Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Trump, Racism, Granularity, Rationality, and Things That Quack Like Ducks

Scott Alexander's SlateStarCodex is one of my favorite blogs. Much of it involves trying to really look at what's going on, ignoring noise and assumptions in favor of data and rational evaluation.

Recently he did this on the topic of whether Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate for president. His conclusion - argued persuasively and at length - is that no, Trump is not the candidate of white supremacy and the hysterical claims that he is are doing harm. The article is not a defense of Trump, but just a challenge of one particular narrative.

It's a terrific article, but as I read it, I had the vague feeling that at least some of his points could be refuted. But a superficial googling on the article didn't show that anyone had tried to refute any of it. There were just articles lauding the piece.

As I thought about the article there were a few things that began to bother me, and since Alexander turned off comments on the post in order to avoid chaotic flame wars, I'm just going to discuss them  here.

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Alexander makes a lot of good points. Take, for example, Trump's famous statement "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists." Alexander points out this is not actually racist because Trump is specifically saying that there are good Mexicans, and that it's just those aren't the ones immigrating to the U.S. It's not actually racist to say, "all the good Mexicans are living in Mexico," even though it's clearly untrue.

Alexander points out that while Trump's obsession with birtherism seems racist, Trump actually believes all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories, many involving white people. He points out that, outside of the liberal bubble, Trump has made many statements praising U.S. diversity, like every other politician. He skillfully takes the "racist Trump" arguments apart piece by piece, leaving you with Trump as an asshole whose racism is closer to that of Robert Dole than Adolph Hitler.

He's probably right. And yet, as I thought about the article later, I began to think of Rodney King.

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Rodney King, as you may recall, was videotaped being savagely beaten by the police in 1991.

Watching the video, it was clear that King had been beaten mercilessly for several minutes by many cops while he tried to escape. But when the case went to trial, the defense slowed that video way down and convinced the jury that every time King's arm flailed out as a baton hit him, every time he tried to get on his knees to crawl away, that he was in fact lashing out and trying to attack the cops.

This is the danger of granuality. Anything, when looked at closely enough, can lose its shape. It's like those paintings that look like people in a park from a distance and look like a bunch of dots of paint up close.

Alexander is looking at Trump on a granular level, and on a granular level, you can prove an awful lot.

As much as Alexander is admirably trying to look at all the evidence, he's still just taking a small section of the immense number of things Trump has said and using it to push back on a narrative.

Alexander does, in fact, understand that. In point 17 of his post he shows exactly how all arguments against an insupportable theory can sound, to a believer, "weaselly." If you believe Trump is a racist, you can reject pretty much any arguments to the contrary. And if you're living in the liberal bubble with me, where you basically keep hearing the same five quotes from Trump on an endless loop, it's easy to see the case for racist Trump as a slam dunk.

I'm not saying Alexander's granuality means he's wrong. I'm just saying it's something you need to pay attention to, because he's a very persuasive writer and as anyone familiar with Malcolm Gladwell knows, persuasive writers can persuade you of things that are not entirely true.

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As I continued to mull his piece over in my mind, certain other things began to bother me, like this:

13. Doesn’t Trump want to ban (or “extreme vet”, or whatever) Muslims entering the country?
Yes, and this is awful.
But why do he (and his supporters) want to ban/vet Muslims, and not Hindus or Kenyans, even though most Muslims are white(ish) and most Hindus and Kenyans aren’t? Trump and his supporters are concerned about terrorism, probably since the San Bernardino shooting and Pulse nightclub massacre dominated headlines this election season.

This seemed fine when I first read it, but then it began to seem really, really wrong. Because he is basically saying that racism is tied specifically to skin color. That if Trump is more afraid of "white(ish)" Muslims than darker Kenyans, then somehow he can't be all that racist.

As much as I respect Alexander, this is blatantly stupid. Because racism is not a visual thing. In the past, Americans have been racist against Irish and Italians, among others. My mom had a friend who once said she could deal with her daughter dating a black guy, but would disown her for dating an Asian, even though Asians are generally somewhat lighter (the reason having to do with a hatred of Japanese born during World War II).

And, of course, Hitler hated Jews more than any other race even though Jews were often physically indistinguishable from Germany's non-Jews.  I don't know how Hitler felt about Kenyans, but I'm pretty sure he spent less time worrying about them.

And yes, hatred of Muslims has been exacerbated by Muslim terrorists. But racism doesn't have to be based on nothing. It is a matter of taking some aspect of a racial group, whether real or imagined, and applying it to all people of that group. Some African Americans are criminals. Some Jews are greedy bankers. Some Poles are stupid. If you think that subgroup represents the whole, that's racist.

After all, there are tons of white terrorists in America, shooting abortionists or blowing up buildings, but we don't take actions against all white people because some of them are terrible.

I wonder whether a 1930s version of Scott Alexander be able to examine Hitler on a granular level and conclude that he wasn't really more anti-Semitic than other German politicians? After all, the level of anti-Semitism in 1930s politicians was pretty high.

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While point 13 is Alexanders worst argument, others are also  problematic. For example, the fact that Trump believes in all sorts of conspiracy theories, only some of which are racist, doesn't mean his belief in birtherism isn't still racist; if I believe all drug dealers are black, and I believe moon people have invaded earth, the second belief doesn't make the first one less racist.

And yes, it's true that people have physically attacked Trump supporters, and that's terrible, but there's a difference between attacking someone for how they voted and attacking someone for who they are. If a Muslim is a wearing a Clinton button and someone attacks her you can say it's equivalent, but if she's just wearing a hijab then she's not being attacked for her vote, but for her race and religion. There's a fundamental difference between saying "fuck you, Trump supporter," and "go back to Mexico, wetback."

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Alexander is very persuasive, and I am willing to admit there's a pretty good liklihood that Trump isn't the most racist Republican out there and that the actual white-supremist part of his constituency is tiny and is only seeming significant because the media has glommed onto the white-nationalist story and is giving fringe groups way too much attention.

But I'm still nervous, because I'm not convinced that this country hasn't opened the door a crack for racists now. That there is a new acceptance for racism, and sexism, and homophobia that Trump is helping along, and that he really is more dangerous than a typical Republican not just because he's corrupt and incompetent but because he is going to at worst institute racist policies and at best just let racism grow without challenge.

There's an old expression: if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. For a rationalist like Alexander, this is untrue. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can only say for certain that it is something that shares certain characteristics with a duck. It's an important perspective, because the truth is, common sense is not always sensible, few things are truly self-evident, and to assume is, as the saying goes, to make an ass of you and me.

I admire Alexander's attempt to rationally look at that quacking thing to try and figure out if it's really a duck. I just wonder how many data points he would need before finally admitting that, yeah, what we've got here is a duck.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump voters are idiots and jerks who blithely voted a racist fearmonger into office - here's why we shouldn't demonize them

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is one of the most horrific moments in U.S. history. A blatant racist whose election has the KKK dancing in the streets, Trump is a crude, corrupt, unqualified moron who will cause damage to this country - through his Supreme Court appointments, through his destruction of progressive programs, through his encouragment of bigotry and xenophobia - that will continue on for decades.

The people who voted for Trump should be ashamed. They have unleashed a great horror on the country, and it is little comfort that Trump's policies will wind up ruining the lives of many of his most fervent supporters.

So yeah, it is outrageous to suggest that we need to understand these people, as some are suggesting. What's to understand? These are white people whining about their lives even though many of those voters aren't suffering, demanding that the little we've given our country's minorities be taken back, that our halting attempts at equality for women be smashed. They were dumb enough to believe Trump's promises and uncaring enough to not care who got hurt. The majority of them are so racist that they think Obama is a Muslim foreigner. They are monsters.

On the other hand...

There is a problem with painting Trump voters with too broad a brush. Certainly, the worst people in America - Nazis, Klansmen, sexual assaulters - embraced him enthusiastically. But that doesn't mean everyone who voted for Trump loved everything about him.

John Scalzi posited in the Cinemax Theory of Racism that even if everyone who voted for Trump isn't actively racist, they all basically accept racism as a part of the Trump package that they can live with. And that's true. But they are not the first voters to accept the bad with the good. In 2012 I read an article by a progressive who refused to vote for Obama because he had sent out drones in the pursuit of terrorists that had killed many innocent people. For him, to vote for Obama was to say he could live with a president who would kill innocent foreigners.

I voted for Obama anyway - it wasn't like Romney was a peacenik who would end all the killing - but in doing so, I have to accept that I made a statement - to keep the Supreme Court from becoming even more conservative, to keep making progress against racism and sexism, to further a (somewhat) progressive agenda in the United States - I could live with drone strikes that killed civilians in the Middle East. I feel bad about it, but I did it, and I did it knowing I was doing it.

So if you're a conservative afraid of a liberal Supreme Court, if you believe liberal economic policies will make the country poorer, then you might say, "I really hate that Trump is calling Mexicans racists and Muslims terrorists, but I have to protect this country from a greater threat."

I might disagree with that analysis and those priorities, but I can't say I have never compromised on the perfect in favor of what I perceived as the least bad option.

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I've read a fair amount about those Trump voters. My main takeaway is that they feel like government cares about everyone but them, and they're very resentful. They feel that there is affirmative action for black people, new rights for gays, and nothing for them. That they are taken for granted and undervalued and their struggles are ignored.

And if you're like a lot of my friends, your reply to that is, "Damn right I'm ignoring your so-called 'pain.' You problems are nothing compared to those of people of color. There are people getting pulled over and shot by the police while you're whining that your kid didn't get into their first-choice college. Fuck you with your slightly-lower-than-your-parents standard of living and your undeserving lazy-poor-people tropes. You white straight people are at the top of the heap, and if you're suffering, then how do you think the people without your privileges are doing right now?"

Or, to put it another way, "yes, white America, you really don't matter at all. Just shut up and vote for the Democrats."

I understand this attitude. I have had advantages in life and I feel people with less advantages deserve a boost up; that their need is greater than mine. But at the same time, I can appreciate that if you feel you are getting less so that others - no more deserving than you - can have more, then you might be annoyed.

Look at it this way. Let's say you're a kid, and every day your parents give you one cookie. Now, you have friends who get three cookies a day, so you're already a little resentful about your lot in life, but at least you get that one cookie.

Then one day your parents say, that kid next door gets no cookies, so from now on every Wednesday and Sunday we'll take your cookie and give it to him.

If you're a really noble, self-sacrificing kid, you'll be okay with that. You'll say, give him my Monday cookie as well. But if you're like most kids, you will be consumed with the unfairness of getting less cookies not because you have done anything wrong, but because someone you don't even know is just being given the cookies that have always been a part of your life.

There is a difference between not being noble and self-sacrificing and being a monster. But people who drift to the self-sacrificing side of life can forget that.

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There's a big problem with the "fuck all you whiny-ass Trump voters, you're all racist monsters" attitude. By lumping everyone together like that, you make everyone in that lump unreachable. If someone came up to me and said, "you are a monster and every death caused by Obama is blood on your hands; people like you should just die, because you care about no one but yourselves," I would not listen to much that person had to say.

And we may really need those non-KKK Trump voters soon. Because there are people who were horrified by aspects of Trump but ultimately thought that voting for him would not destroy the country. They thought Trump was all talk and wouldn't really have jackbooted thugs going from house to house arresting Muslims and Mexicans.

But if they are prooved wrong, they might cool on Trump. They might say, "wow, I did not realize this would happen." And they could join the opposition to Trump.

Unless, of course, you've told them they are all privileged assholes whose concerns are stupid. In which case, why exactly would they want to join with you?

The fact is, white people do have problems, because everyone has problems. If you're white, you are less likely to be shot by a cop, but it can still happen. Innocent white people get shot by cops. White people get sick and go bankrupt paying medical bills. White people lose their jobs. And you can't insist that people shouldn't complain about their problems because others are suffering more. If you lose a child, you don't want to hear, "that's nothing, I lost my whole family, quit whining."

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I don't excuse people for voting for Trump. They did a terrible thing, for terrible reasons, and will cause irreparable harm to this country. But I still believe we need to understand their views and listen to their complaints. Because the fact is, as they just proved, they can vote in big enough numbers to put a fascist in the White House. And if Democrats don't try and understand and communicate with them, then in four years they will give him a second term.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I'm not That Excited by Hillary Clinton ... But That's How I Feel Every Four Years

It's said that Hillary Clinton suffers from an enthusiasm gap. People just aren't that jazzed to vote for her, and her greatest assett is that many voters are terrified of the apocalyptic disaster a Trump presidency is liable to usher in.

Her supporters have been trying to convince us to get excited. She's incredibly qualified. She has a long history of public service. She's smart and willing to engage with the nuts and bolts of government.

But why should I get excited for Hillary, when I haven't been excited by any of the presidential candidates I've had to vote for over the years?

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Even before I could vote I followed the elections, and the last time the candidate I liked actually became the nominee was in 1972, when McGovern became a cautionary tale in nominating the genuine liberal.

After that it's been all disappointments. In 1976 I really liked Mo Udall, and thought Jerry Brown showed promise, but instead got Jimmy Carter. Whoopdefucking do. 

The first election I could vote in was 1980. Once again, Jimmy Carter was the nominee, and since he had just instituted draft registration for people my age, I was really unhappy with him. I would have preferred Ted Kennedy, or, once again, Brown, but Carter was the nominee. I voted for third party candidate John Anderson. I wasn't excited by Anderson, I just really didn't like Carter. And I was going through my "they're all the same" phase, which ended as I watched Reagan dismantled the government and put foxes in charge of every henhouse, creating a swathe of destruction we have yet to recover from.

There were some good guys running in 1984. I remember liking Alan Cranston. George McGovern took another shot at it. And Jesse Jackson was an exciting possibility. And in their wisdom, the people nominated bland, middle-of-the-road Walter Mondale. Who I did vote for, because, after all, Reagan was gutting the country.

In 1988, my guy was the bow-tied liberal Paul Simon (no, not the Garfunkle one), though Jesse Jackson was still a solid second. Instead, we got the uninspiring Michael Dukakis. I voted for him, but we still got the Bush that gave us Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and an idiot son for our future.

I don't know who I was cheering for in 1992. Jerry Brown. Eugene McCarthy? I know who I wasn't cheering for: Bill Clinton, the guy who brought neoconservatism into the Democratic mainstream. Still, better than more Bush.

It was Clinton or nothing in 1996. He'd turned out to be even worse than I expected; his biggest achievement was gutting welfare. But it wasn't like the Republicans were going to be an improvement.

I wasn't impressed by Al Gore in 2000, who I knew of mainly through his wife's stupid music censorship activism, but it was a year of little choice. I voted for him, but a bunch of people going through their "they're all the same" phase went for Ralph Nader, leading directly to the American invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS.

My guy in 2004 was flaming liberal Dennis Kucinich, although Howard Dean also held a lot of appeal. So we got John Kerry. And another four terrible Bush years.

Kucinich was still my man in 2008, although quirky Mike Gravel was also pretty appealing. As for Obama, well, he was basically an early-70s Republican, but at least he brought some history with him, and he was pretty darn likable. That was probably the closest I came to being enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee, but I knew he was going to be a disappointment. And I voted for him again in 2012 even though he had proved me right.

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In 2016 I wanted Bernie Sanders, of course. In this crazy election year he really did have the potential to win and be the most progressive president of my lifetime. So I'm disappointed that I'm stuck with Clinton.

But - and I guess this is my real point - I'm not any more disappointed than usual. In spite of all the antipathy she inspires in people, I don't see her as worse than Gore, or Mondale, or Obama, or her husband, or even Carter, who in retrospect was actually pretty good. She just represents another time when the middle-of-the-road Democrat beat my liberal favorite.
I don't need to be enthusiastic about Clinton. I have voted for every Democratic nominee since 1984, and I will do so again.

I vote for the Democrat because I learned in 1980 what happens when you don't vote for the Democrat. Terrible, terrible things. And I know that a neoconservative replacement for our neoconservative president is still a lot better than an unqualified authoritarian narcicist. 

If Clinton wins, I will be thrilled. I will be dancing in the street, because we will have dodged the biggest bullet in my lifetime and a woman will have broken America's highest glass ceiling. It will be a great night.

Then I'll brace myself for the inevitable disappointment, just as I have with every Democratic win. It's better than bracing myself for the shit show of a Democratic loss.  








Friday, September 16, 2016

Clinton’s Suicide of a Thousand Cuts versus Trump’s Big Lies

Hillary Clinton has once again got herself in trouble for holding back information, in this case not letting the press know that she had pneumonia until she almost collapsed. It’s ultimately a pretty small lie, but it feeds perfectly into the narrative of Clinton as shifty.

At her most dishonest, Clinton doesn’t come close to the dishonesty of her rival, Donald Trump, who tells huge whoppers on a daily basis. Clinton more often paints things in the best light based on the public record, and then continually makes small changes in her story as new information comes to light. Overall, her stories don’t really change all that much, but the constant drip-drip-drip of modifications makes it seem like she never actually tells the truth.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, tells huge, ridiculous, easily disproved lies, and when he is shown the evidence, he simply insists the evidence is wrong. The irony for Clinton is that her attempts to adjust her story to conform to the available facts creates a perception of shiftiness, while Trump’s bold, unapologetic dishonesty just makes people think that he’s a man who sticks to his guns.

Imagine Hillary Clinton were accused of shooting someone. The police would take her into the interrogation room, and she would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.”

When the cops would show her a photo of her with the victim, she would say, “well, we may have met once, but I don’t remember them, and anyway, I was out of town and don’t own a gun.” And when they bring in the gun, registered in her name, with her fingerprints on it, she would say “come to think of it, I do have a gun, but I certainly never shot someone I barely knew with it.”

Now imagine Donald Trump was accused of shooting someone. He too would say, “I didn’t know that person, we never met, I wasn’t there that night, and I don’t even own a gun.” Faced with a picture of himself with the victim, he would say, “I never met him, that’s not even me in the photo.” When they brought in the gun, he would say, “I never owned a gun, those aren’t my fingerprints.” When they showed security video of him pointing the gun at the victim and pulling the trigger, he would say, “no, that’s not me. Absolutely not.”

Trump’s ability to stick to his lies makes it difficult for the press to even report on them. Every time Clinton makes a small change in her story, the press can write, “faced with new information, Clinton changes story.” But how many times can the press report that Donald Trump has repeated the exact same lie in the exact same way? It’s not really news; it’s like reporting that the sun rose this morning.

It must be frustrating for Clinton to see her every lawyerly prevarication become a damning headline while her opponent tells so many lies that journalists consider them nothing but “dog bites man” stories. But she keeps reinforcing the negative perceptions by refusing to get ahead of a story; she always waits for events to catch up with her. If on Friday she’d simply announced she had a touch of pneumonia but was going to try and keep going, she would have seemed forthright for admitting to illness and tough for pushing through, and video of her staggering into a car would have been nothing but proof that you shouldn’t run around when you have pneumonia. By waiting until she had no choice but to say something, she encourages people to think she has something worse than pneumonia. If in a couple of days she announces she actually has double pneumonia, no one will be surprised, because that’s what she does.

And if in a couple of days Donald Trump announces that he is incapable of getting sick and in fact hasn’t even aged since he was thirty, people will shrug. Because that’s just Donald being Donald.





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Donald Trump's Best Path to the Presidency Involves a Russian Invasion

Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. Obama was born in Kenya. Ted Cruz's father was in on the Kennedy Assassination. The Clintons killed Vince Foster. 

So Trump should love my theory on why he's running such a terrible campaign.
Right now, pollsters are giving Trump about a 15% chance of winning in November, seemingly because he keeps saying crazy things about how Obama founded Isis or Second Amendment people could do "something" about Clinton. Trump became the Republican nominee because his outrageous statements kept him on the front page, but while that worked great among disaffected, angry Republicans, it's failing with everyone else.

But if I were a conspiracy theorist like Trump, I would think he was blowing the election on purpose, because his goal is not to be elected but to be appointed.

Right now, Trump is claiming that the only way he can lose is if Clinton steals the election through fraud. Among hardcore Trumpites, who believe all the polls are heavily skewed, this is a persuasive argument. 

So, Trump has established that his loss will be from Clinton's skulldugery, the government will be illegitimate, and people with guns will have to do something about it.

For all the crazy shit he says, 40% of the voters are still planning to vote for him right now, so there are a lot of people on his bandwagon. And a lot of them have guns.

So here's the theory. Trump throws the election. His followers, who believe it was all voter fraud, rise up and start shooting Democrats. The country descends into chaos. Tea Party radicals claim the government has collapsed and request help from Russia, because Republicans have a hard on for Putin (apparently, he's what they consider a "strong leader"). Russia invades and appoints their buddy Trump - who has praised Putin and has financial connections with Russia - as the country's new dictator.

Is that an insane theory? Sure. Do I expect anyone to believe it? Of course not. But in a crazy election against a seemingly inept businessman who has already used his bizarre behavior to become the Republican nominee, you've got to consider all the possibilities.

At the least, it's more likely than the Clintons having murdered Vince Foster.





Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Trolley Problem and the Protest Voter

In a well-known thought experiment called the Trolley Problem, a train is hurtling down a track towards five people tied to that track, and you can pull a switch to move it to a different track on which one man is standing.

This is generally used to explore moral choice and whether you'd be personally willing to kill one person to save five. If you do so, his blood is on your hands, but if you don't throw the switch, five people will die.

It would be a terrible decision to make.

It's also a lot like the decision voters are facing this year. The train is heading down a track called TRUMP that will cause horrible disasters, inflame racism, bring trade wars and possibly real wars, destroy America's standing in the world, and give us a right-wing Supreme Court that will chip away at our civil rights for decades to come.

The other track is called CLINTON. The train will cause less damage if it goes down the Clinton track, but there's likely to be some poor judgement, some foreign misadventuring, and a poorly-handled scandal or two.

It's a grim decision.

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If only there were another way. If this were an action movie, you could fire a rocket launcher that curled the track up so that the train would fly up and sail right over those people, landing on the track right past the victims.

You could also do nothing and hope for a miracle. Perhaps the train will run out of gas right before it hits anyone. Or Doctor Who will appear and send it through a time portal into an alternate dimension where no one is tied to the tracks.

What you really need is another switch. Not one that will actually effect the direction of the train, but one you can pull so you can feel you're doing something without having to make this terrible decision.

Let's give you that switch and put a sign on it that says "PROTEST VOTE." Pull it, and you can tell yourself that those five dead people aren't your fault at all; you pulled a switch; what more could you do?

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Right now we have a choice of presidents: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. One of those two people is going to be president. And a lot of people are just watching that train speed down the track and saying, "hey, it's not my train." Republicans who hate Donald Trump are saying, I can't vote for him, he's a dangerous incompetent with no qualifications, so I'll vote for a third party, but never Clinton, because she's evil. Hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters are saying they'll just write his name in rather than vote for Clinton; multiple people have said to me, in virtually the exact same words, "it's not my fault if Trump wins; I'm not the one who chose an unelectable candidate."

Years ago a friend was defending her vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. Her position was simple: if she just voted for someone terrible because their opponent was even more terrible, she was accepting this terrible political system. Things would never get better if people didn't stand up and refuse to cooperate with the status quo.

It's a fair point, but the question that should be asked is, did voting for Nader do anything besides help make George W. Bush president? Did it create a powerful liberal movement? Did it cause politicians to change their ways because a sliver of the populace was unhappy with both sides?

No, it didn't.

If we had a different system for electing people, where parties could gain power according to the proportion of their vote, or where there was a series of run-offs that would make a third-party vote more than just a throwaway, we would have a mechanism to change the system. But we don't, and I don't think many of the protester voters are even working to change our electoral system in a way that would give them that power.

Meanwhile, third parties seem loathe to go through the nuts and bolts of building a party, as Dan Savage pointed out in a wonderful diatribe:

If you're interested in building a third party, a viable third party, you don’t start with president. You don't start by running someone for fucking president.
Where are the Green Party candidates for city councils? For county councils? For state legislatures? For state assessor? For state insurance commissioner? For governor? For fucking dogcatcher? I would be SO willing to vote for Green Party candidates who are starting at the bottom, grassroots, bottom up, building a third party, a viable third party.
Voting for a third party presidential candidate won't advance any agenda. It won't give that party more power, more influence, more legitimacy, or a better future. It will be just the same as voting for "none of them."

And you can do that if you want. Just admit that this is all you are doing. You are not changing the system or creating a brighter tomorrow. You are saying "fuck it."

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You don't have to do anything about that train. It's not your train. You didn't send it down the track. You didn't tie those people up. Why should you take responsibility for other people's actions just because you're the one standing there?

The people on the track screaming "please don't let us die" are probably less philosophical. To them, the mistake made when the train started moving cannot be rectified, and the only thing that will save their lives is you pulling that switch.

And it's a painful switch to pull. I mean, my god, you're going to kill someone! Sure, you'll save five people, but you'll be responsible for a death. How is that fair?

Perhaps after you pull your protest vote switch, someone else will rush up and pull the working switch so you can feel good about yourself and your principled refusal to take responsibility for a problem not of your making. If not, you can watch those people die and say, "fucking railroad company, this is all their fault."

Hopefully you'll feel just as good about that decision later on, when you're tied to the track, the train is coming, and the one person who can save you turns to go.



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Children: Savage Enforcers of Society Conformity

Look at your fingernails. Go ahead, just take a peek. Do you look at them the masculine or feminine way?

If you know the answer to that, you probably learned it in childhood from a peer. In case that's a lesson you missed, boys look at their fingernails by curving their fingers over their upturned palms. Girls point their palms forward.

If you know that, you probably also know that boys look at the bottom of their shoe by bending their knee in front of them, while girls kick their foot up behind and look over their shoulder.

I failed both of these tests in grammar school, and was told I was a girl. I was unhappy about that, and changed appropriately.

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When talking about gender stereotypes, it is often suggested that much of the problem comes from toy companies that make all girl toys pink and advertising that divides toys into those for boys and those for girls. Some people seem to think that if we could just remove these societal messages, that children would be free to choose what they enjoy, rather than what society considers appropriate.

But what if Mattel and Walmart aren't really the problem? What if the problem is, in part, a culture of conformity passed from child to child, with rigid, stringently enforced rules? How do you change that?

Childhood is full of rules and tests (according to this thread, there are also gender tests involving looking at the sky and removing sweaters), created not by the media or the government but by children who use them as weapons. Yet even though these rules appear to arise organically out of the muck of childhood, they seem to strongly reinforce the culture's priorities. Besides gender conformity, consumerism is encouraged through attacks on things like "floods," a term for too-short pants.

Floods are a natural result of the speed at which children grow. A typical parental strategy is to buy things when they're too big and keep them until they're too small. This is sensible, but ill-fitting clothes can get you in trouble with the herd. (Note: I have no idea if floods or fingernail testing are still done; children may have different tests now, but I guarantee they have some.)

Why would children be so insistent that their peers shop frequently? No reason. In fact, it's unlikely children actually care that much aesthetically about the length of your pants or the way you look at fingernails.

Instead, it's all about beating you down, because children are savage, sadistic monsters. Children simply grab the popular weapons and use them on every target. They try out new insults and see what sticks. And if it sticks, it is carried on, year after year.

The weapons that stick tend to be those that society at large emphasizes. Society says boys should not act like girls, and boys find ways to test for girliness. (I imagine girls have their own tests, although I don't know what they are.)

To some extent, Mattel actually does effect the concept of normality, because they show children what society holds important. Movies do as well when they feature brave boys and crying girls. But these concepts are so deeply embedded that superficial changes like removing gender recommendations from toy boxes probably won't do much. Fix the toys, and you've still got a society where women speaking firmly are accused of shrill shouting even when faced with men who are shrilly shouting to no objection. You can't teach children to be more open and accepting if all of society if promoting the opposite. One of the first thing children figure out is words mean much less than actions.

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My first inclination when I thought of this was that it's all pretty hopeless. Childhood conformity is so powerful that I doubt tweaks to marketing and speech would have any effect.

I did have one idea, though. Children, as I say, just want weapons they can use to beat down their peers (you non-cynics will probably disagree with that, but I feel the evidence is pretty solid). So what if that destructive power could be used for good?

Children, reflecting society, push gender conformity and consumerism because those are the weapons that work. If you could convince children that the worst, most embarrassing, most deviant qualities were racism, or greed, or bad manners, or littering, then these children would create tests for these qualities and crucify those who didn't do things the "right" way.

How can that be done? Well, as someone who doesn't care for children and avoids them as much as possible, I'm not able to answer that question. But if you like children enough to interact with them yet still understand their dark nature, see if you can come up with a way to use their savagery to make the world a better place.

Or if not a better place, at least one where one is judged by something more important than fingernail examination.