Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Explaining the Modern World

We moderns think that our modern world is different. We all agree on that. But we disagree on just about everything else. So we all write narratives to explain why our world is different and what this difference means.

The three most authoritative narratives are probably the Enlightenment narrative, the Romantic narrative, and the Marxian narrative.

The Englightenment narrative is the one that says we are moving from the dark night of superstition to a new world of reason and science. That human society is progressing from ignorant ways of social organization based on tradition and divination towards a rational society based on science and rational discussion. This society will be led by a rational, educated elite that runs the government and sets the parameters of social development from above.

The Romantic narrative is a reaction against the Enlightenment narrative. It looks upon the world as more of an unfathomable mystery, working in a mysterious way. It honors the hidden paths of nature and it looks to sensitive, creative people to intuit the essence of the world and to replace the artificial and the superficial with an authentic humanity that is in tune with the life principle. This society will be led by a sensitive, creative elite that can develop in themselves an authentic response to the experience of being thrown into the world.

The Marxian or revolutionary narrative says that we are in a new phase of the age old conflict between the powerful and the people. In the old days, the contest was between the aristocrats and the peasants. Now, with the rise of the middle class, the contest is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Just as the peasants were inevitably ground into dust in the agricultural age, so the proletarians are being inevitably immiserated into poverty by the triumph of the bourgeoisie and capitalism. But this will lead to revolution and the salvation of humanity in a world of sharing and caring. This society will be led by a revolutionary elite that knows the meaning of history and represents the will of the oppressed.

Shouldered aside by these bold visions has been another narrative. It is the narrative of democratic capitalism. In this narrative we have recently made the transformation from an agricultural age, based on the power of warrior landowners, to an industrial age, based on the power of the market, producers and consumers, to negotiate their needs through productive enterprises, finance, and law. This society is a self-discovery process, as people great and small engage with the market to discover and fulfill other peoples' needs and thereby to satisfy their own needs. They form social structures as they go, augmenting the foundational group of the family with voluntary associational groups that operate by cooperation and competition rather than by the brute force of government power or religious inspiration.

The purpose of the new conservative movement of the last 50 years is to discredit the three narratives that have so dominated the last two hundred years and establish a new order in which reason, creativity, and conflict will be moderated by a Greater Separation of Powers that limits the power of reason, of creativity, and of conflict to reach strategic concentration and totalitarian power.

And that will be something.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Liberals! Don't Push Yourselves Off the Cliff!

Conservatives and Republicans, whatever our faults, can point to two decisive domestic policies of the last 30 years that really made a difference. The first was supply-side economics. The second was "broken-window" policing. The first policy ushered in the Reagan Revolution and ignited a twenty year economic boom from 1980 to 2000. The second made New York City livable and cut the murder rates in the Big Apple by over 50 percent.

But liberals seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past. No doubt that is why Republicans are surging to political power everywhere in America except the two left coasts. Here is a lifeline to my liberal friends before they push themselves off the cliff.

Supply-side economics is why Bill Clinton ran as a "new" Democrat to split the difference between the Sixties Left and the Reagan Right. When he betrayed his promise and raised taxes and pushed HillaryCare he got himself a Republican Congress in the 1994 midterms. In 1996 he passed welfare reform in order to win reelection and prove he'd learned his lesson.

"Broken-window" policing was an idea advanced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982. It was implemented in Boston and New York by Bill Bratton, famously while Rudy Guiliani was mayor of New York City in the 1990s. The idea was to pin-point high crime areas and harass young men that committed minor crimes of vandalism, thus sending a message to the street that disorder would not be tolerated. It was a counter-strategy to the "police brutality" politics of the Sixties and 1970s; police had responded by retreating from the streets and career trouble, and letting crime rage unabated.

If liberals were smart and if they truly believed in science they would have read, learned, and inwardly digested the theory and the evidence. But they didn't, and you can see that by reading the Wikipedia links above. They equivocate; they dance and jive. So if you are a genuine NPR/NYT liberal you don't pay no nevermind to the lessons of supply-side economics and broken-window policing.

But there is a penalty for ignoring reality; you get punched upside the head. The Clinton generation of Dem politicians knew that they had to pay their respects to supply-side economics and pretend they supported the cops even if they didn't believe a word of it. They had to pretend because the "stupid" voters believed it. But then a generation of liberals grew up that knew not Reagan. Call it the Vox generation, after young Ezra Klein's website. They went to college and got their economics straight from Keynes and their politics straight from the left, and so they never got taught that Keynes and cop-baiting was poison for Democrats, quite apart from the fact that they were poison for the economy and for society.

So let's rehearse for our lefty friends why they must take their supply-side and broken-windows medicine if they want to resume the aborted drive for a new Democratic majority. Look, I get that leftist politics is all about benefits and justice for the poor. But you don't get to do it unless you have the economy working and the streets safe.

So let's do the elevator story on economics that every liberal should know.

Supply-side economics The basic thing to grasp is that Keynesian economics is like a relief pitcher for government. It's a get-out-of-a-jam dodge. It says, in the middle of a financial crisis: oh gosh, we can't reduce government benefits while people are unemployed; we can't let our favored corporate friends go bankrupt. So we must keep spending and we must print money. Unfortunately that doesn't get the economy back on track. Supply-side economics says: yes, you must bail out the banks to prevent a credit collapse, but then it's back to hard money. Yes, you don't want the unemployed rioting in the streets, but the way to stimulate the economy is by cleaning out crony subsidies and regulations and taxes and lowering the marginal tax rates on work and investing.

Here's the elevator story on broken-windows policing that every liberal should know.

Broken-windows policing The basic problem of every city since the Industrial Revolution is that you get a strategic concentration of young lower-class males with few skills that tend towards the instincts of all young men down the ages: the dawn raid. Starting in the 1830s with the London Metropolitan Police the response of the middle class to the criminal gang activity of young lower-class urban males has been vigorous policing. The job of British "bobbies" and America "cops" has been to get in the faces of the young thugs and say, like Dirty Harry, Go ahead, make my day. When the cops do this the young thugs retreat and the city becomes safe. When they don't, as in New York City in the 1970s, the young thugs rampage around and make life hell for the poor.

Let us turn to Karl Marx and my copy of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. He begins:
Hegel says somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
He means, I assume, that if we don't learn our lesson the first time around, we will be forced to learn it the second time, only this time in the corner wearing a dunce cap.

Supply-side economics was a response to the tragedy of economic "stagflation" in the 1970s. The Keynesians said that they had figured out the business cycle and how to avoid economic reverses. The 1970s proved them wrong, and supply-side economics proved that there was another way, and it worked.

Broken-windows policing was a response to the anti-police politics of the Marcuse Left in the 1960s and the crime wave that followed in the 1970s. It said that, whatever the "root cause" of poverty, there is no alternative to aggressive policing right in the faces of the young lower-class thugs. When implemented in Boston, in New York, in Los Angeles, broken-windows policing worked.

So come on liberals. Stop the madness while you still can. Go with the settled science and stop being deniers about supply-side economics and broken-windows policing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Freeloaders, Freebooters, Work and Freedom

According to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, "Nothing is more corrosive to a group's cohesion than free riders." He is talking about the freeloaders that show up when the goodies are being handed out but are mysteriously absent when there is work to be done.

So all we need to do it to get the government to put the shirkers to work.

Would that were all it took. The problem is that every government relies on a group of freeloaders to serve as its supporters. They could be the temple priests of early Mesopotamian civilization. They could be the great land barons of high feudalism. They could be the patronage appointees of 19th century governments in the US. And every government relies on the soldiers that, while eating their heads off most of the time, are the men that stand ready to defend the borders against the enemy.

Today, of course, the freeloaders are the beneficiaries of government entitlement programs and corporate subsidies. Don't ever mess with their benefits, Mr. Politician, or you'll find yourself defeated at the next election.

In fact every government must keep its supporters happy; otherwise it is not long for this world. So governments are willing to bankrupt the territory they govern rather than cut back on the benefits going to their supporters.

Longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer has an interesting view of this question. In "The Readiness to Work," an essay in The Ordeal of Change, he observes that down the ages work has traditionally been sneered at. It was "viewed as a curse, a mark of bondage, or, at best, a necessary evil." But not in the modern Occident. In the west, the assumption is that people want to work, and the government is not long for this world that fails to provide job opportunities for all that desire them.

In fact, Hoffer writes, a society has two choices. It can deputize the government to set people to work; that is the age-old solution. Or it can deputize the people to find work for themselves; that is the modern approach. Either solution is a heavy burden. In the subordination of a top-down society the worker is stigmatized with the "mark of bondage;" in the freedom of the individualist society the worker is burdened with the responsibility "to prove his worth," and that means, for the average man or woman without exceptional "capacities and talents," merely "keeping busy."

You can see the problem with government. The more that it delivers benefits to its supporters the more it must compel the people to work, for someone must create the wealth that the government distributes to its supporters. We know the end point of this philosophy; it is the 20th century totalitarian state, where everyone is a beneficiary of social justice and everyone is a slave that is put to work under the command of the overseers. The problem with this system is illuminated by the Soviet era Russian joke: "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us!"

If government leads to the dead end of universal freeloading and slavery, then, as Lenin said, "What is to be done?"

The answer is: religion. People have to believe in giving rather than receiving; they have to fear divine judgement for their sins. They must be filled with a faith in themselves as individually responsible to their families, their society, their God for their lives.

Government can't do this, for the difference between a robber band and a government is, as St. Augustine wrote, the addition of impunity. Corporations can't do it, because they are strategic actors in pursuit of profit. What it takes is something similar to the "Protestant Ethic" that Max Weber discovered in the "Spirit of Capitalism."

We are talking about a moral/cultural thing that infuses the culture, that sets the taken-for-granted rules by which politicians canvass for votes and CEOs advertise for customers.

That's why people like me say that we need a Greater Separation of Powers to keep the moralists and the politicians from getting together, as in socialism and "progressivism," and the politicians and the capitalists from getting together, as in crony capitalism.

It probably means that we all agree, by faith, that we must and will care for the poor ourselves, individually, and not deputize the responsibility to government.

And as to what would happen if the moralists and the capitalists ever got together, we can only shudder.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Forging the New GOP Majority

The last Big Idea to come along in politics was The Emerging Democratic Majority proposed by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. Democrats were looking at a generational majority based on minorities, women, the youth and the educated, they wrote.

Well that was ten years ago and now the Congress of the United States is as Republican as it's been since the onset of the Great Depression 85 years ago.

So what went wrong? Let us introduce the idea of Steve Sailer. As far back as 2009 he was calling for rebranding the Democratic Party as the Black Party.

You see, ten years ago the Democrats were the party of the rainbow coalition while everyone knew that the Republican Party was the White Party. So Uncool. Why would Hispanics and Asians want to belong to the Uncool Party?

But suppose, Sailer suggested, that we start to rebrand the Democrats as the Black Party. Then, perhaps, the Hispanics and Asians wouldn't be quite as enthusiastic about voting Democratic. It shouldn't be that hard, starting with the fact that Hispanics think blacks are lazy. That's when they are not actually expelling blacks from their neighborhood.

So it shouldn't be that hard for cunning GOP politicians to turn Hispanics against African Americans with artfully designed dog whistles that inflame already existing prejudice against blacks.

The only question is: Who will bell the cat? Which GOPer would ever have the cojones to do such a thing?

No need! Our post-partisan post-racial President Obama, assisted by Attorney General "Cowards" Holder and Mayor de Blasio are willingly doing the job that no Republican dares to do.

When Obama & Co. decided to amp up their base over the Trayvon Martin killing it turned out that the target of their rage was not a geniune white racist but a "White Hispanic."

When Obama & Co. decided to amp up their base over the police killing of a black gentle giant, it turned out that the gentle giant had just held up a convenience store and menaced an Asian shop assistant.

When Obama & Co. decided to continue their days of rage and organize demonstrations and riots all over the country, the first thing a deranged black activist did was kill two NYPD cops. Yay! But the silly fool didn't kill a couple of white cops. Instead he emptied his gun on two non-white cops, an Asian and a Hispanic, as they sat in their patrol car.

And who are the chaps organizing continuing demonstrations and riots in New York City? It's a coalition of black and Muslim organizations.

In other words, it is the left that is rebranding the Democratic Party as the Black and Muslim Party.

The point is that when the Democrats are in the ascendant, you can call them the majority party of minorities, women, youth, and the educated. But when you blow away the fluff and you put a lefty Obama administration in charge for six years what you get is a party of blacks, feminists, young "activists" and gentry liberals. And that doesn't add up to a majority.

I keep saying that the Republican Party is clueless. It doesn't know how to build a majority. That's because it's not the white party, not the rich party, not the corporate party. It is just the party of the responsible middle class.

You'd think that the clueless party would not be long for this world.  But it has a recruiter that keeps replenishing its ranks. From time the time the Democratic Party throws off part of its coalition and that rejected limb hobbles its way over to the Republican Party. Thirty-five years ago the Dems threw off the Reagan Democrats. Thirty years ago the Dems threw off the fundamentalist Christians. Most recently they threw off the white working class. And maybe next they'll throw off the striver Hispanics and Asians.

A word to the wise among my liberal friends. You guys should really cool the anti-police rhetoric. The whole point of urban policing, starting in London with Sir Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police, is to keep the young single lower-class males under control. That's what the middle class wants, and that what it gets. It got it in 1830 when the threat was Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger. It got it in New York in the mid 1800s when the threat was the shanty Irish. It got it in the 1990s when the threat was black teenagers.

When you liberals go after the cops you just remind the middle class what the police are for. The police in the modern city are there to protect the middle class from the under-class thugs.

But don't mind me. I'm just an old white guy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Three Liberal Conceits

It feels like 9/11, watching the twin towers burning, thinking about "one hour buildings" and wondering what comes next.

I'm talking, of course, about the mid-term elections last November 4. We are looking at the Democratic Party as it trails a black cloud of smoke and we are wondering: could the whole thing come down in a great crash? And if it did come down would it be in that dreadful slow motion descent of the twin towers, or the sub-second dump of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis? One moment it was there, the next moment it was in the river.

Everything is collapsing on the liberals all at once. Their multidecadal war on the private sector, where they want to boss banks and corporations around to help workers get good jobs or to help minorities buy a home, is in ruins, as their confident Keynesian stimulus has failed. Their war on want is a mess as the administrative manipulations of a thousand social programs make dependents out of proud workers.  Their was on global warming is consuming itself in second rate science and third rate politics. Their war on tradition is a mess as the sexual revolution turns into a re-commodification of sex and pathetic attempts to fix it with politics -- like the "rape culture" mania.

There are, I think, Three Conceits at the heart of this liberal meltdown. Let's take them one by one.

First, there is the Economic Conceit, the idea that government can run the economy. There certainly is a need for the government to commandeer the economy in case of all-out war. But the record of the last century is that, absent war, government should keep its cotton-picking hands off. Government shouldn't muck around with monetary policy and the credit system. All it does is institutionalize inflation and play favorites with the credit system. Government shouldn't muck about with corporations vs. labor vs. the consumer. The wreck of the auto companies ought to tell us that. As George McGovern found out when he opened a resort hotel and then went bankrupt, business is incredibly difficult. Politicians shouldn't make it harder.

Secondly, there is the Social Conceit, the idea that government can spread the wealth and alleviate poverty, that government can run the education system and supervise the health care system. No it can't. The education is dead in the water, and has been for a generation. The reason? It's been captured by the producers who don't give a damn about the consumers, children and parents. The Obamis are in the middle of bollixing up the health care system by leaning on to serve an additional 30 million people who are reluctant to pay for their own health care. Government just can't do this efficiently and effectively.

Thirdly, there is the Moral Conceit, the idea that government can muck around by legislating morality. Oh yes, liberals believe in legislating morality all right. That's what all the fuss about abortion and gay marriage and the "rape culture" is about. Liberals decided to change, by judicial fiat, the moral rules on babies and marriage. Now everyone wants to use the government to force their moral views on the rest of the nation.

What is going on here? What do liberals not understand?

I think that we need to look at society in a new way. Think of a circle, divided into three sectors. One is the political sector, with the institutions of government at all levels. This is the sector of force. Then there is the economic sector, of businesses and consumers, producing and consuming products and services. This is the sector of stuff. Then there is the moral/cultural sector, with various non-economic institutions, churches, schools, charities, foundations, and voluntary associations. The point about these insitutions is that they are not immediately economic. They have moral or social goals, not economic goals. This is the sector of faith.

The big mistake that liberals have made, as reflected in the Three Conceits, is that the political sector can supervise and co-opt the other two sectors. It can't the political sector is the sector of force, and force is the only thing it knows. When you do force in the economic sector you get serfdom. When you do force in the moral/cultural sector you get a clash of faith, a religious war, and even a religious civil war. The three sectors need to be separate and equal in a Greater Separation of Powers. None should dominate another sector, and no two should gang up on the third.

This is all very well, but there is something missing. It is people. It one thing to understand the relationships of the institutions in society, it is another thing to figure out the people.

The people, I believe are a circle in the middle. Call it the personal sector. The personal sector is the face-to-face sector, where people deal with each other verbally. It is the sector of trust.

The whole universe of society is a question of trust, but trust is only possible between face-to-face people. Without people in the middle you have nothing but force, the mechanical interactions on inanimate objects rather than the personal relationships of trust.

So when we say that the three sectors should be separate and coequal, and kept so by a Greater Separation of Powers, we understand also that this social compact is made possible by the folks in the middle, in the personal sector. These people in the middle act in face to face relationship with other people and it is the trust that they develop over time that creates the delicate balance between the sectors.

It is people representing institutions in the economic sector that link with people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector and put material content into moral concern. It is people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector linking with people representing institutions in the political sector that define the boundary where moral disapproval turns into legal restraint. It is people representing institutions in the economic sector linking with people representing institutions in the political and moral/cultural sectors that define the boundaries where a bad deal turns into a fraudulent deal.

In this Christmas season, let us not forget that our liberal friends are good people. But they were tempted by vanity, and vanity turned into conceit. And now conceit is turning into humiliation.

Let's cut the political sector down to size and reanimate the spirit of trust that turns adversaries into friends.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Georg Simmel: Wrapup

Georg Simmel was a German sociologist and contemporary of Max Weber, also a German sociologist. But his work is independent of Weber and clearly not "influenced" by Weber like 20th century sociologists.

So Simmel is clearly a 19th century voice, commenting on the world that the 19th century created. But his great virtue is that he doesn't have a political ax to grind, like Marx and the Fabians. He doesn't regard social hierarchy as prima facie as scandal. Nor does he descant on the horrors of objectification as the Marxists do with "reification" and "commodification."

So let's review Simmel's ideas, as developed in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff.

Groups and Lowest Common Denominator. People are at their best as individuals, at their worst in a group. That's because a group must define itself by what the members have in common.

Sociability as Play. We tend to think of pure sociability as "superficial" and we sneer at the professional hostess. But sociability is sociation as play, and play is how humans learn things. So maybe sociability is how humans learn to be social.

18th and 19th Century Freedom. Simmel describes the 18th century idea of freedom as the idea of "freedom in general" and the 19th century idea of freedom as the freedom to be different. The thing is that freedom, any freedom, immediately permits the strong to exploit the weak and the clever to outpace the stupid.  We used to worry about aristocratic privilege; now we worry about economic inequality.

The Sociology of Small Numbers. Simmel starts with the isolated individual, then moves to the "dyad" of two people -- friends, business partners and married man and wife -- and the "triad" of three people where the question usually involves various two-against-one scenarios.

Numbers and Groups. Once you get beyond the sociation of the kindred you see numbers appearing, particularly in the notion of the "Hundred," a subdivision used in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere.

Subordination. However we may long for freedom and equality, social relations almost always means the domination of one person by another. Simmel looks at three kinds of social domination: subordination under a monarch, under a plurality, and under a principle. He makes the important point that we humans are very seldom held under complete coercive domination. It's just that, most of the time, we judge the price of freedom too high to take advantage of it.

The Secret. One of the most important qualities of social life is that we don't tell everything to the other people we know.  We hold back, and not just the guilty secrets. In fact discretion and privacy are a vital part of social life. It starts with the fact that we cannot know what another person is thinking.

Faithfulness and Gratitude. They are both pretty important as the social glue that goes beyond the mere performance of promises.

Objectivity in Modern Life. Marx makes a scandal out of "reification" and the way that production for use becomes production for exchange. But Simmel shows that objectification is inevitable as society develops from face-to-face relationships to the global exchange economy. We naturally treat objects like money and products as if they have a life of their own. We do it because it works.

The Stress of Modern Life. The "intensification of nervous stimulation" is the defining aspect of life in the city. It provokes everyone to cooperate with the rest of society yet also work hard at individuating from the mass. Modern life is a constant battle between "individual independence and the elaboration of individuality itself". It is the conflict between the 18th century "general human being" and the 19th century "qualitative uniqueness and irreplaceability." We want to be equal to our fellows, and we want to be special as well.

Back to the beginning: The Unknown Sociologist.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Georg Simmel: The Metropolis and Mental Life

Back in the old days primitive man fought like mad just to provide for his bodily existence, writes Georg Simmel in George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. But now modern man must take arm against a sea of troubles "to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life."

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

The 18th century commanded each individual to take arm against the old hierarchies in state and religion and economics; the 19th century commanded us to seek "functional specialization" in our work and compare ourselves with others. Nietzsche saw life as a ruthless struggle between individuals; socialism saw the complete suppression of all competition.
[I]n all these positions the same basic motive is at work: the person resists to being leveled down and worn out by a social-technological mechanism.
What we have, in the metropolis, is "the intensification of nervous stimulation... and the unexpectedness of onrushing impressions." It requires an intellectual response to life different than the tenor of rural life "which rests more upon deeply felt and emotional relationships."

This intellectuality is symbolized by the money economy. In the exchange economy of the metropolis everything "is reckoned with as a number."
Money is concerned only with what is common to all: it asks for the exchange value, it reduces all quality and quantity to the question: How much?
 In rural affairs, producer and consumer are acquainted.
The modern metropolis, however, is supplied almost entirely by production for the market, that is, for entirely unknown purchasers who never personally enter the producer's actual field of vision.
 The calculating nature of metropolitan life tends "to transform the world into an arithmetic problem" even to the necessity of promptness and "the punctual integration of all activities and mutual relationships into a stable and impersonal time schedule."
These traits must also color the contents of life and favor the exclusion of those irrational, instinctive, sovereign trains and impulses which aim at determining the mode of life from within, instead of receiving the general and precisely schematized form of life from without.
It is precisely this that thinkers like Nietzsche and Ruskin hated.

The neverending stimulation of metropolitan life has provoked a defense mechanism, the "blasé attitude," which deals with stimulation by refusing to react to the turmoil and intensification of experience of the urban experience. Thus, to the eyes of "small town people", the city dwellers seem "cold and heartless."

Against this is the fact that the metropolis "grants to the individual a kind and an amount of personal freedom which has no analogy whatsoever under other conditions." Small-town life sets up external and internal barriers against individual independence and expression that can only be overcome in the larger stage of the metropolis, its division of labor, and its geometrical expansion of horizons.

The objectivating spirit of the metropolis has yielded up amazing advances "in things and in knowledge, in institutions and in comforts" but also a "retrogression" of the spirit. This provokes some to extremes of individuality, "summoning the utmost in uniqueness and particularization, in order to preserve his most personal core... to exaggerate this personal element in order to remain audible even to himself."

Thus the metropolis provokes both "individual independence and the elaboration of individuality itself". There is a conflict between these two, the 18th century "general human being" and the 19th century "qualitative uniqueness and irreplaceability."
The external and internal history of our time takes its course within the struggle and in the changing entanglements of these two ways of defining the individual's role in the whole of society. It is the function of the metropolis to provide the arena for this struggle and its reconciliation.
Next: Wrapup

Monday, December 22, 2014

Georg Simmel: The Stranger

By the notion of "The Stranger" we are not talking about the person who is here in the community today and gone tomorrow. We are talking, according to George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, about "the person who comes today and stays tomorrow."
[H]is position in the group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it, which do not and cannot stem from the group itself.
We are not talking about people living on another planet; we are talking about people living in the community who are not quite of it. The stranger's relation to the community "involves both being outside it and confronting it."

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

The archetypal stranger is the trader, for he brings "products that originate outside the group" and probably lives outside it. Because trade sees opportunities that the local person does not, it is suitable for the stranger and suitable for a group like the European Jews, and the stranger is typically not "an owner of soil." This status alone makes him a stranger.

His activity in intermediary trade and finance also evokes mobility, one who comes in contact with many individuals and becomes less "organically connected" with "kin, locality, and occupation". This mobility and extensive contact also creates objectivity, for "the objective individual is bound by no commitments which could prejudice his perception, understanding, and evaluation of the given." This objectivity, and standing apart, is often abused by persons wishing to blame someone for an uprising or other social disaster.

We relate to the stranger through general features such as nation, occupation. But with our intimates with more specific qualities. This is notable in erotic relationships, where "lovers think that there has never been a love like theirs". But estrangement "usually comes where this uniqueness vanishes from the relationship."

The peculiar situation of the stranger is illustrated by the medieval Beede in German cities. For the Christian this tax "changed with the changes in his fortune" while for the Jew it was fixed as a head tax. Locals were treated as individuals; strangers were all alike.

The stranger is a member of the community; yet he is held at a distance. There is in the stranger a peculiar tension between "nearness and distance."

Next: The Metropolis and Mental Life.

Georg Simmel: The Negatives of Collective Behavior

When you get a big mass action, such as a revolution, writes Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, the result is almost always destructive. The reason is quite simple. When you bring together all kinds of divergent groups, you usually get dispersing and destructive consequences.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

Simmel puts this idea into the form of a principle:
[A]s the size of a group increases, the common features that fuse its members into a social unit become ever fewer. [Thus] a smaller minimum of norms can, at least, hold together a large group more easily than a small one.
The point is that the larger the group the harder it is to control it from the center, and the more that the center "is left only with a prohibitive function... with the restriction of freedom rather than its direction." Polytheism and monotheism demonstrate this principle: the particular qualities of polytheistic gods make a large unified religious community impossible. Thus Islam, in unifying numerous polytheistic Arab tribes, became the simplest of the monotheisms.
[T]he larger the group... the less does the observance of the norm characterize the individual and the less important it is for him -- whereas its violation, on the whole, has consequences which are especially grave, which single out the individual from the group.
This applies especially to intellectual matters, being based on logic, which "cuts through the variety of world views" and creates "common ground" for all discussion. Yet logic is merely negative; "it is only a norm against which we must not sin".

The violation principle applies also to ordinary social conventions. To observe them is nothing; to violate them is a big deal.
Greeting somebody in the street proves no esteem whatever, but failure to do so, conclusively proves the opposite. The forms of courtesy fail as symbols of positive, inner attitudes, but they are most useful in documenting negative ones, since even the slightest omission can radically and definitely alter our relation to a person.
Next: The Stranger

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, 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."

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

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.

[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.
Next: The Negatives of Collective Behavior

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.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

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.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

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.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No, Harvard Students. You are the Oppressors

I've been taking a class in philosophy at our local flagship state university, the University of Washington. And one of the takeaways was that the two most talkative women in the class seemed to equate politics with protest marches.

I never got to talk to them about this; but I can guess where is comes from. Social Justice 101. And my suspicion was confirmed when Harvard students demanded in an open letter the postponement of finals exams.  Because social justice.
“Like many across the country,” its authors claim, students “are traumatized” and “visibly distressed” — to the extent that there is now a “palpable anguish looming over campus.” The “national crisis” that has been provoked by the cases of Garner and Brown, they argue, has left them with no choice but to “stand for justice rather than sit and prepare for exams.”
This is a joke. It assumes the world-view that the world is composed of oppressors, oppressed, and champions of the oppressed. So Harvard students, in doing the Lord's work of championing the oppressed would be oppressed by having to take their finals on time.

No, Harvard. Because the progressive world view, of oppressors, oppressed, and champions of the oppressed is a lie. It is no less a lie than Marx's world view in 1848 that the world was composed of bourgeois, proletarians, and educated youth.

In fact, in today's world there is no "white privilege." There is only "liberal privilege." The only "micro-aggression" is the aggression that lefties use against their chosen opponents. "Check your privilege" can only apply to liberals. Because conservatives don't got none.

The oppressor/oppressed world view is no less a lie than the Gruberist world view, that there are greedy corporations, working people, and an educated elite that's needed to legislate government programs to protect the people from the robber barons and the racists and sexists.

Here's another world view. There's the unjust liberal ruling class, assisted by its bribed apologists in the universities and the government bureaucracies and the activist groups. Then there are the liberal clients living on government benefits and/or lifetime government jobs. Then there is the ordinary middle class, trying to make a life obeying the law, going to work, following the rules while being harassed by the ruling class and its paid lackeys.

And you, Harvard students, are the bribed apologists and paid lackeys of the ruling class. In case you didn't recognize yourselves. That's why you went to Harvard: to get the connections you need to make a career in the ruling class. Like Jonathan Gruber.

But my favorite world view is simply this: There's a creative class, that transforms the world with surprises, including knowledge, technology, products and services, and social change. There's a responsible class, that tries to live as responsible individuals, serving itself by serving others. And there's a victim class, that experiences itself as subordinate and helpless victims of the tides of power and change. Each of these three classes has its good side and its bad side. The creatives can transform the world with good ideas or bad ideas. The responsible middle class can responsibly develop the ideas of the creatives for good or for evil. The victims can be genuinely suffering from no fault of their own or they could be gaming the system.

People of good will get together and try to tease out the good from the evil, knowing that it's not easy. That's because what I may think of as good another might think of as evil.

But there's one thing that's helpful in deciding who to believe and who to distrust. Anyone that's proposing a new government program ought to be distrusted until they can prove their good faith. Why is that? It's because when you propose a government program, say on curbing the "rape culture" on campus, you are saying that the current system and culture has failed. So government force is needed. And government force means, as we learned in the Eric Garner case, that deadly force may be used. The question is: is this new application of government force worth the death of even one person?

The great thing about social animals is that they have found ways to reduce the use of force. They divide up the world into "us" and "them". For "us" force is not required, only the social cues of shame and guilt, kindness and love. For "them" of course, we have to be on our guard.

What the social justice warriors are doing is expanding the zone of "them" and the application of force. That's weird, because global international capitalism is a system that expands the boundaries of "us" almost to the whole world, and as this cultural revolution has expanded across the world it has reduced the incidence of violent death by about an order of magnitude.

Yet for 150 years the lefties of the world have worked themselves to the bone trying to roll back this beneficial system.

So what do the lefties and the Grubers and the Harvard students really want? They want the thrill of the hunt. They want to be the men with guns, the judges in their robes, the priests at the sacrificial altar. They want to be the guys ordered to eliminate the evil and the hateful from this world. They want power, and power, according to Henry Kissinger, is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Of course, anyone with power is automatically an oppressor. Or do social-justice warriors get a papal indulgence on that? Because they are using power on behalf of the oppressed? Or is there some other reason?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back to the Solid South

Last Saturday, with the defeat of Sen. Mary Landrieu in a runoff election in Louisiana, the South lost its last Democratic Senator.

That's not surprising, since the South is racist and couldn't be expected to vote for a Democrat anyway. Because racism. Lots of liberals are writing angry screeds about this, in the aftermath of Landrieu's defeat, here and here.

It's the number one article of faith among liberals. Here's how the Narrative goes: President Johnson signed the civil rights acts of the 1960s sighing that Democrats had lost the South for a generation. Then Richard Nixon, courtesy of Pat Buchanan, formulated a Southern Strategy to court white southern voters angered by the end of Jim Crow. Therefore Republicans are racists.

This is the point where a conservative writer typically declares: No We're Not!

But let's face it; there's no defense from the charge of racism, so let's not even try. Let us merely invoke German sociologist Georg Simmel, who wrote that while people appealed to as individuals are intelligent and evolved, in the mass they can only be appealed to in their basest instincts. That's why politics is always about race and identity and ethnicity and loot and free stuff.

So let us stipulate that all Republicans and white southerners are racists, sexists, homophobes. Then what?

Then, does it really make political sense that liberals and Democrats make such a big deal about it? Should Democrats make a point of telling conservative white southerners that they are pond scum?

Let's turn it around. Republicans are often accused of hating, or at least writing off, African Americans. A perennial op-ed topic is declaring the need for the Republican Party to conduct "outreach" to African Americans that vote 90 percent for Democrats. Ditto women and Hispanics. The moral is that a political party exists to win elections; it is political malpractice to write off any group of voters as unreachable.

So why is it OK for Democrats to put white southern voters beyond the Pale? Or white working-class voters. Or white Christian voters?

Back in 2006 the wily Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recruited a bunch of Democratic candidates and ran them for the US Senate. He carefully chose moderates, people with military service, in order to appeal to red-state voters. In short, he decided to court white middle-class voters. He was so successful that the Dems won the Senate in 2006, increased their majority in 2008, and used those moderate votes to ram Obamacare down our throats in 2009-10.

Ahem. Maybe, Chuck, it would have been a good idea not to sacrifice those moderates as cannon fodder in the Big Push for universal health care, as you now seem to recognize. In your speech to the National Press Club on November 25, 2014 you recognized that most Americans already had health insurance and that the uninsured rarely voted. You recognized that politically, Obamacare had a lot of potential downside and precious little upside. And it's not as if HillaryCare, in 1993-94, was wildly popular.

But my basic point is this. If it's considered to be stupid for Republicans not to reach out to blacks, women and minorities, why is it not considered to be stupid for Democrats to write off the white South and stigmatize them as racists? Not to mention the white working class, the white middle class, white Christians, and white Tea Partiers?

I know that politics is the art of division, but isn't that taking division a bit too far?

In fact, why does it make sense for liberals and Democrats to keep calling anyone that doesn't agree with them racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots?

Just asking.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Georg Simmel: Knowledge Truth and Falsehood

In order to live and thrive as social animals we humans have to have knowledge about each other, writes Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. That knowledge can be expressed by the price of a merchant's goods, his knowledge of his customers, by the teacher challenging her students, knowing their capabilities. Of course, we do not know the full truth about other people; much of other people is hidden from us. Failing perfection, we assemble a "personal unity" out of the "fragments" that other persons permit us to see, knowing also that often they deliberately conceal parts of themselves. Still, we know enough to get on.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

The interaction between individuals is "based upon the pictures which they acquire of one another." But it is the very interaction between individuals under which the conception each has of the other takes shape and is legitimated. In science this is called circular logic; but between people it is life. We act based upon our overall knowledge of people and reality, yet our knowledge is shot through with error and distortion. Not only is complete truth impossible but untruth, even the Noble Lie and conscious self-deception, seems necessary in order to maintain life. It seems "we obtain the exact amounts of error and truth which constitute the basic of the conduct required of us, error and truth are psychologically coordinate".

The question of truth and deception have particular importance in relation to "the inner life of the individual with whom we interact. He may, intentionally, either reveal the truth about himself to us, or deceive us by lie and concealment." Our own inner lives, anyway, are a "chaotic whirling of images and ideas" of which we are rarely conscious, and we are even more selective about what we reveal of our inner life to others. "Whatever we say... is never an immediate and faithful presentation of what really occurs in us... but is a transformation of this inner reality... stylized by selection and arrangement." All interactions between humans necessarily lie somewhere on a line between "sincere revelations and mendacious concealments."

So we come to the lie, "the fact that the liar hides his true idea from the other." This is particularly important in modern society. No doubt lies have always been a part of human interaction, but in the primitive face-to-face society it is much harder to bring off. In our modern society of strangers we are less able to evaluate the truth of others' discourse, yet we rely enormously "upon the faith in the honesty of the other", for instance in the economy and its credit system, in science where scientists take for granted the ideas of other scientists. The lie in the modern world is a big deal, "for modern life is a "credit economy" in a much broader than economic sense."

Yet the lie also is permissible. The intellectually stronger tend to club the intellectually weaker with the lie, and the retail trade uses the arts of of the lie in boosting its merchandise. And even the most intimate relations, defined by nearness, "lose the attractiveness, even the content of their intimacy, as soon as the close relationship does not also contain, simultaneously and alternatively, distances and intermissions." All "relationships... presuppose a certain ignorance and a measure of mutual concealment". The lie thus occupies the aggressive end of a whole spectrum of social actions "attained by mere secrecy and concealment."

Thus social humans do not just live by communication and cooperation; social relations also necessarily involve distance, concealment, and at the extreme, the lie.

Next: Types of Relationship and Reciprocal Knowledge

Friday, December 5, 2014

Georg Simmel: Degrees of Domination

We moderns worship at the altar of freedom and equality, but Georg Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff warns us that domination and subordination are an inescapable part of being social. In almost every relation, one person is a little less equal that the other.

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

Simmel has previously gone into excruciating detail about "superordination and subordination" by type, that is, subordination to an individual, to a group, to a principle. Now he looks at the degree of subordination or domination.

But first he examines a peculiar case, that of superordinates without subordinates. He means a group of people that does not even think about subordinates. Examples are the Spartans, that just called themselves homoioi, or similar ones. Their subordinates were subject peoples, and they never talked about them. Plato speaks about the"born king" who is kingly whether or not he has a kingdom to rule. In the Salvation Army, everyone is an officer, and the Freemasons are all "sovereigns and born princes of the whole order." Whether such people live in the real world or an imagined world is a separate question.

Another question is the relation of superordination and freedom. People in a subordinate position naturally long for a liberation from that domination, and they often express their longing as a desire for freedom. We may describe this a desire for "equality with the superior". The proletarian naturally wants to climb up a rung to equality with the bourgeois. But then what? What happens next is a struggle for supremacy, a desire to be superior, for, as Simmel says, we want not only freedom, but "to use it for some purpose." In other words, domination. A peculiar instance of this drive for superiority is for an elite group to have its own laws. It may seem like domination for a group to subject its members to special laws, but that specialness or separation is a measure of the group's freedom and contributes to the sense among its members of their superiority.

However, a successful drive for freedom among a coalition of groups will immediately expose disagreement: As soon as feudalism was abolished in Bohemia in 1848 the differences between the poor peasants and well-to-do peasants came to the fore. The stronger group in a coalition may appropriate most or all of the gains from a political struggle for freedom.

In other words, "the quest for freedom... has, as its correlate or consequence, the quest for domination". But both "socialism and anarchism deny the necessary character of this connection." They argue that super-subordination will disappear once society is organized as the "coordination of all elements." Of course, it is almost impossible to implement such a plan because nothing "can eliminate natural difference among men" nor eliminate the need for "leaders and executors." But it might be possible to eliminate the feeling of "degradation and oppression" in the subordinates. Simmel suggests that this is possible by a "differentiation of objective and subjective life-elements, whereby subordination is preserved as a technical organizational value" that is not felt subjectively as degradation. Thus people may perform as subordinates at work but greet their boss as an equal in social situations. The elimination of degradation is also achieved by rotation of offices in small organizations and by short terms and term limits for elected offices.

Another way in which super-subordination is diminished is by the normal operation of democracy in which ordinary people, who have no expertise in governing, are supposedly the source of power, while the magistrates and representatives are the servants of the people. A similar threading of power was achieved in Britain after the Glorious Revolution. The clergy, opposed to parliamentary power, was given power over marriages and testaments and sanctions over Catholics; in return it recognized "that the divine world order had room for a parliamentary world order." Similarly in a bureaucracy the superior is often dependent upon the technical knowledge of the subordinate.

In general, we can view social domination in part as a form of the "objective organization of society." But domination also expresses "differences in personal qualities among men." We can imagine that social domination begins with purely personal qualities, such as force, piety, skills, that define superiority. As objective government structures developed the king had to be perfect: King David was said to be "singer and warrior, a layman and a prophet" and had the skills to meld secular power with "spiritual theocracy." But the development of the state and the division of labor makes the personal omnipotence of the ruler unnecessary, and develops into an objective form where the position not the person defines super-subordination. Outside of politics it is clear that the mere possession of money implies a certain social position. The modern economy creates an abundance of positions for which many people are qualified, while creating remarkable opportunities for the exceptionally gifted.

Against this tendency, socialism proposes a completely centralized and articulated hierarchy and presupposes, by its doctrines of equality, that all are equally qualifies for positions. It ought to implement a system of appointment to positions by lottery. And yet the existence of a cenralized government hierarchy destroys the principle that all are equal.

A related problem applies to any aristocracy, or rule by the "best." Artists commonly prefer aristocracy, where internal excellence is revealed in outer appearance.  Yet who is to determine the "best?" Neither the breeding of the best nor a free struggle for position has yielded the best, so perhaps the lesser evil of a general equality is best. Or maybe, failing any method of selecting the "best" and granting the necessity of government, perhaps the "best" superordinate is the "subjectively adequate individual." This is not as scandalous as it seems. Elections of the "medieval English parliament seem to have been conducted with astonishing negligence and indifference." All that mattered was that someone was elected from each district.

Earlier, Simmel has written that absolute coercion is rare; there is always some degree of freedom even for the most abject slave. Now he notes the ubiquity of some level of coercion in social relations, for instance in marriage laws. The coercion may make life unbearable, but it may also encourage people to make their life in common "at least as bearable as possible." There is in human life a constant drama between freedom and subordination, and the routine coercions of social life bring them into focus.

In the final analysis there is a basic problem in super-subordination, that "there are always more people qualified for superordinate positions than there are such positions." Moreover many people appointed to superior positions are less capable than those left behind as subordinates. It is telling that modern government and its perfect hierarchy tends to presuppose an infallibility in its functionaries that contrasts with the inadequacy of its actual executives. In fact, the absence of constant disaster indicates that many people of average ability can do the jobs of a governing hierarchy. In Athens, as today, people are more interested in personal qualities such as friendliness and caring about people like me than objective qualifications when selecting their representatives. Yet once elected, we accord our representatives respect. Even in the 17th and 18th century it was assumed that the subject, permanently in need of royal guidance, immediately acquired the necessary insights and public spirit on being appointed to public office.

Next: Knowledge, Truth and Falsehood

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Middle-Class Programs, Chuck?

Back on November 25, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) broke from the pack and told the National Press Club that passing Obamacare was a mistake. Said he:
After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus[.]
Instead, of course, Democrats chased after their Great White Whale and passed Obamacare.

I remember thinking and writing back in 2009 that Democrats were making a strategic mistake in just executing on their 2008 platform. Sorry, chum, I thought. Before you weigh us down with new entitlements you'd probably better get the economy moving again.

But let us look at the bigger picture. Just what does Schumer mean by "middle-class oriented programs?" I mean, haven't the Democrats been passing "middle-class oriented programs" since at least the beginning of the New Deal? Isn't that what Social Security, Medicare, education, labor laws, minimum wage, unemployment compensation, training programs, disability, workers compensation is all about?  Why would there be a need for any "middle-class oriented programs" after 75 years of passing non-stop "middle-class oriented programs?"

Let's look at the reason we even needed to think about fixing the economy back in 2009. We'd just had the worst financial crash since the Crash of 1929. And why? Because of middle-class oriented programs centered on government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that had flooded the mortgage market with sub-prime loans in accordance with government policy going back to the 1970s that had been pushed aggressively by Democrats. The idea was "affordable housing" -- for the middle class. That meant lowering credit standards and lowering down payments.

Could it be that it's the middle-class oriented programs that are the problem, not the solution?

I mean this. Suppose we decide that we've got to help the middle class climb out of the Great Recession.  What does that mean? Does it mean new regulations on business? Does it mean new subsidies for employment? A higher minimum wage?

Or do we admit that, after a great crash like that we can't just go on as before; we have to change the way government does business?

Could it just possibly be that the way forward is to dismantle all the economy-distorting programs that have been gussied up to help the middle class and try to let the price system and new businesses and good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity solve the problem. How else does  the middle class get good jobs at good wages making and distributing and selling products and services that people want to buy. What a concept!

And we tell the truth to the American voters. There is no such thing as a lifetime job. That's not how capitalism works. Capitalism is revolution; capitalism is change; capitalism is new products putting old products out of business. Capitalism is new jobs putting old jobs out of business. If you want the prosperity that has lifted ordinary people from a life at $1 to $3 per day to $100+ per day then you have to accept the "creative destruction" of the modern economy.

Frankly, I don't know the way forward. The way you win elections is by waving some glittery thing in front of the voters, something to make them think that government cares about people like them. But all that does is pile more subsidies, more government spending, more distortions on to the economy on top of the existing subsidies, spending, and distortions.

Let's look at it another way, from the perspective of, using the overall government spending for FY 2014, federal, state, and local. We are talking $1.2 trillion in government pensions, $1.3 trillion in government health care, $1.1 trillion in government education, and $0.5 trillion in government welfare (excepting Medicaid). All of this spending is a handout; people are getting this stuff from the government without paying for it.

Do you think that the government handing out $3.9 trillion every year in various entitlements and welfare for the middle class and the poor might have something to do with the fact that the middle class is struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession? Because the point is that before the middle class can earn money for themselves they first have to pay out the $3.9 trillion in transfer payments to seniors like me, to TANF recipients, to SNAP recipients, to Section 8 recipients, to the health care bureaucratic blob, to the education bureaucratic blob, to the welfare bureaucratic blob.

Now I understand Chuck Schumer. All he cares about is getting elected. If he can blame the Great Recession on greedy bankers, even though he is famously the "senator from Wall Street," hey, if it works, do it. If he can sucker the middle class with yet another "middle-class oriented program," hey, if it sells.

Chuck Schumer famously recruited good moderate Democratic candidates in the 2006 midterms that switched the Senate from Democrat to Republican. But then he stood by while the progressives executed their Big Obamacare Push that wasted 60 Democrats in the House in the 2010 midterms and has now swung the Senate back into the "R" column ib 2014. What was the point of recruiting those moderate candidates back in 2006, Chuck, if the Democratic Party is hard left progressive?

The whole point of elective politics is getting elected. Period. If we voters vote for shiny baubles, we deserve what we get. So long as voters vote for shiny things, the Chuck Schumers of the world are going to be dangling shiny things in front of us.

But sooner or later, as Margaret Thatcher said, the left runs out of other peoples' money. Because government spending is basically a waste. It is basically buying peoples' votes with other peoples' money and then giving it to them for nothing. That's not social, or economic, or fair, or just. It is just a waste. It just ends up wasting resources and wasting peoples' lives.

Here's what would really help the middle class. Privatize Social Security so that instead of paying payroll taxes people would be saving their own money for their own retirement. Privatize education so that mothers could band together to educate their children together. Privatize Medicare so that people saved their own money for their end-of-life care. Privatize welfare so that every middle class person was morally and economically contributing to the relief of the poor.

But what would be the point of that? How would a chap like Chuck Schumer ever get elected to political power if he didn't have any handouts to spread around on "middle-class oriented programs?"