Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on immigration

Upon reading this article on the Daily Kos, I found myself changing my mind about my next writing project. I had intended to write a piece for my blog on the admittedly esoteric philosophical question of whether a form of consensus secular ethics, "democratic ethics" if you will, could be established or whether moral/ethical questions really do become subjective in the absence of a uniform religion the way the religious right has begun to so frequently claim. I've now put a pin in that project to write on Know-Nothingism, scapegoating and the politics of immigration. Know-Nothingism has a long and rarefied tradition in American politics and it's important to understand the way Trump is tapping into this deep well of bitter political capital. It's something that everyone on the left needs to understand because it's one the issues on which a lot of Americans will really need to be educated.

The term "Know-Nothing" was originally a slur invented by political opponents of the so called "American Party", founded in various states in the 1840s. The term was used to attack them for the air of secrecy they cultivated. When asked about party activities, party candidates or party platforms before the actual campaigning started all party members were supposed to reply "I know nothing."

At various times known as "The Native American Party", "The American Republican Party" as well, their appeal was not at all secretive. Simply put, the Know-Nothings represented the deeply ingrained cultural and social prejudices of the wealthy WASP elite and the "Catholophobia" of the white protestant (not necessarily Anglo-Saxon) working class. Now Donald Trump isn't accusing illegal immigrants from Mexico of wanting to conquer the country for the Pope and convert the population by force the way the Irish were accused in their day. While most anti-Latino prejudice disguised as "immigration reform" appears to be focused on the fact that Hispanics "don't speak English" or are somehow "not white", it is an interesting coincidence that the modern Know-Nothings are also targeting a largely Catholic immigrant group in what appear to be the economic interests of the wealthy WASP elite. Donald Trump is absolutely the candidate of the wealthy WASP elite.

The economic side is simple: these people are a convenient source of cheap labor if the WASP elite is able to keep them subjugated and controlled. For Know-Nothings from the actual American Party in the 1840s-1860s to Nativist movements in the Republican (during and after WWI and WWII) and Democratic Parties (the southern, pro-KKK and lynching wing of the Democratic Party was also fiercely anti-Catholic) to the modern and sadly bipartisan "immigration reform" hokum of today the message has been clear. It's not that the elite really wants to keep Mexican immigrants out. It is that they want to keep their only access illegal access so they are easier to control and exploit. Immigration reform is today's Know-Nothing code for anti-Latino prejudice, often anti-Latino American prejudice rather than true concern about illegal immigration, in much the same way that many Nativist groups embraced Prohibition as code for anti-Irish and anti-German Catholic prejudice during the so-called "Progressive Era." Exploit them, but don't empower them.

The really important side is the cultural side. The wealthy WASP elite see themselves at the apex of a vast socioethnoeconomic pyramid. These days the "outsiders" are less outsiders because they are not themselves ethnically or racially acceptable but rather their lack of willingness to freely join and defer to the superior culture of the WASP elite. Having money and being willing to pretend to be a WASP is enough to get you in, in much the same way private clubs are no longer officially restricted but people who don't "fit the right image" still have a way of not getting in. It is this secure place of cultural hegemony that the champions of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Privilege are trying to protect. They want everyone to continue to defer to them as the moral arbiter of culture. This is why you have seen the break between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. The Tea-Party represents the increased working class Protestant discontent with the degree to which the importance of those racial and ethnic social barriers and keeping them closed to even "culturally acceptable" members of non-white or originally non-Protestant groups.

Trump's blustering everyman rhetoric bridges the gap between disaffected working class Protestant prejudices and the broader tolerance of the WASP elite for anyone willing to conform to their cultural values. The elite see this as an expansion of their power whereas the working class, whose interests are frequently quite synchronous with those of minorities and immigrants, see the outsiders as threats to their importance to the elite and to the "received truth" they accepted from their parents at the prompting of a previous generation of the elite. This allows the elite to play a dual role of cultural champion to protect their own power, and benevolent patron to protect the position of their chosen additions to the elite. This is what Trump is really selling.

Friday, August 14, 2015

In search of Spiritual Awakening...

I recently read something, meant meant with a simple and good natured sincerity, that convinced me spirit needs to wake up a bit. I find this a trifle ironic considering that my mother is a Master of Divinities and I have long identified myself as Christian and thought a lot about my deep moral convictions and some of their religious sources without really asking myself what I absolutely knew that I believed. In the hopes of finding that sense of spiritual awakening, I propose to examine exactly what I believe.

So where can one start? Let's go with what I cannot possibly bring myself to doubt. Of what am I one hundred percent certain? At the risk of being unoriginal, the first thing of which I believe I am absolutely sure is that I exist. I think. I feel. I experience. I perceive. In order to even have a sense of the word "I" then I have to exist. It's quantum physics: even if I don't exist I am created by belief in my existence.

So what deeper faith can be extracted from this beginning? For the next step is obvious. If I exist, the other people with whom I am interacting must exist too. I can't know this absolutely, the way I believe I can intellectually justify my own existence. However, it is the natural hypothesis to make based on my own experience. The people with whom I interact must also think, feel, experience, perceived and exist. If they don't, then my belief in their existence confirms their belief in their own existence and vice versa. I have faith that other people exist and have experiences to which I can somehow relate.

I have faith that I have free will. I don't know this for certain. I would love to discover empirical proof but I am afraid empirical disproof might someday be possible. That said, I perceive myself as having the free will to make decisions. The fact that my actions have consequences strikes me not as proof of determinism, but as confirmation that my choices have meaning. As an extension of this, I have faith that my fellow human beings have the same free will and meaningful choices that I enjoy. This strikes me as an inherent defining trait of humanity.

This leads me to a belief in some kind of general "good" possible for all humanity, as naive and idealistic as that sounds. I tend to define that good in religious terms and those terms tend to be those of Christian Socialism, but the core belief I cannot deny is my belief in some possible universal improvement of the general standard of living for mankind as a whole. The Christianity I chose to adopt is an expression of that optimistic universalism that says "Go thou and do likewise." It's why I still give money to beggars however naively idealistic that may be.

I don't know if I'm feeling that spiritual awakening yet. Care to help me dig deeper?

What does it mean to be "Radical"?

There is a reason I identify myself as a "Radical" instead of as a "Liberal", "Progressive", "Libertarian", "Independent" or even "Conservative" despite having used most of those labels (the one thing I can't remember ever calling myself is an "Independent") at some point during my intellectual "growing-up" period. Since I haven't written anything in awhile I wanted to start what I hope to be a sustained return to ongoing activity with an introduction to who I am, what I believe, and why I identify myself the way I do. So keep reading. Hopefully, understanding me will help you reconsider how you think about certain things. I'm honestly less interested in changing minds then making people take a basic assessment of what they already believe and take close consideration of their reasons for believing it. That constructive thought is what leads to true understanding. True understanding of one's principles leads to constructive debate. Constructive debate leads to both sides reassessing their ideas and growing as needed. So read on and then feel free to post something about your own intellectual "growing-up" if you like.

One thing that I consider important is "epistemology." I like big words. If you don't, don't worry. I'm going to follow this one with a simple definition. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge, ideas and whether the thinking behind them holds up under the pressure of close inspection. Do our ideas make sense? Are we capable of offering empirical evidence to support our ideas or are we forced to appeal to some authority to support our ideas? How is a carefully researched and tested scientific or scholastic theory different from an unsupported belief? What is the difference between fact and opinion? Why do we choose the words we choose in making an argument? What do those words really mean?

This brings me back to labels. Many labels really have little practical difference. Let's take "Conservative" and "Liberal." The label "Conservative" gets used pretty broadly, but it traditionally means someone who advances a set of social and economics beliefs correctly defined as "classical Liberalism." The label "Liberal", on the other hand, believes that those social and economic beliefs need to change with the way scientific and social progress change society. This is correctly defined as "Progressivism." Confusing? That's because the thinking behind the labels was confused in the first place. Classical liberalism was very liberal when the mainstream position was a mercantile economy in which a government licensed monopolies to a select group of political insiders who ran these monopolies as private business partnerships with the government. It became conservative when the capitalists went from being a middle-class advocating for greater political, social and economic rights to the dominant political and economic class. Yet the original classical liberals in England still called themselves "The Liberal Party" when they were supporting the right of capitalists to pay their workers starvation wages in Victorian England and resisting labor agitation by those same workers.

"Radical" has a clear meaning. First, it clearly identifies me as outside of so-called "mainstream" or "establishment" political thinking. The American political establishment is profoundly right wing on economic issues. The employer/employee has never entirely advanced from its feudal past even when society and politics appear to have done so. The modern "free market" is really only free for those who make a living off providing capital (what we could politely call the "Investor Class" or "Capitalist Class" if we don't like the negative connotations of the term "Leisure Class") and those who administer and execute the means by which that capital is used. That second group can best be defined as "the Corporate Class." Together they form the American economic elite: the people with the money and the people who promise to make a profit for the people with the money.  I think that system is inherently flawed in the practical sense and "bad" in the moral sense.

I support what economists have called "radical democracy." It is not enough to provide equal civil rights regardless of race or gender if social and political rights are still determined by one's share of economic property. It is necessary to provide a basic framework of economic equality before the law. This includes reforming of the civil justice and penal system, reforming of our economic system to democratize wealth to a larger degree while still rewarding hard work, creative ideas and willingness to take educated risks with capital. Capitalists have a right to a fair profit, but labor has a right to a fair wage and while the wage may need to go up and down according the demand for a product or service the fair profit also goes up and down. Nor is their empirical justification that the massive disparity between the income of the corporate class and the income of the working class provides any practical utility to society or the economy. It is simply accepted as a matter of course by both sides of the mainstream political debate. This is why Hillary Clinton is being attacked from the left by Bernie Sanders; there really isn't a huge difference between a mainstream Democrat or a mainstream Republican on a slough of economic and regulatory issues. A certain kind of voter, a disenfranchised member of what used to be the middle class and is now the working class or what used to be the working class and is now the underclass, is starting to realize that the mainstream does not care about their real needs and interests.

There are two words for freedom in Russian. "Svoboda" is the social, economic and political well-being of a community. When using this word, no one person can be truly "free" unless everyone in the community enjoys the same freedoms. Taking your freedom reduces my freedom, because it means someone can take it from me next. Increasing your freedom increases mine as well, because we are entitled to the same basic rights as members of society. Either the community is free or it is not. This is the freedom our nation needs desperately to struggle toward.

"Volia", on the other hand, is the rapacious freedom from traditional social restraints without regard for the consequences to others. It is the freedom of the pirate, the bandit, the Cossack and the corporate executive. Individuals enjoy different levels of freedom from consequences. A 17th Century pirate or 21st Century gangster is only free for as long as they are not caught. A 15th Century French nobleman or 21st Century CEO, on the other hand, usually received preferential treatment and backhanded forgiveness even when caught red-handed committing the same crimes as the pirate or the gangster.

The political establishment supports volia for the leisure class and the corporate class.

If you support svoboda for the entire community, you may be more Radical than you know. If that's the case, please keep reading! I want to give you something to think about!