The Democrats: Technocrats Rule

Political/Essays

The Democrats: Technocrats Rule
By Wade Lee Hudson

The Democratic Presidential candidates agree. What matters most is Congress and the President; ordinary people merely vote and get others to vote. The government is primary; the people are secondary. The focus is on public policy: How can the government fix a problem? 

At their debates, the Democratic candidates have contrasted their technocratic solutions. Their fine-point distinctions bore most Americans. 

What’s missing is a positive, inspiring vision for the nation as a whole. What kind of community do we seek? What kind of people do we want to be? How do we want to treat each other?

Donald Trump has exposed many of the worst aspects of American culture. This open wound provides an opportunity to highlight, by way of contrast, the best aspects of American culture. Doing so can deepen America’s affirmation of these values. 

The Democratic candidates for President could help with this project.

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The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?

Political/Essays

The Democrats: What Happened to Equality?
By Wade Lee Hudson

Books and articles often show me new angles, offer new information, or deepen my perspective. Rarely do they change my thinking in a major way. Elizabeth S. Anderson’s 1999 tour de force “What is the Point of Equality?” is an exception. I’m still absorbing the impact of her passionate manifesto. No wonder colleagues have called that 50-page article “path breaking” and The New Yorker described her as “The Philosopher Redefining Equality.”

Anderson wants to end oppression by creating communities “in which people stand in relations of equality” to one another. Her thinking is rooted in numerous grassroots egalitarian movements, such as the civil rights, womens’, and disability rights movements.

Unfortunately, however, most grassroots political movements today don’t clearly reflect those social values. Rather, they focus on material reality. And, as indicated by what they said at the September 2019 debate, neither have the Democratic candidates for President absorbed her insights.

In the following review, which includes extensive excerpts, I place in bold her language that prompted new insights for me, and place in italics points that strengthened my convictions. 

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As Anderson sees it: 

Recent egalitarian writing has come to be dominated by the view that the fundamental aim of equality is to compensate people for undeserved bad luck—being born with poor native endowments, bad parents, and disagreeable personalities, suffering from accidents and illness, and so forth…. This “equality of fortune” perspective [or “luck egalitarianism”] is essentially a "starting-gate theory": as long as people enjoy fair shares at the start of life, it does not much concern itself with the suffering and subjection generated by people's voluntary agreements in free markets…. 

[Their] writing...seems strangely detached from existing egalitarian political movements…[that have fought for] the freedom to appear in public as who they are, without shame, [and] campaigned against demeaning stereotypes. 

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Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics and Social Movements
By Wade Lee Hudson

An important recent Ezra Klein Show podcast is the interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an associate professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University and the author of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, which traces the origins of the term “identity politics.” In the podcast, Taylor argues that the weakening of social movements in the 1980s contributed to a distortion of the term’s original meaning.

…So identity politics in that circumstance 

becomes almost a way of introspection, a kind of internal politics, a kind of way for oppressed and marginalized people to talk to each other, and to really turn away from this idea...of collective and social change [that] was in some ways rooted with the idea that white people would resist the dominant social order and that white people could play some role in a movement to transform society….

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Politicians, Movements, and Democracy

Politicians, Movements, and Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

These days Democratic politicians often talk about building “movements,” but they rarely talk about how they want to help build those movements. Most of them only talk about gaining supporters for their campaigns and then mobilizing those supporters from time to time, as did Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. But to a considerable degree, Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a member of “the Squad,” is an exception.

During a recent Pod Save America podcast, “Our lawless, wall-less president," at the 42:10 mark, Pressley reported: 

I want to be in coalition…. Evicting this President...is all about movement building. It’s about organizing and mobilizing.… These times demand unprecedented activism and unprecedented legislating. And that’s not work we do alone…. When our democracy is working again on behalf of the American people [we will need] pressure on the outside that activists and agitators continue to exert….

The way I’ve been getting at the issue of housing, which is my number-one constituent concern, is that I’ve been convening, since well before I was in office or elected, the Equity Agenda roundtable discussion where we engage the community. They’re not a traditional town hall. We have breakout sessions. It’s a two-way dialog. I’ve always maintained that those closest to the pain should be closest to the power, driving and informing the policy making. So I take my cue from the community…. I’m cooperatively governing….

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Racism and Support for Trump

Political/Racism

Racism and Support for Trump
By Wade Lee Hudson

In “We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is,” Thomas B. Edsall reports on recent studies that examine some of the complexities concerning race, class, and poltics in the United States.

According to these findings, “whites with relatively high incomes — in the top two quintiles of the income distribution — but without college degrees” have fueled the “the surge of whites into the Republican Party.” Many of these relatively well-off individuals probably “fear that in the Knowledge Society their life chances are shrinking.”

However, low-income whites without college degrees “are conflicted in their partisan allegiance.” Though these individuals have shifted toward the Republican Party, “they frequently hold liberal economic views — that is, they support redistributionist measures from which they benefit.” One reason many of them voted for Trump in 2016 is that he took “liberal” positions like protecting Social Security and creating infrastructure jobs.

Low-income whites with college degrees were 1.5 percent of white voters in 1952. Now they are 14.3 percent of all voters and have become “the most loyal white Democratic constituency.”

Concerning racism, one study suggests that bias against groups such as Lithuanians, for example, are “substantively indistinguishable from those measured when Blacks are the target group,” suggesting that prejudice against “the other” is sometimes a large part of the problem with racism.

Another study examined the “multidimensionality” of racist attitudes. “There’s all sorts of feelings, attitudes, and knowledge surrounding issues of racial groups and racial inequality.” People may be resentful, fearful, unaware of structural racism, unwilling to be aware, and/or actually empathetic about inequality. This approach “proved especially effective in identifying voters who backed Obama in 2012 and switched to Trump in 2016.”

Edsall concludes his essay reflecting on a recent Pew poll that found 7 percent of the electorate “undecided.” He argues, to win back the White House, Democrats must address these voters with “pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion — and show a new level of empathy.”

An Open Letter to Cory Booker

An Open Letter to Cory Booker

After posting Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election, which includes praise for Senator Cory Booker, I watched “The Family,” a five-part Netflix documentary about The Family — the authoritarian, evangelical organization that owns luxurious residences in D.C. where elected officials are invited to live communally at bargain rents and convenes the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been addressed by every U.S. President since Dwight Eisenhower. After viewing that film, I discovered that Booker participates in a Bible study group led by Senator James Inhofe, a leader in The Family.

Given these discoveries, later today at a gathering for his Presidential campaign, I hope to ask Booker: How do you evaluate Senator’s Inhofe’s theology?…

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Restructuring Democracy

Restructuring Democracy
By Wade Lee Hudson

A powerful tyranny of the majority might sustain itself over time, but pluralistic democracy requires perpetual reform. No constitution, set of institutions, legislation, or electoral victory can rigidly translate popular views into public policy while at the same time protecting the rule of law and guaranteeing individual rights. Preserving and improving pluralistic democracy requires steadily dissolving selfish power and updating outmoded institutions.

Established political actors tend to isolate themselves from their constituents. They act in their own self-interest and the self-interest of wealthy benefactors. Political institutions are inherently based on power imbalances. Certain individuals play roles that others do not, which gives them greater power. Bureaucracies emerge. Experts and elites rule. Institutions become captured by powerful interests. Constitutions, with their focus on elections, limit how people can have a voice in the shaping of public policy. This dynamic calls for popular action not limited to elections. 

These realities lead some uncompromising populists to argue that democracy is not possible within any institutionalized system. They say democracy is possible only when the disenfranchised rise up, transgress the system, bring down established forms, and exercise power directly, if only temporarily….

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Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

Old Brain, New Brain, Cross-Partisan Dialog

By Penn Garvin, Lois Passi, Wade Lee Hudson

Penn Garvin, an activist and organizer living in rural PA recently wrote the following:

How to Listen:

(1) Put aside your own beliefs and enter into new territory as an anthropologist

(2) Watch your reactions to what you hear – when do you get angry, defensive, scared, etc. – try to understand how you are being triggered

(3) Try to listen for what is the anger, fear, etc. underneath what the other person is saying – don't just listen to the ideas, policies, “what we should do” that they are saying

(4) Validate with the other person anything that you can – don't be fake because people sense that – but are there things being said that make sense to you even if you don't agree and maybe there are things being said that you agree with in part

(5) Don't try to work anything out or agree on anything at first – just be able to feed back to the person accurately what they have said to you so that you both know that they have been understood.

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Lois Passi, a Unitarian Universalist living in PA who works with her local United Way to end poverty, recently included in one of her sermons the following:

•Old and New Brain:

The old brain’s job is to detect threats to survival, and to respond to those threats either by fighting the enemy, fleeing from the enemy, or if neither of those is possible, hunkering down and enduring (fight, flight or freeze responses)….

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Mutual Support for Self-Improvement

Mutual Support for Self-Improvement
By Wade Lee Hudson

Love, altruism, spirituality, partnership, community, and cooperation thrive when humans feel safe. These feelings also emerge in response to disasters when we tap reservoirs of compassion and restore faith in humanity. 

But when we’re afraid, we become angry, selfish, materialistic, domineering, individualistic, and competitive. Economic insecurity inflames those emotions.  Social conditioning, mainstream media, TV, movies, political rhetoric, and highly competitive schools reinforce these negative tendencies.

Supportive, joy-filled communities that provide safety help us rise above our negative emotions. Families, extended families, close friendships, neighborhoods, churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas, community-based organizations, and workplaces nurture growth. We can use fear and anger to stop injustice, spread positive emotions, and help each other become better human beings. 

Intentional commitments strengthen self-improvement efforts. Wedding vows and mission statements illustrate the value of placing commitments in writing. These affirmations remind people of their commitment, help them hold each other accountable, and spread their values to others. By adopting clear, written policies, organizations can encourage their members to support each other with their self-improvement. 

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Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election

Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election
By Wade Lee Hudson

Several Democratic candidates and some pundits have injected promising spiritual commentary into the 2020 presidential primary campaign. Some have even gone beyond discussion of public policy to address how ordinary Americans conduct their daily lives. Trump’s example has certainly opened the door for this conversation. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those candidates and pundits have thus far affirmed the need for an explicit, intentional commitment to mutual support for self-improvement.

The most popular Google search term during the second round of debates was “Marianne Williamson.” This surge of interest in the New Age author was prompted by her statement:

This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it.… The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.

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Charles Hartshorne: Neoclassical Metaphysics

Cultural/Polarity/Articles

Charles Hartshorne: Neoclassical Metaphysics
By Donald Wayne Viney
(Excerpts)

In spite of the extreme generality of metaphysical concepts, each such concept entails a polar contrast to it. Even the highly general concept “reality” requires that the concept “unreality” be assigned some meaning. …

For Hartshorne, then, each metaphysical concept has a corresponding contrast: necessity requires contingency, being requires becoming, unity requires variety, and so on, for any concept that is non-restrictively general, having applicability across possible states or state-descriptions. The two interdependent contraries in each case warrant the term dipolarity….

Monopolar theories allow expression of only one pole of a pair of contrasts; stated obversely, they completely deny one pole of a pair of contrasts. …

in his view, a neoclassical process theory of reality is structurally dipolar and offers comprehensive accommodation of both necessity and contingency, both causal determination and a degree of freedom from such determination, both internal and external relations, and so forth, throughout the range of metaphysical polar contrasts….

b. Inclusive Asymmetry/Concrete Inclusion

Hartshorne’s principle of dipolarity is complemented and qualified by a principle of inclusive asymmetry or concrete inclusion. As Hartshorne points out, the principle of dipolarity does not justify metaphysical dualism. One should distinguish between asserting that a metaphysical concept requires a contrary polar conception in its definition, and asserting that two polar concepts have an equivalent metaphysical status. It may well be the case that one concept requires the other polar concept in its definition, while the other polar concept both requires the polar contrast in its definition, and yet is itself the ground or source of that polar contrast. In other words, it may be the case, as Hartshorne asserts, that dipolarity is itself grounded in a logically asymmetrical relation between the contraries….

“p implies q” means that p both implies itself and q…

No comparable argument can show that being can include becoming without destroying the contrast. The concrete or definite, the creatively cumulative, is the inclusive element, and is the key to the abstract, not vice versa. The concrete and the abstract are neither sheer conjuncts as posited by varieties of dualism, nor some mysterious “third” entity, but, in consonance with both Whitehead’s ontological principle and Aristotle’s ontological priority of the actual, is rather, “the abstract in the concrete.”….

contingency in a relevant sense “includes” necessity rather than vice versa….

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose

Political/Multi-issue/Articles

Once Again, the System Wins and the Democrats Lose
by Wade Lee Hudson

The Democrrats should have opened the Mueller hearing (months ago) with an expert counsel posing questions for 30 minutes to highlight the key points in Mueller’s report. That could have provided a clear, concise, compelling narrative that would have been devastating to Trump. But no. They chose to give all of their politicians face time on national television (in disjointed five-minute segments) to help them get re-elected. First things first. So the most compelling testimony happened in the last hour of a seven-hour hearing (which dragged on and on, losing most of the audience and the hearing’s impact).

As I discussed in “Democrats, Border Walls, and Social Polarization,” the Democrats acted in a similar manner with regard to the government shutdown over border-wall funding and the Kavanagh hearings. Maneuvering for re-ellection was primary then as well.

The System teaches everyone to climb social ladders and look down on those below and look up to those above. The goal is to boost egos and accumulate status, power, and/or money. Congress is a near-perfect example. Unfortunately, the System has conditioned all of us.

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”

Political/Tribalism/Articles

Political Tribalism: “Ideologues without Issues”
by Wade Lee Hudson

…angry political tribes are tearing the country apart. Driven by primal passions, they call themselves “liberals” and “conservatives.” But their policy beliefs are secondary. What matters most is tribal victory. 

Americans largely agree on most specific public policies. But highly committed political people are like die-hard sports fans. They’re identify with their team and feel a deep need to crush the “enemy.” Tribal leaders, in their quest for the power to dominate, manipulate followers’ innate instincts. In particular, they promise to protect their tribe from threats by conquering “the other.” 

Political psychologist Lilliana Mason has marshalled considerable evidence in support of these conclusions.

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Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

Crime, Scapegoating, and Daily Life

By Wade Lee Hudson

In a New Yorker essay, “Who Belongs in Prison?”, Adam Gopnik comments on several recent books that address key criminal justice issues, including scapegoating and the desire for revenge. Those concerns apply throughout society.

Locked In by John Pfaff argues that prosecutors have been given freedom to imprison whomever they wish for as long as they like without going to trial…. Gopnik reports that Charged by Emily Bazelon "puts flesh and faces to Pfaff’s statistical and largely abstract proposition." …Revenge is an issue Gopnik examines in some detail.

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David Brooks on the Social Fabric

David Brooks on the Social Fabric

Backed by the Aspen Institute, David Brooks launched Weave: The Social Fabric Project to nurture what he considers to be a growing social movement. In his New York Times column, “A Nation of Weavers,” Brooks argues that this grassroots movement addresses “our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.” He believes this movement will “usher in a social transformation by reweaving the fabric of reciprocity and trust.” Through these Weavers, he says, “renewal is building, relationship by relationship, community by community. It will spread and spread as the sparks fly upward.”

Brooks moves in the right direction, but stops short. He aims to go below the surface, but neglects root causes. He wants to address the “whole person,” but fragments the individual.

Brooks rightly argues that “America’s social fabric is being ripped to shreds.” And he’s right to lament the recent emergence of “hyperindividualism” and affirm “radical mutuality” -- that is, the belief “we are all completely equal, regardless of where society ranks us,” which leads us to “love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known.”

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The Autocracy App

The Autocracy App
By Jacob Weisberg OCTOBER 25, 2018 ISSUE
The New York Review of Books

A review of:

  • Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
    by Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
    by Jaron Lanier

...A professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, Vaidhyanathan is a disciple of Neil Postman, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. In that prescient pre-Internet tract, Postman wrote that Aldous Huxley, not Orwell, portrayed the dystopia most relevant to our age. The dangers modern societies face, Postman contends, are less censorship or repression than distraction and diversion, the replacement of civic engagement by perpetual entertainment.

Vaidhyanathan sees Facebook, a “pleasure machine” in which politics and entertainment merge, as the culmination of Postman’s Huxleyan nightmare. However, the pleasure that comes from absorption in social media is more complicated than the kind that television delivers. It encourages people to associate with those who share their views, creating filter bubbles and self-reinforcing feedback loops. Vaidhyanathan argues that by training its users to elevate feelings of agreement and belonging over truth, Facebook has created a gigantic “forum for tribalism.”

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...What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.”

Full implementation is not expected till 2020, but the system is already being used to mete out punishments to people with low scores. These include preventing them from traveling, restricting them from certain jobs, and barring their children from attending private schools. In the West online surveillance is theoretically voluntary, the price we pay for enjoying the pleasure machine—a privatized 1984 by means of Brave New World.

Birddogging

Erin Grace Burns:

Birddogging is not a protest, and is only rarely a disruption. All it takes to birddog effectively is to show up at an event, as a team, and ask the person who has power over your issue to adopt the specific positions that you are fighting for.

Activists should birddog all leading candidates from every party, even if they currently disagree with you! Getting a “yes” is a big win. But also, if you ask a strong question, and the answer is “No, I prefer tax cuts for millionaires.”<—that's ALSO a win. You just exposed a policy maker's harmful positions, making them toxic to more people in their district.

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

Multiple Identities, Politics, Freedom, and Equality

For me, the most important article of 2019 may prove to be “The Philosopher Redefining Equality” by Nathan Heller in the January 7 issue of The New Yorker. The article’s subhead is “Elizabeth Anderson thinks we’ve misunderstood the basis of a free and fair society.” The caption for the lead illustration is “Our real concern should be equality not in material benefits, Anderson argues, but in social relations: democratic equality.”

Heller writes:

Her work, drawing on real-world problems and information, has helped to redefine the way contemporary philosophy is done, leading what might be called the Michigan school of thought. ...She brings together ideas from both the left and the right to battle increasing inequality,...

Born in 1959, Anderson specializes in moral and political philosophy. Right out of graduate school, Princeton University offered her a tenure-track job, but she decided to stay at the University of Michigan, where she is now the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies (which she named after Dewey when the university elevated her to its highest professorship). As soon as I get it, I plan to read her 2017 book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk About It).

Heller reports:

“The Industrial Revolution was a cataclysmic event for egalitarians,” Anderson explains.... “We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.”

As summed up by Heller:

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don’t Feed the Trolls

A recent public controversy about how Facebook bans content and a June 28 column by Thomas B. Edsall, “Don’t Feed the Troll in the Oval Office,” illustrate the importance of how “racism” is defined.

As reported on September 20, Facebook bans content that affirms “white supremacy,” which it considers a “racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races."

But Facebook allows “white nationalism” and “white separation.” Trying to take into account how their policies impact people around the world (such as the Zionist movement in Israel and the Basque movement in Spain), they believe white nationalism “doesn't seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly.)” Many white nationalist groups say they’re not racist because they don’t consider other races inferior, but merely seek to ensure the survival of the white race and white culture.

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Civility, Racism, and the Red Hen

Civility, Racism, and the Red Hen

The civility controversy is disheartening. Name-calling may lead to a Republican victory in 2018, and help re-elect Trump in 2020.

On June 28, Thomas B. Edsall posted “Don’t Feed the Troll in the Oval Office,” an extremely important piece. According to Edsall, Trump’s provocations are calculated and could work, aided by liberals who take the bait.

Edsall reports that most Democrats believe opposition to immigration is racist, whereas “Trump’s tactics are based on the conviction of many of his voters that opposition to immigration is not a form of racism. They deeply resent being called racist for anti-immigrant views they consider patriotic and, indeed, principled.” Those supporters do not consider non-Europeans essentially inferior, which they acknowledge would be racist. Rather, they merely prefer to preserve the nation’s character, as other communities have sought to preserve their character, which they do not consider racist.

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