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Archive for the ‘Political Discourse’ Category

A rejection of Objectivism part 1 “The Paradigm of Justice: A Rejection of Pure Rationality”

Posted by blindspotpolitics on November 6, 2012

The other day I had an argument with a friend about the value of Objectivism. Is it a worthy philosophy that can be implemented in the current world or is it a normative theory that strives for a rational utopia impossible in a world of social and economic inequalities that derive from irrationality–pathos and ethos. I argued for the latter.

The paradigm of Justice: a rejection of pure rationality

I’ve been studying a bit too much Keith Michael Baker recently. His revisionist view on intellectual history focuses on discourse. Using a Kuhnsian lens, he views various historical occurrences as the products of paradigms of language that reveal how people define themselves within the world and most especially define normative goals. For example, he views the French Revolution as the product of the discourse of the “will” disseminating from the sovereign people.

I cannot help but apply the analysis of discourse to the works we have been studying the past several weeks. New Deal Liberalism and the Civil Rights Movement (as eloquently described by Dr. King) are clearly intermingled with the discourse of “justice.” The focus of justice is different for each of these two movements but equally important.

For New Deal Liberalism (and certainly high liberalism that extends to Galbraith and beyond), the concern with justice is a concern with economic justice. Many libertarians critique that so many of the ills that derive from our economic system derive in part from the extension of government into the private sector. While this is certainly true to some extent, the development of the new industrial state—modern capitalism—has created an economic sickness that can only be cured by justice from government; positive rules that aim to combat structural injustices. As Jefferson noted, industry makes man dependent on other men for their wellbeing. This “wage labor” certainly defines the modern economy. Because of the raw capital required to start new businesses or explore new ideas in our modern age, man is intrinsically limited in his economic choices and thus, more often than not, eventually dependent on others for his wellbeing. In this system, not only do wage laborers not own the facilities that produce but they also do not own the value that they produce for society (the wages serve only as a proxy of this value, but do not represent the value in total nor neccesarily the true value of input by the producer, especially in relation to the relative input of the holders of capital). As a result, men must continually aid societies quest for progress instead of developing their personal character–forgoing passion and family to seek a higher profit margin or to develop a better product. In such a system the cream rises to the top but the vast majority of people, who have not either the desire or skills to race in such a competitive world, are subject to dependence and risk exploitation.

Rationality for progress becomes the champion in an inherently irrational world of pathos, ethos, and logos. The economic champions of progress, who see this aim as the ultimate goal of society and see no reason to expend resources on the pawns of life that by nature or Fortuna do not reach their full potential, only view the last element as a matter of concern. Yet, there is more to life than rationality and no way to obtain the objectivity that such rationalists seek in our laws and norms. Surely, the structural inequalities of modern capitalism require the enactment of positive liberty by government (the extent and mode however, is a different discussion).

Social justice is of equal concern in the modern world. Again, given the passions and instincts of man that transcend his rationality, the pluralities of men are prone to live on the initial prejudices that they develop at a young age. Fear is perhaps the best example of this. Was it an explicit and conscious attack against human rights or the motivation of irrational fear that led the first Europeans to imprison and enslave Africans? The former viewed the latter not as men but as beasts, much like children, and thus requiring the protections that even Locke affords to youth. Over time, norms develop from these initial passions and fits of irrationality. Fitzhugh defended slavery because of societal norms that defined his era: Africans, if left to themselves, would be worse off. He lived in this protectionist paradigm. It was the duty of Fitzhugh and others to defend the positive rights of the mendicant Africans. Perhaps earnestly, many slaveholders believed that they were protecting their property from destroying itself. These norms leave intractable holes in society for generations; norms that only socialization from government can hope to fix. Dr. King rightly notes that the civil rights movement must seek social and political means to gain equality. Combining the philosophy of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, he encapsulates the argument for social justice beyond the realm of negative liberty (so beyond simple protection from the state). To become valued members of society will not entail just creating value, but also being accepted at a deeper level. Positive liberty, which once kept Africans in chains, must but used to ensure social justice.

Many who bemoan positive liberty altogether (so any interference by the state that does not provide security for its citizens based on, we will say here, natural rights) do not think of the structure injustices that occur in the social and economic spheres due to the bound rationality or irrationality of mankind. To combat our tendencies to fear others or to exploit others, we must enact positive laws that seek some form of equality. Montesquieu rightly noted that “attitudes and principles were largely the product of environmental conditioning by social, religious, economic, and geographical factors.” Although globalization has destroyed many such prejudices, our environment still informs our perspective. To say that this would vanish subsequent to the disappearance of positive liberty is to misinterpret man’s nature; it is to place a veil of rationality over your perspective that blinds you from the reality that man is an animal guided by instinct as well as reason. What makes modernity special is our ability, finally, to understand the structural inequalities in economics and society that occur because of pathos and ethos. Government, in many ways, can help fix these injustices. However, we must be equally careful that the search for equality does not a) become a search for equality of outcomes rather than opportunity and b) become a vessel for more gross injustices that travel from good intentions to terrible results.


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Political Klout: How Digital Influence Can Improve American Democracy

Posted by blindspotpolitics on August 16, 2012

Ever since Howard Dean used digital media in his 2004 Presidential Primary bid, political campaigns have viewed the digital and social media pastures ever greener. Instead of spending time and money promoting traditional media (newspapers, radio, and especially TV), campaigns and political operatives now spend hours discussing strategy for Pintrest or Instagram. Digital media, and the internet in general, realize the potential of this emerging market. Facebook, Google, and Yahoo–three of the largest digital platforms for targeted advertising–now have departments that specialize in political and advocacy media.

Yet, political operatives and media buyers are still learning how to best utilize the newly discovered and ever-expanding digital space. While the older generation scrambles to learn the in and outs of this complicated industry, young entrepreneurs and political hopefuls are keenly exploiting the technologies they grew up with and use everyday. For now, the room for innovative and experimentation is immense.

As Schumpter aptly theorized, industry competition fuels innovation through ‘creative destruction.’ In the competitive world of political campaigning–where the stakes of winning and losing are so incredibly high–it’s understandable why the reluctant old-timers, like Bastiat’s candle-makers, are trying to reaffirm their importance.

The current ventures into digital and social media by many of these experienced professionals are mainly half-hearted. The internet is complicated. Even to begin the most simplistic digital media buy takes more time developing strategy and targeting universes than a $1 million direct mail buy. Instead of diving head first into the digital space, many operatives have preferred to stick to the shallows: exploring the bare minimum that current technological innovations have to offer.

In a world where we are very close to printing 3-D burritos (check it out), campaigns still canvass by hand, promote their candidates through signs and buttons, and ‘change hearts and minds’ through the Puritanical town-hall meeting. Unfortunately for them, although fortunate for the younger political operatives who better understand the digital landscape and innovation, we are discovering that our social interactions can be partly and wholly emulated on the web.

However, with the older political operatives in control and the government’s general reluctance for a modicum of change, many aspects of campaigning are (rightly and wrongly) left out of the move to digital advertising and social media interaction.

An article released on July 24th,2012 in Campaigns and Elections by Marty Stone entitled ‘Communicating with influentials’ is a reaffirmation of the ‘old school’ way of doing things.  The article promotes the importance of people like the author’s mother ‘Bubbie;’ those trusted members of communities, well known for their advice giving on political matters and thus their control over how ‘platoons’ of voters will act at the polls. The author is explicit in his rejection of digital media, writing: “There’s no question that social media outreach is key when it comes to delivering a candidate’s message, but word-of-mouth contact is still king (or queen) even in this digital age.”

Sorry, Marty, but the voters of tomorrow, used to a world where they can constantly interact with friends and join online communities (led by influential people), don’t emphasis the importance of community influencers in the same way as their parents. Instead, like in all things, they’re moving to embrace social media interaction and constructed, online communities.

What many political operatives probably don’t know is that empirically judging ‘influence’ is one of the freshest and most controversial developments in our digital age. The leader of being able to judge online and social media influence is Klout, whose newest update is another reaffirmation that they are “the standard for influence.” Klout gives individuals scores on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 that ranks how much ‘influence’ sed individual has online. Don’t ask me to explain the equations or anything behind the scenes; all I know is that I currently have a ’59.’

Although this a new technology, the implications for politics are clear. This technology would allow campaigns to target ‘influentials’–people who can influence voters far more intimately, efficiently, and cost effectively than the most well made campaign spot. Think about it for a second: when it comes to politics, whose advice do you trust more: Campaign Ads; Your local paper; Anderson Cooper on CNN; Or your friends and family? I hope, unless you have strained relations, the last choice is a clear winner.

Because of the uncertainty of the ‘influence rating’ industry, and really the uncertainty regarding the validity of the rankings, Klout is still hesitant to enter the political advertising realm. However, once these issues are resolved, there will be no reason for Klout and similar companies to not ‘dance with the devil,’ and begin picking team Blue or team Red. Although many might react negativly to this prospect–perhaps thinking, great, another way that technology and politics are going to influence and shape our lives–the shift could be incredibly empowering for the individual and for democracy in general.

Utilizing Klout in this way would be at the very heart of its mission: affirming the importance of social capital within the real world. Political campaigns, instead of utilizing ‘influentials’ as so many billboards or banner ads constantly promoting buzzwords and talking points, would be forced to court them: convincing these individuals by displaying the logic behind electing their candidate or supporting their ballot measure.

Even more interesting, having individual influencers promote ideas person-to-person instead of the ‘one size fits all’ mentality of political advertising (which, granted, has changed due to micro targeting but still lacks the intimacy of earnest social interaction) could force a deeper and more personalized discussion of politics in general.

Individuals are convinced to support or not support causes for different reasons. Klout  allows influencers to convince voters thought by thought, argument by argument, perspective by perspective. Complicated political and economic messages, discussions, and rationales that normally fall flat when promoted and consumed on a mass, 15 second ad, scale would also benefit from the personalization of politics. When we discuss ideas one on one, instead of enmass, we dive deeper into discourse, promoting and defending our beliefs through reason instead of the Pathos ubiquitous in political advertising.  Perhaps, with Klout and the creation of quantifiable social capital, political campaigns could better promote and the public could better understand inherently complicated solutions to our nation’s complex problems.

Far from making political campaigns and advertising more impersonal and machine-like, the application of digital ‘influencology’ by Klout and others would reaffirm the importance of individualism in American democracy. The influencers and influencees, who already interact online and offline in many cases, would be given autonomy over how to frame political debates. Rather than campaign messages coming from political operatives and formal campaign components, the messages will arrive informally, from online community leaders, influential friends, and trusted commentators. The only difference from natural social interaction–interaction that changes and shapes peoples opinions on important issues–would be the first step already discussed: convincing those with large stores of social capital to support and promote a specific campaign.

Today, we have dinner time discussions that alter the way we think about politics and the world. Maybe someday soon, Mom and Dad will be championing Senator XYZ by committing to support his campaign online. Although I’ve obviously left out many specifics regarding how exactly campaigns could capitalize on Klout’s technology, I think it’s clear that a) the acceptance of technology in campaign strategy means that some form of online ‘influencology’ is probably inevitable and b) this is not something to fret or fear, but something to embrace and eagerly await.

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Sweden and Political Ideology

Posted by blindspotpolitics on June 10, 2012

Before the recent faltering of the European Union, the average left leaning American was inclined to use the success of the European social welfare state as an example of the fairness and economic equality America should attain. Sweden, with its supposed combination of massive taxes and livable bliss, was often the epitome of this thought.

The argument would go: They live longer! They have universal healthcare! They’re happier! They have a lower infant mortality rate! And they have it all and do it all because of higher taxes, entitlement programs, and more governmental regulation. Why is America so behind the rest of the industrialized world? Why can’t we be more like Sweden?

Besides the glaring dissimilarities between the Untied States and many European “social welfare” states, such as the homogeneous populations of most Northern and Western European countries, the new question becomes, are these states really succeeding; and if so, is it because of social welfare promoted by the state?

Sure, wouldn’t it be great if everyone had healthcare? And heck, who doesn’t want to live longer or be happier?  But is the modern social welfare model sustainable? Or does it allow one generation to live rich and equal, while sentencing another to an imminent collapse and economic devolution?

Recently, Sweden has stripped itself of many taxes and entitlement programs. In these pressing economic times, the Swedish have continued to have a strong economy by heeding more to the creed of Smith than of Keynes.

However, these successes are not necessarily a rallying point for the proponents of Austrian or supply-side economics. Relative to the United States, Sweden still has high taxes and many entitlement programs. They are moving toward deregulation and lowered taxes—but are hardly an example for the triumph of unmitigated capitalism; Sweden is cutting waste, not the desire for economic equality.

Instead, Sweden’s successes indicate that a balance between social welfarism, directed by a sense of national community, and the private sector, supported by lower taxes and increased economic freedom, can lead to good things. Essentially, in recent years, Sweden has given us a balancing act.

We have seen in Sweden, if anything, the triumph of civil society, not of government or the free market. President Clinton and the New Democrats were correct—balance social responsibility with equality of means instead of equality of outcome. Sweden reveals the resilience of mankind and communities—not of governments—during hard economic times.

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Some things that inspire me

Posted by blindspotpolitics on February 26, 2012

So I’m writing some short essays for internship applications and I didn’t realize that 255 words was actually 255 characters. Woops! Well, I’m not going to waste this so here are two books by Orwell (well, really one essay and one book) and why they inspired me:

Politics and the English Language and Animal Farm – Orwell

I read the first a year and a half ago, the second when I was ten. I know, I know: Orwell was a vehement Democratic Socialist. He was, as Charles Murray would probably say, one of those good intentioned souls, who abhorred totalitarianism, and didn’t realize that the only way to secure equality in a democratic socialist state is along a similar authoritarian trajectory. However, his critique of modern politics in his essay on them is nothing short of brilliant. It was the first essay I read that revealed with scientific accuracy and emotional fortitude how politicians abuse the English language to gain political favor and make citizens believe that they need their help. He calls for simplicity in politics, just like Libertarians call for simplicity in government. I believe the two are interconnected, perhaps the former being a necessary pathway to the latter. Animal Farm is likewise a talented critique, highlighting the woes of authoritarianism and blind trust through a riveting allegory. The initial good intentions of the Animal socialist revolution, which brings “freedom” and “equality,” to all, soon evaporates as some members of society convince the rest that they deserve more. Animal nature, or really human nature, overcomes the farfetched notion of coercive communal sacrifice. To me, this is essentially a fictionalized version of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. Perhaps, the best intentions, the worst results. Overall, his writing has inspired me to look critically at not only political systems, but also the leaders and intentions behind those systems.

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Rights and Responsibility

Posted by blindspotpolitics on January 19, 2012

All the recent activities of the Colbert Super PAC and increased interest about SOPA, especially after the Wikipedia blackout, have got a lot of people thinking about first amendment rights and especially about the first amendment rights of corporations. As of now, and as I understand it, there are really two sides to this argument.

The “conservative” argument supports freedom of speech for corporations in totality, expressed right now by the freedom to use unlimited corporate money to influence either political elections, the super PAC problem, or the political process in general, the media or Google pulpit problem of recent days (highlighted in here). Taking perhaps a softer approach to the often indefensible position that corporations are people, Mitt Romney and other conservatives and libertarians state that corporate freedom of speech must be guaranteed because corporations are made up of people, and taking away the freedom of speech of their collective association within the corporation would thus take away the free speech of those individuals; seemingly punishing them for being a part of a collective, although constructed, entity.

The “liberal” argument supports limiting corporate speech in the political realm; back to what some see as the good ol’ days before Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.  However, in light of the corporate backed SOPA, many liberals have favored corporations, like Google, using their special position as corporations to influence public opinion about a proposed bill they generally detest. Surely, this paradox not only undermines the liberal argument but also sheds light on the lack of theoretical and constitutional justification for limiting corporate speech.

I believe that both of these arguments are equally flawed. There is a middle ground. There is a way to protect corporate freedom of speech for the classical liberals while also limiting the possible influence of corporations that are not inherently constructed to communicate to a widespread audience.

People have individual rights. We know this. In America, we thankfully and explicitly secured certain rights within the amendments to our Constitution, such as the first amendment: freedom of speech. Liberal or not, one cannot argue with the empirical fact that, indeed, corporations are made up of people. The conservatives go on: Thus, corporations have freedom of speech because we cannot limit individuals right to freedom of speech just because they have formed an association. By this logic, corporations obviously have the right to free speech.

Individuals, in a collective association, can organize together freely, rights still wholly secured. If we take this conservative argument to its logical conclusion then shouldn’t corporations, because they have the rights of individual Americans, be subject to existing and moot FEC regulations on individual contributions to campaigns? If corporations are individuals, or at least made up of individuals as Mitt Romney and Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute have argued, and thus have the rights of individuals shouldn’t they also have the responsibilities and limitations of individuals?

Laws limit the individual campaign contribution total in any given election cycle. Thus, although corporations have the rights of individuals they cannot supersede the restrictions placed on individuals. So now what? How do we proceed? If corporations have the rights and the restrictions of individuals, what does that mean for their involvement in political campaigns and in political persuasion generally?

I propose that the only logical way to proceed, the only way to protect individual rights for all Americans, is for liberals to admit that corporations are comprised of individuals who obviously have freedom of speech and for conservatives to admit that individuals, even those within associations, are still bound by laws, especially if those laws explicitly determine the extent of political influence an individual may have through money.

Since this entire argument, the whole idea that corporations have constitutional rights, rests on them not being people but being made up of people, the amount of money that corporations can use must inherently and earnestly be limited to the money from individuals within a corporation, the individuals who chose to be a part of these free associations, who support the particular corporate message—obviously laws must also be create within such a proposal to prevent corporations from forcing employees to support corporate messages.

Essentially, corporations can use their platform to present messages, but cannot empty their internal coffers to create media/support those messages. All political power, and all monetary influence, rests on the individual, even the individual within the corporation. Corporations can freely use their own property, such as their own website, to promote any political agenda; however, when giving money to outside PACs, or even political PACs operated solely by the corporation, the monetary expenses must be limited by rules regarding individual restrictions. Media corporations obviously gain an advantage in terms of communication in this regard since they already have a pulpit for mass communication.

If Google wants to put up a banner on their site saying “Vote Ralph Nader in 2012,” they are free to use their property (i.e. their site) to do so. And if another corporation, say Exxon Mobil, wants to encourage two thousand employees to all donate the maximum amount an individual can donate in an election year to a corporate PAC, that is fine too. Exxon can use that money to produce politically influential media and even admit that they created it.

What is not fine is both limiting the free speech of individuals via corporations by attempting to control their property and allowing individuals within corporations to supersede the limits placed on all individuals. This might be a hard pill to swallow for many, particularly many conservatives, but aren’t individuals in corporations still just individuals? And if your argument for corporate freedom of speech rests on their composition, how can you defend anything but this?

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What the Media is Missing

Posted by blindspotpolitics on December 29, 2011

We all know that the main stream media is lacking in any intense discussion of policy during campaigns. Perhaps this is a sign of the encroaching stupidity of modernity sans Idiocracy. Or perhaps it’s a sign of a news market that cheers ratings and competition among networks over valued discussion. Regardless, the so called main stream media often fails to expand upon candidate’s policy ideas or discuss them at all.

The problem with not discussing policy is that potentially dangerous ideas are essentially swept under the table. Rick Perry’s recent critique of the Supreme Court is a poignant example. One of his more disturbing ideas, that the Supreme Court will be, under a Perry administration, subject to term limits, has not received the attention it deserves in the media. Maybe this is because most media sources consider Perry’s Presidential bid hopeless, but the importance of his suggestion is very important, if not at a practical level then at a theoretical level.

Perry’s suggestion is disturbing because it undermines the functionality of our democracy; harsh words, I know. The seperation of powers is a fundamental principle of our representative democracy. The courts, separated as their own branch of government and thus independent of the legislative and governing bodies, ensure a fair and progressive society (This conclusion may not be based on a strict reading of the Constitution but it is certainly based on the precedents set by courts throughout American History, see Marshall and Warren Court as prime examples of Judicial Review and social progression). Threatening the life terms of Supreme Court Justices advocated by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 78 (see a good synopsis here), threatens the independence of the Judiciary and the whole concept of three branches of government. Simply put, life terms for Supreme Court Justices ensures that they are independent of the whims of the political climate because they have no threat of losing their job.

Yes, unlike members of Congress who must be reelected every two (House) or six (Senate) years, they do not have constituents and no one votes for them. Perry argues that this lack of accountability means that Justices can act independent of what people generally want or believe in. Almost ironically, and a little too scary and concerning to laugh at, Perry’s critique of the courts is precisely their purpose. The Supreme Court is not supposed to represent us; not directly, anyways. They are not supposed to represent what the people view is correct or what is popular to believe in. They are supposed to represent the vision of our founding fathers and the theoretical principles that are the foundation of our democracy. What maintains the supremacy of our courts is not their inherent power or their lust for even more power but the slow march of time. As time moves on it leads to the  development of societal norms and of individual notions regarding social equality. This in turn, leads to the destruction of antiquated and dangerous beliefs and thus the acceptance or at least the toleration of once marginalized groups or practices or beliefs. One hundred years ago a large plurality, if not a majority, of Americans believed Black men and women to be inferior. The march of time has changed this, pushed slowly along by decisions from the courts.

The media did report on Perry when he discussed the courts. They chided him for saying their were only eight justices and for mispronouncing Sonia Sotomayer’s name, silly mistakes indeed. A serious and well advertised analysis of Perry’s remarks about term limits are, however, absent from any major news source. I found out about it from listening to one of the recent GOP debates and the only source I found on-line that took more than a line to explain Perry’s position was at TowleRoad, a site for the gay community and gay-friendly allies. Why is this source, which is outside the mainstream, the only one seriously reporting Perry’s policy position?

Instead of discussing what Presidents say, or what they do in their personal lives, how about we focus on what they believe? How about we start focusing on the theoretical principles that frame our Candidate’s political beliefs? How about we up the level of our national discourse? We’re all adults here. The people of the United States are not children vying for entertainment–we have reality TV for that anyways–Americans want to see the Ad Hominem attacks end. Candidates should not only say what they are going to do for people, but why. Democracy isn’t arbitary. The Federalist Papers were based on theory, on the why, on the ought, not just the is or the how. Candidates often speak of their “convictions” or their “moral outlook,” yet it always seems to be framed within the context of their political accomplishments. Properly vetting a candidate must, in the future, include addressing their political justification not just their political motivation. Individual experiences can and should help frame a candidate’s political views but only in so far as the candidate links his personal views with greater theoretical justifications.

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