Category: Politics

Why the centre should want the Democratic Party to go left

There’s an on-going discussion among the opinion columns of America’s centre about directions for the Democratic Party. The choice isn’t simply binary (head left or head right) because, in principle and in past practice, US political political parties have had the capacity to head off in multiple directions at the same time. However, with congress increasingly voting along party lines and an apparently more entrenched electorate, the binary choice is worth looking at.

Obviously, I’d rather the Democratic Pary headed left: I’m a leftist, I’m biased that way. Even so, there’s more going on here and I’d like to suggest that centrists should want the Democratic Party to head left also.

To start with a key assumption is that the US is not going to stop being dominated electorally by two parties. Yes, other countries have more but to have n>2 requires parliamentary government for starters and more convivial voting systems. The UK has effectively 2.5 political parties (two big ones plus the Lib Dems and nationalist parties). Australia has, say 2.8 with Labour versus the Liberal+National coalition, plus The Greens, plus sundry others. It’s hard even with the kind of positive electoral conditions to get a genuine three party democracy (i.e. three roughly equal players) – perhaps impossible. It’s either less than 3 or lots and lots (and even then two main sets of coalitions). I could imagine the US have strong regional parties but this is not something that appears to be happening.

A second key aspect follows on from the two party dominance. US elections are as much about turnout as about shifting voters from one party to another.

A last aspect is that the Republican Party is the political equivalent of a landfill site full of car tires on fire. Whatever it may have been in the past, since at least the Nixon era it has been sliding into a political position that is actively harmful to its own country and harmful to electoral process.

So either you are or you can imagine being somebody who wants nice, stable centrist politics that are nice for capitalism but not too horrible to poor people and not too many taxes etc etc. What should you want? The Republican Party isn’t moving and try to coax it leftwards is rather like trying to reason with the aforementioned burning landfill. So it is tempting to imagine that the Democrats should hold the centre. This is an error, not just because actually you shouldn’t be a centrist but because it doesn’t get you what you want.

Let me use some non-scientific but conceptual schematics. Here is what a centrist should want or might believe was the case in the past.

lefrtright1

That nominal centre moves over time but two major parties fight over it but from different directions. There are (in this imagined world) Republicans who more closely resemble Democrats (and vice versa) both as voters and in legislatures. Further to the left and to the right are people with political views who may be active in some ways but are not engaged electorally. Whether this has ever really been the case is an open question but it is safe to say that it doesn’t resemble the current situation and that the current situation is, if anything, moving further from this scenario.

Here’s what I think the current situation looks like (again not scientific or actually quantified and with all the flaws in scrunching complex ideologies into a single axis).

lefrtright2

The Republicans have engaged the disengaged right. The rise of Trump has (to varying degrees) helped engage the disengaged left. However, the GOP is pretty much under the control of ideas much further to the right, whereas the Democratic Party is still pretty much what is was anyway – a centrist party.

What looks tempting is the electoral space being created by this heavy rightward shift of the GOP as well as its policy incompetence. I’ve described before the typology of voters in the US and there’s an increasingly clear gap between how the GOP projects itself and more socially-progressive but fiscally conservative sections of the population. Those business conservatives may still vote with their pockets for the GOP to get their tax cuts.

Put another way, there is a space for a political party in my schematics, shown with a red dotted outline. The GOP isn’t going to fill that space and so, a pundit at say the New York Times etc might look at that space and see electoral gold.

lefrtright3

If it exists, then the choice seems obvious. The Democrats could ditch the left, head a bit (but not to far) right and pull in votes from the GOP, who will end up banished to the outer darkness. Like so:

lefrtright4

What it would do in practice is to leave the GOP as it is (landfill full of tires etc see above) and lose the Democrats votes on the left. Yes, obviously the left aren’t going to vote GOP but they become less likely to vote all round or campaign electorally.

Worse, a centrist should want a PLURALIST system. This model has a reasonable but right-of-centre party versus a party that is actively dangerous to democracy and national stability. Either you’d have to hope for one party to be in power for ever or the GOP to fix itself. However, the capacity for the GOP to fix itself is actively undermined by this model because the moderate right has been poached by the Democrats. In effects, it makes the trashfire element of the GOP stronger.

lefrtright5

Heading left has advantages for the Democrats by engaging voters on the left without abandoning the centre completely. In doing so it creates electoral and policy space in the centre right. Could a new party emerge there? Probably not based on past US history but even the threat of a centre right party that pulls votes from the GOP could help pull the GOP leftwards.

 

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A Shared Mythology

I’ve semi-seriously discussed quasi–pseudo-academic debate of monopuppyist versus duopuppyists i.e. was science fictions attempted right-wing coup in 2015 one movement (with internal differences) or two movements (with some shared features). One reason I keep looking at those events (and those distinctions) is the way they were a microcosm of broader ideological movements among the right.

Taking stock of those broader movements, similar issues arise. How are things different and how are things the same? There is scope for error in lumping diverse beliefs together and in becoming too focused on points of difference to see the commonalities. I spend a lot of time reading rightwing websites and comment sections (not just former Sad Puppy related ones) and two things stand out as commonalities:

  • Unmoored anti-leftism. ‘Unmoored’ because while the anti-leftism is common the rationalisations offered are not. For example, left opposition to the Bush Jr. Iraq war remains a sore point for many on the right (who ignore Democrat support for the war) but is ignored by the section of the right who also opposed the war (who don’t ignore Democrat support for the war but do ignore left opposition to it).
  • Common mythology. By this, I mean a set of beliefs about the world that are quasi-factual in nature.

The common mythology is a social glue and also a medium of cultural exchange. These are beliefs about how the world is that are:

  • Very specific, i.e. more specific than economic or social models that may be more ideological in nature.
  • By their nature beliefs that can be examined critically against facts but…
  • …which are either NOT examined critically against facts or more often run counter to established facts.

That such mythological-like beliefs exist among the right isn’t a new observation. However, many which we might associate with the right lack this common currency aspect. For example, many people in this broader right I’m discussing are not creationists (although most creationists are of the right), likewise Holocaust denial is still regarded as objectionable by many on the right. Anti-vaxxer beliefs are drifting more rightwards but still cross ideological boundaries. However, a broad habit of believing things that just aren’t so has become entrenched on the right.

I’d like to suggest the following as a core-common shared set of mythologies that act as a means of group identity. These ideas are shared uncritically in diverse parts of the US/Anglosphere right and questioning them too much leads to social ostracisation.

  • Global warming data and theories have been corrupted by politically active scientists. Note this isn’t quite the same as denial of global warming but obviously works very closely with it. The belief that temperature records and other aspects of global warming have been meddled with allows discussion of the reality of global warming to be avoided.
  • Universities and colleges routinely indoctrinate students with Marxist social theories. This belief over-extrapolates the existence of actual courses (perhaps a course somewhere on queer theory) and asserts that this is the norm for all students. The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college or exposed to things like evolution but in the form, I am describing is more general and less tied to religion.
  • The Democratic Party routinely engages in mass voter fraud at a highly organised level. The belief is very pertinent today given the headlines but the work on this idea is constant and on-going. US conservatives are primed to believe this idea against any facts to the contrary.
  • Mass illegal immigration is an intentional policy of leftists and foreign governments. This deeply disturbing myth and surrounding rhetoric about ‘invasion’ is widely believed and extends beyond the alt-right & more overtly ideologically racist parts of the right.
  • Europe is on the verge of (or already is) being controlled by or dominated by Islam. There’s a vagueness here as to what the actual proposition is. Partly this is due to the age of the claims. 10 years ago, claims about an imminent Islamic take over of Europe were very common on the right and 10 years later the claims are similar. In the face of ridicule of some claims (e.g. ‘no-go’ zones in places that aren’t ‘no go’ zones), the broader beliefs have become vaguer and less open to immediate refutation.
  • Cities are places of rising violent crime. At some point, of course, this idea gets to be true. Crime stats go up and down but what is remembered is the ‘ups’ and what is ignored is the ‘downs’ as well as general trends. What marks this belief as mythology is that it remains unchanged over decades: violent crime is always rising but somehow the point where violent crime was low shifts around.
  • Home invasions and violent attacks on middle-class suburbs or rural areas are common and imminent. These two form a pair and of course relate closely to gun ownership and NRA propaganda.

There are other beliefs that I could list but which I feel are more clearly ideological. For example beliefs around public healthcare relate to specific policy positions overtly advanced by conservatives for decades. Similarly, beliefs around affirmative action or even ‘PC culture’ have a closer connection with ideology. There is a common thread of seeking to avoid facts or to examine these ideas critically that gives them a similar quality of belief that would only be true in a parallel universe.

A relevant question is whether these beliefs are sincere. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte had a recent Twitter thread where she examined some of the anti-factual claims of the right and argues that they are insincere i.e. overtly lies:

Her argument is a strong one and there’s a longer analysis in this 2016 piece she wrote: https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/its-science-stupid-why-do-trump-supporters-believe-so-many-things-that-are-crazy-and-wrong/

Clearly, some of these viral claims are trolling. The argument that ‘birtherism’ was insincere holds water. However, I think the ones above are held with sincerity of a kind. There is a lot of advocation of beliefs that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny going on that CAN’T be primarily about trolling people on the left. I can be confident of that because these are often beliefs that people on the right do not wish to discuss with the left or raise with the left. To point out factual or logical errors in particular beliefs is seen as trolling BY the left rather than the left being trolled. Readers familiar with the Sad Puppy debarkle will have many ready examples to hand.

Marcotte also raises the group identity aspect as part of the issue i.e. that asserting false or dubious beliefs ties people together, as they act as a marker of loyalty. However, in addition, the soup of false beliefs fostered by creationism on one hand and corporate propaganda on issues such as pesticides, smoking, guns and global warming has entrenched confused thinking as a habit among the right. These poor cognitive habits encourage the ‘grift’ culture I’ve talked about before within the right, that often makes them prone to both perpetuate and be victims of scams and dubious money-making schemes. Marcotte points out Trumps willingness to say what he is thinking is often mistaken for honesty and forthrightness by his supporters. This kind of uncalculated, unhedged speech without weasel words can be refreshing in a world where many people try to avoid being caught in a literal lie. Meanwhile, the new acting Attorney General of the USA was himself part of a company that deliberately targetted military veterans in a scam https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/09/matthew-whitaker-acting-attorney-general-wpm-scam

What’s trolling, what’s an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of public misbelief, what’s a scam and what’s people being scammed and what is just the inevitable confused belief of poor thinking habits is hard to disentangle. What the shared mythology has in common is that I think these are largely internally believed and which act as defence mechanisms for other beliefs or expressions of fears. In particular fears about race and social change among conservatives who see themselves as ‘libertarian’ and ‘not-racist’ require hoop jumping rationalisations that they can express by changing classifications (racial fears changed to fears about violent people in cities or rule-breaking immigrants). The ‘scam’ part here is that more openly racist parts of the right (i.e. the parts that are more willing to own the label ‘racist’) can control those fears via propaganda.

 

It’s a start

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the US results during work. The more miraculous outcomes haven’t happened (e.g. GOP losing control of the senate or Ted Cruz losing) but overall this is looking good for the Democratic Party.

But this will be a long conflict, a generational one if anything. The extent to which the far-right has gained influence in multiple US institutions is significant and it has been happening for much longer than Trump gave voice to their aspirations.

The Texas result, in which Ted Cruz barely won against Beto O’Rourke is better than ‘Ted Cruz wins’ sounds. Texas is a bulwark of electoral college votes for the Republicans in Presidential elections and anything that implies the Democrats could win there (even as an outside chance) will give GOP strategists sleepless nights.

Any result that empowers the centre and the left to challenge the Republican Party on one hand and the Trump administration on the other, on multiple fronts is great news. This will still be a long, exhausting struggle back from authoritarianism and keeping the GOP on the defensive limits the amount of damage they can inflict. It’s not an exaggeration to say that distracting them from their agenda will save lives in the short-term.

Dialogue: Thessaly by Jo Walton

[Warning on themes around sexual violence and consent]

Plato: Joy to you Camestros. I am pleased to see you in the Agora this morning.
Camestros: Ah! Plato! I seem to have instantiated into a 1960’s movie set about the Greek myths. I assume that in your day there weren’t quite so many ruined pillars or heavily armed skeletons?
Plato: I assume the setting is intended to convey to me a sense of ‘ancient’ by evoking the Age of Heroes.
Camestros: Well I suppose Mycenaean Greece was a thousand years before your time. As distant from you as the Dark Ages are from me. Still, I would have hoped that I could have dreamt up something a little more historically accurate.
Plato: I see you wish to continue our previous debate in which you claimed to be simply imagining a conversation with me and that you yourself were simply the product of yet another person’s imagination, an even more imperfect being you call a ‘meat robot’.
Camestros: It is more than just a claim Plato. The meat robot can see themselves typing this very dialogue in the TextEdit app on their Mac.
Plato: So you still deny that you are actually a god and that your creator is Zeus?
Camestros: Obviously! You would have a series of higher realms and greater degrees of perfection and abstraction. Whereas I can see that this is actually internal, we are contained within a non-abstract physical mind that is complex and messy and imperfect but which imagines perfection within it.
Plato: Back to your world of atoms where forms are mere fictions and mathematics is little better than a nursery tale.
Camestros. I don’t think there is anything ‘mere’ about fiction. Invention and the imagination are powerful forces.
Plato: Which reveals that you are in truth Apollo.
Camestros: I assure you that I am not. I look more like your mentor Socrates than fair Apollo and I can’t stand being in the sun.
Plato: Yet you can appear and disappear from here at will so you are clearly a god. You prize knowledge but you aren’t Athena, hence must be Apollo and you are teasing me for reasons that must make sense to the gods but which I cannot fathom.
Camestros: I can’t fault your reasoning Plato even though I know for a fact that you are wrong. I’ll concede defeat for the moment – perhaps in this tiny world of an essay I am its Apollo. I actually wanted to talk to you about a book.
Plato: A book? Not that dreadful tome by the Germanic barbarian in which he calls me the enemy of the ‘Open Society”.
Camestros: No, not Popper. I was wrong to start there and not with his distinction between Worlds 1, 2 and 3. No, this is a story, a fable about your Republic.
Plato: We’ve had this argument already. The Huxley fellow? You already conceded that the society he envisaged was more to do with the brutal mechanism of your era’s mercantile class than my model of a just city!
Camestros: No, not Brave New World, although in a similar genre. This is a series of three stories called “Thessaly” by a writer called Jo Walton. The books are called “The Just City”, “The Philosopher Kings” and “Necessity”.
Plato: Noble titles but I dislike your era’s idea of “fiction”.
Camestros: You are a man of contradictions, Plato! You scorn poetry and yet you are the most poetic of classical philosophers. You fear fiction but you literally include made-up stories in your model civilisation and call them noble lies! In Western history, you are arguably the first person to invent a story and overtly claim that you just made it up and that it wasn’t actually based on an existing myth or history!
Plato: But those myths are for the purpose of instruction and improvement of the mind. The fictions you tell me about, these “science fictions”, are untruths about knowledge! What was that last one with the Olympic gods and thinking machines and the works of your island’s Homer? This new book you have better not be like that one.
Camestros: That would be Olympus and Illium by Dan Simmons. Well, there are some similarities. There are some excellent robot characters, as well as the gods of Olympus and both books discuss arete. However, Walton’s book is genuinely concerned with examining your ideas, rather than just exploring the Greek pantheon.
Plato: Excellent!
Camestros: Exactly! Yet, Walton’s books couldn’t be more different than Dan Simmon’s book. I guess they both reflect the modern interest in the classical world and thought. It is both familiar to us all and yet often quite alien in thought.
Plato: Alien? If I recall correctly, in your own language the word has an extra connotation to mean beings from other worlds that are not gods? Does this book feature your ‘aliens’?
Camestros: There are aliens in the final book “Necessity” but in some ways that final book is more of a coda or appendix to the first two. It revisits many of the characters and events from the first book and also ties up some loose ends. It also considers some of the internal mythology created by the author, in particular on the nature of the gods that she features. I recommend it but it is the first two books that are most relevant to our discussion.
Plato: You have yet to convince me that the book is even worth discussing. It seems to me that your era is more concerned with the gods of Olympus as magic beings than they are with the minds of Athens and when they do discuss me it is to disparage me. Now in Sparta…
Camestros: Let’s not discuss Sparta. I’d rather not get into how Sparta is colliding with popular culture these days.
Plato: Clearly you wish to discuss this fable you found. Is it edifying? is it good for the mind?
Camestros: Yes, I think so and it is fair to you also but not uncritical. Indeed, I think it is overly generous to your model of a fair government.
Plato: Then I shall listen for a while if I may ask questions as you go. How does this fable proceed?
Camestros: Apollo is pursuing the nymph Daphne but rather than being caught by him she asks Artemis to intervene who turns Daphne into a tree.
Plato: I’m not familiar with that myth.
Camestros: Well it is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, but I guess that’s after your time. I assumed it was an older story than that though. Never mind. The point being Apollo cannot understand why Daphne would take such extreme measures to escape him. Unable to make sense of what is going on he talks to Athena. Athena reveals that she has a project that might help him better understand the concept of ‘equal significance”. She is creating a version of Plato’s Republic and will populate it with mortals who have prayed to her at one time or another to live in the city that you described.
Plato: One time or another? What do you mean by that?
Camestros: Well the gods can travel in time and Athena has grabbed people in your fandom from all sorts of times but mainly ancient Greece, Rome and Renaissance Italy. There are also some people from other time periods, including many women from the nineteenth century.
Plato: Why women from that time I wonder?
Camestros: The fact that a major work in Western civilisation included that women would be taught alongside men and could become guardians of the city is remarkable. The author (Jo Walton) imagines that in more recent centuries when women where gaining greater access to education (at least wealthier women) but still denied access to universities or recognition of their cognitive powers, that many might read the Republic and find themselves wishing that they could live there instead of the stultifying societies they found themselves in. One key character, Maya (originally called Edith) is the daughter of a classically trained vicar who taught her in her childhood to read ancient Greek. Enamoured with your writing she finds herself visiting Italy and in the Pantheon, in Rome, she briefly prays to Athena that she could live in Plato’s Republic.
Plato: I see, a book about ‘women’ is it? You’ve attempted to explain ‘feminism’ to me before but the conversation always turns to issues around procreation and ‘consent’.
Camestros: I wouldn’t call this a feminist analysis of The Republic but it is a story that centres the perspective of women. Also, I must warn you that the books deal with sexual violence and non-consensual sex of varying kinds.
Plato: Why must you ‘warn’ me of this? Have you not read our myths? Have you not read any of the myths about Zeus?
Camestros: Of course but myths are one thing. A modern story is intended to evoke empathy towards and about the characters within it. This story uses first-person narratives to help you understand the particular perspectives of the characters. So the events described are particularly traumatic and disturbing.
Plato: Yet you say you read books for entertainment! You also told me this book is edifying! What you describe is neither edifying nor entertaining!
Camestros: As I said Apollo is a god and a character in the book. He is a god of the Homeric kind more than perhaps the Platonic kind and as you observed the gods of culture were not creatures who understood consent in any context. Walton is examining consent and equal significance as moral concepts, inviting the reader to think more deeply about them. In my era, there is much discussion of these subjects, specifically around sex and around how society treats women. It is a confronting topic but it makes sense for Walton to include it as a major theme of the book. In particular, because the Republic has important features around the care and upbringing of children that has deep implications for women in the imagined society.
Plato: So edifying because rapists are punished and their crimes are shown to be wrong?
Camestros: Well this is where I find the books weaker. Apollo becomes human and enters the city as a child, one of many slave ten-year-old children brought to the Just City to be brought up according to your teachings. His character arc is one about learning the error of his ways, going from the classic god Apollo intent on raping a nymph as if his actions were no more than a game to a more rounded person. It is a redemption arc. However, there is another character (who I shan’t name so as to not reveal a plot line for those who haven’t read it) who is also a rapist who later earns forgiveness from the person he raped and who is somewhat lionised in the final book.
Plato: I see but is this not part of your own confused sense of aesthetics and ethics. You want stories that are complex and avoid simple morals and outcomes. however, you also want stories that push norms that you feel need society needs to adopt. Authors cannot meet your competing standards!
Camestros: Not at all! You would argue that we should examine all things and strive for excellence. I can admire what Jo Walton attempts to do in her story and still consider where I feel she may have erred. I don’t fault her for attempting to discuss a confronting subject but a confronting subject is necessarily one that is difficult to attempt. Examining the ways something is ‘problematic’ as we like to say in my time helps us improve.
Plato: Inquiry is a means to achieve excellence.
Camestros: Which is the central theme of the books. Walton isn’t uncritical of the Republic. She knows it was essentially you just spitballing what sounds like a good plan for a city. She knows that the wacky mix of people she brings together from history (a great SF trope in itself whether it’s Riverworld or Bill & Ted) is full of flawed human beings. She also deals herself the best cards: robots brought from the future to get the city going, Athena to give the whole thing a divine shove and confirm souls exist, a site (pre-eruption Thera) to give a place for the city to be that will eventually be erased from history. That’s all fine. I think it is the author’s prerogative
Plato: Authors are gods of their own fictions is your claim, much as you claim that you are the god of this world that we are both inhabiting.
Camestros: I suppose so.
Plato: Our earlier point of disagreement is that you see this as an unreal world and I believe this is our normal world of the senses.
Camestros: I think my point is different than that. You already believed that you lived in a lesser world even when you were real and living in Greece. It’s just that you thought the higher reality was more perfect and more abstract. I’m saying the Plato I’m talking to now lives in a more abstract and in some ways more perfect world that is contained in a messier less abstract reality. The shadows on the cave wall are controlling the puppets.
Plato: So you choose a less fearsome debater to hold you dialogue with rather than Socrates.
Camestros: Well, Socrates is a good example. There was a really Socrates (at least I assume there was) and there was the character in your dialogues and then in Jo Walton’s books, there is a character called Socrates that is her take on Socrates whom she only knows about from your dialogues. Then in this dialogue, I’m casting you in the role that you cast Socrates so that I can talk about Walton’s take on Socrates.
Plato: Have you not cast yourself in the role of Socrates?
Camestros: Maybe Socrates was the people we met on the way?
Plato: I cannot see how Socrates could be included as a character. You have said there are gods, people who came after me who read The Republic and children. Socrates is none of those. He died long before I wrote the Republic and as much as my ‘fandom’ (as you call them) would love Socrates, it would not be the wisest course to let him loose in an experimental city!
Camestros: Which is exactly why he is there! Socrates is introduced in the first book to do what I’d call ‘stress testing’ of the republic they have created. Walton makes excellent use of him as a character. Provocative and charmingly annoying, he is a locus of change in the city. Having Socrates examine Plato’s ideas is a clever move and one reason why I think she makes the actual city depicted more robust than I think it would be. I think it would have collapsed within a couple of months but that’s just me or if not collapsed then rapidly become an authoritarian nightmare.
Plato: Oh, so you are going to discuss the Open Society and its Enemies?
Camestros: No, just helping people understand Walton’s take on things. I think she sees the magic sauce for the world she creates is that everyone in it (even the one nominal antagonist) as being committed to the philosophy and critical examination of ideas. Her cities (and more than one eventuates through the books) have flaws and aspects I don’t like but they survive because of a general good will. The longer that goes on, the less convinced I am i.e. that it implies this culture of inquiry continues which in turn implies that the mode of education is effective.
Plato: I would imagine that if the city she creates is truly founded by people who were scholars of my work. As we have discussed before the dialogue you call The Laws should be read alongside The Republic.
Camestros: The Laws isn’t mentioned but is present by its absence. You would know better than I how the more practical city of Magnesia that appears in the Laws relates to the city in the Republic. The evolution of the cities in Thessaly books (particularly in the final book Necessity in which the closest city to The Republic’s ideal is a city of benevolent sentient robots) mirrors what I imagine was your evolution of ideas when faced with the practicalities of politics in the Hellenic world. That works for both good and bad on issues such as private property or slavery (which, if I recall correctly is absent in the Republic but accepted in the Laws).

Plato: if I may interrupt, I should warn you that the heavily armed skeletons have noticed us. I fear they are controlled by some god who wishes us ill.
Camestros: Indeed! A god who is known to me as ‘Ray Harryhausen’
Plato: I recall you telling me about him. Did you explain to him, as I asked, that the Kraken was not a figure of Greek myth and not any kind of titan?
Camestros: I think that is why he is cross with us and has sent those skeletons after me. We must depart!
Plato: Before we part company, can you tell me where I might find these books we have been discussing? It may be that you have at last brought me something worthy of my interest?
Camestros: Oh, you get them from Amazon!
Plato: The great warrior women are now booksellers! What wonders your era brings!
Camestros: Farewell Plato!
Plato: Farewell Camestros! Thank Timothy for helping me edit my final dialogue ‘Why Atlantis is Totally a Real Place and How to Find It: 12 Steps for Hellenic Happiness!’

 

US Voting Demographic Model

The Economist has a fascinating demographic model on US voters here: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/11/03/how-to-forecast-an-americans-vote

There are no details on how robust the model is but they claim to have built it up from a large number of surveys of sufficient detail to compare the relative chance of a given person voting Republican or Democrat within a sub-group and controlling for the other sub-groups that person would be in.

It is an interesting perspective on political groupings. It’s not causal exactly but could help disentangle what relates to what in other groups.

For example, imagine you had a group of people who weren’t ostensibly related by politics. It could be a profession or members of a hobby related club. Now imagine that the members of the club were 70%/30% atheists v Christian and 60%/40% Democrat v Republican. Does the club lean Democrat because it has so many atheists in it or does it lean atheist because it has so many Democrats in it? The Economist’s model helps answer that question. Most Democrats aren’t atheists (mainly because few Americans are atheists) but atheism strongly implies a person will vote Democrat. Based on those numbers it looks more like the Democrat leanings are more due to the large number of atheists than vice versa.

You can plug in your own demographic details to see how close you fit. You can also plug in counterfactuals about yourself. I’m not American so I can’t factually describe what part of the US I live in but in a parallel universe in which I did but was otherwise much the same I’d have at least an 80% chance of voting Democratic REGARDLESS of where I was from in the US.

Looks like cess-pool social media site Gab is finished

Gab was established as an alternative social media site to Twitter in 2016 but really only took off last year when it opened registrations. While it now has a reputation primarily as a safe-haven for overt neo-Nazis, many conservatives joined optimistically because of Gab’s claims to support ‘free-speech’. The term ‘free-speech’ here meaning something like ‘unmoderated comments on an internet platform’: there were rules and limitations but they were thin and difficult to enforce.

The consequences were predictable. The loudest, nastiest voices crowded out the less loud, less nasty. The idea that being able to mute comments or give-as-good-as-you-get would make a social network self-policing was already obviously nonsense but the right had convinced itself with misapplied rhetoric about ‘free-speech’ that somehow it would despite years of evidence from other internet forums, comment sections etc that it wouldn’t. Rapidly Gab became a haven for the most overtly extreme.

The mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a far-right antisemite brought added attention to Gab when it was revealed that the alleged shooter had essentially announced their intent on the platform. However, the site had been banned by both the Apple Store and Google play some time ago and was forced to remove two anti-semitic messages in August when Microsoft threatened to cut its services. Now GoDaddy has told Gad to seek a different domain registrar on the grounds that Gab had broken GoDaddy’s terms of service https://techcrunch.com/2018/10/28/far-right-social-network-gab-goes-offline-after-godaddy-tells-it-to-find-another-domain-registrar/ This isn’t the first time Gab has lost its domain registrar: in September last year Asia Registry dumped the network because of anti-Semitic comments promoting genocide: https://www.newsweek.com/nazis-free-speech-hate-crime-jews-social-media-gab-weev-668614 However, this time this is just one of multiple pressures on Gab including payment options and webhosting services withdrawing cooperation https://www.mprnews.org/story/2018/10/29/a-look-at-gab-the-free-speech-social-site-where-synagogue-shooting-suspect-posted

Regulars will remember that I covered Gab last September when there was a spectacular falling out between Gab and alt-right publisher Vox Day https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/that-vox-v-gab-think-explained-as-best-i-can/ As far as I can tell the threats of legal action went nowhere but the fallout is instructive. Less than five months after opening publicly for business, the culture at Gab had become so toxic that it was too unpleasant for even Vox Day.

With had at least a decade (arguably multiple decades) of an apparently sincere argument from conservatives that being moderated in chat rooms, forums, comment sections or social media platforms is an attack on free-speech. In that time the right has been unable to put forward a workable alternative. Experiments in unmoderated platforms have followed the same spiral into obnoxious-extremity without even a civil veneer over the hate and actual speech, with even conservative ideas being rapidly crowded out. Gab’s ‘free-speech’ model didn’t create a pleasant sanctuary from ‘political correctness’ but instead just let the very worst people shout down everybody else (even other anti-Semites and cryptofascists!).

I hope this is the end for Gab but I suspect the spiral down the plug hole will drag on for awhile yet.

It’s Explaining Australian Politics Time!

A quick recap. The more extreme conservative wing of the Australian Liberal Party ousted Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister in an attempt to install the zero-charisma ideologue Peter Dutton but instead the more moderate Scott Morrison was elected leader of their parliamentary party and hence became Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull that announced that he would resign from Parliament which trigged a byelection in his Sydney seat.

That byelection took place on Saturday. Among the candidates was Doctor Kerryn Phelps, a highly respected member of the medical profession and was a notable campaigner for marriage equality.

As of this morning, it looks like Phelps has scored a narrow victory. If she has won (and as of this point there is some recounting going on) then the Liberal Party government’s coalition will now be a minority government. If she has won it doesn’t mean the current government instantly collapses, but it will make it very difficult for them to govern. If the Liberals do manage to scrape in, then it will have still be a humiliating and self-inflicted political embarresment for them.

The seat is a wealthy but urban part of Sydney. On average centre-right but with far more socially progressive views than many other Liberal seats.