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.

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.

Culturally accepted norms and the value of work.

To my mind there is an underlying issue that is not being addressed in the issue of class warfare or economic inequity. There are several major goals of the average American that are not only tolerated but respected and nearly universally desired. People are considered smart and are looked up to for success in attaining these goals. In America they are socially accepted concepts, often supported by media and familial education.

These goals are to make money without working, get things without paying for them and to use whatever means you can to avoid paying taxes. You know it’s true. Culturally accepted and praised norms based on dubious values are responsible for plenty of our problems as a society. These false premises are primarily upheld by the passing down of those concepts from parent to child and have thus become cycles that are extremely difficult to break.

One example is our basic acceptance of violence as the preferred method of conflict resolution in America. Fathers tell their sons to ‘be a man’ and hit the other guy if he hits you. While this appears to be an effective way of resolving conflict the result is often an adult for whom violence is normalized. A young person need not be told to use violence to normalize it. They often see it on a daily basis in their own homes.

So much of the economic disparity in this country stems from a distorted view of the value of work. Why is the worth of a football player’s work or a professional corporate meeting attendee so much more than that of the woman who empty the trash at the office? Because we allow it to. As long as we acquiesce to the insistence that some work is more valuable than others we will have philosophical economic inequalities.

The wealthy are so often portrayed as hard working.

What about the wealthy who hardly work?

Freedoms and Liberty

Let’s have a chat about freedom and liberty. Are they the same thing? No, they aren’t.
A freedom is a right that everybody has, something that everybody wants. For example, we all want to be able to speak our minds, and in America we have enshrined in the Bill of Rights freedom of speech. We can say what we want, free from persecution, unless our speech directly and imminently threatens someone, like in the common example of shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Liberty, on the other hand, is a right everyone has, only it’s about what an individual wants. Each of us has their own wants and desires. For example, I might want to rob your house but you probably don’t want your house to be robbed. Liberty creates conflicts of desire.
Where freedoms and liberty come from and what we can legally do about them is somewhat counterintuitive.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that we all have the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These rights are considered to be given, by God, at birth, to everyone. Most people take this to mean that these are rights that can never be taken away, which is true. These rights cannot be legally taken away. But, because they cannot be taken away they must be regulated by law. This is because one person’s liberty may conflict with another person’s liberty. It is one reason that we have laws. Disputes about people’s liberty happen all the time and limits to our behavior are established by law. The rights to life and the pursuit of happiness also lead to conflicts between citizens, and also must be limited by laws.
Freedoms, on the other hand, are not inalienable. They are granted, by government, in their governing documents, through laws, or by the courts. For example, the Bill of Rights was added to the constitution, after the fact, because people realized there were freedoms all Americans should have that, unlike liberty, were not God-given and had to be granted by government.
Freedoms cannot be limited except by strict judicial examination and interpretation of the Constitution or through other governmental means. Our constitutional rights and freedoms have limitations that are written into the constitution, or are limited by law, or through judicial rule. And, because they are granted by government and not given by God, they can be taken away by government. Granted, it is difficult to take away a constitutional freedom. It can only be done by amending the constitution or by the edict of a dictator. But it can be done.
The constitution has been amended only 27 times with the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, having been ratified in 1791. That there have only been 17 amendments since then shows how hard it is to amend the constitution. The United States has never had a dictator, elected or otherwise. Our rights have yet to be taken away by force.
The ninth amendment in the Bill of Rights states that there are other rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution. Those rights are determined through legislation and ultimately by the courts. Because of their non-constitutional status, these rights can be much easier to take away.
A common misconception about both freedoms and liberty is that they confer upon the individual carte blanche to do anything they want and be protected by the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. This is not true. Both our freedoms and our liberty can, have, and will be limited and regulated by law and through the courts. It is often overlooked that along with each right we have a corresponding responsibility. It is an important part of being a citizen that we not only know our rights but also our responsibilities. All too often I hear angry citizens complaining that their rights are being trampled on without understanding that limitations on those rights are in force. They had not considered, consciously or otherwise, that they had responsibilities associated with those rights.
This is a significant issue in today’s America. There are individuals and organizations that present very serious threats to the survival of our democracy, based on false and/or skewed interpretations of our founding documents. Many Americans misinterpret the intentions of our founding fathers, through ignorance, by succumbing to propaganda, or on purpose. There is an assumption that they have rights that cannot be limited by anyone, especially government. The threats these forces present to the nation, to our unique philosophy of governance, both from outside and inside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are tangible and powerful. We are right to fear them. We are also right to believe in our power as citizens.
Some tell us that the power and strength of the American way of life lie in our capitalist, free-market economy, which has accumulated the vast wealth required to bend the world’s nations to our will. This is not true. America’s strength resides in her people, now and always. Perhaps our most important right, the right to vote, is still ours. We can use it to guide the path of American life, economically, socially, politically, and with equity of race, sex, gender, religion, ethnicity, class, etc. To do so we must be mindful of our differences and develop the skills of listening and humility. We must remember that our freedoms, which include the right to vote, can be taken away, if not through the vote, through the whim of a tyrant.
We can no longer take it for granted in America that we are free from evil in our government, that we are still protected by the checks and balances built into our constitution. We are no longer safe from military action against our citizens or false imprisonment or any of the other horrors of totalitarian rule. Think long and hard before you assume that those who promise prosperity and glory are saviors. Make certain they are not leading us off the cliff and into the abyss of total subservience. This audit of America takes time and active discernment. We have need to start right now. It is by no means easy. It takes eyes and ears and tongues, hearts and souls, and brains. We will not survive if we remain frogs in the slowly heating pot. I can see the steam rising. I don’t pray often, but I pray we can save our democracy.
We have precious little time.