2016-11-30

Concert Review: The Aristocrats (Dallas 11/29/2016)

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending The Aristocrats’ final concert data in support of their third album, Tres Caballeros.

Dedicated readers will note that this was my second Aristocrats concert. The first occurred way back in August of 2013. By now, August 2013 seems like a world away. My daughter hadn’t been born yet; in fact, she hadn’t even been conceived. The band was touring in support of their second album. I hadn’t yet warmed up to Guthrie Govan’s playing style. In fact, here’s what I charitably wrote at the time:
The promise of guitar virtuosity was immediately fulfilled. Govan played a Charvel and a Suhr; his tone was delicious, his hair flowing in the steamy Texas heat as he shredded his way into the heart that beatin [sic] frantically against the inside of every Dream Theater t-shirt in the building. YouTube doesn't lie; the guy was phenomenal...
 But by the end of the very first song, it was obvious that this show was to be the Beller/Minnemann extravaganza.
It was interesting for me to go back and re-read that concert review, not only to remind myself of how much I’ve grown to enjoy Govan’s playing, but also to compare my early impressions of the band to what they have become over the ensuing years.

They have kept up a grueling tour schedule, not only as a band, but also in support of other musicians. Most recently, they’ve toured Europe, Asia, and Latin America. By all accounts, the tour has been a success, and I can only assume this means that the Tres Caballeros album has been a success, too.

I mention their success because my first exposure to Bryan Beller was when he was playing with an obscure Dweezil Zappa band back in the 90s, and the first time I saw him in concert was when he played a clinic at a local guitar store when I was a kid. I’ve essentially watched him go from being an obscure nobody to being a member of one of the most exciting instrumental groups on the scene, with a fan base large enough to support three studio albums, various live releases, and a worldwide touring schedule.

This is pertinent to last night’s concert. Last night, I didn’t see a band featuring the bassist of an obscure band I liked in high school. I didn’t see that band with the internet guitar guru with lots of hair. I didn’t see a struggling jazz combo trying to scrape together a living playing the darkened corners of the prog rock scene. No, I saw a fully-formed, popular, well-heeled instrumental rock outfit at the top of a game that has brought them to significant heights. The played like the world-class music act that they are today.

This wasn’t true back in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, they were still phenomenal back then. But their set reflected their comparatively lower standing. For one thing, tickets were dirt cheap and they played in a dirty bar back then; this time around, tickets were in line with what you’d expect, and the venue was wonderful. For another thing, back in 2013, the band had a certain comedic charm that permeated the entire set list, injecting each song with a zany-but-creative spirit that felt intimate and small. It was almost as if we, the audience, were included in an exciting jam session held by great musicians, which is not far off from the reality of that concert.

But today – oh, today! – the difference was palpable. The core character of the band, that humorously flavored instrumental prog-rock/jazz blend they serve to their audience, is still what it always was. But the command with which they deliver it has changed. There is confidence. There is self-awareness. The band plays like they know the audience loves them. And we do.

So what does this mean, really? Well, first of all their chops, if you can imagine it, have improved. I don’t just mean that the band seemed tight. I mean that they’re playing at a level that I’m not sure any player can compete with. Each player individually delivers such an intense onslaught of virtuosity that it can be overwhelming when they all improvise something equally godlike at exactly the same moment.

Govan seems to have lost some of the self-consciousness I felt he had the first time around, and now commands the stage like the guitar god he is, effortlessly communicating with the audience while throwing down whatever the Muse moves him to play.

Bryan Beller doesn’t hesitate to solo. You have to understand that there is an old clip floating around on YouTube somewhere in which Beller takes a “rare” bass solo during a Mike Keneally & Beer for Dolfins concert. When he’s finished, Mike Keneally steps to the microphone and promptly acknowledges that the audience has just seen something that almost never happens. The solo is good, but restrained. I wonder how the modern-day Bryan Beller would react to seeing that video today. He’s become a god of bass guitar, and his solos, along with the rest of his playing, are phenomenal, confident, brilliant, musical, and certainly unrestrained.

Drummer Marco Minnemann also seems to have undergone a remarkable change. When I saw him in 2013, he played with a certain playful zaniness. His wonderful sense of humor is still there, but his playing now seems much more forceful – perhaps because he’s playing more technically now (maybe it’s just my ears?), or perhaps because he, like Govan, has grown into his role as a member of a world-class, exciting musical ensemble on par with the best of the best. He has nothing left to convince us of anymore, in terms of proving his worth. Now he just gets to play for us, so that’s what it seems that he does, and wonderfully so.

Conspicuously missing from the concert: the pigs. They brought out their trademark squeaky toys at a couple of moments, but for the most part stuck to their instruments. The squeaky toys were a great and important component of their old set, but the band played so well on their actual instruments that I hardly missed them. This, too, is demonstrative of their overall increased degree of polish.


The band played for perhaps two and half hours, so it was a long concert full of everyone’s favorite Aristocrats songs. By the end of the night, I loved them more than I already did, which was nice. So, for me, this new, glossy, world-class version of The Aristocrats is a wonderful development, and I can’t wait to see where the band goes next. It was a great concert.

2016-11-29

The Left's Weird Special Language

Consent is mediated by power differentials along structural, informal, social, physical, intellectual, and other forces in clearly discernable ways. For grotesque example, if someone has power over one’s potential career trajectory, there is an incentive to feign consent to that person’s wishes, even if they do not explicitly leverage it in any way. The power is embedded even if it’s never spoken. This example is illustrative of the way that power interacts with all of our interactions and agreements, extending to more subtle and also non-sexual contexts as well.
What on Earth does this mean?

But there it is, an excerpt from this blog post, linked to by a social media friend of mine. As far as I can tell, the blog post aims to describe group dynamics within a particular set of social groups called "radical communities." The moral of the story seems to be that, despite the aim of most of these groups to promote equality of human worth, "power differentials" - i.e. informal social hierarchies - still exist within them.

On its own, this is a fairly vapid point. Human beings have hierarchical tendencies. What's interesting, though, is its peculiar terminology, which the author jam-packs into each and every sentence. It's as though the author of that blog post is writing in a foreign language.

Consider the first six words of the above excerpt: "Consent is mediated by power differentials." In that phrase, there is one "be" verb, one preposition, and three pieces of mindless jargon. As far as the average person is concerned, an equally intelligible phrase is: "Blargh is fruxled by glogg peqrum." It has the look and feel of an English language sentence, but without any insight into what "blargh" and "fruxled" and "glogg" and "peqrum" mean, it is mostly just a collection of nonsense.

So, for the uninitiated, let me attempt a translation:

  1. Consent: The act of stating that one's participation in a situation is voluntary and ongoing. When this word is used within "radical communities," it usually has a sexual connotation, i.e. giving consent is making it explicitly clear to others that one's participation the ensuing sexual encounter is voluntary and welcome.
  2. Mediated: I actually had to look this one up. Mediated ordinarily means helping to resolve a dispute between two parties. But not in this case. In this case, mediated means to bring about
  3. Power Differentials: This grandiose-sounding phrase simply means that the people in a social situation have a different status within the social hierarchy. There is a "power differential," for example, between a father and a son, although describing such a relationship in terms of its "power differential" feels like a bizarre concept to most people I know.
Putting it all together, we get this: Voluntary participation is brought about by the fact that some people have greater status than others.

That makes more sense, but now we have a new problem. The argument made in the blog post is that it's difficult for people to give valid consent in situations where "power differentials" undermine the less-powerful person's autonomy. This phrase, once translated, now means the opposite of what was intended. It says that consent is brought about by these power differentials. The author wants to say that consent happens easiest when people don't feel second-rate; what the author actually said was that their consent is brought about by the very fact that they are second-rate. Oops.

The author can be forgiven for making a little mistake with his/her terminology. In fact, any normal person out there would find it totally understandable to get lost in this thick, opaque jargon. But the author doesn't need to be forgiven because everyone within his/her intended audience knew exactly what he/she meant. It's only the rest of us who didn't get it.

This brings me to the point of my post today: There is a foreign language emerging among leftists that is utterly senseless to outsiders, which nonetheless dictates everything about their world view. Everything, right down to their ability to participate in a conversation voluntarily.

*        *        *

The media keeps trying to tell us that the current state of American politics has been brought about by the fact that social media enables us to spend all of our media-consuming time inside an echo chamber. We only hear ideas and opinions with which we agree, we never question our own side, and we certainly never fact-check it. 

But of course the media would say this: They want us to consume more media. We're already so saturated by our own echo chamber that we have no time for anyone else's echo chamber. How can the media get us clicking on more articles? By telling us that we need to consume more media in order to save America! That's not going to work. We won't be able to click our way out of this.

You can't learn Spanish by deciding one day to read a few Spanish-language articles every morning at breakfast, in addition to reading the newspaper. If you already know Spanish, then reading those articles might do you some good, but if don't know it at all, no amount of exposure to language is going to teach it to you. You need some means of determining the definition of words in order to practice understanding those words. That's why we start with elementary concepts when we learn a foreign language, and gradually build up to reading or watching the news.

Think about the implications here. The left is notorious for calling those who disagree with them "ignorant" and for pointing to shortcomings in the education system. This is no mere coincidence. It's not that non-leftists are uneducated fools, it's that they don't even understand the basics of the conversations the left has with itself. How on earth could a farmer in Middle America participate in a conversation about how to "mediate" "power differentials" in order to "empower" "consent?" The farmer isn't ignorant and he isn't a moron. The left is speaking a foreign language that means nothing to him. He doesn't understand it. He's had no exposure to it. He doesn't attend those kinds of schools, and even if he did, he would be more apt to study business, or agricultural science, or engineering, or any of the various other disciplines that do not ever use the new special leftist language. 

Just because someone doesn't know what you're talking about doesn't mean they have a problem.

It works the other way, too. This is made obvious by Middle America's perception of hipster beards:


Growing a beard is a very clear signal in Middle America. Most often, it means that you're preparing to go hunting, i.e. shooting live, wild animals with a gun or a bow-and-arrow. And most often this involves camping, which involves digging trenches and building fires and using tools and... changing a tire. In Middle America, wearing a beard is a signal of the most important aspects of manhood within that community. It's a symbol of having a certain amount of practical know-how that enables people to rely on you to get certain things done. Important things. Things you can't necessarily just call a serviceman to perform. 

But when a man in Middle America sees a hipster, basically the opposite of bearded Middle American, wearing this symbol, his reaction is to laugh at the hipster for all the same reasons: The hipster doesn't know how to change a tire, i.e. isn't educated. The hipster is the Middle American's version of a moron, someone who doesn't get even the most basic concepts.

To use the insufferable language of the leftist community, hipster beards are cultural appropriation, and distinctive cultures don't like to have their treasured symbols undermined and "subverted" through a condescending irony.

This is a valid perspective that any leftist can recognize when it occurs to any other group of people. But because this particular group disagrees with a lot of leftist public policy, the left satisfies itself by denigrating a legitimate response to actual cultural appropriation as "male fragility."

Can you imagine the audacity of having concocted an internally consistent, but highly exclusionary and - dare I say it? - marginalizing language that even has a special term for negating the criticism of the very people being marginalized? But what am I asking? Of course the left can imagine this. This is one of the core tenets of the belief system their special language is designed to describe.

*        *        *

The weird, special language of the left is a uniquely important problem here, because there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the way society operates - yes, including in those small Middle American towns where the word "beard" does not imply anything about a person's sexuality. 

The problem is two-fold. 

First, you can't slander someone and then ask them to be nice. You can't make fun of guys for going hunting and drinking Coors Lite and watching football and stuff on the one hand, and then on the other hand expect them to be receptive to a criticism of the way their society behaves. You can either make fun of people and be rude to them, or you can help them change in ways they are comfortable with. You can't do both. That's just basic common decency.

Second, you can't convince an English-speaker to have a change of heart by speaking to them in a language they've never heard before, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Gaelic, or the left's weird, special language. Despite everyone's best intentions you just simply won't be understood.

This second problem is proving to be really hard for the left. They can't seem to separate the important principles of their world-view from the weird, special language used to describe those principles. It becomes something of an existential struggle: If you try to describe equal rights for women without using the word "feminism," then leftists become incensed. "We need feminism!" Fine, but how are you going to convince people whose only exposure to that term has been a decided rejection of everything they happen to love about the women in their lives, who cook, clean, stay home, have kids, and don't necessarily get a college education? What will you say to people who don't understand your weird, special language?

And so, instead, the left too often descends into the first problem: insulting and condescending to the "rural" people who disagree with them. It's hard to make a persuasive case to someone from what we now recognize is a completely different culture, but it's easy to make fun of them for being foreigners. Ordinarily, the left understands this. But just try to get them to admit it if the "foreigner"  happens to be white, or male, or Christian.

I don't doubt that these whites and Christians and males are privileged groups. But you still need to talk to them

2016-11-18

Psychological Rejection And The Election


This is a blog post for two of my friends.

The thinkpiece-writing world continues to struggle in vain for viable explanations of the Trump "phenomenon."

My preferred explanation that a popular television personality won an election by telling a lot of people what they wanted to hear. It's not even an American precedent. Remember Ronald Reagan? Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger? Al Frankin? We don't need a more complicated explanation for Trump "ism" than that. People got tired of voting for shysters in suits, even pantsuits, and decided to go for a TV personality instead. Plus ├ža change, plus c'est la meme chose.

But the explanations continue.

One of the more interesting explanations I've read about - from folks like Jeffrey Tucker, for example - is that the voting public rejected a Hillary Clinton presidency, along with everything that represents. The argument is that Clinton was the worst kind of Washington insider: secretive, cronyish, corrupt, and motivated more by her own private financial interests than by a desire to serve the public. She was said to have been cavalier about toppling Middle East dictators and plunging innocent people into failed states. She help the US government sell white phosphorus to Saudi Arabia, which it later weaponized and used in its campaign against Yemeni factions. She was, in short, the worst kind of Washington insider we could ever imagine electing. Or at least, that's how the argument goes.

For the record, given the small margins by which US presidential candidates typically win popular votes, I think this case is grossly over-stated. But it is a compelling story, at least.

In light of this concept, I started thinking about the reactions we've observed from people who worry about a Trump presidency. Yes, there are the protests and the occasional riot, but those are less significant to me than the tears, the candlelight vigils, the deep sorrow and pain that some feel at the prospect of a Trump presidency. There have been many credible reports of people in the transsexual community contemplating suicide. Children of racial minorities have reportedly been in tears, worried that the storm troopers will come for them, or for their parents.

One of the reasons I think we've seen this reaction is that, for many people on the left, rejecting a Trump presidency would have been the same kind of repudiation of a set of ideas that Tucker and others talk about when they say voters rejected Clintonism. Think about it: if your highest ideals involve racial and cultural inclusion, and kind and gentle speech, and a commitment to the idea that "rhetoric matters," then the 2016 election might have represented an important opportunity to reject the kind of racist thuggery that many of us believe has dominated American politics for a long time.

It's understandable, then, that such people would react as they have. Their opportunity for transcendence suffered a total defeat. And it was, make no mistake, a religious belief that they held, dressed up in all the same language and motives.

Well, they wanted a moment of transcendence, and they lost it. I don't think we should revel in their misery. I don't think we should dismiss their concerns or roll our eyes or turn it all into a meme, and the reason I think so is because tomorrow it will happen to us, whoever "us" is.

I'm an individualist, which means nobody agrees with me, and this sort of systemic moral failure happens to me literally every time there's an election. It's old hat to me. The faith some of these left-leaning people have in government has been lost to me for years, decades. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were all less collectivist, less enthralled by identity politics, less narcissistic, less unkind, more open to hearing new ideas, more receptive to criticism, less inclined to reach for a Big Stick when someone stands athwart of our objectives? Wouldn't the world be terrific if it were a completely different place?

This is the sort of false hope that arises when people lack a true religion, and probably explains why I get along better with social conservatives than I do with social liberals, even though I am more inclined to agree with social liberals. Religious people already accept that humans are sinners and that the only way we'll experience Paradise is if the big man upstairs decides to extend us an invitation. Another way of putting this, in Lacanian language, is that social conservatives are better equipped to deal with lack.

Social liberals, by contrast, tend to be secular people whose only hope of experiencing a better world is to make it happen in the here and now. I sympathize with them, but they're doomed to be disappointed for their whole lives because they've failed to absorb Lacan. They can't deal with lack. When a person like Trump wins an election, it's a terrifying and humiliating defeat, an interruption in the great course of Progress, which they hope will lead them to Paradise.

It is a silly vision. And if you're an atheist like me, you're inclined to disbelieve liberal transcendence for the same reason you disbelieve the Judeo-Christian world-view: It's a nice story, but it ain't gonna happen.

At least the conservatives have their faith, though, and that helps them through the rough times.


2016-11-11

What Do We Tell The Children?

A number of people have asked me privately what we should tell our children about the fact that Donald Trump is now the president-elect. This question seems to presuppose that children are waiting for us to explain something. They’re not. As difficult as it might be for some of us to understand, children really care very little about politics. Any attempt you make to provide an “explanation” for the outcome of an election, beyond the mere fact that more people voted for X than for Y, is an attempt to indoctrinate your kids. Don’t do that.

In a recent article in The New York Post, Karol Markcowicz writes:
Dr. Jonathan Friedman, director of psychology with The COR Group, advises, “Parents should make every effort to shield their children from the vitriol and mudslinging of politics, particularly during a campaign as divisive, salacious and ugly as this one has been.”

Amazing that this has to be said.

It’s hard to totally shield our kids from politics’ ugly side, but we certainly shouldn’t be the one emphasizing it to them to make our own political point. Friedman says “rather than communicating harshly about those with whom they may vehemently disagree, they can instead emphasize the importance of everyone having a right to express their opinion through their vote, and how sacred this right is to us all.”
Children need to be reassured and protected. If you’re wondering what to say to reassure them and protect them from the current political climate, then maybe you need to ask yourself why your children are already so invested in politics in the first place.

This is a particularly important message for those friends of mine who are teachers as well as parents. As teachers, we are entrusting you to present school curricula to our children. That’s it. We don’t need you to be friends with them. We don’t need you to provide them with a moral framework (that’s our job as parents). We certainly don’t need you to arbitrate the outcome of an election. We don’t need you to go out of your way to explain something to them just because they asked. A mature person in an influential teaching role ought to be able to say, “Most of us adults struggle to find rationality in politics; it is understandable that you kids are having a hard time. The truth is, you may never figure it out for as long as you live. The best we can do is wait and see what happens. If you have more questions, I encourage you to talk this over with your parents.”

Children don’t think the way adults do. To us, an election is about competing ideologies. We think that people voted for Trump because those people are racist idiots. Or we think people voted for Trump because the liberal elites aren’t listening to them. Or we think that Wikileaks and the FBI engaged in a conspiracy to topple Clinton. This is nuts. Ask yourself: do you really want your child to think like that? They are living comparatively idyllic lives. True, many of them will have to face discrimination, and many of them are dealing with it now. Do you really think you’ll be able to explain the eons-old faults of the human condition to them in the context of a single US presidential election? Please…

I don’t think people are truly looking for an explanation to give to the children. I think they are looking for an explanation to give to themselves. That’s perfectly understandable, but it’s important to remember that, and to avoid drawing our children into our own personal existential crises. That causes harm to them. They deserve better from us. We have to think through the complexities of the world on our own time, away from our children. Anything less puts them at risk.

The existential considerations we ought to be thinking about are incredibly important. I encourage everyone to please think them through. But if you’re not there, if you’re still struggling to make sense of it all, what makes you qualified to deliver a message about world politics to impressionable young children?


What should we tell our children? We should tell them, “I love you. Please don’t worry too much about these things. Please treat other people with kindness and respect. Please go outside and have some fun.”

2016-11-09

Some Post-Election Thoughts

I had written emphatically that there was no real difference between Hillary Clinton's policies and Trump's rhetoric. In light of a Trump victory, it bears repeating myself somewhat by saying that I expect a Trump presidency to provide all of the pitfalls of a Clinton presidency. So while I am mildly encouraged that we avoided a Clinton presidency, I am disappointed that we have to endure a Trump presidency instead.

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen provides a list of people he says "will" rise in status. Confusingly, he says that this is the list of who will, but of course he's making a prediction. So doesn't he really mean it's a list of who should?

Anyway, I thought I might provide a list of people who have elevated in status in my eyes as a result of this election:

And here's my list of people who have fallen in status in my eyes as a result of this election:

  • Silicon Valley libertarians
  • The media (hard to believe they could fall any further, I know)
  • Wishy-washy leftists who call themselves libertarians but work to undermine the cause of liberty. (Names redacted.)
  • Will Wilkinson
  • Anyone who ever said that a vote for Clinton was a vote for people who are happy with the status quo.
Having said all that, I want to discuss a few reasons to feel optimistic about the results of the election.

First of all, there is a good possibility that the leftists' defeat will leave them angry enough to want to thwart Trump at every turn. This is good! Perhaps they will start to become more skeptical of government in general and seek to limit its power and/or replace it with local alternatives. For example, California voted to legalize marijuana. That's not just a win for liberty, it proves to a very leftist state that they can get the kind of policies they want if they only choose to act locally, rather than hammering their views down on the rest of the country from top.

Second of all, the mere farce of having a reality TV star like Trump in the White House ought to be enough to encourage everyone, of all political stripes to become more uneasy with federal power and to become interested in limiting it. Obviously the Will Wilkinson angle loses out here. "What if we can't shrink government?" is a dumb question to ask at the moment Donald Trump ascends to the seat of the most powerful person in the world. Now is the exactly the right time to ignore people like Will Wilkinson. And it's obvious enough now that the argument simply speaks for itself.

Finally, this has been an enormous win for Wikileaks and the power of open-source journalism. Emboldened by their success, they might continue to up the ante, do even better work, and the public may finally come around the prospect that change is possible

2016-11-08

Election 2016: Some Musings

There is no hope in politics. To the extent that individuals are at all capable of changing the world for the better, that change has to come from within us, not from our interaction with the system. Another way to say this is, "We can make the world a better place by being better people."

It seems every election teaches me something important. When Barack Obama was elected the first time, I was incredulous that people would vote so overwhelmingly in favor of someone with such empty rhetoric. I had to admit that many of my assumptions about people were wrong.

The story this year for me has been how many otherwise-intelligent people are willing to go to bat for Hillary Clinton despite the evidence everywhere, including a massive Wikileaks expose, of her corruption and dedication to war. I expect very foolish people to buy into the Clintonian rhetoric and ignore the evidence. I do not expect outspoken critics of war, corruption, and the shortcomings of politics to double-down for Hillary Clinton. It was an important lesson for me to learn because it showed me that what most people are interested in is not truth or politics, but about maintaining their own self-serving beliefs, no matter how ridiculous they become in the face of evidence.

And no, this is not an endorsement of any other candidate.

So, where does that take me? Over the process of this particular election cycle, I have gradually noticed that the people with the sanest, most stoic, and most consistent viewpoint are the people I had grown most skeptical of: The Jeffrey Tuckers, the Justin Raimondos, the Daniel Sanchez's, and so forth. In short, the 2016 election cycle has pushed me marginally closer to anarcho-capitalism. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an anarchist. But still.

Part of this is due to their consistence. The group of people who are consistently against war and in favor of freedom and trade is the group I want to listen to. The problem with the other groups is not that I disagree with them, but that the reasons we disagree change based on whatever their preferred candidate is saying. That is, they are susceptible to political argumentation, whereas people of principle are not. I don't personally care to debate things with people whose underlying beliefs change on a whim. There's nothing to debate there, no substance behind the opinions, only an ether.

Another part of this is that, over the last couple of years, people like David Henderson, Jeffrey Tucker, Robert Murphy, and Jason Kuznicki have come out unabashedly in favor of common decency. Not just "decency in politics" or being polite, but practicing decency and good behavior as a necessary ethical component of a good, well-rounded personal philosophy. I shouldn't have to waste space contrasting that position against those who live life any other way, so I won't. Decency is the right thing to do. Their decency is winning me over.

Finally, if ever there were an argument for more competition in politics, for a less-powerful government, for more trade and less war, more industry rather than idleness and for freedom rather than compulsion, this election is it. The only people who have been unwaveringly ready to call this out are the an-caps.

No matter what happens at the ballot box today - and I am predicting a Hillary landslide - my opinions have been swayed by the decency and effective, consistent argumentation of the most radical libertarians. That my own, personal electoral outcome this year.

2016-11-04

Science Puzzle


From Gizmodo.com:

On November 14th, skygazers will witness the closest full moon, or “supermoon,” of 2016. But more excitingly, it’ll be the closest full moon since 1948—and we won’t get another one like it until 2034.

So it's been 68 years since an orbital perigee, but the next one will happen just 18 years from now? I can't think of why that might be. Does anyone out there know?

2016-11-02

The Real Problem With Partisanship


If you read the same websites I do, then you’re probably very familiar with arguments against strong partisanship. These arguments typically focus on the idea that having too much exposure to arguments that support our pre-existing beliefs make us ill-equipped to consider arguments opposed. Thus, when we feel partisanship, we’re taken further away from the objective truth. In other words, we’re mislead into false beliefs.

A good example here would be the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the Iraq War. Evidence of chemical weapons was found in Iraq, although reasonable people can certainly disagree as to whether this evidence is consistent with pro-war claims about WMDs. Evidence of WMDs once having been in Iraq is not the same thing as evidence of WMDs currently being in Iraq. We’ll never know the exact truth here, but we can come to reasonable conclusions based on the objective facts. The problem is that one side of the discussion – typically the Democrats – insists that “there were no weapons,” while the other side of the discussion – typically the Republicans – insists that “we found them.” Both claims are absolutely false. The truth is, we found inconclusive evidence.

So, as I was saying, this is the kind of thing that is usually pointed to as evidence against being overly partisan – we draw false conclusions and then argue about them passionately. But I have another, even better reason why we shouldn’t be overly partisan that has nothing to do with reaching the wrong conclusion on a particular dispute.

We should avoid partisanship because our political parties betray our loyalty by using it to stay in power and then burdening us with taxes, regulations, and costs that have nothing to do with our reasons for being partisan.

An example of this would be the public’s perception of the Republican Party in Texas. The reasons people in Texas are Republicans include: They are social conservatives, they believe in small government, they believe in the Second Amendment, they are in favor of small business, they oppose abortion, and so on. As you can see, these are the reasons most people in general are loyal Republicans.

While people in Texas are faithfully voting to re-elect their Republican state politicians, those politicians are becoming entrenched in the state politics here. That is, they are becoming susceptible to corruption, as any career politician who sits in the same office year after year is bound to do. This has nothing to do with whether or not these politicians are “Republicans;” if the people of Texas only ever voted for Democrats, the same level of corruption would exist, and only the rhetoric would change slightly.

So, Texas Republican politicians end up doing a lot of crooked things. They force the state government into massively expensive projects that benefit their well-connected friends at the expense of the rest of the population of Texas. They divert development projects and money to their friends, rather than opening things up to fair competition. They take on spending initiatives that don’t need to be taken on, merely because their friends will benefit. It is the typical, sleazy business that corrupt politicians always engage in, no matter what party they belong to or what part of the world they are from.

The simplest solution to a problem like this is to vote the incumbents out of office. In many cases, this might mean voting for a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or a Green, or an independent. In other words, it might involve voting for people who do not share your party affiliations. But, on the other hand, they are far less likely to be already-entrenched in the hidden infrastructure of corruption, the machine run by the Republican incumbents currently in power. So, even if these new folks wanted to be corrupt, they are less able to be so because they have to build their corruption from the ground floor.

In practical terms, this means that by voting out the incumbents, you will end up with less corruption and less wasteful and predatory spending. All you have to do is find the strength to vote for a politician who does not completely agree with you on social conservatism, or the Second Amendment, or abortion, or etc.

I’m not saying that those other issues aren’t important, I’m simply saying that we have to make a rational assessment of the circumstances. What impacts you every day? Abortion? Gun control? Or an endless sea of road construction that is only happening because the corrupt politicians are in bed with the construction companies? It’s possible that abortion or gun control affects you more than this endless wasteland of construction costing you time and money, and in some cases loss of life from traffic accidents, on a daily basis. If so, you should definitely vote according to your needs on abortion or gun control.


I suspect, however, that for most people, the immediate and every-day corruption that is making our lives miserable is a more pressing concern than any of those wedge issues that inspire you to re-elect the corrupt politicians you keep voting for. In that case, I might humbly suggest that you vote for someone else this time.