iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Politics

U.S. politics and politics in general

Character and politics

It is perhaps good that societies go through occasional paroxysms of outrage over abuses and vices among the high and mighty. That’s one way to reiterate the boundaries of acceptable conduct. It would be better if boundaries were supported far and wide on a daily basis, but societies have their ways.

In a representative system of government, it is often felt that representatives should represent all that is best in society, that they should reflect the self-image of people as good and wholesome. That may be asking more than elections can deliver, but it’s a noble sentiment.

The foremost task of a political representative is to represent the political views of the people in the district or state they represent. Alas, that includes the selfish side of the people. This is shown annually in budget battles for shares of the public purse.

A candidate whose words reflects the positions of the people is normally the best candidate without further ado. But if there are questions about character defects in the candidate, then the electorate has to take that into consideration, mainly to discern whether or not the candidate would act and vote consistent with their statements and promises.

If a candidate’s consistency is not an issue, they may still be questioned for their suitability if their character does not reflect the self-image of the people. What if the electorate has to choose between a candidate who does reflect their views but not their self-image and a candidate who reflects their self-image but not their views?

The choice is clear if unpalatable: elect the candidate who reflects the political views of the people because that is the purpose of an election. The integrity of the political process is what is the most important.

Remember that democracies are not mannerly affairs. For example, promoting candidates with rum was an old trick in the early days of the republic (see here). If representatives reflect the political views of the people, that is sufficient. To insist on more is to push for some form of aristocracy.

Political balance

Balance and centrism go hand and hand. One cannot have balance without a center of balance, and one cannot have a center without balancing opposites. Politically, the main balance needed is between liberty and equality. Economically, that means a balance between economic liberty and economic equality. And similarly for health, education, transportation, and so forth.

One who focuses on liberty emphasizes freedom of action over a wide range. A free society is one in which people, as individuals and as groups, are free to act. The state exists to protect society from its enemies, both foreign states and individuals (e.g., pirates), as well as domestic groups and individuals (e.g., criminals) who would take away society’s freedom.

Those who focus on liberty are concerned that without it there is tyranny, which leads to depression (inwardly), anger (outwardly), and oppression toward those lacking political power.

One who focuses on equality emphasizes similarity of condition over a wide range. An egalitarian society is one which which people, as individuals and as groups, are in a similar condition. The state exists to protect society from its enemies, both foreign states (e.g., imperialists) and individuals as well as domestic groups (e.g., bad corporations) and individuals who would take away social equality.

Those who focus on equality are concerned that without it there is disparity, which leads to envy (inwardly), resentment (outwardly), and oppression toward those lacking political power.

These opposites are both legitimate concerns that should be balanced. The result will be imperfect no doubt but should then progress toward greater balance. True progress is movement toward balance.

Centrists and extremists

There are a variety of centrists, as there are a variety of means (e.g., arithmetic, geometric, harmonic, etc.). But all centrists share certain characteristics, which differ markedly from all extremists.

Centrists reside in the center, the middle, from a long-term perspective. Unlike moderates, who go with the flow of current politics and culture, centrists resist change away from the center. As I’ve noted before, that often makes centrists contrarians, trying to turn society away from movement toward any extreme.

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Conservatives and liberals

The terms “conservative” and “liberal” are used in a variety of contexts but what is the distinction? They have come down to us through 19th century politics, but that turns out not to help much since many conservatives today would consider themselves as “classical liberals”. One can use alternate terms such as traditionalist and progressive, but they have various associations of their own.

I would say that the basic distinction is this: conservatives are most concerned with saving something – souls or money or traditions – and liberals are most concerned with spending something – lives or money or resources. That is, conservatives focus on what is worth keeping and liberals focus on what is worth spending.

Religious conservatives want to save souls, to promote what it is that brings salvation, to keep people from being or becoming infidels or unbelievers. Religious liberals want to spend their lives helping people, making the world a better place, doing something that needs to be done.

Economic conservatives want to save money, to buy only necessities, to keep money safe for future needs. Economic liberals want to spend money, to give to the poor, to use money to improve the world now. In the past, this has meant that conservatives had more money than liberals but that is not necessarily true today. Contemporary culture is a spendthrift culture, where most people do not save money either because they have more than enough already or because they live for the present.

Environmental conservatives are “preservationists,” those who value nature for its own sake and want to save it from development. Environmental liberals are “conservationists,” those who want to spend natural resources optimally for the sake of humanity. This is the inverse of what political conservatives and liberals want to do regarding the environment.

Political conservatives want to keep traditions that have worked for generations, to maintain the solvency of governing institutions, to preserve culture and society. Political liberals want to spend resources on improving society, to change what is wrong with society, to remake everything in light of their vision for the world.

In short, conservatives see the glass as half-full, and liberals see it as half-empty. Liberals see what the have-nots need, and conservatives see what the haves could lose. In the past conservatives were considered more pessimistic – seeing what could go wrong – whereas liberals were more optimistic – seeing what could work for the better. But today liberals are almost paranoid about the future – warning of disaster if society doesn’t change radically – whereas many conservatives are content to stay the course with only modest changes.

I have written before, here, about an inversion that can take place between conservatives and liberals. If liberals succeed at changing society enough, then conservatives may long to change things back to where they were before, whereas liberals want to keep their gains. Then liberals will resist change and conservatives will promote a return to what was lost. So conservatives become liberals and liberals become conservatives.

We save in order to have something to spend, and we spend in order to have something to save. The wise counselor advocates balance between these two movements. That is the centrist approach.

Centrism and extremism

I’ve written on my understanding of centrism here and here.

The essence of centrism is an acceptance of a limit for everything. This means there are limits in all directions. The image of this is a closed convex curve with a center in the middle of the region enclosed.

Without limits, there is no center. A center is always within limits. If there is any direction without a limit, the curve is not closed and there is no center.

Non-centrists are extremists in at least one way. They reject a limit in at least one direction. They are not only not in the center, but they reject the existence of a common center.

The slogan “No enemies on the Left” is a left-wing motto that goes back at least to the 1930s. It reflects an attitude that in the direction of leftist politics, there is no limit. Because it lacks a limit in at least one direction, it is extremist in at least one direction.

Most political groups promote some cause or idea that takes precedence over all other causes or ideas. They may hold these in a limited way, but unless they have ways of limiting the range of their support, they will tend to go further and further in that direction. They are or will become extremists.

Marriage and semi-marriage

In abstract algebra, a semiring is an algebraic structure similar to a ring, but without the requirement that each element must have an additive inverse.

Analogously, what could be called a semi-marriage is like a marriage, but without the requirement that the persons be of opposite sex. (Compare here.) How would this work?

First, a marriage is also a semi-marriage so the legal requirements that apply to a semi-marriage apply to a marriage as well. For example, age requirements for semi-marriages would apply to marriages also.

Second, a semi-marriage is not necessarily a marriage so one cannot assume that every property of a marriage is also a property of a semi-marriage. Each property of a marriage must be evaluated to determine if it applies to a semi-marriage. For example, a business that offers services for marriage ceremonies may not need to offer the same services to semi-marriage ceremonies.

The law may focus on semi-marriage rather than marriage because semi-marriage has a larger extent. Yet it would be possible for some laws to apply to marriages but not semi-marriages. The decision as to which way to go is up to the political process.

In the U.S. since the Obergefell decision, civil marriage is semi-marriage.

Discrete democracy

Direct democracy is an idealized concept in which the people vote on all political matters. Besides being impractical, it assumes the people have sufficient time and information to consider every matter. Such a continuous democracy would be like the weekly polls published by the news media, except they would result in real decisions – and no doubt poor decisions. Instead, representative democracy is a two-tiered system in which the people elect representatives, who in turn vote on all political matters.

Representatives are elected from particular districts for a particular term of office. So representative democracies have a spatial and temporal character. There are various terms of office. Those such as the U.S. have fixed periods of two, four, and six years. Others place limits such as five years within which an election must take place. In either case, there is a period of time in which elected (and appointed) officials have their authority.

The land area or region of elections also vary. The main region is the nation but within every nation there are geographic divisions of various kinds, from districts or subdivisions of the central government to semi-independent states or provinces. Elections take place within these regions as well, and are either related to or independent of national elections.

The relative size or population of the divisions varies from small to large. There may be an attempt to make the populations of each division similar, as with the Congressional districts of the U.S. states. It may happen that some divisions cover a large area and have a small population (e.g., Alaska), while other divisions cover a small area but have a large population (e.g., New Jersey).

These divisions usually make sense as natural, cultural, and/or historic geographic regions. In the U.S. there is a flagrant practice known as gerrymandering, in which the boundaries of a voting district are set for the purpose of giving advantage to one political party. Independent commissions are used to minimize such practices.

Modern democracies are not simply “demo” (people) + “-cracy” (rule). The period of time and area of coverage are part of the political system. Such discrete democracy could be called a “geodemocracy”, or more precisely a “periodemocracy”, which is “perio-” from the Greek periodos (period) and perioche (region) + democracy. Both time and place are part of the ruling concept: the people during a particular period who are living in a particular region.

“One person, one vote” is the principle that all citizens, regardless of where they reside, are entitled to equal legislative representation. The U.S. Supreme Court enunciated this principle in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) as it ruled that a state’s apportionment plan for seats in both houses of a bicameral state legislature must allocate seats on a population basis. This principle is consistent with democracy but contrary to discrete democracy, which takes into account the natural, cultural, and/or historic geography of the districts.

News and opinion

The low end of the news business makes little or no attempt to separate news and opinion. The better news outlets attempt to separate news and opinion, but are failing. What are the reasons for this?

Let’s take it that news reports ought to consist of factual information about the world, rather than opinion. Granted that there is some editorial influence in every reporter’s story, from what goes into the header to what sources to use and what gets left out. But that’s old news.

Consider a well-reasoned news analysis or opinion piece. These tie together facts in an insightful way, and present a case for the best way to think about them. Certainly there should be facts in an opinion piece. But all to often it happens that these facts are never presented separately as news, usually because by themselves they are details or technical matters that don’t rise to the level of being newsworthy.

Then to reference such facts buried in an opinion piece, one must reference an opinion. That weakens these facts and gives the impression that they only matter to those who hold a certain position. It would be better to list the facts separately and give references for them. That way, the facts and the opinions would not be intertwined.

Consider the many news stories that quote spin and opinions by leaders and insiders about the news. It may be important to publish them but are they news themselves? So-and-so says this or that, but gives nothing more than an opinion, not a factual report or an announcement of any action. They are opinions about the news and attempts to get people to look at the news in a certain way.

All spin and opinions about the news would be better placed under opinion, where there is no question what they are. The news should be kept to factual information.

Greater efforts are needed to separate news and opinion. Meanwhile, news consumers beware!

Reverse political polarity

Now that the U.S. is politically polarized, it is reversing polarity. The liberals are the new conservatives. The conservatives are the new liberals. The Democrats are the new Republicans. The Republicans are the new Democrats.

Let me explain. In the past, the liberals were pushing for change, promoting equality, and seeking a better future. The conservatives were resisting change, promoting freedom, and seeking to preserve the past.

But now those who were called liberals are now old-fashioned, resisting change and longing for the past (as in the 1960’s). They are the new conservatives. They are now promoting freedom, especially lifestyle freedom and even freedom from centralized government.

Those who were called conservatives are the new opposition, pushing for change and a new political future. They are the new liberals. They are promoting equality, especially geographic equality, in which those outside the high-tech centers get good jobs, too.

The Republican Party was taken over by conservatives, and then Trump turned them into new liberals. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was taken over by liberals who become conservatives as they joined the resistance.

It’s a return to the 19th century in which the Democratic Party was conservative and the Republican Party was liberal. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Is Trump sly?

Good soldier Schweik was a character invented by Czech author Jaroslav Hašek in the 1920s:

Through (possibly feigned) idiocy or incompetence [Schweik] repeatedly manages to frustrate military authority and expose its stupidity in a form of passive resistance: the reader is left unclear, however, as to whether [he] is genuinely incompetent, or acting quite deliberately with dumb insolence.

The character of Schweik became famous in Eastern Europe during the Cold War because he was seen as an example of the oppressed undermining their oppressors. But the question was, Is Schweik sly?

Now that Donald Trump’s unusual approach to politics (to say the least) won him the nomination, election, and inauguration as President of the U.S., people are wondering whether or not his approach is a matter of insolence or strategy. Is Trump sly?

The answer is unquestionably, Yes. Here are some reasons why:

1. George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has written and talked much about political speech. He is a progressive and an opponent of Trump, but he considers him an effective speaker (and tried to get the Clinton campaign to take note).

Unconscious thought works by certain basic mechanisms. Trump uses them instinctively to turn people’s brains toward what he wants… George Lakoff, Understanding Trump, July 23, 2016.

Without knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message.

Think about it: every time Trump issues a mean tweet or utters a shocking statement, millions of people begin to obsess over his words. Reporters make it the top headline. Cable TV panels talk about it for hours. Horrified Democrats and progressives share the stories online, making sure to repeat the nastiest statements in order to refute them. While this response is understandable, it works in favor of Trump.

When you repeat Trump, you help Trump. You do this by spreading his message wide and far.

Nobody knows this better than Trump. Trump, as a media master, knows how to frame a debate. When he picks a fight, he does so deliberately. He tweets or says outrageous things, knowing they will be repeated millions and millions of times. When the news media and Democrats repeat Trump’s frames, they are strengthening those frames by ensuring that tens of millions of Americans hear them repeated over and over again. George Lakoff, How to Help Trump, Dec. 15, 2016.

2. Scott Adams is an author and creator of the Dilbert comic strip. In his blog he talks about Trump’s persuasion skills and systems thinking.

You’re probably seeing the best persuasion you will ever see from a new president. Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done.

Even if you don’t like it. Scott Adams, Outrage Dilution, Jan. 26, 2017.

If you see the world in terms of goals, you might think President Trump has failed at every important goal so far. …

But in any case, as I often say, goals are for losers. Systems are better. As I describe in my book, a good system is something you do every day that leads you to better outcomes, not specific objectives. For example, going to college is a good system even if you don’t know what job you might later want. Any time you learn something valuable, that’s a system. Networking with important people is a system. And so on.

Trump seems to be a systems thinker. I doubt he knew he would jump from real estate developer, to author, to reality TV star, to president. At least not in that order. Instead, he systematically accumulated money, persuasion skills, and personal connections until he had lots of options. Being president was one of them. Scott Adams, How to Evaluate a President, Feb. 16, 2017.

3. Trump acts in accord with the idea that the press is the opposition by trolling the press and putting out red herrings to get them off the track.

Now that he is president, reporters assigned to Mr. Trump are in a tough position. They have to pay close attention to what the White House says, but they know the White House may give them garbage and dare them to spend an entire working day trying to verify or debunk it.  Barton Swaim, Wall St. Journal, Jan. 23, 2017.

4. Trump’s background and inclination includes the positive thinking and speaking of Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White. His negotiating tactics include hyperbole:

In Art of the Deal Donald Trump calls one of his rhetorical tools “truthful hyperbole.” He both defends and praises it as “an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.” As a promoter, Trump made extensive use of this technique. Trump & Truthful Hyberbole, Mike LaBossiere on December 4, 2015.

Yes, Trump is sly.