autonomy from the local on up, rather than from the top down. Basic foundational laws, human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, green, sustainable, etc. etc. But as long as communities adhere to these broad parameters (democratically derived) . . . . they have a ton of room to maneuver.

All production to order, all non-profit, all cooperative, non-competitive, local-centric, use-value-centric, citizen-centric, green-centric, etc.

439

Plume 02.29.16 at 5:04 pm

Again, if anyone cares to discuss these things with me, off-thread:

ctplume at yahoo dot com.

440

Brett Dunbar 02.29.16 at 7:07 pm

You bet badly wrong on what the consumer wants and you lose enough you go bankrupt. Your creditors are compelled to eat the loss. The populace in general are not liable.

Exchange values is something of a fiction pretty much anything that has value has value as it ultimately has a consumer. An individual transaction might not involve the ultimate consumer but the purchaser anticipates that there will be an ultimate consumer.

I don’t really see the problem with producing a thing in anticipation that some unspecified person will want it. Imposing a ban on production except to order is a massive restriction of efficiency as well as liberty. It makes having shops essentially impossible.

441

Sebastian H 02.29.16 at 7:08 pm

“What if we produced according to democratic ordering? At the community level. Asked up front, “Town, what do you want? What do you need? How much of X, Y and Z? Held town meetings about this, for everyone. Not just for “reps.” But actually so that everyone has a voice. “

How much free time to expect to get eaten up by this?

442

Plume 02.29.16 at 7:17 pm

Sebastion H,

I think they could hold this once a week at first, and then space it out monthly, once they grow accustomed to it. Most people would repeat their previous orders. If they chose, they could just hit a form on the Internet and boom. It’s done for the week, month, quarter, what have you. Could be a pull-down menu sort of thing that provided those options.

With enough data and analytics over time — if the locality chooses to go that route — there are further ways to streamline this. And all of this could be left extremely flexible. As in, if you want to show up weekly, cool. If you want to stay home and click on links, that’s cool, too.

It would be from the household on out, to the neighborhood, to the community, to the region and the nation. Federated. Again, with autonomy starting locally, bottom up, not top down.

443

Plume 02.29.16 at 7:27 pm

Brett,

Your idea of “liberty” is your own. It is itself a fictional construct that has only recently taken center stage, and is still contested by massive numbers of human beings. Lockean concept of “property rights” appeared quite late on the human stage, and as John Quiggin showed in his articles for Jacobin, they are poisoned by his belief in “improvements” to the land. He and others of like mind considered ownership of property null and void if the land was not “improved” — made profitable. Ellen Meiksins Woods talks about the same thing in her The Origin of Capitalism. This is how Lockeans rationalized stealing land from “the peasants,” colonial subjects, indigenous peoples, Native Americans and the like. It’s also how they rationalized slavery itself, which Locke made a fortune from.

Beyond that, America has roughly just 7 million business owners with employees. The vast majority of the population doesn’t want to start a business, or own one, or run one. Yet we’ve organized our society and economy around the desires of that tiny fraction of the population. Their interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of that majority as well. I find this . . . . quite insane.

Any time someone talks of “freedom and liberty,” we always should ask for whom.

444

Brett Dunbar 02.29.16 at 7:32 pm

Actually supermarket prices within many classes of product vary dramatically. Supermarkets will often have products of the same type at three markedly different price points, in the value or budget range, in the normal own brand range and in the quality range. The quality range of say mince pies can be ten times the price of the value range.

It isn’t totally surprising that similar quality products have similar prices. The manufacturers have similar costs, raw materials, distribution, labour, capital equipment &c. so the lowest price at which they can cover their costs and make a reasonable profit is about the same. Prices will tend to be similar in a well functioning marketplace dominated by price competition.

One function of the capitalist state is to prevent and punish collusion. This contrasts with the corporatist and mechantilist approaches where the state would foster and encourage monopoly and cartels.

The situation with things like operating systems is that as they are under continual attack from criminals the security needs to be repeatedly updated. So there is an ongoing cost to maintaining support.

445

Brett Dunbar 02.29.16 at 7:39 pm

Actually if you count shareholding, either directly or indirectly through for example a pension fund part owning businesses is pretty common.

In any event I was talking about the freedom of the consumer, to decide on a whim to shop. I can go to a shop or website and b rows through the products inn stock and then immediately purchase those I desire. I do not want to have to wait for it to be made to order.

446

Plume 02.29.16 at 7:45 pm

Under capitalism, which always tends toward more and more imperialist expansion, consumers get lower prices at great cost, ultimately. They don’t come from magical innovation on the producer side. They come from a combination of cheaper and cheaper labor, often overseas, which is sometimes outright slavery, plus shortcuts on quality, working conditions, special taxpayer supports, grants, no-bid contracts, exemptions and massive externalization of overall costs.

Nothing is “free,” of course. We pay for our lower prices with our own loss of labor leverage, quality of the products and services, and higher pollution and waste.

447

Plume 02.29.16 at 7:53 pm

Brett @446,

But once we have that routine set up, you won’t have to wait to purchase what you need. You’ll go to an outlet, locally or anywhere across the country, or order from your computer or smartphone. It will be there. They’ll have at least 100 items of X because that was the order. They can, of course, make a bit more to allow for people changing their minds, choosing on “a whim” as you say. An extra cushion, so to speak.

But we’d no longer be throwing away half of what we produce, or have to pay for unsold goods — which is baked into the price under capitalism. In a fairly short period of time, we could get a pretty good idea of how much of X or Y to make to match demand. It would roll over. And no more marketing costs are needed, which is also baked in under capitalism. For the first time in history, you already know what’s out there, because you were a part of the process saying what is to be produced in the first place.

448

TM 02.29.16 at 9:44 pm

Plume, believe me I’m wishing you the best but, seriously, do you have to make such a caricature of anticapitalism? If you have no idea how many anti-capitalists there are, wouldn’t it be advisable to refrain from claiming any vast majorities for that position?

449

Brett Dunbar 02.29.16 at 10:13 pm

I already am part of the process of determining what is produced, as a consumer. Ultimately all production is for the benefit of the consumer. I like the fact that IO am not bound to consume the same products and can

Manufacturers do not throw away half of what is produced. Best estimate is around 30% of the crops grown end up not being consumed, this is due to a number of factors peculiar to farming. The highly perishable nature of the product the fact that both production and demand are strongly affected by weather means that you can inadvertently end up with gluts, and the catastrophic effects of a production shortfall. Other sectors tend to have rather less waste.

450

Plume 02.29.16 at 10:20 pm

TM @449,

What caricature? And I don’t make any claims for currently existing majorities. I merely state that if people knew the truth about alternatives, and really understood the history and effects of capitalism, there would be vast majorities against it — and for those democratic, egalitarian alternatives.

Imagine a nation indoctrinated by one religion over the course of well over a century, and this religious indoctrination includes teaching that all other religions are the work of the devil. Imagine how difficult it would be to put together a majority against it.

That is the current situation, boiled down, with regards to our economic system and the possibility of non-capitalist alternatives.

451

Plume 02.29.16 at 10:32 pm

Brett,

Estimates vary, but I’ve seen most say we throw away half of our food. This one from Reuters, but begins its article with:

“Americans throw away nearly half their food every year, waste worth roughly $165 billion annually, according to a study released on Tuesday.

“As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path. That’s money and precious resources down the drain,” said Dana Gunders, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.

The NRDC report said Americans discard 40 percent of the food supply every year, and the average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food.

Just a 15 percent reduction in losses in the U.S. food supply would save enough to feed 25 million Americans annually. It also would lighten the burden on landfills, where food waste makes up the largest component of solid waste, according to the NRDC, a nonprofit environmental organization.”

452

Plume 02.29.16 at 10:48 pm

Brett, I hope you’re writing this for the Onion.

“Ultimately all production is for the benefit of the consumer.”

Do you include cigarettes in this, or the decades upon decades capitalists lied to us about their deadly effects? Or the thousands of pesticides and chemicals out there that cause cancer, poison our water, land and air . . . . Every day we discover some new carcinogen inside consumer products, plastics, BPA, etc. etc. Big Pharma is always having to pull shit from the shelves after it’s discovered they cause severe damage or death to humans. Fracking is good for us? It doesn’t poison our water or cause earthquakes? Keeping pigs and cows penned up their entire lives, so they get sick and need endless amounts of anti-biotics to keep them alive, which in turn radically weakens the effects of antibiotics when we need to take them . . . and so on.

The list is endless, Brett, of the harmful shit produced for profit by capitalists, and the lies they tell us that all is good for us.

It’s one thing to say that we’re stuck with capitalism, and we need to make the best of it. But you consistently whitewash its history of death and destruction, and try to portray it as if you were blindly cheerleading for the home team. You’re not dealing with reality, Brett. It’s not a Disney film.

453

TM 03.01.16 at 8:57 am

Plume, in 341 you made a claim about existing majorities. And your rhetoric – “if people only knew the truth, they would agree with me” – that is a sad caricature of political analysis and it’s boring. Bye.

454

Collin Street 03.01.16 at 9:36 am

> I already am part of the process of determining what is produced, as a consumer.

Sure. Noone disputes this. Noone’s said otherwise. What you’ve been told, what you haven’t responded to and don’t seem to appreciate, is that the economy, the economic activity, “markets” that you see and partake in, is only a fairly small part of the whole.

[I mean… you say “as a consumer”. Which is true, but “consumer” isn’t the only economic activity people take part in, you need producers as well, and…. do you perhaps not have a job, perchance?]

455

Brett Dunbar 03.01.16 at 11:35 am

In the end the consumer is the ultimate justification for production. At times the link is extremely remote but ultimately it is there. For example the connection between a child purchasing a pencil and a business manufacturing equipment for mining graphite is extremely long but ultimately it is the child who is providing the reason for mining the graphite.

456

RJ 03.01.16 at 3:13 pm

Well, we were talking about the real world for awhile.

While I have some sympathy for Plume I find much of what he says a broken record of wild-eyed idealism that does not give actual human behavior. But compared to the consumer sovereignty story, Plume’s libertarian socialism is clear-eyed reality.

“…the consumer is the ultimate justification”? Not in the real world. Just a widely and massively discredited a priori hypothesis.

The consumer sovereignty hypothesis and the hypothesis that Obama is a Kenyan Marxist mole? The latter is many, many times more plausible given the evidence. And of course, wildly implausible given the evidence. Consumer sovereignty – don’t be ridiculous. Not the real world.

457

Ze K 03.01.16 at 3:21 pm

Profit is the ultimate justification for production.

458

Plume 03.01.16 at 3:28 pm

TM @454,

You consistently distorted what I said, adding your own little strawmen into the mix, which is quite boring. Glad to see you leave.

459

Plume 03.01.16 at 3:38 pm

Brett,

I mentioned it above. But think about cigarettes for a moment. It was perhaps, along with slavery, the most important kickstarter for capitalism worldwide. Those two “products” made and make vast fortunes for capitalists directly, and for financial houses directly and indirectly.

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/

Key facts

Tobacco kills up to half of its users.
Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600, 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.

If we count deaths due to policies that led to famine in China, Russia and elsewhere — of course, we’d have to also count this for capitalist countries, too — if we play the morbid game of “most deaths,” then surely cigarettes, all by themselves, top all the lists. Hundreds of years, now, with a century or more of millions of death per. And right now, WHO estimates 600,000 non-smokers die each year — in America, it’s about 44,000.

The consumer is always the beneficiary of capitalist production? Really?

460

Brett Dunbar 03.01.16 at 3:55 pm

You make a profit ultimately due to the product being bought by a consumer and used. You cannot sell something without a buyer, which ultimately comes down to somebody consuming it.

The consumer of a cigarette values the brief pleasure of smoking over the long term harm. The market is satisfying the consumer’s demand. That the consumer is doing themselves harm doesn’t alter that the consumer demand is what it is.

461

TM 03.01.16 at 3:57 pm

459 “You consistently distorted what I said” by quoting you verbatim. Won’t let you falsify the record.

462

Plume 03.01.16 at 4:03 pm

TM 462,

You never quoted me verbatim. You always botched the quote and I had to correct you. And your last assertion included no quotes at all. Just your very poor paraphrase. You just said I claimed there were vast majorities right now that choose socialism. I always talked in terms of “if” people learn the truth and cut through the fog of capitalist indoctrination and propaganda.

But on the subject of numbers, please read Harold Meyerson’s article about socialists in America.

Why are there suddenly millions of socialists in America?

463

Plume 03.01.16 at 4:39 pm

Brett @461,

“You make a profit ultimately due to the product being bought by a consumer and used.”

Capitalists make profits by radically underpaying their workers — by collecting the sum of all unpaid labor. That’s where the vast majority of their profits and their own compensation comes from. If they paid their workers in accord with their workers’ production, in accord with the surplus value they generate, capitalists couldn’t make big profits, and their own compensation would be little more than their workers’. In many cases, it would actually be less.

464

Brett Dunbar 03.01.16 at 7:01 pm

Profit depends on your costs being less than the market price. In a competitive market the gap is unlikely to be large. Supermarkets typically have margins around 2% the total profit is large due to the sheer size of the business. The profits then get distributed to the owners. In many cases the shareholders in the case of waitrose (part of the employee owned John Lewis Partnership) the employees.

465

Plume 03.01.16 at 7:15 pm

The biggest part of those costs is labor. That is also the cost most easily slashed by ownership. Workers are kicked to the curb or their pay slashed when businesses get into trouble. It’s the first thing that happens. People are fired and/or their wages slashed. Again, without underpaying workers for the surplus value they create, there is no money left over for profits or large compensation for ownership.

If capitalists ever paid fair wages, they could not possibly accrue large fortunes for themselves. The math doesn’t work. They can’t possibly, mathematically, pay fair wages to their workers and pay themselves large amounts. The mere existence of profits and high executive compensation is proof of theft from workers, and it’s getting worse.

In the 1950s, the average CEO made roughly 20 times their rank and file. In the 60s, it was 25 times. Today, after a slight fall from pre-recession norms, it’s 300 to 1. In Fortune 100 companies, it’s 1000 to 1.

The way a Larry Ellison, for instance, made his billions was to make sure he radically suppressed the wages of the workers who made his compensation package possible. He has, in the past, made 10,000 times more than his rank and file, in fact.

466

William Berry 03.01.16 at 10:08 pm

I would suggest that the CT management restrict Plume to a maximum of 100 comments on any given 500 comment thread.

467

Collin Street 03.02.16 at 12:57 am

In the end the consumer is the ultimate justification for production. At times the link is extremely remote but ultimately it is there. For example the connection between a child purchasing a pencil and a business manufacturing equipment for mining graphite is extremely long but ultimately it is the child who is providing the reason for mining the graphite.

Sure. Noone disputes this. Noone’s said otherwise. What you’ve been told, what you haven’t responded to and don’t seem to appreciate, is that the economy, the economic activity, “markets” that you see and partake in, is only a fairly small part of the whole.

Most decisions are company-internal and technocratic, not market-based: the actual parts of the economy that are directly market-managed are actually quite small. Real, yes, important, yes: but not the entire thing, or even most of it.

Indirectly market-managed, sure. Soldiers exist to fight wars and kill people, but most of the work that soldiers actually do is supply-chain and management, not fight-and-kill-people work. There being a difference between “fighting and killing people” and “work in support of fighting and killing people” that shouldn’t be obfuscated, just as there’s a difference between “market-based allocation processes” and “technocratic allocation processes that affect the result of a market-based allocation process”.

468

F. Foundling 03.02.16 at 1:53 am

@RNB 02.29.16 at 4:26 pm

>If one reads Jeffrey Sachs in conjunction with the articles, Clinton appears as an agent of the deep national security state using any opportunity to oust by military force a regime more favorable to a US rival … I think that this misreads the evidence of Clinton’s views on Libya. … Hillary Clinton seems to have thought …

Indeed, it is well known that the best evidence for the nature of a person’s policy and thinking is not what they do, but what they say and what they claim to think. If HRC were a rabid imperialist and aggressor, she would be on record as declaring ‘I’m a rabid imperialist and aggressor’. That is decidedly the only rational, evidence-based approach to the issue at hand.

>Haunted by her husband’s inaction in Rwanda and Srebrinica

But not by his action in Kosovo, because there was *nothing* haunting about that. Perfect justification, irreproachable execution and excellent results.

>And it seems that France and the UK would have carried out bombings regardless of US involvement.

Because, of course, France and the UK have policies *completely* independent of the US. They just happen to have the same positions on almost everything of geostrategic significance, but that’s only because they are guided by the same Western liberal and democratic values. Cf. Assange, Snowden (note especially the Evo Morales grounding incident), the whole Ukraine business, relations with Saudi Arabia etc.

>But then there is the evidence of her willingness to engage in diplomacy with Iran

Indeed, real imperialists and agents of the national security state *never* use diplomacy! As a matter of fact, it is enough to utter the word ‘diplomacy’ in their presence, and they immediately screech and dissolve into dust.

On Honduras under Clinton, see Weisbrot. On Haiti under Clinton, see Klein. On Clinton and Wall Street, see Publius etc. Yes, one may conceivably end up in a situation where *even this* is a ‘lesser evil’, but one must at least know it for what it is.

469

Brett Dunbar 03.02.16 at 6:05 pm

Ultimately any business is producing for ultimate consumption. Without the consumer there would be no reason to do any of the other stuff that a business does. All of the other things are secondary to that. The business as a whole exists to satisfy some consumer demand.

470

Plume 03.03.16 at 3:55 am

Brett @470,

“The business as a whole exists to satisfy some consumer demand.”

No. Business in the capitalist system exists to make money for the owner. That’s its sole reason for being. All the rest is just silly rhetoric designed to obfuscate the obvious. And there is very little demand for the vast majority of consumer products produced by businesses until they create that demand through marketing. The demand rarely precedes the production. Production is done by business in hopes of future sales, stoked by marketing to create demand where it did not exist before.

And it’s all done to make money for ownership. The consumer is a faceless number with paper in their wallets which attracts the nose of the capitalist. They want to remove as much of that paper from the wallets of consumers as they possibly can, and they don’t much care how or they do that, and they don’t much care what they give the consumer in return. They obviously don’t care about their workers, or they’d pay them fair wages and they wouldn’t fire millions of them when things start to go a bit south.

Seriously, Brett. I have no idea where you get this fairy tale vision of capitalism from, and how it’s all supposedly purely voluntary and wondrous system of happy happy joy joy and business owners are democratic altruists just trying to make the world a better place.

Even Disney would find your vision all too saccharine and fantabulist.

471

Brett Dunbar 03.03.16 at 11:01 am

You are the one with the incoherent definition. A business makes a profit by satisfying a consumer demand. That it is doing so in order to make a profit doesn’t alter that it is satisfying a consumer demand. It is irrelevant to the consumer why you are doing a thing as long as you are doing the thing.

I’m prepared to trust that the individual is best placed to determine what they want. You appear to want to impose the will of some planning committee about what the consumer ought to want and what price they ought to pay. We’ve tried that in the past, you get shortages, gluts and an opaque inefficient black market. While a free market works much better than that.

An interesting demonstration of a well functioning market with no state support is Silk Road. The illegal drug market was highly opaque with high prices unreliable quality and violence. Silk Road allowed customer reviews and fairly transparent pricing in illegal drugs. This allowed some dealers to get a reputation for reliable quality and brought in competition on both price and quality. The result was lower prices, higher quality and less violence.

472

Plume 03.03.16 at 2:58 pm

A business makes a profit by collecting as much unpaid labor as it can get away with. And, again, the vast majority of products on the market had zero demand before marketing campaigns kicked in. And do you really think customers demand a hundred different sugary cereals, or a hundred brands of toothpaste with different colors and slightly different tastes? Do you really think they demand the thousands upon thousands of dangerous products that cause cancer, sickness, death and massive pollution?

“I’m prepared to trust that the individual is best placed to determine what they want.”

No, you’re not. If you were, you’d be fine with full democracy, including the economy. You’d be fine with people determining ahead of time the businesses they want in their own communities, and the kind of production they want in their own communities. You’d be fine with one person, one vote, and public ownership of the means of production. Instead, you’d rather have the 1% decide for everyone else what they get to “choose” from and what they’re told they should buy via marketing blitzkriegs. You don’t trust individuals in the slightest.

“You appear to want to impose the will of some planning committee about what the consumer ought to want and what price they ought to pay.”

No. Not some planning committee. All of us. All 315 million Americans, via direct democracy, one person, one vote, with equal voices for everyone. No planning committees. No central command and control. All local, all small is beautiful, all cooperative, independent, autonomous, democratic, federated with the same across the nation.

We’ve been through this before, Brett. It didn’t change since the last time.

473

Brett Dunbar 03.03.16 at 3:45 pm

It is impractical for the entire population to vote on how many mopeds are needed in Chiswick, so it is going to end up as a committee. At the moment it is entirely a matter for the manufacturer of Mopeds and those residents of Chiswick who want Mopeds. You either have planners vetoing desired Pareto optimizing trades or the committee is irrelevant and all you have is a market economy with a somewhat different ownership structure.

We’ve tried a wide range of structures, something you determinedly ignore. Both non profits such as John Lewis Partnership (employee owned), the Co-op, Nationwide Building Society (customer owned mutual society) or IKEA (owned by a charity). And for profits businesses some private and some public. There is nothing preventing you from setting up a company that has no shareholders and distributes profits to its employees, the John Lewis Partnership is exactly that. It owns the UKs sixth largest supermarket, the rather posh Waitrose.

474

Niall McAuley 03.03.16 at 3:58 pm

Plume writes: direct democracy, one person, one vote, with equal voices for everyone. No planning committees. No central command and control. All local, all small is beautiful, all cooperative, independent, autonomous, democratic, federated with the same across the nation.

Bags be the cat!

475

Plume 03.03.16 at 4:11 pm

Brett,

The community itself would vote, not the entire nation, and it’s very, very practical. Each community would have autonomy over the production that exists in their community. There would be parameters to follow, a legal framework as guide, which we all vote in place. A Constitution with those parameters spelled out. But day to day decisions would be for localities.

And this all takes place without capitalism anywhere in sight. It’s a distant nightmarish memory. Another piece of garbage in the dustbin of history. So there is no need or logic in trying to make sure this all works out according to capitalist laws of motion — which you keep avoiding. Capitalism doesn’t exist in this scenario, anywhere. It’s as if it never existed.

There is no profit anywhere to deal with. There are no competitive laws of motion, as under capitalism. It’s a cooperative economy. No employer/employee relationships. No power dynamics of master and slave, or master and serf. They don’t exist. We’re all co-owners, and the entire economy is publicly held. No private ownership of the means of production. That would be illegal.

And, no, this has never been tried.

It needs to be the entire system in order to work and to be “practical.” It won’t work if it’s surrounded and overwhelmed by the larger capitalist system. So that’s gone. Obliterated.

476

Plume 03.03.16 at 4:20 pm

Oh, and to save you some writing.

In the past, you’ve confused capitalism with economics, capitalism with commerce, commerce with capitalism, and economics with capitalism. You seem to believe that all one needs to know about economics is how things work under the capitalist system, so if someone posits an alternative, and it doesn’t adhere to capitalist laws of motion, that person must not understand economics, or commerce, etc. etc.

Sorry, but you’re dead wrong. Non-capitalist alternatives operate under their own laws of motion, not capitalist laws of motion. They don’t need to bother making sure things would work as they do under capitalism — because capitalism no longer exists. As in, you can’t critique the effectiveness of non-capitalist alternatives using capitalist logic. It’s like saying someone makes stupid moves in Chess because it wouldn’t work out in the game of Risk.

477

Brett Dunbar 03.03.16 at 6:31 pm

So basically you want to replace a system we know works with a fantasy system you have invented which has never been tried anywhere?

I think the reason that I am sceptical about that should be obvious. Previous attempts to implement a post capitalist economy have resulted in large piles of skulls. I want to see it in action on a small scale first.

Economic systems have changed when the newer way developed inside the old system. The cash economy gradually developed within the feudal system, as labour rents were gradually transformed into cash rent. Then within the mercantile economy some parts were less regulated than others and those worked better so the market liberalisation was gradually extended.

The market takes localism by devolving decisions about what is required down to the individual.

478

Plume 03.03.16 at 7:00 pm

Brett @478,

No. I’m not talking about anything I’ve “invented.” I’m talking about socialist theory going back two centuries, and small-scale practice during that period of time. As mentioned several times, the largest example of this was in Spain, in the 1930s, where it thrived in certain regions until Franco — with the help of Hitler — wiped it out. I already suggested several good books on the subject, but will point you to Kristin Ross’s Communal Luxury again, about the Paris Commune of 1871 — among other things. A very short book, but packed with tons of thought-provoking material for further study.

And this:

“So basically you want to replace a system we know works . . . “

We know it doesn’t work. We know it’s never worked. Outside a tiny portion of humanity, at tremendous cost to the rest of the human population and the planet. How on earth can you claim it works when the richest 0.1% holds as much wealth as the bottom 90% of the population combined? Which connects to your other statement here:

“The market takes localism by devolving decisions about what is required down to the individual.”

This has never been the case under capitalism. Decisions never return to the individual, unless by that you mean individual bosses. Unless by that you mean very wealthy and powerful individuals, who control what we do at work, and decide for us what we’re paid, what products cost, how they’re made, where they’re made, the cost to us in pollution and waste. All of that is out of our hands. All of that is waaay beyond our control. Capitalism has always made the vast majority of people incredibly dependent upon the whims of a very small number of individuals, and it’s always been right-wing myth and nonsense to talk about it in terms of “individual freedom and liberty.”

That is only accurate if by “individuals” you admit that it’s a tiny fraction of the total population, and never the vast majority who call the shots.

479

Brett Dunbar 03.03.16 at 7:24 pm

You really don’t get it do you?

You have an exclusively producerist perspective. The free market is a consumerist system. What can be profitably produced is determined by consumer demand. If there is a substantial unmet demand then outside businesses can enter the market in order to take advantage. If one business doesn’t make what you want then there is a good chance a competitor will.

480

Plume 03.03.16 at 7:49 pm

Brett @480,

I definitely “get it.” What you’ve described, in every one of your posts, is a utopian fantasy dream world of an economic system. It’s not reality. It’s not how things work under capitalism. It’s how capitalism could work if we had perfect conditions in place and we all started out as equals. Obviously, the former can never happen and the latter has never been the case to this point in the modern world.

In short, when I read you, it’s like reading someone who has spent their entire life in a cave, reading textbooks on capitalist theory, authored by those who have drunk the koolaid, cheerlead for the system, and want others to join them. But it’s bloodless. There is no life in what you say. No humans exist in your vision or descriptions. There are no consequences connected to your vision, no downside, no costs. Everyone in your vision “wins” and no one loses.

Again, I fully understand people who think, hell with it. It’s here. It’s the existing system. So let’s make the best out of a bad situation. But that’s not what you do. You honestly seem to believe in its perfection and its magical ability to fulfill everyone’s needs and desires, without any cost to anyone else or the planet.

I really don’t know what more to say. But I think you need to get out and about and see how the proverbial other half lives. I get the feeling you would be shocked by it all if you did.

481

Brett Dunbar 03.04.16 at 6:06 am

What you are advocating is a unicorn. It’s a very nice unicorn and I might even buy it, except it you have never demonstrated it exists. You are suggesting we replace the most successful economic system ever developed with a system that only exists in theory. I am not going to support a radical change unless I have some evidence that it can actually work without the piles of skulls racked up by Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot, when they tried to replace capitalism.

Yes capitalism is messy and at times doesn’t work. Market failures exist and there are a variety of methods of dealing with specific cases without discarding the whole thing.

You cannot even tell capitalism from mercantilism or corporatism which are pretty fundamentally different. That does not give me any confidence in your analysis.

482

Plume 03.04.16 at 2:33 pm

Brett @482,

You have no clue what capitalism is. You consistently confuse it with commerce and business in general, and think of it as if it actually operates under perfect conditions at all times, with everyone being equal up front, and everyone having optimal, peak knowledge of the system and its outputs at all times.

Unlike you, I’ve actually done the legwork necessary to differentiate it from previous economic systems. Read The Invention of Capitalism, by Michael Perelman, The Origin of Capitalism, by Ellen Meiksins Wood, and The Making of Global Capitalism, by Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch, and then you’ll have an idea of what it actually is. Until then, you’re just slinging silly fairy tales.

Also, the dictators you list didn’t try to replace capitalism. They just replaced capitalist bosses with party bosses, while keeping capitalist (competitive) laws of motion in place. They all imposed “state capitalism,” and said they had to, in order to yank their economically backward nations out of virtual feudalism. Ever stop to think about the horrific conditions that existed before they took power? My guess is, no. And you still refuse to admit that capitalism itself has racked up “piles of skulls” many, many times in excess of those dictators, and it’s ongoing.

Again, do yourself a favor and actually study capitalism’s origins, its effects, its epic failures, and its present day catastrophes. Then we can talk.

483

Plume 03.04.16 at 2:56 pm

Brett,

btw,

I’ve never seen you post an article to back up your assertions regarding capitalism — or inequality, for that matter. Or refer to books. Where do you get your info? What authors do you read to help you with your Disney, fairy-tale visions of capitalism?

484

Brett Dunbar 03.04.16 at 5:07 pm

Hitler did not run Germany in anything like a capitalist manner. Nazi Germany was corporatist. There are major differences between them.

Corporatist economics involves using price controls and tariffs to favour and promote certain businesses and sectors. Actively encouraged the formation of cartels and discriminated against and attempted to suppress small businesses. Attempted autarky so that the German national economy would be self sufficient and had extensive exchange controls, indeed by the immediate pre war period no consistent exchange rate can be calculated as large scale foreign trade was conducted through a series of deals in kind with widely varying implied exchange rates. Made it very hard for foreign owned businesses to expatriate profits. Directly aided rent seeking.

The Weimar regime had been capitalist, it had free and open trade an openly traded currency and tried to treat all businesses equally. If they made a bad business decision that was their problem. It did not encourage rent seeking.

The chemical firm IG Farben supported the Nazis because the Nazis weren’t capitalist. IG Farben had believed that peak oil had arrived in the 1920s and had therefore made big investments in synthetic oil. Then a number of big discoveries were made in the middle east causing the oil price to plummet far below the production costs of synthetic oil. The Weimar republic took the capitalist approach, essentially that’s your problem. The Nazis promised to impose a steep tariff on imported oil in order to make Germany more self sufficient in oil by artificially increasing the price of imported oil to above that of synthetic oil. This would benefit IG Farben at the expense of German consumers. Under the democratic capitalist Weimar republic IG Farben would have had to shut down the synthetic oil factories and take a big loss, the Nazis fixed the economy so that IG Farben could have monopoly rents.

Richard J Evans in The Third Reich in Power has a fairly detailed discussion of how Nazi corporatist economic policy worked pre war.

485

Brett Dunbar 03.05.16 at 2:35 pm

I seem to recall that I recommended some of Tim Harford’s books as giving a nice basic introduction to microeconomics and macro0economics. The Undercover Economist [micro] and The Undercover Economist Strikes Back [macro] are both pretty clear. Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith is also pretty good.

Comments on this entry are closed.