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What are some steps to your vision of a more just society?

by proximity1 Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 06:49:37 AM EST

your vision of steps to a more just society?

It's that, I think, to which most of us here are convinced we would like to contribute--a more just society, as we see it. If that misrepresents you, please speak up. The object of this diary is to call attention to some observations about our predicament in advancing toward visions of that more just society which the recent diaries of rdf (Robert's « 50 years of US(no) progress ») and Jared (on the YOYO [' You're On Your Own' ] policies of certain conservatives), taken together, bring into greater relief.  

50 Years of US (no)Progress by rdf

  The YOYO Handcuffs by Jared


In elaborating these observations, I'm obliged to present some criticisms which shall inevitably look as though they are intended to single out Jared. They are not. We can assume that a certain number among those in official positions of power pseudonymously read and contribute to fora such as this one. For obvious reasons, we cannot know how many there are or, in most cases, who they are. Others--a relative handful--participate under their own names or under pseudonyms, these latter all the while avowing that they occupy an elective office.

We should consider their attention and their participation in Internet fora as not only welcome but as a boon which would be all the greater if only more elected officials and others in public policy-making roles took part. That so few do participate openly is at the heart of my point in this diary entry. That tells us something very significant about the extent of real freedom of expression in society and about the apparent level of interest in the opinions of « the rest of us » on the part of those who make policy. There is nothing mysterious about why an elected official could see the need to remain anonymous in Internet fora. Obviously there are important things to say which cannot be attributed to their author's real name. Even if that has always been true, it is still a damning indictment of any society which prides itself on the scope of freely expressed and avowed opinion. We know how large or restricted is the range of permissible public expression by the content of commentary which people only dare practice anonymously.

Robert's diary points out things which, though recognized by what is perhaps a growing number of the « politically attentive public », is still nowhere to be found on the public agenda of discussion among officials. In other words, to state frankly that from several vitally important points of view there has been virtually no significant political progress over the past fifty years is nothing less than taboo. We can only assume, then, that in the opinion of most of the élite, to violate that taboo should expose them to sanctions of a degree that they prefer to avoid. I cannot see any other more compelling explanation for so complete an absence of attention to such a signal fact in official public discourse.

If the absence of official open discussion of the « no political progress in the last fifty years » tells us important things about how free those in power are to engage in healthy self-criticism, the presence of the topic in public discussions by ordinary interested observers in fora like this also tells us something about our significance in public debate. We are able to raise the issue because we are outside the circle where opinion is both influential and subject to sanction. In short, we can openly discuss the fact because we have little or nothing to risk by it. If our opinions counted, they would not be so readily tolerated--since those whose opinions do count unanimously avoid openly admitting that the policy-making establishment has done next to nothing -or worse--over the past fifty years with regard to those areas listed in Robert's diary. Personally, I consider that a damnable scandal of no less importance than is the incredibly wide-spread corruption in political and business affairs--another topic until very recently unmentionable in public by officials.

In all the fore-going, my object has been to present a picture of the fine predicament we are in whether we are inside or outside of the influential circle of political power. The system operates as a closed club. To gain entry, one has to demonstrate one's readiness to respect some basic tenets of « good behavior » and these include recognizing and respecting the club's legitimacy, not placing it or its routine operation into question openly, and not publicly discussing things in a manner which risks bringing the club into disrepute. It obviously includes respecting taboos. All of these apply in the process of making one's way along the well-marked route to positions of influence-- from the coveted places in the training grounds which are the exclusive prestigious institutes of higher learning to the array of influential places in business, politics, journalism and research, the successful passage through which elite institutes of higher education opens the way.

Least of all does one find oneself on the outside of political influence « by accident ». It requires unstinting determined effort to beat the stiff competition for the limited places available just to enter the race. Most of us were not even in the running for a place in the race itself. Those who are, or who were, struggled and fought just to get to the starting-block. Once there, the competition continues. And those who are mavericks are winnowed out. The process is a socializing one.

That means that most of us here--thinking, writing, and debating about public policy in this open-to-all-by-simple-demand forum--are categorically excluded from the official and formal venues of policy discussion, and formulation. This is the very-much-by-design political reality in which we all live; and that is true no matter where you live. Outside the so-called « developed, free world » the circumstances can be far worse.

Hence the point behind the question I put to Jared. Hence the intimately related relevance of Robert's « 50 years of US(no)progress ». There are now, just as there have always been, people demanding a more just society--not in theory only but via concrete proposals. They have been systematically shut out of the official debate. Only relatively recently, with the development of sustained and wide-spread detailed discussion of political issues in fully open and unrestricted « communities », have unofficial, non-experts, found their views at last taken into account by some in the official and credentialed policy-making establishment. We have every right to doubt that such interest in us should continue if for some reason our independent discussions were to end.

The reason for that is as plain and as valid as are the facts that until rather recently it has been practically a closed game, by invitation only, and that this is so because it is the only means by which to instill and defend the privileges which are limited and thus coveted. Were it otherwise, were participation genuinely open to all comers solely and strictly upon some fair and objective merit-based criteria, let alone by the now current practices which deliberately afford tremendous comparative advantages to those who have wealth or personal connections, or, the ideal, an abundance of both, then all of the many privileges of wealth and position should be very directly and very seriously threatened. That is just as true for a Democrat (or Social Democrat) as it is for a Conservative party member.

There is rich irony, then, in finding ourselves solicited to enlist -other than we already have , given the limited means open to us--in an effort to break open and broaden the narrow official policy debate--that is, to democratize what is currently thoroughly, fiercely, undemocratic by design--by means of the very attributes which otherwise disqualify our participation: our impeccable populist and non-clubmember character.

We have the right to ask, I believe, whether, in soliciting our aid in broadening, democratizing, the policy discussions , those who would take advantage of that aid have any intention of democratizing « the game » of participatory democracy itself and opening it to the regular participation of those who have either lost out in the race for club membership or refused to take part in it in the first place--and what are the real and lasting prospects for such democratization.

The hard fact is that most people--no matter how politically unsophisticated they may be--are perfectly capable of recognizing that they and their opinions are not welcome in the public policy debate. They know better than to even formulate such for, what should be the point when it is so manifestly obvious that no one in positions of power is interested? Thus, some substantial part of the reason the general public has abandoned political life may be found in its having first been made clear to the public that élites' claims of interest in public opinion are usually election-driven at best and are, beyond that, a good deal of hypocrisy on the part of elected officials with only extremely rare exceptions.

If one would like to restore the general public's attention and participation in the political life of the society, the recipe for doing that is neither secret nor difficult. All that's required is for those in positions of power to start listening to and implementing the wishes of the majority of the ordinary public rather than consistently ignoring them. That by itself, without a public-relations campaign, should find an electric and nearly immediate positive response from the public who, after all, remain alert to their being locked out of their own « democracies ». Anything less--no matter how much time, effort or money is poured into it, no matter how many clear-sighted treatises on reform are written and placed on bookshop tables for the locked-out public to read--is liable to be met with a shrug of the shoulders from publics who have already had their fill of empty promises.

In order to avoid falling into tempting oversimplifications and taking too caricatural a view of what remain the complex and conflicting motives and interests of real, living individuals, it's well to recall that no conceptual construct of society can ever be a fully accurate representation of real society and the preceeding view of political « haves » and « have nots » is no exception. In reality, there are always a nearly infinite variety of shades between the idealized versions, the archetypes.

Among the so-called political élite, there have always been those who saw and opposed the inegalitarian character of society's order; some sought ways to reform it, to undermine it, or to destroy it, sometimes while trying at the same time to protect their own privileges or those of their friends, families or peers, and sometimes with little or no regard for the risks to these privileges. And they might have acted out of more or less selfish or altruistic motives--or thought they did. Others, while finding the established order objectionable, saw no way to alter or oppose it and so tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Similarly, among the nominally « have nots » there have always been those who gave full and willing support to a system which marginalized them and their peers. And there were those who sought, in serving the established order, to escape the lot that such an order would assign them. Still others rejected as completely as possible any such assigned conventions of rôle and place.

To all of these shades of conformity and acceptance or the lack of them in the face of the existing power relations must be added the full range of political influence--from immense to slight. Thus, there is among both the « haves » and the « have nots » a great panoply of views and reactions regarding the political order. None of that variety can eliminate some general validity to a view of political society which presents a more or less regular and coherent picture of a division of power and privileges which typically includes some and excludes others according to an observable set of criteria which remain largely valid through varying fashions in other areas social behavior.

Thus, I come to the title-question of this diary and, in posing it, I wish to call for renewed attention to and discussion of rdf 's and Jared's diaries mentioned above---

« How do you picture the steps to a more just society? »

What should it look like? How should it differ from that in which we now live? And how should these things come about starting from where we are now?

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We should consider their [elected officials] attention and their participation in Internet fora as not only welcome but as a boon which would be all the greater if only more elected officials and others in public policy-making roles took part. That so few do participate openly is at the heart of my point in this diary entry. That tells us something very significant about the extent of real freedom of expression in society and about the apparent level of interest in the opinions of « the rest of us » on the part of those who make policy. There is nothing mysterious about why an elected official could see the need to remain anonymous in Internet fora. Obviously there are important things to say which cannot be attributed to their author's real name. Even if that has always been true, it is still a damning indictment of any society which prides itself on the scope of freely expressed and avowed opinion. We know how large or restricted is the range of permissible public expression by the content of commentary which people only dare practice anonymously.

For elected officials to participate openly in true debates and discussions much would have to change, and I don't know if all of that change is necessarily desirable. Officials are held to their words. Sometimes to their words taken out of contest. By their opponents wishing to score a point, by the media wishing to sell another paper, by the comedians seeking a laugh.

When I discuss and debate with friends, I say many stupid things, I am sure. I express poorly thought out ideas that at a second look turns out to be terrible, and some that turns out to be great. If I had to scrutinize everything before saying it, something would be lost I think. A too cautious approach is inhibiting.

On the other hand, public officials have to be held accountable for their words. When they speak I would like to know that what is said represents a thought through idea, that can be criticized, that can be expected to have a mid- to long-term duration, and that can be used as a criteria for selection to office. Of course I think politicians can and should change their views and opinions as circumstances change, else they would be idiotically stubborn. But these views cannot change every day, or week, or month. I want my elected representatives to speak things publicly to which I can expect them to adhere for some time.

If we wish that these officials should at the same time be able to engage in and open, honest, off the cuff debates and discussions with the likes of us, they better remain anonymous. So that they can say those things that turn out stupid, along with those that turn out wise, to engage in opinion formation in a forum influenced by others. So, no, I don't think it is a damning indictment of our society that anonymity is liberating.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 08:22:31 AM EST
 Thanks for a very thoughtful comment that has much good sense in it.  I have to agree that the points you raise are good reasons to question how useful it is to urge that more people in political office participate under their own names in this sort of forum.

 What if they used plenty of qualifiers in their comments --

 "this is just a first reaction..."; "I haven't made up my mind on the issue yet, but I think that it may be..."; "what about..."

--that sort of thing ?

 You're correct to point out that such a situation would imply that "much would have to change,..."

but among the perhaps positive changes may be that ordinary people could see first-hand that, after all and in fact, the highly-placed and influential policy-making establishment does, just as you say:  

  "discuss and debate with [their] friends, ... say many stupid things, ....  ... [E]xpress poorly thought out ideas that at a second look turns out to be terrible, and some that turn out to be great."

 We'd see and we'd be reminded that, of course, these are the elements in everyone's developing rational discourse.  Thus, the powerful policy-makers should become much more fallible-looking, i.e. like the rest of us.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, in my view.

 Also, my first reaction to reading your comment,

 "When I discuss and debate with friends, I say many stupid things, I am sure. I express poorly thought out ideas that at a second look turns out to be terrible, and some that turns out to be great. If I had to scrutinize everything before saying it, something would be lost I think. A too cautious approach is inhibiting."

 was, congratulations!  You could be fit to serve as President of the United States, and you'd likely be an improvement over the current one.

  At the same time that I deplore nearly everything about both the person of George W. Bush as president and about his policies, I have to accept that, in being so pathetically average and fallible a person in his openly observable practice of office, he has contributed to reminding the world that those who occupy high office and make the decisions on which many lives depend are fallible people deserving of a great deal of scepticism on all of our parts.  That is a generally very good thing for us all to have been reminded of.

 Another greatly salutary change would be for the public to come to look upon open admissions of fault and errors, serious failings, on the parts of their elected officials, as a thing to be  expected and that indicates a political system that is healthier than one in which such admissions are believed to --or actually do in fact lead to--the ruination of a high official's career prospects.  In placing ridiculously-high standards and expectations on these officials, we help to ensure that they dare not reveal any weaknesses or admit any errors.

 If that changed, I'd see it as a very good thing.

 In other words, in public life, where mistakes are made anyway--and all the time-- let them be openly recognized and learned from, without inevitable career destruction.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 08:48:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with pretty much all you say here. Openness would work well for me. Yes, I want to see the whole flawed process of opinion formation of those in power, to participate in it would be greater still. Of course officials are human, and must make the same mistakes as the rest of us. Ridiculously high standards on are, I believe, detrimental to society and ensure that only those that can well watch their words and actions will be successful in the public arena, and those are not necessarily the best to lead. Yes, an open approach would work very well for me, one who is interested in the process, and willing to read a lot, and to scrutinize and try to make a distinction between committed opinions and less rigid ideas thrown out to stimulate debate.

But will it work for all, or even the majority? Can we expect the average voter to be involved enough, to want to know enough, and want to read enough to make this distinction for itself? Should the many who vote, but have little interest to dedicate much time to the process be able to expect to see only those opinions strongly held, which are likely to translate into policy and law upon the election of the official who pronounce them, or should they be forced to slug through a mass of contradictory statements and distill the essence themselves?

Is it realistic to expect that the same politicians who we will not hold to ridiculous standards will be able to not fall to the temptation to hang an opponent with his own words, when those words might have been spoken in a discursive rather than official statement context?

Can we expect the media to not latch on to some more idiotic pronouncement which is later rescinded or amended?

Is our desire for openness a realistic expectation, or should we concentrate on developing a forum with a structure that makes this kind of negative miss-use of the other's words more difficult, while still allowing an open discussion? Maybe anonymous forums are a good first step toward a more open public world. A space where those in power and those that wish to be could begin to engage more freely with voters with a much smaller risk. Maybe such forums are as good as we can expect to do.

We are beginning to touch here on the question of: "What is the duty of the citizen in a democracy?" And: "What can be realistically expected from the same?" And: "Is there any use in defining as the duty of the citizen something that is unlikely to be realized?" We would have to change more than power structures, we would have to change the people at large. "How do we get there from here?", the questions of your diary, to which I have no good answer.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 09:39:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 "We are beginning to touch here on the question of: "What is the duty of the citizen in a democracy?" And: "What can be realistically expected from the same?" And: "Is there any use in defining as the duty of the citizen something that is unlikely to be realized?" We would have to change more than power structures, we would have to change the people at large. "How do we get there from here?", the questions of your diary, to which I have no good answer."

 Well, reading your comments reaffirms what I already believed: that until the "answers" come along, thoughtful comments like yours go a long, long way. And I find them the very stuff of which provisional improvements --also known as "progress"--are made.

 I can't improve on your re-phrasing of the essential questions you see implied in my diary's arguments and queries.  I'd say you've gone right to the gist of the matter--if only I'd seen it so clearly when I wrote my verbose version.

 More evidence of the usefulness of what still lacks these elusive answers!

 I was once even more of an average person than I am today.  I started out as completely average.  You'd have been hard-pressed to have found a more average guy than yours truly.

 Your observations about all the shennanigans which the news media can get up to and the unscrupulous tuns which office-seekers and office-holders shall make of their rival's honest, open, gestures are no doubt quite correct.

I note, however, that in every case in which one of these unscrupulous manipulators cashes in on his rival's honesty, to undermine, to defeat, or, as you put it, "to hang an opponent with his own words," it is the general public which is the essential instrument in that "hanging".  That is, if average people were to become a deal rather less average in their political smarts, they should then not lend themselves to such manipulative hangings of the fellow--man or woman--who sticks his or her neck out to practice some welcome honesty.

 Indeed, my prime interest here is in doing just what you've so correctly characterized as helping promote in the average citizen some better reflection about what his civic duties are to himself and his fellows.  In that, the hoped-for goal is that these average citizens become less average and more exemplary of the sort of citizenry that we badly need if we are to bring closer those "steps toward a more just society".

 It is indisputably true that not all shall come along in that process.  Indeed, some shall do all they can to derail it, for they frankly oppose such a course.  But the question of how many of us, the average and formerly-more-average there are is, I believe, a very open one.  And I believe that underestimating the capacity for average people--many, though not all--to learn, grow and leave the ranks of the fully average is a very easy thing to do.

 If only you knew how average I was--and still am!


"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 10:03:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

 correction

  "unscrupulous tuns" ---->  "unscrupulous turns"

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 10:06:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about "unscrupulous tunes"? That would work very nicely. It goes with the poetics of your prose.  
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 10:11:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Enough! Your thoughtfulness and openness -- displayed again and again -- are intolerable. The quality of your prose simply worsens the offense. And as for your claim that all this is representative of the average person: Piffle!

There, if nowhere else, you miss the mark.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 01:45:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 Coming from you, that is praise I can't help but cherish.

You're clearly an astute student of Popper's writing and, I can't doubt it, much else that we don't see indicated here; I've wondered how it is that you yourself haven't put in most of the points I'd like to express before I do--as it strikes me that most of the time, you're well ahead of my chain of thought.

 You've understood already what I have to say, and, unlike me, you've managed to avoid making yourself insufferable in pointing it all out.  I'm not there; (yet?)

If I said more than this in reply, I'd be recklessly in danger of displaying something like fat-headedness which is just as well avoided.

thanks.

 

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 07:37:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha! Now you're even claiming to be insufferable! We're made of tougher stuff than that.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 07:39:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 You raise many interesting questions--more than I am able to respond to today --or in a week!  But I do intend to come back to them.

 Meanwhile, I'd like to see others here take up and respond to your questions since, I, too, don't have the answers to these questions, just lots of thoughts about them.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 10:12:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I posted the same essay cited above on two other sites (dailyKos and tpmCafe). It got almost no notice. There may be several reasons for this, such as aiming at the wrong audience, but I think the principle reason is because even the most outraged American still believes that the system works at some fundamental level, and that the current problems are just caused by a few bad apples.

There have been periodic political movements in the US which have challenged the fundamentals, examples include the Progressives (1890-1920), the Wobblies (1900-1916), and Socialist/Communists (1920-1950). They got a fair amount of press, managed to get some of their ideas debated, but were rapidly suppressed by government legislation and police action.

I don't know as much about European history, but it seems to me that up to the collapse of the USSR the only movement which was successful in peacefully changing government policy was the British Labour party. Groups like the Italian Communists have been creating much heat for 80 years, but, like my list of US failures, don't have much to show for all their activity.

The secret to holding on to power is to use one or both of the surefire diversionary techniques, appeals to hope or fear. Ronald Reagan used the hope theme "It is morning in America". GW Bush uses the fear theme "9/11". This works so well, and so often, that there is seldom any reason for politicians to deliver. It seems that this may be changing in some regions such as South America and Eastern Europe. It will be interesting to see how long the newcomers maintain there reformist programs before becoming part of the establishment.

As to politicians entering the debate, it is not going to happen. They operate on the principle that they don't have to do anything to hold on to their supporters, but every time they take a position they risk alienating those who disagree. So they prefer to remain as bland and noncommittal as possible. By the way several elected representatives now do blog at the DailyKos site. They don't discuss policy, just legislative tactics, like getting people to contact congress over a pending piece of legislation.

Finally I'd like to point out that I'm not always negative, the first set of essays on my web site is about Goals for the 21st Century. I not only discuss the goals, but also point out what type of opposition needs to be overcome if they are to be implemented.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 09:58:38 AM EST
In two words: Alternative Structures.

Over the years the Top-Down political actions I've been a part of have mostly failed.  The Bottom-Up local structures - food co-ops, housing co-ops, organic farms, Farmer's markets, credit unions - have mostly succeeded and persisted.  When Bottom-Up structures meet real local demands or needs they are supported by people whose needs are being met.  That support (economic, political, social) is the postive feedback into the entity necessary for long-term persistence.  

I've posted on Complexity until even I am sick of it so let me just mention: agents will either reach the local minima or they will die.  Enough agents reaching enough minima can spark emergent behaviour of the entire Fitness Landscape.  If the agents are kept constant and the Fitness Landscape is changed the most likely outcome is a dramatic die-off of the agents.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Jun 11th, 2006 at 01:17:12 PM EST
I'm rather partial to the notion of sweeping aside the reigining political elites with an army of either giant robots or flying saucers, and replacing them with a political system composed primarily of myself and my hand picked cronies.  Muahahahaha!

Snark aside, it can be argued that in the past, the "direct action/murderous violence" approach has had one sterling sucess - Imperial Japan.  A middling sized cabal of radical militarists used a series of targeted assassinations to cow their democratic opponents into silence.  This left them free to engineer "incidents" and to use these as an excuse for a war of conquest against China, without any serious political opposition at home - despite the fact that sizable segments of the popuation, including the leadership of some of the large business interests, were not interested in perpetual warfare any more than they were interested in a military dictatorship.

by Zwackus on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 05:47:53 AM EST


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