MALTHUS AND TODAY

***This essay and others also found at The Intellectual Plane

“It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to foresee, that on few subjects can any theory be pronounced just, till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and clearly and consistently refuted.”
– Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

As with all great thinkers the work of the economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Both in life and long after his death Malthus’s ideas on political economy have been dismissed by both free-market ideologues on the Right and partisans on the Left as either unrealistically pessimistic or even inordinately optimistic.

Much like the work of Adam Smith, Malthus’s ideas on political economy have either been vilified or celebrated. As with Smith, ideologues have cherry-picked his arguments for their own purposes. Malthus has been decried by ideological publications like the Economist magazine as a “false prophet”. With typical corporatist rhetoric the Economist often argues that technological improvements pertaining to the status quo of agriculture and manufacturing will offset the negative externalities caused by corporate capitalism, thus rendering Malthus wrong on all points.

Ironically left wing thinkers like Friedrich Engels shared a similar technocratic contempt for Malthus. Engels, who spent much of his life working in a Manchester cotton mill saw the beneficial possibilities of technology as labour saving devices when combined with socialist practice and argued for sharing the gains of technology across the wider society.

Yet the reality of technological advances over the past three hundred years is that said advances have been largely directionless or employed against the majority of society. Undirected technology has and continues to displace workers and impact the natural environment.

Worse, the gains of technology – in terms of labour saving and wealth creation- have been creamed off by individuals and corporations at the expense of human dignity and environmental destruction.

An honest appraisal of Malthus (or anyone for that matter), his works and his critics must occur by also considering both the context of his time and ours and and to do so in a holistic manner. Also the wider historical realities that occurred after Malthus’s death must be weighed against the abstract thinking employed by both his admirers and detractors.

But first a little about the man himself.

A PHILOSOPHICAL CLERIC

Thomas Malthus was born in 1766 in Surrey in southern England. He was a prize student at Cambridge University and was later ordained into the Church of England.

Malthus had a deep interest in human society and in population growth in particular. His 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population argued that the growth in human population was subject to resource limits. In times of plenty, human populations would expand until shortages of food and other resources limited that growth or in many cases reduced the population through starvation, disease or war. He declared that there were two categories of checks on population: positive checks which increased the death rate (hunger) among the population and preventative checks that decreased the birthrate (birth control, celibacy).

At the heart of Malthus’s argument was the belief that the use of positive checks on population would create socioeconomic volatility and misery for the population. He was a staunch critic of the Poor Laws, arguing that they promoted inflation and undermined the purchasing power of the poorest sections of the society.

Malthus was sceptical of the idea that agricultural improvements could expand production without reference to the physical limits of environment. In many cases history would prove him correct.

From a modern sociological perspective Malthus can be criticized for his belief that populations will expand only in times of plenty. In the case of some Third World societies where there is a dearth of social safety nets such as social welfare, pensions and affordable medical care, poor families will have more children in order to ensure more income earners and future care for elderly family members.

Yet Malthus must be viewed in a historical context and in a period of rapid industrialisation and cartel behaviour by English landowners. His was the era of the Corn Laws and the Enclosure Acts. Technological advances in agriculture and industry had forced thousands of agrarian labourers into urban areas and slum housing. He was right to be pessimistic – as we should be today.

A CENTURY OF FAMINE

“A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land, to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are going.”
-Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population

Malthus died in 1834 but just over ten years later, the commercialisation of agriculture and laissez-faire economic thought led to the single greatest catastrophe ever to befall modern Ireland. Between 1845 and 1852, Ireland lost a quarter of its population due to famine and displacement. The response of the British government and business was largely indifferent. Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant most directly responsible for organising what limited relief efforts were provided by Westminster and Lord Fitzwilliam were among many in government who bastardized Malthus’s idea of positive checks on population control by suggesting that Ireland’s problems were the result of “surplus people.”

The uncompromising, abstract economic model employed in Ireland left the population vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world’s climate. Ireland experienced a series of warmer, wetter summers in the years leading up to and during the Famine. The conditions were ideal for a bloom in Potato blight that wiped out the principle staple crop for most of the population. Despite that, the warmer weather actually led to bumper crops of Irish grain and other foodstuffs, but since these were reserved for the export market, much of the population was left to starve. It is hard to imagine that Malthus, the moral churchmen who held only a lukewarm belief in free trade would have approved of the economic barbarism being meted out in Ireland. Small wonder then, that Engels upon realising the dangerous misuse of Malthus’s ideas would condemn Malthus himself

The British employed the same cruel, moralistic indifference in their other colonies. The Madras Famine of 1877 was responsible for the deaths of between five and ten million people, despite record exports of Indian grains to the world market. Like Trevelyan in Ireland the British Viceroy Lord Lytton and his subordinate Richard Temple held the opinion that relief efforts would lead to moral “dependency”, a view still held by many prominent conservative thinkers today when issues like food stamps and social welfare are considered.

The root causes of the 1877 Madras Famine were environmental and economic. The years 1876 to 1878 were El Nino years and the monsoons in India failed. The economic and moral causes of the Madras Famine were laissez-faire trade and racist indifference towards the Indian population.

There were other famines in the nineteenth century. The same El Nino cycle combined with inadequate maintenance of traditional irrigation systems and colonial “free” trade in Northern China was responsible for the deaths of twenty million Chinese.

Brazil also suffered appalling loss of life in the Sertão and over a hundred years later the region still suffers the ravages of the El Nino cycle.

The famines that tortured the Russian countryside throughout the 1880’s were also the result of climactic events aggravated by harsh Tsarist policies. The long term result of the famines in Russia was the 1905 Russian Revolution that led to an even more violent upheaval in 1917.

TECHNOLOGY AS A FALSE REMEDY

The modern corporatist economist and free-market ideologue still clings to the misguided notion that these events were aberrations and that today’s technology can prevent such tragedies.

Yet the application of agricultural and industrial technology not only exacerbated problems, but ensured environmental catastrophe.

The expansion of railways in India served two purposes. The first was military. The second was economic. Railways were the means for moving massive quantities of grain and other food-stuffs out of famine stricken areas in southern India.

The steam ship enabled the rapid exporting of these goods.

The spread of steam powered tractors during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to deeper ploughing and the disruption of fragile soils in both the Russian black soils and the American Great Plains.

That the fossil record indicates that these regions are vulnerable to prolonged periods of drought was never considered by the farmers ploughing up the prairies in Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico – the epicentre of the 1930’s Dust Bowl.

Instead in the United States, technology and an irrational, religious optimism pervaded the development of the Southern Plains. Quoting the Bible, many religious agriculturalists in places like the Oklahoma panhandle declared with no scientific basis, that where the plough went, the rains would follow.

When El Nino brought drought to the west of the 100th Meridian in the 1930’s the result was the most significant environmental disaster in the history of the United States. One hundred million acres of farmland was devastated as high winds carried top-soils from Kansas and other southern plains states into the atmosphere before dumping their contents onto neighbouring states and distant countries alike. Recent tests performed in the Himalayas found traces of plains dust on Mount Everest. In some areas up to seventy five percent of the top-soil was blown away.

The Southern Plains was hit by another Dust Bowl in the 1970’s that was an unfortunate side effect of geopolitics. During the Détente between the US and the former Soviet Union, the Carter Administration agreed to supply the Soviet Union with grain in exchange for security guarantees for Western Europe. The result was a boom in US wheat production and exports and the further degradation of the Southern Plains.

Today, technological advances in irrigation wells have been posited as solutions to future Dust Bowls. Yet these wells are reliant on ever decreasing quantities of aquifer, which in turn are dependent on rain for replenishment. Droughts on the Southern Plains can last for decades.

THE RELEVANCE OF MALTHUS TODAY

Therefore from a historical context, Malthus was in many ways correct to be pessimistic about the ability of the human population to grow exponentially without limit or environmental intervention.

While critics of Malthus may deride him for suggesting that 19th century Britain would be unable to feed itself a more cynical analyst might point out that Britain’s population growth and food supply in the same period was secured by the deaths of millions in Ireland, India and China.

Similarly the remarkable growth of the United States was predicated on the environmental degradation and destruction of the centre of the North American continent.

A further lesson, identified by Malthus and proved by historic events is the failure of technology alone to ameliorate the condition of society or to safeguard it from food scarcity.

Despite the proliferation of tractors, combines, improved irrigation and ploughing techniques, the underlying soils are vulnerable and require increasing amounts of oil-based fertilizers to produce the food we need.

Neither soil conditions nor crude oil are infinite resources, nor is the amount of available arable land. In fact in parts of the Middle East water shortages have led to a decrease in the amount of arable land available for agricultural production. Rising food prices were a catalyst for the Syrian Civil War that began in 2014 and continues at the time of writing.

Rather than accept that humans are limited by physical reality, the Trump Administration has, in recent days opted to deny reality by choosing to leave the Paris Accords. Like George W Bush with the Kyoto Protocol, Trump and his cabinet of reactionaries are unwilling to accept or adhere to a fundamental humane principle of Malthus:

“I believe that it is the intention of the Creator that the earth should be replenished; but certainly with a healthy, virtuous and happy population, not an unhealthy, vicious and miserable one.”
– Thomas Malthus An Essay on the Principle of Population

Sensible people today would do well not just to comprehend and challenge Malthus, but also to question the assumptions of our technocracy and the irrational optimism that it peddles. Furthermore instead of operating under the assumption that infinite economic and population growth without reference to physical limits is either possible or desirable, we might choose a more sensible socioeconomic order based on reasonable, compassionate stability.

The fate of our population, indeed of our planet depends on it.

Select Bibliography:

Thomas Malthus – An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)

One of the most biased articles in mainstream publication against Malthus in recent years can be found in The Economist – “Malthus, the false prophet” May 17th 2008

On Friedrich Engel’s criticism of Malthus see Friedrich Engels, “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy” (1844)

On the Irish Famine and Lord Fitzwilliam see Surplus People: From Wicklow to Canada by Jim Rees (2014) and This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-52 by Christine Kineally (1994)

On 19th century famines in India, Brazil and China see Mike Davis Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2002)

On the Dust Bowl see Donald Worster Dust Bowl : the southern plains in the 1930s (2004)

US/Soviet relations, detente and the Carter Administrations agreement to sell wheat to the the Soviet Union are described ibid and in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1988) and Richards Rhodes Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007)

On the Russian Revolution and the impact of the populists in addressing the famines in the 1880’s see Orlando Figes A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924(1997)

War, Korea and reality: an historical reflection

In my previous post “Reflections on War and Reality” I described how in the 20th century nationalist movements in South-east Asia used communism as a legitimizing philosophy. In particular Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Mao-Tze Tung of China interpreted Marxist philosophy in a manner that appealed to local nationalists thus garnering widespread popular support.

As a friend reminded me just before the article was published, Ho Chi Minh was well known to the United States and the West. He had implored the Big Four to recognize Vietnam’s right to self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Later he served as an agent of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) during World War II. In the latter role he helped lead the anti-Japanese resistance in French Indochina. When the Allies refused to recognize Vietnamese demands for independence from France, Ho Chi Minh became the leader of a national resistance to colonial rule.

Ho’s story is worth revisiting since it contains parallels to a similar communist East Asian figure – one who like Ho would become a pariah in the eyes of the Western World. His name was Kim Il Sung and he would rise to become the first president of an independent North Korea.

Like Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung grew up in the shadow of imperialism. In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan. Kim’s parents were active in the anti-Japanese resistance but were forced to flee to Manchuria. There Kim joined the Chinese Communist Party and later joined the Communist guerillas in their fight against the invading Japanese Army. After a long and brutal campaign, Kim and some surviving guerillas fled to the Soviet Union. There Kim and his comrades were re-trained by the Red Army and Kim eventually rose to the rank of army major.

After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Kim returned to Korea and established the Korean People’s Army. With the support of China and the Soviet Union he took control over the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile South Korea became an independent entity led by the American trained and backed Syngman Rhee.

Both Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee were repressive strongmen backed by rival superpowers. Yet both men were representative of a broader Korean nationalism. Where they differed was how that ideology should be expressed and to what end: A worker’s dictatorship or a hierarchical capitalist oligarchy. Eventually, their differing visions led to all-out war between the North and South.

When a widespread insurgency against Rhee’s government broke out in the South in 1950, Kim saw an opportunity to untie the two Koreas. Initially the North possessed greater firepower and in a matter of months, they had conquered most of the peninsula. But for U.S. intervention, the North would have completely overrun the South. Instead, the U.S. President Truman sent an American Army commanded by the increasingly unstable Douglas MacArthur to Korea, supported by a multi-national force including British, Canadian and ANZAC troops operating under the auspices of the United Nations.

MacArthur and the UN Forces routed Kim’s armies, prompting China to intervene on behalf of North Korea. In turn the Chinese drove the American-led coalition back to the 38th Parallel, where a truce between the North and South was agreed. A full armistice between the two sides was delayed at first by an intransigent Syngman Rhee, who even went as far to say that should the US pressure South Korea into an armistice, he would order the UN and American Forces out of Korea so that the South’s armies could die fighting the enemy alone. Finally in July 1953, both sides laid down their arms.

However the stalemate at the 38th Parallel did not result in a peace treaty. Instead every morning since the armistice of July 27th 1953, officers from both the North and South meet in order to agree to another twenty four hour extension to the truce.

Relations between the two Koreas remained tense up until the 1990’s. In 1994, Kim Il Sung died and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il. The younger Kim proved more moderate than his father. In 1998 he initiated the Sunshine Policy intended to improve relations with the South. South Korean companies were allowed to bid on contracts in the North. A rail-service between the two states opened for the first time since the Korean War.

Relations with the West also improved. In an agreement with the Clinton Administration, North Korea agreed to curb its development of nuclear weapons. Relations between the Koreas, the US and China were on the path to normalcy. To help facilitate better relations, the US agreed to sell fuel oil and other commodities to the North.
However that agreement was never finalised. In 2000, US President George W Bush came to power bringing with him to the White House the Manichean world view of the neo-conservative lobby. Clinton’s agreement with Pyongyang was thrown out. In response North Korea resumed its pursuit of the nuclear bomb – and by 2006 it had procured it.

North Korea carried out four more nuclear tests between 2006 and 2016 and on each occasion the responses from its neighbors and the West were full of bellicose rhetoric. George W Bush described North Korea in silly terms. North Korea was part of the “axis of evil” he said and Richard Perle who served as on the Pentagon’s National Security Council regularly used the word “evil” when discussing North Korea with journalists. The hypocrisy of Perle, Rumsfeld and Cheney regarding the issue was striking considering neo-conservative connivance with dictators in the Middle East and Latin America under Reagan. As a Clinton Administration diplomat described the Bush Administration’s stance on North Korea, the Republicans didn’t have a policy on North Korea –they had an attitude.

The ideology of the Bush presidency trumped common-sense and objective reality when it came to North Korea’s actual nuclear capabilities. Eleven years after North Korea’s first nuclear test, Pyongyang hardly has an effective nuclear arsenal. What weapons it possesses are insignificant in number (perhaps a dozen) compared to those in the possession of the US and China (around 4000 and 600, respectively).

The drive behind North Korea’s quest for nuclear capability is motivated less by military considerations than simple economics and domestic politics. North Korea suffers from a shortage of energy and trade. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s she has also suffered chronic food shortages. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a loss of a vital trading partner. China’s development of her own extensive coal and oil reserves has lowered the demand for imports of North Korean coal. South Korea too has enjoyed an economic boom.
Compounding matters is Kim Jong Un’s unpopularity at home. He is the first North Korean President born after 1950 and cannot claim the same lofty status as his father and grandfather.

What a sensible observer in the period of the Sunshine Policy and beyond would have recognized was the opportunity help end Pyongyang’s isolation. They would also have acknowledged the late Kim Jong Il’s admiration for China’s modernization efforts and interpreted his pronouncements as an opportunity to assist North Korea with meaningful economic reforms. Trade between the North and South might have been encouraged and with that trade a normalization of relations between the two Koreas and an eventual peace treaty might have occurred.

But instead of a sensible, measured policy towards Pyongyang, the US offered ramped up militarism. Under Bush, American troops participated in war-games with Taiwan, annoying China and by extension alarming North Korea. Instead of diplomatic overtures, Bush and the neo-cons talked of “regime change.” Once again the Hermit Kingdom retreated into itself.
Under Barack Obama, a measure of sanity was restored to US-North Korean relations, yet the fundamental issues driving North Korea’s quest for nuclear power were ignored by the West. Kim Jong Il’s death brought his son Kim Jong Un to power and with him a hardened attitude towards the rest of the world.

Yet looking beyond the bluster of Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric a picture emerges of a rather insecure and immature man, unsure of his position and willing to engage in compensating behaviors such as military displays and absurd pronouncements regarding North Korea’s military power. Sensible diplomacy with this in mind would do wonders for relations between Pyongyang and its neighbors.

But as in 2000, 2016 has brought with it another missed opportunity in the form of US President Donald J. Trump. Like Kim Jong Un, Trump displays a narcissistic insecurity and a penchant for bellicose and silly rhetoric. Neither Trump nor his cabinet possess the necessary understanding of history or the tact to address North Korea’s issues or concerns about its own security.

Like the administration of George W Bush, Trump’s cabinet makes up for a lack of policy with a cavalier attitude. This was on display Friday April 14th when with typical vague bluster Trump stated to reporters “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of.” On Fox Business News he said “We are sending an armada. Very powerful” and of Kim “He is doing the wrong thing. He’s making a big mistake.” Incapable of self-reflection, Trump clearly missed the irony of this last statement.

These statements also indicate the idiocy of current administration policy towards Pyongyang. Threatening pre-emptive action against North Korea in the event of further nuclear weapon’s tests ignores the reality of Pyongyang’s weakness as well as overestimating the extent of US military power to deliver on those threats. Much of North Korea’s military infrastructure was built underground in anticipation of enemy airstrikes. North Korea’s topography is mountainous and heavily forested providing additional protection against any “precision” aerial bombardment. Limited airstrikes against North Korea would accomplish little. Meanwhile, Pyongyang possesses enough conventional artillery to level most of the South Korean capital Seoul in a matter of minutes. Civilian casualties would be enormous in the event of that bombardment.

There is also China and its formidable military to consider, yet the White House has stated that it is prepared to act with its allies against North Korea without Chinese support.
Yet all of the above can be avoided once the past is considered and the meaning behind Kim’s rhetoric is understood. However despite decades of bluster from North Korea, Trump the reality TV president seems unable to differentiate talking tough from being tough and to comprehend North Korea’s actual economic and military reality. A truly strong and sensible leader would work to de-escalate tensions and seek a long term solution to East Asia’s security concerns. However Trump, himself a blusterer, is playing the role of president instead of behaving with common-sense.

The moral vacuum that is the Trump Administration was put on display earlier in the week when Syria was bombarded by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles and the largest conventional bomb in the US arsenal was detonated in Afghanistan.

Like Bush’s war-games with Taiwan in the early 2000’s the effect of these acts on Pyongyang has been considerable. In the face of an equally insecure and narcissistic American President, Kim Jong Un feels compelled to escalate his own silly self-serving behaviours. His planned nuclear test, intended to coincide with the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday, is a show of force to prove to the North Korean population that he is a strong leader and equal to his grandfather. Seen for what it really is the act while disreputable is insignificant in the broader international sense. However in the mind of an immature US President, Kim’s nonsense is something to be taken seriously.

There is an irony that both Trump and Kim Jong Un share an identical characteristic: they are both unpopular in their home nations and fearful of their political legitimacy.

Like that of Vietnam, Korean history has been shaped and scarred by attitudes both foreign and domestic. The Ancient Chinese believed Korea to be a disobedient child. The Japanese condescendingly viewed Koreans as their “little brothers”.  The Korean War of 1950 to 1953 was aggravated by Western attitudes towards communism and local animosities between Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee. The current crisis between the US and North Korea is based on a dangerous combination of ignorance, insensitivity and boorishness. Assuming that there is a de-escalation of tensions, those who will claim victory will be Trump and Kim Jong Un for standing firm.

Ho Chi Mihn – 1946

Yet the true victors of this grubby fiasco will be China for winning the diplomatic victory and holding the moral high ground, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe, an outspoken Japanese militarist will use the crisis to drum up support for rebuilding the Japanese military along Imperial lines. From there arises the potential for a case to be made for Japan to possess its own nuclear deterrent to counter both China and North Korea.
Since Japan’s economy is faltering and its population dropping, Abe’s resort to militarism is a logical step for an unimaginative character who has failed to address Japan’s economic woes. These failings will be glossed over by his stance towards North Korea: another example of a politician acting tough.

In the meantime, and until the latest crisis is resolved, the fate of millions hangs in the balance – assuming of course that the reality of their predicament is considered at all by our political leaders.

Lessons You’d Have Thought We’d Learned By Now

“In work relating to the electoral behavior of geographical units… one needs to bring into the equation every scrap of evidence to be had.  V.O. Key, Jr.

The countdown to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States is now measured in hours, and national polling shows that Donald L. Trump will take office with the lowest popularity rating of any president since Richard Nixon. The months of post-election of second guessing, blamestorming, desperately maneuvering to find some way to stop this inevitability now lie in ruins. Donald Trump, for good or ill, is about to be handed the reins of virtually absolute political power, sitting atop an ideological ziggurat supported by Republican control of both branches of Congress, and poised to soon seize ideological control over the US Supreme Court. Taken together, this is an absolute repudiation of liberal cultural and social values trending back to before the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The depth and degree to which this political “revolution” will affect ordinary Americans is completely unknown, but early actions by the Republican Congress point to a potential rescission of virtually every social and economic justice measure enacted in the last forty or more years.

For those of us who are of a different persuasion than the president-elect, this is a defeat theoretically comparable to ancient Middle Eastern wars where the victors destroyed their defeated opponent’s arts and cultural icons -defacing, toppling, and desecrating sacred and cultural artifacts; actions like that of Taliban fanatics in Afghanistan where ancient Buddhist statues were reduced to rubble by artillery in a matter of minutes. Such analogous circumstances are now in the offing for every aspect of our national government; and it will be only a matter of days or weeks before regulations governing environmental protection, health care management, worker safety, minimum and prevailing wage laws, financial industry dealings, minority business opportunities, dispute and conflict resolution, and even weather monitoring and reporting will either disappear or be shifted into the corporatist realm of “privatization.” Congress, through the arcane practice of “budget reconciliation” has already entrained the extinction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), derisively called “Obamacare,” and in so doing threatens to put between eighteen and twenty million working Americans back to where they were eight years ago, in fear for their livelihoods and families, when they once again become uninsured and uninsurable.

Further, the president-elect has signaled his intentions by appointing billionaires as cabinet secretaries; “Old Guard” apparatchiki as gate keepers and defenders of privilege; family members as ferrets to root out scientists and government workers who propose social and governmental solutions based on science and logic, and not some ideological litmus test; and has installed a white supremacist as his chief policy strategist. Of course, as liberals and (D/d)emocrats we are all appropriately horrified, but the plain fact is that this day of populist reckoning has been long in the making.

In 1969, Republican strategist and academic Kevin P. Phillips published The Emerging Republican Majority, called by Newsweek magazine the “Political Bible of the Nixon Era,” in that it recognized and articulated the growing disaffection of Southern and Midwestern states with the direction and policies taken by the Democratic Party. The resulting “Southern Strategy” created new alliances between cultural groupings in the “Heartland” – the Midwest and Central US – and the newly converted Republican South.  During this same period, the Democratic Party came to focus more heavily on urban concentrations in the Northeast, parts of the “Upper Midwest” Great Lakes States, and the Pacific coast, essentially surrendering territory just as normative cultural values shifted permanently from “Yellow Dog” Democratic racism to an archly conservative Republican militarism.

Concurrent with Phillips’ book, other academics and cultural commentators weighed in on the implications of these shifts in cultural values. Theodore Lowi’s 1969 and 1979 (2nd ed.) polemic The End of Liberalism: The Second Republic of the United States described and challenged “interest group liberalism” as a factor undermining the United States’ historical patterns of capitalistic, self-interested governance, asserting that the shift gave give rise to a fractured society where collectivist special interests would be able to demand special treatment for real or alleged grievances. Lowi’s criticism included the rise of the “Imperial Executive Presidency,” and relegation of both Congress and the Court System to merely advisory roles, and the attendant disregard for formalistic and stabilizing judicial and juridical rules. The upshot, he argued, was that the shift to resolving issues for individual interest groups as opposed to ruling more disinterestedly and broadly would undermine citizen confidence in their government and result in an open distrust of the institutions.

Lowi offered a four count “indictment” of interest group liberalism:

  1. Interest group liberalism as public philosophy corrupts democratic government because it deranges and confuses expectations about democratic institutions.
  2. Interest group liberalism renders government impotent.
  3. Interest group liberalism demoralizes government, because liberal governments cannot achieve justice.
  4. Interest group liberalism corrupts democratic government in the degree to which it weakens the capacity of those governments to live by democratic formalisms. (Emphasis added.)

By the mid-1980s, Phillips’ Southern states forecast had become a reality as partisans shifted from historical segregationist and “Jim Crow” policies of the pre-Civil War and post-Reconstruction Democratic Party, to the “softer” racism of the GOP. In 1984 political scientist Alexander P. Lamis published The Two-Party South that examined critical shifts in political attitudes in the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America; and while each reacted in subtly different ways to the changes brought about by passage of the Civil Rights Act and related laws, the underlying shift in values was uniform in rejecting the federal government’s attempt to create a level socio-economic and political playing field for disenfranchised African-Americans. Other changes to the political landscape – the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973), the rise of Christian identity politics, America’s apparent loss of the Vietnam War, and Ronald Reagan’s truculent spending war with the Soviet Union – added emotional fuel to an already disaffected white society and enabled what would become, in 1994, the “Angry White Man” vote that swept the GOP to congressional power and ushered in the era of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

In 1986, another political scientist and avowed Democrat, Ralph M. Goldman, released Dilemma and Destiny: The Democratic Party in America, an insightful and critical analysis of the scattered and disorganized nature of the party as it sought to recast itself as a relevant social and economic justice entity. Goldman’s conclusion pointed to the need for the Democrats to reconcile their disputes or risk becoming a fragmented coalition of Lowi’s interest group liberals. He called for an aggressive party recruitment effort that recognized the disparate nature of emergent groups from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s – feminists, people of color, environmental activists, the LGBTQ communities, alternative religious and/or lifestyle groups, – and creation of mutually agreeable goals and objectives and making a clear statement of fundamental values. Goldman further recommended that platform and Democratic Party policies and programs should become an on-going grassroots effort, not just something done at two and/or four year intervals. He concluded his analysis with an almost prescient statement:

“Democrats will continue to fight like hell among themselves…. Factional battles will be marked, as usual, by inadequate information and ideological rigidity. The greater risk here is not the scars of the internecine fighting but rather the prospect that the factional winner will be unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate.”  (Emphasis added.)

In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking in defense of her husband on a nationally televised talk show, said that there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” to attack and discredit Bill Clinton’s presidency in the aftermath of the GOP’s efforts to impeach him. Subsequently, Clinton himself said that the same conspiracy, albeit in a “weakened” form, was trying to do to Barack Obama what had been done to him. That conspiracy, already understood by most political observers, has proven to be fiercely effective given their ongoing efforts at “disinformation,” false narratives, Russian state and independent criminal hacking of partisan electronic data, and unparalleled lies that became part of the everyday discourse of the 2015-2016 campaign season. Secretary Clinton’s conspirators are known to be a small handful of very rich individuals – the Koch Brothers, Sherman Adelson, Richard Mellon Scaife, Roger Ailes – and considering the anonymity guaranteed by the SCOTUS Citizens United decision granting “personhood” to faceless corporations, conceivably even some of the men and women the president-elect has chosen as his cabinet secretaries. In one sense, it is already too late to protest these hidden manipulators who have deployed their wealth and dispatched their minions to discredit liberal and progressive politicians, and even liberal ideas, and in so doing have built entire political machines from the faux news industry to “alt-right” movements grounded in extreme interpretations of biblical scripture and the Constitution of the United States. By stoking the fires of the last forty years of “Cultural Warfare,” these individuals have been able to sway entire regions of the country to their extreme social and ideological world views, and have built a remarkable list of political forces that includes control of thirty-three (33) governors’ chairs, thirty-one (31) state legislatures, and seven (7) with split Republican/Democratic control, compared to the Democrats’ seventeen (17) governors, and eleven (11) state legislatures.

Pointedly, given the mounting tide of hostile GOP legislators, lobbyists, and phony propaganda outlets, and in following Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s “triangulation” on corporatist issues in order to keep their presidencies meaningful, the Democratic Party bought into corporatism and neo-liberalism as an alternative to its post-World War II record of fighting for equality of opportunities for those less well off in society. That significant change resulted in campaign and financial standards and practices that tipped the scales against non-corporatist candidates, and denied them opportunities to fairly compete against establishment figures.  Those same practices eliminated new ideas and approaches to governance, and marginalized the Party’s historical constituencies – including a significant percentage of Democrats who voted for the president-elect.

The point of this essay should be apparent to any of us who still hold to the “old” liberal traditions. We saw this coming (or should have given the painfully obvious maneuverings and body of electoral data) and frittered away our chance to counter these trends, preferring to operate, as Lowi condescendingly calls us, as interest group liberals, picking and choosing the causes we favored and becoming marginalized “Five Percent” voters, narrowly applying our own litmus tests, and opposing competent politicians unless they were one hundred percent behind our narrower goals and objectives, and who, when not satisfied with a solution to an issue, stayed home on election day.

In the days following the 2016 election, much was made of the “populist” uprising that brought Donald Trump into power, with pundits and pollsters alike being “surprised” at the angry backlash of millions of Americans who shouted out their anger, frustration, and open distrust of their government. Subsequent thoughtful discussion from the political left and center has called for a better understanding of that angry multitude, and the forces that gave rise to their hostility. While a better appreciation for this casus belli is certainly necessary, in the months since the election it has become increasingly clear that while many Democratic legislators will stand in opposition to the new president’s dangerous agenda, the Democrat Party establishment has not and will not engage in that kind of introspection, preferring instead to seek ways to “work with” the incoming regime; and this is where the party will ultimately fail.

The reactionary anger of Trump voters’ has been inculcated, deliberately cultivated over several decades, and is made the more dangerous because that political class lacks the education and political sophistication to understand the ramifications of its actions, and because the groups have shown a genuine willingness to tear down the current, flawed system so that it can be replaced with “simpler” nationalistic solutions; and it is here that the Democratic Party must recognize the damage done because of their disengagement from their rank and file, and renew efforts to make direct, meaningful contact with those who now feel disenfranchised once again by the “Angry White Men’s vote.”  Failure to move quickly and effectively to counter that challenge will either result in the demise of the party itself, or the far greater disappointment if becomes a mere satellite of antigovernment corporatism or its more terrifying big brother, fascism.

At this point in history I’m not convinced that the Democratic Party in America can change sufficiently to save itself. Broadly written, the Party is a day late and a dollar short, and in temporizing over issues arising from the GOP’s lopsided control of all branches of the national government, it will only become weaker and more irrelevant. If it cannot refocus on building grassroots organizations from its historic constituencies in the next two years, to absolutely dominate the mid-term elections and take back voter apportionment control, it will leave the field wide open for other interests to build competing organizations that will likely be little more than Lowi’s “interest group liberals,” and Goldman’s factionalized internecine warriors.

There may be an alternative, however, for others to build what Goldman suggested in the 1980s – a genuinely transnational political party. Such a multinational/regional partisan organization, willing and able to work across national boundaries by sharing common agendas dealing with global climate change, natural resources management and environmental protection, international human rights, guest worker and immigrant inter- and intra-national trade, e-commerce and information sharing, public health and pandemic disease management, and other such circumstances might serve to rebalance the scales for resident workers, the socially and politically disenfranchised, and refugees fleeing economic and environmental disasters.

And for the scoffers out there, it’s useful to reflect that the pending Trades in Services Agreement (TiSA) and its companions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaties are corporatist versions of what Goldman originally proposed. Some international and trans-border agreements already exist, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that opened US boundaries to the transshipment of oil, grain, imported steel, and a host of other products manufactured in low-wage countries, and others of a far more beneficial nature (i.e., NATO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the European Space Agency (ESA), etc.) that already provide the impetus to organize workers, small businesses, technology experts, and even academics into a partisan force capable of advocating in its own interest and not subject to the string pulling of corporatists and an increasingly dysfunctional federal government. Who knows, perhaps a North American Transnational Party might serve to rebalance the scales for worker and citizen equity and justice?

Above all, whatever form the new political party takes, it will have as its first priorities confronting entrenched racism, classism, and the deliberate “dumbing down” of American voters. The task is daunting, but it is critically important if we are to relight the lamp of American freedom and justice – for all.

Postscript January 22, 2017

The overwhelming success of the Women’s Marches in Washington, DC , nationwide, and globally, point to the greatest possible means of reversing the threat of the “Novus Ordo Profanum,” if the women return to their communities energized and prepared to take action on a community, regional, and statewide basis.  Rebuilding the Democratic Party or building a new political organization that aims at taking back state legislatures, governors’ offices, and control of the apportionment processes by 2018 means that following the 2020 census, new lines can be drawn that are just and equitable and enfranchise all voters.  What is central to regaining responsible control of our society must be a hardcore pragmatism that requires discipline, compromise, and an end to what Merwyn Ambrose (Mark Grober) calls “Litmus Liberalism.”

Our Problems

If you are a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, then I think it is obligatory to bite the bullet, as it were, in that you made an election to a polity, and the idea that one can take one’s ball and leave if the game is not going your way is the kind of juvenile thinking that produces dismissal of millennials as callow.

Having said that, attempts at ridiculing those who are committed to reversing the decay that has resulted in the sorry parade of establishment hacks that now passes for the Democratic Party will serve little purpose save to fan the flames that should consume those intent on coronation. Old sour-pusses decrying as anathema the progeny of a pied piper intoning a tune perhaps forgotten by too many.

Their candidate is NOT as important as their children, our children, for children are always tomorrow, while the candidate will at some point be swallowed up like Ozymandias. So many were heard to snicker at Corey Booker’s comments as he appeared so oblivious to the fact that everything he decried was in fact nested so very close…Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.21.56 AM

Poor grace is a sorry example to offer the tantrumming youth of how to share power. The Old Guard wants to celebrate their victory by eating their offspring. The Romans, ever an example to our propounding pops, would only inquire, being invited to the circus, “Where’s the bread”? The convention has become circus, as opposed to a place of business. It might serve the needs of Republicans, but it has become incredibly tedious for the rational.

Yes, I AM an old fart, and yes, millennials DO give me heartburn. But I know we need these people to turn the corner, and holding a coronation when 40% of your delegates would like nothing more than to burn your candidate at the stake is perhaps not the best way to proceed. Yes, some might think it “thoughtful” that a herring was tossed to the barkers from time to time (Diane Russell was magnificent, and Michelle, Elizabeth and Bernie had great speeches) but one could barely kindle a “unity” spark when someone stepped up to remind one and all that this was not about policy, it was a coronation.

Maybe it was as simple as forgetting that the nomination had yet to take place. Maybe it was the unaddressed hubris of those who, albeit without Debbie, continued to continue. So while I am going to urge Dem delegates to stay the course, I also want to suggest that Dems should start looking to primary a standing President in 2020. Hopefully, thanks to Senator Sanders, the party, as in Alaska, is changing course. There are many who have no problem with leaving behind those, enamored of neoliberalism, who choose to abandon ship.

I Be Reading Plenty Good

The apparent hallmark of the proud and the stupid with respect to the 2nd Amendment is the flashing of the plaque displayed here (together with the typically associated hashtags).

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 11.02.04 AMOf course, Washington never said that.  What he did say was:

Among the many interesting objects, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the Troops which may be deemed indispensible, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the Officers and Soldiers with a due regard to œconomy.

There was reason to hope, that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians would have relieved the inhabitants of our Southern and Western frontiers from their depredations. But you will percieve, from the information contained in the papers, which I shall direct to be laid before you (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union; and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.

As a nouveau aristocrat, Washington despised the useless rabble, and useless was largely what the rabble was, which is in no small way the reason why Washington insisted on a regular army (consistent with the provisions of Article I Section 8 of the Constitution).

Perhaps the 2nd Amendment whiner who argued “There you go liberals. In case you forgot how to read. ‪#‎reformthesenutz ‪#‎merica” with respect to such plaques should have a look at the Common Core provisions regarding close reading and critical thinking…


From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 8 January 1790 – http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0361

The State Militant; militia in the 21st century http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=109

Pookas on Patrol

No Virginia, there is no such thing as a “citizen soldier” OR Santa Claus. Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 11.37.14 AM

In this country it you want to take part in any hostilities you must be a member of a unit of the Guard, the Reserves, or the regular services.  That’s the way it is now, and truth be told that is the way it has been since the get go. Unfortunately, the delusional Rockwellian right, always keen to rewrite history, has embarked on a propaganda campaign that now argues that the U. S. is alive and well because of these fictitious citizen soldiers, persons who engage in some voluntary and undefined association to violently repel threats to the policy; some anarchic defense force.

I am aware of two recent instances where the term has been used and in each it was specifically defined as something OTHER than as the term has now been bandied about by 2nd Amendment Crusaders.   One refers to those who were drafted, in that their primary societal role was not soldier.  The other is in reference to those whose duty does not require them to be in uniform all the time, as in the case of the Reserves and the Guard.

The concept of people just showing up to shoot at stuff and then wandering away has never existed in the US or in the British commonwealth. One reason for that, of course, is that people lived close to starvation, and you just could not leave what you were doing without being able to cover what would not get done, so people joined for a specific period, and expected to get fed, clothed, armed (shot and ball), AND paid. Whether you took the King’s shilling or enlisted with the Continental Army, once “in”, you were subject to military discipline and your term of enlistment. Of course, another important aspect of enlistment or conscription is the need for military discipline. In a situation where you were shot for not obeying orders, one had to be very clear whether one was in the service, and if so, under whose command one served.

Yes, the “Revolution” was fought by regulars, irregulars as well as some partisans,  but the concept that these participants did not surrender their civil liberties to military authority is nonsensical.

Protect This…

Recently I have been hearing another radical refrain, that being that the U. S. Constitution (as opposed to a scramble of Marines) protect my rights. Apparently small minds are working overtime…

Frankly, the Constitution has never protected anyone’s “rights”. The Constitution embodies a rather terrible bargain that was supposed to give voice to the conscience of a new people. As it was flawed, so were the consciences of its people. Waxing more and more selfish, as possessive narcissists are want to do, they pushed harder and harder until the fabric of consensus was simply too brittle to serve, to calcified to persevere.

The U. S. Constitution is essentially a side of mutton (that being the nature of parchment); it lays around like a dead sheep and doesn’t do much at all. Tough to do much when you are housed in a bullet proof glass case, after all.

Courts have very little enforcement power, and rely almost entirely on the executive branch, while legislatures, well, they legislate….. they have no muscle (and perhaps collectively show little to recommend them much of the time. The Supreme Court simply ignores the Constitution when it serves their purpose, as do the Congress and the Administration. So who or what does protect our rights?

Setting aside for another time the substantial question of whether we have any “rights”, the real answer to that question is to be found above, where we started.  It is found in the willingness of the polity NOT to push things to the braking point.

I teach my students that the crux of the U. S. Constitution is, “Give a little to get a little” (as much an understatement I suppose, as Hillel’s description of Torah) and while that brings smiles to their faces, I am very serious.  Literalists, in a sense, can’t be taken serious because there has never been a word written which was read the same way twice.  The essence of man is fractiousness, and the genius, if any, of western jurisprudence is the vagary of the “law” not its specificity. As with matter, it is the space between that is remarkable, and forbearance is as much the space between as mystical volume between nucleus and electron…

When we abuse the social fabric (the delicate consensus that allows us to live together in some remote semblance of peace) the disturbance ripples through our reality. Ignorance begets ignorance, hate begets hate, violence begets violence. Social behavior is not managed by a sharp, “NO!”, hurled by a two year old. It is managed by “moral suasion” (and Winthrop advises that moral suasion may be as ineffectual as legislation when it comes to wives).

What secures our rights is no more, nor any less, than Hillel’s prescription: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary, go and study it.”


http://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.31a.82?lang=en&with=Rashi&lang2=en

Winthrop, John, and James Kendall Hosmer. Winthrop’s Journal : “History of New England”, 1630-1649. Volume 1. New York : Scribner, 1908. Accessed June 16, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/winthropsjournal00wint#page/278/mode/2up .

 

Woe Unto Thee, Atheist!

OK all you armchair political scientists.  Tell me who wrote this and the approximate time and place.

In reflecting on what has happened * * * I became keenly aware of our national humiliation and decline. In material respects our country has become insignificant. The level of our commerce and industry is at an all time low and the number of paupers steadily increasing. Politically we are in disarray, following a long series of constitutional experiments that have all failed. The soul of our body politic, the Nation, is hampered and frustrated. The lack of order extends to the whole of society: the distinction between estates has been abolished, there is unlimited competition, ancient bonds of love and subordination have been removed, workingmen are helpless over against the factory owners, the state of poor relief is increasingly ominous. Deterioration so widespread suggests the presence of a general cause.

But perhaps we have learned from experience and reflection and worked out more firmly established theories? The opposite is true. Never before has every problem been so uncertain. Our men of theory are skeptical and our men of practice are hesitant, content to deal only with matters imposed by the events from day to day. Never before have theories been so unpopular.

The same skepticism is apparent with respect to the foundations of religion, morality, and justice. On these questions our generation is hopelessly divided. Every view is subjective and individual, each one has his own belief, his own opinion, exchanged, as times and circumstances alter, for another one, equally fleeting. There are now persuasions and confessions without number, all supposedly Christian.  Controversy has diminished, not because of increasing consensus but because of growing indifference. Disputes over doctrine upset people’s sense of tranquility. Before long, our only hope, the truth itself, may be banned

Whence this regression, this confusion, this general decline? Do you blame the forms of government for it? We have had all kinds: democracy, aristocracy, monarchy,despotism, constitutional government — the whole storehouse of revolutionary governments has served us. Do you blame the circumstances? They have not always been unfavorable. Do you blame the degeneration of our people? They never fell so deep that they could not be lifted up again. Have we lacked men of ability and energy? There have been statesmen whom I for one would not deny talent and character, nor, for that matter, good intentions; so that we are all the more pressed to search for the reason why even their wisdom was deceived and their energy paralyzed.

Everything therefore points to a general cause, to which the political forms, the circumstances, the national character, and the acting personages have been subordinate. And this cause must be sought in the ideas which have predominated. I  agree * * * that “everything proceeds from doctrines:manners, literature, constitutions, laws, the happiness of nations and their misfortunes, culture, barbarism, and those terrible crises that sweep the nations away or else renew them, depending on their level of vitality.”

Historical events, in their main content and chief import, are nothing other than the shapes and contours that reveal the sustained action of the spirit of an age. This is what I propose to demonstrate to you in the succession of the revolutionary phases, in our country and elsewhere. Whatever may have been the subordinate action of secondary causes* * * the principal cause of history * * * for more than half a century has been the inevitable result of the errors that have made themselves master of the predominant mode of thinking.

In order to bring out the nature of this subject it is necessary to explain what I mean by Revolution and by Revolution ideas.

By Revolution I do not mean one of the many events whereby government is overthrown. Nor do I just mean by it the storm of upheaval that has raged * * *. Rather, by Revolution I mean the whole inversion of the general spirit and mode of thinking that is now manifest in all Christendom. {footnote in original: The Revolution is the unfolding of a wholesale skepticism in which God’s Word and Law have been thrust aside}.

By Revolution ideas I mean the basic maxims of liberty and equality, popular sovereignty, social contract, the artificial reconstruction of society by common consent — notions which today are venerated as the cornerstone of constitutional law and political order.

The conviction that many calamities suffered by our fathers and by our own generation have sprung from this wisdom and from its origin, the rejection of the Gospel, was reinforced in me by a fresh examination of the train of events. Once again I saw clearly that whenever these theories gain a foothold people are led about in a circle of misery and grief.

Let me give my main conclusions now. A strict, consistent application of the Revolution doctrine will bring men to the most excessive absurdities and the worst atrocities. However, whenever men become terrified by the revolutionary development (which they regard as exaggeration) and in reaction begin to insist on moderation, though without abandoning the principle, then to avoid anarchy, the only course of action open to them, since they shink back from the consequences of their own convictions, is a shilly-shally, capricious behavior which has no guide save in the succession and pressure of circumstances. Even today this very course of action is made out to be the height of political wisdom: I mean the method of consultation of the doctrinaires; the policy which under the name of juste-milieu or the middle-of-the-road is dominant at present: the theory of the conservatives; and the practice, or if I must speak the truth, the routine, the languor and lethargy, the rut which prevails in our own country.

The consequences of the Revolution ideas cannot be combated with any success unless oneScreen Shot 2016-05-11 at 3.38.07 PM places himself outside their influence, on the ground of the anti-revolutionary principles. This ground is beyond reach, however, so long as one refuses to acknowledge that the foundation of justice lies in the law the ordinance of God. * * *

The Revolution doctrine is unbelief applied to politics. A life and death struggle is raging between the Gospel and this practical atheism. To contemplate a rapprochement between the two would be nonsense. It is a battle which embraces everything we cherish and hold sacred and everything that is beneficial and indispensable to church and state.

Well, I had one correct guess, but more intriguingly, he guessed correctly because he had seen this pieces of this rhetoric replicated in the same places I had – the epistles of the Family Research Council and their affiliates – and had looked the curious artifacts of Van Dyke’s translation (e. g. “Revolution ideas”) up on the internet.

While there are some aspects of Van Dykes translation that might be adjusted to make van Printerer’s meaning clearer to today’s reader, the amount of consistency with the propaganda of the intolerant religious right is too much to be serendipitous.  I think it only fair to suggest that the 21st century Family Action groups are simply channeling the intolerance of 19th Century Dutch Reform Calvinism.

More to the point, I think it rather clear that these groups then are not looking for broader religious liberty; they are looking for nothing less than the abrogation of the social contract. In short, the religious right is correct: they are in a religious war, they started it, and we will all be much better off when their teeth have been pulled.

 


Dyke, Harry Van. Groen van Prinsterer’s Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution. Jordan Station, Canada: Wedge Publishing Foundation, 1989.

Catch the Wave

Recently I came across a bit of a celebration with regard to the passage in the Alaska House (which at this moment is presiding over Alaska’s historic budgetary meltdown) of HB275, a bill that provides for an Inidigenous People’s Day in Alaska. Super… I am excited any time something that is not overwhelmingly toxic passes either chamber of the Alaska Legislature. But upon review of the bill (which I found a bit confusing – here you check for yourself – http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill_text.asp?hsid=HB0275C&session=29) I was left in the lurch: what is the definition of indigenous people, and if it is defined with respect to a window of immigration as to a specific geography, what are the specifics as to that window and that geography? – Are we in fact rejecting the late arriving Inuit, who came to Alaska thousands of years after most of Beringia popped on in? Inquiring minds and all…

A friend argued that Harriet (Harriet Drummond, the Democratic Representative who introduced the bill, and the gracious lady who allows my friend to co-habit with her on occasion),

walks through and names the Tribes affected. She discusses science and engineering and traditional knowledge that need to be part of a paradigm of rational discourse framing solutions for the future. The epistemology analysis of Dr. Oscar Kwagley suggests a trans-personal logic that is not consensual but imperative. Dr. Kleinfeld’s monograph suggesting spatial intelligence, a useful skill when applied to the White Alice Sites in the 1950s, might have relevance to the multi-layered challenges of Arctic and Northern development. Harriet’s point: engaging the indigenous knowledge network is not mere tokenism but a potentially critical part of our socioeconomic future.

Uh-oh! Despite what some of you may think, I take what my friends say (well, at least what some of my friends say) seriously (perhaps that is one reason I don’t have …. well that IS another story…) so I understood that an substantive response must be tendered, and thus I find myself here, writing to myself about stuff that few, if any, would consider, were it not for its very provocative implications (which have a tendency, as provocative shit does, to run off with us). But that is perhaps why Raven loves old farts; we hang around for the punch line. So off we go!

Unfortunately Judith’s work in this area (Kleinfeld, 1973) is predicated on a dubious framework (multiple intelligences, etc) that produces lots of theoretical conjecture and, frankly, no evidentiary support. Nevertheless, it DOES seem to coddle the views of Jensen et al. (a fact that appears to tickle her funny bone, though I think many would be indignant at her playfulness). Even without such aggravation, the horrific looks on the faces of those attending sessions of the local (Anchorage) RTI conferences in past years when experts actually explained the impact of non-verbal culture on children was a sight to behold, lol. In sum, while there are some intellectual curiosities for some of us to ponder there, Judith presents a Pandora’s box, a box perhaps best left unopened?

That is not to say that any data or perspective should be ignored, and narrow-minded disregard for data is problematic, even when it mandates racially segregated health centers wink emoticon But orally collected and transmitted data is demonstrably dubious at best and while some of it could be very accurate, it would be difficult to distinguish the noise from the signal. Compare our consternation over the literature of the Abrahamic religions and you can see how utterly impossible it becomes in just hundreds of years, let alone thousands.

waveAs far as Oscar is concerned, I have chatted about “Native ways of knowing” before. Unfortunately, much of the discussion revolving around such argument may be important as an aspect of Native cultural identity, but pales beyond that. In fact, it is the SAME argument that Christian apologists use to dispute the efficacy of science, lol. Unfortunately for them, their arguments are devastated because their premise is unfounded, the same premise Oscar argues, that science presumes a specific worldview and set of religious beliefs. But science is agnostic.

I am certainly NOT suggesting that scientific inquiry can be ignored simply because of the tradition in which it was pursued (though the context and constraints of such tradition must be taken into account.) By way of example, cultural empiricism such as described by Kim Tingley (2016) can happily be reconciled with modern geophysics.

 


Kawagley, Angayuqaq Oscar, Delena Norris-Tull, and Roger A. Norris-Tull. “The Indigenous Worldview of Yupiaq Culture: Its Scientific Nature and Relevance to the Practice and Teaching of Science.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 35, no. 2 (February 1, 1998): 133–144. Accessed April 1, 2016. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199802)35:2<133::AID-TEA4>3.0.CO;2-T/abstract.

Kleinfeld, J. S. “Intellectual Strengths in Culturally Different Groups: An Eskimo Illustration.” Review of Educational Research 43, no. 3 (1973): 341–359. Accessed April 1, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1170109.

Raghavan, Maanasa, Matthias Steinrücken, Kelley Harris, Stephan Schiffels, Simon Rasmussen, Michael DeGiorgio, Anders Albrechtsen, et al. “Genomic Evidence for the Pleistocene and Recent Population History of Native Americans.” Science 349, no. 6250 (August 21, 2015): aab3884. Accessed September 8, 2015. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6250/aab3884.

Tingley, Kim. “The Secrets of the Wave Pilots.” The New York Times, March 17, 2016. Accessed April 2, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/magazine/the-secrets-of-the-wave-pilots.html.

snow_goggles

Clinton Corporate Conservatism: more KKK than CCC?

Some of us are old enough to remember Goldwater’s 1964 Nomination acceptance speech, but whether you were were alive and kicking, or first heard it on the innertubz, few would fail to recognize the speech as the dawning of the post-modern era of extremism. And the line from Goldwater, through Newt Gingrich and to Paul Ryan pegs Goldwater as a godfather of TeaBagger extremism.

Goldwater conservatism, therefore, is not old news, especially in as much as the First Lady of the United States in 1996, who was a Goldwater Girl in 1964, expressed her continuing admiration for Goldwater:

I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.

Now, I can forgive the indiscretions of a young college kid (heavens, I deal with many today who are attracted to the Goldwater analogs of today, but most eventually grow up, mellow out, and appreciate that extremism is unacceptable) though I am certainly put off by it, but the fact that she didn’t laugh at her foolishness 25 years later when she was the First Lady of a country wrestling with the Contract with America (Newt’s plan, and perhaps the first GOP effort to shut down the US Government) is something that should make you sit up and take note too.

But is the title of this essay over the top, a SPLC version of Godwin’s Law (aside from the double entendre on “conserve”, which you have to love, I don’t care who you are)? The John Lewis fiasco made it very clear that Establishment Blacks (what a curious way to refer to those who led the protests in the ’60s) are happy to whitewash (OK, maybe that wasn’t all that funny) Hillary’s lack of civil rights credibility, while others are more than happy to air the Clinton dirty racial laundry. Even Black intellectuals are criticizing Clinton, from Brother Cornell (who most recently called Clinton “the Milli Vanilli of politics” to Michelle Alexander (and the less than impressive Coates). At the same time we have Trump’s apparent acceptance of Duke’s endorsement, and certainly his racially charged rhetoric.  These are the times in which we live.

If one proposes to support Hillary, the question on everyone’s lips today appears to be, “which Hillary” The only folk for which this does not create a pause, frankly, are the likes of Katha Pollitt and other women who will support HRC in the primaries only because she has a vagina. Now, I understand why they would do this, though I find such sexism unfortunate; what I can’t understand is why so many try (unlike Katha, who just up and cops to it) to gussy up their identity politics with arguments that HRC is the true progressive.

Consider Hillary’s history in the broader historical perspective. The 64 election was a watershed for American politics; it is the foundation upon which the most important legislation passed by the US Congress in the past 50 years was passed, from the Voting Rights Act to the first appropriations for the lunar landing program, not to mention the roll-out of enforcement of the 1964 civil rights act (the rage over which fueled Goldwater’s campaign). Goldwater was waging war against “The Great Society”  and everyone clearly understood that (even Hillary, and do listen to Johnson’s speech). For HRC to suggest that she was proud of supporting Goldwater in 1964 is tantamount to her rejecting everything Democrats have to be proud of since Roosevelt left office.

While I am truly horrified by Johnson’s handling of ‘Nam, I am just as stunned by his commitment to redressing the domestic failures so evident but so ignored. For anyone to suggest that they are honoring Johnson’s commitment to social and economic justice in the United States by supporting for the highest office in this country a person who actually campaigned to sabotage the very accomplishments for which we honor Johnson and who 32 years later as First Lady, doubled down on her commitment to the leader of that band of extremists intent on dismantling Johnson’s legislative program, simply boggles my mind. I don’t often resort to emotive language, and I fear I have gotten a bit maudlin here (mea maxima culpa) but I truly can’t imagine how anyone could miss the fact that HRC is probably a bit to the right of Ike…

And, to be clear, Goldwater was adamant that the government had no business banning Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 4.04.50 PMdiscrimination in public accommodation – he had a very Lincolnesque approach – A shonda, ober es iz nit dayn gesheftits (it’s a shame, but its none of our business…) The “right” in the US today is an unholy alliance of those who want to “take government back”, (that is to say they want government to do things, just not the things it has been doing) and those who want to nullify government (that is, they want the right to ignore anything that the government decides to do that they don’t personally agree with.) Unfortunately, the ability of most of those dancing on that side of the hall to discuss anything rationally is severely impaired (not to say that the people on the other side of the hall are all rocket scientists either). But they all agree, no matter their IQ or dogma, that government has no business helping the tired, the hungry or the poor.

If there is anyone in national politics today who wears the mantle MLK JR, seeking social and economic justice for all,  it is certainly not the Goldwater Girl who believes its her turn. Hillary is still very much the fiscal conservative and military hawk she has always been, and it is high time that the United States turned that page over.