Not Really About Economics

Economic prosperity and likewise economic distress are both very complex issues with a considerable number of variables sharing responsibility for the economy’s health. To blame any one political party and/or politician for our economic troubles is disingenuous. Knowing that people like simple solutions to complex problems Republicans cleverly apply Occam’s Razor to their campaigning. They frame both our problems and their solutions in the simplest terms possible. Democrats have an unfortunate tendency to endlessly debate, then partially address, each of the numerous variables responsible for our most significant problems, leaving people confused and suspicious.

Republicans are aware that people approach life and its problems emotionally rather than mentally. They use emotional persuasion based in such things as fear, revulsion, and scorn to get their point across. They use emotional ad hominem attacks and sensational prevarication to vilify their enemies (read opponents). They avoid issues primarily because there are no easy solutions to complex problems. Thus they don’t spend a lot of time on policy and problem solving. They do spend in inordinate amount of time disseminating emotionally charged attacks and simple solutions to as many people as possible through their cleverly purchased and easily accessible information sources. They use glib and charismatic talking heads to sell their framing to the masses. These tactics are often successful given peoples’ tendencies to get their information from just one source without taking time out of their manufactured busy day to investigate issues.

On the other hand, assuming we have two hands, Democrats rely on the overrated fact that life is practical and ordered, based on truth and knowledge. They have a different concept of simplicity than Republicans. They feel (over)confident that if they simply and clearly reveal all the factors that influence public policy and problem solving that the people will magically absorb it all into their heads. Voters will obviously recognize and embrace the truth, facts, and irrefutable policy conclusions of the nearly infinite research and careful considerations of the hard working, honest and empathic clerks of the Democratic Party. What a crock. Most people fall asleep before the end of the first paragraph. Luckily for the Democrats, the country, contrary to expansive marketing, is mostly a center/left nation. Philosophically there are more Democrats and sympathetic independents than Republicans. If the Democrats can somehow motivate, logically of course, their base and likely allies to forego chatting over their weak lattes long enough to vote they can usually win. These outcomes hold up for both major parties unless one of the frequently incompetent candidates is vastly more incompetent than the other. Herschel Walker this means you.

It is relatively easy for Republicans to proudly and loudly shout out their simple and emotional views of our problems and their simple and emotional solutions while attacking the Democrat’s complex, mental, and issues oriented assessment of problems and their complex and mentally oriented policy solutions. Democrat’s tough but convoluted solutions are normally more effective but Republican’s easy and understandable solutions are more popular. It is so much easier to convince someone that you are correct in one or two sentences than in a white paper.

Tangentially I rest partial blame for the incredibly short attention span of the modern American squarely on the head of MTV, even though they essentially no longer play music. The accepted metric for editing a music video states there should never be a continuous scene of more than four seconds. For a generation raised on music videos and their progeny and progeny’s progeny this style of editing has conditioned and normalized the average American’s attention span to that very four seconds. Well, perhaps as much as 10 seconds. Barely enough to get in a sentence, or maybe two if they’re short.

Enough of my tangential hypothesis.

Frankly, this very essay is too long and complex. There is a reason many modern opinion pieces, news articles, essays, social media comments, and actual conversations are passed over by ultra busy people. They haven’t the time to read anything longer than a tweet. In the 21st century time is money and you don’t get paid for the 10 minutes it takes to read something that actually covers the subject. With the acronym TLDR: Too Long, Didn’t Read (these days everything seems to be an acronym ) writers apologize for their verbosity, warning the reader, and targeted readers apologize for choosing to avoid reading the piece regardless of it’s relevance.

Here’s my attempt at something succinct. Not easy for this Irish Italian. The Democrats suck but the Republicans suck more. A fender bender sucks but totaling your car sucks more. Do you wanna vote for a fender bender or a totaled car? No brainer if you ask me. Don’t wanna vote for either one? That kinda makes sense but it means you probably don’t have a car.

A final thought. Control of the government roughly resembles a sine wave, with the GOP ruling above the axis and the Democrats below. Once the public elects a party that controls government they eventually become disillusioned with that party’s inability to do much for the people and subsequently vote them out of office. They figure out that the Democrats have such a complex plan they can never really effectuate it and the Republicans have no plan and can only fool people for so long.

So yeah, both parties suck but one party has no plan and the other party has a flawed plan. For my money flawed beats none by a nose.

And if you choose not to vote you’re riding the bus.

Guns and Woes Is

That well known screaming progressive Justice Antonin Scalia in his majority opinion for Heller vs. Washington D.C. stated that even the second amendment could be regulated and in fact all constitutional rights can be regulated by society, limiting the liberty of individuals to act in a way that threatens society. Infringement means encroachment, an intrusion, a breaking of the terms of a law. It does not refer to a reasoned regulation based on serving the greater good. This aspect of the constitution is rarely/never referenced or talked about. 

Constitutional rights and inalienable liberty are two different things. Everyone has certain rights but when ones expression of those rights interferes with the liberty of an individual to do as he legally pleases that expression is subject to the laws of society, laws that limit people from infringing upon the liberty of another person. For example, everyone has the right to drive a car. Society limits that right to those over 16 because society has determined that those younger than 16 present a danger to society. Technically everyone also has the right to drive on the wrong side of the road but society says that we are not at liberty to run headlong into another’s vehicle, as that endangers the other individual’s right to life. 

We, as a society, agree that reasonable limits to the second amendment are needed to help protect society from gun violence. That is a verified fact. People do kill people. People with guns. People with the means to accomplish their plans, however heinous. The argument that criminals will always be able to get guns is specious. People will always be able to break any of society’s laws. Is that a valid reason to stop striving to refine our laws, make them more effective and fair? This is why we have laws, law enforcement, a judicial system, and consequences for behavior that violates the laws that are enacted to protect the many. We strive for justice. We don’t give up because injustice is not always served. If even one domestic massacre is prevented by stricter scrutiny of those buying guns that effort is worth it. 

Laws, by their nature, are reactive. They address illegal behavior and its aftermath. Gun safety laws are no exception. People talk about addressing the ‘root causes’ of gun violence but their vision is mostly myopic. They talk about mental illness and youthful transgressions. Some even mention limiting those who have publicly stated their intent to commit violence, which is good. However, the root causes of violence go much deeper. They go into what society accepts as conflict resolution. They go into the accepted societal mores of masculine roles. They go into abject poverty and lack of parental guidance. They go into poor and/or neglected education. These things are deeply ingrained in today’s American society and to break these cycles armed only with weak social and political will will be incredibly difficult. 

I’m not sure we have it in us to do so, especially when our very democracy is confronted by so many intense existential challenges. Where would these potential solutions to rampant violence fall in the current national triage? One immediate thing that can be done is a redoubling of the efforts of public education to teach our children the lessons of empathy, humility and civic responsibility. Racial and religious biases and prejudgement of the ‘other’ are all learned behaviors. They can be unlearned by way of a quality education full of truth and respect. This type of education, an education embraced by a populace that cared about each other, one that gave us the ‘greatest’ generation and has served America for a very long time is being slowly chipped away by forces who would prefer that children only learn what they want them to learn, truth and critical thinking be damned.

Most recently, these authoritarians loudly complain that public education has a liberal bias. But that squawking only serves to mask the fact that what they want to teacher youth is not merely biased but often patently untrue. They are the ones with the agenda. That agenda is to sow mistrust in America’s democratic institutions, confusion about the truth, and to stir up outrage over nonexistent problems they themselves created, such as their virulent attack on something very few people know anything about, Critical Race Theory. Backed by obscenely wealthy oligarchs they are winning.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

All the news that’s fit to teach: The battle for our students hearts and minds

The people who justify not approving math texts that advocate for including SEL (Social Emotional Learning) strategies use the seemingly legitimate argument that the function of math education is to teach students how to get the right answers and not to influence their emotions. This sounds good on the surface, as many right wing arguments do. It does not consider that there is math in everything we do; that knowing basic essential math helps a person function better in society. Learning how to express emotions, empathize and get along socially with others helps students learn how to use math principles, often subtly, in their daily lives to everyones benefit. Have you ever experienced irritation with a cashier unable to give you correct change?

A big part of the reason so many students think they will never use math after high school is that very idea that math is only used to get the right answer. Students know there is life after school. When it is implied that all you need to do in math class is get the right answer they figure it’s waste of their precious time. They dismiss math as worthless, just another useless part of a useless education. There is no connection to living a better life, with others, through math. This kind of thinking promotes not a love of learning but a disdain for education. It contributes to the continuous decline in critical thinking skills and social responsibility among Americans. The resulting tendency toward dependency on others to think for them makes them vulnerable to propaganda of all sorts. 

The multi pronged efforts of those advocating for ideas such as parental rights to choose what their children learn, stacking school districts, decrying diversity and diversity training, attacks on curriculum and control of textbooks, syphoning public money into private schools, denial of resources, covert and overt racism, mandates for strict standardized testing etc., represent a concerted effort to weaken public education to the point that it is ridiculed, reviled, and especially, defunded by disinterested families. Some of theses ideas have a semblance of legitimacy. Others are blatantly cruel. This strategy is designed to allow for sociopolitical control of the educational narrative and the concurrent control of it’’s content. This sort of control of education is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, largely because it works well in creating a supportive, compliant populace.

School is not a spectator sport. It needs to be participatory. Large numbers of students treat school as a necessary evil and actively resist learning to the point of chronic interruption of class and even threats to the well being of teachers. The claims behind the justification for ‘reform’, say that public education is failing, but fail to mention the major factor of so many indifferent, ill-prepared, and counter productive students entering the system. Parents these days seem to consider schools as nothing more than glorified day care centers and teachers as executive babysitters. The disinterest and disrespect their children show in the classroom make those claims of failure self fulfilling prophecies. When there is no interest in education in the home and there is a movement by many of the public to abandon public education how can the system inspire any child to strive for excellence and a love of learning. There is a selfish and parsimonious faction loathe to educate children who ‘don’t deserve it who are taking over school boards everywhere.

It is this disinterest in education and doubt of its value that has led to a never-ending generational cycle in many American families of discouraging the teaching anything of value to their precious progeny. A cycle that is difficult to break. When parents tell their children that school doesn’t matter it opens the door for external control of what exactly their children learn about the world. Either the parents themselves or other sociopolitical influencers will then offer their own alternate ‘truths’ to the student as a means to indoctrinate them in a particular ideology. This is done under the guise of telling the student ‘what your teachers and government don’t want you to know’. Once again we have a recipe for authoritarian control of the information available to our youth.

Somewhere in the last third of the twentieth century education took a right turn away from a goal of producing adults with critical thinking skills, respect for others, and the ability to adjust to the challenges of life. The new mantra was ‘we’ll get you ready for a job and don’t worry about the rest of that stuff because all you really need to succeed is money and the things it can buy’. Developing quality citizens capable of contributing to a thriving society began to take a back seat to preparing our youth to be cogs in the capitalist machine, capable only of following orders and being told what to think. The oligarchs pacify them through assurance of the opportunity to become bosses themselves and the ‘personal freedom’ to enjoy the creature comforts the exploitation of international workers provide for them.

Authoritarian types are very good at creating societal problems and then currying favor by magically coming up with ‘solutions’ to those problems. Of course, those solutions move the needle toward their own dominance. I’m not sure there are any immediate and viable solutions to these huge manufactured problems. The promises of the capitalists are hollow but they gleefully point out to the masses, over and over, the sad fact that no one else has solutions and at least they have a plan they say will work, eventually.

The only strategy that comes to mind for resolving this issue is taking children away from their parents’ influence and teaching them facts and debatable concepts with an honest, open and comprehensive approach, inclusive rather than exclusive. Of course, even if it is better for the student’s welfare and development this methodology is also somewhat authoritarian in nature. Parents and students alike will hate it and it’s proponents. It is as undesirable as the modern strategy of rejecting everything educational that makes anyone uncomfortable.

Many of the people who want to delete these uncomfortable truths purport to be strong Christians. Perhaps they have forgotten that Jesus exists not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable. Evidently they desire the Cliffs Notes method for entering heaven for themselves and their children. Sadly, they insist a theocratic authoritarian control of society through false promises of prosperity is the way to salvation of everyone.

Today there is such a broad range of attacks on public education that to neutralize their effects people will need to be strong in standing up to revisionist history and the ‘cancel culture’ of those afraid that teaching our children anything about feeling or thinking will lead them down a path of destruction and damnation. Their path of censorship and denial leads only to the destruction of American democracy as we have known it. How Orwellian to witness Americans being led down a path they think leads to the renewal of American pride and world dominance only to find that path leads to their oppression by the few, wealthy and white.

The wolves are at the doors of our classrooms.

Our living rooms are next.

A bit of simple framing and communication for forward thinking activists and candidates: A Long Title

In the interests of transparency, I have chosen to refer to those folks commonly known as conservatives as Backwards, which is a noun. Conversely, I refer to those who have been called progressives or liberals as Forwards. I do this because both the words liberal and progressive, and the word conservative, have been co-opted by any number of people claiming to be one or the other. Forwards are forward-looking thinkers who frame looking forward. Backwards are those whose framing moves backward or simply treads water.

I have no interest in merging these categories with political parties, although that would be tempting. I know Republicans who are forward thinkers and Democrats who are hopelessly looking backward. That is not the issue. For me, the idea is to live in the present moment, where we can reflect on and learn from the past and plan for and look to the future, together. This is, or should be, the goal of Forwards’ framing. They should start by talking about values before issues. This might seem unusual. Bear with me.

Framing requires we stay in the moment. The past has already happened and the future has not. We stay in the present because it is the only place that allows us to move someone’s consciousness from the past into the future. It is the anchor that lets us move from the dead values of the past to the possibilities of the future. As Richard Alpert once said “Be Here Now”. Only if we are in the moment can we really be with the people (or person) we are persuading. You have to be with them. They won’t go by themselves.

Staying in the moment means that we don’t talk about values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. We understand, respect and learn from the past but we don’t need to go and go and keep going there. We connect with people in the present to move them to a future you know will improve their lives. This means we must do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. That’s a given. However, when speaking to anyone, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we might share with each other. It is those universal, shared values that will move people.

Although we should respect Backwards’ values there is no reason to mention the values we do not share. Backwards already know their values. There is no need to remind them, as they will remind themselves quite easily and efficiently. It is also true that Forwards sometimes, actually often, well, to be honest, always, need to be reminded of their own values, as they tend to think their issues are values and they need to keep on topic. We must talk about our values as well as our shared values. The values we do not share, that is, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned, except perhaps to acknowledge they exist.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are.

Once again, please don’t start with values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. I cannot emphasize this enough, although I am trying. Of course, we should do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. However, when speaking to people, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we share with each other. Sometimes we need to persuade people to look deep enough inside themselves to realize that yes, verily we share those values. People won’t realize they share your values if you don’t tell them what your values are.

We need to articulate our values. This can be tricky for Forwards. Forwards often confuse issues with values. They assume their values are universal. Their issues reflect those ‘universal’ values, which they think everyone does or should accept as universal. This is part of the reason many Forwards cannot fathom how Backwards can disagree with their issues. They don’t understand the first thing about how Backwards values, how they think, and speak. They often don’t even understand how they think and speak themselves.

What are values? Values are the reasons why we promote issues. They are why we care about the issues. The issues themselves are not the reasons. They are not the why. Issues illuminate and identify problems. They lay the groundwork for how to solve them. They are the how. Policies are the proposed solutions to the problems. We only talk about policy at the very end of the conversation. Policies are the what. To reiterate, values are the why, issues are the how, and policy is the what. Never start with the what. Start with the why followed by the how. We are not talking about policy here. Policy is flexible, malleable. We start with the concrete, the firm., our values. Above all, don’t confuse the why. Issues are not the why.

So how do we distinguish values from issues? And what are some Forwards’ values? Consider the reason we care about an issue. Consider the why. Why is this issue important to us? For example, many Forwards have issue with the wide and widening income gap in America. Why? Because they feel all work is valuable and every worker should be able to support a family and have the stability of owning a home and the ability to do more than just survive. Notice that the only one of those things that could be considered a moral issue (and all issues are moral in nature) is the income gap. That is a thing, a problem to be addressed. Saying all work is valuable is not a thing. It is a concept, an idea, It is a reason for being concerned about the issue.

Politicians spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about issues. And Forward politicians don’t often talk about why they try to solve problems. They assume their audience knows why. The audience usually does know why but they would like to know the politician knows why too. Otherwise they tune out. They have heard politicians say they are going to do something many times but it rarely ever gets done. Other politicians answer a question by asking another question. People want to hear what you think. They already know what they think.

When a politician answers that ‘this is important and here’s why’ the audience might be inclined to think this person actually cares about my issue. They will listen. They will listen to how the candidate thinks the issue should be approached. When they say what they are doing or will do to solve the problem the audience is likely to think that if anyone can get this done maybe this person can. They might actually get something done.

To summarize, the values we do not share, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are. To persuade start with the why to pique people’s interest and keep their attention. Modern people have been watching too many music videos. They have short attention spans. Then, address how the issue is should be dealt with. Is it feasible, does it have support, how can we can get it done? Only then should you say what you think we should do about it. People might think that you might actually care about them, that you aren’t just looking for their vote. They might even want to support you in some way, even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Why? Because you had the courage to say it.

Is that confusing enough?

Genetic Political Tendencies

I have heard it said that facts and evidence mean nothing to one third of all Americans. I’m not so certain that is true. I think that facts mean something to everyone. It’s just that one third of us accept different facts and evidence than perhaps you or I do. Or our neighbor. They accept the facts and evidence that support their world view. I believe world view has a genetic component but not in the same way the researchers do. I feel the way a brain processes information about how the world works has two variables and three genetic markers. Three markers using two variables give us four separate categories of person rather than a simple, dualist, two or a slightly more blended three.

Using X and Y to indicate the variables, a person spreading those variables over three markers could be XXX, XXY, XYY, or YYY. In this instance the percentages would breakdown to @ 25% per result. The two sets featuring three of the same would be at the opposite ends of the perception continuum and the other two would make up the middle 50%. The middle segment with 2 XXs would be inclined @ 33% to always agree with the triple X side, likewise with the two Y dominant segments. The remaining parts of the two ‘mixed’ segments would both be able to perceive the world in a combination of both X and Y. This gives us 3 segments of the population, one third of whom see the world predominantly one way, one third another, and one third a combination of both.

One might say that to divide the population genetically into three such segments one would only need two variables and two markers. This would play out as XX, XY, and YY. That would not take into consideration that politically there are those who lean left or lean right while in the middle segment. Three markers imply that there are leaners both toward the X and the Y even while considering only two variables. Our two party system is what constantly wants to push the four into two. At best it can only compress the demographics into three significant political teams

This, of course, is a crude approximation of how things really are but it does take into consideration that genetic traits are not distributed in a black/white, 50/50 manner. Certain genes are dominant, certain are recessive. Two parents, both with blue eyes, can have a brown eyed baby or a hazel eyed child. Two genetically conservative parents can have a liberal child or perhaps even an apolitical one.

The two opposing ways the brain perceives the world indicate a genetic predilection to accept informations and stimuli that support one worldview over the other and reject that which does not support it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But not everyone is so black and white in how they interpret stimuli. If we are to accept that the brain has anything to do with how we see the world politically we must accept that none of our brains are exactly alike. We can, however, approximate how the proclivities breakdown. The one third, one third, one third breakdown can clearly be seen in virtually any political poll. Regardless of how radical an idea is there will be somewhere between one quarter and one third of the people who support it. Approximately one third of those polled with be against supporting it and the other one third won’t be sure.

The Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff refers to those people called political centrists or moderates as bi-conceptuals. Two conceptual variables spread over three demographic segments. That middle third of the continuum, the ones who can see the world somewhat from both sides of the spectrum comprise this category of moderates or centrists, Lakoff’s bi-conceptuals. It is here where the almighty swing voter lives and it is there where politicians invest most of their energy. It is this emphasis on courting the swing voter that causes those on the edges of issues and the fringes of demographics to complain that politicians don’t listen to them and only come to see them when they need their vote. 

Scientists are finding that virtually all human activity originates in and is mostly controlled by the brain. Our brains are subject to genetic coding like any other part of our physicality. Genetics shows us that the differentiation between two variables is not split fifty/fifty but is spread over a spectrum of possibilities. The fact their are only two major parties fits cleanly with the two genetic variables in how the brain perceives politics. But the diverse dispersion of political views across the continuum always creates situations where it is difficult for the major parties to present a united front to the voter. In the long term, when push comes to shove in the voting booth the two variable choice lead to a nearly even split of the vote, every time.

I have found it fascinating that genetics appears to best explain the apparent contradiction of a populace with a wide variety of political views, when asked to choose between two choices, will split nearly even over a large sample. It may seem odd to talk about political viewpoints in terms of biology but politics is not the only field of social interaction where the biology of the brain must be considered an integral part of the dynamic. Scientists have now mapped the final parts of the human genome and slowly we will begin to see even more and more definitive connections between our genetics and our day to day lives.

As we slowly unlock God’s secrets we must also hand over our own secrets lest they yet divide us.