- A few weeks ago Andrew Sullivan wrote an essay about how Trump’s rise is a sign that we are suffering from too much democracy. Unsurprisingly, he was way off.
- Yes, Hillary is way better than Trump and we should do our best to get her elected. But that’s not permission to forget what she has in common with him . . .
- Yes You Should Still Vote for Her, Pt. 2: All those Bernie folks worried about Clinton’s hawkishness were probably justified.
- Yes You Should Still Vote for Her, Pt. 3: Speaking of foreign policy, remember those pesky death squads from Central America in the ’80s and ’90s? Well they’re back in Honduras, and they’re directly related to the 2009 coup that Hillary endorsed.
Archive for the Politics Category
Lest anyone characterize me as a shameless, dyed-in-the-wool liberal, I like to have it on the record that I know how to take both sides down. (It just so happens that conservatives are usually stupider and thus merit more scorn.) Hence today’s discussion on the fallacy of environmentalism.
First off, let’s start with a simple statement of fact: Our planet’s going to be just fine. Yes, our planet, the third one from the Sun, the one we named “Earth” — it’s not going anywhere. It’s not dying, and most importantly of all: WE ARE NOT KILLING IT.
I say this just because it seems helpful to remember every now and then, especially with all the hyperventilating that seems to happen around climate change and whatnot. No, we don’t need to “save the planet.” Saying we need to “save” it, or that we’re “hurting” it, is really a magnificent arrogance — as if we, little insignificant human beings, can either really damage or really help the planet in one way or another.
By way of explanation, a thought exercise: let’s presume that the “life-span” of the earth is 9-10 billion years (this is generally when scientists believe the Sun will become a Red Giant and incinerate our particular ball of compacted galactic dust). We’re at about 4.5 billion years right now, meaning Earth is approaching 40 in human years (assuming a typical human life of 75 years). Human beings have been on Earth for 100,000 years, more or less. So that means, if we convert Earth’s life-span onto a human scale, that humans have been around for about one morning of one day in the life of the earth.
Let’s just repeat that: humans have been around for ONE MORNING of ONE DAY in the Earth’s 40th year of life. In that sense we’re kind of like a muscle cramp.
Moving on: if humans have been around for, relatively, one morning of one day of the Earth’s seventy-year life, then the industrial revolution (i.e., pollution) has lasted about 45 seconds of that morning of that day in Earth’s life. The resulting contamination – what we’re currently experiencing in the form of oil, carbon dioxide, and nuclear waste – will remain, by some estimates, for another 100,000 years or so, which I believe is a generous estimate (nuclear waste becomes as inert as the original uranium ore after 1,000-10,000 years, and other pollutants probably faster). Another way to say it is that the contamination will last another single morning for the earth, maybe the morning after a heavy drinking binge, with a raging hangover of human pollution.
To sum up: human life is Earth’s crazed, one-night drinking and drug binge, the industrial revolution was its hit off a PCP-laced crack pipe, and our pollution is its excruciating hangover. That’s about the extent of the impact that we can ever hope to have on Planet Earth. It’ll sleep us off and move on with its life, preferably moving in other, less rowdy social circles.
So then, when people say things like “save the environment” or “save the Earth,” what they are really talking about is saving OURSELVES, i.e., our species. It’s all 100% anthropocentric — they’re only worried about us people. Because even when we talk about mass extinctions as a result of climate change or water pollution, there will still be animals that survive, and there will still be new flora and fauna that thrive, just as it did after previous extinction events. Just as it did after the dinosaurs, and the ice ages.
Again, even in talking about saving other species we are only talking about the plants and animals with which we — 21st century human beings — are familiar. We mostly ignore that other species used to exist and that current species are constantly changing and dying even without our help. We ignore that everything is always in flux and that we are a part of that flux. We continue to make everything about us-in-this-moment (not even really us-to-come), no matter how much people try to claim otherwise. Even when we talk about our children and subsequent generations, vanity and egocentrism are primary motivators.
All of this means that reminding ourselves to treat the environment respectfully and sustainably is redundant; there’s already a rule for that and it’s called Kant’s Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” In modern terms: you should act only as you would have everyone else act. It’s a pretty damned close cousin of the Golden Rule, only it’s backed by dozens of pages of dense philosophical argumentation.
What this means is that If you don’t want to live in a trash heap, you shouldn’t throw trash on the ground. If you enjoy drinking, bathing, and recreating in clean water, you should support restrictions on certain industries (e.g., chemical, energy, agriculture, etc.) that poison it. If you like breathing freely, you should drive less and support regulations on carbon emissions. If you like beaches and coastal cities, you should probably look into that global warming thing.
To relate this redundancy to current events, it’s an analog of the idiotic bathroom bill that recently passed in North Carolina. People are allegedly worried about men dressing up as women to molest little girls, so they made a new law against it despite the fact that it was already illegal. But you only need two laws preventing the same thing if you didn’t trust the first one to begin with. So basically, by introducing a 2nd law against a previously outlawed action, you are saying your existing laws are worthless and cannot be trusted, whereby the 2nd law is also worthless. So congrats to NC legislators for invalidating their own laws and calling into question their entire raison d’etre.
The same goes with environmentalism. We don’t need a movement called environmentalism to “save the Earth for our children.” We only need to remind ourselves that poisoning humans is wrong and illegal, and we should probably work harder to make sure people stop doing it.
WHAT I’M NOT SAYING:
- We should trash the environment because it’ll be able to take care of itself. Yes it will, in the long run, but it’s still immoral according to the Categorical Imperative. And it hurts human beings which is, you know, bad.
- Going out of your way to save the environment is bad, wrong, or a waste of time. No, because it helps human beings which is, you know, good.
WHAT I AM SAYING:
- Can we think about retiring the term “environmentalism”? What we’re really talking about is anthropocentrism or humanism. Let’s all take a deep breath and admit that we don’t really care all that much about the Earth beyond its capacity to house it’s most powerful and egocentric creations: us. Once we can honestly admit this we’ll be better off in terms of policy, advocacy, and mental health. We’re just not as altruistic as we like to think we are.
All of this reminds me of one day about a decade ago when I was riding a bus with a Colombian friend in Bogotá. We passed the Presidential Palace, outside of which sat a huge inflatable whale among Greenpeace activists, who were protesting Colombia’s whale-hunting. My first thought to my friend was, ‘Don’t you think Colombia has bigger problems right now than a bunch of whales?’
(Aside: this first thought ignored the fact that our desire to protect whales is usually justified by their role in the food chain, which could lead to numerous marine extinctions, affecting ultimately — you guessed it — us humans and our food supply. So again an argument about animals and the planet is really about us.)
My friend replied to this comment that ‘Whales are important too.’ I understood that at the time and I still do. But it also struck me at the time that our priorities are pretty unbalanced if we were more worried about saving whales than people, especially in Colombia where they, at the time, happened to be dying by the thousands every year at the hands of guerrillas, drug traffickers, and paramilitary squads. The entire episode really made me dislike environmentalists for the first time. Are humans more important than whales? You know what? I thought, I’m going to go ahead and say yes. And I’m not even going to explain why. So take that and suck on it awhile.
But the issue isn’t really whether or not humans are more important than whales. There’s a more fundamental question, which is: Is it easier to convince people to care about whales or other humans? If you are living in a country or a society where they don’t even value other human lives, how can you expect them to care on a large scale about something as alien as a whale?
It’s a matter of priorities, based on logical, realizable goals. Protecting humans in Colombia is a more feasible and worthwhile goal. And framing the environmental movement in terms of helping WE THE PEOPLE is more likely to garner support than if we just talk about saving an impersonal Earth.
- Elizabeth Warren continues being the best.
- We know that Democrats are likely to regain control of the Senate, but could they also win back the House of Representatives as well? Perhaps a more relevant question: as moderate as Hillary is, would it even matter, practically-speaking, to have Democrats in control of both houses?
- When Israeli Defense Forces kill civilians in a territory they are illegally occupying, it is legitimate. But when Palestinians attack those illegally occupying soldiers, it is “terrorism.” Seems like the definition of “terrorism” has basically become “When Muslims attack white Westerners.”
- What do the “Panama Papers” and the Snowden leaks have in common?
You frequently see this concept floated in the dozens of monthly thinkpieces, oftentimes even plainly stated as if it’s somehow incontrovertible that Bernie’s campaign will “at least” result in Hillary having to adopt some of his platform for her general election run. Like he’ll rub off on her or something.
The problem is that it’s utter bullshit, and it betrays whichever you think is better: a) a smarmy, patronizing disingenousness, or b) a frightening and shameful naivete conerning the reality of 21st century politics. If you haven’t learned the pandering game by now, you were either born yesterday — I mean literally that you’re young and forgivably ignorant, born in the last twenty years or so — or you have been viewing political proceedings through a blindfold for the last few decades.
It’s a phenomenon that everyone old enough and aware enough has seen before: primary season is for the base, so the candidates go extreme to the ends of their respective spectra. (Incidentally, on the Republican side, years of this pandering to the most extreme elements has finally culminated in the ongoing disgrace that is Donald Drumpfism.) Then, once they have the nomination sewn up, they perform the notorious Pivot, where they essentially abandon their base — they shift their pandering from their base to the newly interested moderates, independents and undecideds.
There’s nothing controversial here. It’s widely acknowledged, accepted and excused. It’s even difficult to meaningfully argue that it should be any different. It’s just the way our political process works. Without spending too much time to check I would imagine it has worked this way for decades, even generations.
In this context then, everything Hillary is saying right now is more liberal by several degrees than what she will be saying in a few months. Depending on which Hillary you accept as “real,” it’s more liberal than what she actually believes. Her record definitely indicates that she is much more conservative than she has been sounding around Bernie. Regarding foreign policy, she is as hawkish as most Republicans. Regarding Wall Street. . . well, I think people who have been paying attention pretty much know what we’re getting with Hillary and financial regulation. Regarding criminal justice, the two biggest factors I can see are her support for her husband’s horrendous reform bill 20 years ago, and the fact that she received about $130,000 from the private prison lobby (which she has since returned, likely as part of her pandering efforts once it got exposed).
In fact, Hillary is actually only “progressive” in a few domains, at least in the sense that many progressives understand the word. One of these is health care, where she likes to trumpet her efforts in the 1990s to pursue Universal Health Care. She has backed off that goal considerably since then, which is almost certainly related to her accepting millions of dollars in donations from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries since her first Senate run in 2000. If you asked her about the correlation I’m sure she would deny it in mock outrage, just as she accused Bernie of “impugning (her) character” with relation to Wall Street donations. Impugning character, or stating a fact and then drawing a logical conclusion from that fact? You say tomato, I say to-mah-to.
With regards to health care these days, Hillary is only “progressive” in the sense that she doesn’t want to repeal Obamacare. In other words, she’s not a rabid industry shill like the batshit insane GOP, so she’s therefore liberal. That’s a false dichotomy folks. In actuality, the only areas that Hillary is truly progressive anymore are with respect to women’s rights, immigration, and gun control. Of course her position on immigration is “evolving,” to quote the fashionable parlance, as just a couple years ago she was advocating for the deportation of child refugees from Central America, and just this year refusing to state that she would not do it again. She’s still more progressive, however, than Republicans on the issue, and immigration along with women’s rights and gun control are admittedly significant areas. But they’re not more significant than income inequality and starting wars, and in most other fields Hillary is barely distinguishable from one of the few remaining moderate Republicans.
So let’s consider this idea again, that Bernie will somehow force Hillary to be more liberal. I’ve even seen arguments for him staying in the race until the convention just so the DNP will be forced to include Bernie’s items on their official platform. In anything other than the immediate, temporary sense, this is obviously mistaken. Hillary is wearing the progressive mantle like she’s a spokesperson at a photo op — she can’t wait to shrug out of it and relax at home in her center-right bathrobe. In fact, the pivot has already begun, with her speeches beginning to eschew progressive rhetoric in favor of attacks on Donald Drumpf’s divisiveness.
Regardless of how one feels about Hillary, the Pivot is something that happens with everyone, all but the most virulently ideological politician.* Even the outrageous Drumpf has shown signs of pivoting lately, occasionally tying on psuedo-civil rhetoric to see how it hugs in the crotch. Given this, everyone should know that Hillary, in the next few months, will become significantly more moderate. Even Hillary’s opponents recognize how capable a politician she is, and she’d be a very incompetent politician indeed if she weren’t planning to pivot, and soon. Exactly which of Bernie’s raging liberal policies do we expect her to take with her on this upcoming journey?
This would all be problematic enough if there weren’t also significant evidence that Hillary was never that progressive to begin with. From foreign policy to prison reform, Wall Street and trade (where she supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership before Bernie cajoled her into opposing it, and after which she will almost certainly support it again)**, it is abundantly clear to those who care for facts that Hillary has only been saying progressive things for the last several months in order to appeal to Bernie’s voters. When those voters are out of the way she won’t have to pander to them anymore, and she can go back to being her center-right self.***
The point is, Bernie is not pushing Hillary to say anything right now that any other liberal candidate would not have similarly achieved. And the amount of time he remains in the race will mean precisely nothing come summertime. Will some of the progressiveness that would have slid off her had he exited in March now somehow “stick” because he hung around another month or two? Will Hillary, a highly intelligent, 60-something person suddenly realize she hasn’t been progressive enough her entire life, and engage in a reflective re-assessment of her political views? Or will Hillary just go back to being the person she’s been for at least the last two decades and probably longer? Which is more likely?
The root of the issue is that many choose to see Hillary as a liberal-at-heart who has to frequently disguise herself as a centrist in order to Get Things Done. The truth, however, appears to be exactly the reverse: Hillary’s core is precisely how it has appeared through her actions for the vast majority of her political career; the leftist disguise is what she puts on every now and then, when she has to go trolling for progressive votes. Actions speak louder than words, folks.
I understand the urge to seek a silver lining in Bernie’s demise. Or perhaps it’s an urge for rationalization among Hillary’s more liberal supporters. But the bottom line is that both camps are fooling themselves. Hillary is and will be who she always has been: an ambitious, craven public servant who will say whatever the polls and her donors tell her to (but probably not in that order). In other words: a superb politician. And a superb politician don’t let no Bernie Sanders throw her off her game plan.
*The astute among you will wonder: well what about Bernie? He’d pivot too, wouldn’t he? Not that it’s relevant — because the question is whether or not Bernie will somehow make Hillary more liberal — but I would bet against it if I had to. Granted, we’ll never know because he’s not going to win the nomination, but he’s a guy who only adopted the “Democrat” label for publicity and has kept to his decades-long platform of Democratic Socialism with remarkable tenacity. He would have little to gain and much to lose by trying to moderate himself in pursuit of centrist voters.
**By the way, on that Politifact article please note the dramatic change in rhetoric from her last available comment in November of 2012, until almost two years later when she knew she’d be running for President.
*** And just look what she’s saying about Israel/Palestine WHILE BERNIE IS STILL IN THE RACE. Clearly a real human rights champion, eh?
- Glenn Greenwald discusses what’s truly going on in Brazil right now, including important historical context and the U.S.’s responsibility for the current situation.
- A brilliant article by Eric Levitz of The New Yorker about why the GOP must answer for the disintegration of Kansas and Louisiana, the two states that have been laboratories of pure conservatism for the last several years.
- Jason Linkins explains just why Hillary is allowing a failed CEO to host her fundraiser.
- Kathryn Joyce reveals a deeply disturbing culture of male chauvinism and sexual harassment in U.S. national parks and forests.