Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: OCT27-28

Those drapes really bring the room together.

Every Wednesday morning (Au/NZ)/Tuesday evening (other places), Straw Puppy presents a post for people to provide their startling insights, general commentary and pleas of ‘please let this horror show be over soon’ about the United States Presidential Election.

Also, you don’t HAVE to talk about the election. There are no rules here only the arbitrary whims of a cat’s dream of a dog.

More sensibly the current FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls is here

This recent 538 post is quite interesting as well

Should John C Wright be allowed to vote?

Today’s politico-ethical question is easily answered. Yes, science fiction author John C Wright should be allowed to vote in whatever nation he chooses to live in, because people who are held accountable to laws should have a say in those laws AND also the legitimacy of government should derive from the broad consent of the governed.

Well, that was a short post because I couldn’t think of any counter arguments. Sorry, if you were expecting something longer or more argumentative.

OK, maybe I could find some straw-arguments from somewhere that offer a different position? As per Galileo, I’ll put the arguments in the name of Simplicio and show why they are inappropriate. Yet who could come up with a bunch of silly arguments for restricting the franchise? Aha! How about noted science fiction author and part-time reactionary John C Wright! Of course:

Simplicio: the author is prone to bouts of emotionalism and so it is less worthwhile to consult with him over the conduct and control of public business.

Camestros: lots of people are emotional and politics in general is often a matter of great emotion. I cannot see what the supposed connection is here? Is it that decisions motivated by emotion are less sound? I see no clear evidence for that. Emotion motivates decision making. People will be emotional about issues that matter to them. If there is a sound argument here against giving this author a vote, you have not yet stated it Simplicio.

Simplicio: The author does not show any particular manly or masculine virtues which would entitle them to a say in the public business, if stoicism, reason, and virtue were preconditions for the franchise.

Camestros: Again you introduce unexplained premises but at least here you clarify them a little. Are stoicism, reason and virtue masculine values? Let us put that aside as I think it is a red-herring in your argument. Is the author lacking in these virtues? Judging by his columns, yes I can see a lack of stoicism, I can see poor reasoning and I can see a lack of strong virtues such as charitable thoughts to others who differ from him. Yet even un-stotical, un-virtuous, poor thinkers are subject to the demands of government and as such they too should have some say in the laws they are subject to.

Simplicio: Your argument for voting is as a peaceful substitute for revolution, wherein the less numerous party, seeing himself outnumbered, agreed without bloodshed to abide by the vote of the more numerous. The author, being largely less ready, willing, or able to take up arms than most, has no place in these military questions.

Camestros: You badly misunderstand the nature of revolutions. To resist a government that does not have the consent of those it seeks to govern, is to take up a struggle but that struggle is not just the force of arms. It lies also with each and every person willing to withdraw cooperation from the government and those in power. It can be in the form of strikes, civil disobedience or even small (perhaps covert) acts of disruption. Look to the protest in Hong Kong or the USA in which the government throws the quasi-military force of the police at its own citizens. You will see people of kinds of physical capabilities resisting not just the old-fashioned stereotype of the able-bodied man.

Simplicio: A corollary argument is that the author, being immune from the draft because of age and physical health, should have no say over such questions as whether to enact a draft or when and how to conduct a war.

Camestros: A war that would result in a draft impacts far more people in the nation than just those drafted. A war of such magnitude would impact everybody in the nation and of every age. Further, since the Twentieth century at least (and in fact far earlier) the nature of war has been that the civilian population is also likely to face attack. War is a poor argument against limiting the suffrage as war is as profound an example of an event that affects everybody as you can find.

Simplicio: Another argument against him having the vote is that experience over the last few years shows that author’s suffrage erodes the willingness and ability of the author to engage in productive writing, instead leading him to write poorly reasoned arguments about contemporary politics.

Camestros: The author in question should be free to do with his time what he chooses within the limits of his general responsibilities to others and the law of the land (assuming they are just laws where he lives).

Simplicio: Moreover, women becoming less feminine as a whole become less happy, which makes men, as a whole both less masculine and less happy.

Camestros: I’m sorry but what did you say? I’m not sure of the relevance of your point. Are you saying that the author is unhappy because he falls far short of some masculine ideal? If so, that is his business and if he chooses to make himself unhappy that is also his business. None of this seems pertinent to the question of whether he should vote. Try and stay focused!

Simplicio: What I am trying to say is that authors like this one, when they intrude into positions of political power make self-centered and highly emotional decisions.

Camestros: “Intrude” is begging the question. You have yet to show that the presence of an author like this in politics IS an intrusion. Now I will grant that his political writings are self-centered and often highly emotional (histrionics over two characters holding hands at the end of a kid’s cartoon for example). He certainly wouldn’t be my choice for somebody to hold political office! Yet these are questions about the suitability of candidates and it is a cheap-shot to say about any politician that they are ‘self-centered’ or ‘highly emotional’ (and when a politician is so unemotional that such a charge would fall flat, their detractors will say that they are ‘cold’ or lack passion). So I won’t credit this as an argument. It is too close to the kind of absurdities people throw at women politicians for example — indeed women politicians often get accused of being both cold and over emotional at the same time! Look at some of the absurd arguments thrown at Hillary Clinton!

Simplicio: My argument is that chivalry, good sportsmanship, and grace toward an opponent are personality traits not shown by this author, but are needed in any vocation both more ruthless and requiring greater diplomacy and willingness to compromise than everyday public life.

Camestros: Yet your arguments (which you have not substantiated and simply assume) are arguments against voting for the author as a particular candidate. They are not arguments for restricting him from the franchise. If your argument was sound as a general principle then you would only allow people who show chivalry, good sportsmanship and grace towards an opponent. How would you go about evaluating people en-masse by such standards! Even if you could then why would the disenfranchise be under any moral obligation to follow the law that they are excluded from? Your position makes so little sense that I fear I must have misunderstood it.

Simplicio: So your argument in favour of universal suffrage is that since anyone, male or female, living within the nation and paying taxes both affects and is affected by the public business, therefore she should have a say in the matter, by simple justice?

Camestros: “Paying taxes” is a little assumption you sneaked in there that is not mine. However, the general point is correct and one I believe the author in question may have reached himself (or is close to) despite setting some strawmen in his own path. Indeed, the argument is so clear then I question what is served by disputing it, other than for you, Simplicio, to throw out character attacks against this author.

Simplicio: Ah, you have seen through my gambit. Yes, I was following his lead where he uses strawmen arguments to outline his dislike of women in general and then conclude that despite their unworthiness (in his view) that they should still be permitted to vote.

Camestros: Ah, I see. A demonstration of a lack of chivalry, good sportsmanship and grace? That seems cruel to say that about a given person. Surely that is a an attack on the author’s character?

Simplicio: Perhaps but then how is it worse to attack the character of one man than to attack the character of billions of women?

Camestros: It seems you have bested me in argument after all Simplicio!

Straw Puppy’s POTUS Polls: OCT20-21

Those drapes really bring the room together.

Every Wednesday morning (Au/NZ)/Tuesday evening (other places), Straw Puppy presents a post for people to provide their startling insights, general commentary and pleas of ‘please let this horror show be over soon’ about the United States Presidential Election.

Also, you don’t HAVE to talk about the election. There are no rules here only the arbitrary whims of a cat’s dream of a dog.

More sensibly the current FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls is here

I’m surprised the US doesn’t have regional parties

I’ll state up front that I’m certain there are strong reasons why the US doesn’t have state specific political parties that are distinct from national parties. It is a mystery only in so far as there are limits to my understanding of the history. However, having said that I was just generally thinking about third parties in the US and one way first-past-the-post systems can still move beyond a two-party system is with very regional parties. So takes this as me, as per-usual, thinking out loud rather than telling-it-like-it-is.

In the UK this manifested historically in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The importance of parties like the SNP or Plaid Cymru has been increased in recent decades by devolved governments and a more federated system of government (conditions which have always applied in the US states). Yet, even prior to the reforms that set up a Scottish parliament, the UK parliament had some third party MPs from regional parties. The political party situation in Northern Ireland was different again with both Labour and the Conservative Parties not operating there (although the SDLP is an equivalent party to Labour).

So the US has some of the features that would enable region-specific third parties within a two party system. There’s arguably even an advantage for states to have a senator from a state-specific party IF the senate is otherwise roughly evenly split between the two national parties. A non-aligned mp/senator/representative can be paradoxically more powerful in a chamber when they end up being a deciding vote. They are less beholden to party loyalty and they can more openly state that they will vote with which ever party on the day is offering a better deal for their state/region. That would suit some of the claimed anti-ideological populism (often just species of conservatism) which has a long history in the US.

So why does the Repub-Dem split seem to be operate at multiple levels? There’s zero mystery why the Presidential election is wholly inimical to third parties — everything about it is geared towards a stand off between two candidates and those candidates need national parties behind them. The electoral college system means those parties have to operate at a state level and need state-level political apparatus. The process of picking the national candidate mirrors the state-by-state aspect of the electoral college, further necessitating state level version of national political parties.

However, that alone isn’t a sufficient explanation. The UK’s national parties operate in Wales and Scotland but regions still create a scope for regional parties. Geographic based electoral systems rely on the existence of local majorities, i.e. geographically concentrated support to pick candidates. So there is a built-in capacity for regional issue candidates to gain some third party traction in a way that broader issue candidates (say a Green Party) can’t without electoral reform.

So what else is in play? In the UK historically the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties have been specifically nationalist in character, all be it in a more progressive left-of-centre way than the term ‘nationalism’ may suggest. That nationalism rested on historic, cultural and linguistic differences as well as an aspiration for independence. Although there is periodic discussion about Texas seceding form the USA or California, there’s not really the deep national identity for US states that is anything like that of the non-England parts of the UK. Having said that the Liberal Party in its various forms remains a significant third party in the UK after the the two party system shifted to Lab-v-Con around WW2, partly by being a regional-party-lite within England.

Additionally, national politics and the pressure of the electoral college vote strategies has tended to sort US national politics into Red-v-Blue regions where the Republican (say) states have a degree of similarity in terms of demographics (more rural, less dense, less urban) and likewise for the counterparts. Each state may have their own issues but the differences between a given state and another similar state aren’t sufficiently large that they can’t be accommodated within two broad coalitions of interests.

Another aspect that has taken me much longer to understand was the extent to which the two main political parties have their own local character. This is obvious historically with quite severe differences within the Democratic Party in the past, arguably greater within the party than between the two parties. That’s not quite how other countries think of political parties.

Another thing that it has taken me longer to understand because of preconceived ideas from British politics, is the degree to which US Senators are more independent actors than parliamentarians in the Westminster system. It’s rare (and indeed a sign of a government in severe trouble) in the Westminster system when there is any doubt about how a non-third party representative might vote given their party’s position. That’s not the case, as I understand it, at least in the senate (I mean, technically its not the case in the UK’s House of Lords but that is such a messed up concept for a second chamber that it defies any sensible analysis — in the Australian Senate, Labour senators vote Labour and Liberal senators vote Liberal and it would be a massive deal if they didn’t).

No final conclusion, as this was just another episode of Camestros trying to answer his own question. Still, if somebody gave me a gazillion dollars to make the US a multi-party system, I would definitely start regional.

If you want to watch something both depressing and funny, watch a ‘libertarian’ dance around Trump’s taxes

The New York Times has revealed details about Donald Trump’s tax returns

“The president paid just $750 (£580) in federal income tax both in 2016, the year he ran for the US presidency, and in his first year in the White House He paid no such taxes in 11 of 18 years of tax records examined by the newspaper The president has managed to lower his taxes through reporting hefty losses on his businesses After the success of The Apprentice TV show he did initially pay significant taxes – $95m over 18 years. But he later got most of that back via a $72.9 million federal tax refund. The refund remains under review”

People have speculated for several years now why Trump was hiding his tax returns and the general consensus was that they would show that he paid very little taxes due to claiming heavy losses. Those losses would damage his claims to be a successful business man and also imply that he might be cheating on his taxes. So the New York Times report is both a bombshell and also unsurprising. Trump is not the best liar in the land, he’s just the most enthusiastic. As deceptions go, this one was particularly transparent.

It is still damaging for Trump though and the reaction from his supporters has been notable. However, the world of US politics is not a simple binary one of Trump fans versus Trump non-fans. One of our many blog themes is that categories rarely have simple boundaries. Dividing the world into A and not-A reveals fractal spaces between the two: the hot dogs in the space of sandwiches, the submarines in the world of ships. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Witness Larry Correia. Libertarian, gun-rights advocate and, according to Larry, a valiant defender of freedom and scourge of the big city New York elites. Larry has never had an easy relationship with Donald Trump. When Trump was nominated as the GOP Presidential candidate, Larry was angry:

“You ignorant low information bastards. Motivated by fear and anger, you overlooked every gain made over the last few cycles, and traded it in to a lying huckster democrat for some magic beans. So you could stick it to the establishment, by electing the shit bird who funded them.”

Larry was under no illusions about Trump’s capabilities except the same one lot’s of people were under: he thought Trump would lose badly. Fate had other things in store for us all and left Larry with a dilemma. Larry’s ‘libertarianism’ is little more than anti-leftism and with much of his readership and many of his more vocal supporters endorsing Trump’s policies, the overt anti-Trumpism was not going to sell well as a position. So Larry has fallen into a political position best characterised as anti-anti-Trump — itself an interesting example of somebody trying to occupy a conceptual space that naive logic would suggest is indistinguishable from being pro-Trump.

The anti-anti-Trump position is a tricky one because it largely requires its advocates to avoid talking directly about Trump and instead focus on the opponents of Trump. However, among many things, Larry is also a former accountant and the issue of Trump’s taxes is a hard one to avoid. Yet, Trump’s position is also essentially indefensible and indeed, consistent of Larry’s former description of Trump as a ‘huckster’.

The solution is to try and dance around the issue, claim nobody else knows what they are talking about, while never actually engaging with Trump’s situation at all.

“So big picture time…First off, “morality” doesn’t have jack shit to do with taxation. You pay what you legally owe. Nobody willingly pays the government more than they legally owe.This has always been this way since America has had income taxes. There is endless court precedent. You pay what you legally owe. That’s it. If you pay less than you legally owe, then the government will fine or imprison you. If you pay more than you legal owe, the government will laugh and laugh, because you are an idiot, and you deserve to be poor.”

Maybe Larry think taxation rates and tax laws are immutable or maybe he just thinks that for this part of his argument? Maybe, that’s a tendentious defence of a businessman’s taxes but…it’s not a very smart or insightful point to make when that businessman is the President of the USA. Meanwhile, back in reality, “fairness” is a common and reasonable standard against which to judge the outcomes of tax policy. Are very wealthy people paying less tax than much poorer people? That implies 1. an ethical problem 2. a social problem and 3. a really poor way of funding your government. That third point is true EVEN IF you think the overall level of taxation should be low.

“Is it unfair that rich guys can employ Gandalf level CPAs and take advantage of more complicated tax laws, while regular people use TurboTax? Yep. But in the meantime, as long as those tax laws are there, the rich guys would be utter fools not to take advantage of them.”

It is unfair but taxation has nothing to do with morality? Hmmm, and also Trump isn’t just a random rich guy but the guy with distinct power over the taxation system. True, he doesn’t have the power to write tax legislation and these tax returns pertain mainly to before he was President but the records do pertain to his overall competence, his attitude towards public service and his public image.

“Your feelings don’t mean shit. Same as the rest of us, Trump owes what he owes. And the IRS will determine if that number is accurate or not.”

The feelings of US voters towards the US President in an election year shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. What also should not be lightly dismissed is the extent to which Trump is using his office to enrich himself and shield himself from legal accountability. Further Larry skips neatly over one of the key reasons why Trump was paying so very little tax: Trump has significant debts. Those debts aren’t news but the New York Times story confirms much that was already know (eg see this 2017 piece )

“But Vladeck, an expert in national-security law, says there’s a larger problem here. “More fundamentally, there’s the concern that a president who is personally on the hook for significant loans that come due while he’s the president might take official actions, or appear to take official actions, that are meant to alleviate the personal financial pressure he faces,” Vladeck tells Rolling Stone. “Indeed, there’s a reason why the federal government generally won’t give security clearances to those who have significant debt — it’s because they’re too much of a risk. So, too, apparently, is the President of the United States.””

The most powerful person in the USA is deeply indebted to numerous people. He may be in debt to the IRS as well. He may or may not be in debt to the Bank of China. The impact of all of these all compromise the decisions Trump makes regardless of ideological stance.

But, you are all stupid because Larry knows more about taxes than you do. Actually, I don’t doubt for a second that Larry knows a LOT more about the US taxation system than I do — it really would be hard for him to know less. However, what is notable is that nowhere in his two-thousand word defence of Trump does he ever point out anything that Trump’s critics are getting factually or technically wrong about taxes or taxation.

So why is this depressing? Larry Correia’s dislike of Trump is genuine but like so much of the US right, the entrenched opposition and hyper-partisan positioning means nothing will shift. The right has abandoned not just morality but also ideology, leaving only ties of allegiance.

More on Patreon v Unpleasantness

I’ve been following the travails of Vox “I have never been a neo-Nazi” Day & Owen “flat Earth” Benjamin against funding website Patreon. This is post four, so if you missed the earlier episodes they are here (and, as some drive-by supporters of Vox say, “ageing badly”):

When last we checked in, a Californian court had refused to make an injunction stopping Owen Benjamin’s supporters brining multiple arbitration claims against Patreon for closing Benjamin’s Patreon last year. Now, according to Vox Day, the first arbitration claim (from Benjamin directly) has been decided by the arbitrator JAMS.

“Somewhat to our surprise, the arbitrator in Owen’s case ruled that Patreon does have the contractual right it claims to kick anyone off its platform at any time without any reason, regardless of whether the user being kicked off has violated any rules or community guidelines or not. That right to terminate any user at any time at will was the reason he gave for granting Patreon’s request for summary disposition.” [archive link]

As far as I am aware, arbitration rulings aren’t public and I don’t believe Patreon have (or are likely to) make a comment on it. So we only have Day’s less-than-reliable account of things but given the negative result I think it is safe to assume this is accurate.

Day is claiming this is just a “tactical loss” because one arbitration ruling doesn’t determine the result of the next one and there are 72 further arbitrations to go. However, given that the root issue is whether Patreon could terminate Benjamin’s Patreon account this ruling suggests that the others will go in a similar way. Arguably, the ‘re-platforming’ strategy has already failed. The original idea (as substantiated by the court documents) was that the threat of multiple brigaded arbitration claims would be such a financial disincentive to Patreon, that they would settle with Benjamin and either re-instate him or compensate him. Matters have already moved beyond that and other tech companies with arbitration clauses are now aware of this potential strategy (a strategy used for the forces of good in this example ). That doesn’t mean Patreon may still suffer further set backs, we’ll have to wait and see.

Day remains bullish, claiming in the comments that:

“Only one claim out of five have anything to do with Owen. One out of seven for the 72 Bears. The dispute hasn’t really been about Owen’s deplatforming since they changed the terms.”

His point here being that the “bears” (the name for Owen Benjamin’s fans) arbitration claims are more to do with the changes in terms of service that Patreon introduce to side-step the zerg-rush tactic.

I’ll keep watching. Suffice to say that the triumphalism of Day’s supporters at the last update has aged badly 🙂.

Ideology is genre

Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is set to reward many of those who helped advance Brexit with seats in the House of Lords ( ). It’s move that could be described as cynical if it wasn’t for the fact that this dual feature of political ennoblement (a reward and helping cement legislative power) is exactly how the House of Lords is supposed to work. I’m not going to spend time looking at all the ways that the UK’s upper chamber is a broken awful thing because the arguments are obvious. Rather, what has caught my interest in one name in particular: Claire Fox.

At one level Fox being made into a Baroness by Johnson is unremarkable: she was a self-styled libertarian who stood for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. The remarkable aspect is that Fox was once a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. That incongruous fact in turn looks less incongruous to anybody who has followed the very strange ideological path that the alumni of the RCP have taken over the years.

The current iteration of the RCP is the online contrarian magazine Sp!ked — a website that 80% of the time reads exactly like other ‘intellectual dark web’ outlets like Quillette but which every so often frames things in terms of Marxism. Reading it is both dull and dizzying: dull because the arguments it uses are the usual cliches about SJWs and cancel culture and dizzying because you would think the whole enterprise would explode from cognitive dissonance. It doesn’t of course because that’s not the ways ideologies work.

Here is Sp!ked reacting to the recent House of Lords appointments:

“Yet now, following the publication of the government’s list of new peers, these same Lords-lovers have decided that the second chamber is a foul, rotten institution, after all. Why? Because the newly ennobled include Tory pals of Boris Johnson, including his brother, former minister Jo Johnson, and, even worse, some Brexiteers. Three of the new peers in particular have rattled the one-time cheerleaders of the second chamber’s plots against democracy – former Labour MPs and Brexit stalwarts Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart, and former Brexit Party MEP, and friend of spiked, Claire Fox. That’s it, the Remainer elites cry: get rid of the Lords!”

It’s an almost quintessential Sp!ked piece, an overt left-styled radicalism (abolish the Lords!) but actually geared towards defending the actions of a Conservative Prime Minister and supporters of radical-right coup in British politics. The piece opens with the line “The liberal elite in this country has no shame” but shows no embarrassment that one of the new lords is a long time associate of the group.

The journey from cookie-cutter clone of other 1970’s Trotskyist groups (bold slogans and selling newspapers) to ally of the far right and member of the House of Lords is a long one. In the 1980s the RCP used their media-savvy to put better production values into their publications and shifted to a glossier magazine format with “Living Marxism”. The magazine re-christened as LM continued even as the RCP itself atrophied and the ideological stance shifted away from Trotskyist to something else. In the late 1980’s journalist George Monbiot wrote a long analysis of the shift of the group from the left to the right:

“As you wade through back issues of Living Marxism, you can’t help but conclude that the magazine’s title is a poor guide to its contents. LM contains little that would be recognised by other Marxists or, for that matter, by leftists of any description. On one issue after another, there’s a staggering congruence between LM’s agenda and that of the far-right Libertarian Alliance. The two organisations take identical positions, for example, on gun control (it is a misconceived attack on human liberty), child pornography (legal restraint is simply a Trojan horse for the wider censorship of the Internet), alcohol (its dangers have been exaggerated by a new breed of “puritan”), the British National Party (it’s unfair to associate it with the murder of Stephen Lawrence; its activities and publications should not be restricted), the Anti-Nazi League (it is undemocratic and irrelevant), tribal people (celebrating their lives offends humanity’s potential to better itself; the Yanomami Indians are not to be envied but pitied) animal rights (they don’t have any), and global warming (it’s a good thing).”

The evolution of LM to Sp!ked was precipitated by a major defamation case in which the British news network ITN sued LM after LM had pushed a conspiracy theory that ITN had fabricated evidence of Serbian war crimes in Bosnia. Ironically one of the longest recent analysis of this trial was published last year in Quillette (I say ironically because arguably Sp!ked and Clair Fox’s “Institute of Ideas” created the template for outlets like Quillette, even if Quillette plays the same trick but claiming moderate liberalism as the framing for advancing far-right ideas). The Quillette piece is a two party essay looking at the trial and its ramifications. Part one is here and here is a relevant quote from part two:

“Hume, and LM’s publishers, Claire Fox and Helene Guldberg, were unrepentant. “We apologise for nothing,” Hume told the press assembled outside the High Court in London immediately after the verdict. “But we will not be appealing. Life is too short, and other issues too important, to waste any more time in the bizarre world of the libel courts.” Facing bankruptcy, Hume and Guldberg shuttered their magazine and immediately relaunched it as Spiked-Online, while Fox became founding co-director of the Academy of Ideas, an LM-associated think-tank initiated before the magazine folded, which continues to operate under Fox’s sole directorship today.”

This is all really just background to a wider point. There is one view of ideology that would find this all as inexplicable. It is the view that imagines ideology as distinct categories but also if it admits any fuzzy edges then they would between close neighbours. In this view ideologies are systems of thought with rationally connected ideas — the ideas maybe wrong headed but only because they arise about false assumptions about the world. In this view, ideologies are of a piece. It’s a peculiar view because really it is taking Marxism as the template for ideologies should be like even thought it is a view of ideology that isn’t particularly Marxist.

For example, Marxism in all its forms is very theory heavy. Marx himself had not just a detailed model of economics but also a view of history and a deep philosophical model. However, this is a very unusual example of an ideology. Beyond Marxism (and even within Marxism if we include all the movements that have called themselves Marxist) it is unusual for ideologies to have all these components. Marxism itself would repudiate the idea that ideologies are defined by combing an economic theory with a philosophical stance. Where we see this template-for-ideologies come take root is really with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, where she attempts to match those aspects of Marxism with her opposed positions (naive free market capitalism as an economic theory and a confused logic-essentialism for a philosophical stance).

I would contend that ideologies function more like fictional genres. They acquire elements over time and those elements may be in active conflict with each other. They also have cultural and aesthetic components that shape everything from patterns of speech, colour choices and even typography. That idea of ideology as aesthetic is most pronounced within fascism but there are elements of it in all ideologies which makes it possible to cosplay the ideas of one ideology as the ideas of another.

That doesn’t mean that the logic of ideas is irrelevant to ideology. We can connect ideas via the implications they have as well as how they impact with reality. Sooner or later we trip over curbs or run into brick walls. Our imagined worlds bump and scrape against the unimagined one. The stability of an ideology over time and over large numbers of people implies at least some degree of coherence. However, the capacity of individuals to adhere to quite novel combinations of ideas or to rationalise their own interests as high-minded principle is essentially unbounded.

Some other coverage:,_1978)

Law & Virulent Nationalism: The Saga Continues

Some of Vox Day’s supporters (OK two of them) have appointed the blog as the newspaper of record on science-fiction’s most No Awarded author/editor/publisher. In particular I’ve been asked to ‘retract’ this post: but neither of them appear to have read this subsequent post:

The excitement in Day’s camp is that the tentative ruling made by the judge earlier in July (see my second post) has now been confirmed. The order denying the preliminary injunction against Owen Benjamin’s supporters attempting multiple arbitration cases against Patreon has been confirmed[1]. This isn’t much of a change since my July 14 post aside from it being less tentative and the judge has given their reasoning

The judge gives three reasons for denying the preliminary injunction:

  1. “Patreon fails to show that it will suffer any irreparable injury or interim harm if an injunction does not issue”
  2. “Patreon fails to show a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on its claims.” [the claims here being the court case rather than the arbitration]
  3. “California courts rarely grant the extraordinary relief Patreon seeks here: an injunction interfering with an ongoing contractual proceeding.”

The three reasons given have their own reasoning but they each rest on the same principle: Patreon hasn’t let the arbitration body JAMS make their own decisions on some of these questions yet.

As I said back on July 14:

“Suffice to say, that’s at least a minor win for the bad-guy’s team (not that Patreon are exactly good but they aren’t actively wishing we were all dead). Leading their case is Marc Randazza a controversial lawyer who is associated with far-right disinformation outlet InfoWars. Whatever Randazza’s ideological stance might be, he is not without some legal talent.”

I’ll keep watching!


Some links on postponement

The possibility of postponing the US presidential elections has been floated by the current Presidential incumbent. This is a classic case of lots of things being true at once:

  • It is primarily a stunt by Trump to control the news cycle and get attention.
  • It is a genuinely scary development and a step on the road to overt dictatorship.
  • There are legitimate reasons for postponing elections if you treat it as an abstract question and a different country with a different electoral system and a different incumbent might reasonably do so.
  • The situation is volatile and that volatility will be cynically exploited by the current president.

So a relevant question is what is the mechanism for postponement and who decides and I don’t know enough to answer those questions. So here are a bunch of links.

None of that stops state level shenanigans or Trump just ignoring the law of course.

Pandemics & Politics

The soup of conspiracy mongering about the covid-19 pandemic has never truly settled on a clear story. Even as the virus began spreading internationally, reactions ranged from claims that China was exaggerating the numbers of people infected to China was hiding the ‘true’ scale of infection. The common theme with conspiratorial thinking is that genuine doubt, genuine ignorance and genuine shifts in opinion about a novel situation are actually examples of deceit. There is a paradoxical relationship with authority and expertise in any conspiracy theory as the claims of deception always imply that the authorities genuinely do know a lot more about the true state of affairs than everybody else but are lying about it.

The most recent iteration of covid conspiracy-mongering is the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video which has sprouted out of anti-vaccine conspiracies. You can read more about it here but there is also a good analysis of conspiracy-theory thinking which uses it as an example here The conspiracy is being promoted among some sections of the media in the usual just-asking-questions/exploring-the-controversy way:

“Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus.The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program “America This Week” hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall.”[1]

What the various conspiracy theories have in common is a belief that pandemic fears and public health measures are specifically a plot against Donald Trump. The details vary (or even contradict each other) but they aim to support a motive for the imagined conspiracy i.e. that the ‘ruling classes’ have manufactured pandemic fears as a way to undermine Donald Trump. To support this idea conspiracy-theorists point to pre-pandemic articles discussing how Trump might cope with a pandemic (e.g. this one by Ed Yong in 2016 ) as evidence that people were ‘planning’ to use pandemic fears against Trump.

Ironically, across the world many political leaders have gained popular support as a consequence of the pandemic ( ). This pandemic poll-boost has helped politicians both on the left and right and isn’t tied to any particular policy measure nor even whether the covid-19 response was particularly successful. Clear messaging and decisive policy appear to be the main factors but even the shambolic Boris Johnson gained an initial popularity boost (although he eventually squandered it ).

The reality of natural disasters, including pandemics, is that they can often boost the standing of national leaders. Nor is it difficult to gain support because it is mainly a halo effect from the leader being seen in the company of competent people doing their jobs at a time when people will naturally hope for national unity. It actually takes some effort to mess up. Notably, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, managed to do this during the 2019/20 bushfire crisis leading to a rapid plummet in support and humiliating scenes of firefighters refusing to shake his hand. Conversely, Morrison saw his poll numbers boosted during the pandemic, mainly by not repeating the same basic errors he had a few months earlier.

In short, natural disasters are more likely to boost a national leader than undermine them. As a plot against Trump, a pandemic would be a terrible idea: all Trump would need to do is look presidential, let experts speak and pat them on the back. Of course, there is a counter-argument here. A pandemic may well be an actually electoral boost for most politicians but specifically a problem for Trump. As we have seen, Trump has spectacularly failed but this was entirely due to his own incompetence and the incompetence of his cronies. Even so, in late March, the pandemic led to Trump’s approval numbers steadily improving, only to be undermined by Trump’s inability to handle a crisis.

In short, as a plot against Trump, a pandemic would only undermine Trump’s popularity if Trump was actually a uniquely bad president. Of course, he is actually a uniquely bad president, so I guess that is one thing the conspiracy theories have going for them.

[1] Apparently Sinclair media have since changed their plans