by Chris Horner
The political world is changing again. In place of the neoliberal politics of the last decades, capitalism and the nation state is undergoing one of its periodic metamorphoses. The period of what Nancy Fraser has called ‘neoliberal progressivism’ – broadly progressive stances by many governments on issues of sexual choice, reproductive rights and so on, coupled with an economic agenda committed to ‘balancing the books,’ actually cutting public expenditure, austerity in other words, is slowly giving way to a new dispensation. This new approach is unsurprisingly favoured mainly by parties of the right, and it threatens to leave centre left parties with a problem. This hasn’t happened in every developed country in the same way, and like any political phenomenon, it is subject to the ebb and flow of electoral fortune. But whether the right is formally in power or not, the we can see a family resemblance in the different forms that the right has recently taken. Read more »
by Fabio Tollon
Human beings are rather silly creatures. Some of us cheer billionaires into space while our planet burns. Some of us think vaccines cause autism, that the earth is flat, that anthropogenic climate change is not real, that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that diamonds have intrinsic value. Many of us believe things that are not fully justified, and we continue to believe these things even in the face of new evidence that goes against our position. This is to say, many people are woefully irrational. However, what makes this state of affairs perhaps even more depressing is that even if you think you are a reasonably well-informed person, you are still far from being fully rational. Decades of research in social psychology and behavioural economics has shown that not only are we horrific decision makers, we are also consistently horrific. This makes sense: we all have fairly similar ‘hardware’ (in the form of brains, guts, and butts) and thus it follows that there would be widely shared inconsistencies in our reasoning abilities.
This is all to say, in a very roundabout way, we get things wrong. We elect the wrong leaders, we believe the wrong theories, and we act in the wrong ways. All of this becomes especially disastrous in the case of climate change. But what if there was a way to escape this tragic epistemic situation? What if, with the use of an AI-powered surveillance state, we could simply make it impossible for us to do the ‘wrong’ things? As Ivan Karamazov notes in the tale of The Grand Inquisitor (in The Brothers Karamzov by Dostoevsky), the Catholic Church should be praised because it has “vanquished freedom… to make men happy”. By doing so it has “satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity – to find someone to worship”. Human beings are incapable of managing their own freedom. We crave someone else to tell us what to do, and, so the argument goes, it would be in our best interest to have an authority (such as the Catholic Church, as in the original story) with absolute power ruling over us. This, however, contrasts sharply with liberal-democratic norms. My goal is to show that we can address the issues raised by climate change without reinventing the liberal-democratic wheel. That is, we can avoid the kind of authoritarianism dreamed up by Ivan Karamazov. Read more »
by Ali Minai
April 2018: ‘Tis the Season of Giddiness in Democratlandia. Republicans are saddled with a widely despised President and riven by internal dissension. The Republican leadership in Congress is lurching from fiasco to fiasco – interrupted briefly by one great “success” on tax cuts. The zombie candidates of the Tea Party are still stalking establishment Republicans across the land. And, somewhere in his formidable fastness, the Great Dragon Mueller is winding up for the fiery breath that will consume the world of Trumpism like a paper lantern. And a Blue Wave – nay, a Tsunami – is headed towards the Republicans in Congress, looking to engulf them in November.
Time passes, and it is October. Anguish is all around. After snatching children from their parents and imprisoning them in cages, after giving a wet kiss to Kim Jong Un and worse to Putin, after having his former campaign manager convicted of crimes and his fixer plead guilty, after a virtual torrent of lies, after reports of a still devastated Puerto Rico and newly devastated Carolinas and Florida – after all this and more, Trump is more popular than ever in his presidency, Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, and the Blue Wave is beginning to look more like an eddy. To be sure, Trump is still spectacularly unpopular compared to past presidents, with disapproval numbers at 50% of higher, but he seems to be rising. Rising! The very word is like a knell of doom. As Trump himself might say, “What the hell is going on?”
First of all, probably an over-reaction. A large part of US electoral outcomes can be ascribed to structural factors, such as the fact that 26 of the 50 states have conservative majority populations. Yes, these 26 states may add up to only 47% of the US population, but they elect 54% of the US Senate, and that cannot change. The number of reliably liberal states is much smaller – only 16 – and, though they account for 42% of the population, they only elect 32% of the Senate. The remaining 8 states – comprising 11% of the population – swing with the season, but supply 16% of the Senate. Thus, Democrats start off with a huge disadvantage in the Senate even in the best of times. Demographic forces will gradually change this situation, but slowly. Meanwhile, Democrats, as the liberal party, will always be facing the bitter choice of either accepting conservative senators in their own ranks or remaining a permanent minority in the Senate. Four decades of asymmetric political warfare has also left Republicans in control of most state houses, which they have used to gerrymander districts and pass laws to disenfranchise Democratic voters. That too is hard to change because these factors are custom-designed to perpetuate Republican majorities. But all is not lost for Democrats here. Read more »