Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Failure of the Right and Questions for the Left

(Mostly to a conservative on hard questions asked during the Republican debate.)

Hard questions are part of the job of moderators. And, frankly, crazy ideas deserve hard questions. We want those exploded, because otherwise they become crazy policies.

And my side needs hard questions, too. If one wants to select good leaders, it is necessary to, as economist Brad Delong says, "Mark your beliefs to market" — find out if the results were as claimed and get explanations of why one thinks a policy might produce a given result.

As a young man I was much more conservative and sympathetic to libertarian views. But since Reagan we had 30 years of increasing conservatism and policies called libertarian. Nothing has worked out as promised, nothing. The tax cuts blew up the national debt. The wars and militarism made enemies without promoting democracy. The freedom libertarian economics promised turned out to be freedom for the rich only, and subservience to corporations for everyone else. Deregulation enabled extensive corruption, rather than releasing creativity and economic growth. Even neo-liberal economics, with an impeccable intellectual pedigree, failed the acid test of the collapse of 2007-8.

The hard questions I'd like to see my side asked?
1. What are you doing about the environment?
2. No, really, what are you doing about the environment?
3. We told the world that protest by people of good will would be enough to secure freedom and democracy. This has failed. What are you going to put in its place?
4. Why did you wait so long to act on these matters?
5. Why is institutionalized racism still an issue in the USA, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act and 150 years after the Civil War?

There are times when I feel like we are governed by Wile E. Coyote, or perhaps Sylvester the cat.

One answer, I think, may be found in LBJ's famous remark on racism:
If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.
We are much to wedded to supremacism — the idea that humans can be ranked, top to bottom, and people will fight, rightly so, not to be on the bottom. So people who realized they were not at the top of the pyramid are plotting to overturn the whole thing. These, surely, are Donald Trump's followers. Perhaps, as feminists have suggested, we would be better off to think about centrality rather than verticality. If people on the fringes struggle to move towards the center, this is better than people who struggle to put other people below themselves.

I also want to expand on my point (3) above: the popular idea that getting out in the street will be enough has, got a lot of people killed. We need to stop that. You need to go somewhere once you get out there. You need to organize and take power. Or...look at how Occupy was dissolved from within by its rigorous anarchism. Or the brutal treatment of the democratic movements of the Arab Spring. People ought to study Gandhi more: he was stern and shrewd, a lawgiver willing to die but not kill for his cause. If Westerners knew his thought better (I have only read a little) he would be less popular, but perhaps we would have more victories and more peace.

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