Friday, December 19, 2014

Obama Playing in Sandbox with the Base

At the gym today I was accosted by a liberal faculty wife. She was eager for her faculty husband at the University of Washington to retire, so I asked her: "Does an earl give up his earldom?" A bit naughty of me, I admit.

And then she told me how excited she was about Obama's Cuba action and all the other things he's been doing lately.

Yum! I thought. I'm right! He's doing all this to keep the base excited.

So I told her that the president was going down the liberal laundry list. The question was whether he'd destroy the Democratic Party as an electoral force.

There's a reason why nobody else has tried this, I told her. They were afraid of the political consequences. They stayed away from Cuba not because they were timid politicians.  They did it because of Rule #1 in politics. Don't poke a stick in the eye of the opposition.

Conservatives have been confused by President Obama. We don't know whether he is a shallow fool, a shallow faculty lounge moralizer, or a shallow community organizer. His combative stance towards conservatives and Republicans has frankly put us off our balance. Because we are all Americans, right?

Honestly, I don't know Barack Obama is. I do pay attention to the guys that say: don't forget that young Barack Obama was abandoned twice. Once by his father, who went back to Kenya, and once by his mother who sent him back from Indonesia to Oahu to grow up with his grandparents. One can only begin to imagine the rage that smolders in this twice-betrayed man.

But I think we need to stop worrying about whether Barack Obama is a fool or a Marxist automaton. Let's just look at the results. The results after six years of Obama is that we have the most Republican Congress since 1929.

Yeah, think about that for a minute.

The reason that the Republicans fell from grace 75 years ago was the Great Depression. In 1929, according to usmidtermelections.com, the House was 270 Rep and 164 Dem; the Senate was 56 Rep and 39 Dem. For four long years under Herbert Hoover things got worse and by 1937 the House was 88 Rep and 334 Dem; the Senate was 16 Rep and 76 Dem.  Wipeout!

Obama started out in 2009 with the House at 178 Rep and 257 Dem and the Senate at 41 Rep and 59 Dem+Ind. In January the House will be 247 Rep and 186 Dem; the Senate will be 54 Rep and 46 Dem+Ind. Obama is the best thing for Republicans since Bill Clinton won the 1992 election as a moderate and then sicced liberal HillaryCare on us.

Nobody can predict the future, but I have a feeling that the presidency of Barack Obama will echo down the next couple of decades, if not quite with the resonance of Herbert Hoover, at least with the sour whine of Jimmy Carter.

If you want to know why the Democrats are in trouble, the man I turn to is Irving Kristol.

Kristol argued that if you want to help the poor you need to deal in the middle class. Thus to help the aged poor you need to pass Social Security and Medicare and deal in the middle class. Social Security and Medicare passed because in 1935 the average person didn't have a pension and in 1965 the average senior didn't have health insurance.

The problem with Obamacare is that the middle class already has health insurance and is fairly content with its health care. You couldn't deal in the middle class with Hillarycare or Obamacare because the middle class already had their deal. Now you know why President Obama ran around telling everyone that if they liked their doctor they could keep their doctor. Now you know why he told the middle class that their premiums would go down by $2,500 per year.  Now you know why he needed Jonathan Gruber to figure out how to game the system at the CBO. He had to lie to the middle class and pretend that Obamacare would make us all better off.

So yeah. President Obama is making liberal faculty wives really happy. He is working on their issues and they love him, they really love him.

But the rest of America is getting screwed. Low interest rates are screwing the passbook savings crowd. Green energy is screwing the car commuter and the suburban middle class. Amnesty is screwing the low-skilled and the low-paid.

How could the Democrats be so blind, you ask? How could they be screwing the white working class and the black working class and turning a blind eye to the millions of illegal immigrants working in construction and the pay for low-to-medium skilled workers goes down and down?

I will tell you why. It is because today's liberal ruling class are the children of the children of the people that created the liberal ruling class back in the Progressive Era over a century ago. They really don't know what they are doing. They are like the bratty rich kids that take over Dad's business and run it into the ground. Because they don't know any better.

I'd like to think that the Cruzes and the Rubios and the Pauls do know better. But the truth is that we don't know. The only way to find out is to give them the keys to the kingdom.

Once upon a time the American people upped and gave the keys of the kingdom to a man the ruling class said was a dangerous extremist. Or he was an amiable dunce. They couldn't quite decide which witch was which.

You know his name. His name was Ronald Reagan. The great talent of Ronald Reagan was that he enthused the base without turning off the moderates in the middle. And he played up the idea that he was a harmless lightweight to encourage the Democratic base in their notion that he was a fool.

Go ahead, President Obama. Charm the liberal ladies. Play Liberal Issues with your base in the liberal sandbox. The rest of us have work to do. We love this country and we can't bear what you are doing to it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Georg Simmel: Faithfulness and Gratitude

Faithfulness, writes Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, is the glue that binds society together. Not self-interest, coercion, duty, or love could keep society together without an intermixture of faithfulness. And yet you can never tell the effect of faithfulness because "its practical effect always consists in replacing some other feeling."

But what is faithfulness? What is "faithful love?" Simmel defines it this way:
Faithfulness might be called the inertia of the soul. It keeps the soul on the path on which it started, even after the original occasion that led it onto it no longer exists.
To Simmel faithfulness is an affective factor, "a specific psychic state, which is directed towards the continuation of the relationship as such, independently of any particular affective or volitional elements that sustain the content of this relation." I understand this to mean that we are not talking about an affective quality called "faithful love." We are talking about two affective qualities: faithfulness and love. One might say, perhaps, that while the original feeling that started a relationship starts to dissipate the feeling of faithfulness towards the relationship develops.

As an example of encouraging faithfulness, Simmel cites a 19th century French program of temporary assistance to unmarried mothers that would agree to keep their babies and not give them up to orphanages. It was found that once the mother had kept the baby for any length of time she would not later give it up.

Again:
[F]aithfulness... has the significance that, by virtue of it, for once the personal, fluctuating inner life actually adopts the character of the fixed, stable form of a relation.
 Then there is gratitude, which is no less important than faithfulness, and even more hidden. Only its "external insignificance... has apparently concealed the circumstance that the life and the cohesion of society would be unforeseeably changed without this phenomenon." It is a supplement of the legal forms of exchange, giving and receiving, into a realm beyond what can be enforced by legal coercion.

This is particularly important in the modern economy because of its objectification of giving and receiving into the exchange of commodities. Simmel echoes Marx, but without the moral music:
Exchange is the objectification of human interaction... This objectification, this growth of the relationship into self-contained, movable things, becomes so complete that, in the fully developed economy, personal interaction recedes altogether into the background, while goods gain a life of their own.
Gratitude moves in the reverse direction, personalizing what is experienced as objective. It is the "moral memory of mankind"; it connects today with "what has gone before... [It] effects the return of a benefit where there is no external necessity for it." Again: "gratitude actually consists, not in the return of a gift, but in the consciousness that it cannot be returned", that a relation goes beyond any "finite return gift or other activity."  And we can understand why this is so. The first gift "has a voluntary character than no return gift can have." What indeed can be given in return but gratitude?

The obligation that colors giving explains whey many people (i.e., men) do not like to receive gifts. They understand that gifts bind people to each other, and they wish, as independent individuals, to be free of such bonds.

In Simmel's view, gratitude is even more powerful as a social glue than faithfulness. There are many relationships that can do without faithfulness, but gratitude is forever.
This atmosphere of obligation belongs among those "microscopic," but infinitely tough, threads which tie one element of society to another, and thus eventually all of them together in a stable collective life.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Georg Simmel: The Secret Society

Secrecy is part of every personal and group relationship, but in some relationships the secret "may characterize a group in its totality". We are talking here about "secret societies." In normal circumstances a secret promotes "isolation, contrast, and egoistic individualization." This applies also to the secret society, but in addition the "secret determines the reciprocal relations" among the members that share the secret.

In a secret society, writes George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, the secret inspires "confidence" in its members, and this is important because the whole point of a secret society is the "protection" of invisibility. An individual can hide a secret, but not himself; a secret society -- a "conspiracy, a gang of swindlers" or even a group for "sexual orgies" -- can remain itself a secret; the group not the members is concealed.

We are not talking here about groups like the Freemasons, which merely have secret rules.

Secret societies are typically new movements just aborning, that need the protection of secrecy, and sometimes old movements about to expire or be trampled out of existence. For instance, when Christianity was new it often resorted to secrecy; when Christianity triumphed then it was pagan groups that crept into the shadows.

But the confidence factor is just as important. The difficulty of keeping a secret means that he that keeps it for my sake is trustworthy, and implies a great moral strength. Thus secret societies "offer a very impressive schooling in the moral solidarity among men."

Since the keeping of the secret is paramount for a secret society, it typically instructs "the novice in the art of silence." Simmel tells us how the Moluccans, the Pythagoreans, and the Druids did it.

Now we come to an idea about the difference between a small intimate culture and the large impersonal culture. Simmel observes that face-to-face relations promote a complete integration of the individual "with his surrounding, living group."
But once the labor of the species capitalizes its results in the form of writing, in visible works, in enduring examples, this immediate, organic flow between the actual group and its individual member is interrupted.
The connection between the individual and the group is no longer subjective, it is objective. In this notion Simmel parallels the Marxian scandal about "reification" and "commodification" but without the implication of a Fall from primitive innocence.

Simmel expands on the notion of objectivity. Writing, he writes, "is opposed to all secrecy." That is why, we may say, that we talk of "publishing" a book, for all the world to see. Once you write something down it is objective and timeless.

Given the unprotected nature of written communication, the private letter is a particularly interesting form of communication, starting with the idea that indiscretion concerning letters is considered "particularly ignoble." A letter is, on the one hand, an "objectification of its content" and on the other, because addressed from one person to another, "personal and subjective".

The secret may be merely a means to keep an association protected while it seeks material ends, or the secret may be a secret knowledge that the society protects to keep it from the masses. Either way, sociation is needed to protect the secret. But the development of a society may change the attitude towards secrecy, as in the Freemasons, which preserve the idea of secrecy while becoming indifferent towards it. Secrecy is a two way street. Some may seek it for protection; others seek isolation for protection.

Like all other forms of sociation, secret societies have hierarchy. Indeed, writes Simmel, they do it with "great finesse and thoroughness." The need to preserve secrecy demands this, and since the society has a purpose, the hierarchy, and its will to power, must be carefully designed to project power and preserve secrecy. In the degenerate forms of secret hierarchy, such as in the Freemasons, it reaches for the fantastical.

Secret societies are also famous for their devotion to ritual. In this they are probably no different than other institutions, such as "the military organization and the religious community" which aim to "claim the individual wholly" and use ritual to bind members into a total form of life within the community. Another need for the rigor of ritual is that the secret society is autonomous, a community separate from society; it must replace the stability and lawfulness of normal society with its own laws and stability.

The fact of secrecy makes the secret society interesting. For a start, it must always be a society self-consciously within another society and self-consciously apart from that society. It does not form and grow spontaneously, it is necessarily "conscious and intentional." Then, it must have secret signs so that members can make themselves know to each other -- even in another town -- without betraying the society. They need to hide their society from the general run of people, but also be able to recognize each other.

The forming of a special group, separate from society, also feeds the urge towards aristocracy. As well as satisfying the feeling of superior specialness, secrecy hides the "numerical insignificance of the ruling class" and uses it to appear "fearsome, mighty, threatening." The aristocratic individual, separate from a group, "despises all concealment", for if he were to hide himself behind a "mask" he would concede the "importance of the multitude."

It is notable that the gradual initiation of group members "by degrees" into secret societies helps preserve the secret, it provides a "buffer region against non-initiates". The separation of the secret society allows it to be completely self-motivated and egoistic, whereas non-secret associations always have to pretend to work for the good of all. The secret society also stands at one end of the inclusiveness/exclusiveness axis. Some associations include almost everyone; other exclude almost everyone, and the secret society tends towards the exclusive. The separation from the outside assists in internal cohesion because not only are loyalties focused on the inside but are not divided by other associations. Overall then, the secret society sets up a separate social entity with strong centralization, even to the extent of a secret hidden leader unknown to the members, and a de-individualization and equalization of the members. And there is the invitation to irresponsibility. A man may easily do things he would hesitate to do when a member of a secret cabal.

Needless to say, central governments hate secret societies, indeed, special associations of any kind, and it is easy for the general society to image that secrecy hides dangers. Indeed it is natural for governments to view secret societies as competitors of the state. So "every group that is politically rejected, is called a secret society."

Next: Faithfulness and Gratitude.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Suppose the Democratic Party was the Real Rich Peoples' Party?

One of the hardest chestnuts to fall from the tree is the meme that Republicans are the Party of the Rich. Everybody knows it. The college kid knows it; the big company employee knows it.

And everybody knows that insurance companies make huge profits out of the health care system. Democrats have been saying this for years and years, and everyone believes them.

And greedy bankers caused the financial crisis of 2008. And so on.

If I were Ted Cruz I would be tasking my staff to come up with ways to change all that. Because if you ask me the way to win in 2016 is to utterly discredit these old political chestnuts.

So Republicans are the party of the rich? Then how come Warren Buffett carries water for President Obama? How come there are so many billionaires contributing to the Democratic Party and nobody says anything while the only billionaires contributing to Republican and libertarian causes, the Koch Brothers, are every liberal's whipping boys? How come coal billionaire Tom Steyer is a darling of the Democrats and the environmental left?

So insurance companies are screwing health care consumers? So what do we say about the political party that passed Obamacare by filling the mouths of the insurance companies and drug companies with gold? Could we dare to say that such a party, the Democratic Party, is not the party of the little guy? That in reality the Democrats are the party of the special interests, any special interest that wants a deal from government.

So greedy bankers caused the crash of 2008. So why did the party of the little guy enact monstrous financial legislation that enshrines the principle of "too big to fail" for the big banks? And why was it that the principal opponents of the TARP legislation in 2008 were Republicans? And why do Democratic politicians shuttle in and out of big Wall Street banks like horses on a merry-go-round? Could we say that the party of big government, the Democratic Party, needs big banks more than big banks need government? Because the most important government program of all is the program to sell the government's debt through the big banks on Wall Street?

If I were running for president in 2016 the one thing I would want to get across to the US voter is that the Republican Party is the party of the middling sort of person, the kind of person that goes to work, pays their taxes, follows the rules, and obeys the laws. And all they want is for the government to stop taxing them and harassing them and bullying them and regulating them so they can put a little money aside, pay for their kids to go to college, and save up for a decent retirement.

If you ask me, President Barack Obama has basically opened a gaping hole in the Democratic defenses that should allow anyone with half a brain to drive through and utterly encircle and demoralize the two wings of the Democratic army, the rich and the dependent, in what the Germans call a Kesselschlacht, or cauldron battle.

Who will be the first to exploit this grand-strategic opportunity?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Georg Simmel: Secrecy

It's one thing to respect other peoples' privacy; it's another thing to deliberately hide stuff from other people, to go beyond privacy and modesty to deliberate secrecy, writes Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff.
The secret in this sense, the hiding of realities by negative or positive means, is one of man's greatest achievements... [T]he secret produces an immense enlargement of life; numerous contents of life cannot even emerge in the presence of full publicity. The secret offers, so to speak, the possibility of a second world alongside the manifest world; and the latter is decisively influenced by the former.
It is clear that a secret changes the relationship between two people or groups, and it is evident that the occasion of secrecy has changed in modern times: what once was public has become secret, and vice versa.

We often think of secrecy as evil and shameful -- "the immoral hides itself for obvious reasons" -- but sometimes a "noble individual... conceals his best" for various reasons.

We can understand the use of secrecy for strategic reasons, but should not forget the fascination with secrecy, of knowing something (and thus possessing something) that others cannot. The secret seems to have "special value." This is revealed in the child's boast "I know something that you don't know" and in the fact that revealing British parliamentary discussions used to be a criminal offence. The converse is true: people often think there is some mystery in "superior persons" and "superior achievements;" they long to know their secret ingredient.

How does a secret get revealed? Often enough, in betrayal, when the secret is "dissolved." In consequence there is a constant tension in secrecy, where "the external danger of being discovered" is woven with an internal angst, the fear of being discovered. There is, therefore, in the arc of every secret, a constant interplay between "concealing and revealing."

The question of secrecy is nowhere more revealing than in the modern society of individualism and the money economy. It used to be that few secrets were possible in the small face-to-face community, but the secrets of government as to debts, taxes, and the armed forces were absolute. Today, in the large money economy, secrets are everywhere. Personal wealth is easy to hide, its abstractness and complications make is hard to understand, and its "effect-at-a-distance" allows its "complete withdrawal" from local eyes. And personal privacy has become a social good.  Meanwhile public affairs are supposed to be transparent on the view that "everybody should know the events and circumstances that concern him."

Secrecy "operates as an adorning possession". A "noteworthy person" exists partly in what is concealed. And yet the function of physical adornment is "to lead the eyes of others upon the adorned" in the same way as a secret makes someone special.

Next: The Secret Society.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Yes, What DO Women Want?

A century ago, German sociologist Georg Simmel noted that the emergence of women into the public square was just the beginning. The public square had been created by men for men. But we would have to wait to find out what women would do to adapt it to a more "feminine sensibility."

With all the flap over the "rape culture" on campus, culminating in the fantastical Rolling Stone story on gang rape in a frat house at the University of Virginia, and the flap over rape allegations in Lena Dunham's autobiography, the question arises anew: "What do women want?"

At mid 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex told us that the ideal was the "independent woman." And Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique told us that women were dying of boredom out in the suburbs. But what did women really want?

The problem is that there is a difference between what women want and what left-wing activists say they want.

And the problem with left-wing activists -- and indeed anyone doing "activism" -- is that all questions are reduced to politics. But politics is not culture; politics is the pursuit of power. It's hard to know how politics is going to deal successfully with a "rape culture".

The UVA scandal has taught us a lot. It seems that "Jackie," after refusing to report a sexual assault in September 2012, then eventually got to talk to the Dean of Students and then got involved in sexual assault support groups, and got to improve her story, as people do over time. Unfortunately, the sexual assault support groups are really activist groups involved in "doing something" about the campus "rape culture" and supporting the push by the Obama administration to force universities to implement administrative tribunals to deal with sexual assault accusations on campus.

Here's my take. No good will come of politicizing the abusive treatment of young college women. This is not a political problem that can be solved by legislating liberal morality. It is a cultural problem. The problem is: how do we develop a consensus of cultural rules for relations between the sexes after the invention of the Pill and the 1960s sexual revolution? Because it seems pretty obvious that the sexual revolution has encouraged young men to treat young women like meat. And it seems to prod young women into getting drunk enough so that they can lower their inhibitions enough to do the "hook-up" thing when they want to score some desirable male.

The only problem is that young women get really angry when their drunken sexual experiences lead to nothing but heartache. So they use the current non-judicial administrative system to punish the young men that took advantage of them. Or their mothers do it for them.

Back in the Sixties we were told to abolish the "parietal" system in which colleges took over the supervision of adult children from parents. If a young man were mature enough to go to Vietnam, we were told, he was mature enough to conduct his sexual life without parental supervision.

Obviously we are now seeing a revival of the idea that colleges have a parental responsibility for the young people enrolled there. And, of course, the left-wing activism culture encourages the idea that young women are "victims" and not the independent women imagined by Simone de Beauvoir. The left-wing culture requires victims for its political mechanics to work; there must be victims or there is nothing for politics to do. But victimhood reduces young women to the status of "special snowflakes" that need to get together to "share" their stories of abuse and plan "protests" to change the campus "rape culture" and implement administrative processes to act for them when they are abused.

What's needed, of course, is for us all to develop a new culture of responsibility where sex is concerned. We need a consensus on what is acceptable behavior and we need young men and women to propagate that culture by the age-old methods of shame and guilt, naming and shaming, for those that violate the consensus.  We don't need more campus bureaucrats and more interventions by federal Title IX bureaucrats and activists. We need a new self-regulating culture.

This is not that hard. Humans are social animals that naturally and instinctively do what the culture expects of them.

Right now the culture expects students to do the "hook-up" culture, get drunk and do things they'll regret. Then it expects them to use the system to find someone to punish for the heartache of rejection. Thanks, liberals, we needed that.

So now we must build a new culture. But first things will have to get worse. Because there is nobody at our universities except foolish liberals, and the only thing liberals know how to do is politics.

But the "rape culture" isn't a political problem; it's a cultural problem, the problem of "what do women want" now that we have thoroughly destroyed the old culture of "gentleman" and "nice girls" and we haven't yet succeeded in replacing it with anything that works.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Georg Simmel: Types of Relationships by Reciprocal Knowledge

The thing about the "other" is that you don't know everything about him, and you don't want to know. And even in groups, people don't know everything about each other. So Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff devotes a chapter to the different kinds of groups and relationships between members of the groups.

One type of group where the members know very little about each other is a political interest group. The members make monetary contributions to the group, but they are "psychologically anonymous" to each other. They don't need to know each other's personality; they don't want to know. This "increasing objectivization" is characteristic of our age.

This question of incomplete knowledge about other people in this objectivizing age raises the issue of "confidence" in other people. "[C]onfidence is intermediate between knowledge and ignorance about a man." If you know everything about a person you don't need confidence; if you know nothing, forget it. This is characteristic about the whole of modern society; we know only what we need to know about another party, whether in business, in scholarship, in politics. We only need to know what we "have to know for the sake of the relationship [we] wish to enter."

The point is that in modern society, the personal and the subjective is often replaced by the objective, even in personal relationships where "among educated strata" people relate only as "acquaintances." We know only what is appropriate to know about the other, and the deliberate "staying away" from other knowledge about someone is termed "discretion." There is a boundary, different with different people, beyond which we do not go. The question is what "the individual must know" about the other: the businessman in a long-term contract; the master employing a servant, the "superior who advances a subordinate." The telling opposite of discretion is indiscretion, the violation of boundaries, by betraying a secret thought, or prying into other peoples' lives, or taking advantage of the "slips and helplessnesses of the other."

This relationship at a distance clearly defines modern friendship and marriage. Although they would seem to require total immersion in the other in fact the relationship is usually differentiated. Maybe one friendship is based on affection, another on intellectual aspects, or religion. Such relationships require that people do not look beyond their mutual spheres of interest, in observance of appropriate discretion. In modern marriage, the question of confidence and discretion is difficult, because modern marriage is not a fixed "social and economic institution" but more freely erotic.  Of course, the "conventional or material motive" is still strong, but "the sociological idea of modern marriage is the commonness of all life-contents". A marriage may result in a happy and vital union, or the opposite when anticipated unity is disappointed. In fact, despite the idea of complete union, marriage, like other relationships in the modern age, needs "only a certain proportion of truth and error... and a certain proportion of distinctness and indistinctness in the image of our life-elements." We can give only what the other "may accept" and indistinctness and unclarity may be needed to keep mutual attractiveness alive. Confidence and discretion are needed to make modern marriage work.

Next: Secrecy