• Metaphysicsof
    The Limits of Hate and the Post-Modern Gamble

    For lack of a better introduction, I will start with a rather unrelated proposition that I will loosely connect via some transitioning to the subject of this writing. The US became a "nation" under FDR. Despite the inequalities of the era, it was the formalization of the notion that each citizen is a participant in a government that acts not solely for the facilitation of living, but for the advancements of collective national interests. Since then and continuing on to this day, the "public good" has been at the center of political discussion in American politics. The forces of political patronage and laissez-faire ideology were no longer the predominant talking points of politicians. National values, identity, and public wellbeing were debated in presidential contests, the national vision of the winner becoming the national vision of the nation for the foreseeable future. Although a winner take all system, national visions were indeed national and at least attempted, whether truthfully or not, to be universal to every citizen. That formality is gone.

    In the mid 1990s, with all of the strategic architecture in place from the Reagan revolution, conservative strategists came to a realization. Perhaps it was due to the neoliberal ideologies at the time as this realization also arose in the field of behavioral economics, but regardless of the reason how, conservative strategists came to the ultimate conclusion that their political power was best acquired by adopting a strict win/loss strategy. Of course, there is no big surprise in this realization. It is common sense in any game. What is unique in this approach, is the use of a certain behavioral economic approach in this political strategy.

    The key flaw in market/realist theory that is often pointed out by thinkers such as William Foster Lloyd, Garrett Hardin, and Elinor Ostrom, is the tragedy of the commons in which the overwhelming incentive for each actor to exploit the resources of a system will lead to the collapse of the system itself and the loss of all actors. Key take away for the current stream of thought: in a purely competitive system no actor has incentive to act for the common good. An example more specific to the following thinking: in behavioral economic theory, similar to the motivation of acquiring voters for a political party, there is NO increase in number of customers for a business that compromises its business objectives and there is NO loss in number of customers for a business that doubles down on its business objectives. Research done for "megabanks" such as Bank of America (pardon me for forgetting the source here) have shown that no added transparency, no added personalization, no added benefits will persuade potential customers not interested in participating in a "megabank" from becoming customers. Similarly, no cut of benefits, no decrease in customer satisfaction will cause an existing "megabank" customer from leaving said "megabank". Core principle of behavioral economics: consumers are driven just as much by affect as they are by utility.

    This is quite the paradigm shift when applied to conservative strategy. By doubling down on conservative ideology, conservatives can better rally support and hardline their agendas through congress while knowing that they will not lose their moderate voters. They can forgo the public good and play a game of absolutes to liven conservative voters and pull right leaning moderates with them. Well, this is partisanship 101. At least it was until Donald Trump proved even the public good of morality need not be maintained under this strategy. In response to the threat right wing absolutism poses, we have seen the rise of left wing absolutism; the left's rallying of their own base. Thus the normal distribution that should represent the spectrum of political beliefs has become bimodal; pulled to either end by each extreme. In this game of absolute ideology, there is not just null benefit from moderation, there are negative consequences as moderation becomes a betrayal of the extreme.

    With these assumptions in place, there is no competitive disadvantage to fueling hate, not just for the other party but one's own by continuing to pull deeper dissatisfied moderates. Each side will not lose voters and will only serve to increase the likelihood of voter turnout. This is the postmodern gamble. When the actors are solidified, it is the faith in institutions by the nature of their inertia. Be it the case of a party or a business that need not care for the public good, this strategy of maximizing competitive advantage while alienating non consumers and promoting internal dissatisfaction relies on the faith that the institution can bear the brunt of the following instability; that the order that forms society, built upon hundreds of years of constructivist norms, somehow is order in and of itself. It is the gamble that the system itself that has become disembodied from human wills; that the structure that has led to these competitive motivations has long since ceased to be human organization and has in some way become structural fact of our environments; a "natural" mechanism of human operation in and of itself.

    I mean this not in the popular notion that people have "accepted the way things are". I put forward the postmodern premise that it is not the acceptance of norms, it is the understanding of institutions as the nature of society; that the mechanisms of civilization are perceived as the physical laws of nature. To invoke a popular postmodern case, I allude not to the understanding of racism as systematic; I conclude that the "racial lens" itself is a facet of society; integral to it, that components of society such as race are perceived as the operating mechanism itself. It is the perception that these norms themselves are the origins of thought, not the system of logic that controls thought, that is the heart of this premise.

    The question of who is responsible for the common good is not a question of political science but of the political process. When we expect the public good to be stable in and of itself; that it is the truth of our environment, and we assume it can fend for itself while we pollute it with the products of exploitation for personal gains, at some point the public good, the "Mother Earth" of this comparison, or in this case, the fundamental faith and agreement in the social contract that originally formed a nation, dissolves under the weight of those who assumed it could bear the weight of strategic instability.
  • tim wood
    Interesting. You seem to imply that the "mother-ship(s)" we all sail in, culture, society, politics, earth itself, evolve certain inner rules and practices that, people being what they are, tend in most cases toward self-destruction. It would seem these vessels are also subject to external forces that operate inexorably and inevitably. Conclusion: an enlightened world takes cognizance of its own modes of operation as well as the modes - constraints - of the world it finds itself in, the ocean that it's afloat in, so to speak, and makes appropriate adjustments to its own practices. Pure and short-sighted self-interest v. enlightened self-interest.

    I buy your history of nation, the main points of the overall history being the founding, then Lincoln, then FDR. And there is virtue in these and these men, but with Reagan virtue is subservient and almost gone, a consequence of Nixon. The Bushes reduced virtue to commodity, being themselves without it. Obama nearly accomplished the Herculean task of restoring it, and with Trump there is no longer even the pretense of virtue. And (imo) there is a very great and vicious evil that underlies the tendency that Trump is merely the recent expression of. It's been called tyranny, despotism, dictatorship, facism, communism, Nazism, and now it reveals itself as an institutional pragmatism opposed to human values.

    It seems to me that historically these evils usually had or at least made some claim to honor and internal consistency, however perverted. The signature of today seems to be that no such claim either is or can be made, and no one bothers to try. As you you observe, the usual outcries of outrage are simply ignored and the lies told again and re-told by people ignorant and morally and intellectually bankrupt. And media reports them as if the reporting mattered. And it does matter, but in recent history that reporting also had eventual effect, which it does not now have.

    The moral of the story as I read it - and live it from where I am - is that the proper understanding of our relationship with the dysfunctional actors in our world is that we are at war and not in a debate or argument. Not (yet) of guns and battles, but an understanding that everything of value is in play, including and especially life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Justice and law seem our weapons. I have hopes.
  • thewonder

    Even Thomas Hobbes posited that, as soon as a State become legitimated through a formal constitution or whatever, it dissolves into a multitude. He suggests that, in order to avoid a "war of all against all", the sovereign should restore order via some sort of "social contract". I would posit that the State should just be abolished, as almost every example of one has been created out of and still enforces some sort of subjugation, which I identity as being the reason for the dissolution, or another, and some sort of participatory democracy should take its place, but the crisis of "civil war" is not necessarily a Postmodern phenomenon. I do kind of agree with you analysis, however, in that "strategic instability" is more or less how power gets maintained nowadays.
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