You’ll read this as either solidarity or as a five-minute challenge in empathy building

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I started begging people to say something, anything. When people responded at all it was to say something like, “I don’t think it’s my place,” or “I’m not really comfortable.” I was falling apart and my community was afraid of being uncomfortable….time and time again I ran into the wall of apathy that said, “this is where we stop. This is the limit of how much we can invest in your humanity.”

pub. 06/2017

The politics behind right-wing climate change denial

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“Most Republicans still do not regard climate change as a hoax,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist who worked for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “But the entire climate change debate has now been caught up in the broader polarization of American politics.”

“In some ways,” he added, “it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican.”

pub. 06/2017

On the confluence of political and economic division in America

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The idea that an increasing sense of material precariousness can lead to cultural retreat from liberalizing “self-expression” values can help us understand why low-density white America turned out to support a populist leader with disturbingly illiberal tendencies. But this idea can also help us understand why our larger national culture seems to be growing apart in a way that has made it seem harder and harder to communicate constructively across the gap.

pub. 02/2017

Okay, this one is a bit of a challenging read. It’s an interesting analysis, though, and from a libertarian rather than liberal source. And there’s fun with data visualization.

Opinion: “Free speech” isn’t that simple

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Lyotard shifted attention away from the content of free speech to the way certain topics restrict speech as a public good. Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young. Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.

When one person’s “free speech” is a dismissal of others’ humanity or a demand that others justify their humanity, the latter are either treated as non-participants in the debate or have their participation limited to defending their right to be there–which means they don’t truly have free speech themselves. Thus:

It has been regrettably easy for commentators to create a simple dichotomy between a younger generation’s oversensitivity and free speech as an absolute good that leads to the truth. We would do better to focus on a more sophisticated understanding, such as the one provided by Lyotard, of the necessary conditions for speech to be a common, public good. This requires the realization that in politics, the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.

pub. 04/2017

Audio + Transcript: The deep-rooted, inflexible source of some Trump support

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Audio at link, transcript here.

Lakoff: Boy, did he know what he was doing. He knew perfectly well what he was doing. First of all, there are in this country about 35 percent of Americans who have what I call a strict father morality…

…[If] you look at history, you will see that the strict fathers win. And you can take a look at who wins, and they win because they’re right. That morality and authority go together, that the strict father knows right from wrong. So that if you want to see who’s better than who, you look at who beat who….

…That is what Trump not only believes, he hacks and he assumes is correct. And he knows that about 35 percent of the country — the 35 percent who still support him — that, you know, who also believe this, even if they’re poor…. It’s self-definition, and people don’t vote against their self-definition. Not only that, it doesn’t matter if Trump lies to them, and they know he’s lying, because there’s a higher truth, which is strict father morality itself, which has consequences and that they are truer than any lies. And that if you deny that, if you accept the lies as more important, you’re denying your self-identity. That is why there are alternative facts.

(Quote from transcript) pub. 04/2017

Dissecting the popular image of Hillary

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Appearances to the contrary, Sanders was not a union organizer, but rather a longtime member of the Senate. And if Clinton had more support from the Democratic party, that was due in large part to the relationships she had cultivated over the years, working with others – something Sanders was not particularly good at. Nonetheless, for weeks during the early months of the primary, I listened to 19-year-olds and media pundits alike lavish praise on Bernie Sanders for his bold, revolutionary message, and scorn Hillary for being a part of the establishment.

They described him as “heart” and her as “head” – a bitter irony for those of us familiar with the long history of philosophical, religious, and medical diatribes disqualifying women from leadership positions on the basis of our less-disciplined emotions.

pub. 04/2017

Thoughts upon listening to my Representative defend Congress

I recently attended a town hall meeting with one of my representatives, a progressive who largely impressed me. They were preaching to the choir, a liberal audience grateful to be told they weren’t alone in today’s political landscape.

One of the few sticking points arose when audience members criticized Congress as a whole. Aside from pointing out a few policy misconceptions we had, our representative made what seemed to me an astute point: The overgeneralizing and emotionally laden statements we all make about Congress play right into the hands of the opposition.

Okay, so the current version of the Right wants to eliminate government, yes? It resists taxation, single-payer health care, corporate regulations, environmental regulations, firearm regulations, most any kind of regulations–well, other than those on women’s bodies and the violent kind a militarized police impose on minorities and immigrants. Politicians now run and win strictly on criticizing Congress and/or the entire concept of government, demonizing the first as a vague group of corrupt egotists (everyone except your own representatives, of course, people you know who are just doing their best by their constituents) and the second as an endless bureaucracy of faceless workers who don’t deserve their cushy jobs and are just getting in the way of your life (never mind your cousin the underfunded public school teacher or the fact that someone has to authorize your Medicare benefits). These politicians promise to come in as questionably defined “outsiders” who will shake things up, and they win. A lot.

The current president ran almost exclusively on this platform, all criticism of the establishment and few fully-formed policy suggestions. As we’ve seen, constituents hearing such rhetoric will in fact excuse a multitude of sins, even evidence that the politician is effectively part of the “establishment” (say, someone from a liberal city, born into wealth, with many powerful connections) or is himself benefiting from a lack of governmental oversight to the likely detriment of those same constituents (making personal business deals with foreign governments or using federal funds to pay rent on property he owns). Running against government is a winning strategy, as is continuing to dismantle it once you’re in power, because no one will be able to stop you from further using your money and connections to benefit yourself and others like you.

So what happens when those same politicians are involved in scandals? We don’t just say “ooh, that guy was the worst” or “giving people unregulated power is dangerous”, we say “Congress is awful.” Let me say that again: When someone who is actively trying to destroy our government to benefit themselves does something embarrassing or terrible, we imply that our system of government is irredeemably messed up. We grouse about it, looking for an “outsider” to come in and shake things up. And you know what? If those outsiders were all Bernie-style socialists looking for more regulation–thoughtful growth of the system–our loose words might be fine, but in this climate they further encourage voters to support the “government is bad” people. The people who want to eliminate regulations to their own advantage.

What’s the alternative? I’d say “A system in which [Politician] can do [that terrible thing] is messed up, and we need more regulation to prevent such acts in the future.” It’s not about censoring ourselves, it’s about being precise and accurate with our responses, saying exactly what we mean and not spewing our emotional frustration and stopping there. (And if you do believe in destroying the current system, then congratulations, it’s happening–but given the hands doing it, good luck getting a new system you like better.)

You don’t have to like that. You can say “it’s my right to make blanket condemnations of The Powers That Be” and “the establishment really is doing a shit job”. You wouldn’t be wrong, and no one’s stopping you. In fact, they’ll egg you on. And then they’ll vote for the next billionaire who promises to shake things up.