Wednesday, March 30, 2011

winning is fast, humanitarianism is slow

Garance Franke-Ruta relays the most conventional of conventional wisdom:
In the end, though, the only thing that is going to matter to the American people is if Qaddafi goes, or is rendered forgettable. The polls show people want regime change. If the rebels regroup, and are strengthened, as seems to be happening, that will help shift perceptions of the intervention. But even as the U.S. backs off, and what remains of the operation proceeds under NATO leadership, intellectually and emotionally, America has taken a side in the conflict. And Americans like to win.

This is one of those speeches that was more for the experts than the American people. An address to the nation that will not resolve anything for them. The only thing that will make this intervention seem wise is if Qaddaffi goes, or rendered so isolated and powerless that he can be forgotten. (Should he go soon, that would make Obama seem very wise, indeed.)
"Seems," here, is everything.

That Franke-Ruta is right about the political fallout, I can't deny. This is the consensus, at least, that we can all agree on: if this situation is resolved in a way that seems like a win-- if we end up with a conclusion that can be spun as victory-- it will be good for Barack Obama, the Democrats, modern day Kiplings like Samantha Powers, and the continuing prosecution of the Forever War. But I beg you to consider the distance between our rhetoric of humanitarianism and what Franke-Ruta, and just everybody else, are saying for Obama to call this a victory.

First, please do consider Matt Yglesias and his pointing out that good consequences can emerge from bad policy and create bad precedents. (Yglesias has been consistently great on this topic.) Now think about why we are saying we are going to war: for the humanitarian reasons of protecting the Libyan rebels from slaughter at Benghazi, and as is now inarguable, of removing the dictator Qaddafi from power. Does it not strike anybody else that the political goal of claiming a "win" can be achieved without anything like long-term humanitarian gains for Libyans?

Everyone should read this history of humanitarian intervention from Adam Curtis at the BBC. The thing about humanitarian gains is that they are always conditional and temporal. What looks like victory in the short term sometimes looks like defeat in the long term. This is true simply on the level of achieving better conditions for the people you're trying to help, but it is especially true given the sad nature of human conflict. Consider this excerpt:
But Kouchner quickly discovered that victims could be very bad. There was an extraordinary range of ethnic groups in Kosovo.
There were:
Muslim Albanians
Orthodox Serbs
Roman Catholic Serbs
Serbian-speaking Muslim Egyptians
Albanian-speaking Muslim Gypsies - Ashkalis
Albanian-speaking Christian Gypsies - Goranis
And even - Pro-Serbian Turkish-speaking Turks
They all had vendettas with each other - which meant that they were both victims and horrible victimizers at the same time. It began to be obvious that getting rid of evil didn't always lead to the simple triumph of goodness.
Which became horribly clear in Iraq in 2003.
I am on the side of the Libyan rebels in comparison to Qaddafi. (Taking sides with them does not mean willing to support aerial bombing campaigns ostensibly in their favor, and the fact that this isn't plain as day only serves to underscore the sickness of our discourse on foreign policy.) But that does not mean that the Libyan rebels are "good" and that the outcome of their possible victory will be desirable. What terrifies me, and what should scare you, too, is the fact that the political fallout for the Obama administration and all of the hawks in the media will have nothing to do with the long term humanitarian picture for Libya.

Like Gore Vidal said, we live in the United States of Amnesia. Our news cycle moves fast, our attention span is short, and nobody cares about yesterday's news. I think anyone can imagine a situation where the rebels defeat Qaddafi and a new government is put into place, and the western world congratulates itself on a job well done, as Obama's approval ratings soar. Liberal hawks and neocons get even more entrenched in their views and self-satisfied. Meanwhile, Libyans will continue to wrestle with the consequences for decades to come. And the results could be all kinds of bloody and terrible-- perhaps we might even call it humanitarian disaster. With Iraq, we were temporarily forced to deal with the long-term consequences because we were occupying the country. Now, even though we still have 50,000 troops there, our attention has gone elsewhere-- while the constant violence and near total political breakdown continues.

This is a very frightening turn for democracy, when long-term human consequences of our actions are so divided from long-term political consequences. Whether you are happy, unhappy, or indifferent to our recent health care reform, we can be sure that Americans will observe the consequences of that change and their attitudes will have political weight. No such certainty exists regarding Libya and its outcomes. What will be remembered is the shallow, short-term rhetoric of victory, not the mature, unflinching and long-term understanding that genuine humanitarianism requires. Our regard for humanitarianism has passion but no depth.

Will the architects of this war still be talking about it in a year or three or five? I doubt it. And so political reality becomes further and further divided from humanitarian reality, in a conflict waged on purely humanitarian grounds. The only word for this is folly.

we don't have a worker shortage

Rick Santorum says we have a worker shortage when our unemployment rate is around 9% and the true joblessness rate likely several percentage points higher. Dan Savage, for some reason, agrees with him, and advocates allowing more immigration. We don't have a worker shortage. We have a jobs shortage. I think our immigration policy is daft, and I think anti-immigrant animus is very often driven by simple xenophobia and racism. But to say that what we need for the benefit of our economy is to drive down wages through importing more workers, after decades of stagnant real wages and spiraling income inequality, is nothing short of cruel.

Nothing is stranger to me than the "workers have it too good" school of "progressive" thought that is out there right now. Workers have taken it on the chin in this country for 30 years. A coordinated and explicit campaign was begun during the Reaganite/Thatcherite revolution to "discipline" workers, and boy, have we disciplined them. Meanwhile, nothing at all has been done to discipline the financial sector, despite the massive damage that sector has done to our economy and civil society. Companies are recording record profits but are not creating new jobs. To give in to these corporations by continuing to lower the cost of labor is the absolute opposite of what we should be doing now.

The improvement of workers' rights, safety, and compensation that occurred from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century was one of the greatest improvements to human welfare in history. Period. Labor unions, and eventually, workplace regulation, changed the conditions for workers from dangerous, dirty, poorly compensated, and totally under the power of bosses to far safer, far cleaner, far better compensated, and far more powerful. This is a non-negotiably positive social good, and it is at the very heart of any left-wing project. You cannot claim to be on the left in any meaningful sense if you want to worsen the conditions of workers. Yet I keep encountering this bizarre strain of supposedly left-wing argument that advocates for worse conditions for workers-- less bargaining power, less regulation, worse compensation-- to... do what, exactly? Hope that this will result in corporations doing better things for workers? We've been waiting on that hope for decades. Enough.

Here's what we do: force them to spend. Force them to create new jobs. Give them a simple, stark choice. Cap the amount of capital that a corporation can sit on without creating new jobs, and dramatically tax that capital if they don't. Tie taxation to a ratio between profit and job creation. Force their hands. Because this way is not working. They are not giving us what we want as a society. It's an abusive relationship that we have with our corporations and its time to stop trusting them and waiting and instead compelling them to give back.

Meanwhile, I would hope that bloggers who advocate worse conditions for workers because of some kind of corporate-deferring "realism" would consider the median household income in this country, their own wealth, and the fact that they never advocate for policy that will hurt their own bottom lines. Might be a good idea to introduce a little of that perspective.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

quote for the day

"I made it clear that Qaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power." -Barack Obama

Monday, March 28, 2011

"you see an old woman...."

I quote this commenter not to pick on him particularly but because this bogus metaphor is so common:
I see a frail old woman being assaulted by someone much smaller and less powerful than myself. I can easily intervene and prevent further suffering on her part, but I stay out of it because I don't want to interfere with her right of self-determination.
You are not the United States or its military. Libya is not an old woman. Morality does not translate through metaphor.

"Libya" is not a distinct entity. It is made up of many actors. An old woman has individual agency. A country has a vast sea of divergent opinions, intents, and interests. Whatever else is true in this metaphor, the old woman isn't hurt by me. In real life, Libyans-- "good," "bad," and every shade between-- will be killed by our aggression. Of all the self-congratulating bullshit narratives that have been totally undone by this intervention, none tells more about the American character than the return of the canard of war without civilian casualties, of war where only the "bad guys" are hurt. American ordnance will kill children in Libya. Libyan rebels are in the process of assaulting and murdering pro-Qaddafi loyalists. Squeeze that into your metaphor.

I beat up the person assaulting the old woman. He recovers, some day. I can use non-lethal force to save the old woman. If I got it wrong, somehow, the consequences are not permanent. There is no such thing as non-lethal military force, no matter how much you might want to stick your fingers in your ears and pretend. People who are knocked down in this war never get up. There's no such thing as a smart bomb. Children die. Innocents die. Grow up. Grow up.

Finally: in the metaphor, I choose to intervene or not intervene. I fight. I risk my physical health. I risk maiming or killing another human being. In this situation, with war on Libya? Nobody is asking me to actually fight. Nobody on the Internet is proposing that they themselves go to fight. They are instead asking me to do what they are doing, which is to write blog posts calling for military action from thousands of miles away. They risk nothing and sacrifice nothing, but as the metaphor shows, they are desperate to believe that they are achieving something in telling other people to go kill in Libya. "Liberal" hawks never fall out of love with the idea that telling other people to go fight and die is courageous and virtuous. And when they are done, they turn off their Macbooks and go to bed.

Funny thing about virtue: it comes only with sacrifice. Funny thing about courage: it comes only with personal, physical danger. Funny thing about righteousness: it never, ever operates by metaphor.

amen


Update:


sympathy for the juice box set

I feel a little inspired by this weird, pointless mini-profile of the not-so-young Turks who are the perpetual fascination of the New York Times. First, though, do read Anne Friedman, who is completely correct. (The Grey Lady is such a white dude.)

When I talk about DC insiderism, I think people tend not to appreciate that when I say I have some sympathy for the people working within the bubble, I'm telling the truth. I feel compelled to criticize the pathologies of the well-connected because political discussion has an impact on political policy and policy has an impact on real human lives. But the really important point is that the petty corruptions of DC are so vexing precisely because they aren't the product of personal failings, but rather are conditioned by the professional and social incentives of DC. If the dynamics that unduly affect the attitudes and convictions of professional bloggers, journalists, and pundits came from obvious and stark choices, they would be far easier to counter. Fighting corruption is at least more direct when it comes in the form of a wad of bills. It's harder when it comes from the soft influence of friendship and the ever-present worry about future jobs. (If a young, inspired blogger feels like blasting the Atlantic, he or she may instead offer qualified, muted criticism, based on the chance of eventually working for that magazine, for example.)


I'm encouraged by this article in that it seems like the bloggers of my generation (late 20s) are coming around to the realization that, new media orthodoxy aside, they are not the same insurgent forces working against establishment media but now firmly ensconced in that media. For sure, there have been many positive changes brought about by the blogging revolution, no question. But for too long, many young, influential bloggers operated as if they could at once maintain their kid-at-a-keyboard pose while rising higher and higher in the cutthroat world of DC media. That tendency led them vulnerable in many ways, most importantly to failing to recognize their own personal biases and blindspots, but also to the kind of vicious professional warfare that the Journolist imbroglio represented. Is Ezra Klein one of the dozen most influential media figures in our country? I think he is. What the Journolist situation showed (and I am firmly on the side of the members of that listserve, at least in contrast to the Daily Caller et al) is that you can't have both the Rachel Maddow appearances and NYT love and still maintain a breezy amateurism.


But it's important to remember-- there was no guidebook for these people. New media members like Klein, Matt Yglesias, Annie Lowrey, Dave Weigel, and Ann Friedman were making it up as they went, and they were doing so in an atmosphere that took new media triumphalism to absurd levels. In that context I can't level too much blame on them for failing to recognize their own power, or for failing to recognize the ways in which they were rebuilding many of the old media biases and impediments to free entry. That so many of them eventually became co-opted into traditional media and think tanks only serves to demonstrate that the forces that shape media bias are more powerful than technology can easily overcome, and that it remains extremely difficult to make a living as a truly independent blogger. And unlike other new media pioneers like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Glenn Reynolds, etc., these young bloggers didn't have a history of working in traditional media or consistent income from day jobs to fall back on.


Lest you are afraid that I am going soft in my old age, fear not. The Cool Kid Crew (which is not the same as the Juice Box Mafia), having marginally changed some of establishment media's many dysfunctions, blind spots, and power imbalances, have been building new ones all their own. I don't think it is fair or practical to tell people not to make friends with those around them, but the cliquishness and social conditioning of being a young hip politico in Washington DC inevitably creates conflicts of interest. It was another weird Times profile that helped crystallize just how social conditions can make dedicated people myopic and insidery. "Those who link together, drink together," goes the profile, which is another way of saying that those who drink together, link together-- the needs best served by professional bloggers will always be the their needs and the needs of people just like them.

(That piece is also handy for giving us an exact date for when the concept of "cool" finally died, as it contains the line "These bloggers are the cool kids who know they’re smart." From Charlie Parker playing a sax to bloggers sitting on a couch in less than a hundred years.)

In any event, I do think that the quotes from the (white male) bloggers in the more recent piece reflect a sensibility that is much more honest about the status of these people-- that is, a status of privilege, firmly ensconced in the establishment, and buffeted by all the usual forces that make conventional media what it is. Ultimately, people like Klein have developed personal brands (ugh) to the point where I don't worry so much about them; they'll be fine. Who I do worry about are the younger set, still trying to make a name, many quite smart and principled, but in a brutally competitive atmosphere where they must constantly ingratiate themselves to those in power and thus are continually pressured to instrumentalize all of their relationships. I have genuine sympathy for them, I really do. I just reserve the right to say when they're full of it.

What's the perfect way for professional journos and taste makers to operate? I don't think there is one. I think that there has to continue to be a number of high profile, truly independent voices who don't live in DC and don't draw their main salary from blogging. The trouble is, well, like mine-- I may have rendered myself unemployable in non-media jobs, would never get offered a job in establishment media, and would feel compelled to not take one if I was. (There's nothing like integrity in that conviction, as integrity requires sacrifice, and like I said-- nobody would be lining up for my services anyway.) But nobody ever said that speaking your mind has no consequences! That's adult life, yeah?

Have as much sympathy and understanding as you can muster for the people in the system; criticize individuals when they make choices that are unprincipled; constantly recognize that the system is inherently corrupting and bent towards protecting establishment power. And try to be less of a dick. (That one may be just for me.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

first principles

The reed in the wind blows further and further. I confess: the idea that the rebels winning at this stage represents some sort of a mea culpa-inducing event-- when the person making that claim himself voiced many arguments that have nothing whatsoever to do with who wins-- is simply bizarre to me. (Perhaps Andrew could tell the sub-Saharan Africans currently being disappeared by the Libyan rebels that the only question that matters is who wins and who loses. That ought to comfort them.)

So let me ask you all this question. I've read some Oakeshott, and I've read some Burke, but obviously I'm no expert. Can someone, pretty please, articulate any argument-- any argument at all-- that Oakeshottean or Burkean conservatism could ever support the Libyan war? I am truly straining to imagine any space whatsoever for such support. Perhaps the more informed among you could explain it to me.

Of course, I think neither conservative icon could support the kind of thinking that is so endlessly fungible as Sullivan has displayed these last few months, either. But what power have Michael Oakeshott or Edmund Burke against the cult of Obama?

an open letter to Juan Cole on Libya

Dr. Cole,

These are strange times. I would not have thought it possible, given recent history, but your open letter to us on the left, on Libya, demonstrates that you are ultimately indistinguishable from the neoconservatives and liberal hawks who ostracized and attacked us in the run-up to the Iraq war. What Jonah Goldberg was once to you, you are now to us. I wonder: does this inspire pride, in you? Is it nice to have the shoe on the other foot? Is it appealing to be the redbaiter, rather than the redbaited? Your letter was quoted approvingly today by Jeffrey Goldberg, a man whose inaccurate and biased reporting helped push us into war in Iraq, and who never missed an opportunity to attack opponents of that war. I don't know; perhaps such temporary alliances please you.

Despite the length of your open letter, you have advanced one and only one argument against us: that anyone opposed to war on Libya is indifferent to Qaddafi and his crimes. This is an argument that even the most noxious neoconservatives take pause in arguing-- because it is libelous, because it is the worst kind of appeal to outrage, because it is flatly untrue. It is, again, hard to believe that I've just read it. But here it is:
The arguments against international intervention are not trivial, but they all did have the implication that it was all right with the world community if Qaddafi deployed tanks against innocent civilian crowds just exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to petition their government.
And again:
If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left.
To be on the left in America is to operate under the conditions that movement conservatives claim to operate under: it is to be marginalized and assumed out of polite conversation before the conversation even begins. In these conditions, you have to hold onto the most important right a free people can have, the right to the absolute and inviolate possession of one's own opinions. I operate in a culture and a larger political conversation that dismisses my beliefs at every turn. I'm happy to do so. But I own the content of my beliefs, and neither you nor any other person will dictate to me what I have to believe. And I am here telling you that I most certainly care about murder and repression, that it is not all right with me if innocent civilian crowds are attacked by tanks, and yet I oppose military intervention in Libya.

I have written why many times, but it boils down to a simple calculus: I neither trust that my righteousness and my knowledge are so great that they are sufficient to dictate to Libyans the future of Libya, nor believe that I would have any right to do so even if my knowledge and benevolence were perfect. I believe in the inviolate right of self-determination. Even when it hurts to respect it.

Do you know what might be the single greatest humanitarian effort in history, if we were to attempt it? I'll tell you: annex Haiti. Here you have a very geographically close nation living in desperate poverty, filled with a kind of human suffering and need so great and so persistent that I can barely imagine it. We could do it. The military impediment would be trivial, perhaps less difficult than our current war against Libya. And while things would never be perfect in Haiti, they most certainly would get better. Such an annexation might seem like an absurd hypothetical, but I confess that I am so naive that I thought more American military adventures in the Middle East, in the near future, would be impossible. Intervention in Haiti is possible and would surely help.

So, Dr. Cole: why don't you care about the Haitian people? Do you not care about children starving to death? Are you totally callous towards the plight of those dying in the streets? Is it all right with you if thousands die from AIDS in Haiti?

You spend a lot of time dancing, when you consider the question of "why Libya," but you don't dance your way out of the questions. You are insisting that refusing to intervene in humanitarian crisis is the same as not caring about the crisis in the first place, as I've quoted above. So what about Darfur? This country could intervene in the Sudan. We have that capacity. So why don't you care? About Syria? Bahrain? Cote d'Ivoire? About the homeless man down the street from you, who you are most certainly capable of helping, but aren't? It's a funny thing about humanitarianism. Once you divide the world between those who want to DO SOMETHING and those who just don't care, you'll find that there is no ending to it.

I'll let one of your own commenters make the comparison to your feelings about Iraq:
At the core of opposition is the sense that we embrace warmongering principles, and the fact that it may be a little more reasonable here than elsewhere does not undermine this objection. Saddam was a far greater tyrant to his people than Qaddafi, and that war was purportedly justified based on the humanitarian wonderfulness of getting rid of that dictator. Why this does not give you pause here when advocating war with Libya is surprising.
You could not possibly have thought that Saddam would ever cease oppressing and waging violence against his people. And yet, somehow, you came to a position against the US assault on Iraq. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but perhaps then you understood that we were not in unique possession of right or of truth; that we have no right to project our preferences, no matter how obvious they seem to us, around the globe; that there is a great distance between our intention and our ability; that every person in the Middle East, even those fighting for revolution, is not some quasi-American yearning to break free and create a republic exactly like America and in keeping with our values. Those are all lessons that, if you indeed knew them back then, you have forgotten since.

An open letter, of course, is written to people who you know have little or no chance of responding. You don't think that the left will respond, because as you know we have no voice to respond in this country. Our voice has been systematically and intentionally eliminated from mainstream political conversation. Why? Because, of course, of efforts like yours. Despite your attempts to dress up your open letter to us, it has one and only one goal: to vilify and to silence us. Your repeated and baseless insistence that thinking people can either support lobbing cruise missiles on Libyans or else be "all right" with murder has and can have only one consequence, which is to censor those who oppose intervention. You are well aware of that fact; you lived through it, after all. That you could have so forgotten the power relations that are burning underneath the text of your letter, or that you have ceased to care, is ultimately what disappoints me most.

yours,

Freddie deBoer
they should have done a miniseries about Benjamin Franklin starring the guy who played Burglekutt.

Friday, March 25, 2011

next big thing

So I worked at the local YMCA as a lifeguard for years. Maybe ten years ago, I was guarding during an afterschool or camp program swim for 6 and 7 year olds. A teenager, maybe 13 or 14, walked into the pool. I told him that it was a closed session and that he couldn't swim, which you constantly had to tell kids. He told me that he was in that program. I laughed and told him that it was a program for little kids; he seemed confused for a second and said "I'm 7 years old."

Now, I'm 6'1, and this kid was already up to my chin. And he was big, too, not skinny. So I genuinely had one of those moments where you say "I'll remember that name!" That kid was Andre Drummond, who is not only the top pro prospect in high school basketball, he's one of the best pro prospects of the decade.

Mark my words! Gonna be big.

anniversary

Today of course is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire, and you can and should read many remembrances available online. It's important to remember what people are capable of.

Yesterday was an anniversary of its own, the assassination of the Archbishop Oscar Romero, the powerful, inspiring liberation theologist. Romero was murdered by the ruling junta, the one armed and funded by the United States. A UN report in 1993 stated what the evidence has made obvious, that Romero's killer was part of a death squad that had been funded and trained by the United States. The ruling junta, which carried out atrocities for decades, was one of the South American regimes our security apparatus liked the very best.

Since I have become politically aware, I have noticed a consistent dynamic when it comes to the extralegal foreign affairs of the United States. Those who defend this country's actions in the rest of the world deny, deny, deny, while the evidence of American culpability (often, and most damningly, coming from declassified documents) falls drop by drop into consciousness, until finally denying the truth becomes absurd. And then, as if by magic, the arguments suddenly change from denial to justification. You might think that no one justifies, say, the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh and the reinstallation of the shah, but years of arguing on the Internet tells me otherwise. The intermediaries are key; we love the deniability goons give us. Nobody doubts that the US was behind the assassination of Diem, but the fact that he wasn't actually killed by an American, to many, means everything.

I don't believe in American benevolence because of simple induction. Without history, you never learn.

On his now-curtailed trip to South America a few days ago, President Obama visited Romero's grave. You've got to hand it to us. We're always sure to send flowers.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

note

The conversation over Shani O. Hilton's piece on black gentrification has been, I think, healthy and informative. I find Ta-Nehisi Coates's take to be quite persuasive, and while I personally can't take up his call to arms-- I'm not a journalist, I don't want to be a journalist, and I am not and don't want to be in part because I know I'd be so bad at it-- I think he's quite right, analytically and prescriptively.

I have taken a lot of criticism in the comments section of Coates's post. I'm a big boy and I can take (and dish out) the heat. I do want to respond to one line of argument. See here:
I am still in the process of reading Shani's piece, it's a long one alright and I want to give it the attention it deserves.

However I have the hugest of problems with this part of Freddie's post:
I don't think that this is intentional; I think it's a result of a confluence of factors involving visibility, accessibility, fear of appearing condescending, and worry about being in physical danger in poor neighborhoods. If we're going to confront these questions responsibly and fairly, the journalistic class has to overcome that.
It just reads like he didn't quite bother to absorb any of the things Shani and her interview subjects actually said about her experience of living in a gentrifying neighborhood and being a black person, instead it's a full-bore sprint back to Marxist-ish class analysis. And don't get me wrong I have no issues with that type of analysis in an urban-theory, gentrification context in general.

Yet that sentence is just, like... I just imagine this guy trying to put himself in Shani's shoes and imagine why HE wouldn't have done this interview, and the reasons he came up with are the ones I would have come up with, i.e. the whitest reasons ever.

There I said it.
And later:
I think you are giving the critic far too much credit. Those were not explanations for why she didn't do it, those were attacks on Shani character.

He is saying she is a coward (fear of physical danger), rich (no accessibility to anyone who is poor), naive and/or ignorant (no visibility), and elitist (only someone who thinks they are elite have the "fear of appearing condescending"). In short it was an attack to undermine her credibility and discount that she has anything to add to the conversation.

And it was deliberate as well, though of course, if questioned the critic would never admit to it.
The fundamental criticism of both of these comments is dishonest. Both are saying that I am accusing Shani specifically for these dynamics of why poor people are so rarely interviewed in the popular press. I quote myself: "I don't mean to come down too hard on Hilton, who really has done yeoman's work with a lot of the reporting for the piece. The problem is that she's so unexceptional in this omission: elite media consistently and systematically excludes the voices of the worst off. I don't think that this is intentional; I think it's a result of a confluence of factors...." I explicitly said that this was a criticism of the larger journalistic class. To say that I was attacking Ms. Hilton's character is a lie.

I come from a tradition that says that the only way you extend respect to people who are making intellectual or political arguments is that, when you disagree with them, you respond as forcefully as you can. Ms. Hilton is a professional journalist; she isn't sitting at the kid's table, doesn't want to be, and shouldn't be treated as if she is. I have a specific criticism of her piece and I stand by it. If you disagree with that criticism, say so, but don't say I'm criticizing a person when I'm criticizing a profession.

the more things change

As I've been predicting, the tide is gradually changing, as it must, towards more and more players in the blogocentric status game supporting the Libyan war. Those who are prosecuting the case for it are more and more adopting the old tropes to attack those of us who are opposed to intervention (objectively pro-Qaddafi, pacifist, cruel and callous towards valiant Libyan freedom fighters, America hating, etc).

Such turns are perhaps inevitable. I take it as a self-evident truism that, within mainstream political punditry, it is far more disqualifying to be opposed to all wars than it is to be in favor of all wars. People will say that, of course, peace is preferable to war, but in practice, you can support all wars (which you will not fight in) and consistently fail upwards, and find yourself in the warm embrace of DC insider cliquishness; there are few stances that could more quickly extinguish your credibility within that sphere than to oppose all wars in practice. Meanwhile, due to the necessary anxiety of constantly advocating military action from the safety of a Macbook, and the inherent tension of the penis anxiety school of cruise missile liberalism, liberal hawks seem literally incapable of pushing for war without resorting to the usual redbaiting.

I wanted to highlight an email to the Daily Dish. Given that blog's frequent references to Orwell, I thought this was a rather priceless bit of "war is peace"-style Orwellian language:
If the Libya intervention works as intended, this is it. "It" being the end of the neocon-Bush doctrine. This is the moment the Al Qaeda "narrative" is first dealt its death blow. This is the moment America turns the page on 10 years of insanity. This is the moment of "change" we all voted for, with dividends for years and decades to come.
Aside from the deepening cult of personality that envelopes Obama-- I have read many pro-war arguments that literally amount to no more than "I trust Obama!"-- and the attendant "you must support Obama" social pressures, this email reflects peoples ability to reconcile any gulf, no matter how wide, between reality and their beliefs. This emailer wants me to take seriously that the Libyan aggression represents a break from Bush-era foreign policy. That is, military aggression against an oil-rich Middle Eastern country launched for dubious humanitarian and world-policing reasons with no exit strategy or any consideration of what postwar society will resemble, undertaken with the understanding that America's inexhaustible skill, wisdom, and benevolence will result in superior outcomes for a foreign people, represents a break from the Bush tradition. Why? Because of hope and change. Because Obama is just that great of a guy. Because trust him.

The important part of this email, though, reflects the general tenor of the conversation: that, somehow, this latest action will be the last one. That, after this, we get out of the sheriff business. And what I want to tell you is: we will continue to do this, over and over again, and every bit of historical evidence supports me. Look at the last several decades; we intervene again and again and again, bringing weaponry to bear wherever and whenever we please, providing our bountiful justice for more and more of the world's people. Look at the recent history; what possible argument can be made that this behavior will not continue? There is no such argument. We've just endured a series of events that should have made intervention in an internal conflict in a Middle Eastern nation harder than at any other time; we jumped into a Libyan civil war without even talking about it. Your country is in the world policing business, and the continuing canard that this intervention represents some sort of a unique one-off or a last dance is fraudulent on its face.

When those opposed to this intervention mention conflicts such as Darfur, Yemen, Syria, or Cote D'ivoire, I grow nervous; those are all on the checklist of those who, like Nicholas Kristof and Samantha Power, embrace White Man's Burden with a zeal that suggests they skipped the 20th century altogether. If you think that this is a last hurrah; if you think that all of the foreign interventions in recent history are anomalies; if you think that we won't be projecting our military power around the globe in five years or ten or fifteen-- well, I think you're wrong. It's time for those in favor of war in Libya to confront the broader project for which they are laboring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ad hominems

As I've said many times, one of the formative political experiences of my life was the run up to the Iraq war, and the treatment of those of us who opposed the invasion. It was an education: the endless denigration of us as naive, reflexively anti-American, abjectly pacifistic, cowardly, unprincipled, unpatriotic, supportive of a dictator, dismissive and unfeeling towards the plight of Iraqis, and generally every shade of shiftless and deluded. Few publications waged this campaign of marginalization with more zeal or more self-righteous piety than The New Republic. (I'd love to pick out a few choice examples, but TNR's website has been such a historical clusterfuck that navigating its archives is painful, painful business.) At the extreme of this behavior, though only part of a coordinated and years-long campaign, was Peter Beinart calling for a cull of anti-war leftists from the coalition of American liberalism, which is about as ad hominem as you can get.

So for Jon Chait of TNR to turn around and complain about ad hominem used against supporters of the Libyan war-- scratch that, people who are at least thinking hard about opposition to the Libyan war-- is nothing short of shameless. Mr. Chait: you had considerable ability to oppose ad hominems in the run up to Iraq, and you did nothing to discourage them. So please-- shut the fuck up. Your war mongering, chicken hawk publication has used ad hominem to attack people who don't leap to push for war for your entire long tenure there. Neither it nor you has any credibility to talk about personal insults, and your hypocrisy is enormous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

left-wing non-interventionism

It is a statement of the late American empire's status as a fundamental moral failure that many commentators divide the world of opinion between liberal hawks, neoconservatives, and realists. All three of these dispositions take it for granted that the United States maintains the privilege to meddle ceaselessly in the affairs of foreign countries, including killing their citizens at whatever time and with whatever means our military and intelligence services decide. The only difference is what means they endorse, what kind of conflicts they prefer, and what rhetoric they use.

For myself, I believe in the flawed but indispensable values of human liberty and democracy, and for this reason I am opposed to the world's superpower enforcing its privilege on the poor and powerless of the world. The greatest impediment to democracy and liberty in the history of the world is the power of foreign countries. That is what this country is doing openly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and doing more quietly in countless other countries. Please, have the courtesy to admit: if you support this intervention in Libya you are supporting the willful imposition of our preferences on the Libyan people. You are undermining their self-determination and their liberty. Perhaps, someday, the cognitive dissonance will overwhelm your ability to deny that.

Since I began writing about this, I have been buffeted with the patient yet aggrieved teachings of decent liberals who are far too certain of their own decency. They have lectured me about many things, but at the heart of it is the same dynamic: the insistence that they are so wise and so well-meaning that they are able to be stewards of the Libyan people. That such a situation is literally unimaginable to them-- that the idea that a foreign power might occupy this country and dictate terms is so foreign that it can hardly be rationally countenanced-- is a large part of why they can so glibly advocate such a course of action. For all the talk of humanitarianism (and never forget, war itself is a humanitarian crisis), lurking and stomping in the lizard brain of liberal interventionism is a failure to see those who we are "helping" as fully human. You would not forcibly choose the color of a friend's curtains; you would forcibly choose the government for millions of people you have never met. You can dress up what we are doing in any way you want but that is the reality. Perhaps this contradiction should provoke contemplation.

Many in the elite media are publicly wrestling with whether to support the war in Libya or not. At issue, for most of them, is whether or not a good outcome is achieved, and again for most of them, a good outcome is one which most flatters English-speaking Western intellectuals. That the very meaning of democracy renders their opinion irrelevant to the question of whether the outcome is desirable seems to go unconsidered. Support for democracy that extends only insofar as we support the outcomes of that democracy is a sham. Whatever the outcome of the imposition of American desires on the Libyan people through force of arms, we will have committed a moral error.

Elite opinion will eventually turn in favor of the Libyan intervention. Elite opinion creates and enforces elite consensus, and the limitless projection of American power on people who can't defend themselves has become a cherished dynamic in our power centers. Taking the Very Serious attitude to its apotheosis, many are now saying that there is literally no alternative to dictating policy to the world through the deployment of soldiers and ordnance.

I am willing to concede my critics frequent references to my piety, moralizing, etc. etc. etc.-- I don't much care. I am willing to risk it. If I am wrong, I am wrong on the side of people taking control of their own lives and of refusing to try to take control for them. I will make that gamble. In this refusal to dictate terms to the rest of the world, I am in a smaller minority than I am regarding any other issue. It has taken a long time, and it has come with a kind of horror, but I have come to realize that almost all Americans are quiet Americans.

I'm not the kind to believe in the inevitability of progress. I think Martin Luther King was wrong; I think the arc of history is long, and it bends in directions we can't possibly have perspective enough to understand. But perhaps there is reason to believe that someday more people will decide that they have had enough of enforcing their whims on people they don't know. It may be possible for all the talk of freedom and democracy to finally run aground against the reality of military projection. Until then, I will remain committed to these principles and in earnest. For me, the stakes are low; I'm just some jerk on the Internet, one who is perfectly willing to be shrill or preachy or whatever else. Meanwhile, Americans in jet planes dictate the future of Libya.

Monday, March 21, 2011

sorry about comments system

Guys, people have mentioned having trouble getting some  comments through. I am trying to sweep things out of the spam folder and onto the blog as quickly as I can, but there are also apparently some problems with comments not posting for other reasons.  I don't delete comments that aren't obviously spam, and I don't ban people, although I have been known to ask people not to comment any more. I appreciate your patience.

how perfect is your knowledge?

Humor me for a moment.

Imagine that a friend from a foreign country told you that she wanted to become educated about the 2000 presidential election, its ensuing controversy, and the various consequences and permutations of that entire situation. How would you counsel her? Consider, all in all, the enormity of the question. We're talking about a long, involved, contentious discussion, upon which literally millions of words have be written then and since, concerning deeply intricate and controversial questions of electoral, legal, and political minutiae. You would perhaps set her loose with a few key texts to consider, point her in the direction of some experts, and give her a few ideas about where to focus her research. But you would do so with the understanding that her knowledge on the issue would always be partial and conditional, because the situation is so large and because there are certain elements of context and cultural understanding that only someone who had lived through it could understand. And I say this even though we have the distance of a decade and the resulting work of history to consider the question.

Now consider the average American's knowledge about Yemen. I mean, really.

What interventionists ask of us, constantly, is to be so informed, wise, judicious, and discriminating that we can understand the tangled morass of practical politics, in countries that are thousands of miles from our shores, with cultures that are almost entirely alien to ours, with populaces that don't speak our same native tongue. Feel comfortable with that? I assume that I know a lot more about Egypt or Yemen or Libya than the average American-- I would suggest that the average American almost certainly couldn't find these countries on a map, tell you what languages they speak in those countries, perhaps even on which continents they are found-- but the idea that I can have an informed opinion about the internal politics of these countries is absurd. Absurd. I followed the health care debate, an internal political affair with which I have a great personal stake and a keen personal interest, with something resembling obsession. I can hardly comprehend how many hundreds of thousands of words I read on the subject. And yet in some ways I know so little.

And yet I am supposed to have knowledge enough about the internal politics of Libya? Enough to wager the future of the lives of every citizen of that country? Enough to commit human lives and millions of dollars to engineer the outcome that I think we want in that foreign country? With the fog of war, the law of unintended consequences, and all of those unknown unknowns, floating around out there, waiting to entrap us?

This is folly. It is insanity. There are people within Libya that support Qaddafi. I don't understand them, but then I would be lying if I said that I understand the revolutionaries, really. I don't know who these loyalists are, how many of them there are, how valid their arguments are, how realistic an understanding of the situation they have. And neither do you. But we are in the process of deciding this issue for them, almost all internal political decisions for them, with our actions. Whatever vestiges of democracy and freedom may be preserved following this latest military adventure of ours, minority rights for these people will have been abridged, if a minority they are. That's to say nothing of what might come next, if the revolution succeeds; who will stand with whom, what reprisals will follow, what the tangled, shifting allegiances and temporary alliances will mean for these people and Libya on the whole. The future would be uncertain with or without the United States and its paper coalition raining ordinance down. But without us, we could be sure that whatever else was true, Libyans would be deciding the future of Libya. I would welcome that, as little as my opinion might mean.

A colossal, almost impossible arrogance underpins all interventionist logic. Beneath it all is a preening, self-satisfied belief in the interventionist's own brilliance and understanding. So I ask you, as an individual reader-- are you that wise? Are you that righteous? You understand so much? When was the last time you read a Libyan newspaper? Talked at length with a Libyan? A year ago, what did you know of Libya and its internal struggles? Because what you are saying, when you advocate intervention, is not only that you know so much that you can separate good from evil, but that your knowledge is so great and so benevolent that it is sufficient to completely undermine the self-determination of every man, woman, and child on Libyan soil. Make no mistake. That is your gamble. Those are the stakes you are wagering.

An understanding of the limits of ones own knowledge is the essence of wisdom, and modesty of goals compelled by limited knowledge the essence of good governance. Democracy requires-- requires-- demos, an informed, engaged populace. We have an enormously difficult time figuring out our domestic politics. This is asking too much, even without considering the imposition on the self-determination of Libya. Libya was for Libyans before you all trained your munificent gaze on it. Libya will be for Libyans long after you have turned your righteousness to the next news cycle. The question is what respect and what deference you will show to Libyans now, when absolutely every element of their future hangs in the balance.

Imagine back to Gore v. Bush again. We need not even really concern ourselves with the crazy counterfactual of some foreign country deciding that it was so wise, judicious, and magnanimous that it would sort out our internal conflict through military intervention. This country has no cultural memory whatsoever of foreign countries "intervening" within its borders, and no consideration of what it might be like to live under the constant threat that some superpower might decide to dictate its affairs. Such questions couldn't possibly be serious.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

here they come

Last word for a little while.

It's like I told you.

Greenwald:
All that said, it is striking how wars -- no matter how they're packaged -- ultimately breed the same patterns.  With public opinion split or even against the war in Libya (at least for now) -- and with questions naturally arising about why we're intervening here to stop the violence but ignoring the growing violence from our good friends in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere -- the administration obviously knows that some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering and unique demonization (Gadaffi is a Terrorist with "deadly mustard gas"who might attack us!!) can only help.  Then there's the fact that the same faction of war-loving-from-a-safe-distance "hawks" that took the lead in cheering for the attack on Iraq -- neocons on the Right and their "liberal interventionist" counterparts in The New Republic/Brookings/Democratic Party officialdom world -- are playing the same role here.  And many of the same manipulative rhetorical tactics are now wielded against war opponents:  the Libyan rebels are the new Kurds (they want us to act to protect them!), and just as those who opposed the attack on Iraq were routinely accused of indifference toward if not support for Saddam's tyranny, those who oppose this intervention are now accused of indifference to Gadaffi's butchery (as always:  are those refraining from advocating for military intervention in Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the Sudan or dozens of other places indifferent to the violence and other forms of suffering there?).
If there is any decency remaining in this country's political class, this war will split the left. I don't like to bolster the conservative machine through infighting on what amounts to our left wing, but at some point you can make strategic goals so central to your policy positions that you stand for nothing at all. Barack Obama, who campaigned on an explicitly antiwar platform, who spoke time and again about the need for Congressional approval of military force, who made argument after argument that would completely disqualify this action-- well, what more can be said? I don't know how to even have a debate with left-wing supporters of this president anymore. I don't blame him for not being able to ram through a domestic policy platform when he can't control Congress, although I do disagree with him on many theoretical and tactical policy issues. (His adviser's constant tendency to mock and deride his left-wing critics doesn't help.)

But as the man himself has shown so terrifyingly the last few days, when it comes to foreign policy and the military, he is essentially unchecked in his ambitions. And he chose this. Whatever you want to say about the makeup and value of the international support for this operation, make no mistake: if Barack Obama did not want this to be happening, it wouldn't be. This commitment of millions of dollars, wagering the lives of thousands, is entirely at the whim of one man, without oversight or approval from his people.

And he has committed himself to engaging in a third war, with another oil rich Middle Eastern nation, with unclear goals, a nonexistent exit strategy, and a series of extremely optimistic and necessarily ill-informed predictions about the future. I would like to urge my liberal friends to consider this situation, the rhetoric used to support it, and those who are clamoring for it, and ask yourself what comfort you can possibly find. If you transported back to talk to your 2006 self, and you told him or her of all this, well-- what would that older you say?

The essential dynamic is the same as always. I find argument hard because the fundamental first principle through which I attend to these issues is so foreign in American discourse: that a humanitarian and democratic commitment to non-intervention binds us and compels us not to wage aggressive war against foreign countries outside of absolute and immediate defensive necessity. What disturbs me so much about those who are arguing the side of the Libyan revolution and against the side of Qaddafi is that they think that this is sufficient to justify engaging in war. That democracy insists that their opinion on the question is irrelevant to whether to go to war, or that even if we knew for a fact what was right and wrong we'd have no right to invade, seems not even to compute, not for a moment. Of course, I prefer the revolution to Qaddafi. I don't mistake my ill-informed (as any must be) preference with real knowledge; I don't mistake the value of my opinion for the value of a Libyan's; I don't pretend that my Western bleeding-heart morals have any right dictating who lives and dies thousands of miles from our borders; I don't imagine that every Libyan who is revolting has inside them some mini-American, waiting to burst forth and adopt perfectly American values. Support for democracy that is dependent on our agreement with the outcome of democracy is a sham.

People are wishing for a best case scenario. So am I. But the principles that compel us to keep our hands off of this foreign, internal strife have been violated by this action and will be no matter what the outcome. And the innocent people killed with still be dead. Any talk of "smart bombing" and warfare free of civilian carnage should have been extinguished in the last decade.

If I am right about what this means for the near future, this will be a difficult time for the left. Perhaps Libya itself will come to a resolution quickly, but as long as the Barack Obamas of the world are bent on casting American firepower around the globe, these divides will endure. Already a lot of temporary allies are jumping ship, and they are beginning the usual drumbeat of redbaiting, eliminationism, and dismissal of the left. It will be tough, but we have just undertaken an action of incredible consequence, and it's right that we fight about it.

Contrary to what some think, I don't like arguing. I hate it, in fact, hate every moment of it. But I am arguing for the most fundamental principles that I know, and so I am ready to start alienating people. I am perfectly willing to risk sociopathy to support the cause that I believe in. To those who say I am being intemperate and unfair to my interlocuters, they are probably right. I'm sorry, but I think extremity in defense of these values is the order of the day. Content yourself with the fact that my position, that of dedicated opposition to military intervention and American hegemony, is reviled and powerless within our affairs.

France and the UK

Incidentally, some of my liberal friends are reassuring me that the input of France and the United Kingdom means that I shouldn't worry about America engaging in another war in the greater Middle East.

Because, you know, when you think about a history of enlightened foreign policy, you think of France and the UK.

Update: The support of the Arab League is supposed to sway me? The Arab League is the tool of the autocratic regimes we are supposedly opposed to! If the Arab League was against this war, would that sway you? Would it sway anyone? You can check my record: I have never treated the involvement of the UN, or the "international community," or any other tools of governmental power as an excuse for military aggression. And when it is convenient for them not to, neither do the people supporting this war.

Libya

There is so much to say about Libya. What should strike you is just how much our national narrative of the last five years has been revealed to be utter bullshit. We have told ourselves pleasing lies about how we are now restrained where we were once aggressive, disciplined where we were once headstrong, wise where we were once rash. We had been through the fires in Iraq, and by god, we had changed.

Well. There was that.

Now we are jumping into another misadventure in the Muslim world with literally less than a couple days of anything resembling public deliberation. We are doing it because we have decided once again that we have the wisdom to peer into endlessly complex foreign political affairs and immediately sort good from bad. We are doing it because we have decided once again that when we have sorted good from bad in foreign countries we have the right to enter those countries by force and set things the way we want them. We are doing it because we have decided once again that imposing our decisions from across the sea on a foreign populace can, absurdly, be called "supporting democracy." I don't know what you might call this country. But we're committing military force to choose sides in a civil war without one word of Congressional deliberation and nothing resembling a coherent public debate. No talk of restraint, discipline, or wisdom, when referring to this nation, please. Never again. We will fly off the handle and lob ordinance wherever and whenever we get the urge, and we will do so totally convinced of our perfect ability and our beautiful, benevolent righteousness.

I believe in the importance of internal resistance movements. I believe in them precisely as long as they remain internal, because I understand, as so many seem not to, that it is a blatant and ridiculous contradiction in terms to enforce democracy by foreign military aggression. You cannot enforce democracy from without. Self-determination is the non-negotiable precondition for democracy. After we have installed our Vichy democracies, they tend to operate as you would assume such governments would. You only have to ask the minority parties of Iraq, which have reported again and again that they are excluded, marginalized, and oppressed, up to and including the disappearance of protesters.

I believe in resistance, but that doesn't mean I believe in good outcomes coming from all resistance. And this is the fundamental error, among so many, of the supporters of Libyan revolution, or of the supposed "pan-Arab" uprising: they look to this incredibly complex phenomenon, made up of a shifting multitude of actors and interests, supported by foreign powers both near and far, which proceeds in fits and starts towards whatever goal the aggregate of its parts supports at the moment... and they pronounce it good. With their child's view of the world, with their infantile Manicheanism, they feel that the must sort all actors at all times into the piles of good and bad. With their American arrogance, they believe that they actually possess the wisdom and knowledge capable of performing such a feat. With their imperial hubris, they believe that this knowledge gives them the right to impose their judgments with force and by fiat, and they will do so even while they know that doing so will kill innocent people. That's the condition of the contemporary American.

For me, I have far less faith in my own ability to sort out the realities of foreign affairs. I have far less belief in my own righteousness. And I know that the fundamental principles of noninterference and self-determination exist in large part because human beings lack such perfect, divine knowledge and righteousness.

You must ask yourself whether you live in a country that is so in possession of the Truth that it should be adjudicating winners and losers in foreign civil wars. And you must ask yourself what it means that we have convinced ourselves yet again that we are, despite the pile of bodies that tells us otherwise. When people speak of American decline, they never tell the most important story: that we refuse to learn any lessons.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

gentrification involves more than the gentry

This piece in the Washington City Paper by Shani O. Hilton about gentrification and race in DC has been generating a lot of positive vibes. It's a very fraught and deeply important topic; the recent Jalen Rose/Grant Hill affair has hit home once again that the relationship between the advancement of black interests and ideas of black authenticity is a tangled and often contentious one. I will echo the praise for what is present in the article, as it is indeed insightful and honest, but I have a very major reservation.

Where are the interviews with poor people?

This is a several-thousand word article on the relationship between race and socioeconomic class, and about the tensions between old and new residents and poor and rich residents of a city and a neighborhood. Yet in those thousands of words there isn't a single interview with a poor, long-term, black resident. It's a glaring omission.

I don't mean to come down too hard on Hilton, who really has done yeoman's work with a lot of the reporting for the piece. The problem is that she's so unexceptional in this omission: elite media consistently and systematically excludes the voices of the worst off. I don't think that this is intentional; I think it's a result of a confluence of factors involving visibility, accessibility, fear of appearing condescending, and worry about being in physical danger in poor neighborhoods. If we're going to confront these questions responsibly and fairly, the journalistic class has to overcome that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

the profession that wants to destroy itself

There are many oddities on the Internet, but to me, one of the most consistently and deeply bizarre is the attitude that most professional Internet journalists, pundits, and bloggers have towards the ability of their own profession to fund itself. Professional bloggers who are explicitly contemptuous of any attempts to monetize what they do are legion. It's certainly the consensus opinion, and like most opinions on the blogosphere, it is enforced with the usual mix of a smug attitude connoting the savvy of the person holding the opinion and a lack of any actual argument that transcends that attitude. The Cool Kid Crew decided that any attempts to monetize the profession, in contrast to any attempts to enrich themselves individually, are to be derided, because there are the old media dinosaurs on the one hand and the sexy young Internet revolutionaries on the other hand. End of story.

I'm speaking of the New York Times and its latest efforts to monetize journalism and punditry on the Internet. Its last experiment, Times Select, was of course an endless whipping boy for the savvy set. Never mind that Times Select and this new paywall are precisely the kind of experimentation that desperately needs to happen if Internet media is going to remain as a professional, moneymaking venture. The cult has decreed that all such attempts are subject to mockery, and that's all that matters. The age old formula of providing a product or service to the public and then paying for it worked. The new new hotness-- the Web 2.0 synergistic outside the box new media Wikified Innanet utopia way-- of providing a product or service and then giving it away for free doesn't work. Ad revenues are not replacing the revenue from media that used to get paid for, and that's to say nothing of the growing number of people using ad-block technology. What is the mechanism through which this profession is going to perpetuate itself as a profession? Anyone? I'm not in professional media, so the question isn't that personal for me. But I do have old-fashioned ideas about the need for demos in democracy, and I don't think we can have a purely amateur media that does what we need the media to do.

It's really pretty incredible. It's a perfect storm of the many little dysfunctions of the blogosphere as a culture: the fetish for the counter intuitive, the child's belief in Internet utopia, the preference for what is savvy over what is responsible or true, the refusal to follow the logic of one's own arguments to their natural ends, and above all, the hatred for everyone else involved in journalism or punditry.

I can't decide if its mostly fun or mostly sad to see people cheer the demise of their own profession, all while wrapping it up in the ceaseless rhetoric of new media triumphalism.

Monday, March 14, 2011

they're bringing back all the classics

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that sometime in mid-2006 represented the nadir of American attitudes towards military intervention. This would be after Iraq had descended into the world's closest facsimile of hell, but before the effects of the "surge"-- that is to say, before Baghdad and Iraq at large were ethnically cleansed and we spent hundreds of millions bribing an exhausted populace into not fighting. You could quibble with the dates, of course. But let's say that this was about when the American populace had the least stomach for more military misadventures in central Asia.

So. Five years.

That is how long, apparently, real wisdom can survive against conventional wisdom. That is how long the virtues of discretion, probity, and restraint can exist in the atmosphere of DC punditry which is so deeply hostile to them. In five years, an unimaginable amount of human suffering and loss can be compartmentalized, excused, and promptly forgotten. That's how deep our cultural memory goes. Already, in bits and pieces, hawks and interventionists are laying the groundwork for the push to invade. Perhaps this effort will not lead to intervention in Libya. But it will contribute to their larger project, which is a culture totally acclimated to the constant projection of American military force across the globe. Savvy liberal interventionists will often argue that it is my side, the non-interventionist side, that speaks in categoricals, and that they only respond to events individually. Never believe it; they are as dedicated to the principle of American military projection, in and of itself, as anything else.

So political taste makers like Jon Chait of the New Republic begin, slowly, to build the Washington consensus. (Chait's blog is a constant reminder to us that the reasonably bright can operate alongside the almost sublimely stupid with ease.) Chait argues that the reason we are remaining out of Libya is status quo bias. Personally, I would point to the specter of dead bodies lying in the sand in Iraq, or the continuing quagmire of trying to pick winners and losers from among an unbelievably complex list of ethnic and political actors in Afghanistan. Chait is in fact arguing that it's exactly our continuing presence in Iraq and Afghanistan that makes it irrational for us not intervening in Libya, which is a little like saying that having your hands in two hornet's nests is an argument for finding more for your feet and nose. But Chait's argument is its own undoing: what on earth is the argument for intervening in Libya when we didn't in Egypt? For not intervening in Bahrain? In Tunisia, to smooth the transition? (We're really great at that.) For not invading Yemen? Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Iran?

I can tell you the reasons for not intervening in any of these, of course, and for getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Because democracy through military occupation is an absurd contradiction in terms. Because we cannot touch the world outside our borders without killing innocent people. Because we are not the world's authority figure. Because goddamn it, we are not nearly strong or smart or capable or moral or competent enough to succeed in such attempts, as has been proven time and time again. Chait knew that, for about 15 seconds, and then his make-the-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness mated with his perfectly typical liberal anxiety about looking weak, and gave birth to a new belief in America's power and perfect morality.

It's perfectly appropriate that TNR lead the charge, of course. It was one of the prime movers in cutting up the liberal opposition from inside during the run-up to the Iraq war, and it's thirsty for such pride of place again. Along with TNR was Slate, and like magic, more of Christopher Hitchens's self-aggrandizing bullshit appears. Hitchens, of course, skipped the stage where hawks made strangled non-apologies about Iraq, but he's always been a purer breed. Like most of them, he insists on those opposed to military interventions understanding their own culpability for bad events, while remaining blissfully, righteously immune to such blame himself. Like Ross Douthat, Hitchens divides the world between the bad and the worse-- apparently, if you aren't a neocon, you're a realist. (Two great tastes that taste like murder together.) The absurd contrivance that everyone in American politics is equally to blame for all of our problems is kind of Douthat's jam, so we'll have to forgive him for that.

Look to the usual suspects. Perhaps some will have really learned. But if you look around at those who equate blood lust with seriousness, idealism with realism, occupation with freedom, Vichy democracy with the real thing, and who think that the way to make sure everyone knows what a virile manly figure you are is to advocate limitless military commitments, you will see them working steadily and studiously. They are the type to know nothing about the world but everything about our media and politics, and one thing they know for sure is that memories are short. Their previous failed predictions are available to peruse at your leisure-- if you are ever tempted to take William Saletan seriously, read this post, one of the most astonishing texts I've ever read-- but when you are in the club, you are in the club, and they will hand you the mic over and over again.

Understand: this is all prelude to the rebuilding of the conditions within our punditry in the run up to the Iraq war and its early months. It's not enough for them to advocate military aggression. Because interventionism is so thoroughly bankrupt on an intellectual, political, and moral level, its proponents understand that they cannot merely argue for their position but must remove their opposition from the conversation entirely, as people like Peter Beinart, Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman, and many others attempted in the Iraq debate.They never really changed, the hard core eliminationists (sorry Michael!), they have always been resentful that they were asked to change, and they are eager to begin ejecting intervention critics from the realm of the serious. They will bring it all back, the redbaiting, the calls for culls, the insistence that opposition to invasion means support for dictators, the studious disdain for anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan, and the inevitable division of the liberal establishment that will empower the very worst in foreign policy.

It might not happen with Libya. It might not happen this year. But it will happen. It's their way, and it is our way, for whatever reason, to empower them again and again. So much the worse for the world, and for us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

marijuana legalization is a human rights issue

Awhile back, Mother Jones, which is a publication I generally respect a lot, generated an artificial controversy for itself by announcing the difficulty its editors had in choosing between two covers, one about the crisis in Haiti and the other about the evolution of the marijuana industry. I find the whole thing kind of untoward; they took an internal editorial decision, compromised on the choice, and then discussed it in a way that seemed designed to win plaudits for their seriousness. The problem in particular is that it's just an entirely false dilemma, and an invented one. It's like saying "you can stop rape or you can stop disease-- CHOOSE!" If you look at the comments to that piece, many readers took it entirely in that spirit.

But beyond the mere curio of this media moment, there's an important issue lurking here. Look again to the comments, and you'll see many people insisting that Haiti should definitely trump the marijuana industry because (implicitly or explicitly) Haiti is an issue of superior moral seriousness to the issue of legalizing marijuana. Precisely because I think the choice is false, I don't want to try and adjudicate that here. (The issue of what is more appropriate or marketable for a major magazine lies outside of both my expertise and my interest.) But I am disturbed by the overwhelming impression that the commenters seem to have that the legalization of marijuana is some silly counter cultural issue. This is especially troubling because I imagine most of the commenters on Mother Jones are the kind of people who favor marijuana legalization.

The legalization of marijuana, it's true, is a libertarian issue. The fundamental principle is the sheer absurdity of the government telling me what I can and can't put into my own body, or trying to adjudicate what is best for my health or personal well-being. I am arguing, yes, for the right to get high. But thanks to the incredible vagaries of the drug war, legalization of marijuana is so much more. It is absolutely, undoubtedly an issue of human rights. Despite the common canard that marijuana is "basically" decriminalized, we arrest people for marijuana offenses at an absurd rate-- and that rate has consistently grown since the early '90s:
chart courtesy of The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform

In 2007 there were over 850,000 marijuana arrests (PDF). The United States has only 5% of the worlds population but imprisons 25% of its prisoners. The federal government spent over $15 billion on the drug war in 2010, or a rate of $500 a second. Our country is 66% non-Hispanic white people but 70% of our prisoners are non-white. The justice system is overwhelmingly unfriendly to the poor. And on and on.

I don't understand how it can possibly remain the case that these facts are out there and yet marijuana legalization is somehow seen as a less than serious issue. This is a social justice issue. This is a racial justice issue. This is a deficit reduction issue. This is an issue of elementary personal freedoms. But we can't fix things as long as people who are ostensibly in favor of decriminalization continue to say so with a smirk, or relegate the issue to the margins, or treat it as a distraction or joke. It's time to get serious about a serious and deeply troubling issue.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bobby Sands was an MP

Bobby Sands
(public domain image)
Bobby Sands (March 9th 1957-May 5th 1981) was a Member of Parliament.

This fact did not sit well with Margaret Thatcher or the rest of the British establishment. And of course, it shouldn't have; his election was a direct rebuke of Thatcherite Britain and unionist Irish politicians. The British parliament responded accordingly and, when his death was announced in the body, they omitted the traditional condolences for him and his family.

I'm sure many will see this as an endorsement of Sands and the IRA, but it isn't. I'm in fact not really taking any position at all on Sands, the Troubles, northern Irish republicanism, or assorted issues. But I am insisting: Bobby Sands was an MP. Why? Because it happened. Because his election was an act of protest. Because regardless of whatever tangled thoughts I might have about a conflict I can't possibly understand beyond the hypothetical, I respect protest, dissent, and resistance. And because I am with Haruki Murakami:
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide.
If you never have, you should read that entire piece. I admire it deeply and without reservation. I admire it in large part because it is so alien and out of place with the edifice of American political commentary, with its narrow definition of seriousness and the endless efforts of its members to demonstrate their fidelity to some strained, false notion of legitimate argument. With its idealism, its categorical moral statements, and its utter fearlessness about using terms like "the System" that seem almost designed to encourage snickers from the endlessly savvy political consciousness of this country, it amounts to a thorough rejection of that mode and all its assumptions. For that reason I celebrate it.

To see that attitude in action merely check out some of the comments on that piece, where the discourse police mock Murakami and condescend to define what it means to speak responsibly about politics. The permanent attitude towards convictions such as Murakami's, and mine, is incredulity, and the insistence that those convictions can exist only insofar as the are ill-considered or unexamined. I can't tell you how often I encounter actors in the political discourse (the connected, or those who wish to be) who say, "you can't really still think that. You can't really still argue that. You can't really still read that. What year is this? You lost this fight a long time ago. Responsible people don't argue that way." What is generally not countenanced is the idea that I could have heard the other arguments, known the history, learned the context, and chosen to believe what I believe anyway. A politics like mine is supposed to be embraced only within quotation marks. I am meant to believe what I believe only so long as I drown it in irony or signaling or the counterintuitive. Something to show that I am not one of those, that I have gotten with the times.

There is, I'm sure, some commitment to acting out. Murakami, again: "I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me -- and especially if they are warning me -- 'Don't go there,' 'Don't do that,' I tend to want to 'go there' and 'do that.'" This commitment, too, to being a punk, to resisting conformity, to rebellion for its own sake-- this too is generative and important. I don't want to be cool with you. Nothing could be a more glaring sign that I need to correct my course than if I get credit from the with it, the connected, and the cool.

So: between the high hard wall and the egg, I will always choose the egg, no matter how right the wall, no matter how wrong the egg. Between prison guards and the prisoners they beat and terrorize, I will always choose the prisoners. Between the powerful nation and the men who starve themselves to death in protest against it, I will always choose the protesters. I don't claim that their stance is right or that my choosing is responsible. Others will have to decide what is right or what is responsible.

I don't have a stance on the IRA. I don't and can't reconcile the protection of innocent lives with the IRA's actions. I have no opinion on the blurry lines between the revolutions we like and the terrorism we don't. I am saying very little, except to say, on his birthday: Bobby Sands was an MP.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

damn you, DVD clearance fees

So I have complained in the past about the problem with DVDs of TV shows that make important use of music; music is very expensive to clear on DVD titles and so very often you get shows with the music stripped out or, even worse, replaced with terrible, cheap to clear alternatives.

Well, thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, I have recently fallen deeply in love with the British original series Skins, or at least, the first two seasons. (The show goes through different generations every two seasons, which is an admirable alternative to standard Saved by the Bell bullshit where people are in high school for a decade; I just don't know if I can watch different characters... too attached to the originals.) Anyway, this is a show that really needs the music it has in general, but most importantly, there is a use of a song at the very end of the first season that is so brilliant and unexpected and it's apparently just completely purged from the DVDs. Which is just not right.

The alternatives seem to be to watch the show streaming, where the music is preserved but where the show can always just disappear into the ether, or watch the heavily edited BBC America version when it's on (and why, exactly, is American culture permanently for children), or watch the DVDs with lame music and my favorite scene cut out. Bah! Bah I say!

I don't pirate; I try not to be preachy about it but I believe that as long as we are in this capitalist system then we should provide value to those who give value through the creation of art and media. So personally no torrents or such for me. But this is one scenario where I am sorely tempted.

(Oh, I turned off comments because there would inevitably be someone making fun of me for liking that show. And I just don't give a shit or care to hear about it.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

links and such

  • These two posts from Rob Horning (hat tip to an emailer) deal with a lot of the issues that have been on my mind lately, and very incisively. I would note that, if you were inclined to be on Facebook but were uncomfortable with all of this stuff, you could be on Facebook to connect with your friends but subvert all of the information gathering: if you're a 25 year old man, say you're a 47 year old woman, "like" things that you don't and don't like things that you do, and generally fill in all of the information correctly. Your friends still know who you really are in real life, after all. Not exactly smashing the system, but a minor little way to subvert their aims.
  • Noah Millman's Shakesblog is great, although I do disagree with this post quite a bit.
  • Alyssa Rosenberg offers a very fair and necessary corrective to another piece in The Atlantic about supposedly boring women in indie film. As an unabashed fan of The Royal Tennenbaums, and someone who is getting tired of all the film criticism written in shorthand these days, I much appreciated it.
  • My brother writes in defense of, at least, the aesthetic of Walt Disney and the Disney animation studio in the early days. Some very striking images linked to as well. Personally, I find the best conventionally animated Disney films to be light years ahead of anything Pixar has come up with, but this is controversial.
  • I think this is a strikingly well-done website for the band Noah and the Whale, and I dig the song "Wild Thing" from the album that's being streamed. It's a nice way to let people listen to the album without giving it away for free downloads. (Of course, pirates will pirate anyway.) I am often struck by how disappointingly conventional most web design still is these days.
  • I know that the Black List demonstrates what is hip in Hollywood these days but it most demonstrates to me that condensations and "treatments" of art are almost never going to be really flattering. For example, one of the hottest scripts on the list is called "All You Need is Kill," and is described as "A new recruit in a war against aliens finds himself caught in a time loop where he wakes up one day in the past after he has been killed on the battlefield." And, you know, that might be a great movie! It just sounds ridiculous in that context.
  • This is the sort of piece that I think n+1 does well.

a man from somewhere

Who does Ross Douthat think he is? I don't mean that rhetorically. I mean, given this, and a long history of similar-- why does Ross Douthat sometimes adopt the pose of a disinterested outsider? Douthat complains "But the partisan mind sees what it wants to see." Psst! Ross! You wrote a book about the best way forward for the Republican party! Not conservatism, but the Republican party. You are the definition of a partisan. I expect this sort of thing from Will Wilkinson, the showily independent liberaltarian. Douthat is another matter.  Of course, Ross Douthat thinks that the union protesters are the equivalent of the Tea Party; that's precisely what you should expect a partisan Republican to say.

I can only imagine that Douthat is here buying into his own reputation a little too much. You'll have read many, many times how smart and nice Douthat is. He can't hold a candle to the master, of course, but it's a truism that he is smart and nice and reasonable and whatever else fellow. I'm sure he is, too. It's just that this has nothing to do with partisanship, or with being correct on any particular issue, although that fact is always lost in this context, I'm afraid.

I'm never a big fan of when people play politics by pretending not to play.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

today in insanity

Oh, Jesus, no, not that.

the incredible naivete of the incredibly savvy

This is a long post. If you don't like it, please, try a different site. Let me highly recommend bombpop.com.

There are many influences on our professional media and punditocracy that are unfortunate and distorting but perhaps inevitable. The most obvious of these is that the chattering class is likely always to be of the affluent and for the affluent. Media exists for those who will pay for it. Think tanks exist for those who can fund them. The rise of the Internet and bloggers has long been represented as a triumph for bottom-up media, but in truth the systems of control exercised by the establishment media and their various organs are almost as effective as ever. Voices that resonate and drive traffic are bought off in small part by money and in large part by entree into the ranks of the insiders. Voices that remain truly independent tend to operate out of intellectual ghettos, the boundaries of which are studiously defined by unspoken but unmistakable efforts of the blogosphere ruling class.

What's more, entrance into the world of high-end media, which has co opted the political blogosphere with almost admirable efficiency, is largely predicated on the typical and traditional systems with which the ruling class perpetuates itself: attending elite private high schools, to attend elite undergraduate institutions, to undertake activities and internships where the privileged reward others for being like them, all of which culminates in employment at elite media institutions where editors hire ambitious young people who remind them of themselves at that age. Exceptions can and do occur, but to say that the most powerful media and political institutions are overwhelmingly made up of the affluent and the privileged might even risk understatement. And while there are many individual voices that come from people who are not living the lives of material privilege, I find that most of them have so absorbed the lessons of what it means to write and act and believe like a politically connected and influential person that they represent the world in a way that is functionally identical to those who do.

While I can imagine far healthier situations for our media and our deliberative democracy, I can't imagine an alternative to the current order arising anytime soon. By officially ending our various regimes of racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the elite workplace, our society has made these institutions effectively bulletproof due to the assumption that they represent a meritocracy. The fact that there are many black individuals on the mastheads of powerful publications is a great improvement on the alternative, but it serves to occlude the fact that those with genuine access to the condition of most black Americans are quite rare within the apparatus. Indeed, the very fact of being capable of spending long parts of the day plugged into professional and prominent media and politics demonstrates privilege. (A privilege I am of course lucky enough to share.)

This dynamic, as most do, hurts the worst off. The people who must speak for them in our public discourse are necessarily disconnected from their lives and their needs. This is neither an insult to those who would attempt to represent their interests nor a statement of disqualification. If the only people who can speak for the worst off are the worst off themselves then they have little hope of ever advancing their condition within this system. What the elites who genuinely want to advance the interests of the worst off should do is merely to remain aware of their imperfect knowledge and attempt to speak about them in a way that demonstrates self-knowledge and the importance of context. Some succeed at these tasks, and some don't.

Changing this situation would take some sort of higher order reorganizing of our systems of social stratification. But there are lots of corrupting influences on members of the media that are entirely unnecessary and which redound to the benefit of certain ideological and policy positions. None is more annoying to me than the strangled definition of what it means to be a savvy operator in the media landscape and what it does to smart people.

Media personalities, these days, are necessarily building the brand of Me. I have sympathy for them. Because long term employment at individual publications or political entities has largely disappeared, those who want careers as professional pundits or bloggers tend to meticulously curate their identity-- what they believe, how the express it, how they prioritize what they believe by how often they write about individual issues. This is most obvious and most important when considering those who write about media; you can look at the denizens of the Onion AV Club for people who seem unfailingly aware that their particular likes and dislikes exist in relief to one another and must be presented in a way that makes a statement about them. I never can read movie reviewers anymore without imagining the way in which they are considering their opinions on the latest movie as a way to develop a decipherable aesthetic. ("I liked The King's Speech so I can't like this movie-- too costume drama-y. I liked No Country for Old Men so I called There Will Be Blood an empty formal exercise. I want to be the kind of critic who likes Wes Anderson's movies but not Wes Anderson.")

Politicos, though, do this too. Driven by a need for product differentiation in a ruthless environment full of ambitious, only theoretically ethical young strivers, the young political blogger or pundit tinkers endlessly with his or her political persona. Depending on the particular niche you want to fill in the narrow market for political jobs, you pursue one position or another, but pursue them you must, or wind up out of the money. This professional pressure is matched by a social version that is, in my estimation, even more powerful. The Internet serves many functions, but running alongside them is the "killer app," the sorting mechanism and marketplace for social regard. Many or most people who spend a lot of time online do so in large part to trade regard with others and to engage in a Smart Kid sorting mechanism. Perhaps for some this endless jockeying for rank on any number of websites is a surrogate for failure in other arenas, but I find that the people who are most committed to self-advancement in Internet status hierarchies are those who have been most successful in the conventional sorting system of young America, where you go to college. It's as if, having spent most of their young lives engaged in a heated battle to come out on top, they find themselves unable to cope without that dynamic present in their lives. It's for this reason that, for example, Gawker is so suffused with panic and desperation even while its members attempt to signal their disaffection and cool.

As I understand it, there is a physiological element to all of this. These social rankings, as totally disconnected as they are from any kind of material success and as facile they are in comparison to more traditional systems of human achievement, are probably conditioned by evolution. Just as video game makers rely on the tendency of completing totally empty tasks to provide neurological rewards (Mario gets the coin, dopamine for you), evil geniuses like Nick Denton understand that there is little or no connection between the actual value of the petty hierarchies established within websites and how attached users become to them. Contrivances such as "like" buttons and commenting ranks or titles are at once recognized by most participating as transparently manipulative bullshit and at the same time deeply valued. Once you have bought into the system, I'm willing to guess, you have very little option but to play the game.

Perhaps for this reason, the reality of brain chemistry, people like myself who recognize the shamelessness and transparency of these edifices still play, and often play enthusiastically. (If you are reading this, you likely play too.) I certainly do play, myself, while hating myself for it, and even this statement, while I think entirely true, amounts to a way to position myself within the endless status game. My analytical detachment is, I'm sure, a symptom of the disease I am diagnosing. Degree matters, I think. But I would say that.

In any event, our political class operates in an environment where their opinions are constantly conditioned by a host of various pressures, and perhaps none more so than the drive to appear savvy and unique. Due to the fact that liberal institutions are ultimately under the control of establishment power, and power establishments are antithetical to the liberal project, the fundamental dynamic of political commentary in this country is that conservatives demonstrate seriousness by showing fealty to conservatism and establishment liberals demonstrate seriousness by showing their distance from conventional liberalism. What's more, as our social system conditions people to believe that the value of their attachments and statements is derived from their distance from the uncool throng, people attempt to find political positions that are endlessly "different." The media liberal thus operates in an environment where he has achieved his purpose not when he has written something true, accurate, generative, or responsible, but when he has written something unconventional, contrarian, and provoking.

So consider our current times. Real wages for average Americans have stagnated for decades. Those at the top have been enriched to a degree that is almost incomprehensible. The obvious insight for anyone interested in social justice is to point out that more and more capital previously reserved for the workforce has been captured by those at the top and to advocate for recapturing this capital by whatever means necessary. The media liberal, however, cannot connect from point A to point B to point C. Such thinking is too obvious and fails to distinguish one pundit from the other, or from the mass. Compelled to come up with an idiosyncratic analysis and argument, and buffeted by professional pressures to support the moneyed establishment at all costs, the media liberal must devise some sort of strangled illogic that is different from the simple truth. This story of our contemporary times will be needlessly complex and filled with the denial of conflict between classes. If there is one thing the media liberal knows, it is that there are never conflicts between broad groups of people of different economic stations. Marxists speak of class struggles. Unreconstructed leftists speak of corporate greed. The unhip and lacking in savvy speak simply about the power of the moneyed class. The hip young media liberal mumbles about how capitalism is non-zero sum while a rich man picks the pocket of a poor man.

Or consider Wisconsin. An ambitious Republican governor, eager for a national audience and to demonstrate fealty to the moneyed class that underwrites American conservatism, assaults the labor unions of his state. In this, he is supported by billionaire plutocrats whose fossil fuel companies despoil the environment. These billionaires, in the interest of extracting even more value for themselves, start front organizations to attack the unions and rally the libertarian think tanks and media organizations under their influence to support them. To those of us who are not savvy, the situation and the stakes are clear, as is the prescription: support the Wisconsin unions in particular and the American labor movement in general in full voice.

The media liberal will do no such thing. To this class of people, unions represent the old guard. They represent 1970s liberalism. Their very existence insists on the reality of simple power struggles within American democracy. And the pro-union narrative is neither complicated nor counter intuitive. The media liberal therefore has no use for it. Instead, much of the liberal chattering class supports unions with endless qualifications and concessions. They will likely support the right to unionize theoretically but will insist that unionism is an outmoded model, far less advanced than the pity-charity model of a permanent American underclass beholden to public handouts. They will admit the politics of the Kochs, but as the social pressures of DC compel them to defer to employees of Reason and Cato, they will trivialize their influence. And the most certainly will not talk in stark terms about class, money, and power.

This is the sick result: those who are in the most exalted territory of our media landscape are those with the most childish credulity towards their ideological opponents. Their savvy compels them to follow complex strings of counter intuitive argument down absurd rabbit holes. And their relationship to power compels them to believe in the world where no one competes and we never have to make choices about the good of one group or another. They are made incredibly naive due to their incredible savvy, their number are legion, it grows everyday, and every new breed is a purer expression of corruption than the one that came before.