Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Drew Trott (druid) Fri 12 Nov 04 15:48
I don't want to preempt Kathleen's comment, but it points to another subject I meant to bring up with Glenn: In your chapter about the covenant tradition you cite several examples where small group meetings have been used (or at least proposed) to help overcome the obstacles to effective citizen participation in an increasingly undemocratic, hierarchical system. You cite the remarkable example of the IAF, which I am embarassed to admit I had never heard of, as well as Walter Mosley's proposals for action. In that same chapter you bring in the idea (which I think you've already mentioned in this topic) of communications which are ritualistic or performative rather than informational, i.e., they operate chiefly to reinforce a sense of common affiliation (an underlying social covenant) rather than to impart data. Is that a fair summary, as far as it goes, of where your thinking about the covenental tradition goes? And doesn't it take us, by yet another road, to a necessity that individual Americans start making a point of meeting with their neighbors, sharing common aspirations, and working at the face-to-face level to counteract the power and sheer size of the mass political machinery?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 12 Nov 04 18:59
Kathleen's suggestion in #99 is a good one. Such conversations can be personal, local, and based on concrete detail. Also, there may be no more important issue. I say that because I just returned from a conversation with a rather pessimistic economist-type who told me the international bottle-neck through which every nation in the world is trying to move at the same time -- we're running out of oil -- is moving us quickly (5 years, 10 years!!!) toward a world in which science fiction post-apocalyptic distopias begin to look like Brook Farm.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Fri 12 Nov 04 19:42
Drew, you have covenant correct. The Declaration of Independence is a covenant (so was the Mayflower Compact). The U.S. Constitution is a contract, and most modern liberal theories of justice are contractarian, not covenental. Covenants are more general, but at the same time more inter-relational. Often they bind people together by making covenant with a "higher" source, as in Judaism. But covenants can also be built around simple community goals or principles. Rights-based, contract arguments are competitive in nature. Of course, Hobbesians say, that's what life requires. It's not one for all and all for one, it's a free-for-all. Ritual plays an important role in the organization of all human groups. James S. Cary pointed out the difference between transmission communication and "ritual" communication. Transmission communications transfer data from person A to person B, across some distance (time or space or both). Ritual communications, you might say, are about reducing distance between people. Ritual communications build trust because they eliminate threats of lies, which if uncontrolled destroy group solidarity. Carey speculates that in America transmission theories of communication have always dominated. In fact, I think ritual communications shares the back row with the covenant tradition, as one would expect in a hyper-individualist, contract-based society in which a dominant theory of human nature urges us to suspect one another. This is not just a theoretically interesting. Martin Luther King Jr. quite consciously invoked the covenant tradition in the Civil Rights Movement. He asked Americans again and again to return to our central covenant: All are created equal. So we can see how covenant and ritual work together with earlier points about reaching for shared moral beliefs with others in conversation. Such a strategy might be called a micro-covenant. Micro-covenant might be a great term to keep in mind when we engage others in conversation about political or social matters about which disagree, or, for that matter, with anyone. Social or cultural rituals can play a major part in this, because they build trust. A regular coffee shop meeting, for instance, can become a daily ritual in which two people can come to rely on the other's presence and attention. It's not by accident that we tend to fall into these kinds of rituals spontaneously. But we may have forgotten how important they are.
Drew Trott (druid) Sat 13 Nov 04 13:41
Another theme running through the book is the role of trust in encouraging political participation. In your chapter on internet activism you point out that people who are relatively disadvantaged tend to have lower levels of trust and thus are less likely to be reached by the kinds of online efforts we saw in the last election. These people need to be brought in through the kinds of face-to-face interactions that IAF organizes. Earlier in this conversation you said that these structures (which I keep wanting to call "networks") need to be in place as a permanent fixture, not just an ad hoc exercise at election time. As an *advantaged* member of the society and a heavy internet user, I read that and find myself wondering how such a development can be brought about. Is there some way I can encourage it from my position of relative privilege? Are there people particularly well situated to effect it, who need to be persuaded of the need?
from JOEL GRANT (tnf) Sun 14 Nov 04 10:22
Joel Grant writes: Maureen Dowd's column today was chilling, bring together under one roof some of the more belligerent post-election bombast from Bush-supporting theocrats. They seem to feel they are close to their goal of turning America into a theocracy. Your opinion: while we all debate the best ways to move American democracy into a more progressive space, how great is our exposure to losing it all to authoritarianism and theocracy? I hate to hear myself thinking this way. I am almost 53 years old and have spent my sentient life assuming that the way it is is the way it will be. But what is happening in this country feels very different, quite unlike political trends of the past. I believe the right wing is playing for keeps, and they intend to simply take the country and run it the way they want in perpetuity. Just how great is the risk? Joel Grant
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sun 14 Nov 04 11:46
It's difficult to accurately evaluate the threat of permanent or semi-permanent authoritarian government. What is clear is that among certain elements on the right, that circumstance is now preferred. In other words, they are more committed to forcing their will upon others than they are committed to the essential principles of democracy. I think the threat is real. We have already lost political freedoms, and more are threatened. We see the loss of free expression in recent judicial threats to jail journalists for refusing to disclose their sources and notes. We see the loss of civil liberties in the excesses of the Patriot Act, the new intrusiveness of government, the imposition of sectarian views on others. Trust your instincts. We are experience something different, a widespread willingness to give up freedom for security. It can happen here.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Sun 14 Nov 04 12:04
To Drew's question in #104, I'll let you know what I'm doing. I'm promoting many different organizations and kinds of organizations which are out talking to people. I'm talking to progressive contributors about funding ongoing organizational work. Both are initiatives all of us could take. Until we get some of these things going it's kind of difficult to get people to give their money to them. I'm hoping, though, that groups like America Coming Together will soon propose ongoing, year-round, community-based efforts. But I don't think we need to wait on the creation of a super-organization. There are many groups in the community organizing businesses. We can check them out, get involved in one or more, try to move them in the direction of empowering the disenfranchised, raise money for them. Those of us involved with internet-based activism, as I am, can also move our organizations in this direction. I hope to launch such an initiative in the near future. It'll be a sort of "get out from behind your desk and hit the streets" kind of program. We may raise money online to support groups that are already tackling the problem. We need to broaden the circle of engagement to include others, others who may not be accustomed to the web. I have just completed a two-day conference in New York, organized by a group called Cosmopolity. It was a gathering of internet activists, politicians, grass roots organizers, etc. Much of the work was about this problem. All of us like to think that we're involved in solving the largest, or sexiest, problem. We watch celebrity consultants or former consultants on television and say to ourselves, "I'm going to come up with the silver-bullet message for the progressive revolution. There is no silver bullet. The progressive revolution will be built upon face-to-face encounters, organized and energized with the help of the web maybe, but accomplished in the neighborhoods and communities in which people live. The efforts have to be directed at empowering citizens. The message is not, we have the candidate or the program that will solve your problems, it is, you can affect change. That's how the Industrial Areas Foundation works. That's how the Civil Rights Movement worked. We have to drop the paternalistic, "I can save your world," and let people know that they can change their world. We're just there to help. I am fully aware that this sounds idealistic. But it's not idealistic to believe that each new citizen who has gained the confidence to speak up is a huge step forward for democracy.
Drew Trott (druid) Sun 14 Nov 04 12:25
> "I'm going to come up with the silver-bullet message > for the progressive revolution. > > There is no silver bullet. Boy, is that a crucial realization. I think a lot of people started to get it this year, which is one reason so many of us found some way to get directly involved in the election instead of just talking excitedly to each other in the attempt to formulate the 25-word torpedo that would sink this administration. Part of the challenge now is what to focus on, without a pending election. (I realize 2006 will be here before we know it.) I've thought of issuing an invitation through a local mailing list to watch DVDs at my house and just sort of talk things over. One problem is finding the right DVD. A lot of people never saw "Going Upriver," unfortunately, but it's hardly the right thing now. Do you have any other suggestions on how somebody might get the ball rolling at such a neighborhood meet-up?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sun 14 Nov 04 13:25
I've been thinking the same thing. A friend of mine is going to have a bunch of us over to watch the Lakoff DVD. Certainly Michael Moore stuff is good. The Un series. I suspect Wag the Dog is still timely.
from PATTY HORRIDGE (tnf) Sun 14 Nov 04 16:22
Patty Horridge writes: #106 a widespread willingness to give up freedom for security. Glenn, what is different about a willingness to give up freedom for security. This is nothing new. A bride and groom do it everytime they say I do. Its human nature to strive for security. Protection from the boogey man, whatever form it might look like, is comforting and necessary. The threat comes, in a marriage, a partnership, or a government, when the power of an individual, or group of individuals, overrides the partners freedom. You explain this very thoroughly in your comparison of the authoritarian vs. nurturing model. In todays political environment, we, the people, have turned over our power to the big corporations, special interest groups, and their lobbyists. This brings us back to election reform. I will feel more secure when I know that my leaders are thinking of my needs rather than keeping themselves in office.
Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 15 Nov 04 08:02
One of the "aha" moments in the book came when you discussed some of the offshoots of Saul Alinsky's organizing efforts (much changed, I might note - those who legitimately critiqued Alinsky's later efforts would be positively impressed by some of these). The branch that I've come into contact with most frequently does small-scale community organizing (e.g., in our case, a coalition of mostly faith-based congregations and organizations in the immediate Boston area called the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization) which is, in turn based on creating trusted networks using something callled the "one on one" - essentially series of dozens or hundreds of interviews with potential leaders and volunteers in which you talk about what issues most resonate, what things in your life led you there, and how you would like to get involved. What makes this different from other organizing methods is that you don't base your organizing on getting lots of people together around an extant issue, rather, you talk with lots of people and organize around those items that motivate the people who would need to lead the effort. This is also based less on the idea that one needs to "convert" or "defeat" the enemy, and more on the idea that we need to listen to each other, perhaps filtered through a "social change" filter, and then build from the common ground that we find together. Does this parallel what you were talking about in the book, or am I describing something completely different?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 15 Nov 04 19:18
Drew #108 >Do you have any other suggestions on how somebody might get the ball rolling at such a neighborhood meet-up? The film Bush's Brain, which is available on DVD, might be more relevant than ever. Of course, I'm in it (I don't play Bush's brain -- my part's even smaller than that) but that's not why I suggest it. The truth is, there may not be a need for a special attraction like a film for a neighborhood meet-up, even an initial one. A thought I had during the NYC "morning after" conference this weekend was to organize meetings to discuss FDR's Four Freedoms. They are, by the way, Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt got it right. I think that speech articulates the progressive moral vision about as good as any ever given. Think we could win the "moral values" vote in the next exit polls with that vision?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 15 Nov 04 19:30
Patty, in #110 > what is different about a willingness to give up freedom for security. This is nothing new. A bride and groom do it everytime they say I do. The analogy, you might say, brings up a whole other kettle of fish. But you are of course correct that history shows us that security trumps freedom just about all the time. But not absolutely all the time. But I can't let it pass without noting that friendship, marriage, and other positive human relationships enhance the freedoms of those involved. I think this is true on just about any level of examination. I know it's an ideal. Since this is not an Oprah-related topic, I point it out only because I believe there are ways of organizing government and society that enhance freedom, and are not undertaken just for the sake of security.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Mon 15 Nov 04 19:36
Ari's clear description of the IAF organizations is right on target. Ernie Cortez, who helped organize several IAF groups in Texas -- in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin, Houston (these are ones I know of) is now doing the same thing in California. He's been a leader in that movement for a long time. He's also just a great guy. The only thing larger than his library is his heart. Ari really does get it right. There are some resources available online, and a few books on the movement. The organizations help people identify community problems, provide training (peer to peer) on how to address them, let leaders arise organically. There's nothing paternalistic about it. I saw Ernie the other day in a bookstore, and we're going to get together to discuss ways the model can be adopted by others and maybe enhanced or complented by the internet.
William H. Dailey (whdailey) Mon 15 Nov 04 22:40
Yes. The theocrasy of money. The banking cartel, the energy cartel, the drug cartel, etc..
Drew Trott (druid) Mon 15 Nov 04 23:48
In a timely development, MoveOn has emerged from whatever it was doing after the election and is setting another of its nationwide house parties this coming Sunday. The agenda is to talk about what to do now, using a mationwide conference call. I'll be hosting one -- my third MoveOn party. I'll be thinking a lot about what does and doesn't work in light of the points Glenn makes here and in his book. But for the first time I'll realize that these kinds of things serve a function just by happening, even without some further concrete objective. > Bush's Brain Yes, I've been meaning to get my hands on that, and it would make a great occasion for a meet-up. > Freedom v. security I think we sometimes overrate this supposed dichotomy. Say I live next to a woods that's full of bandits. In that situation my freedom to move about in the woods is exercised at the expense of my security. But if I make some kind of deal with the bandits, or better yet, persuade them to do something else for a living, it enhances my freedom *and* my security. So there isn't necessarily a trade-off there. And a lot of times, the simplistic pursuit of security can be self-defeating, because things that enhance security in the near term produce contrary results in the longer term. (Certain current illustrations pop readily to mind.)
Patty Horridge (jonl) Tue 16 Nov 04 09:28
Email from Patty Horridge: I dont want to belabor this freedom/security thing. I think were talking about the need for equal balance on both sides. In todays political climate, it is easy to see that the balance has shifted. That is unsettling. But with people like Glenn and Ernie Cortes as our watchdogs, Im not worried.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 16 Nov 04 13:28
A quick aside in response to a post by slf upstream a bit there... I saw two DVDs recently with friends. One was Outfoxed, which is OK. The other was The Hunting of the President, about how Clinton was targetted, and it was tremendous, chilling, and full of details you didn't know about. I think a lot of good discussion can come from that one. It's beyond an issue of the right telling lies, to a point where "operatives" is truly an apt description. And that leads me to a related question for Glenn. What do you make of the international and domestic implications of current idealogical takeover of the CIA by the neocons, if that's what's going on? I figure it can't be good for the future of truth, but I wonder how just it will play out, and what the blowback will be.
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Tue 16 Nov 04 20:17
As are most artificial dichotomies, freedom/security is simplistic. I agree with Drew above. However, it is a useful if artificial trope to refocus attention on freedom essential place in human nature. Fear is the enemy of freedom, and it is often (like now) used to divert our attention. So it's worth talking about. Speaking of security, Gail asks in #118 what we should make of the neocon's purge at CIA. An intra-CIA war is exactly what we don't need right now. I think it's dangerous. And I think we'll soon see a couple of books and probably a few movies from those who were purged. I'm not an intelligence expert, but around the time of the Plame incident I predicted Bush would have problems by antagonizing the CIA. And I think he still does. Here's another interesting angle: Is Bush purging the last of the CIA old guard who might have had connections to his father?
Drew Trott (druid) Tue 16 Nov 04 22:15
Hmmm, interesting insight. The CIA purge strikes me as just another phase in this attempt to create a new world entirely on faith. At some point this attempt must fail, and catastrophically. Until the next election, I fear we're all pretty much along for the ride. But speaking again of freedom, I thought there was a striking illustration of the seductions of "freedom to will" in today's New Republic piece by Andrew Sullivan. (http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&amp;s=sullivan111604) <http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&amp;s=sullivan111604> He basically argues that the Democrats lose because they don't share Americans' simple love of taking care of business -- making a buck, obliterating an enemy, whatever. I wonder if the column, which I find pretty offensive personally, points to a perennial challenge to genuine progressives -- how to hang onto the near-left, or whatever you call the New Republic audience, without losing your soul? Or should we try? Would living within the truth mean not trying to appeal to those folks -- while perhaps secretly hoping that the left's commitment to equality would bring some of them with us?
Glenn Smith (glennsmith) Wed 17 Nov 04 21:41
That's the question that's at the center of the power struggles in post-Nov. 2 Democratic circles. I don't think most of the combatants know what they are fighting about. I don't subscribe to New Republic. So I haven't read Andrew Sullivan's piece. But let me get at your question this way. There's no arguing with the fact that conservative and moderate Democrats have been running things in the party for many years. To avoid too much ancient history, 1982 is a convenient place to start. Jimmy Carter lost in 1980. In 1982, Democrats came back in many places with appeals to so-called "swing" voters. We've been chasing the illusive swing voter ever since. Like all pendulums, the swinging gradually slowed (Democrats were fighting over fewer and fewer available swing voters). Throughout these years we spent more resources on this audience than we did with our own base. This fact was not lost on Bush advisor Matthew Dowd. Matthew used to be a Democrat. He and I were colleagues in the same firm for years. Then he left and went to work for Bush. Anyway, about two years ago Matthew told me the Bush campaign would focus on getting out their base voters because the swing voter fight was over. He said they were confident that they could get their base to the polls and doubtful that Democrats could because the Democratic base had not been talked to meaningfully for so many years. There's no getting around the fact that this centrist movement was driven by political and business insiders (lobbyists, consultants, courtiers, and most of all, contributors) who needed to win without alienating those on the other side. They even have a saying about it. "Presidents come and go, but we will always be here." Depending on the context, substitute 'governor' or 'legislator' or 'mayor.' Meanwhile, the left was by-and-large never a part of this world of power. I go through this brief history to point out that it's possible to do so without reference to a single issue or policy. Today's power struggles within the Democratic party are just as devoid of content. It is, basically, political and business insiders fighting to keep what power they have by using the old cliches about being mainstream, appealing to middle America, blah, blah, blah. I am friends with many in that tribe. And I have heard this phrase -- "We can't keep fighting over god, gays, and guns." -- from their mouths a dozen times since Nov. 2. But I have yet to hear someone on the left utter the battle cry, "Let's go fight over god, gays, and guns." That is not what the fight is about. It is about entrenched interests in Washington and state capitols. It is, in other words, about money. Period. A few months ago the left was defined as the group opposed to the war in Iraq. Now most moderates oppose the war. The left is accused of being for big government. Who on the left are they talking about? The left is accused of focusing on identity politics. How many on the left today even know what that means? There are problems with the left. Without defining ourselves, we allow others to do so. And, I'm afraid, there are some among us who are addicted to outsider status. Some are simply chronic complainers who, as our elders used to say, will argue with St. Peter when he says, "Come on in." You specifically ask if we can build alliances with the "New Republic" audience without losing our souls. The answer to that is yes. But we never have to give up our commitment to equality, and eventually, I think, we will persuade others to our ideas. When I confront these dilemmas I try to imagine the faces of people whose very lives are at stake. If I have to lose a little ideological purity to take care of two people because I know those two will be lost if I insist upon taking care of 20, I'll lose the purity. But that doesn't mean I won't try to get it back. (This is a more Utilitarian argument than I prefer, but it is not bad as a simple, initial guide).
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 18 Nov 04 07:23
Adam Werbach et al created what they call the 'November 3 Theses' and literally stuck 'em on the DNC's door, a la Martin Luther. I'm posting them below. Do you think something like the theses can revive the party? Or is something else going to emerge, over time, because the Dems have lost their vision? The theses: November 3rd Theses "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." -- Benjamin Franklin I. The 2004 presidential election was lost not by John Kerry over the last several months but by the Democratic Party over the last several decades. Democrats have lost control of all three branches of government for the foreseeable future. We are now a minority party. II. When the Senate Democratic leader is defeated while spending $16 million attempting to get the majority of 500,000 votes, the problem is not a lack of funding or effort. III. The failure of the Democratic Party to connect with America's desire for fulfillment is political death. IV. Democrats are now history's spectators, Republicans its actors. V. The obsession with denouncing the radical conservative project as a "lie" has become a useful substitute for vision. VI. Renovating Democratic politics is not a question of moving to the right or talking more about G-d. It is about creating a framework that once again communicates to the core needs of the American people. VII. America is not now, and never was, simply "the economy, stupid." What the American people want is a deeper sense of personal meaning, a national mission, and passion in times of fear. VIII. Returning the Democratic Party to majority status will require a political realignment no less sweeping than that which was accomplished by conservatives over the last 40 years. IX. Only the breath of a serious and new moral-intellectual vision will be sufficient to resuscitate the Democratic Party. X. Democratic candidates will continue to lose as long as they treat Americans as rational actors who vote their "self-interest" after weighing competing offers for health care, jobs, and security. XI. Conservatives have spent the last 40 years getting clear about the values they represent. They have even developed a "family values" brand to represent a framework that coheres traditional prejudices around prayer in school, gun rights, restricting abortion, and restricting gay rights. XII. By contrast, liberal or "progressive" groups and Democrats have spent the same period of time defining themselves against conservative values, even "morality" in general. XIII. If resources continue to flow to the same leaders who have failed to construct a new vision and have thus left the Democratic Party in ruins then we can expect more of the same. And worse. XIV. Those who resist the process to create a new vision will be left behind. XV. Candidates who intend to win should no longer hire consultants who repeatedly lose. Those who counsel caution when dealing with the indifferent, the disaffected, and the undecided do not understand American history. Consultants who advise their clients against offering a clear and compelling vision in fear that it will be attacked should find themselves without a home in the Democratic Party. The sooner they retire, the better. XVI. Unconnected at a values level, the Democratic Party's laundry list of policy proposals is a confusing and alienating hodgepodge of special interests bound together by a vague sense that "we're all on the same side." Such a conflation demands no critical self-examination of the interest groups whose turf, and very identities, are treated as inviolable by Party chieftains. XVII. The progressive vision must be a direct challenge to fundamentalism in all of its forms: political, religious and economic. It must match fundamentalism's power without replicating its authoritarianism. It must appeal to the values of liberty, equality, community, justice, unconditional love, shared prosperity, and ecological restoration, among many others. XVIII. Democrats serious about returning to majority status must: Retire any leader who believes that we are currently on a winning path that simply needs more money and effort. Define and articulate a coherent set of values of our base, and be willing to lose those allies who do not share these values. Fight battles, win or lose, that define and advance our values and expand our political base. XIX.In despair and defeat lie the seeds of triumph and victory. In that loss lies the opportunity to define a new progressive politics for the new century.
Uncle Jax (jax) Thu 18 Nov 04 07:42
XX. That ain't a Franklin quote.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 18 Nov 04 09:58
I'm wondering about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Frankly, there are multiple babies at stake. We -- the rag-tag liberal-left and anti-Bush coalition that voted Dem this time -- came close to victory in many states, and won in many states, despite the GOP's winning strategy of running on 9/11 starting on 9/12! Are people who worked on those campaigns in the face of such odds to be branded losers, and to be shunned? Do the people who wrote this believe in Bush's claim to a mandate? The below-linked Salon War Room post was the most important thing I read yesterday. It reminded me that the Culture Wars split may be mostly diversionary, and that a lack of clarity about what to do about the war and the question of terrorism is as much of a problem as economics. It starts with a recap from the exit polling... > ...a plurality of 22 percent of voters said that "moral values" were >the deciding factor, but, as Walker points out, "if you add together the >19% that said terrorism and the 15% that said Iraq -- and many voters, >especially in the Bush camp, surely saw those as one and the same -- you >get 34%, suggesting that this was a foreign policy election after all." The rest of the short entry is about the left and military savvy, and it has some interesting links. War really is the central issue in time of war. How could it not be? I say this as a natural pacifist with a strong realist streak. I wanted Kerry in, and worked to try to see that happen, but I was just as unclear about what the hell he could/would do next in the Middle East, as many who voted against him. I think this is a delicate and real issue in terms of electability. I know we're nearing the end of this excellent 2-week guest stint (unless Glenn decides to keep going longer) but I wanted to throw the link and the concept up for comment. <http://www.salon.com/politics/war_room/archive.html?blog=/politics/war_room/20 04/11/17/security/>
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 18 Nov 04 16:05
Patty Horridge writes: Glenn, so much of this discussion has been about how to rally the troops and how to make the Democratic Party relevant. In Chap. 5 of your book you state, "In most elections today, parties are irrelevant except as labels for candidates and funnels for money." Do you stand by this viewpoint post-election?
Members: Enter the conference to participate