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Well, I haven’t written my post for April 5th even though it’s well past midnight and therefore, technically, April 6th. So, now I feel like I have to hammer something, anything, out, but my mind is occupied by an incredibly stupid article. It’s stupid enough that it feels too trivial to take the time to refute it. Unfortunately, it’s what’s on my mind at the moment so I guess I’ll have to tackle it. There are so many things wrong with it that I will probably take only one or two points.

It’s currently on the website of the Federalist and the title is “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends.'” As a woman who has had about the same number of close male friends in my life as female friends, I of course clicked on it.

I was actually surprised to see that this whine about “the friend zone” was prompted by declining fertility rates. It linked to an article in Real Clear Politics titled, “The Coming Demographic Crisis: What to Expect When No One Is Expecting.” I haven’t considered the subject presented in that article seriously enough to have an opinion, but at least it sounds like it was written by an adult.

Let’s, for a moment, put aside the difficult question of whether or not we are having a demographic crisis. In order to have an opinion worth sharing on that, I’d probably have to go read quite a few books and I wouldn’t expect to even be able to discuss this intelligently for at least a couple of months. So, since I’ll give the writer that the birth rate is declining and it would be desirable to see it rise again. (To be clear, I am far from convinced.)

I have a few rules of thumb when thinking about political things. One is the famous saying, attributed to Bismark, that “Politics is the art of the possible.”

A second rule of thumb is that people will generally act in their own interest and getting them to act against their interest is very difficult. It requires a lot of resources and often doesn’t work quite the way you intend anyway.

A third one is that finger wagging almost never works. I’ve yet to see a situation in which finger wagging alone was effective. How many decades of finger wagging about dietary choices, exercise, work ethic and whatever else have I heard which has amounted to so much nothing. If you want to jump up on your soap-box and excoriate the general public about their execrable television viewing habits, you are perfectly welcome to do so, but know that you will be preaching to the choir and are not likely to change the habits of more than one or two people if that.

So what did the writer in The Federalist, Hans Fiene, identify as the source of the problem, “The Friend Zone.”

Every year, countless young men find themselves trapped in the Friend Zone, a prison where women place any man they deem worthy of their time but not their hearts, men they’d love to have dinner with but, for whatever reason, don’t want to kiss goodnight.

Being caught in the Friend Zone is an inarguable drag on fertility rates, as a man who spends several years pledging his heart to a woman who will never have his children is also a man who most likely won’t procreate with anyone else during that time of incarceration. Free him to find a woman who actually wants to marry him, however, and he’ll have several more years to sire children who will laugh, create, sing, fill the world with love and, most importantly, pay into Social Security.

This is actually so bizarre, as I said at the beginning of the post I really wouldn’t be wasting my time arguing about this but its very stupidity draws attention to itself.

So, what is Fiene’s solution? Yes, to wag his finger at women and try to convince them to do what they clearly don’t want to do. Needless to say, I’ve heard men, or perhaps I should say boys, ragging on about the friend zone since I was in college. That was thirty-five years ago. That’s longer than I’ve heard people ragging on about other people not eating as they would like to see them eat. And why is the article directed at women anyway? Aren’t men participating in this? Fiene might at least have half a chance of convincing men that it’s not in their own interest to pretend to be friends with a woman if that’s not really what they want.

A few of the commenters underneath pointed out that it was hyperbole meant to be humorous, but there’s nothing to indicate that Fiene believes the opposite, that men and women’s conformity to their gender varies and some men and women can in fact be good friends. And if it was meant to be purely humor, with no point intended whatsoever, it failed miserably because it wasn’t funny. Despite some of the exaggerated examples he gives I’m left with the distinct impression that he believes his essential points.

The article he originally referenced, however, had some more serious suggestions:

Solving such a complex problem as declining fertility is not going to be easy. Last at least tells us what doesn’t work. As with many social problems, government intervention isn’t very successful. Bonus payments to expectant mothers, paid paternity leave, public holidays, “Motherhood Medals,” and tax incentives and subsidies have barely moved the needle in Russia, Japan, and Singapore. “People cannot be bribed into making babies,” Last concludes.

The best governments can do is “help people have the children they do want.” Since low fertility correlates with education, we could stop the government-subsidized promotion of a university education for all. A college degree doesn’t prepare people for specific jobs, but rather gives employers an idea of their intelligence and work habits, something that can be done more cheaply and efficiently. Making child-friendly housing more affordable, letting workers telecommute to lessen the career-costs of having children, welcoming more fecund immigrants, and ending the hostility to religion and the faithful, “if for no other reason than they’re the ones who create most of the future taxpayers,” are some of Last’s solutions. Unfortunately, they are as unlikely as they are sensible.

That first paragraph gets back to my original point: exhortations alone are not enough.

One off-topic point before I go: I’ve mentioned several times in the past year feeling like the left in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere as well, has gone off in a direction in which I can’t follow. At the same time, when I read articles like the one I just mentioned in conservative sources, I feel that there is not place for me on that side either.

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Now that I’m back online, I need to get back into my habit of writing.

Even before my little break, my stats on this site were in the basement, leading me to believe that “Free Association” is not the best title for a post. I guess that makes sense. I write about so many different things people might very well look a the title before deciding if it’s something that interests them. I’m never sure how I feel about “stats,” though. This blog is just a hobby. I think we’re all vaguely aware (meaning people with a blog) that if we shade our writing a little this way or a little that way we might have more readers. However, I started this blog for myself. It’s interesting to think how it would be different if I was hoping somehow to segue into a writing career. Would I look at my most popular posts and try to write more like that?

I’m surprised, in retrospect, that I haven’t written about sex more. Believe it or not, I have a lot to say on that subject!

Politics. Right now, I feel like I just want to keep my head down until everything blows over. Still, I’m not worried about the election itself so much as I’m terribly worried about the aftermath.

I mentioned a few months ago an article by David Frum explaining why Donal Trump had gained traction. Of course, for even trying to understand he was accused of supporting Trump and in his subsequent articles he’s stopped even trying to understand, or at least trying to explain that understanding to other Republicans who clearly don’t want to listen.

I sometimes think that I have a strange view of politics because I have a strange view of human nature. Now, I call my view “strange” not because I think it’s wrong, just because I don’t see it reflected in the usual discussions about politics and society.

It is often said that political theories are based on notions of human nature. The simplistic way of putting it is that the left thinks human beings are inherently good and the right thinks human beings are inherently bad. Off the top of my head, that sounds like it corresponds to different notions of child rearing, one that thinks children need encouragement to explore and do what they want and another that thinks children need discipline and instruction. I think most people in fact fall in the middle. Phrasing it that way makes it seem as if the two points of view are mutually exclusive, and for some people they are. However, when I look at reality, most people are, as I said, in the middle. Kids need discipline and instruction sometimes and need encouragement to explore at other times. Different children might need them in different degrees. One might be tempted at that point to say that the center is “non-ideological,” however I don’t think that’s true.

Ideologies are useful because we are constantly confronted with situations in which we cannot know from past experience what will be the best path to take. When confronted with a new situation, we take what we know of the world and, from that, try to extrapolate what the best course of action will be. To do that, we try to determine what our options are and make an educated guess about what outcome each option might yield. That educated guess is based on how we think the world works, in short, on our ideology. For instance, people on the religious right who say that allowing marriages to be contracted between people of the same sex will lead to bestiality really believe that a belief in a deity with consequences in the afterlife is necessary for people to behave in what they consider a moral manner.

Giving that as an example, it is easy to see the divide that I described a minute ago as “simplistic.” The compliment on the left to the religious right point of view is that expanding the definition of marriage won’t lead to other, unpalatable, expansions. Why do they think that? Because not enough people are immoral enough to want bestiality to be legal. It hinges on the notion that people are, at least mostly, good.

I have a problem with both these positions largely because I don’t believe that an objective morality exists. That might on the surface look as if I am embracing moral relativism, but I am not. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.  It has often been associated with other claims about morality: notably, the thesis that different cultures often exhibit radically different moral values; the denial that there are universal moral values shared by every human society; and the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.

The very short summary gives two reasons for moral relativism:

A common, albeit negative, reason for embracing moral relativism is simply the perceived untenability of moral objectivism: every attempt to establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles runs up against formidable objections.  A more positive argument sometimes advanced in defense of moral relativism is that it promotes tolerance since it encourages us to understand other cultures on their own terms.

I tend to agree with the first position, that it thus far has proved impossible to “establish a single, objectively valid and universally binding set of moral principles.” The second part, regarding tolerance is something I don’t especially agree with. I don’t agree that “tolerance” is a virtue in and of itself without reference to a particular situation. Secondly, it would imply that “tolerance” itself is a universal value. I’m not sure who the “us” is in the phrase “it encourages us.”

The summary of the critics of moral relativism is as follows:

Critics claim that relativists typically exaggerate the degree of diversity among cultures since superficial differences often mask underlying shared agreements.  In fact, some say that  there is a core set of universal values that any human culture must endorse if it is to flourish.  Moral relativists are also accused of inconsistently claiming that there are no universal moral norms while appealing to a principle of tolerance as a universal norm.  In the eyes of many critics, though, the most serious objection to moral relativism is that it implies the pernicious consequence that “anything goes”: slavery is just according to the norms of a slave society; sexist practices are right according to the values of a sexist culture. Without some sort of non-relative standard to appeal to, the critics argue, we have no basis for critical moral appraisals of our own culture’s conventions, or for judging one society to be better than another.  Naturally, most moral relativists typically reject the assumption that such judgments require a non-relativistic foundation.

Regarding the criticisms (as summarized here): I am insufficiently familiar with anthropology to know if the first statement it true, if the differences among cultures truly are substantial or not. I tend to agree quite a bit with the second statement and, if I get into this subject again, I will develop this idea further. I’ve already mentioned the third. The last part, however, is something I disagree with substantially. In short, I reject some aspects of both moral relativism and moral objectivism.

Now, here we are at one hour later, so I will happily stop. This is something I tend to mull over a lot in my head while going about other things, so I will probably come back to it again.

I was poking around looking for something online last night and I came across a year-old essay which appeared on the Huffington Post website, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Radical: Assata Taught Me,” by Justin Adkins. In it he writes that he had recently read the convicted cop killer and fugitive Assata Shakur’s autobiography and that made him feel more energized as an activist. It was not an especially interesting piece, however there was one sentence that jumped out at me.

I fight for the day that all people are free. I don’t fight for democracy but for freedom.

There’s a growing drumbeat against democracy. On a left-right axis, I tend to fall to the left on almost every issue. On the authoritarian-libertarian axis I tend to fall slightly towards the the libertarian side. That static picture misses many things. In this case it misses which should have priority. Generally, I prefer to view it in terms of the history of ideas and the underlying concepts rather than a collection of positions. Conservatism has always had an elitist strain which distrusts the masses and therefore is suspicious of democracy.

In a recent article in Commentary, “Illiberalism: The Worldwide Crisis,” Sohrab Ahrami writes:

Today’s illiberals are less likely to be organized around systematic philosophies like Fascism and Communism than was the case in the years between the two world wars—the last time liberalism appeared this vulnerable. In our time, illiberal forces are disparate, instinctual, inchoate, more likely to be local in focus, and internally divided.

This seems to me to ignore a resurgent interest in Marxism among the young. Further down in the article, however, he writes:

Reducing political and ideological phenomena to social, economic, and legal ones is one of liberalism’s chief strengths and major blind spots, as the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt long ago recognized.

He also mentions Manifesto for a New Europe, by Charles Champetier and Alain de Benoist. The article is an interesting survey of current, worldwide political movements. The scope renders it unfortunately superficial. Still, it is worth taking a look at it.

Besides the attacks from the left and the right, we have to contend with the technocratic and meritocratic distrust of the masses.

In an article which upset many people last year, Jonathan Chait wrote:

The right wing in the United States is unusually strong compared with other industrialized democracies, and it has spent two generations turning liberal into a feared buzzword with radical connotations. This long propaganda campaign has implanted the misperception — not only among conservatives but even many liberals — that liberals and “the left” stand for the same things.

It is true that liberals and leftists both want to make society more economically and socially egalitarian. But liberals still hold to the classic Enlightenment political tradition that cherishes individuals rights, freedom of expression, and the protection of a kind of free political marketplace. (So, for that matter, do most conservatives.)

The Marxist left has always dismissed liberalism’s commitment to protecting the rights of its political opponents…. Why respect the rights of the class whose power you’re trying to smash? And so, according to Marxist thinking, your political rights depend entirely on what class you belong to.

The modern far left has borrowed the Marxist critique of liberalism and substituted race and gender identities for economic ones. …

Political correctness appeals to liberals because it claims to represent a more authentic and strident opposition to their shared enemy of race and gender bias. And of course liberals are correct not only to oppose racism and sexism but to grasp (in a way conservatives generally do not) that these biases cast a nefarious and continuing shadow over nearly every facet of American life. Since race and gender biases are embedded in our social and familial habits, our economic patterns, and even our subconscious minds, they need to be fought with some level of consciousness. The mere absence of overt discrimination will not do.

Liberals believe (or ought to believe) that social progress can continue while we maintain our traditional ideal of a free political marketplace where we can reason together as individuals….

Chait’s article focused mainly of restrictions to free speech, but free speech is only one component of liberalism. Others, like democratic self-governance, are being challenged as well.

 

altacocker /al-tə-kɐ-ker/ or /al-tə-kɐ-kə/ n, slang, from Yiddish : old shit

“My mother’s friend looked at Bernie Sanders and rolled her eyes. ‘I can’t believing I’m going to vote for this altacocker.'”

I still trying to get a whole bunch of off-line things done, but I came across a paragraph today that nearly made me do a spit-take on my keyboard and I thought I’d share it with everyone.

James Howard Kunstler has an amusing post up at the moment about why our choice of candidates is so obviously lousy. He informs us, “The reason is that the problems are unfixable, at least not within the acceptable terms of the zeitgeist, namely: the secret wish to keep all the rackets going at all costs.” Essentially, the shit is going to hit the fan and no sensible person will want to be sitting in the oval office when that happens. The following paragraph made me laugh out loud:

It must be obvious that the next occupant of the White House will preside over the implosion of all these arrangements since, in the immortal words of economist Herb Stein, if something can’t go on forever, it will stop. So the only individuals left seeking the position are 1) An inarticulate reality TV buffoon; 2) a war-happy evangelical maniac; 3) a narcissistic monster of entitlement whose “turn” it is to hold the country’s highest office; and 4) a valiant but quixotic self-proclaimed socialist altacocker who might have walked off the set of Welcome Back Kotter, 40th Reunion Special. These are the ones left standing halfway to the conventions. Nobody else in his, her, it, xe, or they right mind wants to be handed this schwag-bag of doom.

I haven’t heard the word “altacocker” in ages, though it was one that my mother’s friends used to use, especially as they got older and so did their friends.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with “Welcome Back Kotter,” it was a U.S. television sitcom, aired during the seventies, about students at a high school in Brooklyn. The following video might give you a flavor.

Kuntsler goes on to note that, while the GOP establishment would like to find a more respectable candidate, they may have difficulty finding a willing victim.

But what poor shmo will they have to drag to the podium to get this odious thing done? Who wants to be the guy in the Oval Office when Janet Yellen comes in some muggy DC morning and says, “Uh, sir (ma’am)… that sucker you heard was gonna go down…? Well, uh, it just did.”

I keep looking at the news regarding the primaries and find myself shaking my head wondering how we got here.

I’m starting to think maybe we should just hold a lottery.

Back in October, there was an incident, which I wrote about at the time, in which a professor at Yale was accused of racism for suggesting, in her capacity as an assistant faculty in a residence that the school, that students are capable of making their own decisions regarding Halloween costumes and that it is not helpful towards their development as responsible adults for the young adult students to have older adult school administrators lay down strict costume codes.

Today, there was an article in The New York Times about what has happened to her since. In the article, there was a detail about her past.

A. Douglas Stone, a professor of applied physics who helped rally faculty support, said he was embarrassed that Ms. Christakis — who once worked in the public health field with subsistence farmers in Africa and with drug addicts — would be “a poster child for insensitivity.”

Christakis is not teaching this semester and her husband, Nicholas Christakis, “a physician and sociologist known for his theory of “social contagion,” or how social networks spread behavior, announced that he was taking a sabbatical this term.”

The article concludes that Christakis is considering returning to an early childhood classroom.

Considering the post I wrote the other day on nationalism, I was interested to see this post on Zero Hedge, “Nationalism and Its Discontents: A Deep Rumination on the Meaning of Trump.”

It starts with Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?” In this case, I read the book of the same title. Much like “The Clash of Civilizations,” Fukuyama’s argument is often reduced to its title. Raimondo summarizes the idea as the world approaching a “universal homogenous state” which would end with “U.S. hegemony over the entire earth.” This isn’t quite what Fukuyama said, but Raimondo doesn’t seem to have been the only one to have heard this. I have not reread the book in the two decades since it came out in paperback, but as I recall it was about the triumph of the liberalism as an idea, not about the domination of other countries by the West, let alone the United States of America. However, some people, especially political thinkers in the U.S.A., were very happy see in the end of the Cold War, not a triumph of liberal ideas, but a victory for the U.S.A.

Raimondo’s first paragraph is disappointingly inaccurate. I was going to write something else, but I find I’m being held up by this fact. He follows his several sentences on Fukuyama with

In a symposium commenting on Fukuyama’s thesis, the ever-practical Charles Krauthammer nevertheless insisted that it would be necessary for the United States to hurry History along by force of arms. In a subsequent polemic in Foreign Affairs, he argued that we ought to take advantage of “the unipolar moment” to “integrate” the US, Japan, and Europe into a “super-sovereign” global empire united by a “new universalism” – which, he averred, “is not as outrageous as it sounds.”

I followed the link to the Foreign Affairs article and could not find in it “new universalism,” “is not as outrageous as it sounds” or “super-sovereign.” I am not found of Krauthammer and disagree with the aggressive foreign policy that he advocates in the article, “The Unipolar Moment,” however Raimondo’s inaccuracy is annoying. I thought I would just summarize Raimondo’s post because I liked it, recommend people read it and go to bed. Perhaps Raimondo is working from memory. I’m not going to be able to double check all or Raimondo’s statements, so I’ll go back to my original plan of summarizing, although the errors do weaken the point. They’re all the more annoying because I think the basic point is a good one. I thought it was good until I read the Krauthammer article and saw that the words Raimondo quotes are not there.

So, Raimondo recounts an argument which occurred in conservative circles at the end of the Cold War, one that pitted internationalists advocating an aggressive foreign policy against isolationists. The people who we would come to call the “neo-cons” wanted to take advantage of what Krauthammer called “the unipolar moment” and actively assert the United States’ dominance.

Blinded by hubris, enthralled by the possibilities of unlimited power, the neocons – and their liberal internationalist doppelgangers on the other side of the political spectrum – didn’t see the nationalist backlash coming.

In Raimondo’s retelling, the isolationist impulse is exemplified by Patrick Buchanan.

Buchanan’s answer to Krauthammer’s globalism was a foreign policy of “enlightened nationalism”: “total withdrawal of US troops from Europe,” and a rejection of the idea – nowhere authorized in the Constitution – that the President and/or Congress has the power to sacrifice its sons on the altar of some crazed crusade for “global democracy.”

According to Raimondo, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the neo-cons were able to redirect that nationalistic sentiment and use it “to mobilize the American people behind a crusade to transform the Middle East.” Then, after years of war, the citizens of the United States had a desire to return to “normalcy” and “elected a President who vowed to end the wars.”

…that promise, however was not kept, and Barack Obama will leave office with the US once again in the middle of at least three wars, and with a hand in several others on their periphery. Yet the nationalist impulse – which is, in part, an “isolationist” impulse – is stronger than ever, laying just beneath the surface of the American political landscape, waiting for someone to pick up its banner.

That someone turned out to be Donald Trump.

Trump’s nationalism has elements that are “useful, instructive, and even admirable.” Regarding the demagogic elements that many conservatives who dislike Trump see in him, Raimondo says:

Yet demagoguery didn’t bother them when it was deployed by George W. Bush as he marched us off to a disastrous war – a war Trump opposed, and continues to denounce today – and implied that his critics were in league with America’s enemies. … Demagoguery in the service of mass murder is fine with them: it’s only when their own methods are turned against them that the War Party starts to get religion.

The hypocrisy of the conservative stance against Trump can also be seen in the reaction to Trump’s immigration stance. Raimondo calls the National Review “a veritable fount of anti-Muslim propaganda.”

No, the real motive behind the neoconservative holy war against Trump is rooted in his foreign policy positions, which the neocons rightly view as a direct threat to their internationalist project.

Raimondo then turns his focus away from the conservatives, emphasizing that in Washington D.C. there is an “internationalist-interventionist consensus.” His target is a piece written by Thomas Wright, “director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at The Brookings Institution,” which Raimondo says if funded by Qatar. (He has a link I haven’t followed.)

Examining Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements over the years – the GOP frontrunner wonders why we are stationing 28,000 troops in South Korea, complains that we’re defending Japan while they slap tariffs on our products, and says we have no business stationing tens of thousands of soldiers in Europe, which can damn well take care of itself – Wright trots out the hate figures interventionists love to excoriate. Trump is like Robert A. Taft, who didn’t want us to join NATO: he’s like Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the anti-interventionist America First Committee, a particular hate-figure of the interventionist-neocon foreign policy Establishment. And, of course, Trump is an “isolationist,” because he’s sick of coddling our shiftless “allies” while they rip us off and laugh at us behind our back, all the while huddling under the protective wingspan of the American eagle.

All of this is no doubt reassuring to Wright’s Qatari paymasters, who have a lot to lose if Trump should win the White House and present them with a bill for services rendered. But in reading Wright’s list of Trumpist foreign policy heresies, one can’t help but think that the average American would agree with each and every one of The Donald’s complaints about the profligate paternalism involved in maintaining this precious “international order” Wright would have us enforce for free.

The following paragraph is interesting and I’d like to highlight it:

“To understand Trump, in the end, we have to go back to Taft and Lindbergh,” avers Wright, and in this he is absolutely correct. It’s a pity some of my libertarian friends fail to see this, but they are blinded by cultural factors and held captive by political correctness: immigration matters more to them than foreign policy. What they don’t understand is that the question of war and peace is the central issue of modern times. They fail to appreciate the foreign policy paradigm shift represented by Trump’s political success. However, Wright does understand it, along with his neoconservative comrades over at National Review and the Weekly Standard.

Robert A. Taft was a conservative Republican politician who opposed U.S. entry into the Second World War.

Raimondo concludes:

The lesson to be taken from this episode is the centrality of foreign policy in the political life of our country. The doggedness with which the internationalists are attacking Trump, the nature of their criticisms, and the viciousness of their tactics is an indication of how hard it will be to dislodge them – just as Trump’s popularity shows how eager Americans are to hear someone tell them that we don’t have to continue being the policeman of the world….

The meaning of Trumpism is that Americans want to rid themselves of the burden of empire…. Trump’s rise augurs a seismic shift in the foreign policy debate in this country, marking the end of the interventionist consensus that dominates both parties. And it certainly means the final defeat and humiliation of the neoconservatives…. And that alone is worth whatever price we have to pay for the triumph of Trump. For the neocons are the very core of the War Party: their demise as a politically effective force inside the GOP is an event that every person who wants a more peaceful world has been longing for and should celebrate.

When the Republican-controlled Congress in the Clinton era threatened to pull the funding from Bill Clinton’s war in the former Yugoslavia, Bill Kristol threatened to walk out of the GOP. Today, as Trump appears to be the likely Republican presidential nominee, Kristol is threatening to start his own party.

This is all very interesting.

Although I’ve been critical of anti-war people for their tendency to downplay the consequences of their decisions. At the same time, I am not in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, either. In Krauthammer’s Foreign Affairs article there is a mention of another point of view which is neither isolationist nor interventionist which Krauthammer calls realism.

Isolationism is the most extreme expression of the American desire to return to tend its vineyards. But that desire finds expression in another far more sophisticated and serious foreign policy school: not isolationism but realism, the school that insists that American foreign policy be guided solely by interests and that generally defines these interests in a narrow and national manner.

The origins of the First World War always seemed a little slippery to me and, in school, like most kids, I learned to memorize like a catechism, reciting without quite understanding, that the causes of the First World War were “nationalism, militarism and imperialism.” Throughout my education, I was taught that nationalism was a great bugaboo, the root of evil, worse than money, worse than a lust for power, worse, it seemed, than anything. To consider nationalism objectively, thinking that it might have pros as well as cons, seemed as insane as considering the pros and cons of cannibalism or infanticide.

Therefore, when I saw a book for sale with the title Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, I was naturally intrigued and picked it up. I read it. Found many of its points very interesting some of which would become integrated into my own political thought. It must have only been recently released, because shortly after I read it I came across a review. Although I can’t say that I bought every word Greenfeld wrote, moreover, there were many portions I had to take on trust because I did not have the background to evaluate them, especially her chapter on Russia since I speak no Russian, I felt that she had opened my eyes to several important aspects of nationalism. The review, while making approving comments about her erudition, was so biting in its tone that it was quite clear that she had written something even more controversial than I had been aware of when I read it. I reread it to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where she advocated eating babies. After reading it a second time, I became convinced of the importance of at least one of her points.

I’m writing from memory since my copy is at the bottom of a box. If you had any clue how I live, you would certainly advise me to keep it there and not make a huge mess of my apartment trying to find it. Therefore, you will have to pardon me for working entirely from memory, a memory from about 1992 or 1993. In no way do I mean to summarize her book or do justice to her argument, I am simply highlighting the part that was useful to me.

Greenfeld says, among many other things, that sovereignty must be located in a body. In the days before nationalism, that sovereignty was located in the person of the king. With the rise of the concept of the nation, sovereignty became lodged in that entity. Without this concept, a sovereign nation, modern democracy, the self-government of the people, could not have arisen.

Ironically, I read this at a time that one of my two closest friends was getting drawn more and more towards anarchism. Compared to some of my friends, I am quite conservative, and this is the sticking point. Of course, I am not conservative in the sense that many people use the term: I support legal abortion; I support the right to marriage between people of the same sex; I support the right of people to change their sex; I believe that there are no significant differences among races; I believe in the right to full and equal citizenship of all people regardless of birth; I believe it is a benefit to the nation as a whole to have public education; I believe progressive taxation is necessary to avoid the condensation of wealth; and I could go on. Many of these positions put me at odds with conservatives and place me clearly left of the center. Yet the farther edges of the left leave me worried.

I have watched with trepidation as the left has a post-modernist and post-nationalist world as its goals. I know too many people on the left to not believe that they mean well. Still, I worry that their work will weaken democracy without securing the broader justice they believe they are seeking. In this regard, the populist right which believes the internationalist left is seeking to undermine democratic government is not entirely wrong. I do not believe that it is being directed from on high, as some sort of conspiracy of international bankers. I believe the left is acting in all honesty, but I think they are acting without caution and foresight. If they succeeding in weakening democratic self-government, the wealthy will be glad to take advantage of the weakness they created.

A disturbing development, is that the right in the U.S. is now embracing this sort of post-nationalist idea. There is no balance. The elites across the political spectrum are afraid of the masses.

The close connection between nationalism and democracy should give pause to the people on the extreme left, most of whom believe themselves to be anti-authoritarian.

Recently, the National Review devoted an entire issue to the scary, gauche thing that is Donald Trump. In it, they published what may turn out to be the most famous sentence ever to appear in their magazine. It is being repeated all over. Let me repeat it again:

He and Bernie Sanders have shared more than funky outer-borough accents.

Dahlink, I’ve got a funky “outer-borough” accent. Technically, mine is from New Jersey, but it’s not the Upper East Side. Sorry folks. I’m not partial to the Donald’s taste. I was once a decorative painter and I have a nearly painful awareness of the intersection of taste and class. I’ve advised clients to not add one more curlicue. However, one thing I hate more than the taste of the overly ornate arriviste is the taste of fear, the abject people who seek approval and dress in fear, and furnish their homes in fear, and speak in fear.

What does this have to do with French? Not much except free association inside my noggin.

“Moé, chus bonne.” One of the most remarked upon differences between Quebec French and Standard French is the pronunciation of the “oi” sound. Today, in Standard French “moi” is pronounced like “mwah” (ipa: mwa). However in Quebec it is pronounced as “mweh” (mwe). (I know the typical way of transcribing the pronunciation of é is “ay,” but “ay” is a dipthong and they sound very unlike. We don’t have the sound in English.) Louis XIV, in all likelihood, said “L’etat, c’est moé.”

The French typically tell me that the Canadians speak “eighteenth century French.” This of course is incorrect. Obviously, we are in the twenty-first century and the French-speaking Canadians are, but definition, speaking a variety of twenty-first century French. France lost Canada to the English in 1763. This was before the revolution. “Mwe” was Standard French. “Mwa” was the working class, Parisian pronunciation. In linguistic terms, it was highly marked. We might call it stigmatized, it marked you as a lower class person. During the Revolution, however, these things got turned upside down and having an upper class accent could get you killed. It was only in the wake of the French Revolution that French became standardized throughout the country. I’m not sure why the “wa” pronunciation spread, but it did. Certainly, Canadian French has changed since 1763, but it did not undergo the changes wrought by the Revolution, which is why is sounds “eighteenth century” to some French people.

Another distinction between Standard French and Quebec French is the pronunciation of the r. This is the main element of a Canadian accent that my French retains. To an English speaker, it is a subtle difference, both are uvular fricatives, meaning that they are “rolled” in the back of the throat, however Standard French is voiceless (ʁ) and Canadian French is voiced (χ). For those of you unfamiliar with linguistic terms, this is the difference between a “p” and a “b.” “P” is voiced while “b” is voiceless. If you say “puh” and “buh”, you’ll see what I mean. Your lips are doing the same things, but your vocal cords are not. A voiced “r” does appear in some regional French accents. (Quick – how many nasal vowels are there in French? If you said four, you probably learned French in school like I did. Different regional accents have different numbers of nasal vowels, anywhere from three to six.) In English, the more noticeable your regional accent is, the lower down on the class scale you probably are. I’m not familiar enough with French culture to be certain, but I believe a similar dynamic occurs there. It is definitely the case the Quebec. At the same time, however, if you speak French in Quebec with a voiceless r, you will be accused of putting on airs. One of the reasons I have a Canadian r to begin with is that my ex-husband was obsessed with my pronunciation of this one sound. He kept telling me that I sounded like a “snob.” Since I could barely speak French at that time, I thought this was a bizarre fixation on his part. However, it goes to show how closely tied our accents are to social signals and identity. At times, I’ve thought it would be socially useful to speak without an accent and have thought about changing it. The reason I haven’t done so is that I would feel like a faker.

Before going onto my next free association, I thought I might add this video I found more or less by accident a few months ago. The girl in the video strikes me as looking and sounding typically Quebecoise. Sometimes when trying to give and example of French Canadian accents people give examples that either highlight or downplay the differences between Quebec and France depending on the point they’re trying to make. This strikes me as the sort of language I heard on a daily basis.

I recall reading when I was kid about the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland. One story I read talked about how, if a kid walked into a neighborhood where he was unknown, he might be grabbed by a gang of local kids and forced to recite the alphabet. If he pronounced “h” in the wrong way he would get beaten up. Different social groups had different accents and the pronunciation of the “h” was a distinguishing feature.

I don’t drop my h, but then I’m not from Brooklyn or Queens. Still, I know that I have a lower middle class manner of speaking. I have one rich friend who visibly winces when I say certain words.

From Matt Welch writing on the libertarian website Reason:

Yes, Trump is nobody’s conservative, but it’s not at all clear that many voters really care about such things. His rise is a rebuke to the stories that political commentators have long told themselves, and to the mores they have long shared even while otherwise disagreeing ideologically with one another. You can despise Donald Trump (and oh Lord I do), and appreciate National Review’s efforts here, while simultaneously wondering whether his forcible removal of a certain journalistic mask might also have some benefit.

Strangely, despite disagree with Trump on a variety of issues and doubting that he has the requisite experience to make a decent president, I can’t help rooting for him. I know that the people who hate him hate me too. It’s a strange feeling. I understand why someone wouldn’t vote for him, but I don’t understand the hysteria. We have a republican form of government. What’s the worst that could happen? I’m supporting Sanders despite not being a socialist in large part because I don’t think he’d be able to get his most socialist ideas through Congress. I think Sanders’ focus on working people is good and Congress will prevent him from going too far. It would be even more dramatic with Trump. My own hunch is that if Trump becomes president he will be able to do less than even Sanders because he’s not as familiar with the inner workings of government. We’ll have four muddled years. The earth won’t stop turning. Frankly, I don’t see Trump as having enough support to do something like invading Iraq, so I doubt he’ll even be as damaging as President Bush, Jr. After that, we’ll probably get a more mainstream politician.

As far as Trump being an embarrassment, I don’t really care. Between the welfare of the American people and the good opinion of European high society, I’ll take the welfare of the American people every time. Trumps accent, lack of style, hair, wife, interior decorations are all non-issues to me. Everyone was so thrilled that President Obama cut a dignified figure on the world stage, but, while he did so, the gap between the rich and the poor grew. Dignity be damned. My concern about Trump is that he is too unfamiliar with government to govern well.

Anyway, the person who truly scares me is Senator Cruz.

 

 

About a year ago, I wrote a post asking if I should cancel my subscription to The New Republic in the wake of major changes to its editorial staff.

For those of you who are not familiar with the magazine, it is a 101 year old “institution” which has always been more influential than its modest subscriber base would indicate. It considers itself “liberal” but has generally been more centrist than the word “liberal” conveys in the popular vernacular today. It has generally had a reputation for intellectual rigor. When I first purchased my subscription, my own politics were somewhat to the left of the line of The New Republic’s editorial staff. For that reason I found it valuable. It was a different liberal voice in a sea of liberal voices which often sound too much the same.

It was bought by Martin Peretz in 1974.

Peretz was a veteran of the New Left who had broken with that movement over its support of various Third World liberationist movements, particularly the Palestine Liberation Organization. Peretz transformed TNR into its current form.

It advocated what Wikipedia calls “a self-critical brand of liberalism.”

The magazine as I would first come to know it was

known for its originality and unpredictability in the 1980s. It was widely considered a “must read” across the political spectrum. An article in Vanity Fair judged TNR “the smartest, most impudent weekly in the country,” and the “most entertaining and intellectually agile magazine in the country.” According to Alterman, the magazine’s prose could sparkle and the contrasting views within its pages were “genuinely exciting”. He added, “The magazine unarguably set the terms of debate for insider political elites during the Reagan era.”

At this point in time, it was very much to the right of where I was. Still, it was not so far to the right that I didn’t feel that I couldn’t benefit from the writing in it from time to time but didn’t have a subscription.

Peter Beinart was the editor in the late nineties and early 2000s while Franklin Foer became editor after him. Under Foer the magazine went in a decidedly leftward direction. Prior to Foer the magazine had an unapologetic emphasis on words. The layout and design weren’t much to look at and there were few illustrations. When they first went for a glossier, mass market, general interest look, I was initially apprehensive because I was afraid it was a sign that less emphasis would be put on the substance of the magazine. After a few issues, it seemed that my worries were either unfounded or, if there was a decline in the quality of the writing I was unable to perceive it.

In 2012 on of the co-founders of Facebook, bought The New Republic and appointed himself editor-in-chief. His status as a co-founder of Facebook is said to be entirely due to the luck of being college roommates with Mark Zuckerberg (after attending Andover). The fortune he acquired as a result prompted Peretz to quip, “I think he owes about $700 million to the Harvard housing office.”

Hugh’s did make some changes in the beginning, including a greater emphasis on the website and more visuals. A little over a year ago, at the time I wrote my post about canceling my subscription, Hughes made significant changes. He replaced Franklin Foer with Gabriel Snyder and created the new position of CEO, filled by Guy Vidra,

a Yahoo veteran who had a short attention span and was a vocal critic of the magazine’s discursive style during internal staff meetings, saying the articles bored him—demonstrated tone-deafness to the cherished culture of the opinion journal.

A recent Daily Beast article by Lloyd Grove recounted how during the December 2014 crisis caused my the management changes a dozen editors and writers quit.

John Judis, one of the brand-name writers who quit the magazine amid the implosion of December 2014, wrote Monday on his Facebook page: “What’s a good saying that will allow me not to use clichés like ‘the chickens have come home to roost.’ Hughes, the first generation of Silicon nouveaux riches, didn’t know what he was doing when he bought a political magazine. He didn’t understand what a political magazine was. And now that he has gotten rid of all the original staff, blown away its readership, and tarnished a century of work by people dedicated to make the country better rather than making a profit for the already wealthy, he’s calling it quits.”

Much of this has been cast as traditionalists versus Silicone Valley, although I think that gives Hughes far too much credit. Hughes says that he was trying to find a viable business model, but maybe he just doesn’t know anything about business. The absolute disdain for Hughes is palpable. The headline on one New York Times post read, “When Restless Billionaires Trip on Their Toys.” From The Wall Street Journal:

Web traffic declined by more than 50% following the tumult, according to comScore Inc., and hasn’t risen much in the past year.

In November, the site attracted 2.3 million unique visitors, down 38% from the same month a year earlier.

In fact, the graph included with the article shows numbers that are far worse because November was higher than the previous months.

Ira Stoll, writing in the New York Sun, had an additional point, beyond the mismanagement, and why I’m writing about the subject myself:

But the bigger issue isn’t a collapse of circulation or advertising revenue or the publishing industry’s digital transformation. Underlying the New Republic’s difficulties is a broader and far more troubling collapse of the ideology — call it Cold War liberalism, or the center-right wing of the Democratic Party — that once animated the magazine.

What did the New Republic stand for? Under the long editorship of Martin Peretz, if the magazine stood for anything, it was the idea that Israel had reliable allies — and Islamic extremism had reliable enemies — among the American intellectual center-left elites. That certainty is now gone, as evidenced by, among other things, the paltry opposition in the Democratic Party to President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Senator Schumer and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York voted to block the deal, but theirs was a lonely stance.

Under Mr. Peretz, the New Republic editorialized in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, entertained doubts about the justice and efficacy of race-based affirmative action, supported American military intervention in Bosnia, published a devastating takedown of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, and otherwise displayed an admirable independent-mindedness. It was a counterpoint to the blame-America-and-capitalism-first attitude of other left-of-center publications such as the Nation or Mother Jones. It wasn’t clear that Mr. Hughes was interested in pursuing that political agenda, or that, even if he was, there was an audience remaining for it.

At the current moment in our politics, the left is suffering from a lack of self-criticism. They seem to fallen into self-parody and they don’t even know it. The vacuum located where the center left used to be is huge and it’s palpable. Despite the noisiness of the far right, the center right is still there.

Ultimately, a magazine provides a service to its readers. No one reads a magazine because they like the platform. The New Republic under Hughes just became one more generic liberal magazine in a market already inundated with like-minded publications. I subscribed, not because I agreed with its positions all the time, but because it gave me something that I couldn’t get elsewhere.

I didn’t actually cancel my subscription, I just let it lapse.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and American Transcendentalist, he made that sentence a household phrase.

One set of my ancestors tried to kill another set, not just kill, in fact, but dominate, conquer and annihilate. For the most part, they succeeded.

I like the modern world and entertain no fantasies that I would actually prefer living in any premodern society. Still, if I were asked to pick among premodern societies, I might very well pick one of the Algonquian tribes from the eastern coastal region of North America. I’m a little self-conscious about that choice since I feel like maybe I’m being bigoted here. Still, I can’t help feeling that they had a really pleasant culture. If you don’t mind a bit of poverty, they still do. When the Europeans first arrived here, they reported that most of the tribes were really peaceful. I’m quoting from memory, so pardon me if I’m inaccurate, but Roger Williams wrote that if they had a war for seven years they would not kill seven men, that wars among Algonquian tribes mainly involved cutting off trade relations and endless negotiations. That is in all likelihood an exaggeration, but there is no doubt they definitely are high up on the peaceful scale and leave the premodern Europeans far behind. The are also well ahead, at least according to my own personal preferences, of the Europeans on the matter of gender equality. They seem to have not had any particularly onerous religious rituals, another plus in my book.

I don’t think I’m romanticizing Native Americans because I don’t necessarily view other premodern North American cultures quite as rosily, not that I’d put them beneath the Europeans. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the culture of the California coast and even less about the tribes of sub-Saharan Africa. Instinct tells me in a region so large I’d probably find at least one or two groups to be highly agreeable. South Pacific Islanders definitely give everyone a run for their money and they have a far better climate than Eastern North America. Still, I think we can say that, according to standards of my very modern self, the Algonquian tribes had a pleasant, agreeable, peaceful culture.

It is a puzzle to try to know how much some of these cultural traits endure, but all of the people I’ve met belonging to communities descended from Algonquian tribes have been really nice, kind, gentle people, which just reinforces in my mind the image of these groups.

In late elementary school or middle school, I recall going to the library looking in books to find out which Indian tribes lived where in North America. The adoption agency said that my biological mother’s ethnic background English, American Indian and French. I knew she came from the East. Now, people can move, but still I was putting higher probability on the eastern tribes, which according to the books were “extinct.” The word doesn’t mean the same thing for human beings as it does for dodos. For animals, it means every last member living on earth is dead. The northern white rhino is not yet extinct but almost certainly will be, still we do not call it extinct as long as a few survive.

Regarding Native American tribes, the word “extinct” means that the nation no longer exists as a political entity. However, more often than not, they left descendants. In many instances, the descendants live in the same community, or a handful of nearby communities. The word I found in the books as a child was “remnant.” Previously, I had mainly associated that word with a nearby carpet factory that advertised that its outlet store sold “remnants.” It was a weird and vaguely unpleasant association that I’ve never really been able to shake.

Since that time, I’ve met people belonging to those communities. One day, I’d like to take a trip and drive from New England to the South and visit some of the communities with the end of writing something about them. For now, l just want to point out that, where the fate of these people are concerned, there was no justice. The arc of the moral universe will never be long enough to bend towards them.

The “good guys” don’t always win. By our current moral standards, the Algonquian tribes were at a higher level than the barely modern Europeans who destroyed them. Moreover, it was the very quality that makes their culture morally preferable to us today, their peacefulness, that made them especially vulnerable.

When President Obama compared today’s Syrian refugees to the Plymouth Pilgrims, I felt quite angry with him. I thought it showed a callous disregard for the indigenous people of New England as well as a willful ignorance of history. Take it from a remnant, the universe is not moral.