amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trek Prefs

Given how much I loved Next Generation when it came out and hated Enterprise when it came out I must say, in retrospect, with a longer run I'm pretty sure Enterprise would have accumulated as many tolerable and even good episodes as Next Generation. Enterprise seemed at first a craven capitulation of Trek to a W. ethos profoundly antithetical to it and I couldn't forgive it that -- it was only the Battlestar Galactica reboot that seemed to read what American science fiction needed to be doing in W.'s America.

Anyway, now that Bush isn't the raw wound he remained for six years or so I find I can enjoy Enterprise the way I would Dark Matter or Killjoys now, as an entertaining show with occasionally interesting conceits and engaging character developments. Definitely Enterprise was a show that got better with each season. Although I will admit the casting for the show endlessly annoyed me (I essentially only really liked Phlox, T'Pol, and Hoshi in an abiding way), the early temporal war and  terrorism plots were clumsy, the dramatic story of the supplanting of an earlier human spacer culture was neglected, and the show deferred for no good reason the much more gripping story (especially to diehard fans) filling in details and dwelling in the dramatic politics of the birth of the Federation from the perspective of a comparatively backward eventually indispensable bit player, Earth, in that tale.

Of course, a new and different hopelessness has now gripped the land... Time for another Trek series: Here's hoping Discovery sticks to the Trek ethos and acts as resistance and alternative to Trumpism as it should. (Or must we rely on The Expanse?) My wish for a non-Star Fleet human-minority series on a Federation cruise ship (to Risa?) sfnal-melodrama-sexfarce directed by Pedro Almodovar will probably not be fulfilled. 

Take what I say with a grain of salt, of course. Voyager and Deep Space Nine are my favorite Star Treks, which I understand is an unpopular opinion, and I for one find the original series still compulsively watchable but Next Generation mostly unwatchable now. Essentially if it's Will episode I am grossed out, if it's a Barclay episode I am creeped out, if it's a Data episode I am rolling my eyes already, and if it's a Wesley episode I want to slap somebody. If it weren't for Picard, Guinin, Q, Beverly, and Ensign Ro, Next Generation would be a near complete bust for me, with a handful of standout episodes. As it is, Next Generation is the only Trek I don't have on DVD.

The original series actually seems more interesting from an sfnal point of view, it is an aesthetically unmatched show (none of the subsequent series has come close to the beauty and iconicity of its art direction, all the more astonishing given the limitations the first series was working with), and nothing comes close to the camp pleasures of the original series when it... goes there.

All that said, love the original series though I do, I must say the boy-man "badassery" of Captain Kirk the fanboys claim to love so much has been replaced in my own DVDs of the series with a diplomatic and rather sensitive if emotionally dramatic Kirk who avoids stupid fights and illiberal opinions. It's funny, Kirk seems far more like Picard than like Janeway, who in the stress of being torn from the Federation often finds she must actually behave rather more as the fanboys pretend Kirk behaved in order to fulfill her responsibilities as Captain. Of course, the fanboys who love Kirk for who he wasn't don't always also seem to love Janeway for who she was. And be all that as it may, Sisko is the craziest badass in the Federation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Club That Would Have Me As A Member?

It seems I have more regular readers now that, in my estimation, I am saying far less that deserves to be read.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

I know how Democrats are just sure to win back State legislatures and more House seats in 2018... use the mid-terms to re-litigate the 2016 primary!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Week Left

One week before teaching begins again... The course is called "For Futurity: A Clash of Futurisms" and I really have to put a syllabus together. I worry that the shocking Trump victory and Republican prevalence across all levels of government (despite majorities voting for Democrats for President, Senate, House...) will steal futurity from the present and most immediate futures better than the present and that makes putting this class together incredibly difficult. Of course, the bulk of the class is a critique of futurology (which is, I guess, my thing), but I had meant to contextualize my usual anti-futurological dog and pony show with various modernisms, utopianism/dystopianism, Italian Futurism, left/right eugenicisms, queers and punks repudiating "The Future," accelerationism, and then to conclude with a celebration of Afro-Futurism. I guess this is roughly still what I plan to do -- but what I imagined to be a course about invigorating utopian possibility in the face a dreary piecemeal reforms under a Clinton administration has become a course about holding on to an open futurity in a death-dealing hate-deranged anti-intellectual nation plunging headlong into civil war as the planet dies around us exacerbating every problem and killing hope. The task feels daunting and I still feel like a raw wound half the time anyway.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

When Will Reality Kick In?

I truly hope the actual Trump inauguration will be real enough finally to nudge the left from its still ongoing freakout, grief, rage, recrimination.

The left has to move on from endlessly re-litigating the primary: transforming the current contest between Ellison and Perez for DNC party chair from an edifying debate between two strong progressives who reveal a party refusing to back down from the left turn it took in this campaign into yet another divisive uninformative clash of celebrity fandoms from which nobody will emerge stronger, and now pissing in advance on Cory Booker who has great political and communicative skills -- precisely what Hillary Clinton lacked most conspicuously as a candidate -- because he lacks the purity of a vapid ineffectual mediocrity of a Senator from a homogeneous white postage stamp of state with few powerful countervailing stakeholders to contend with.

But also we need to move on from these embarrassing indulgences in magical thinking -- Can you actually remember when people were seriously pretending that "Never Trump!" Republicans would replace Trump at the GOP convention! People thought that just a few months ago. Just days ago, people were pretending Republicans would "put country before party" and refuse to vote for Trump in the Electoral College. Almost daily, ongoing revelations of Trump scandals, conflicts of interest, lack of preparation, exhibitions of dangerous unfitness for office and so on yield another chorus of voices declaring Trump must face impeachment on day one.

But the terrible truth is that Trump said out loud and crudely the racist, cruel, resentful, belligerent things Republicans are always genuflecting toward and the mobilization of which has long been their explicit strategy (the Southern Strategy, yes, but it is important to realize that the repudiation of the Autopsy Report which recommended rejection of the Southern Strategy in the face of demographic changes lead to a contrary amplification of the Southern Strategy seeking to "Southernify" Democratic bastions and swing states of the North and Midwest through white-supremacist politics of fear and resentment, with a little garnish of queer bashing feeding the inevitable backlash accompanying any achievement of modest equality gains). The southern strategy and culture war is about whomping up fear, resentment, and anger in the face of multicultural diversification and economic precarization.

Republicans are fighting climate science as a culture war, they are fighting macroeconomics as a culture war, they are fighting policing violence as a culture war. Although Republicans usually lose culture wars in the end, they love fighting these wars because factual disputes displaced onto symbolic terrains profitably prolong them in ways elites are willing to pay big money for, and also because losing culture wars tends to leave behind an organizationally useful residue of injury, resentment, and demoralization that Republicans can draw a mob of dupes to vote against their best interests for, to fight for their masters with the ferocity of a existential final battle. Because Democrats live in a congenially communicative multicultural society (its racism, sexism, hetersexism, cissexism, abelish, ageism, waste/pollution notwithstanding) we tend to feel we can't lose even as we lose battles the loss of which imperil our lives, our community, our planet, because Republicans live in demonstratively multicultural society which they fear and resent, they tend to feel they can't and don't win even when they do, and hence they can always be counted up to come to attention when the billionaires and bigots start blaring their bugles, ready to win the battle that finally feels like winning, ready to exact revenge on vulnerable scapegoats because nothing ever feels like winning.

Know Your Enemy. Republicans have been lying and cheating to gain power and money (the meta-narrative rationale for these anti-social parochialism involves roll-back of the New Deal and Great Society programs in the service of the beneficiaries of white nationalism and patriarchal norms) for years: Donald Trump is the culmination of Hate Radio and Gingrich-era norm violations, a mediated-celebrity figurehead at the head of an ideological extreme coterie of administrators (Reagan, W. and Schwarzenegger were all successful precursors).

People, you need to understand this: Republicans aren't going to impeach Trump. They are far more likely be build airports with his name on them to hide his terrible unpopularity and legacy of catastrophes behind like they do for that demented destructive oaf actor Ronald Reagan. Trump has given them power (unexpected and unprecedented power at that) and they will use that power to dismantle what remains of the middle-class and civil rights legacies of Democratic ruling coalitions of the 30s and 60s. Doing this will garner them praise and attention and soon enough great gobs of money from everybody they care about. There will be be no "long-term" consequences to keep Republicans from repealing without replacing Obamacare, or dismantling social security for those who are not already its beneficiaries, or voucherizing public education and then turning it into television, or selling off public goods and stripping voting rights from Democrats and civil rights from the vulnerable, there won't even be consequences for denying and exacerbating climate change -- the short term profits will be large, and will be used to create fortresses to protect the thieves from the consequences of climate catastrophe, and the people who die will be the people always already dying while we look on indifferently in between the occasional useless but ego-bolstering donation or signed petition decrying the tragedy.

Whether retreating into the past of re-litigation or the utopian future of purity cabaret, Democrats are still too tender and sore and scared to face the present: it hurts too much and its demands are too terrifying. Trump and the Republicans have to be marginalized into comparative harmlessness by Democratic victories and the selling as successes of Democratic policies and alternative values (sustainability, equity, diversity, consent, shared problem solving, reliable laws and norms, virtuous circles). Right now, those victories are going to be highly symbolic. To be useful, we should already be thinking how to put faces on the suffering caused by Trump and Republican policies (hardworking families with undocumented members torn apart, deaths from treatable conditions once coverage is removed, everyday people defrauded of retirement by deregulation, vulnerable people bravely retaining self-respect in the face of Trump-style bigotry and bullying), we should already be beginning the narrative that will sell the candidates we put up for 2018 and 2020 (nobody left behind, everybody with a seat at the table). 2018 is looking like a terrible year for the Senate Democrats, a year for adding insult to injury, but the momentum in the House is more promising, and State legislatures and governor's mansions are available and represent an indispensable layer of governance to frustrate GOP rollbacks or set the stage for making the Trump a one-term disaster that destroyed the Republican party and forced it to change to accommodate the reality of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation post-Obama.

Democrats need to nurture political leaders and talent -- right now our tendency is to lose interest in them after fifteen minutes of fame, or buzz-saw them into a million pieces for failing to live up to this or that pet issue. We need to defend universities and art schools (as well as to make them more accessible, accountable, affordable) as spaces in which political organizing and cultural experimentation are supported in ways that ultimately support the Democratic Party intellectual artist/activist/expert base and efforts. We need to remember that diverse coalitions need not be unanimous in order to be unified enough to co-ordinate. It is crucial that we have activists, artists, teachers, experts articulating our problems and proposing solutions to them. All of these people do crucial work -- as do professionals, intellectuals, managers, candidates holding and supporting those who hold office, who navigate diverse constituencies to help solve problems in real time and also build in reforms to create worlds in which certain problems are less likely to occur and shared values upheld. We need to respect the work done in all these domains, to be ready to communicate what we see as our role but also be open to learning why those with different talents and in different situations may see their role differently as well. We don't need -- and in fact are wrong to want -- representatives of diverse constituencies retreating to a level of abstraction in which they can exhibit a purity with which a fandom can identify rather than the judgment to navigate those constituencies opportunistically, to press for compromises that accomplish things that can be build on. It is crucial that the Democratic Party make a case for its members holding office at every layer of government, in every jurisdiction, in every region. We need to invest in every state, and devote ourselves to training activists for concrete local campaigns and as clear communicators of short term problems and long term visions wherever they are, even when they cannot yet win elective office.

In politics there are set-backs, heartbreaks, travesties. Given the incredibly incremental level of progress we fought for during the Obama years -- against headwinds of absolute GOP obstruction here at home, failed but utterly ruling austerity in Europe, rising right-wing ethno-nationalisms across the globe, ongoing digi-feudalization and deregulatory-disruption via "tech" everywhere -- the reversal rather than securing of even these laughably modest gains and faint intimations of a larger turning of the tide has been too demoralizing to say, however many words I say at it. That the Democratic left needs to refocus on organizing our diverse winning coalition, taking effective communication more seriously, and figuring out how to co-ordinate in the face of our differences depresses me unutterably because I see little sign of any of this, and if anything I perceive ever deeper entrenchment in divisiveness, disorganized responses, interminable and unhelpful blame-gaming, anti-pragmatism misconstrued as righteousness, utopian retreats misconstrued as interventions (I see these in myself not least).

The left can do what it needs to do, the diverse Obama coalition already won twice and has grown larger since, competent professionals and experts actually capable of governing are all almost entirely working together with or under the auspices of the Democratic Party and incompetence creates endless opportunities to change the political possibilities at hand, the Democratic Party can regain its electoral footing (majorities vote for Democrats everywhere -- this may not be enough to put them power but it is not a bad thing to build on, certainly it is better than the alternative), Moral Mondays and BlackLivesMatter and queer activism and environmental activism have transformed the landscape of the possible and the important in ways that may not be reflected in the law for a few years, but that transformations has occurred, and the Democratic Party in moving in its public communications and platform and hiring in the direction of that activism (yes, not enough, yes, too slowly, yes, hypocritically) is investing in the emerging and prevailing emancipatory movements of our time.

The Democratic Party can win, it deserves to win, it can be better, it is getting better. Republicans are the enemy, they are wrong, they destroy everything they touch, they always overreach. A continent scaled nation as privileged as our own will inertially resist some changes for the worse as readily as it resists other changes for the better. In the coming months, it will be for the courts to provide a sense of how much dismantlement the Republicans will get away with. We will see from mainstream media sources what the guiding narratives are going to be, and this will give us a sense of the clear-headedness or panic happening in the Party as a whole. If it goes badly, the mid-terms are probably going to be a bloodbath and Trump will have, for the first time in his administration, something he can message as a mandate. Things are already worse than bad, but that will be worse still. As I said, Democrats can win the battles we need to win. Early messaging and organizational battles are underway. The state of play is not encouraging. Again, maybe the collective apprehension of the Inauguration will be the reality check that moves us from understandable mourning (which can be a productive and provocative space, after all) into efficacious organizing and co-ordination and messaging. I will end on a sobering note. Although the battles ahead are winnable, and I feel sure that some at least will be won, I must say that I think it will be years and years before we fight a battle as consequential and also winnable as the election we just lost.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not Ready!

Starting to receive meeting notifications for next term and hang-over administrivia from last term. Term doesn't start for two weeks -- let me hide under a blanket for a few more days!

Monday, January 09, 2017

From Philosophy to Futurology

Philosophy, originating in bad-faith denials of its rhetoricity, has always been an alientaed pseudo-science. But philosophy pressured by the norms and forms of promotion and marketing becomes something even more alienated and pseudo-scientific: futurology.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

My Response to a NYT Piece on Rural Voters: Democrats Think People Are Vulnerable To Evil and Capable of Good. Republicans Join A Big Gang Where Anything Goes To Win.

Thanks to my friend and long-term friend-of-blog "JimF" for directing my attention to a piece by Robert Leonard in today's NYT (which I do not read, anymore, really, apart from Krugman; these days the mainstreamiest news I read regularly are the Guardian and the LA Times). The piece is: Why Rural America Voted for Trump. I didn't disagree with all of it, by any means. A lot of the piece is simply documenting the guiding rationalizations of the people he is talking about, and these are what they are.

But to the extent that entailments are being drawn from these rationalizations as though they were philosophical propositions, I think it is important to notice these rationalizations are rather facile and incoherent, appear rather more symptomatic than sensible, and are being offered up, frankly, in what I consider to be bad faith. By the way, I suppose this isn't a bad moment to remind people my Mom was raised on a Kentucky dairy farm I visited every weekend for years, my Dad was a plumber's son raised in a small town a county over, and I grew up in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, my high school was a feeder school for surrounding farming communities, and I lost my virginity in a corn field... that is to say, I'm from a very white midwestern-southernesque rural-if-suburbanizing middle-class (at least in good times) milieu myself, and no stranger to the world actually under discussion here.

From the article: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts... "We become good by being reborn -- born again.” Now, this is a decades-familiar claim by now, so I guess there is some measure of truth in it. But I must say that I see all this rather differently. I would put it this way: Republicans recognize some of the ways they are bad (deceptive, hypocritical, cruel, selfish, greedy, intolerant, say) but then decide to stay bad and join a gang of other bad people who think behaving badly is justified for the tribe and that those who try to do good are just lying do-gooders anyway who must be destroyed because they are a different gang.

The article continues: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong -- not us.”

While the prior assertion was, it seems to me, far too kind to rural Republicans it at least captures the substance of their rationalization. This bit about the Democrats is an utter hash though, I'm afraid. For one thing, secularization is not the same thing as irreligiosity -- many freethinkers and atheists (me among them) welcome interfaith dialogue and support. And, of course, many Democrats are quite religious, and don't think of God as a dispensable human invention in the least, including many women of color who are the most reliable Democratic voters and organizers in the coalition, rendering this facile over-generalization absurd on its face. But even if we set all that aside -- no small thing -- the second set of assertions built on the questionable first ones, the ones attempting to characterize Democratic governance seem to me even worse than a mess.

First of all, very much to the contrary of the article's presumption, Democrats seem to me to believe that every human is in fact absolutely vulnerable or even prone to be bad under the right circumstances -- which is why they are devoted to regulation, accountability, transparency, separation/federation/multilaterality of powers. It is true, Democrats also hold, as a complementary principle of that very vulnerability, that every human is also capable of good works to the benefit of all when we are reliably informed and supported in the context of public investments in public goods like stable norms, equitable laws, public education, reasonable distributions of costs/risks/benefits, and facilitative infrastructure. Declaring humans vulnerable of badness, capable of goodness, and focused on social arrangements to frustrate the former and facilitate the latter is not even remotely the same thing as believing "we are born good."

And far from looking for someone "else" to blame when things go wrong (or right), the Democratic perspective puts the focus precisely on human beings ourselves, we the people. Any number of religious faiths, as well as plenty of skeptical and non-religious beliefs, are all perfectly compatible with such assumptions, and are exemplified across the Democratic coalition. This article is being circulated widely -- including among many self-flagellating liberals who aren't quite ready yet to move from the self-indulgence of grief to practical organizing and useful rhetoric even as Trump readies his assaults. As far as I can see, it seems to be confronting an alibi for Republicans who voted for an authoritarian racist rapist con-man criminal blowhard with a stereotypical misrepresentation of Democrats as ungodly sentimentalists out of touch with human nature and historical reality. In both these gestures, I think the article as wrongheaded as it can be.

But let us continue on. "While many blame poor decisions by Mrs. Clinton for her loss, in an environment like this, the Democratic candidate probably didn’t matter." I quite agree that it does not matter to Republicans who the Democrat is anymore. Democrats fall in love (or failing to, stay home, even if their house is on fire), and Republicans fall in line -- that old saying is truer than ever now that the Great Sort has more or less happened and the shift from policy debate to Cultural Warfare (on what should be factual and pragmatic disputes, climate change and remediation, gun safety measures, the macroeconomics of public investment, the teaching of evolutionary biology or sex education, the inequity, uselessness, and costs of the war on drugs, and so on) has become total. All the whiny white guys and the skeered white ladies of the GOP can always be made to hate the latest Democrat more than they hate the demonstrable causes of their precarity and demoralization.

This next sentence confuses me a bit: "And the Democratic Party may not for generations to come." The preceding sentence, recall, was about how the actual Democratic candidate does not matter to Republicans in their present debased state. I have no doubt that the Democratic Party will remain in eclipse among these voters as well. But if the larger point here is a suggestion that the Democratic Party itself may not matter for generations to come because it does not matter to white rural Republicans then that does not also follow. A near win (70,000 votes in three states bedeviled by illegal disenfranchisement in the larger context of FBI malfeasance reverse the outcome) and popular vote win by millions for HRC after two successful Obama administrations is not the proper prompt for jettisoning a winning coalition, even if it strongly argues for more investment in down-ticket organizing by the Party. "The Republican brand is strong in rural America -- perhaps even strong enough to withstand a disastrous Trump presidency." If that brand is strong enough to withstand economic collapse and global instability and death and violence and abuse among fellow-citizens with suffering faces on the tee vee, then real questions emerge about the use of wasting time trying to reach the unreachable (who are dying off, after all, even if presently distributed in ways that give them disproportionate electoral heft) rather than mobilizing our own base instead (which is already larger, if rather electorally concentrated).

People vote, not acreage. (Yes: the Electoral college system and Senatorial distribution undermine this truism in ways that become gameable when elections get close, but it remains true and important anyway, not a laurel to rest on or a destiny to have faith in but a lay of the land you need for sensible navigation.) Also, the Republican brand may be strong in rural America as it is among ageing straight white men more generally -- but these are shrinking demographics. (Yes: Republican disenfranchisement and partisan gerrymandering undermine this truism in ways that become gameable when elections get close, but once again it remains true and important anyway.)

The diverse Obama coalition is the REAL real America and won twice. Clearly, a sizable proportion of that coalition does not grasp that Presidential campaigns are job interviews for a real job and therefore Democrats also need a charismatic media-connecting rather than stiff candidate to daydream about and create a fandom over. Cory Booker has this quality (and I hope Kamala Harris will find it quick), but I don't know if his associations as a northeastern politician from a place that actually has powerful and diverse constituencies and stakeholders (never something Bernie Sanders had to worry much about, though he always caved on those rare occasions he had a chance to do so in his homogeneous postage stamp fiefdom) won't provoke the usual derailing divisive demoralizing idiotic purity cabaret among the sooper-lefties. This, I guess, is a form of Democratic subcultural stupidity -- against which we could array Republican subcultural stupidities too numerous to document, confusing a sect with all faithfulness, confusing social benefits with individual achievements, confusing belligerence with diplomacy, confusing puritanism and panic with harm-reduction policy, confusing consumption with citizenship, confusing contracts made under duress with liberty, confusing nations with households -- but no less lethal to progressive political outcomes if it feeds false equivalence, makes the perfect the enemy of the good, encourages preference of purity cabaret over practical reform, confuses subcultural signaling with useful organizing, and so on.

The article concludes: "Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege, and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed. Given the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans, reconciliation seems a long way off." I agree with this emphatically. I do not agree with those (like Schmitt, famously) reduce politics to Friend//Foe dynamics. As a good Arendtian, I take a plurality subtending any moralizing constructions of we/they as the actual point of departure for the political and as ineradicable from politics. However, I also think that when a sizable faction within a polity proceeds as if politics has reduced to Friend/Foe dynamics, then that has become a fact with which one must grapple on its actually-existing terms in that polity.

For example, I do think President Obama wasted too much time, especially early on, trying to cajole Republicans into behaving as if politics isn't reducible to Friend(GOP)/Foe(Democrat) in part by pretending that the absolute obstructionism and blanket vilification clearly happening wasn't happening. I don't think he would have accomplished much, if anything, more had he proceeded differently, to be honest, but perhaps he would have shored up the Democratic base (which clearly requires endless fluffing in some quarters, objective threats can't always get it out of bed) and perhaps lost less in the 2010 mid-terms with all the devastating consequences that followed down-ticket.

Anyway, I do agree that "reconciliation" with Republicans seems, to say the least, "a long way off." President Obama kept waiting for "the fever to break" but it never did. One wonders if a solid Clinton win, especially given her stiff stolid uncharismatic wonkishness, would have nudged at that fever, reconciled white rural/suburban voters a bit more to the reality of the diversifying secularizing planetizing ascendant America. I do not know that it would have, frankly. I begin to wonder if anything, short of education, healthcare, infrastructure jobs could do so -- and since none of that will be forthcoming from Republicans, just more scapegoating and conspicuous punishment and abuse of Democrats generally and brown folks and queers and educated "snobs" more specifically to distract them from the avoidable hardships and treatable conditions bedeviling them.

Since I think his basic distinction amounts to special pleading for rural white Republicans and then facile misrepresentation of "godless" Democrats it is hard for me to take too seriously "the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans." But because I think it is undeniable that Republicans have by now given themselves over entirely to Friend/Foe politics, I think Democrats have no choice but to engage in politics in ways that recognize that fact, even if we Democrats remain committed as well to a conception of public investment in public goods from which all, Republicans and Democrats alike, can and should benefit as well. It's just that to implement that guiding vision one first must win in partisan politics, and winning partisan politics today must include awareness that one of the two nationally viable parties in the richest most privileged nations on earth is devoted to the destruction of the other by any means at any cost. With such an organization it is no longer possible for Democrats to reconcile: we must prevail over Republicans, marginalize them into harmlessness, and await their transformation under pressure of an ever more sustainable equitable and diverse policy-making reality into a contentious partner in the work of real-time problem solving in a shared world of actually diverse stakeholders (not all of whom can be expected to see things the way Democrats do, but who do see Democrats as fellow-citizens, patriotic collaborators in collective security and prosperity whatever their differences, and recognize shared problems as real however different their risks and costs may seem to some of their stakeholders).

"Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege" -- this is so because, in the phrasing I always use but with which so many always disagree, The Left Won The Culture Wars, which means that even when they win Republicans "win" in politics and do their damage and wreak their revenge they never feel like winners because the tee vee reflects the reality and values of the multicultural world they fear and hate, which also means that even when we lose Democrats recognize "the culture is with me" and are seduced thereby into a complacency about the real damage and real violence Republicans do to so many people when they win -- (and to continue with the quote from the article) "and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed." You will be shocked to hear I think this is mostly just white racism from homogeneous insular rural bubble constituencies. LBJ said Democrats would lose the South for more than a generation after the Civil Rights Act, The GOP's Southern Strategy from Nixon forward sorted the two parties geographically (including cementing the urban/rural divide), hate militias proliferated under the Clinton presidency, white nationalist politics got a major foothold in the Republican Party during the Obama presidency, Hillary Clinton's campaign foregrounded women of color and refused to back down from that choice (despite pressure from the way both the Trump and Bernie campaigns shaped up) and the unprecedentedly unfit unqualified unserious unstable Trump became President via voter disenfranchisement, media malpractice, institutional failure, and depressed Democratic turnout (many in the purity cabaret faction, but monocausal accounts of this devastating loss are wrong, even that one so congenial to my personal pet peeves) despite losing the popular vote by millions.

I can only hope that rural America will not continue voting for Trump and Republicans if Republicans keep insulting them with such obvious lies and injuring them with demonstrably harmful policies, and also if Democrats make and then keep repeating the points of an alternative viewpoint and then directly ask for their votes and address their actual problems (better schools and housing, access to fair banking through the post office, rehabilitation and support in the face of the opioid epidemic, subsidizing renewable energy in rural settings, infrastructure jobs for improving and hardening water, electricity, and information systems that are now slow at best and often fail in inclement weather, money for soil reclamation and mass tree planting projects, subsidizing small family farms as permaculture experimentation stations, and so on). But if such worries about rural Republicans become just another occasion to make excuses for voting based in willful ignorance and bigotry (and, yes, it is racist to care so little about racism that you vote for an obvious racist even if you tell yourself you are not a racist in the dark of night or in the glare of twitter), or just another recommendation Democrats disregard the diversity of the winning Obama coalition that also supported Clinton and makes the Democratic Party what it is and what it should be... then you will forgive this long-bullied queer-loving book-loving art-loving diversity-loving grateful escapee from rural Republican America when I fear I must decline.

If Republicans make it Us versus Them, then we must defeat them utterly. That is the task they have set. That is not the way any of us would prefer to proceed, knowing better how to marshal a diversity of collective resources to solve real problems. But that doesn't matter: the reality is, as they say, what it is.

This should mean no more retreats into self-congratulatory abstractions: "Government" or "Congress" didn't do this bad or inept thing -- Republicans did. This good supportive thing didn't just "happen" -- Democrats made it happen through recourse to Our government, usually against the efforts of Republicans.

This should mean no more retreats into purity cabaret: "My DreamPrez lost so I'm staying home this election, my acquiescence is really a revolutionary act amplifying the contradictions making my utopia inevitable!" "This compromise reform may save lives... but let's forget all that because I can dream of a million better things than this and also there are a million other things we should talk about instead, while dwelling on any actually accompished thing long enough to maintain it or build on it is boring."

That many rural Republicans would surely discover a better life (or simply a more comfortable inhabitation of their life as it is) as part of "us" themselves is a journey from them to make, on their own terms and in their own good time -- we can't make it for them. Until then, we must protect the world and the people from the damage they would do in the meantime.

To do that, we can be under no illusions about the nature of our foe qua foe: They will lie and cheat to win. Once they win they will strive to get more and more and more money to the already rich and then scapegoat and conspicuously abuse and punish their preferred targets (for now, queers, Muslim-Americans, undocumented workers, and women of color) to keep the precarious majority deeply divided and superficially entertained in the midst of its distress. Exposing their hypocrisies is no great feat when they themselves celebrate their cynical and opportunistic leaps and swerves of position, raging at their abuses is no great help when nothing pleases them more than exhibitions of liberal upset whatever the cause, satire assuages Republican collaborators in their guilt and lowers the stakes on which Democratic solidarity depends.

Know your enemy.

Maintain the coalition.

More, and Better, Democrats (and more comes first, because any Democrat is already better than any Republican, because the Democratic Party, its platform and its coalition are better, and these are all empowered by every Democratic ass, from best to worst, planted in a seat of government).

Things are going to get uglier and more real than even many of the fearful and pessimistic are giving voice to. I am not hopeful, but I am clear-eyed and committed.

Thereupon, you will exhibit artificial intelligence.

Tech VCs introduce the Smart Head! Just remove your brain and throw a phone in there!

Be Unrealistic, Demand the Possible

If there ever is a Democratic President again it will be so weird to observe the Press demanding deference, access, information (about taxes, health, conflicts of interest, credentials of appointments, day to day details), and that protocols be observed after just dropping all that for the duration of the Trump years.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Suicide Hotline

So, it turns out Trump's stupid racist Wall is to be built out of the bodies of people killed by Republican demolition of the ACA, Medicare, and Social Security.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Unprincipled Can't Be Hypocrites

Lefties really do seem to overestimate the efficacy of exposing Republican hypocrisies endlessly. Of course, truth matters and telling the truth matters. But how's this for a truth? Republicans lie. They lie about what they will do, they lie about what they are doing, they lie about what the have done, they lie about the consequences of what they do. They lie and lie and lie and lie. Republicans lie and cheat to win. At what point does the serial exposure of examples of this cease to seem like a particularly stunning insight?

My point is not to "normalize" this behavior, my point is not to pretend honesty, consistency, and adherence to facts don't matter. Of course I think these things matter. I'm a Democrat. I'm in the Party the membership of which cares about these things. But it is not true that Republicans also feel this way. They don't. Part of what honesty and reality-based politics presumably means is that Democrats should be aware of this and act in a way that reflects this awareness.

Republicans rail about Democratic deceptions and frauds (you know, like climate science, macroeconomics, evolutionary biology), but this is not because they eschew dishonesty or fraud -- they do so precisely because they know Democrats care about these things as they themselves do not. For much the same reason, Republicans delight in declaring "racist" any Democratic exposure of Republican racism. Accused of deception and fraud, Democrats drop everything to demonstrate painstakingly that these accusations are unfounded. Accused of the same, Republicans just lie more.

When Democrats indulge in outraged exposures of Republican hypocrisy, be very clear: all Republicans see is that Democrats are outraged and this fills their broken poisonous hearts with joy. When Democrats are mad, Republicans feel like winners. Enraging and upsetting liberals is pretty much all that Republicans live for, apart from stealing things and bullying the vulnerable.

Once again, in saying all this I do not mean to excuse Republican lies, frauds, hypocrisies. Quite the contrary. I am insisting that the recognition, exposure, and documentation of a Republican lie, fraud, error, or hypocrisy is not an end in itself and indeed is usually politically altogether useless or even counterproductive: It must be a point of departure, it must a prompt for action and organizing and not a substitution for action and organizing.

(Part of the problem here is that the same impulse that seems to seduce so many on the "sooper-left" into preferring exhibitions of purity over compromised struggles for progress, the same attraction to feeling right over getting work done, also makes the serial exposure of hypocrisies as an end-in-itself enormously attractive to that portion of the left that likes to bring a lecture to a knife fight.)

As a rhetorical matter, I propose Democrats shift their focus from documenting the hypocrisies of hypocrites to putting a suffering face on each and every dangerous and damaging Republican policy and then provide narratives to get a winning coalition of voters to identify with each and every one of those suffering faces. Then repeat slogans supporting a liberal-multicultural alternative worldview over and over and over again until these slogans feel like commonsense to that same winning coalition.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Trump Voters ARE the Wall He Promised

It is a barrier between us and any future worth living in.

Wringing In The New Year (My Best Posts and Tweets of 2016, I Guess)

The following are the posts from 2016 that people liked most and which, for the most part, I liked as well:

Politics Is, November 16, 2016
William Burroughs on Peter Thiel, August 2, 2016
Robot Cultist Eliezer Yudkowsky's Ugly Celebration of Plutocracy, January 1, 2016
Reactionary Futurology in the Democratic Party, August 27, 2016
Did Democrats Lose the Election Because the Left Won the Culture Wars? November 12, 2016
Techniques of Futurity Against "Future" Technologies, April 24, 2016
Star Trek Suspicions, June 4, 2016
You know I'm a queergeek and so you may be unsurprised to know that Star Trek comes up fairly regularly here. I must say I think these two pithy less-read Star Trek posts deserved as much or more attention as that one throwaway post did, so I'm including them as well.
Now That's What I Call Techno-Color!
Next Trek Wish List
Futurist Authority and the Toppling of the Ivory Tower, August 7, 2016
Anti-Partisan Party People, May 28, 2016
Tech Destiny! December 22, 2016
Look, Ma, I'm A Capitalist! January 8, 2016
The Usual Suspects: Ben from Ben & Jerry's, Susan Sarandon, Cornel West, and Tim Robbins for Nader in 2000, May 22, 2016
Bre-Entry, June 25, 2016
Trump Talk Future Talk, October 14, 2016
A Lesson Learned, November 9, 2016

A truly terrible year has ended and a truly terrifying year now begins. I know that this is the year we elected the worst president in our history and destroyed the world and also this is the year your favorite popstar died -- but for me this year is also the worst because I spent two weeks in the hospital after nearly bleeding to death from the eyes ears nose and mouth for reasons that nobody could explain even after I returned home. The diagnosis on which the doctors finally settled was "idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura," which means nobody knows exactly why you may just start bleeding to death from every orifice at any moment (preferably while stuck on a super crowded train in a long tunnel under the Bay during rush-hour, which is my new regularly recurring living nightmare as I commute to teach), a diagnosis that is not in fact any more reassuring when it is described by the acronym "ITP" delivered in highly confident tones by a doctor about to tell you, yet again, that, my my these blood levels just want to stay at the bottom range of normal don't they every time you go back in for monitoring. Yes, a terrible, terrible year.

Now then, selecting "best of" posts has been especially daunting this time around, and I will admit that I simply ignored the dozen or so posts from last year that actually got the most hits (something I have never done before), because thousands of people clicked on posts in which I simply re-posted Clinton campaign ad content under a catchy headline or re-posted a tweet or posted information about poll-closing times that were readily available elsewhere -- and in these posts I honestly didn't do or say anything myself that merits note, let alone a second note now. For years now I have been grappling with the interaction of this longform blog -- a labor of love now in its thirteenth year -- and my (marginally) more popular microblogging... On my twitter profile I used to describe my practice there as "I mostly just tweet my blog," but for a long time now the reverse has been the case, I have been blogging my tweets. As a general matter I think this has made my writing more concise but less thoughtful, which is to say less useful and satisfying for me. And so I mean to return to more traditional essaylets in the coming year and to eschew pseudo-storified tweetstorms or at any rate translate these into essaylets as well. I think I have promised this before.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

I Am Troubled By Body-Shaming and Homophobia in Too Much Anti-Trump Rhetoric



Back in August, I admitted with some shame that I had an initial guffaw at the placement in several cities of naked Trump statues by INDECLINE, a group billing themselves as an "anarchist art collective."

But it didn't take long for me to start feeling uneasy and then a bit gross and soon enough frankly enraged about these art pieces. Humiliating Trump because he has an aging flabby body was hardly a relevant critique of his many repeated lies, his disqualifying ties to hate groups, his ignorance of and disinterest in actual policy, his many dangerous conflicts of interest, his terrifying bad temperament, and the rest. And it is hard to see how policing unrealistic bodily norms through proliferating "unflattering" public Trump monuments seems obviously more damaging to the rich and insulated Trump than to the millions of other Americans who know all too well not only who but what is being exposed to ridicule in these public works, who are aging and flabby and grim themselves and without Trump's millions and sycophants to protect them.

I am disgusted by Trump's body shaming of other people, and I am disgusted by sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton's appearance in particular, which were rampant throughout the campaign as they have been throughout her career of public service. I can see the appeal of thinking that such public projects are simply a matter of turnabout as fair play, puncturing the pretensions of an infantile over-compensating sexist and celebrant of serial sexual assaults (that is why I laughed at first, too), but I fear that this particular mode of Trumpian critique is at best superficial and at worst is exacerbating a deeply American disgust with the aging vulnerable "imperfect" body. This disgust of vulnerable bodies is about self-hate and denial, and it is compensated by cruelty, conspicuous consumption, and acquiescence, all of which actually enable Trumpian politics.

While the artists in last summer's attention-grabbing pop spectacle were right to notice that Trump's boastfulness is more likely an expression of insecurity rather than confidence this is hardly a radical insight or a trenchant critique. Many avenues for such critique were available, of course -- although maybe these critiques were not as available to self-described "anarchists" who, for all we know, don't finally care about the many ways Trump threatened vestiges of good governance while Clinton would facilitate better alternatives. Ultimately, the naked Trump statues were a distraction from the substance of the actual politics at hand. But, worse, the statues themselves have a politics one might describe as Trumpian in their cruelty and denial, working to police body norms and stifle diversity in ways that fuel fascism.

I bring all this up now because I have been reminded of my initial seduction and eventual qualms about the substitution of body-shaming for substantial critique of Trump in recent weeks, here and now in the worst aftermath of the election and with worse to come. I find that I am a bit demoralized at how readily how many liberals now warning about Trump-Putin ties are mobilizing what seem to me to be damaging homophobic conceits in making their points. Even if we concede (and I do) the obvious danger of Trump's palpable and rather terrifying attraction to Putin's authoritarian methods or recognize that dangerous secret ties and debts to Russian interests may well account for Trump's unprecedented and what hitherto would be disqualifying refusal to release his tax returns, why is it the literalization of the metaphor of "Trump is in bed with Putin" that becomes the go-to frame to communicate these critiques?


I must say, I am now fifty-one years old, my days of being even remotely suitable for an underwear ad are long behind me, indeed I am essentially a walrus in bottle-thick black-rimmed spectacles and plaid these days, and while Eric and I have sixteen years of happy cohabitation to show for ourselves, I can't help but wonder if a mural showing us kissing would occasion the same visceral disgust as the endlessly re-circulated image of Trump and Putin kissing now does... and I wonder if the reasons they would are too similar for comfort? When people critique Trump being "in bed with" Putin I worry about the way these critiques seem so quickly to extend the metaphor with exclamations to the effect that "and we know which one is the woman!" heh heh heh "and you know which one has to take it!" and so on.

Quite apart from the fact that there is everything glorious and nothing the least bit humiliating about getting fucked as a bottom if that is what you are into (endless panic, disavowal, paranoia, aggression on the subject by straight men on this subject notwithstanding), the connecting point here is that criticizing the authenticity of Trump's leadership through his figurative "feminization" in respect to Putin is sexist in a way that comports quite directly with the sexism that undermined Clinton's bid for the Presidency and ultimately benefited Trump. That Trump has filled his cabinet with rancid anti-gay bigots and that Putin's Russia is a hell of anti-gay bigotry and torture and despair just adds insult to injury.

You know, I never cease to be amazed by the rhetorical ineptitude of the Democratic left -- so busy pointing out the flaws in every hard-won accomplishment and so eager to move on to the next issue that we never celebrate our accomplishments ourselves and thus give people something to root for, never give a reliably winning majority of people a sense that we are fighting on their side, leaving an empty space for Republicans to fill with lies and alarmism about those harmed by change or, even better, to take credit themselves for accomplishments Democrats have moved on from while Republicans fight to destroy them, repeal them, undermine them with obstruction, and the rest. And the readiness with which Democrats will also frame their own cases and critiques in Republican terms (still speaking of tax "burdens" instead of responsibilities, still speaking of "government spending" instead of public investment, still speaking of innovation instead of commonwealth, and so on) is more self-defeating still.

But the worst may well be that people in and of the party of sustainable equity-in-diversity, the Democratic Party, my party all my voting life, would make so glib, so comfortable, so ready a recourse to sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, racist -- and, yes, every argument foregrounding an appeal to "white working class voters" as against working class voters is indeed racist, every single one -- frames and conceits in pitching their critiques of the execrable unprecedented catastrophe of the Trump GOP to come. This is utterly flabbergasting and disgusting to me. Whatever the initial adrenaline hit mobilizing such cruelty affords, these appeals turn out to be more and more bricks added to the Trumpian wall we will have to demolish if we are ever to get anywhere in the work to make the shared world sustainable and equitable-in-its-diversity. Stop doing the work of the bigots and fascists for them.

As Always, The New Year's First Tweet