Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 4 Nov 04 16:43
We'd like to welcome Glenn Smith, author of the terrific book _Politics of Deceit_, as our latest Inkwell.vue guest. Glenn has been a behind-the-scenes advisor to U.S. senators and governors, as well as a partner with key presidential advisors to President Clinton and President Bush. He has advised major U.S. businesses and institutions on communications strategies and worked for politicians and organizations from Washington, D.C., to California. Smith, who managed the recent Defend Democracy Campaign for MoveOn.org, has established DriveDemocracy.org to open new avenues for political participation at the state and local levels. He has also served as a consultant to the Rockridge Institute, a progressive think tank based in California. Previously, he was managing director of Public Strategies, Inc., an international public affairs firm. Before entering politics, Smith was a journalist for many years. He lives in Austin, Texas. Drew Trott leads the discussion. Drew was born about 50 years ago in Montana, before it was a red state. He came to California to study law after a detour to Michigan for a degree in English. He has worked as an attorney in the Bay Area since 1980, first in a downtown law firm whose practice included media defense. Since 1986 he has mainly been employed as a staff attorney within the California court system. This is the perfect discussion to schedule just after the election. Glenn's book is discusses modern campaign strategies and tactics, the use of media for ideological manipulation and psychological control, and the resulting threat to any possibility of freedom and democracy. If this election year and Tuesday's results left you feeling queasy, you should read Glenn's book and join this discussion.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 5 Nov 04 00:05
Welcome, Glenn. I want to get to the main themes of your book, as well as some of your activities like your web-based nonprofits, Drive Democracy and Texans for Truth. But first, with some of us still in shellshock from the election, Id like to talk about how some of the things you described played out this time. Heres an example: It seemed to a lot of us that the Bush campaign was able to get a lot of traction by tarring Kerry with relatively meaningless accusations like flip-flopper. At the same time, the Kerry campaign had trouble making inroads despite repeated, far more specific and well-substantiated criticisms, like Bushs creation of huge deficits partly to finance tax breaks for the elite, and his failure to effectively pursue Osama Bin Laden and other Al Quaeda leaders. You make the point that a candidacy is more resistant to negative advertising (and presumably to other negative information) when the candidates supporters have a trusted network of fellow citizens with whom to share political information. You point out that this helps to explain why negative advertising tends to hurt Democrats more than Republicans. Can you explain how this works? And doesn't this factor tend inherently to favor the candidate of the predominant socio-economic group, on the theory that his constituents will more readily connect to networks of like-thinking citizens?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 5 Nov 04 09:28
Let me just say how great it is to be here launching this conversation. Thank you for the opportunity. As usual, I'll learn more than I am able to impart, but I hope to at least provoke some new thinking. Your question goes to the heart of the 2004 election outcome. I don't know if the GOP did this by design, but by building their powerful grassroots infrastructure on a foundation of the conservative evangelical churches, they received ready-made, nationwide, twice-a-week (or sometimes three) meet-up opportunities. Rove knew it wasn't enough, so he added a 1.4 million-person Amway style neighborhood organizing plan. The GOP launched it four years ago. It paid off for them in 2002 and 2004. Republican contributors did not have to be persuaded in the power of this approach. They just gave the money. Here's why it works, and why it makes GOP candidates less vulnerable to their own mistakes, even profound mistakes, and more resistant to negative attacks in election settings. While researching the book I came across a powerful new study a fellow named Gani Aldashev had done as his PhD. thesis at the University of Milan. He looked at 3,000 citizens of Great Britain searching for significant determinants of political participation. The best predictor is citizen self-confidence. In addition, if a person gains the confidence to talk out loud about a political matter to friends, neighbors, colleagues, et cetera, a positive feedback loop ensues, further boosting confidence. Without getting too technical, the person scores a positive "social benefit exchange." The primary grassroots message on the Republican side is, "You (the citizen) have a great contribution to make. It's your voice that must be heard." And when they do speak up, they are signaled that their opinion is relevant. On our side, we tend to build our political grassroots machines toward the end of election cycles. They are sometimes ad hoc, though there's no question they received much better funding this cycle than previous election cycles. Still, our message is, "Vote for candidate X. She will be good for you." We're not asking them anything. We provide few opportunities for confidence-building. So when our candidates are attacked, the confidence of our potential voters is shaken. When GOP candidates are attacked, their voters are immediately involved in refuting the attack. Their confidence is raised. In a nutshell, negative attacks can and did suppress our votes. Attacks on Bush only served to energize his base. Web-based activism has begun to turn this around, but with a limited audience that is not sufficient to win national elections. Bloggers, MoveOn, DriveDemocracy and others are providing a setting for positive social benefit exchanges. And it is making a difference. I was lucky enough to travel the country the last three months of the election, and I can say that many more people have gained confidence in their ability to affect change. They give their time, their money, and their voices. We saw it in the turnout. They were not shaken by attacks on Kerry. But we have to greatly expand this sphere of participation. Until we do, we will remain at a disadvantage. Minor attacks on our candidates will do more damage than major negatives about GOP candidates. We'll continue to be beaten at the turnout game.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 5 Nov 04 10:56
Given that people aren't likely to join churches just to counteract the right's advantage in this area, what should progressive voters be doing to try to build comparable networks (if that's the right word)? Were the people at MoveOn thinking in these terms when they organized their nationwide "house parties" over the summer, e.g., to discuss _Fahrenheit 9-11_ after its debut and to watch _Ourfoxed_ when it was released? And will you be working toward building these kinds of associations through either or both of your organizations, Drive Democracy and Texans for Truth?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 5 Nov 04 12:17
While saving civilization from extremists on the right is a pretty good reason to go to church, temple, sangha or mosque, I agree, of course, that people shouldn't pick a spiritual path for its political efficacy. Let me defer for now a discussion about the role of progressive religious organizations, and I believe there is an important role, to focus on your question. We get some of the benefits I spoke of earlier from all kinds of meetings, including house-parties, community meet-ups, and other gatherings. But we need to do more. We need ongoing community organizations that are present day after day after day. You don't build a firehouse after the fire starts. It needs to be there for people to call upon. Presence is everything. And we need to be organizing in those communities least likely to be already engaged in conversations online, at union halls or at Democratic local or state conventions. We need to be where they live. We can use homes, community centers, churches, recreation centers, parks, marketplaces. We need paid, trained, organizers who can become known and trusted in their communities. These organizers will then empower and supervise much larger groups of volunteers. Those of us already engaged in online activism can dedicate some of our resources and time to building these community-based networks, and we need to persuade wealthier donors to invest in this kind of long-range project. FDR was a genius at this. He ran New Deal programs through local political organizations. That meant local organizers were meeting daily or weekly with citizens in their neighborhoods. And that meant the citizens felt their voices were being heard. Of course, most of those machines sooner or later became corrupt, and progressives helped tear them down. We should have kept the machines and thrown out the rascals running them (think Chicago, late 1960s). Roosevelt also funded the programs with federal tax dollars. I don't think that's in the cards now. We're going to have to do it ourselves. One more thing. I don't think these groups should be over-supervised or controlled. We need the wisdom of the streets and neighborhoods. Let's let local people shape these things.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 5 Nov 04 13:39
One of your major concerns has been voter suppression efforts. In fact, quite coincidentally a friend of mine forwarded a Texans for Truth message about your Vote Vigil project, which was intended (at least in part) to document instances of deceit and suppression by people like the woman depicted in the email, who was "caught in the act on Sunday trying to convince African-American voters in Fort Lauderdale that she was a 'pro-abortion, lesbian Kerry supporter from San Francisco.'" How big a role do you think voter suppression played in this election, how effective were strategies to counteract it, and what new strategies (or improvements on old ones) should we be thinking about for the next round?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 5 Nov 04 13:51
I still believe voter suppression to be one of the most under-reported political scandals of our time. It's remarkable how little attention the press pays efforts to block citizens from casting legitimate ballots. There's a kind of shrugging acceptance that it's just part of the game. Oh well, reporters say, hacks will be hacks and these things happen. In 2004 we made an intense effort to call attention to voter suppression and intimidation. Democrats have often worried about calling additional attention to GOP intimidation schemes. We've worried that since part of the intimidation is simply to spread word of the intimidation that we'd play into the hands of our opponents. I never bought this. It's like saying, "I'm not going to scream about you stabbing me in the back because I don't want you to know my back is turned." Remarkably, I think we made a big difference this year. Some 10,000 lawyers turned out. They were very visible. Our group had thousands of volunteers signed up to photograph bullies. My assumption was most of these intimidators wouldn't want their mothers to see what they were doing. But there's so much more to do. If we really cared about the sanctity of the ballot box in a democracy we'd extend early voting, make election day a national holiday, allow same-day registration, and appoint bipartisan election observers. Jimmy Carter says U.S. elections can't withstand the scrutiny we give other democracies. That's a scandal. We need to keep the attention on voter suppression, and attack the problem in state and local elections the way we attacked it in 2004.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 5 Nov 04 14:26
As one of those 10,000 lawyers I was very sensitive to the GOP spin on the issue, which seemed to be that their army of poll challengers etc. was just *reacting* to a "massive campaign of voter fraud" supposedly being mounted by the Democrats. To me there seem to be two quite different kinds of problems that arise with voter qualifications. One is when a qualified voter shows up at a polling place and discovers he or she isn't registered, or isn't registered in that precinct, or in that county (or even state). This was the kind of thing the Republicans were calling "fraud." But that seems a clear case of deception -- a propaganda ploy based on subtle abuses of language (like changing "undocumented alien" to "illegal immigrant"). Real voter *fraud* is when a voter casts multiple ballots, intending them all to count; or when dead people miraculously vote; or when officials stuff the ballot box (or look the other way while it's stuffed). The only accusations of real *fraud* I've yet heard have been directed at the Republicans, most notably (so far) by Greg Palast in connection with New Mexico (where I happened to be doing my Election Protection gig). This misuse of the term "fraud" brings me to some of the deeper themes of your book, about deception and media manipulation. How effective were the Republicans in discouraging or skewing media coverage of the kinds of minority-vote suppression we're talking about? What kind of effort on the part of the GOP, in terms of expertise, money, and organization, goes into this kind of preemptive propaganda? As with the "flip-flopper" charge, it seems another case where a Republican accusation didn't need much weight to counterbalance a far more substantial Democratic complaint (objection, accusation). How is it that this kind of imbalance seems so widespread and persistent?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 5 Nov 04 15:56
Republicans accomplish several things at once with their dubious cries of voter fraud. They send a signal to their base voters that the "wrong" people are trying to steal the election. This is one way race plays a significant role in elections. The GOP charges are code words for non-white efforts to unfairly disadvantage whites. In this way they mobilize more of the GOP base to turn out. The charges also intimidate would-be voters. It's difficult for many of us to understand the apprehensiveness with which many less-than-privileged Americans approach an Establishment-run outfit like a polling place. Bad things happen to the oppressed when they're called to a city clerk's office, or stopped by a sheriff, of have to go to the courthouse, or even to the post office to pick up a registered letter. (Which is why one current Republican scheme goes like this: send a registered letter to the address of a newly registered voter. They won't pick it up because it's probably bad news. Who gets a gift by registered mail? This year GOP tricksters got tossed out of court in Ohio when they used undelivered registered letters as their only evidence of fraudulent registration.) When Republicans publish lists of "felons" or say they plan to prosecute illegal voters, they're intimidating our base voters at the same time they are mobilizing their racist supporters. These p.r. campaigns are accompanied by paid phone banks which call minority areas with messages that the police will arrest anyone with an outstanding traffic ticket if they try to vote. They'll post signs in neighborhoods saying, "You will be imprisoned" if there's something the matter with your voter registration. Also, as you suggest in your question, by going on the offensive about voter-fraud the Republicans muddy the waters. Criticism of their all-too-obvious efforts becomes little more than "Charges Fly" stories. It's an effective strategy, especially when many in the press think they're being objective by simply reporting both sides without critique or perspective on the charges. The same intellectual laziness is what puts a John Kerry verbal slip on a par with a hundred thousand deaths in a war justified by lies. There are other reasons for the imbalance, as you rightly call it. One of them is a reluctance on our part to employ offensive strategies. I'm not talking here about voter intimidation. I'm talking about obscuring attacks on our candidates by being first on the offensive. I wish the game was played by other rules. My entire book is about that. But I am often frustrated at our lack of aggressiveness and weak-kneed approach. Here's an example. I started Texans for Truth because it was obvious we needed to level the field in the wake of the swift boat from hell attacks on John Kerry. We did ads attacking Bush's National Guard service. Many progressives argued that we should be talking about more important issues. Air America refused to let us come on and talk about our charges because, the producer said, it was more important that we discuss health care, the environment, or the war. Well of course those things are more important. And of course Bush's record on them is terrible. But campaigns are fought in the swamps just as they are fought on the mountain tops. Many among us don't want to admit that, so we grow timid. In the face of our timidity, the Republicans attack first. Then we wonder why our authentic, legitimate criticism of their candidates and tactics don't draw blood. It's because we've put the armor on them with our romantic notions that well-argued ideas alone will prevail. I want to repeat, I'm not talking about violating our principles, or "moral values" in the words of the exit pollsters. I'm just talking about a willingness to understand that the other side is ruthless, and we'd do better if we'd keep them off guard with some uncharacteristic, bloodthirsty behavior of our own.
Andrew Trott (druid) Fri 5 Nov 04 20:00
Sometimes it almost seems there's a masochistic, martyrish streak in progressives that makes it easy for conservatives to kick them around. I remember being struck at the rank hypocrisy of the Clinton impeachment hearings when there were all these scandalous stories in the pasts of some of his major tormentors -- particularly Henry Hyde, as I recall. For some reason neither the Democrats nor the press seemed to think those stories were fair game. Sure, given the way the issues were framed at the time, those stories weren't, strictly speaking, "relevant." But that's another part of the puzzle: Why do progressives so often end up letting their adversaries frame the issues? Is it that, as good Enlightenment rationalists, progressives feel they should be able to address the issues satisfactorily no matter how they're framed? Is it lack of an instinct for the jugular? Is it that couching issues in terms of hope and fairness just doesn't have the oomph that fear and antagonism have?
Ted (nukem777) Sat 6 Nov 04 06:55
The word 'liberal' has taken a beating for about 20 years or so, since Ronald Reagan. This was the first election I can remember in a long time when any candidate actually ran on that platform, or at least was unafraid of the word. It still seemed too much to overcome. I notice you like the word 'progressive'. Do you think the Democratic party needs to redefine it's terms or coin new words to describe itself? One look at the Electoral map clearly indicates the overwhelming majority of the country identifies itself with the portmanteau of what the Republicans are calling 'conservative'. And then there's the rest of us. I'm not sure how to describe myself politically anymore.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sat 6 Nov 04 07:18
This is a complex problem, and I am a little uneasy diagnosing a general cause when it is probable the syndrome results for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, I'm going to aim for the most fundamental reason I can identify. I think one of the difficulties is that Progressives always seem to be doing battle on behalf of others, itself a noble calling. We have health insurance, but we fight for those who don't. Our jobs have not been exported oversees. We work for more than the minimum wage. This puts us at some remove from those hyper-capitalism leaves behind. Psychologically, I'm afraid we're fulfilled as much by taking up a cause as we would be by winning. This is most obvious in someone like Ralph Nader, who seems untroubled by the practical consequences of his self-righteousness. Maybe this is easiest to see in the alienation of some American intellectuals and artists from progressive movements, from Emerson to Bob Dylan. In an interesting new book, "Hip: the History," John Leland makes the point that engagement is the enemy of hip. Why is this? I believe one of the reasons is that intellectual rebels like Emerson and Dylan are not so much rejecting collective action as they are pointing out movement members' self-absorption. Emerson was anti-slavery but he had a hard time hanging out with the abolitionists. Same with Dylan and anti-Vietnam War activists. Interestingly, their critique is often mistaken for its opposite. They are not retreating to a Romantic Individualism, the movement is. (However, Romanticism gets an exaggerated bad rap from Marxists and post-modernists. Maybe we'll get to that later.) What passes for a political or cultural "ideal" is often just disguised desire. That's how a movement is turned into an audience. FM radio "goes" commercial. Environmentalists buy their cultural identity at REI. Well, the last thing we'd want to do in this circumstance is permanently satisfy and so eliminate the desire by winning. So we don't. The consequences of our failures, at least with regard to many economic issues, always fall on others. Our consciences are clear. Why don't rightests suffer from the same thing? In part because they've put their entire world view at risk, as distorted as that world view is. When they lose, they are the victims. Almost any means justifies their end. George Lakoff says something really important about this. An authoritarian's lie is not a lie when it's uttered to protect the family (coherent world view). Until the family is publicly shamed by that lie, until the rationale for the authority itself is undermined, no damage is done to the cause by a lie. As long as they hang together, and the GOP has done a masterful job of uniting the right, we gain no converts by pointing out Bush's lies. To the Right, we're just confused ideologues. We're caught in a trap. The Left can't just mimic the Right and go to war on behalf of a world view because we understand such unified world views as monstrous. Communists tried it. I think I'm getting close to Adorno's hopelessness, but it's not hopeless. In the book I turned to the thought of the late Czech philosopher Jan Patocka and his disciple, Vaclav Havel, poet-turned-president. When our world view becomes a non-totalizing, pluralistic commitment to "living within the truth," we succeed in putting more than our desire at risk. We go to battle on behalf of one another and can't take refugee in the self-satisfied construction of an identity at ease with perpetually losing. As Havel pointed out in the 1970s, it is just here that Western capitalist democracies resemble the bureaucratic communist regimes of Eastern Europe that crumbled in 1989. The weakness of totalizing world-views is that they are captured by their lies. They are removed, quite literally, from reality. Sooner or later they suffer from a disease their world view won't recognize. And they will die. "Living within the truth" then is principled political resistance. The trick comes when we succeed and take the reigns of power. Then we must use these principles against ourselves. The Czech Republic has not had so much luck with this. To wrap this up, I just want to point out that I believe our Emersons, Thoreaus, and Dylans have long championed a similar approach. It's a kind of "moral perfectionism," meaning not a reachable utopian ideal of individual or collective perfection but the recognition that the self is in perpetual motion, that it constantly evolves toward greater understanding. Culture and political organization should promote and protect these possibilities of freedom. When I was in Boston for the Democratic convention this year I had the great pleasure of talking through these parallels between the Emersonian tradition and Patockian "living within the truth" with Harvard's Stanley Cavell, the contemporary advocate of moral perfectionism. If the work of Patocka and Havel is not at hand, read Cavell. Read Cavell no matter what. He himself is modest about the political consequences of his work. But that's just because he practices the moral perfectionism he preaches.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sat 6 Nov 04 07:26
Ted's question arrived before I posted an answer to Drew, but I think my answer may speak to both concerns. As to the latter question, I think it's critical that we examine our language and re-frame our issues. This is why Lakoff's work is so important. I'm using the word progressive for several reasons. First, I want to search for new approaches to governance and culture, and I'm afraid that even in its positive sense the word "liberal" is tied to specific, post-Enlightenment political practices, including nation-states and large, bureaucratic governments. Second, there's an American tradition of progressivism I'd like to invoke. Third, the 50-year assault on the word from conservatives has done its damage.
Andrew Trott (druid) Sat 6 Nov 04 09:06
I use the word "liberal" to describe myself sometimes, but to me it conveys a connotation of exactly the syndrome you describe: it suggests someone who is "fulfilled as much by taking up a cause as [s/he] would be by winning." I know the concept is at or near the heart of your book, and you can hardly compress the whole 200-plus pages here, but can you say more about what you mean by "living within the truth"? In what ways is this a personal, internal commitment, and in what ways a collective or social one? Are there concete examples (real or hypothetical) where a person could be said to choose between living within the truth and not doing so?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sat 6 Nov 04 15:47
It was in trying to answer this question -- the question of the personal and the social -- that I first realized the commonalities between Emersonian perfectionism and Patocka's and Havel's political philosophy. Havel, like Emerson, makes it clear that political reform is not the cause of social (and individual) reawakening, but the final outcome of reawakening. In this sense living within the truth begins with the individual, on the levels of consciousness and conscience. Too often the necessity for personal transformation is misconstrued as a hyper-individualism or solipsistic withdrawal. That is not what I have in mind. Instead, we should understand living within the truth to have not just an existential dimension, but moral, noetic, and political dimensions as well. This means that to live within the truth one should 1) Aim toward a transformation of consciousness, create the self anew (existential); 2) Set an example for others (moral); 3) Insist upon grounding cultural and political movements in reality -- don't mistake the virtual for the real (noetic); 4) Subvert the political order that inhibits or oppresses in oneself and others these earlier dimensions. Havel suggested that living within the truth worked like a virus or meme, infecting the unsuspecting, even one's oppressors. So small gestures of living within the truth can have large consequences. Totalizing regimes such as the one Havel overcame require universal acceptance of their deceits. Only when lies go unexposed or unacknowledged can the regimes prevail. Even the smallest crack threatens the foundation of the whole. That is why Czech intellectuals took to "writing to the desk," or continuing their outlawed intellectual projects even when they were prohibited from publishing. They shared their work with others in living rooms and bars. Havel uses the example of a small shop owner, a green grocer who conforms to the demands of the regime and places in his window a sign that says, "Workers of the World Unite." The grocer puts the sign in his window because he has always done so. It is just one of the things he does to get along in life and to keep out of the way of the secret police. But he probably doesn't even think about that anymore. Refusing to display such a sign would be a small but powerful example of living within the truth. It requires in the green grocer a new consciousness, a sort of, "Wait a minute, the authorities don't mean what this sign says. It's preposterous. They're just using my unthinking habits to perpetuate their lies." This is the change of consciousness. The grocer, by removing the sign, sets an example for others. This is the moral dimension of living within the truth. At the same time, the sign's obvious lie, the regime's pretense to proletarian utopia, is unmasked. This is the noetic dimension. Direct political action against the Czech authorities was, of course, outlawed. In fact, such an action, in 1977, led to Patocka's death. He died of a brain hemorrhage after hours of interrogation for his part in the Charter 77 movement. Charter 77 simply called upon the regime to respect human rights. It was specifically not a call to revolution. Nonetheless, because it stripped away the lies of the regime, the regime was forced to act. What are the equivalent unconscious actions progressives perform by habit which perpetuate an order they otherwise seek to reform? That is the question you pose. Recognizing and altering these habits would be the beginning of living within the truth. In an essay written in 1841 Emerson recognized the difficulty American reformers would have in fulfilling their obligation to live within the truth. He cautioned against trying to have it both ways, trying to reform a system while still enjoying to the full that system's tainted benefits. "This is the tragedy of [the reforming] genius,--attempting to drive along the ecliptic with one horse of the heavens and one horse of the earth, there is only discord and ruin and downfall to chariot and charioteer," Emerson wrote in "Man the Reformer." This is just a way of saying that living within the truth requires integrity. We can't shout to the crowd demands for renewable sources of energy while we stand through the sun roof of a Hummer. We could take small steps. A little more attention to all the stuff we buy, for instance. After 9/11 Bush and others urged us to remain unbowed...in our duty to shop. They meant it. And they won't like it if we exercise a little prudence. Or we could take big steps. Challenge, persistently and unforgivingly, Bush's pretense of a concern for personal liberty. As Havel said, "...every free expression of life indirectly threatens the post-totalitarian system politically, including forms of expression to which, in other social systems, no one would attribute any potential political significance, not to mention explosive power." Unlike pre-1989 Eastern Europe, our direct political intervention against the Right is not outlawed by fiat. It is obscured by the fog of media, marginalized by conformists who use fear to oppose change, and weakened by some of our own bad habits. We have no excuse. We can act in all four perfectionist dimensions, the personal, the moral, the real, and the political.
Ted (nukem777) Sat 6 Nov 04 17:30
I don't know if this is a good spot to place this, but as long as we are talking about the meaning of words, George Lakoff's article on the metaphors of politics is outstanding:http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/research/lakoff/New_School.pdf/view
Ted (nukem777) Sat 6 Nov 04 17:34
Glenn, I really like your breaking down the dimensions in which we can act. After this election, I'm feeling like I need to throw my whole self into a more concerted effort. We could easily have another 12 years of this with McCain following Bush and the Republicans holding Congress (not that McCain doesn't have his Progressive good points). And I don't want to get misdirected by chasing after targeted groups or issues.
Andrew Trott (druid) Sat 6 Nov 04 18:12
It seems to me the internet could play a big role in developing and making available some of the information we need to better integrate these dimensions. How about a kind of consumerreports.org for the socially conscious consumer? No progressive in her right mind is going to buy a Hummer, but how about deciding which detergent to buy? Not only which one is really least damaging to the environment, but which one supports a corporation that engages in other kinds of socially damaging conduct? It seems to me that efforts like this could help to build social consciousness as well as a heightened sense of identity among socially conscious folks, too. You've had some experience using the internet to support progressive causes, and you've spoken favorably of MoveOn. How big a role do you think this is going to play, and how do we help to make it happen?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sat 6 Nov 04 21:44
The internet has already made a big difference, and it can make an even bigger difference in the future. To begin with, it is the first new interactive communications technology to be taken up and used in the political sphere since mass advertising took over from political parties, local organizations, real town hall meetings, et cetera. Mass communications are one-way. TV ads, direct mail, telephone solicitations, are all manipulative, top-down messages. The internet is in its political adolescence. We may not today be able to predict its ultimate effect on the political sphere. But what it has already done is remarkable. The Well, for instance, which I believe predates the Web, provides the kind of space I spoke of earlier when I mentioned the Czech dissidents "writing to the desk." We've seen these spaces multiply by the thousands, and we see the positive consequences. Another word about the importance of interactive communications to political engagement. The single most important determinant of a person's willingness to participate in the political sphere is self-confidence. To gain that self-confidence a citizen needs the opportunity to speak up. The internet allows someone to speak up at very little risk and very little cost in time or money. That's huge. I think it's interesting to note that in the last few months I've had different kinds of people (they shared an interest and/or role in internet-based activism, however) make the same observation to me. They said that maybe our democracy is only an early kind of democracy. Maybe democracy itself is in its adolescence, that its shape and form will evolve into different kinds of political organizations. It's not too much to suggest that the "possibility of possibilities" is opened to us by new forms of communication such as the internet. It's happened before. In fact, printing was followed by an explosion of creativity in culture and social organization. Television certainly changed things, though one wonders if, in forecasting the medium's ultimate influence McLuhan meant to say global pillage instead of global village.
Drew Trott (druid) Sun 7 Nov 04 00:11
I trust we'll come back to this topic of television, and specifically advertising, and its effect on the political process. And like Ted, I also want to come back to the topic about the four dimensions of perfectibility. But before going further on those fronts I want to be sure and introduce what seems a key concept in your book, the dichotomy between "freedom to experience" and "freedom to will." Again, there's no way to compress your intriguing exposition of this dichotomy into a workable length here, so let me toss out my own understanding of the point, and tell me where I've gotten it wrong. As I understand it, the "freedom" that concerned the founders (and the Enlightenment to which they owed most of their ideas) was the freedom to pass through the world without arbitrary or burdensome limitations from the government -- the "freedom to experience." In the early part of the 20th century (or before?) this began to be displaced by a sense of entitlement to have one's way with the world -- "freedom to will." The distinction is roughly like that between walking through a woods at pleasure, taking in its sights and sounds and smells -- and cutting down its trees for one's personal benefit. Is this a reasonably accurate, if grossly simplified, description of the dichotomy? (Please feel free to say it isn't!) To me it seems obvious that if freedom means anything, it means that a legally (morally) competent person must be allowed to do anything at all that cannot be shown to concretely harm someone else. If it does harm someone else, some kind of balancing needs to be done. But if it harms no innocent third party, there is simply no occasion for intervention. Yet we hear Bush and the Republicans talking about "freedom" (at least for Iraqis) even as they attempt to deprive Americans not only of newly asserted freedoms, like the freedom to marry someone of one's own sex, but also of freedoms explicitly guaranteed by the drafters of the constitution. Is the underlying key that we have lost some kind of sense of community, or at least of interdependence? After all, I can be a perfectly good neighbor even if I like to eat flies; my freedom to experience the world in that way inflicts no concrete harm on anyone else. But if I start asserting the freedom to play my music at all hours and all volumes, then maybe I'm not such a good neighbor; and to bring it down to capitalism, the fact that I'm playing my music as part of a business venture doesn't make me a better neighbor; quite the reverse. So somehow this idea that society is entitled to tell me what to eat, but not how I can make money, reflects an inversion (not to say perversion) of how "freedom" was conceived by the founders, and how it must be conceived to build a viable society. Is this somewhat congruent with the distinction between "freedom to experience" and "freedom to will"?
Kathy Lanham (jonl) Sun 7 Nov 04 06:30
Email from Kathy Lanham: Mr. Smith, Do you see similarities to the rise of Adolph Hitler and George W. Bush? I myself see many similarities and as a Lesbian am frightened to think what is going to happen to my community over the next 4 years. Sincerely yours, Kathy Lanham
Stephanie Anderson (jonl) Sun 7 Nov 04 08:37
Email from Stephanie Anderson: This probably shows my political ignorance, but I was just wondering: Is it possible for "impeachment" to be a major issue in the next "4 more years?" Two issues at least would be Bush's incompetence in preventing the terrorist acts of 9/11 and especially his deceit leading us into war with Iraq? I would like to see him impeached (I'm sure there would be many to testify), but otherwise it would (maybe) slow down his destructive agenda (and enlighten some of the public). Thanks, Stephanie Anderson
"JSvj" (jonl) Sun 7 Nov 04 08:41
Email from "JSvj": I have a comment. I get a little bent at all the commentators talking about what the Democrats did wrong, Well, they did plenty wrong starting out with not being able to get people like me to fully support them. But they would not be talking about what they did wrong if there was a fair election, they'd be talking about what they did right. So they are off on another paralyzing and tortured self-examination. You can see it here, and as good and as valuable as this dialogue is it proceeds from the basis that they lost. That's true of course, they did lose, and it seems increasingly likely by theft. So my criticism is somewhat besides the point but they are framing it as if it were a real loss. Anyway they don't seem to be getting to the idea that their candidate probably stabbed them in the back by conceding so early? For what? ... Unity? Frankly Kerry's concession fuels those who see more conspiracies than coincidences. I think it has legs and ought to be part of the discussion. Certainly if the intent is to look at what went wrong. To wit, from Xymphora blog: "Isn't it funny that the one thing Kerry expressly promised his supporters he wouldn't do - make an Al Gore-style premature concession speech - is exactly what he did? Had he waited as little as twenty-four hours, information would have been available that would make his decision to concede much more difficult. It is almost as if he was in a hurry to concede before such information came out. The argument is made that they were trying not to appear as sore losers to preserve the chances of Edwards and Hillary in the next election, but the people who didn't vote for them are never going to vote for Hillary, the voters who didn't turn out aren't going to be inspired by this craven collapse, and their core supporters feel betrayed again. The Democrats keep conceding to save their chances for the next election, but of course the next election never comes. Had they made an issue out of this election, at the very least they could have inspired a debate on the major issues of vote suppression, intimidation, 'spoiled' ballots in minority neighborhoods, and receiptless computer voting. As it is, the Republicans just gain experience to do these things and more in the next election. The most pathetic thing, perhaps, is the announcement by the Kerry campaign that they had an army of lawyers and millions of dollars ready to work on the recounts, and the recounts never came. They were all ready to counter Rove's strategy in the last election, and, as usual, he was a vote fraud step ahead of them, never intending to have to resort to a recount by stealing the election in such a way that the issue never came up. Even the much publicized Republican efforts at voter intimidation may have been a ruse to hide the real crimes which were taking place inside computer voting machines. Is this premature concession by Kerry some kind of Skull and Bones thing, a 'gentleman's' agreement between the two Bonesman that they wouldn't engage in unseemly quibbling over who won, but just let the first guy to steal the election have it?"--Xymphora Also the discussion included talk of Move On, I know it was in the context of their organizational skills but has anyone taken a good look at one of their main benefactors, the "philanthropist"George Soros?
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Nov 04 09:16
Jack, your analysis is a bit on the facile side. The Bush campaign, and many campaigns before it in recent decades, has surfed the wave of America's personality disorder, in which know-nothingism is promoted as a desirable character trait and "why do you hate America so much?" is the stock response to anything critical of The Great Father. It's going to be difficult to break the spell of this collective narcissism and return some sense of compassion and altruism to the discourse, The Democrats lose because they keep trying to deal with the reality-based universe; the Republicans win because they have a great gift for manipulating the faith-based universe. It's not so simple as "getting people to vote against their own interest" -- it's getting people to misapprehend their own interests, and it's making people believe tyheir way of life is more at risk from gay marriage than from the grotesque upward redistribution of wealth, environmental degradation, erosion of civil liberties, and so on. It's as though people who never look up have decided that the sky is an unnecessary expense.
Ted (nukem777) Sun 7 Nov 04 10:07
David Brooks had an interesting piece in the New York Times yesterday: "Some of the liberal reaction reminds me of a phrase I came across recently: The rage of the drowning man. " http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/06/opinion/06brooks.html?ex=1100749468&ei=1&en= 7d c8840777d41d3d It is a sobering look at the breakdown of the vote by interest groups and a comparison to the breakdown of the 2000 election as well. It's helpful reading in trying to understand what happened as well as identifying ground gained and lost.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sun 7 Nov 04 10:08
What I am interested in developing is a much more fertile concept of freedom as inter-relational in the most fundamental sense. The last person on earth cannot say she is free. She cannot be free -- in the sense I mean freedom-to-experience -- because she is alone. Such an understanding of freedom is much different from what Isaiah Berlin called positive freedom, or what I call freedom-to-will. To use your striking Metaphor of the Woods, it may seem that freedom to exercise my will and cut down all the trees is the most fundamental freedom. But that is quite literally to miss the forest for the trees. The concept of freedom-to-will is based upon an inaccurate and dangerous misunderstanding of human nature. The misunderstanding dates at least to Descartes, who bifurcated human nature into cool reason and unruly emotion and desire that must be tamed. As Berlin said, "The 'positive' sense of the word 'liberty' derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master." Soon this idea of the divided self can be expanded to something wider than a single embodied being. It can become a social whole, a state, a cult, an ethnic group of which the individual is but a member. The group, then, is justified in taming and controlling other, more unruly individuals, in just the way the bifurcated individual wills his emotions to conform to his reason. The picture of human nature assumed by advocates of freedom-to-experience includes no such bifurcation. And this insight is now being confirmed by the cognitive sciences. (Interestingly, this psychological understanding is also shared to one degree or another by Emersonians, American pragmatists like William James, and European phenomenologists like Jan Patocka). Berlin, who wrote "Two Concepts of Liberty" in the 1950s, after the rise and fall of the fascist states and the political bifurcation of the world into unruly, godless communists and "reasoning" democrats, knows what's at stake. He puts it in a beautifully understated way: "Recent history has made it only too clear that the issue is not merely academic." All these types of political organizations assumed, to one degree or another, that the state must master and control its unruly elements and, literally, all the unruly elements in the world. The individual will is projected onto charismatic leaders or monolithic state apparatuses. Stanley I. Greenspan and Stuart G. Shanker accomplish a devastating critique of the Reason/Emotion distinction in their new book, The First Idea. Theirs is only the most recent, though, as thinkers from a variety of fields have mounted assaults upon the Descartesian picture. The Romantic movement, for instance. It turns out that the very evolution of language and culture derive from what Descartes (or Freud, etc. etc.) would call emotional processes. Emotion and reason are integrated. There is no master and slave in human nature. Freedom does not result from taming our emotions, or, in the political sense, by extending our unrestrained will so far that we tame others for their own good. Freedom-to-experience means actualizing and enhancing the human, which we cannot divide into reason and emotion. Its inter-relational or inter-subjective nature is demonstrated by developing babies, whose first "language" is the transformation of simple emotions into "a series of successively more complex interactive emotional signals" learned by give-and-take with mom and dad, as Greenspan and Shanker note. They go on to point out that "the growth of complex cultures and societies and human survival itself depends on the capacities for intimacy, empathy, reflective thinking, and a shared sense of humanity and reality." That is why my freedom is so intimately connected to your's. When I cut down the trees and deprive you of a walk in the woods, my own freedom is curtailed because yours is. This is true even if I cut down the trees after deciding I don't want to walk among them myself anymore. It's not my loss of the trees, its your loss of experience or possible experience that deprives me of mine. I become, as it were, my own worst enemy. It's as if a developing infant had the power to inhibit or restrain the behavior of its mom and dad. Such restraint would, reciprocally, deprive the infant of learning experiences, of the complex interactions necessary for her own integrated development. This integration, growth and development does not end in childhood. So when I do get big enough to restrain you, it's my own experience that is hobbled. It doesn't take much insight to see that contemporary political practices, even in democracies, depend upon and exploit the mistaken understanding of a bifurcated human nature. Politics is now all about coercion, through manipulative ads, for instance. Thinkers like Foucalt believe we were entrapped in such power relations by our nature. But I think they are caught in Descartes's spell as well. So when I answered an earlier question about the internet's impact on political life, you can see why its interactive nature could be so important. It's less coercive (by technological accident, maybe, but who cares). And it's why the book urges a much more participatory politics in general. But systems are adept at perpetuating themselves. And so our political practices -- define them as broadly as you like -- achieve first and most importantly their own continued dominance, whatever side might win an election. We see again why revolution or reform must take place simultaneously in the four dimensions spoken of earlier. I could withdraw and work on the existential, and leave you out in the woods, so to speak. But no real transformation of consciousness could take place, because I would have left part of my nature behind, in your heart. I could demonstrate my limited existential growth more publicly, setting a moral example. And I could ask you to do the same. But by failing to address the real, by failing to address the broad cultural, political and physical environment as it is, as it really is, we'd be nothing more than a mutual admiration society. Together, we could simply broaden our interactions with others, building a pluralistic and healthy subculture from the bottom up, but without political reform we would remain limited and leave countless others behind.
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