Thursday, March 27, 2014

Farewell to a friend - The Doubtful Roots of Progress

"Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another's wisdom, is a useless wight."
Hesiod, as quoted in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics
"...Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn't there,
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away..."
Farewell to a friend - The Doubtful Roots of Progress
In the 21st century, we typically like to see ourselves as living the superior lives which civilization has been longing and struggling to progress to for thousands of years, but... have you noticed how uncomfortably difficult it can be trying to find examples of that progress in anything other than technology? Especially amongst those who're most convinced that they're the epitome of progressive thinking?

Case in point, I reconnected last year with an acquaintance of mine from the 1980's, back when I played in a regional rock band and he was a popular local D.J., "Dice Martin", in Vegas - but unfortunately he disconnected us again earlier this month because he disliked that I disagreed with one of his postings. Understand, my replies didn't use profanity (not that that would've bothered him), or attack him or insult him, or ridicule him - though those were S.O.P's for the continual stream of pictures he posted, captioned to insult Republicans, Conservatives and Tea Partiers. When you add to those the additional comments he & his friends made to them, each one ever more inflammatory than the last... and I can't help asking: what was so inflammatory, to him, about someone simply disagreeing with them?

Whatever it was that made this self described supporter of the 'progressive left' so intolerant of other views, is in no way confined to Dice himself, as we'll see in a moment, rather he is reflecting what is progressively becoming the dominant view across the country - demonize the opposition and shutdown discussion or debate - and I can think of few more appropriate ways to describe it than as I do: ProRegressivism.

Person to Person
The last post of Dice's that I was able to see was a split screen picture that showed three pundits from the left with college degrees, and three from the right who either didn't go or dropped out, accompanied with comments to the effect that everyone on the Left were scholarly icons of wisdom, while vilifying Republicans, Conservatives and Tea Partiers as:
A)"... knuckle dragging drop outs and idiots...",
who ,
B)"... are GUILTY of treason ande sedition when they supported shutting The US Govt down last October..."
, whose disagreements with Obama were:
C)" these (racially motivated, right wing, incoherent) rants."
And about the Ukraine:
D)"...Not a peep when in '08 putin went into Georgia on Bush's watch....not one word."
To which I replied that
A),"as the colleges had gotten out of the wisdom business decades ago, trading tens of thousands of dollars in debt for dated and often substandard skills wasn't necessarily a mark of the wisest person in the room",
B) "he ought to look a bit closer at congress's power of the purse and how all sides have used it in the distant and recent past to rein the other branches in."
C) that "IMHO few rants are more racially motivated, or weak and fearful, than when a clear difference of ideas can only be responded to with accusations of racism rather than dealing with the merits of the ideas in question",
D) I noted that "I and many others had indeed 'peeped' many words at the time, condemning his actions as well as his inaction's."
Dice came a bit unglued at this and expressed his true feelings for tolerance and respect for the opinions of others, with
"Fuck you- Rot in Hell asswipe! Another piece of shit who don't know what he is talking about- in the ashcan of history----chumps-----", and he added one final friendly wave with "You won't matter when we get face to face"!.
As I was responding that I'd been face to face with him before and saw no reason to worry about that mattering, he unfriended and blocked me.

So. Progress, eh? But if cutting off debate in civil discussions and demonstrating absolute in-toleration for opposing political views are examples of the progress that 'progressives' have progressed to... I guess it's up to us to tell them that the progress that they're making is going in the wrong direction.

Now I hope you won't be surprised to learn that Dice isn't a mean guy and he isn't a stupid guy. He isn't lazy, he has his own insurance business in Florida; he isn't (in his mind) unpatriotic, and he isn't, at least as it is commonly recognized today, uneducated. What's worth noting here is not whether or not someone was on the Left or the Right side of an issue, but whether or not their positions further Progress or Regress. What's also worth noting here is a certain something that isn't there, a lack of understanding of what Progress is, what it requires and what cannot be engaged in without reverting into regress.

What this most emphatically is not, is a partisan issue... or even a non-partisan affair - this is a matter of societal ProRegress, and it is a problem for us all.

More than an Academic Question
See if you can see the resemblance here, between what Dice demonstrated, and this recent article in the Harvard student journal, The Crimson, by Sandra Y.L. Korn who's been posting in a similar vein since 2010, "The Doctrine of Academic Freedom - Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice" ,
"Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue."
This is a student supposedly in pursuit of a Liberal Education... does that mean something? Indeed it does, in general it means being able to engage, free from the threat of force, in the deliberate examination of opposing ideas in pursuit of acquiring the knowledge and understanding most likely to help yourself become fit for living in liberty with others. And yet she, like Dice, believes that opposing views are not only not to be tolerated, but she's even advocating in favor of using all available power to end the active discussion of opposing views in the academy, in order to suppress dissent, in order to promote 'Academic Justice'. That my friends, is Pro-Regress.

Leaving that aside for just a moment, and looking past the irony clad nature of the last paragraph in that quotation, at first glance, there almost seems to be a sheen of sense to that first paragraph, doesn't there? After all, one of the arguments against the public funding of education in general and of universities in particular, is, why should someone who is paying for an education be forced to pay for divisive research and professors professing ideas which they believe to be false, hateful and opposed to what they believe is true? Except of course that she isn't concerned at all with the rights of those who are making her education possible - public or private - or even of those who might best understand what an education actually is. What she is advocating for is NOT a policy where those who are paying for the students tuition, or the alumni who contribute to the college, or those the college has hired to administer and profess the ideals of a Liberal Education, should have a voice in what the college teaches. Nope. What she's advocating for is 'empowering' those who are the recipients of those seats and funds and services, so that they should be able to demand that they be used against the judgment and interests of those who are providing them! As she says:
"The power to enforce academic justice comes from students, faculty, and workers organizing together to make our universities look as we want them to do."[emphasis mine]
IOW, those who do not yet have even what currently passes for an Education, are to seize the power to determine what an education should be, because in their as yet uneducated wisdom they believe that they have already determined what is best, and so they should use the raw power of the mob to disrupt the process of education until the disagreeable voices cave and they get. what. they. want. Those who've had the benefit of some semblance of an actual Liberal Education, should be able to identify this as one of the oldest of political practices: "Might makes Right".

Or, in my other words, using power to negate rights and force compliance with the ideas of a favored faction - that is Pro-Regress.

"History is philosophy teaching by example..." - Abraham Lincoln"
So that was from a college student, at what's often thought of as the premier college in the nation. If you find yourself wondering what it is that they are teaching in college these days, I suggest directing your attention to an essay by a college professor, Lawrence Torcello, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology. This scholar feels that the views of Ms. Korn do not go far enough. This professor, of philosophy no less, feels that we must deal with those pernicious folks who are not convinced that our govts have either the level of understanding, or the means of effectively 'correcting' the global climate, or the political right to impose their final solutions upon us all, and he isn't content with simply demanding, disrupting and shouting down their opposing views to get his way - he wants to take matters to the next level, and put them in jail:
"My argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech. We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions. Protecting the latter as a form of free speech stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept"
Remember, he is currently professing his 'wisdom' to a steady stream of young college students, he wants to actually put those who disagree with what he (who btw, is not a scientist, let alone a climate scientist) is so clearly and distinctly convinced to be true, in jail, for the thought crime of holding opposing views. He's got one thing right, it is undeniable that jailing people for their ideas is most definitely the next ProRegressive step which must follow from professing such a philosophy; where else could it possibly lead to?

And if you're sympathetic with his position, then ask yourself this: How do you respond to the position, that what he just described was what others such as myself see as being an example of political factions and corporate interests in our schools, entertainment, media and government, directing the 'funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions'? So then I can get my faction together and say 'Hey, I think this fool is wrong, can I have him charged with a misdemeanor please?' And if, like the young miss in Harvard, your answer is that I have no Right to do what you do, because I do not believe the proper Politically Correct ideas as they do (which really means that those with my views aren't in power - yet)... then you are saying that it is ok to bring down the full force of the govt upon me, but not thee, because...of who has the power to silence who - at the moment.

If that is your position, then you've not only dodged the question, but you've endorsed the course which President John Adams foolishly supported, and which far better minds argued for than the one possessed by this twit of a professor, back in 1799
" ...commonly called the sedition law, subjects to a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and to imprisonment not exceeding two years, any person who shall write, print, utter, or publish, or cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, any false, scandalous, malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States..."
The Federalists too had the very best of intentions with the Aliens & Sedition Acts, and they also had what our professing fools do not: the excuse of not having seen it abused here before. We, on the other hand, have a number of examples from the philosophical classroom of history, such as ProRegressive Democrat President Wilson using similar acts to jail thousands of Americans for the crime of disagreeing with his administrations policies.

That my friend, is a step backwards, aka: Regress. And if you are for that, you are Pro-Regress.

Missing the point
My point is not that there is spin in politics or disputes about what climate scientists say the science says, or about what the scientists say politicians say about climate science, but that there is something missing from the views of my friend Dice, from the Harvard student, and from the Professor of 'philosophy', and what is not there, is what enables them to feel perfectly fine about cursing a friend out for disagreeing with them, enables them to feel justified in denying others their freedom of speech, and enables them to advocate jailing those who disagree with their views - and that it is perfectly acceptable, advisable and even admirable for them to do so.

What they are lacking, what their understanding does not have, is not just civility - that's an effect, not a cause - these things they lack are what makes it possible for otherwise intelligent people to advocate actions as progress, which are clearly Pro-Regress.

So what is it they lack, is it simply a lack of knowledge? Simply a matter of knowing who knows what's best? That is after all, the reason why we send our kids to school and on to college, to fill them with the knowledge which good judgment requires, right? Would new books and better tests do the trick? But unfortunately it is no longer as easy as saying what James Madison once said:
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives"
Part of the problem is that modernity has introduced an ambiguity into what the word 'knowledge' now applies to - there's what is in reality true, and there's what people accept as being true, and many if not most moderns not only do not differentiate between the two, but in any (acknowledged) conflict between them, actually lean towards favoring the later (see Keynesian economics). In this day and age, simply knowing what 'reliable authorities' have told you is so, isn't enough.

Knowledge, in the sense Madison was referring to, expects there to be a standard which new information is held up to and that it must integrate into a deeper understanding of what you know to be true. That classical sense doesn't tolerate the urge, which we all feel at times, to allow what you wish were true to override those contradictions you worry might be true, without verifying what actually is true. Modernity, however, encourages us to embrace contradictory information as being 'true' for a variety of excuses ( and not just factually, for instance what movie characters are more enthused over today than those who are 'conflicted'?), ranging from popularity, to some form of cultural 'authenticity' or political acceptability, aided by one form or another of the modernist philosophical position that we cannot actually know what in reality actually is true.

Modernity isn't comfortable with unambiguous statements such as 'the fact is', nevertheless, the fact is that if you tolerate 'knowing' contradictory positions to be true, then you are well on your way to truly knowing nothing at all. What you Know has to be what you can conform your will and your passions to, and not the other way around, and attempting to do so, attempting to put desire over reality, is the essence of being intemperate, which, again in the classical sense, has consequences. As Edmund Burke, remarked :
“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Intemperate? How does that figure into anything, the word's been out of fashion for a hundred years or more, hasn't it? Well, words have meaning... and what they mean remains even if you change the words you refer to that meaning with. Push a word out the front door, and its meaning will slip in again, unrecognized, through the back door... but you'll no longer have the knowledge to know how to deal with them. See if you hear the sound of the back door slamming in this recent article, entitled "Politicians are good liars 'because they convince themselves they are telling the truth', study reveals", reports that a study, '"Liars or SelfDeceived? Reflections on Political Deception", by a political scientist named Dr. Anna Galeotti, found that for politicians such as Bill Clinton,
: ‘Self-deception is a type of motivated irrationality - the art of believing something simply because it is desired to be true when evidence points to the very opposite.
, and that,
"Because of this, politicians not only lie convincingly, but are still convinced they are telling the truth even after they have proved to have lied, the report added."
IOW the liar becomes mastered by their lies, or more eloquently put:" of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters....", which applies every bit as much to the electorate who votes for those deceptive policies which they know can't be true ("If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan"), but still really want them to be true. But the interpretation of such actions as being intemperate and bringing consequences, is only going to follow from the older understanding of what knowledge is. Taken through the more modern sense, it'll be given the spin that we should be more tolerant and understanding towards the liar, and the lie, since they don't really know what they are doing.

Which is a view that understandably still strikes many people the wrong way, such as one fellow who responded to that article's title with words to the effect of:
"Oh come'on, what is this bs! Of course they know that they're lying!"
Which, while I completely understand such a common sense reaction and I certainly don't excuse politicians or any others who are in fact lying, the common sense view of things misses the reality of the squishiness we've allowed to creep into what we call 'Knowledge'; and that reality, and its consequences, goes to the very heart of modernity.

For instance: why is it that Bill Clinton's infamous statement that "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'Is', is.", wasn't laughed out of court and/or slapped with a contempt charge? Under James Madison's conception of knowledge, it would have been. Under Modernity's formulation... such a statement is actually taken into consideration. Why? What makes that possible? It's not just 'old' vs 'new', there's another ingredient which actively separates the two understandings.

Look at it this way, I can't tell you how many smart and knowledgeable people, friends & family that I know, who still think nothing of behaving as Dice did. Is it really just a matter of not knowing the facts or intentionally lying about them? You probably have friends and family too that, although you're frustrated with them, you still can't quite bring yourself to call them completely ignorant or deliberate liars... am I right?

Well if you don't think that those members of your friends and family are complete fools or bald faced liars... then there must be something else that they are doing, or failing to do... the question is, what?

One of the questions we've stopped asking, is: knowledge of what? And how well, and how deeply, will that knowledge they acquire in school really be known? Or once known, be regarded by them as being consequentially True? Knowledge is of course incredibly useful, beneficial, and oh so advisable to pursue and expand, but bubble tests and 'fill in the blank' level worksheets only serve to transmit data, they don't develop knowledge. It is not enough simply to acquire and catalog a mass of disintegrated facts, mentally piling them on high into towering tables of data, each one unaware of the contents of the one next to it - such dragon hordes might help you score nicely on the SAT, but they are not the same thing as knowledge, and they are very nearly barriers to wisdom. Data doesn't become knowledge until it is integrated, and if that data is not integrated through understanding its relation to other data and the principles which support them, then it will be integrated through those feelings and preferences you have towards the data itself... and how well wisdom follows from that can be gauged by a quick look around you today.

What we are missing is what is behind the conception of knowledge that Madison and his time took for granted, and what we've accepted in its place is the modern philosophical view which presumes that substance is more likely to be found in polls, than whatever it is that the polls are being taken about.

Doubting the Value of Critical Thinking
My point is that there is something vital that is missing from how particular views are held by my friend Dice, and by the Harvard student, and by the Professor of 'philosophy', and what it is that is not there, is what enables them to feel just fine and dandy about cursing a friend out for disagreeing with them, enables them to feel justified in depriving those who don't agree with them of their freedom of speech, and enables them to righteously advocate jailing people for the crime of not agreeing with them, and whatever it is that they lack, is what is enabling them to believe that it is perfectly acceptable, and advisable, and even admirable, for them to be doing so.

Part of what they lack is the habit of questioning what they do and don't know, substituting instead, the easy flattery and convenience of artificial Doubt.


Here's what I mean. Doubt arises naturally when our mind detects a conflict, a contradiction, between what we know, and what we are being presented with as being so, and your immediate reaction is "Oh, I doubt that!", followed soon after with the reasons for your doubt "That doesn't add up with this, this and this, so tell me, how does that make sense?", and you're off to reassessing and perhaps correcting, and so strengthening, your knowledge, and understanding. Such doubts are the result of your knowledge, are healthy and should pretty much always be pursued.

But Artificial Doubt, such as what drives modernity's vaunted 'Critical Thinking', is not something that results from our knowledge, it is prompted by no detection of conflicts or contradictions, but only by your pretending to find something to doubt.

This tendency, which has a hand in what the good Dr. Galeotti calls 'self deception', is the hallmark of Modernity and it began with Descartes' "Method of Doubt",
“I thought it necessary that I reject as absolutely false everything in which I could imagine the least doubt, so as to see whether, after this process, anything in my set of beliefs remains that is absolutely indubitable.”
If the test of truth is whether or not you can imagine the least doubt about that something, and nothing other than your imagining it prompted your doubt in the first place... doesn't that make what you imagine, prefer, wish, determine what you do or don't doubt, and the ultimate test of what you will accept as being true? You do see the problem there, don't you?

Worse, there is nothing positive involved in such artificial doubts. Artificial doubt begins with the end result and pretends to find controversies in it which 'need' to be resolved. You haven't detected a flaw, you only pretend one is there... somewhere... on the shallow surface of the data you have in mind at the moment. For instance, a doubt based approach would begin, begin with mind you, as they do in most textbooks and worksheets everyday in our schools, from a perspective of artificial doubts picked off the surface of an issue, such as this recent example:
"Do you think the Bill of Rights is outdated?"
Based upon what?! The students haven't even investigated our particular Constitution, let alone the idea of laws in general, on what basis are they to 'think' if they are outdated or not? The only basis they'll have for their 'doubts' are their feelings, and where will students, especially young students, feelings about government and law likely come from? On top of that, the worksheet goes on to instruct them to:
"Omit two and add two...[amendments]"
Again, based upon what?! They have no knowledge to draw upon, they have nothing they can draw upon but their own ability to artificially and arbitrarily doubt something, anything, about the 'Bill of Rights'.

That is not a means to knowledge, but only a bold step towards its dissolution.

To start with artificial doubts, is to start without any real problems, without any real contradictions and without any real goals; and so what you are seeking is not resolution, but confirmation of the doubts you only imagined to begin with - it's resolution is as artificial as it's instigation. The result of this is not stronger knowledge, but just the opposite. Even those times when you might succeed in acquiring more facts, you necessarily believe them less. When everything is doubtful, nothing is really Known or believed - it might be accepted... but that's data, not knowledge, which are not nearly the same thing.

What this amounts to in practice, is that if you don't like it, it's doubtful - if you do like it, its not doubtful. This is not only an impractical method for thought, it works to corrode confidence in all of your knowledge (see "In Praise of Prejudice" ). This root method of modernity is even often put forward as the basis of the Scientific Method (which it is not)... and you wonder about why we live in such an uncertain age?

Natural doubts, and true questioning,on the other hand, results from and begins with the substance of the issue, such as 'What are Rights?" and would works its way down and in towards the essentials of what it is you are trying to understand. Along the way real doubts will arise, and can be addressed, strengthening understanding, not trivializing it. Such an approach would work on developing an understanding of human nature, social organization, government, Law and Individual Rights first, and only then, after the basics had been grasped, should students work their way back up to considering our Constitution in such a critical way. Whether or not additional amendments should be added to it, or taken away, would and should be the very last step in considering our form of government, not the starting point.

But wait, there's less!
Still though, while self deception and deliberate deception certainly exist, for most every day folks, self deception doesn't quite fit the bill because it isn't deliberate self deception that most people are engaging in, right? But they don't need to deceive themselves, not if the standard which they've accepted as being 'True', was substandard as a standard to begin with, and has left them exposed to even more issues.

The errors of preference which practicing artificial 'Doubt' as a standard introduces, further encourages a narrowing of the scope of your attention and understanding, as well as what you require as verification for it ('Oh, I doubt I need to bother with learning all of that stuff'), which bears a strong resemblance to self deception. What results from restricting the depth of understanding you seek on a given matter, is that it conveniently requires your attention to extend no further than what it is that you prefer to believe.

Our minds, like our muscles, are more than happy to go slack on us. When your 'doubts' are not prompted by conflicts in your understanding, and no conflicts in your understanding need to be resolved in order to dispel these artificial doubts you go through the motions of applying, then you shouldn't be surprised to find that what you choose to call 'truth' no longer requires of you the effort of integrating your understanding.

Not only do favorable sounding truths become believable when you are unaware of what would make them unbelievable, but if you are feeling no need to doubt that something is true (or false) then Truth becomes something that requires no greater depth, or soundness, than the absense of your doubts about it.

That squishily skeptical, vaguely cynical sense which most people have towards most issues in our daily life, is the doubtful bounty of modernity,and the rot of it permeates our culture today.

Don't doubt the benefits of Questions
Has Doubt driven scientific progress? I doubt it. I suspect that, when actually followed, it actually slowed progress. What has driven scientific progress, is what cannot not drive progress, and somewhere between Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon in the 1100-1200's, and Francis Bacon in the 1600's, there emerged a general scientific method, which has been summed up as,
"...a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and the need for independent verification. He recorded the manner in which he conducted his experiments in precise detail so that others could reproduce and independently test his results..."
, or for everyday use, methodically questioning and verifying the answers your questions logically lead you to. Rinse. Repeat. More often than not, once the clutter of doubt is brushed away from actual scientists journals, you find that it wasn't arbitrary doubts which drew them on (more often than not they slowed them down), it was the careful application of good honest questions - what do I understand this to mean? How well do I understand it? Do I understand, rather than assume, what this means?

Questions are based upon knowledge, and whether that knowledge is strong, or weak, the act of questioning draws you on to making real progress through positive understanding, and not from negative, empty, doubts. And more than that, questioning strengthens your understanding without leaving you defensive against someone else's questions, or their doubts, because having questioned your own understanding, you have the answers... or the desire to seek them out. What the moderns have accepted as being 'Knowledge', lacks what  'Critical Thinking' cannot provide: Understanding, and the fearless unquenchable curiosity which the desire for, and means of attaining understanding, naturally fosters. What its absence supplies instead, is hostility and baseless self righteousness ("There can be no doubt! It's settled science!") and not only the tendency to resort to using force instead of reason, but a satisfaction in doing so, which the actions of Dice, the Harvard student and the Professor trumpet more loudly than their 'tolerant' words ever will: 'Might makes Right, and that more might makes you more right!'.

Doubtful Progressives
Dice didn't have any doubts about what he wanted to be true and feeling no need for further understanding, he certainly didn't feel he needed to seek any greater 'understanding' of what I was saying, in order to conclude that it was false, hateful and even evil. The fact that he disliked - doubted - what I had to say and wanted it to be 'true', was more than enough for him.

The Harvard Student didn't need to bother with considering the requirements of honesty, of understanding or of valid knowledge, she didn't need to worry about whether or not it was right, or even sensible for her to demand that teachers obey the demands of students, it was enough for her to not doubt her own zeal for what it is that she wanted to be true - and for her it was beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is right.

The 'philosophy' professor didn't need to worry about what powers it would be wise to extend to govt, or how it could be controlled or corrected once given to it; he simply finds that what he clearly prefers to be truthful is beyond doubt, and so concludes, logically, that it must be accepted as the right thing to do.

On the face of it, the idea that knowledge will forever govern ignorance seems all very right minded and such... but when the test of knowledge is that it is beyond your ability to doubt, then whether or not this information is in reality true, doesn't come into question. And how likely is it that you or they will ever discover any deeper and more complete answers, if those who do question or disagree with the accepted positions, are forbidden from challenging those positions?

My point is not that there is spin in politics or disputes about climate science, but that there is something missing from the views of my unfriended friend Dice, from the Harvard student activist, and from the Professor of 'philosophy', and what is not there in their understanding, is what enables them to feel perfectly fine about cursing a friend out for disagreeing with them, enables them to feel justified in denying others the freedom of speech they demand for themselves, and enables them to advocate jailing those who dare to disagree with their views - and that it is, beyond a doubt, perfectly acceptable and advisable for them to do so.

And while I do think it is far more pronounced on the left than elsewhere, I've seen plenty of the like from Libertarians and from the Right as well, and that is the larger point to this current series of posts: When I'm speaking of Progress vs Regress, I'm not simply referring to political matters, but to the lack of understanding of what Progress is, and what it is not, and what Progress is not compatible with, which is very much a bi-partisan, tri-partisan, and non-partisan affair. What otherwise intelligent people lack, makes them oblivious to the fact that the positions they are advancing, have far more to do with Regress, rather than with Progress. And to disperse that obliviousness, we've got to take a trip into the post.

Do you know whether you're pursuing Progress or Regress?
* We need to make Progress in understanding what Regress is - pt.1
* Farewell to a friend - The Doubtful Roots of Progress - Progress or Regress pt.2
* Is History, history? - Progress or Regress pt.3
* Beyond the rants: Culture, Seinfeld and the Ferguson Riots - A Society of Culturettes - Progress or Regress pt.4a
* Savagery has a History in the past and the present - Progress or Regress pt.4b
* The Materialist's inversion: When power is not forced to serve Truth, truth is abandoned for Power - Progress or Regress pt.4c
* Goodby 2014: From Gruber to Ferguson, Evil is the new Good - The History of Progress begins with its absence, part 5 a,b, c & d

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Welcome to our Party, would you tell us who we are and what we believe?

After my rant the other day on how the GOP is fundraising their way to more useful 'principles', a friend, Frank, asked a couple good questions about my take on it. But before getting to those, let me clear up what set me off about that email. I was not objecting to the GOP's making a legitimate attempt to gauge which issues were foremost in the minds of voters. I wasn't even objecting to their disorganized, confused, feeble and cynical attempt to manipulate voter's passions (objectionable, yes, but not what I was objecting to). What I objected to was the idea that finding the reddest of red meat issues could somehow be a useful means of identifying what could then be pawned off as the party's principles.

As appalling and ProRegressive as that is, it goes a long way towards explaining the behavior of the GOP today.

A political party, at least one that claims to stand for principles, doesn't poll voters to find out what it is that it believes. Instead, a political party, by virtue of being one, begins from a particular set of principles and beliefs that it is organized around and which it believes that no one else on the political landscape champions nearly as well. Right? That is their purpose for being! Those principles and beliefs are the very basis for rallying like minded voters around them, and the means for winning over those who haven't fully considered how those fundamentals could be used to resolve the contentious and seemingly separate issues of the day.

When people are contacted by a party such as the GOP, they should come away from those communications and discussions with a better understanding of the political landscape, and how best to navigate it, because of the principles that party upholds, not be more confused and concerned than they were before, and with even less understanding of what the party's, and even their own principles, might be!

A political Party has got to have its principles clearly defined and understood before ever allowing or encouraging others to align themselves with it - that cannot be in dispute - change those principles and it doesn't just change the party, it creates a new party. What can be in dispute, is how to apply those principles. Those could very well be contentious issues which many members might never come to agreement over, but there should be no disagreement about what the principles they are arguing over are! I'd thought, perhaps naively, that already central to the GOP's principles, were such items as the rule of constitutional law, oriented towards an ever smaller and more limited govt, one of defined powers, whose primary purpose was to uphold and defend our individual rights, property and lives, with a corresponding emphasis on fiscal responsibility. All of which follows from the simple statement of principle its founding members resolved at its inception, back in 1854:
"That we accept this issue [freedom or slavery], forced upon us by the slave power, and in the defense of freedom will cooperate and be known as Republicans."
I realize of course that few, very few, politicians give much more than lip service to those principles today, but I didn't think that their existence and centrality to the party was in question, let alone that form letters were being used to come up with more popular replacements for them. Asking potential voters:
"Why Are You A Republican? Tell Us Which Principles Are Most Important To You"
, which is the same thing as saying:
"Welcome to our Party, would you tell us who we are and what we believe?"
, and it does nothing to bring voters any clarity, it does nothing to show how their concerns are best addressed by their party's fundamental principles, and worse, it obscures the idea that they ever had any principles to begin with. Such a strategy is, sad to say, an inherently modernist one, a pragmatic and Public Relations oriented attempt to gauge which positions will suck in more voter$ and will give the party the most bang for their campaign buck$, and it is NOT a position that's taken to advance the principles the party exists for, but to advance the interests of the party itself.

Worse still, that's not the worst possible way of taking their 'voter outreach', the view that this fundraising email was a cynical attempt to plot political strategy, is the most charitable way of looking at it. The worst possible scenario is that the GOP leadership really does not see any difference between positions and principles, that they really do have no clue how its own forgotten principles might have helped bring clarity and understanding to the contentions issues of our day, and that instead all that they are about is grabbing at popularity and power for power's sake.

Is there a place for the GOP polling its members to see which issues they'd most like to see on ballots? Sure there is, but there is a difference between gauging public support for ballot issues and defining (re-defining?) the party's principles, and if they can't tell the difference between the two, well, then... 'turn out the lights, the party's over...'.

A few good questions
Now on to the questions Frank raised. He first asks:
"If ours is a Republic and each representative is elected to mediate for the people, how does the rep know what her/his electorate wants?"
I've got to come at this from behind first. Being that we are a constitutional representative republic, not a democracy, a representative doesn't simply mediate or relay the concerns of the people, into legislative votes - they are Representatives, not proxies. Part of their job is to ensure that their constituents preferences don't exceed the scope of the of their office, or violate their own principles. A representative's informed judgment can be more important than the sentiments of a majority of their electorate. For that reason alone, discovering the principles of a candidate for office,is job #1 of every voter. That being said, having a clear conception of the particular values and concerns, likes & dislikes of their constituents is important for a representative, and it is perfectly valid for a candidate or office holder to conduct polls, send out form letters to their constituents, etc., in order to get a sense of their positions on particular issues.

The now much maligned Todd Akin, used to conduct 'telephone town halls', where with the help of an automated phone dialer, he'd conduct regular conference calls in the evenings which brought several hundred people on the line together, listening to questions and comments taken from others on the call, as the rest listened to them, and heard his replies. I thought that was an excellent means of not only hearing from constituents, but of helping them hear back from him and his take on the wider implications of particular issues.

It seemed as if every few months we'd get a call that plugged us into those conference calls. I haven't had one yet from our current representative.

Frank's next question is:
"If the rep feels differently than the people being represented, should said rep vote and act according to their own values or according to the values of the people?"
As I hinted at above, that's the judgment call a Rep needs to make, which, again, is why it is so important for voters to get a sense of a candidates principles, character and judgment. One of the first questions we voters should have (and if the candidate didn't make it clear to begin with, why didn't they?), is are there areas of the constitution (or the equivalent for the particular state, county, city, township, etc., office they're running for) which they know themselves to have difficulty or even disagreement with. For instance, if I were running for office, I'd have to make clear that, although they are the law of the land and I'd have to abide and uphold them, I'd like very much like to see the 16th & 17th Amendments to the constitution repealed, and if the opportunity arose, I'd work like heck to help bring that about.

I'd also have to state that I'd like to see an Amendment that gave states back a seat at the table of constitutional power (which both of those amendments have contributed to eroding), as in a State's Repeal Amendment such as 'Madison's Lost Amendment'. That sort of information is the type that candidates should communicate to voters in order to give them a fair estimation of their own fundamental principles.

And then there are the more general principles a candidate holds to - are they of a mind that laws which do not help to clarify and uphold Rights, have little or no business being proposed, let alone passed? Or are they of a mind that Govt should be doing things to 'improve our lives'? And if so, there'd follow a whole host of further questions which would need to be asked - if you were still listening to them that is. Personally, I wouldn't be. "Next!".

And then there are operational and administrative concerns, does the candidate believe that all such laws should be uniform and centralized at the highest levels of govt so as to be applied alike to all peoples in every walk of life, or do they favor a more subsidiarity sort of approach, where the administering of laws should be decentralized and handled at the lowest effective level of govt possible, so as to more closely reflect the outlooks of the people represented in that area? And does their view of this vary based upon the law in question? Do they see the issue as a matter of Principles or Particulars?

For instance, does whether the bill is more law, regulation or policy, affect their decision? IOW, if the issue concerns a matter of community preference - 'Should parks be lighted and open till midnight, or closed up by 9:00 p.m.', etc, I'd think that'd be one where a representative should let the prevailing sense of the electorate determine your vote, whether you as their representative liked it or not. On the other hand, if it were a question of serious principle, such as 'does govt have the right to tell private businesses whether or not they can have customers smoking in their establishments' - that's a very serious property rights issue, and a Representative should vote against it no matter what the prevailing sense of the electorate was, and I'd also consider that an important topic for discussion with the electorate to help them understand what their position was and why.

And lastly, it does, and should, come down to the elected officials better judgement - that is what they are elected to exercise, they are not elected as proxies for majority rule - the Representatives are supposed to understand the issues and the laws in question at least as well as anyone else, and hopefully much better - THAT is their job. Important note: it is also their job to understand that they need to listen to what their constituents think, even when diametrically opposed, and to be always re-evaluating their own positions in light of their arguments, even if they still arrive at the same conclusion, you never know who might reveal what you'd not considered before.
Finally, Frank noted:
"The only reason I ever voted for anyone is because they best represented my values. With the exception of one Democrat in the 80's, I voted Republican just because they were the closest. After the election of '12, after seeing what the Republicans did, I will not even vote for THEM."
Which is understandable, but ... that depends. I'd rather have a principled person, whose principles don't deeply conflict with mine, but whose values I don't agree with, than a person whose principles concerning our rights and laws seem poorly understood, but whose values and preferences seem similar to mine. If someone was a staunch defender of the Constitution and clearly understood the importance of our first ten amendments to it, they could be a playboy, and I'd take them in a heartbeat over the otherwise outstanding & upstanding person who reflected conservative values... but who had little or no grasp of the fundamental rights our constitution depends upon. Dr. Ben Carson comes to mind. An otherwise outstanding person, but in expressing his opinion that the 2nd Amendment should be regulated in the same manner as drivers licenses, he makes clear that he has a dangerously poor understanding of Individual Rights, Law, and Govt's relation to them, and I would not want him in a critical office defending the constitution and my rights under it.

But more on that in another post.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Are You (embarrassed to vote) Republican? Funny you should ask.

Warning: Rant ahead:
I continually get solicitations for contributions to the GOP, and I continually reply back with words to the effect of:
Not a chance until you not only re-discover your principles and an ability to argue for them, but actually stand up for them.
Sadly, I've held out little hope of their re-discovering them, communicating them or standing up for them. And seeing Sen. Mitch McConnel sauntering on stage at CPAC carrying a flintlock rifle, a toadish retread of Charleton Heston, only deepened my pessimism. But, being an optimistic pessimist, when I saw this email in my inbox, I had a fleeting moment of 'Could it be?!' as my eye picked out and seized upon the word 'Principle' in the email, but that hope quickly flickered and faded away as I read the rest of the words accompanying it.

Here's a tip: If you want to turn me off swiftly, use one or more of these recycled claptrap phrases from the Grand Oldfolks Party playbook:

  • "... travel our great nation..."
  • "... deeply committed to protecting our ..."
  • "... doing the hard work it takes..."
  • "... the hardworking people..."
  • "... makes America exceptional..."
Note: these phrases aren't turn-offs because they are untrue, but because they are used untruthfully, IOW they are self evidently sprinkled about this fundraising message in a hamfisted attempt to manipulate the reader's emotions, rather than to convey honest and heartfelt sentiments.And of course this fundraising email used them all.

Then, to cap it off, and to drive home the point that those driving the GOP not only do not understand their party's principles, but are even unsure of which ones they should be pretending to have, they added the following in the email,:
"... we've compiled a list of our core Republican beliefs. Please take a look and tell us which core beliefs are most important to you..."
Why? So you can trade in your bestest core belief for one that's more popular to more readers? Apparently so, for it was followed by a link to a web page asking:
"What are your core conservative beliefs?"
And from a popularity list of 'core beliefs' we move on to every principled persons deepest concern: 'How many people like my principles too?' 'Ooh! Ooh! I hope my principles get more likes than any others!!!', right? I mean... this is the 'Right'?!

Here's the text of the page::
Why Are You A Republican?
Tell Us Which Principles Are Most Important To You
We’ve been listening to you.
Based on your feedback, we have compiled a list of what it means to be a Republican.
Tell us which principles are most important to you.
I believe that our:

  • Country is exceptional
  • Constitution should be honored, valued, and upheld
  • Leaders should serve people, not special interests
  • Families and communities should be strong and free from government intrusion
  • Institution of traditional marriage is the foundation of society
  • Government should be smaller, smarter and more efficient
  • Health care decisions should be made by us and our doctors
  • Paychecks should not be wasted on poorly run government programs
  • Military must be strong and prepared to defend our shores
  • Culture should respect and protect life
  • Children should never be left in failing schools
  • Veterans should have the best care and opportunities in the world
  • Social programs should help lift people out of poverty
  • America should be energy independent

Hint: If you care more about what someone else thinks of your 'core belief', than you do about your core beliefs, and will reshuffle or discard them based upon their popularity, then you don't have any core beliefs.

Not only are they apparently unable to tell the difference between values, beliefs and principles, but they believe that a popularity poll is sufficient to determine the ones they should pretend to like the most.

For someone who actually cares about principles, the idea that I should review a wish list of statements to select a few favorites, is... not only offensive but disheartening.

Someone who's never paid much attention to principles can be forgiven for mistaking this grab bag of platitudes, sentiments and buzz phrases for political principles, but for a political party, which wants to attract people who supposedly hold the same principles it does, it is very nearly unforgivable.

For anyone thinking that my term 'ProRegressive' applies to the 'progressive left' only, is missing the big picture altogether.
End Rant.