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True Blue Door

True Blue Door's Journal
True Blue Door's Journal
June 9, 2015

How Activists Undermine Themselves

Imagine a scenario: Two people are being threatened with disciplinary action by an authority figure.

One gets angry, whiny, says things like "It's not fair! I didn't do anything wrong! Come on, please don't do this!"

The other is calm, powerful, assertive, says something like, "Okay, let me be clear: You have not explained where any of this is coming from. You simply assert things that are not true, and then declare what you intend to do without seeking any kind of input on my part. This is amazingly disrespectful and unconstructive. I don't know what you hope to accomplish, but this is not the way to go about it. Now, I would like to help you resolve this if I can, but first I need you to be clear about what is going on here."

What is the key difference in the two? The first one concedes authority, and is plaintive - the second one competes for authority, and is demanding without breaching decorum. Authority is not power - it does not require a rank, position, badge, title, or anything other than a conscious decision to seize and occupy the moral and social high ground. Nonetheless, people respond to it, even when they assume themselves to be in authority.

Regardless of how any given confrontation goes, the person with official authority will be more hesitant to confront an authoritative person again than a whiny, childish, plaintive one, because the latter's complaints carry no weight of any kind while the former is obtrusive precisely because they're scrupulously correct. The latter advertises their weakness and passively requests what they want, while the former advertises their strength and seizes control of the conversation.

Even if an authority figure gets pissy at the challenge and just brings down a hammer, they will be irritated and disquieted by the experience, and thus not happy about the prospect of having to do it again. The more they do it, the weaker they look, and they know that if they're remotely competent. Every successful activist in history has been of the authoritative style - Gandhi and MLK being the most obvious examples. They did not try to whine their way to better treatment like a teenager complaining to their parents - they simply took upon themselves the moral authority that the political authorities were failing to meet.

It seems to me there are far too many of the whiny, complaining behaviors in activism - too many attitudes that are tailor-made to be ignored - and not enough of the authoritative, agenda-setting behaviors.

Too many activists are just against things, and have no alternative ideas in the arenas in which they act. They might have the vague outlines of alternatives left implicit, but the alternatives are not treated as a priority - they remain purely in sketch, treated like an irrelevancy, because they are so certain of never being in a position to have to implement them. And people with this attitude act accordingly, in a self-fulfilling prophecy of powerlessness. It's just an endless cycle of "That's not fair, mom!" complaining, which never works and yet they never get tired of it either.

We see a large-scale example of this problem when we compare the Civil Rights movement with the Occupy movement: Concrete objectives with specific policy demands vs. nebulous rhetoric with purely cultural, non-specific goals. One weathered all storms, endured constant violence, inspired millions, and braved terrorist attacks against them over years; the other dissipated like fog in a sudden wind at the first contact with state force. One exercised authority despite having no power, the other preferred to remain in an adolescent state of complaint as a form of entertainment. That difference in attitude makes the vast divergence in their respective impacts easy to understand.

The results are not hard to foresee: People who complain about the composition of the Democratic Party while refusing to participate in primaries to change it; people who complain about the lack of legislative action (which they invariably blame on Obama), while failing to deliver Democratic majorities in Congress; who complain about foreign policies they offer no alternative to; moaning into the clear blue sky about the mountains of shit piled around them because they can't be bothered to work a shovel. Asking to be ignored, being obliged, and then complaining about it.

On the list of things important to activism, expressing yourself is dead last. Your feelings are the absolute lowest priority in being an effective citizen, and anyone who thinks any part of a politician's job is to be your therapist or surrogate parent is incapable of being anything other than totally irrelevant. What matters is knowing what's true and saying what needs to be said to improve the state of affairs; to seize authority for your position such that you can set the agenda and force the other side into a reactionary posture; and to put gravity on your side rather than constantly fighting it so that you can indulge in fantasies of being a rebel.

Progressives are not rebels and never were. We represent knowledge, truth, and compassion, all of which are the absolute bedrock of genuine authority. When you treat these fundamental values as radical, you do the work of their enemies. Everyone already knows we're right. But it's a latent knowledge - they have to be reminded of it. They have to see the authority of your ideas and values demonstrated in action, not merely hinted at in passive-aggressive complaining about their polar opposites. And the first step toward that is to prove that you actually consider your views authoritative, and not merely opinions to be won or defeated by who shrieks the loudest.

You need no permission to see that the sky is blue and act accordingly.

May 30, 2015

Basic principle of progressive economics: Leverage is coercion.

This is hardly a new idea in the history of labor organizing and left-wing economic theory, but it's a non-obvious principle worth stating as often as possible: Markets eventually fail because economic leverage is coercion.

The idea that markets are inherently non-coercive is an article of faith among conservatives and libertarians, and yet we see every day in our own lives that this is just plain false. Our time, energy, and information is finite, so our options are apt to be encompassed and limited by those who simply have more of them. The theoretical freedom to choose becomes moot if someone else has the practical power to define the set of options you're presented with.

Knowing this is why anti-trust laws exist, and also why there are regulations against anti-competitive practices. Unfortunately, these acknowledge the principle in the most extreme cases while missing the elephant in the room: The fact that coercion exists on a granular level in every economic transaction of a "free" market, because participants are not negotiating from equal positions. As an entire system, the result is exactly the same as monopolies: Money flowing downhill toward where money already exists, pooling in the bank accounts of the absolute wealthiest, and robbing everyone else.

In other words, "free" markets aren't free, and they aren't even efficient. Even economies with redistribution mechanisms merely delay the inevitable, because the imbalances of everyday transactions steadily (and fluidly) erode the resources and power of the masses while the redistributive mechanisms are too slow to adapt. The only way to really correct that would be to address the problem of leverage on a completely granular level, so that leverage is neutralized and every transaction occurs as a market calculation between equivalent positions.

Perfecting that isn't possible (leverage can be infinitely abstracted), but approximations certainly are. Once you start approximating bargaining parity in each economic transaction, the genuine benefits of a market mechanism can finally be realized without undermining democracy or surrendering to Malthus. It would be like having a different labor or consumer union for everything, in every single transaction, and without the personal hardships of traditional organizing and strikes - one perfectly sized to bargain with management/suppliers on an equal basis.

May 19, 2015

Remember in 2009-10 when Obama was being accused of plotting to invade Iran?

Whatever happened with that? I can't seem to remember, maybe some folks who had indulged that particular conspiracy theory can remind me how it turned out.

May 18, 2015

Tired of Malignant Amnesia Anti-Obama Syndrome

Just months after two massive policy achievements - reopening relations with Cuba after half a century, and bringing the US and Iran close to nuclear agreement that may be the basis for long-term peace - I see (once again, as if the madness ever stopped) his entire Presidency being dismissed as a massive conspiracy intended for the delivery of a single initiative that's disagreed with.

One disagreement is all it takes to make certain people forget (or more likely deliberately ignore) every single fact of this Presidency and retreat into a hysterical anti-Obama rage fugue.

When this hatred - that's been there since Day One - isn't being fed, its key disciples sit there in bitter, simmering fury, apparently more angry when they have no excuse than when they do. But when an excuse does present itself, they spring into action with all their Tea Party-flavored talking points and unconcealed personal hate on display, and for some reason it's tolerated if the single-issue point of disagreement is significant. That is the "Trojan Horse".

This crap is why we can't have nice things on the left. If we ever see Bernie Sanders in the White House - if we can hold back the chaotic impulses of certain people long enough to even get him there - he will be accused of "betraying" us within seconds of taking the Oath of Office. The moment he stepped into the spotlight, you could already almost hear the nervous tension in certain people's commentary, desperately trying to restrain themselves from blowing up the 1 or 2 things they disagree with him about into a full-blown accusation of Manchurian Candidacy.

If you disagree with the President on trade, then disagree with the President on trade while acknowledging you're on the same team. That's how adults shape political agendas. If after all this time you still think Barack Obama's credentials as a great liberal President are in doubt, and your response to every disagreement is to call them into question, you are the problem. You have a selective memory that makes you at very least a burden to your own alleged agenda.

Does anyone remember when Barack Obama was supposedly going to destroy Social Security? See, I remember that Big Lie and all the others these people have told. I see them lie, I see them extrapolate that lie into an attack on Barack Obama's character and motives, and then I see that lie come to exactly fucking NOTHING. Every time, always. Then they forget it ever happened, and we forget how berserk they went over nothing, treating every fresh lie as if it were the first.

But they're not even the real issue, because from where I stand they're transparent. The issue is that we listen to them whenever there is disagreement with the President, or even the vague perception that a disagreement may exist. We give air to voices of malignant amnesia, treating Two Minute Hates as if they were courageously stated moral grievances.

It's like watching the parable of The Scorpion and The Frog in action. Stop falling for this bullshit, and stop letting hateful, dishonest people define progressivism for you. We are the voice of reason in the world, and the minute that turns into something else, we don't amount to much.

Issues come and go, but the strength of everything we stand for is our solidarity with each other and with the truth. Those who attack that need to be treated with strong skepticism, even as we constructively address issue differences.

May 15, 2015

Message memo for Bernie: Attack fossil fuels, not "automobiles" in general.

It's still early days, and a small matter, but small matters in messaging add up over time. Bernie Sanders had this to say recently:

It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.


All good except the negative emphasis on automobiles. They're not just a form of transportation in this country, they're also a strong social institution. We can and should pursue rail, but there's no reason to emphasize tension with the automobile - especially as electrical vehicles charged with renewable energy build up infrastructure and jobs in this country. There's just no purpose to taking that sort of tack with the message, especially since, as I note, automobiles are a cultural institution.

Be a friend to Tesla Motors and to rail, not an enemy of "the automobile." Break our dependency on fossil fuels, not the concept of individuals and families having their own transportation. This is the kind of insensitivity to the consequences of messaging that candidates from the left often unwittingly step into. It adds absolutely nothing to the environmental message, and creates unnecessary and unproductive dissonance with prevailing culture.

Don't weigh down a powerful and necessary message about economic inequality with compulsive issue-profusion and dismissing cultural factors for the sake of being different. The left always steps on its own dick over that kind of thing. Attack fossil fuels and promote rail, but "the automobile" as a general concept is an American symbol.
May 14, 2015

Worth knowing: Some of the organizations with access to TPP negotiations.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

United Auto Workers

Audubon Naturalist Society

Boston University

Brookings Institution

American Society of Civil Engineers

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Consumers Union

Environmental Defense Fund

International Fund for Animal Welfare

The Humane Society of the United States

United Food and Commercial Workers Union

United Steelworkers

Now, granted there are many times more corporate and business-oriented interests being represented than these philanthropic and labor union groups, and none of them have much pull outside (or even really inside) the United States. But it's worth knowing that the groups above have the same access to the process as these business groups.

The source is an anti-TPP blog post from a site whose credibility I have no clue about (it's apparently a religious liberal site), but since it's arguing against TPP, the fact that it provides mitigating information suggests it's legit.

May 14, 2015

If the GOP goes with Jeb, put out an ad like LBJ's "daisy girl" about 9/11.

I don't care how unfair such an ad would be. If they nominate Jeb Bush, I hope that at least once, an ad like LBJ's Daisy Girl ad would be put out related to 9/11, reminding everyone of what things were like under George W. Bush.

Make his brother's laughing, smirking face the image of horror and fear, and morph it into Jeb's. It would be gross propaganda, but it would be in service to the truth that another Bush regime would continue and probably exceed the nightmares of the previous.

LBJ's Daisy girl ad:

May 10, 2015

Without endorsing TPP, some things to consider about it.

1. Will refocus some Eastern hemisphere trade away from China and toward SE Asia.

We already have an abusive trade relationship that eviscerated US manufacturing, and blocking TPP won't change that. It's called trade with the "People's Republic" (LOL) of China. As a result of that one-sided relationship, China is now a hulking industrial and increasingly military monster that threatens to destabilize the entire region, and becomes bolder every day in bullying its neighbors.

It can do that because its population and natural resources are colossal. Since our trade policies are the author of this threat, do we not bear some responsibility to correct it? And since simply altering our relationship with China, even if that were practical, would not put the genie back in the bottle and remove the trillions of dollars that have already flowed to them, clearly it makes sense to instead build up those of its neighbors who are still developing.

I see no foreign policy downside to building up Vietnam and Malaysia as economic bulwarks against Chinese financial might. The likely alternative over time would be they would end up having a far more one-sided and exploitive relationship with China rather than the West, and that could evolve into literal military imperialism.

2. The lot of Chinese people has strongly improved since we started trading with them on a massive scale. Why wouldn't that also happen with Vietnamese and Malaysians?

Whatever the problems that globalization has introduced to China - the pollution, the almost universal corruption, and the displacement of people from their homes - most Chinese appear to agree their lot in life is better than it once was, and are highly optimistic about the future. Moreover, China's human development index has gone from 0.650 in 1998 (ranked 95th) to 0.719 in 2014 (ranked 91st). Four places in a decade-and-a-half is quite a rise for a nation of over a billion still recovering from the ruins of Maoist megadeath.

So is it not arguably the case that the Vietnamese and Malaysian people would benefit from trade to some extent, even without the rigorous labor and environmental protections that would be ideal (and that their governments would not likely agree to)? Would the world not be a slightly better place with a Vietnam and Malaysia rising a few places in the HDI, somewhat more immune to both the financial influence and military threat of China?

3. Why would a poor, developing country sign an agreement with us if it protected our jobs at their expense?

We can and should reasonably demand some level of increase in wages, labor rights, etc. for workers in these economies, but it can't be to the point that there's no reason for them to sign it because it would eliminate the incentive for Western capital to invest there. Being too demanding on this front would also eliminate the purpose identified above of draining some capital from China, which is now possible because China's wages are somewhat increasing.

And since the lot of the Chinese people has improved despite any stipulations whatsoever about wages in our trade deals with them, it's rational to at least say it's possible for these things to improve naturally from greater economic activity without having been required up front.

4. In a financially multipolar world, TPP would not fall as heavily on the shoulders of the US as China trade did - China would also pay, whether it wants to or not.

Western investments in Chinese manufacturing are gargantuan. With TPP, some of that money would be relocated to points South - to countries that are not a threat to us or their neighbors, and not a threat to the very concept of democracy (despite either not being one themselves, or being partially one - for now).

5. Negotiations involve bargaining positions one doesn't necessarily intend to see in the actual deal, so don't get hysterical over every leaked proposal.

This is why trade deal negotiations are secret, not because they're hiding from you - they're hiding from each other. Especially in a multilateral negotiating process, countries have one-on-one discussions with each other, form alliances to push for some elements and oppose others, bargain and cajole, play games, and do all the things that politicians must do to make anything happen in reality. Part of that reality is taking bargaining positions that don't necessarily reflect the reality of one's intentions. Even in everyday life, simple bargaining involves this principle, and these negotiations are as far from simple as one can get.

6. If we aren't willing to make such deals, China is.

Regardless of who makes the deal, China is going to relinquish some of its capital position. But if China makes the deal, the profits will go to its millionaire and billionaire elites rather than ours, and they're champing at the bit to do this kind of business.

Is it wise to further enrich those scumbags, who make our own scumbags look like Ralph Nader, and feed them entire countries that are geopolitically important to checking the ambitions of their own? Is that a proportionate price to keep some shoe sweatshops in the United States?


The American people have been screwed over repeatedly by trade deals, and we can and should demand to get a piece of the benefits, but there are plenty of reasons to support the underlying principle of seeking a Trans-Pacific Partnership. Our demands for it should be aware of, and tailored to those reasons.

May 9, 2015

Censorship of hate speech is an unconditional surrender to hate.

Hatred is an emotion that happens to human beings, and like all emotions it has exactly the power over us that we allow it to have. Do you think men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. chose the path of peace and justice because they had no hate in their hearts, or because some authority would have punished them for it? Quite the opposite: They were both tempted by hate, both could have delivered a message of hate powerfully and persuasively, and in Gandhi's case had plenty of people trying to pull him in that direction, but they chose a better way. They chose it - it wasn't imposed on them by threats from the state.

History is brimming with examples of the folly of trying to legislate the human heart, not least the fact that the most vehement and consistent advocates of political censorship are precisely those who want to protect lies from the truth. How is "hate speech" not an infinitely corruptible concept as a legal standard? Gandhi said the British were oppressing Indians - there you go, "hate speech," calling the British oppressors. Saying that proponents of segregation were bigots - "hate speech," they frequently insisted. Please, Mr. Government Man, Sir, tell me what is and is not true, and punish me for saying anything you deem to be outside that box.

How many more people on the streets of Baltimore would have been arrested if the police had the authority to judge the moral content of signs and chanted slogans? How about anywhere, ever? Oh, some jerk has a picture of a pig eating donuts - HATE SPEECH! Arrest him! And of course since they now have the power to do that, resistance to the arrest becomes grounds for violence. At that point it's just a short hop, skip, and jump to summary execution because someone "disrespected" authority on the streets - a common enough problem without giving it the imprimatur of defending morality.

The evil inherent in political censorship is so profound I have to question the motives, if not the sanity, of anyone who sees it as a valid option - let alone one that serves the values of liberal democracy. At absolute best, it is an admission of a crippled society so completely infested with hate and so incapable of rational self-governance that it needs the medical device of such methods to survive at all. And since the case I'm thinking about when I say that is Germany, whose brief initial experiment with democracy led to genocide and global war costing on order of 50 million lives within a couple of decades, any comparison with the United States and its problems is so irrational that it must be driven by some level of hateful viewpoint itself.

The long and short of it is that advocating de jure censorship of hate speech is an authoritarian hypocrisy by people who would loudly denounce any such imposition against their own expressions - even if they legitimately rose to the level of hate speech by rational standadrs - while passionately seeking to wield that power against others. This is just common sense, and basic moral foundation stuff to a liberal and progressive mind: You don't demand to limit other people in ways that you yourself are not willing to be limited, and I for one have no intention of surrendering my liberty and human autonomy for the sake of anyone else's feelings.

I do not surrender my weapons of fact, logic, argument, and yes passion. If I hate something or someone, and I allow that emotion to overtake my reason in how I express opinions, then I am in error - certainly not a criminal. And if I am genuinely in error, then someone else can show me that error through conversation, and either (a)persuade me toward a more constructive viewpoint, or (b)discredit me as someone who does not listen to reason, and whose views should not be influential.

This is so fundamental to basic Enlightenment concepts of liberty and ethics that I shouldn't even have to argue for them. They should be obvious to any remotely decent and intelligent person. But that doesn't mean I would censor those who advocate censorship: Because unlike them, I can win arguments.

May 8, 2015

Gun control is mainly an issue for Congress.

There's little logic in dwelling on it in presidential politics, except insofar as Supreme Court appointees are concerned. And does anyone believe a Sanders presidency would appoint gundamentalists?

That's not a viewpoint often found in association with the sort of jurists who would uphold the rest of his agenda.

Profile Information

Name: Brian
Gender: Male
Hometown: Southern California
Member since: Mon Oct 28, 2013, 05:48 PM
Number of posts: 2,969

About True Blue Door

Primary issue interests: Science, technology, history, infrastructure, restoring the public sector, and promoting a fair, honorable, optimistic, and inquisitive society. Personal interests: Science fiction (mainly literature, but also films and TV), pop culture, and humor.
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