Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Errors and Consequences

Despite the fact that there are many people, on any side of any given dispute, who are all in favor of "live and let live," the fact of the matter is that there will always be those who are quite vocal in their understanding that "incorrect" beliefs have consequences. This understanding, regardless of its accuracy or even reasonableness, is what so often drives so many discussions (online and in the real world) off the rails.

The problem, as in many other situations, is easier identified than fixed. When we fear the repercussions of the incorrect beliefs of others, we seek to ensure that they believe the correct things - and that those who would convince them again of incorrect things are silenced.

Religion is, despite what some people would tell you, a matter of faith. And having been raised Roman Catholic, I had always understood the quick and dirty definition of faith to be the belief in things unseen - or, to be somewhat more accurate about it, unprovable. Of course, "unprovable" is a nebulous term - what I find myself unable to prove might be very easy to verify for someone else.

For the most part, what any given person has faith in is of little interest to others. I have a certain amount of faith, for example, that Pluto is actually out there, cruising along in its distant orbital path. I'm pretty sure that no-one cares about this one way or the other.

Other times, however, people perceive consequences in the beliefs of others, and that's when things become dicey. A few years ago Bill Nye (the Science Guy) took creationists to task for teaching their belief that the world and its inhabitants are the results of specific acts of divine creation. Not so much, he says, out of the idea that such belief is never appropriate, but that teaching it to children helps close them off from the sciences, which is problematic in that the United States needs, in Mr. Nye's opinion, more scientists and engineers. While there are few people who have gone on record with the idea that there is a danger in not being a creationist, it doesn't take long to find people who are certain that an insufficient level of Christian belief (or at least lip service to those beliefs) invites divine retribution.

This is becoming salient again, due to Donald Trump's penchant for lying (or bullshitting, if you view it that way). There are growing calls for "the Media" to actively involve itself in fact-checking him. But, to take some of the latest statements that the President-Elect has made, the issue isn't the truth of falsehood of the statements themselves. When Donald Trump claims that there was election fraud to tunes of millions of votes in Virginia, New Hampshire and California and that "the Media" is helping to cover it up, what he's really doing is communicating to his supporters that he _is_ the legitimate President of the United States of America, and not someone who owes his victory last month solely to the election-distorting rules of the Electoral College. And, let us not forget, that "the Media" is dishonest and working against him. No matter what the results on an investigation into the election (not that one would ever happen) would conclude, Mr. Trump has no really option but to continue in that vein. And while Democrats and other factions of the American Left may look on slack-jawed at the brazenness with which Mr. Trump ignores "the truth," the simple fact of the matter is that no level of attacking or truth-squadding is going to change what's actually happening: that Donald Trump is feeding off of people's visceral, emotional reaction to feeling that they've been left behind in favor of others for the past eight years. The loss of Congress on the part of the Democrats left President Obama in the position of needing to resort to Executive Orders to advance his policy priorities, and those priorities turned out to be too narrowly tailored to garner the support of people in states that Hillary Clinton needed to win.

The fear of repercussions from Trump supporters believing wrong things isn't going to serve the Democrats well. At least, not as well as showing people in swing states how their policies will enhance their lives will.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Identity, Please

I've always wondered about Identity arguments and what drives them. Or, to be more precise, what drives people to make argumentative statements about other people's identities. That is, when people say: "People like you are bad; I'm not like you, therefore, I'm good." It strikes me as one of the few ways to one-up "People like me are good; you're not like me, therefore, you're bad," on the scale of Looking to Get Into it With Someone. Over the past couple of days, these sorts of arguments have popped up around me with an unusual level of regularity. Of course, in the long run, they're not terribly uncommon. In-group and out-group identification is endemic to the human condition, and it tends to resist our best efforts (which often aren't very strenuous) to do away with it. What's been interesting about my recent encounters with this phenomenon is that people have been defining the out-group in incorrect terms, sometimes due to admittedly intentional ignorance of what the out-group is about.

This behavior strikes me as simply bizarre, perhaps, I suppose, because I don't have an identity that I feel strongly enough connected to that I see any point in promoting it at the expense of others. And that's what I wonder about. After all, like most other people, I have any number of identities. Just none that strike me as worth picking fights over. Maybe it's just the people I encounter, but this gives me the feeling of being an outlier, and so I wonder what it is about identities that make them so central to others.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sleazy Answers

Of course "Democrats Don’t Have an Easy Answer for the Rust Belt." Easy answers are vanishingly rare in politics, because all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked, shipped and made into pies already. And what that means is that most of the answers that either party will be able to come up with are going to be painful for someone who has enough clout to say something about it.

But part of the problem that politicians have is the belief that the decisions that leave various segments of the public in the lurch are easy, and so undoing them would also be easy. This is how Donald Trump managed to gain traction with the idea that he would strongarm American companies that moved jobs overseas into moving them back. Mitt Romney used a similar tactic to with the Republican presidential primary in Michigan back in 2008. When the straight-talking Senator John McCain basically came out and said that a lot of the old manufacturing jobs were gone for good, Governor Romney quickly swooped in to say that they weren't.Of course, bringing jobs back onshore will have costs, and the people who have to pay them wouldn't be very happy about it, which is why it's unlikely that any American government that resembles the one we have now would do the work (and the arm-twisting) required to actually accomplish it.

In the end, the problem is a simple one - we've failed to adequately adapt to the growing efficiency of the world around us. As late as the 1950s, it was understood that advancing technology would lead to a system where the labor force participation rate would stay the same (or even increase) and salaries would stay roughly the same but people would have more leisure time. Instead, you could describe what happened as the people who owned businesses, large ones, generally, converted the extra leisure time into liquid wealth, and kept it for themselves. And given how long it's taken us to dig ourselves into this hole, it's likely to take quite a bit of time for us to excavate ourselves out again. But that's a long and painful process, hence the siren call of "easy answers."

While economists are often faulted for finding easy (and fictional) answers to problems, as the "assume a can opener" joke often pokes fun at, there is a maxim of economics that's helpful to keep in mind, and that is, "There are no solutions, only trade-offs." But trade-offs rarely win elections, and so the easy answers will keep coming.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Back in 2004, I'd made a New Year's resolution. I was in London over the holiday, and being out of the country made me feel like an American in a way that I don't when I'm stateside. But as I tried to find an open Underground station, to get back to my hotel, I decided that I'd been too much of an observer of American politics, and that I was going to be more politically active.

Like a lot of New Year's resolutions that come to one on the spur of the moment, this one both started out remarkably well, but in hindsight was better in concept than it was in reality. The plan was to give both major parties a whirl. But I started with the Democrats, and by the time I was done, I had no energy or desire to repeat the process. And the one thing that really drove me up the wall about regular meetings with committed Democrats was not that their politics turned out to be consistently to the left of my own, but the constant language of victimization. They couldn't even have disagreements with one another, over what struck me as minor matters, without making whatever happened into a deliberate form of oppression, directed at them. Of course, as usual, I didn't know when I was well off.

When I first read this, when I saw it posted on Google+ a few days ago, it struck me as simply odd. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that it struck me as completely ridiculous. In what universe does the simple act of voting for whichever of the major-party candidates that you think will do a better job of making lives better - both yours and others - count as "control?" Okay, I'm not a fan of "build the wall" or having a registry of Moslems. But I don't understand how voting for the candidate that people who worry that illegal immigration and terrorism are threats that we should be doing more about counts as "abuse." And while I understand street protests as a means of making one's grievances heard (although I'm of the opinion that protest is the last resort of the politically powerless), since when does calling a a president-elect's appointees "racist," booing his running mate or insulting him or his supporters qualify as "resistance?"

My impression of this piece drifted from "wonky" to "this is a completely inappropriate use of the language of abuse and resistance." But, a part of me gets it. We tend to give people we see as victims rights and privileges that the rest of us don't have access to - often because it's easier than actually fixing the problem; although sometimes because the problem defies fixing. But that habit, of allowing people who have been victimized permission to do things that are denied the rest of us, makes that label something worth having. As in here, were the idea that Trump supporters are abusers becomes a means of recasting what we otherwise consider to be bad manners into a noble pursuit.
Still, it is clear that the places that voted for Trump are under greater economic stress, and the places that swung most toward Trump are those where jobs are most under threat. Importantly, Trump’s appeal was strongest in places where people are most concerned about what the future will mean for their jobs, even if those aren’t the places where economic conditions are worst today.
Jed Kolko "Trump Was Stronger Where The Economy Is Weaker"
This is something that nothing to do with name-calling, booing, protesting or insults (or even sexism or racism). It's the simple fact that there are large numbers of people in this country who feel that the current path of the country, one that they perceived would continue under a Hillary Clinton administration, wasn't going to make them any more secure than the way they feel right now. And no matter how loathsome a character that Democratic voters, or they themselves found Donald Trump, he threw them a lifeline that the didn't feel was going to come from business as usual in Washington D.C.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rare and Valuable

"Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It." Oooh... this could be interesting. And, unsurprisingly, it's beginning to make the rounds of social media. Let's see what it has to say.

In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.
Okay, I can understand this point. Let's see where it goes next.
Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.
Aha. And now we arrive at the crux of the matter. The idea that there is no way to use social media such that it becomes a useful craft that can be applied to things that people are about in ways that are rare and valuable. Right. Now that we have that sorted, let's see what his arguments are in favor of that premise.

None, apparently. And this is where this piece falls down. Because it never takes up the idea except in passing, that using social media cannot be, in and of itself, a useful craft and/or a way of applying a craft to things that people care about. In reality, almost no field of human endeavor qualifies as decidedly rare or valuable on its own. Talking to people is neither rare nor valuable. Neither is playing sports, painting pictures or playing poker. Just about everyone can do these things with some basic level of skill, and can learn to do them better. I've done each of them at least once in my life. But certain people, like Hillary Clinton and Rudolf Giuliani have earned millions of dollars for nothing more than getting up on stage and reading a speech that they likely prepared in advance. Likewise, top athletes in certain sports are making seven or eight figures annually, doing more less the same thing that grade and high-school kids do on the field next door to my apartment complex. I once watched a documentary on an artist who threw paint into jet engine exhaust, and allowed it to splash onto a canvas, and could pull down more than $10,000 for a piece - and people are still making art this way. And I suspect that we all know that winning the World Series of Poker can result in some pretty big prizes.

What makes the way people speak to audiences, play sports, create paintings or play poker into a useful craft that is applied to things that people care about in a way that makes them rare and valuable is not baked into the activity itself. Like I said, almost anyone can do them, to the degree that being unable to do any of them would likely be counted as a serious handicap. And what the author of the Op-ed, Cal Newport, never does is differentiate the use of social media from these other things - or any other things. Social media is a tool. To say that it is not possible to be skilled enough at using that tool to create "things that matter," is to place it into a very small category.

In the end, what Mr. Newport is really inveighing against is allowing unimportant things to distract us from putting in the 10,000 or however many hours it takes to become really skilled at something, and making sure that you're directing that towards things that other people value enough to pay for. Which is fine; it's perfectly sound advice. But the unique conflation of "social media" with "unproductive distraction" is an assertion that requires more than being stated to be proven. His New York Times piece is simply the latest entry in a long history of people looking down their noses at those who have the temerity to do something that they don't understand, and can't figure out how they themselves would make a living at. And they can't be bothered to find someone who is doing it, and ask them.

Mr. Newport has never had a social media account. Given that he tends to see them as merely gateways to professional ruin, that makes sense. But that doesn't then give one permission to claim that this understanding of social media is based on objective truth, rather than anecdote or personal experience. Because I can find countless stories about people who put everything they had into a particular endeavor, and because they were unable to separate their need to keep themselves entertained from what they hoped would be a lucrative career, they crashed and burned. But that was due to a lack of focus on their part. And while it may have been aided and abetted by their choice of entertainment/career, other people have taken that same paths and succeeded.

Who Determines

It's Sunday, and that means that, as someone who is neither spiritual or religious I'm doing something other than attending a worship service. Actually, pretty much every day of the week means that, but since the United States likes to tout itself as a "Christian" Nation, a lot of people are attending the church of their choice at some point during the day today. Me, I'm sitting in front of my computer, giving my keyboard a workout, and worrying that I'm developing carpal tunnel.

I read a blog posting, a little bit ago, that takes on a comment by President-Elect Donald Trump's National Security Advisor, Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn. "Islam is a political ideology. It is a political ideology. It definitely hides behind this [idea], this notion of it being a religion." It's an interesting piece, but it kind of buries the lede and skirts the main issue, which it deals with only briefly:

So is Islam a religion? I guess it would depend on how you define a religion and who gets to do the defining.
And in that sense, the real question about Michael Flynn's comments becomes: Is Lieutenant-General Flynn enough of an authority on religion that he is a credible source for questions of whether or not a particular group that understands itself as a religion objectively qualifies for that distinction? And independently of that is a secondary question: What is Lieutenant-General Flynn's definition of "religion," and is it accurate?

And for all that Mr. Cole's posting is an interesting, if apparently somewhat ideological, read, it never takes the time to address these questions. If we divide the post into two sections, the first section deals mainly with presenting a brief refutation of "Flynn’s arguments is that Christians don’t kill people in the name of Christ." The second section gets closer to the point, laying out definitions of religion by Anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the Internal Revenue Service. Which is all fine and good, but it doesn't answer the questions that we need to, if we are going to come to the conclusion "So everything Flynn said is false," based on anything other than gut feeling and/or preconception.

In my general opinion, time taken to refute the idea that "that Christians don’t kill people in the name of Christ," is always wasted in the Western world. For many Christians, especially American (and in my limited experience, British) evangelicals, the moment one commits an act of violence, or even petty vandalism, in the name of Christ, that person has automagically stopped being "Christ-like" enough to be termed a Christian. Such people are, at best, misguided and at worst fabrications, lies constructed to maliciously discredit the universal Truth that Christianity professes to proclaim. And even if it didn't inspire impassioned gatekeeping on the part of many believers, the point isn't relevant to the question at hand, unless one accepts an underlying assumption - that whether or not a group uses violence to advance its goals is germane to whether or not that group may be legitimately be called a religion. And if we accept that the use of violence precludes a group from being viewed as a legitimate religion, then we must also accept that religion is a relatively new concept. Quite a bit of blood has been shed in the name of religion over the years.

But even given that, we don't know one important piece - is a renunciation of violence part of Lieutenant-General Flynn's definition of "religion," it is simply a way of making the point that "Christians good, Moslems bad?" Or is it both or neither? From context, it's reasonable to assume that the former Lieutenant-General does consider whether or not a group is willing to use violence to meet its ends to be part of his definition, but that's still just an assumption, and, more importantly, it doesn't tell us if this is the be-all and end-all or what the rest of his definition might be. And to circle back for a moment, it's entirely possible that Lieutenant-General Flynn is doing the same thing that it seems to me that a LOT of American Christians do - conflating "Christianity" with "Religion." Hank Green, the presenter/instructor of Crash Course Philosophy on YouTube, doesn't strike me as being in the Lieutenant-General camp as far as ideology goes, but pretty much every episode of the webcast that has dealt with the philosophy of religion has focused exclusively on Christianity. You may make the point, and it would be a valid one, that for an American audience, Christianity is the religious tradition that people are most familiar with, but that doesn't get you around the fact that it may create a problem when one treats "Christianity" as a synonym for "Religion," in that it encourages people to judge other faiths on their superficial similarities to American Christianity. In the end, the problem becomes that we have nothing but conjecture to go on, because the snippet of his remark given doesn't provide us with enough information to be sure.

Likewise, the second section of the posting doesn't treat "how you define a religion and who gets to do the defining" as a question that requires serious engagement. It simply selects Anthropologist Clifford Geertz and the Internal Revenue Service and lays out their respective understandings of "religion" and "church," and then effectively declares that the philosophical proof has been completed. But I'd never heard of Clifford Geertz before this point, and the single quote from Goodreads does nothing to establish is bona-fides as a legitimate definer of what is and is not a religion. So I'm somewhat in the dark as to why I should accept his particular definition of a religion.
A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
And the various constituent pieces of the definition are not defined, and so even though Mr. Cole declares "Islam would obviously fit this definition," I'm not sure that I understand why "patriotism" and "television" don't obviously fit this definition. And this is, apparently, another of those circumstances were "obviously" means "not requiring any further explanation," because no effort is made to lay out the characteristics of Islam that show it to be a qualifying "system of symbols" or to demonstrate that it acts as advertised.

And this is odd, in light of the fact that Mr. Cole does attempt to tie specific attributes of Islam to the Internal Revenue Service's definition of "church." What struck me as interesting about this section of the post is that Mr. Cole states "In American law and practice, it is the Internal Revenue Service that defines a group as a 'church,' i.e. organized religion, because it has to determine whether groups are eligible for tax exemption." To be pedantic for a moment, i.e. is a Latin abbreviation for "it is," and is effectively an equal sign in common usage, that is to say in stating "'church,' i.e. organized religion," Mr. Cole is saying that a church is an organized religion and vice versa. But the IRS says nothing of the sort, noting "The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics, together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purposes." Now, I will admit to not being a scholar of federal law, jurisprudence or the Constitution, but I don't recall "for federal tax purposes" and "in fact" being one in the same. Because consider the following, is a faith community that lacks IRS designation as a "church," therefore ineligible for protection under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution? Because while I understand how most Judeo-Christian and Islamic groups fit the definition that the IRS uses, does every "system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" fall under the IRS definition? Would Islam still qualify as a religion were it not organized enough to satisfy the IRS that its institutions should not have to pay taxes? In other words, since Mr. Cole has selected Clifford Geertz and the Internal Revenue Service as the authorities to be appealed to, are they themselves in agreement? Because while they might give is useful means by which to define a religion, I still don't understand why they are allowed to do the defining - in essence, why the fact that whatever definition Lieutenant-General Flynn is using flies in the face of those definitions means that he is wrong and they are right.

Ever since the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, there has been a background "debate" on the legitimacy of Islam. And, as I see it, part of that debate is based on the false premise that if one does accept Islam as a legitimate religion, that implicit in that is acceptance of behavior that one might otherwise consider out of bounds. And this, to me, is the problem. I, for my part, don't link these two. Neither, it turns out, does the IRS, which says: "The IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs of the organization are truly and sincerely held by those professing them and the practices and rites associated with the organization’s belief or creed are not illegal or contrary to clearly defined public policy." But the ghosts of the Crusades linger on, and the attempts to disentangle the violence of the past from the violence of the present continue, despite their futility.

Friday, November 18, 2016


When it comes to politics, I tend to be grouped in under the term "Independent" (mainly because when I take those political alignment tests, I always wind up out in the wilderness, fairly distant from Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians alike), but a more honest label is that of Not-Republican. Not that I'm a member of, or particularly drawn to, any other party, but Republicans tend to push me away, regardless of how much I might agree with the way they view certain topics. And this exchange, which I heard on NPR this morning, explains why:

Steve Inskeep: How awkward is your situation with Obamacare because, of course, Republicans have pledged to repeal it, but you need to replace it with something to avoid a disaster for millions of people who are benefiting from it at the moment? How close are Republicans to agreeing on a replacement?

Senator John Thune, R, SD: Well, I mean, that's the hard part. You know, we had a vote in 2015 to repeal Obamacare. Now, we have a president that we think will sign it. And so the question then becomes, what is that transition to something new and hopefully something much better? The one thing we want to do is make sure that nobody is harmed.
Now, to be sure, I don't begrudge Congressional Republicans their desire, or their efforts, to repeal, defund, delay or otherwise derail the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I'm not stupid and I'm not an idealist. If it's not your party's idea, it's bad, and if you can't find a way to steal the credit, it must be sabotaged. It's the way partisanship works. I get it. But I do begrudge the Republicans not having come up with a plan by now. It's been six years since the bill was passed, and five since the Republicans started looking for ways to torpedo it. If "Repeal and Replace" has been on their minds this whole time, one would think that they could have at least a reasonably detailed outline of a plan by now. They've had more than enough time to come up with something new, and if that's possible, definitely much better. Certainly they could have found a Republican doctor, lawyer and insurance company executive and made it worth their while to write something up. Surely they could have siphoned off some of the billions of dollars they've thrown at defense contractors and drone strikes. Even with "just" a million dollars a year, they could have enticed some very bright people to come up with a workable plan for them.

Given the fact that Repeal and Replacement of laws in the United States is almost never a two-step process, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the replacement for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is going to turn out to be something like the Affordable Patient Care and Protection Act; in other words, something that looks remarkably familiar, but with a couple of strategic changes here and there that will allow Republicans to claim that they've come up with a completely new and different plan that's miles better. The nature of partisanship being what it is, whether or not someone believes that it's manifestly better, substantially worse or simply showing us the same baby again and calling it a sibling, will depend mostly on the partisan leaning of the person in question.

And I guess in the end, that's the part that rankles the most. Not the naked partisanship involved in this whole enterprise, but the unwillingness all around to simply own that partisanship. I, like I said, am generally a Not-Republican. Mainly because there always seems to be some GOP elected official who takes it into their head to do something that just makes no sense to me every time I turn around. Labeling protests "economic terrorism?" Really? I mean, I get it, Ferndale really wanted that coal export terminal, and the people there are really unhappy with what they perceive as effete, hipster, fair-trade-coffee-drinking Seattlites nixing what could have been a decent source of at least a handful of well-paid jobs building the place and running it. But this strikes me as the lowest form of pandering. And so, when someone says that so-and-so is running for this-or-that office as a Republican, I roll my eyes. But, I own that. I will tell anyone who asks that I tend to think of Republicans as not worth my time, and their ideas as generally suspect until proven otherwise. That's my bias, and I'm sticking to it, because it works for me.

And that's a rarer stance than it seems that it should be. Because we all have our biases. The political system that we have right now would fall apart of people didn't vote their biases more often than not. So why not just lay our cards on the table, and quit pretending?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


A lot, I think, of what we understand to be racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry are really just garden-variety cruelty, given outlet against easily-identifiable Acceptable Targets. When I was a child, I thought that I was surrounded by racists, and to a degree, I was - children began to shun me because I was visibly Different from them. But most of the mean words and the nasty actions they would perpetrate as we grew up together weren't them acting out over the end of Jim Crow, or the recent triumph of the Civil Rights movement. They were due to cruelty being a form of social currency, both at school and ad home. Cruelty and meanness were markers of power, and being able to inflict oneself on those one found a reason to dislike was considered a virtue.

When I look at the world of today, and see the things that have gone on since the election, I am reminded of these things because our generation are the parents of most of today's young people. And we couldn't see our way clear to completely unlearning the mean-spiritedness of our own parents, aunts and uncles. So why should they? The same people who spouted racial epithets as easily as breathing while claiming racism was a thing of the past are now leaders in our society. Why should we think that they grew out of the need to denigrate others to advance themselves?

The ability to take deliberate pleasure in the suffering of another may not be a uniquely human trait, but it is a common human trait. And there is no easier target than one whose vulnerabilities you know well.

Monday, November 14, 2016


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Q and A

Q: How could so many people have voted for Donald Trump to become President?
A: Because they honestly believe that a Trump Administration will enact policies that will do the most to make life better for everyone in the country, as viewed through the lens of their own experience.

In the end, it's really that simple. While there seems to be difficulty on the Left in understanding this, it's really based on a simple enough concept. Most people tend to view the national interest through the lens of their own experiences, and view that as objective, and to a certain degree self-evident, truth. And to the degree that people have non-overlapping experiences of the world, they begin to have incompatible, if not mutually exclusive, ideas on how best to move forward.

Contrary to what people like to believe (especially when their side looses an election), voters are not generally selfish people. They don't go around deliberately voting to advance their own interests by throwing other people under the bus. The Standing Rock Sioux are not opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline because they've decided that their interests are best served by pipeline workers being unemployed. Likewise, the people of Ferndale, Washington, weren't hoping for a coal export terminal because they were looking to foul the air or cheat the Lummi out of their fishery. While in both cases, the people involved are actively looking out for their local interests, they believe that they're doing what's best for a wide swath of people other than themselves. Sure, it creates problems for some. If the Standing Rock Sioux have their way, someone who desperately wants a job building or working on the Dakota Access Pipeline is going to be out of luck. But those would-be workers are not the targets of the protests. It's the pipeline company and Federal Government who the protestors understand to be the villains; people who are already well-off, who have it in for them.

And it's that idea, the failure to assume good intent that one finds in the need to assign blame, that becomes entangled in electoral politics. Whether or not people took Donald Trump's idea to build a massive (and like quixotic) wall along the border between Mexico and the United States literally or seriously, people on both sides of the issue were quick to discard the assumption of good intent and see in the opposition the villainy of people who were already doing well enough that they didn't need to do injury to others. For low-wage (and/or unemployed) workers eyeing what they see as potentially family-wage jobs being given to migrant workers willing to work for poverty wages, the "liberal" viewpoint that immigration laws could be ignored at will was at best ignorant of their needs. At worst, it was part of a hateful plot against them; a plan to destroy their communities and erode their electoral influence in a bid to impose policies that they couldn't convince people to willingly support. Likewise, for those whose understanding of illegal migration is that it's simply part of the quest for a better life, the the "conservative" viewpoint that immigration laws should be strictly enforced, regardless of the human cost was at best self-serving. At worst, it was part of a hateful plot to return the United States to a past where "White Supremacy" was the order of the day, and everyone else was second-class, at best, scrounging for the scraps that fell from the table of a WASP society built on a racial, ethnic and religious caste system.

And in each case, the everyday people who supported the scheme may not have been villains themselves, but manipulated by a self-interested and deceitful "élite" who were deploying them as cats' paws and smokescreens, putting an "everyman" face on initiatives designed solely to benefit an already well-off (and usually undeserving) few. This is a pattern that we see repeated over and over, especially when causes provoke a counter-cause of some sort - as in the conflict between the contrasting ideals of "Black Lives Matter" and the "Law and order" constituency. Each often sees the rank-and-file of the other side are pawns of a scheme - one that either ends in bloodshed in the name of racial hierarchy or the weakening of law enforcement for illegal profits.

When people ask why others have cast "badwrong" votes, what they are often looking for is an affirmation: that despite an apparent plurality of disagreement (the usual actual plurality is non-participation), that they are still intelligent, thoughtful and ethical. And while there is nothing wrong with this, the opposite idea, that the opposition is some combination of (willfully) foolish, credulous and/or immoral, creates problems, because those are labels that we often use to place people outside the bounds of our compassion. It allows us to define them as comfortable enough to be worthy of affliction, and to see our efforts against them as a heroic stand for truth and decency, born of our own intellect and sensitivity; we are clear-eyed enough to see what's right and courageous enough to fight for it.

Q: How could so many people have voted for Donald Trump to become President?
A: Because they feel, due to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or the direct actions of others, afflicted. Not for themselves, but for the nation as a whole. And they voted for the best promise of comfort that they could find.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Whatever Vote

The "surprise" election of Donald Trump to the presidency has a number of people asking how such a thing could have happened. In listening to the coverage, I've started to piece it together. There are four elements to it, in broad strokes.

One) Elections aren't about what we think they're about. Our common understanding of elections is that they're a form of referendum on the relative merits of the candidates involved. And while that may be true of many elections, it's not really true of the presidential elections. And this is why Allan Lichtman has been batting close to a thousand with a formula that has nearly nothing to do with the actual candidates who are running - of the 13 factors examined, only three of them relate to the current contenders, and, according to the model, those three factors alone can't determine the outcome.

Taken together, Professor Lichtman's other 10 factors mostly represent a referendum on the term of office that is ending as the election is being held - the represent the likelihood that voters would want to continue the policies of the previous stint of the presidency. And that's something that tends to be independent of the actual candidates in the current election. In fact, Professor Lichtman's Keys to the White House are aimed at party - Will the incumbent party retain the Oval Office, or will it go to the challenging party? Which brings us to...

Two) The role of party. Any number of people, among them David Brooks, had mentioned that part of the reason why Donald Trump had such a large pool of potential voters was the simple fact that he was the Republican nominee. No matter how little one otherwise knew of him, that affiliation was a sort of shorthand. And an effective one. Third-party candidates in presidential races aren't even considered also-rans; instead they're considered hopeless and best and wastes of time (and votes) at worst. Given this, the candidates of the major parties have a huge advantage. If you don't like one party, and you don't want their policies (something that most people understand from partisan shorthand, if {and usually} nothing else) to be enacted, your only viable option is the other major party. A vote for the Libertarian Party or the Socialist Worker's Party isn't considered a serious form of political engagement.

One interesting point that I'd heard made during this election cycle is that many of us have political causality backwards. Most voters (although certainly not all) don't consider their positions on important political issues and then select a party accordingly. Rather they choose a party affiliation, and then adopt the platform positions of their chosen party to one degree or another. And for many people selection of candidates is the same. Once people have chosen a political party, they tend to vote for that party's candidate, and that means...

Three) Love my party, love my candidate. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both had substantial negatives, many of which were considered character flaws of the highest order. Yet each racked up tens of millions of votes. And, I suspect, that the reason for this is simple - once people had made up their minds to vote for a given party, they adopted that party's candidate, and set about to justify that decision to themselves. So the tendency of Republican voters to take Mr. Trump "seriously, but not literally" (a phrasing that seems often applied to the Bible) and to therefore brush aside his more incendiary comments as hyperbolic rhetoric (while contending that Mrs. Clinton's words were sincere insults) was driven by the understanding that they were going to vote for the man, and so they had to tell themselves that he lived up to whatever standard they'd set for political candidates.

Perhaps one of the most important factors is one that very much contradicts the way we think about how people vote...

Four) It's not about who voters support - it's about whose supporters vote. On Wednesday morning, I was listening to a story that noted that Mrs. Clinton had "underperformed" among Black voters. It seemed unlikely that, given Mr. Trumps abysmal polling numbers in the Black community that a lot of them had crossed over (although some may have). Instead, the Black voter participation rate dropped slightly from 2012. It's likely that many of those votes not cast would have gone Democratic. Social media has been at pains to remind me of how poorly Mrs. Clinton had fared when compared to other recent Democratic candidates.

One think that we tend to forget is that a rather large number of people didn't vote in the election. Among all eligible voters, and all registered voters as well, the single most popular choice was not to cast a ballot at all. There is nothing unusual about this. Every election, a sizable minority of voters sit the contest out. But that doesn't mean it's the same sizable minority in each election.

Each party has what we could call a number of "marginally attached" potential voters - people who somewhat identify with the party to some degree, but not enough so to be consistent voters. And it's these people who are what we've always heard referred to as "swing" voters. Other people have noted that the number of genuinely undecided or swing voters is very small - for many people, you know roughly how they're going to vote - if they vote. And that becomes the issue. Getting the marginally attached voters to either turn out or tune out. Get-out-the-vote efforts are aimed at identifying these voters at are on your side and urging them to go to the polls - negative campaigning is aimed at convincing those on the other side not to bother.

In spite of the fact that Donald Trump was the nominee, in key swing states enough of the marginally attached Republican electorate came out to cast a vote for president, while enough of the marginally attached Democrats stayed home that it made the difference. And for the most part, it wasn't about the candidates.

It runs counter to the prevailing understanding of how elections work, and I think that this is why we don't hear more of this theory, outside of the footnotes here and there. It's less dramatic, and frankly, less interesting. Political coverage tends to focus on the "horserace" aspect of elections, and the intersection of Professor Lichtman's model and people's voting habits tends to render the horserace moot. But I think that an understanding of it all is helpful, because it illustrates the underlying thinking that goes into things. And more insight never hurts.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


The tools of democracy and republic were not intended to be the means by which two mutually antagonistic groups determine which of their mutually exclusive worldviews and understandings of the national interest is to be imposed on the public as a whole. Democracy in America is not broken, any more than a screwdriver is broken because it does not saw things in half. We have insisted on putting our tools to incorrect usage, and then are unwilling to answer for our own intents.
It's interesting.When this thought occurred to me this morning, it seemed true. It seemed to fit in with the way the world actually worked. But the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that while it was a convenient narrative that explained what I saw, it didn't do the job of explaining what actually happened. Language is a powerful tool, because it shapes our thoughts (to such a degree that there is a school of thought that says that children don't actually think until they learn to converse inside their own heads). But also because it shapes the way we perceive.

I don't know that the insight that came to me about the nature of elections is wrong. I suspect, to a degree, that it is, because it's too convenient, too pat, too in tune with the perceptions that my language about politics had created. And so I must find a different insight. I don't know yet, but I think I know where to look for it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

For Love, Not Money

In a past life, I was a child and youth care worker. It was my first "real" job out of college. I worked in residential treatment, with children who had been taken out of their families' homes for (sometimes truly horrifying) abuse or neglect. (There was a subset of cases that also came down to one parent or the other having truly tragic taste in significant others.) Then I spent a stint as a foster care case worker.

Considering the overall stress level and high stakes of these jobs, the pay was abysmal. When I first started, the secretaries made more per hour than we did. When I finally gave it up and moved to Washington State, the first job that I was able to find and really hold on to was testing video games. It was a step up. By the time I'd really started building a career for myself as a software tester, about a year later, I'd doubled my salary. There was less paid time off, but other than that, the benefits were comparable. I'd gone from a job that placed the health and well-being of vulnerable, and previously victimized children in my hands to one that pretty much little more than: "Take this program and make sure it does what we say it does." And even though I'd felt well paid at the job, all things considered, that was just proof that I didn't understand the job market I was living in.

And so when I read the headline of NPR's piece: "Poverty Wages For U.S. Child Care Workers May Be Behind High Turnover," my first thought was: "ya think?" And the article isn't talking about the hard cases, the people who are working with the children with special needs, past traumas or mental health issues. It's talking about the run of the mill workers in daycare centers and the like.

When I was a child care worker, it was decided that salaries needed to be increased, and I was drafted into a working group to discuss how to make it work. At one point their was a presentation about salaries in the industry, and the idea that our organization, in order to attract the best candidates, wanted to make sure that we paid within the top 25%. "That sounds reasonable," I remember myself saying, "But it doesn't get you around the fact that the top 25% of no money is still no money." When you can match the pay rate of a child care worker by testing Playstation games all day (which, from having done it, I can tell you is a lot less fun than it sounds), it's going to be hard to find child care workers.

The closing of the article is one of the heartbreaking things that a lot of us had to deal with:

Antunes says she's passionate about her work, and the thought of leaving the field makes her feel guilty. She knows the child care system desperately needs people like her to stay.
The problem now is that the system relies on passionate people not wanting to leave. But that forces people into difficult choices. I left, because in the end, it was a really high-stress position to be in, especially as a man. People tend to look at men who work around children with suspicion, and in the field, I found myself pushed into the enforcer/disciplinarian role, which reduced the amount of time you could really enjoy what you did for a living.

The times, they have a-changed, and I don't think that things would have worked out as well for me now, as they did then. The Dot-Com boom was still reverberating, and software jobs were thick on the ground. Rather than needing any specialized education or credentials, you simply needed to be bright enough to be trainable to do the work. In contrast to social service work. The bar in Washington State was higher than that in Illinois. From looking at the classified ads, I realized that once I'd moved here, I no longer had the qualifications to work a job that I'd just spent four and a half years doing. But that still leaves Ms. Antunes, after 30 years in the field, and having had to return to school to earn a four-year degree, making little more than the starting wage at the McDonald's nearest to my home.

And people still think that child care is too expensive.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


So I was reading a post on Google+ where the poster related feeling dehumanized and what a scary feeling that was. And the first thought that crossed my mind was "you get used to it." Which, taken at face value, can be a terrible thing to say. But you do become accustomed to it; or at least I did, because I came to realize that the people I interact with see me in a way that is driven by their experiences and desires, rather than my own, and they don't owe me any differently.

And the first part of that is easy to live with, but the second part can be hard, because it can be frightening to understand that to a certain degree, you're simply something between an extra and a prop for so many of the people that you meet. You worry that their stories, the ones that they are the heroes of, may have something very unpleasant scripted for you. But eventually, you come to really understand what it means to be an prop - that it's not about you. Just like your story, the one in which you are the hero, isn't about them. For there to be something unpleasant scripted for you, you would actually have to have a place in the script. And usually, I don't. I'm just another self-propelled piece of the scenery.

And I'm okay with that. I'm fine with only being as important as the ficus in the corner. Their stories don't need to cast me in a speaking role; that's what my story is for.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Teach the Children

When I was in junior high school, one of the group assignments we were given was to create our own version of the 6 o'clock news. For our team, I had the weather report (I remember working in a marijuana joke) and the closing editorial. My editorial, was something of a rant, because it was about something that actually bothered me - the habit of adults to think that as children, we were too stupid to understand the difference between television and reality. When I read "7 Reasons So Many Guys Don’t Understand Sexual Consent," it was like I was 12 again.

As a high-school student in the 1980s, I could have told you that each of the points that "David Wong" brought up were bogus. It's not like anything that he said is new. Just like the idea that, broadly speaking, media that "the Left," takes exception to is treated as some form of insidious mind control isn't new. That said, he does hit on something real in the piece:

If you're wondering, no, I've never in my life groped a woman who didn't grope me first. This is not because I was a gentleman who cared about consent. If you'd cornered me in high school and asked me why I hadn't just grabbed a girl at a party and made her kiss me, I'd have said it was because I wasn't cool enough, or hot enough. "I'd have to lose weight and make the football team to do something like that!" See, I was told that the ones who held back until they had permission were the pussies, the cowards, the nerds.
For the record, if you'd cornered me in high school and asked why I hadn't just grabbed a girl at a party and made her kiss me, I suspect I would have told you that a kiss wasn't worth being beaten up, thrown out of school or going to jail for. I knew, by the time I was in high school, that sexual contact with a person without their consent was a crime. In the same junior high school where I'd pontificated about being treated like idiots by adults, a rumor had gone around that a boy had cornered a girl behind the building one day after school and "felt her up," as we called it back then. It was a scandal. It also turned out to be a good reason to beat up unpopular boys - I think at least two were pummeled on suspicion of being the perpetrator.

Mr. "Wong," in another article, tells us that he grew up in a small town in one of the deep Red counties in Downstate Illinois. I, on the other hand, grew up Upstate, in a kind-of-blue distant suburb of Chicago. And I suspect that a lot of the difference can be chalked up to that. He describes the 25th Anniversary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the one with Kathy Ireland on the cover, as "the first porn magazine [he] ever owned." Where I came from, if you'd described the Swimsuit Issue as "pornography" and weren't a feminist, people would have told you to go back to Wheaton*. And while sure, I'd heard the Swimsuit Issue described as pornographic when I was in school, I went to a Roman Catholic high school - and as far as the Benedictines were concerned, a model in a tube top, miniskirt and heels lounging on a Mustang counted as pornography.

Of the "7 Reasons," five of them were attitudes that we associated with people who were, to be blunt about it, backwards. And that included large swaths of Downstate, whom we tended to regard as unsophisticated hayseeds. Not that we saw ourselves as urbane and cosmopolitan; we understood that we lived in what people in Chicago termed the boonies. (Yes, I grew up a Black kid in the boondocks.) But at least were weren't living The Waltons or something.

Reason #3, "Sexual Assault = Guy In An Alley With A Knife" was sort of a given for most people, I think, although I'd stumbled into a book with sections of the New York State legal code in it as a young teenager, and had come to understand that Rape, at least as a legal matter, wasn't about force or violence, but about consent and age. And while I wasn't a sharp legal mind, I presumed that "consent" was more or less what we'd always thought it was, agreeing to do something. That understanding, interestingly, got me into a lot of trouble, when, as a young college student, I insisted on a pedantically literal interpretation of "violence," and so made a stand on the idea that sexual assault was not inherently violent, since a lack of consent did not require or necessarily imply, violence. (Yes, I eventually learned to find better hills to die on.)

And reason #2, "All Sex Outside Of (Heterosexual) Marriage Is Wrong" was a basic assumption of most Christian denominations that I was familiar with, and being nominally Roman Catholic myself, and attending a Catholic high school, I was well versed in it. But when I read this:
Remember when people implied it was hypocritical for Jennifer Lawrence to complain about stolen nude photos while also posing nude for a magazine? Same deal -- if you grew up hearing that all naked photos are sinful, what difference does it make if the woman consented to the sin?
I was surprised. Where I came from, there was the idea of compounding a sin. Sure, naked photos - or photos of women in tube tops, miniskirts and heels lounging on Mustangs - were sinful, but you could always do worse - and forcing the woman into it or stealing the photos counted as doing worse. Confession didn't allow you to lump multiple wrongs into a single sin. Sure lust was a sin, and letting that lust lead you to premarital sex was also a sin. But forcing a woman into sex was worse. Maybe the idea that you could work your way out of Hell stood in the way of deciding that if you were going to sin, you may as well go big or go home.

But I started this off with the idea that a big chunk of the article seemed like blaming "the media" where it wasn't warranted, and so let me go back to that. The piece makes a big deal of the bad acts of Harrison ford roles in various movies. And this was the sort of thing that wound me up when I was twelve. The fact that Harrison Ford's characters in the movies were always putting the moves on women who would rather be dipped in boiling oil but suddenly came around was never understood to be the way things actually worked - Han Solo, Rick Deckard and Indiana Jones were fictional characters - and "Forcing Yourself On Women Makes Them Love You" was something that only happened in fiction - which is why it worked for them, but everyone else went to jail for it. You could have asked any of my friends, and I suspect that they would have told you that. Not because we were somehow uniquely inured to media blandishments, but for all that the adults around us seemed to think that we'd do anything we saw on television, doing something stupid, or criminal, because you saw someone on television do it was generally seen as the mark of a moron. Adults may not have thought us capable, but the expectation was there, and by the time most of us were in seventh grade, we'd internalized it.

And I think that's the thing that's missing from this piece. Mr. "Wong," at no point, mentions the role of parents, peers and community in all this. The idea that "Everything Women Do Is Intended To Stoke Male Hunger," for example, isn't something that children learn from the media. It's something that they learn from the people around them on a day-to-day basis. Their fathers, brothers, friends and neighbors. And maybe even their mothers and sisters. Where I grew up, we didn't see the Swimsuit Issue as pornography, because the idea that the only reason a woman would wear a skimpy bathing suit was to entice men wasn't a thing for us. The difference between Sports Illustrated and Playboy was that inside a Playboy, the women didn't wear any clothes at all. Anybody could have told you that. If you can't see the name of the publication, but one talks about nude Vegas showgirls, it's a pretty safe bet which is the porn.

People who have difficulty with the idea of consent are not, I suspect, evenly distributed throughout the population. Because I don't suspect that wonky ideas like "Asking Permission Is A Sign Of Weakness" or the things that happen in movies are a good model for real life are evenly distributed throughout the population. My father wasn't the most feminist guy you'd ever meet - not by a long shot. But while I never picked up his habit of referring to women as "broads," I did pick up on the understanding that if he ever caught me mistreating a woman, I'd have to answer to him for it - and it wouldn't go well for me. And I can't think of a single person I knew when I was growing up who openly bought into the anti-consent mindset set forth in the Cracked article. I suspect that there must have been some - after all, it was rumored that a boy had cornered a girl and groped her behind the junior high school. But there was another story, and as it came out of the public high school, I wasn't around when was supposed to have happened either, and it went something like this: Jock accosts girl in the hallway, and won't take "no" for an answer. Girl, being a soccer player (just about everybody whose parents could afford it played soccer) steps back, tees off, and boots him between the legs. Hard enough, allegedly, that she ruptured his scrotum. Everyone agreed that he had it coming. True story? I have no idea. But the fact that the overwhelming consensus was that he was asking for it says to me that our problems with consent weren't due to society. After all, we'd seen Harrison Ford movies, too.

*Wheaton being Wheaton, Illinois - where Billy Graham went to college. Wheaton College's reputation for being scarily fundamentalist was applied the the entire town.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bad Followers

There are many good reasons to vote for a particular candidate. There are many fewer good reasons to vote against a candidate. But the fact that some number of supporters of a given candidate may have engaged in some act of criminal behavior strikes me as falling into neither category.

Let's say that it could be proven that a supporter of Hillary Clinton was behind the arson and graffiti attack on the Republican campaign office in Hillsborough, North Carolina. This fact, in and of itself, would change nothing about Mrs. Clinton's credentials and/or fitness to be President of the United States of America. Likewise, if it could be proven that a supporter of Donald Trump was behind the arson and graffiti attack on the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, that fact, in and of itself, would not make Donald Trump any better or worse a candidate for the presidency.

To me, these ideas are fairly clear-cut. After all, each candidate is likely to draw some 30+ million votes come election day. That's simply too large a group of people for none of them to have serious chips on their shoulders, mental health issues and/or some really bad ideas about what constitutes political engagement. Even if only one in one-hundred of the people in each camp are really pumped up about their chosen candidate, we'd still be talking about hundreds of thousands of people. It's unrealistic to presume that groups of that size would be completely free of anyone who thinks that spraypaint and accelerant might be a good way to make a political point.

Not to say that this is the sort of behavior that we should come to expect every campaign season. Just that looking to lay it at the feet of a candidate is a waste of time. And the implicit logic that says that a candidate who attracts "crazies" must be the problem themselves is simply broken. Even if candidates were in the business of trying to make people not like them, they can't be guaranteed of that outcome. Sometimes, you just can't get rid of a mad bomber. (This is where I note that of all of the reasons why I'm not a supporter of Donald Trump, the fact that he's earned the support of White Supremacists isn't among them. My disagreement with the policy positions that drew them to him was in place long before their endorsements surfaced.)

I don't see presidential campaigns as battles in a great war between good and evil. They're simply political squabbles between political parties. And any yahoo can vote for a political party, whether the party wants them to or not.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Give A Man A Ride

So I found a little snippet on LinkedIn that goes something like this: "A guy looked at the Corvette the other day and said, 'I wonder how many people could have been fed for the cost of that car.' I replied, 'I am not sure, it fed a lot of families in Kentucky who built it, it fed the people who make the tires, it fed the people who made the components, it fed the people in the copper mine who mined the copper for the wires, it fed people who make the trucks that haul the copper ore.' That's the difference between capitalism and welfare mentality. When you buy something,you put money in people's pockets and give them dignity for their skills."

I've never been a fan of telling people that you'd spend their money better than they did. But in this case, I prefer the saying about teaching a man to fish. It's shorter, leaves out the smug self-satisfaction and tells us how the guy is going get by during those times when 'Vette sales slump.

But for me the wonky thing about this is that it claims to illustrate "the difference between capitalism and [a] welfare mentality." The alleged "dignity of work" has nothing to do with capitalism. I'm pretty sure that in communist China right now, there's someone finding dignity in work, while at the same time, someone else is finding mindless drudgery. Whether or not a person derives some level of personal dignity from labor is completely independent of whether or not they are paid a wage or supporting their family by that work.

Rather than being a tale of how capitalism brings people livelihoods and dignity, this is a defense of consumer culture that claims that to "buy something" can be seen as a form of charity that's just as effective as direct giving - mainly by ignoring the percentage of a purchase that goes to middlemen or is skimmed off in the name of "shareholder value." And this isn't to say that the corporation-driven American consumer culture is a bad thing. You can make the argument that it is, and if you want to hear that argument, people will line up around the block to tell it to you. But the argument that I'm making is lets see it for what it is. Buying luxury items, like cars capable of driving faster than is legal on any public stretch of road in the nation, should not be recast as a favor we're doing for the working classes. It's something that we do for ourselves as individuals, because we derive something from it. That something could be dignity, enjoyment, the attentions of people we want to have sex with or any number of other things.

The welfare state, as it exists in the United States, and in other places, is there because there is a recognition that left to it's own devices, society would gladly confine itself to that set of people it deemed necessary to keep things going, and consign the rest to fending for themselves - preferably somewhere far away. Corvettes are nice (I like driving them myself sometimes), but there isn't enough demand for them to take up the slack in the labor pool that's been created by the combination of historical gains in efficiency and the primacy of the 40-hour work week. We shouldn't tell ourselves that there is.