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September 21, 2009

Comments

tim302

I know you've mentioned in the past that your blogging is non-political. You've often commented recently about the role of patriotism and the social contract. Although you've often said that your blog is non-political and implicitly non-ideological, I don't think that's the case.

You've often commented recently about the wage and productivity gap. Productivity has increased but wages have not. As you said in a recent post, what happened to the patriotism? Where is the concern for the overriding national interest?

You've also commented recently that the long term fix is a return to the social contract that rewards increases in productivity with increases in income. This is interesting to me because you've often inveighed against ideology. I guess the question is, what do you mean by ideology?

Perhaps you're looking at it from the Cold War perspective, where it was a common feature of American rhetoric to state that the USSR was ideological, while the US was a practical, pragmatic, free market nation without ideology.But, ultimately ideology is about belief systems and values. In the US we had a belief in equality before the law and a social contract that linked productivity increases with wage increases.

Certainly all people have belief systems; it's a matter of which system and why a person believes in it. The real issue about intense ideological fixation, is the time where real life does not line up with the ideology. Of course that's a major problem.

The other issue here is, what is patriotism? How do you define patriotism? I would argue that it is a love of nation and of place. In the United States, what is thel ove of nation or love of place? We are not, like many of our European allies, founded on blood and soil. This is a settler nation. This is a nation that is really defined by ideology-- a belief in procedural fairness.

While we may look at that as a dry, non-ideological belief, but you only have to take a look around at a place like the Afghan/Pakistan border to see that there are many places in the world where a bureaucratic/procedural state that looks to have fairness before the law is considered to be a fundamentally radical notion. It is at odds with the way that many people conceptualize government.

I would argue that the US is heavily defined by an ideology of procedural fairness, and by the belief that we had, in times past, that the average working person should share in any increases in productivity.

That said, what you are asking for is ultimatley political because it is about power relationships and how we choose to govern ourselves. It is about how we choose to implement the values of procedural fairness and economic equality.

What about patriotism? Where is it? Well patriotism went out the window when Gordon Gecko became the role model to American business. "Greed is good" was his catchphrase. On the other side of the Atlantic you Thatcher saying that there is no society , there are only individuals and families. Now this is just complete nonsense because as we've seen, (and I don't need to go into it here, because you've done a superb job of documenting this) our society has been taken over by a group of financial parasites who have taken steps to enrich the very few at the expense of the very many and create a system that is highly fragile and not resilient. There is nothing resilient about the destruction of the middle class and the social contract that made it possible.

To go beyond the ethic of "I've got mine and I protect my family, that's all I need," will require collective action. You've often written very convincingly about primary loyalties, and the manufacture of loyalties through gangs, and all kinds of religious groups. However, isn't the nation state really about the manufacture of loyalty? Isn't that what America is about, the manufacturing of a loyalty to this collective identity we call the USA, based on the belief in procedural fairness, and the idea that everyone deserves to get a share of their hard work.?

Thus, I would argue that what is really happening in the United States in the past 40 years, is that we're forming that identity. Certainly it has been a contested identity. Previous to the late 1960s, the US was considered by many to be a white Protestant enclave. That's changed, as large sections of the United States have embraced an American identity that is more inclusive while still retaining beliefs in procedural and economic fairness. While some areas of the US have not embraced this concept so whole heartedly, many of those areas are also in states that are net drains on the federal system-- they receive more in federal payments than they send in taxes. Many narrow-minded regions seem to require welfare (or natural resource extraction) to pay the bills.

Certainly Bill Lind has made some serious criticisms of what he refers to as multiculturalism. He views it as something that is destroying America. That's not true. There are many people here, from a variety of ethnicities and religions, who don't really want to live in some kind of fundamentalist enclave. What we do want, as someone said, is a seat at the table. "I don't just want to serve the table, I want a seat at the table," is the way I heard it. Certainly this is going to take place inside a wider narrative of some kind of distinctly American identity.

What you are asking for in your blog when you ask for patriotism and a more equitable distribution of wealth are arguments about values and ideology. There is an ideological argument that you're making-- you're advancing these values. I really appreciate what you do here. I do think you're a very insightful analyst, but I think it's incorrect to say that your blog is not ideological.


EN

Tim302, you want a place at the table? Does that mean it's about power? This nation was (originally) set up to protect its people from the government. That may have gone out the window 150 years years ago, but that doesn't mean it's the fault of the Constitution as set up by our founders since it has largely been ignored for a long time.

You misstate Lind's objections to the Mulitcult. He's not pushing for a "fundamentalist enclave", and never has been. In fact his views are just the opposite.

From my point of view its about equal protection under the law, not just from my peers, politicians and criminals of all stripes, and most particularly the majority. Ted Kennedy should have paid the same price as me for the same crimes.

On the other hand if I start believing that the Great Pumpkin, or Barney Frank, is going to make me wealthy, then I deserve what I get and no one should reward my foolish behavior, most particularly my government, which can only confiscate money from the successful to make it "fair".

tim302

EN,
It's always about power. That's why we refer to the Constitutional framework by which we govern ourselves as the "separation of powers." When you say that "this nation was set up to protect its people from its government" you are making a nonsensical statement.

This is because the government governs on behalf of the sovereign people. The Executive isn't a replacement King; rather, he governs on behalf of the people, who replace the role that the sovereign would play in a monarchy.

Thus, to say that the nation exists to protect itself from itself is nonsensical. Rather, the Constitution is a statement of principles by which we choose to govern ourselves. That's all it is-- it certainly has the flexibility to change, via the amendment process. If necessary we could hold another Constitutional convention. Since values and world conditions have changed dramatically since the late 18th century, it makes sense to re-evaluate the document. The Founding Fathers did not bring it down from the mountain on stone tablets. As a document made by mortals, it naturally has flaws.

I apologize that I was unclear in my comment regarding Lind's work. I apologize for not making my point more clearly. My understanding is that Lind thinks that the rise of what he views as multiculturalism runs the risk of turning the US into a place where fundamentalist Muslims and irredentist Latinos will destroy the social order. I disagree with the concept of multiculturalism as he frames it. Moreover, the children of immigrants are generally quite hostile to their parents attempts to force them into a monoculture based on their parents' remembering of the old country. You don't have to take my word for it-- a quick survey of the literature of _any_ immigrant community will display this prominently. Then again, it could all be part of a 5GW disinformation campaign designed to hasten the arrival of Aztlzan/the Caliphate/the Chinese Century. Look out, all those restaurants called New Hong Kong are all in on it, as I'm sure the upcoming remake of Red Dawn will explain to us.

I agree that Ted Kennedy should have faced the same legal sanctions as anyone else. Please don't lump me in with the holdouts of 1960s Great Society Liberalism. The 60s have been over for a long time, despite the best efforts of annoying Baby Boomers on the right and the left. There are other ideological frameworks out there today.

I don't believe that Barney Frank is going to make me wealthy. And as far as taxation-- it is a tool to equalize the power disparity that will necessarily arise when a small group of people control most of the money. For all the screaming on the right about the evils of government power (which is supposed to be nominally accountable), I see very little appreciation for the nastiness of private power. Look, when the boot is on your throat, what's the difference? I distrust everyone equally, and want to see a balance of powers.

The other reason for taxation is to pay for the expense of civilization. Things like tap water that doesn't give you dysentery, baby formula that doesn't destroy your baby's kidneys, and a train/air transport system that doesn't routinely kill thousands all cost a lot of money. Captains of industry (and their hedge fund managers) benefit richly from infrastructure, and they should have to pay for it. In that light, pejorative comments about taxation as ''confiscation" are extremely short sighted.

Furthermore, I am not advocating taxation as the great leveler. That's been tried, and it places too much reliance on a hamstrung NGO sector. Rather, I am most interested in ways that we can facilitate the creation of accountable private power, perhaps in the form of co-operatively owned and managed enterprises.

John Robb

Tim, almost everything related to world affairs can, under the broad definition, be considered "political." However, the way I use the word "political" is more constrained: the confines of partisan politics (which I believe to be both deeply corrupted and wildly adrift from reality).

I also don't have an ideology, as in: a very specific set of solutions or methods of governance that I advocate. The only thing I subscribe to is the idea that a successful, long lasting, and resilient society is one that delivers sustained systemic improvement. The reason being that if that doesn't occur, stagnation/death/failure is a likely result.

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