Friday, October 23, 2009


Let's get this right: I am a Concern Niebelung, not a Concern Troll

Perhaps the conservatives and the so-called liberal media (who know they are "out of touch" and figure -- incorrectly -- they are liberal and hence conflate their own out-of-touch-ness with liberalism) are right -- liberals are out of touch with everyday 'Murkins.

Consider the response to (as well as what prompted) this bit of Niebelungeheit on my part. Do liberals really think that the Dems are guaranteed the kind of establishment in-party status the GOP (in spite of Carter and Clinton) enjoyed from some time in the 1970s until 2006? Right now, of course, the GOP is really bringing out the crazy, but what happens if the GOP gets its act together? To me, the response to Christie blowing a 16 point lead should not be "see GOoPer trolls, the GOP is safe" but rather "what if the GOP gets its act together (which is a big if) and the next Christie-type doesn't blow his lead? how do we prevent this from happening?"

I think part of the problem is that we liberals are mainly used to hearing this kind of question from the so-called liberal media which always claims the solution is for us to moderate and compromise with the GOP even more to remain "in the mainstream". So it is perhaps understandable that when a Niebelung raises such questions, they would raise red flags and so many liberals would immediately get defensive about what is being suggested.

But there is still in the responses to my comment a strong element of misunderstanding of the American psyche, which misunderstanding by the Democrats has hurt us -- and the GOP was able to do so well, until they started to unravel and until it was so obvious what a disaster Bush & CO were, because they understood this aspect of the American psyche. The thing is that Americans are profoundly anti-ideological. The key American question is "what's the big idea?" -- and not as a matter of curiosity about the ideology but as a matter of scorn that any big idea can be good. Our mindset is not "that's a great idea" but rather "get 'er done". And the GOP was able to speak that language very well, which is why they were able to do so well for so long. Of course, it must be added that while the American distrust of ideology is almost positivistic -- Americans are not positivists ... their distaste for ideological thought extends to a distaste of questioning their own ideological assumptions, which leads to a certain traditionalism and maintenance of those assumptions, including a strong tendency toward religiosity, absent in, e.g., the more 'ideological' Continent.

The problem Democrats have -- whether its Blue Dogs trying to be "moderates" in order to appeal to the moderate, non-ideological electorate or it's liberal Dems who think that appeals for Dems to reach out to moderates are necessarily appeals to moderate -- is that we tend to assume people are ideologically consistent when, in fact, they don't give a darn about ideology, which is deemed as squishy and un-American. Americans want to "get 'er done". Thus, when the GOP speaks that language, they do well, but when it finally becomes obvious the GOP has not interest in getting things done correctly and is insane besides, Americans reject the GOP.

And those who note that Americans have rejected the GOP and are not accepting liberal ideology are not necessarily appealing for Dems to be more moderate. In fact, that's the worst thing Dems could do! When people say they are moderates, it doesn't mean they want politicians to be moderate -- it means they don't care what ideology politicians have as long as the government they give us runs efficiently and for the benefit of everyone and not just for those deemed "underserving" (whether they are a powerful few or those whom our Puritan heritage rejects as "non-elect"). In fact, we must remember that the small-p-pragmatism of Americans is one capitalization away from being big-P Pragmatism which is the philosophy at the base of modern liberalism in many ways.

Certainly, if we liberals believe our approach to government is what actually will benefit people, then we should be pushing for Dems to be more liberal. And if people see that we really do believe that our ideas work, then they will be more likely to trust us with government and embrace liberalism themselves. But if we Dems are always afraid that people will reject liberalism, then people will think "I don't really care about ideology -- yet liberal Dems think that I won't support them if they are liberal -- why? do they think their ideas won't work? 'cause that's all I care about -- and if liberals think their ideas won't work, then why should I think they'll work?" E.g. if we liberals "compromise" on health care, not only will it result in an awful bill that will make things worse for many people (who will blame "Democratic health care 'reform'" for their problems, since no GOoPer will vote for the bill), but it will send a signal to people that we don't believe in our own agenda so why should people believe in our agenda?

To me, though, the most bizarre thing, however, is the complete rejection in certain liberal circles of the importance of Democrats actually running government cleanly and efficiently. If Dems would actually listen to complaints about "gummint", what they would discover is that the actual complaints (as opposed to how GOP demagogues use the anger people have at gummint to promote their own agenda) relate rather simply to government not working well. It doesn't make me Tom Friedman or Bobo Brooks when I point out that if government runs smoother, Americans (who don't really care about ideology but rather just want things to get done) will be more likely to support the party of big government, e.g. (liberal) Democrats. And many of these aspects of government that cause everyday people annoyance are local government issues (which may involve corrupt local Democratic political machines)

So shouldn't having (local) government run smoothly be a top priority for Democrats? Shouldn't cleaning our own house be a priority? And shouldn't making liberalism work for people rather than compromising on it be a priority? And why are these to me self-evident priorities so controversial in certain liberal circles?


Update -- as you all know by now, no doubt, Christie did win. So my concern was on the mark. Of course, this will be spun as "see a Republican won even in liberal NJ". Of course this ignores that, on a federal level, the Dems. actually gained two seats and if it weren't for Obama, Christie would likely have won by a greater margin, but the spin will still be that this is a loss for Obama. The problem, though, is that centrist Dems will believe this spin and try to push for "compromises" with the GOP "because that's what the 2009 elections showed voters want" -- and these compromises will be disasters for which no-one in the GOP votes anyway -- thus, in 2010 the spin will be about disastrous Dem legislation. Of course, the usual trolls, e.g. at Sadly, No! are predicting a GOP sweep in 2010 and the usual moonbats are sanguine about a Dem victory then. But this just repeats the sentiments about this election. Nu? How do we Dems in the base make sure that the usual suspects in the wanker caucus don't wank us out of a good result in 2010?

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Thoughts ...

I can't get into any detail about what brings on these questions, but recent events do have me thinking ...

Supposed person A allegedly assaults or harasses person B. It somehow seems inappropriate to bring up any past history of B's behavior, etc. as if person A did assault or harass person B, it is still a crime or tort (depending on the nature of the action) no matter "what kind of person" is person B. However, naturally person A will have his/her own version of what happened. And whether or not this version is reasonable (and hence casts a reasonable doubt in person B's story or even whether one judges person A's story to have the preponderance of evidence in favor of it) depends very greatly on what kind of person B is, doesn't it?

How does one set up a system that still presumes innocence of the accused yet also ensures accusers that they won't effectively be put on trial? For that matter how do you set up a system that presumes innocence of the accused yet allows both "sweet innocent" victims and well "not so innocent" victims to both receive justice since their innocence is anyway not the issue if the accused really did what s/he is accused of doing (although it does point to how reasonable the doubts raised by the accused are).


How much can our society expect us to be lawyers? In a trial or hearing lawyers may ask you questions and depending on how you answer, this can effect the outcome of the trial/hearing. So of course you will get asked to remember precisely things which happened a long time ago, and failure to answer questions could result in contempt and not phrasing answers 100% "correctly" could result in your testimony being construed to mean something completely different than what you meant.

Now a lawyer would know when certain events occur to immediately start writing things down. But what of us non-lawyers? Does the legal system expect us to go through life notebook in hand, pausing to write everything down -- even when such writing things down could then be used against us: "why were you writing down what you did rather than responding to the problem at hand?"? Does the legal system expect everyone to know exactly what a lawyer would find important to remember and thus to write everything down? Does the legal system expect us to always use proper-lawyer language to express ourselves and consider it ok that if a layman uses non-legal language that his/her words will get misconstrued by the court?

Of course, in Jewish law, this is all simplified -- everybody is expected to be a lawyer (and my previous kasha above is also simplified in Jewish law -- you can make an end-run around presumption of innocence in such sensitive cases because often the accused would at least be patently guilty of violating a fence around the law). But we do not live under Mosaic law (perhaps the religious right is correct and we should? but somehow I don't think they'd like living under such a law ... at least in the sense that I am talking about here) -- if our society expects us to all be lawyers, why isn't being a lawyer part of high school? Why do you have to go to law school to be a lawyer even if, once the legal apparatus is put into motion, we will be expected to use the correct legal terms, have written exactly the kinds of notes of the event in question that a lawyer would write, etc.?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Perverse Incentives in Capitalism

Conservatives like to talk about perverse incentives due to government interventions in the free market, but I would like to propose that free market capitalism has an inherent perverse incentive against progress.

What is the underlying justification of large rewards in capitalism? Roughly that high risks must be balanced out by high rewards otherwise people won't take risks.

But whom does capitalism tend to reward then? People who act to optimize expected utility (e.g. people who will take risks because the reward makes the risky action have a positive expected utility) -- i.e. people who are Bayesian rational actors. I.e. capitalism awards (a certain kind of) rationality. And since capitalists dictate the agenda of private enterprise in a capitalist system (money always has strings), the nature of private enterprise in free market capitalism is at best (e.g. when the system actually does function -- lately we've learned a lot about market failure, haven't we?) that of a certain kind of rational actor.

However, as GB Shaw (?) pointed out, all progress depends not on reasonable people but on unreasonable people. Yet capitalists are, according to a very specific definition, reasonable people.

So what does this say about the relation between progress and capitalism? Consider, for example, who got richer -- the true innovators of the modern PC age or Bill Gates? Free market capitalism, like any other evolutionary system, at best only sufficiently rewards successful innovations -- Apples' Steves have been amply and sufficiently rewarded, but who really got rich from making our society computer-saturated and how? And what are the implications of "who won" in terms of whether we really are in a technologically optimal environment?

Of course, the real innovations were produced by gummint anyway, weren't they?

Meanwhile, a bit ago on a comments thread at Eschaton I observed (in re. my uncle who has settled in Finland) that for all the emphasis glibertarians give to "the rugged individual", it seems that people who truly march to their own drummer thrive best in more socialistic societies in which they don't have to worry so much about the rat race but rather can do what they want to do at their own pace.

Which society gives individuals more freedom? In which society is being the sort of unreasonable person on whom progress depends rewarded rather than having rewards flow to Bayesian rational agents? And where do so many neat technical things come from anyway?

Hmmm ... I wonder ...

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