Introduction To New Series, Index And Bibliography

Index Of Posts In This Series

The Danger Of Stupidity
Understanding Suicidal Americans
David Brooks Says Smart People Caused Trumpism
Why I’m Angry At David Brooks
A Somewhat Charitable View Of Vaccine Refusers
Symbolic Violence In Politics


I’ve spent a lot of time going through The Public And Its Problems by John Dewey, and now it’s time to move on. That series led me to the conclusion that there are people pushing hard to create two separate communities in the US. Democracy isn’t possible in a society of two communities. One plausible way forward is to think about division: who is pushing it, and why and how they do it.

My tentative answer: there is an oligarchy inside our democracy that can seize power by creating a divided electorate. They use their wealth to weaponize the lines of division. They hire people to creat propaganda and other means of blunting the ability of people to understand their material, emotional and spiritual needs, and the steps that might improve them. Oligarchs do this to cement their own power and material wealth. They are joined by other people who think they benefit from helping the Oligarchs. Then there are the religionists who want to impose their morality on the rest of us at any cost. There are others who aren’t much more than nihilists.


The Oligarchy. The theory that there is an oligarchy in the United States is based on the work of Jeffrey Winters and Benjamin Page, in a paper titled Oligarchy In The United States?, published in 2009. Winters and Page see Oligarchy in terms of “power resources, particularly material power resources as manifested in wealth”, as well as political and cultural power. They argue that possession of great material resources gives owners political power, and

… carries with it a set of political interests: interests in preserving and protecting that wealth, interests in ensuring its free use for many purposes, and interests in acquiring more wealth. That is, highly concentrated material wealth generally brings with it both enormous political power and the motivation to use that power in order to win certain kinds of political-economic outcomes. Possession of great wealth defines membership in an oligarchy, provides the means to exert oligarchic power, and provides the incentives to use that power for the core political objective of wealth defense (which, depending on the national and historical context, means property defense, income defense, or both).

The three interests identified by Winters and Page are shared by all members of the Oligarchy. They all seek those ends in their own ways but their ggals are the same. Their individual actions reinforce each other in ways that hammer the rest of us. To be quite clear, I don’t think there’s some vast conspiracy among the Oligarchs or anyone else. It’s just that their interests converge. I think of it as a self-organizing limited Oligarchy.

The Ideology. Money alone isn’t enough. The rest of us have to consent, to accept the outcomes as fair. That’s where neoliberalism comes in. It tells people that this is a fair system, that it rewards people for their natural merit, their hard work, their persistence, and their good behavior. It also tells people that if they aren’t well-off, if they are in debt, too poor to pay for health care, unable to give their children a decent life, it’s their own fault, and there’s nothing to be done but suffer.

Neolliberalism became the dominant ideology of both legacy parties beginning in the late 70s. Successful people called it meritocracy, so it didn’t bother Democrats. Republicans used its laissez-faire component to dismantle the safety net and the regulations the Oligarchy didn’t like and Democrats did little to stop them.

Then the Great Crash crushed that ideology into dust for everyone who could think clearly. That, of course, didn’t include politicians. With Obama in charge, Democrats tried to restore the previous regime. Republicans blocked even Obama’s miserly proposals to help regular people, while throwing money at the Oligarchs. Then Trump. Anyone who can think at all can now see that the entire system of neoliberalism has wreaked havoc on the vast majority of us.

As a palliative, Republicans offered racism and nationalism, first quietly, and as the visible economic and cultural damage grew, more and more overtly. Now they’ve added authoritarianism in the Trumpian vein, and weirdo fantasies in the Qanon vein, and the Big Lie about stolen elections as a combo meal.

Divisions. We are a complex nation. There are many ways of dividing us from each other: race, class, wealth, income, education, and location and more. Or we might be divided along the lines suggested by the theory of moral foundations, or by other differences in moral concerns.

Target audience. There are a number of us who are ready to burn it all down in the hopes of restoring white supremacy or some other regime in which they are the dominant power. They are easily manipulated by propaganda from the Oligarchy. Here’s a good description from Thomas Edsall in the New York Times.

Sadly many people truly believe the gunk Trump and the Trumpists spread, the Qanon fantasies, the racist crap, the moral terror of Critical Race Theory, lies about crime, and the Big Lie. We all know Republicans we thought were connected to reality who believe some or all of the garbage. How did we get to be so absurd? One possibility is suggested by something Charles Sanders Peirce wrote in The Fixation of Belief (1877):

The irritation of doubt is the only immediate motive for the struggle to attain belief. It is certainly best for us that our beliefs should be such as may truly guide our actions so as to satisfy our desires; and this reflection will make us reject every belief which does not seem to have been so formed as to insure this result. … [T]he sole object of inquiry is the settlement of opinion. We may fancy that this is not enough for us, and that we seek, not merely an opinion, but a true opinion. But put this fancy to the test, and it proves groundless; for as soon as a firm belief is reached we are entirely satisfied, whether the belief be true or false.

There’s a lesson for all of us here, and it applies to me as much as followers of Q. Bad habits of thought inflate people’s perception that other divisions are crucial to their self-perception. And, the large number of divisions gives those who want two tribes fighting each other have plenty of choices.

One other group seems problematic: the religious zealots. This group wants to impose its morality on all of us, and will stop at nothing, including absurd unconstitutional laws, to do so. The Oligarchs can easily make promises to this group, because their wealth means they won’t be bothered by whatever laws the zealots want.

The Results. The ultimate result of the internecine wars in the majority is an impasse in government. Nothing can change because democracy doesn’t work when there are two distinct groups with nothing in commmon. The Oligarchs are able to influence what’s left of government with their lobbyists and campaign cash. They cement their power and protect their wealth and statues.


So there’s my story as of today. In this series, I’ll take up these points and try to find support and contradiction. I’m not going to take a particular book for this, but I’ll use those I’ve read and new material. I’ll update this page with new posts, and add a bibliography section to keep track of the new material.

Philip Mirowski, Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste.

Joshua Rothman, Why Is It So Hard To Be Rational. This article describes several theories about rationality and the difficulties we face in trying to be rational. Look for the charming reference to Pride and Prejudice’s Charlotte Lucas.

Nicole M. Stephens and Sarah Townsend, Research: How You Feel About Individualism Is Influenced by Your Social Class This article in the Harvard Business Review discusses some research on the difficulties faced by working class people trying to enter the meritoracy. I didn’t read the underlying materials.

139 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Reading this overview, I can’t help but think we’ve seen this movie before. Swap out a few 21st century specific groups/issues/oligarchs from your post, and this is a good description of the Gilded Age. They had Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Stanford, and we’ve got Bezos, Musk, and Zuckerberg.

    Railroad magnates persuaded Congress to grant them large amounts of land, and also avoided regulation and taxation. Robber barons in other industries did likewise. Immigration is regulated in such a way as to provide cheap labor for the railroads and other industries. Reconstruction allowed the South to rebuild its way of life in the aftermath of a failed insurrection, keeping Those People in their place. Etc. etc. etc.

    Slowly, after much overreach by the robber barons, a communal attitude began to emerge. Labor unions grew in strength. Teddy Roosevelt introduced the first National Parks (in contrast to government giving away land to oligarchs for private exploitation). Ida B. Wells called attention to the ugly reality of lynching. Upton Sinclair called similar attention to the ugly reality of the meatpacking industry. Government, in turn, enacted the first child labor laws, workplace safety laws, etc.

    Moving from the individualistic “grab what you can” Gilded mentality to a more communal “we’re in this together” mentality is the key. Is there a way, other than “hitting bottom” with exploitative economic policies and practices, to make this move?

    I’m looking forward to this discussion, Ed!

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        You’re reading the blog of one, although she has as much in common with Izzy Stone as Tarbell, who, like a few other prominent muckrakers, repented in their dotage. (Mark Twain famously consorted with Wall Street titans when he needed financial help.)

        The institutions of capitalism – their names are legion – like those of the Catholic church, are practically immortal. They also reinvent themselves, sometimes reverting to old forms. Social Darwinism, for example, which is neither social nor darwinian, has made a robust comeback under neoliberalism. Those institutions overwhelm all but the stoutest and best organized hearts.

        • bmaz says:

          This is most certainly not a blog of one. All the authors here are worthy, as are commenters. This is a village, and when people say it is only about this or that, it is a slap in the face of people who have spent years and countless hours, days and years getting here.

          • Peterr says:

            I read EoH to be saying that if Honeybee wants to find an Ida Tarbell today, Honeybee came to the right place, as Marcy is an example of one such journalist — not that this blog is a single person effort.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Peterr’s take is correct. The reference is to a blog of one… of the muckrakers – by definition, progressive investigative journalists, who see their task as comforting the afflicted and inflicting oversight on the comfortable. A rare event. The quality of this site’s comments section is unique.

    • Judy says:

      You left out the Kochs, Mercers, Thiel, Adelson, De Vos and I am sure many others I haven’t seen in the stories about big money in politics. The oligarchs have been here all along.

      • Peterr says:

        Yes, and I left out a ton of other names from the 19th century Gilded Age too. The lists were illustrative, not exhaustive.

    • Leoghann says:

      I’ve seen this comparison to the Gilded Age come up many times, and I believe it’s accurate. However, it seems that many who bring it up do so in order to point out all the things that occurred later to mitigate the effects the robber barons brought upon American society. Rather than asking a question such as yours, “[i]s there a way, other than ‘hitting bottom'” with exploitative economic policies and practices, to make this move?”, they advance the theory that the events from the turn of the Twentieth Century show that we have nothing to worry about. I’m far from convinced that modern oligarchy hasn’t developed ways to make sure the modern equivalents of those progressive heroes cannot again precipitate such change, and such a threat to their continuing power.

      • Peterr says:

        One would hope that the modern progressives have also developed some new ways of attacking the robber barons.

        Given that I’m watching the current England v Italy soccer/football match, Marcus Rashford comes to mind. Forcing the Tories and Boris Johnson to back down not once but twice with a strong non-political “Can’t we agree that feeding hungry children is a good and necessary thing to do?” approach was spectacular.

    • ItTollsForYou says:

      There was also the assassination of a president, which helped usher in a “progressive” age.
      Eric Rauchway’s book “Murdering McKinley” is really good.

  2. James Sterling says:

    Thanks for moving ahead with this project. How are we to live together? One way is to prey upon and dominate. Another is to cooperate and serve. I look forward to your efforts along with the commentary that most surely will accompany them!

  3. harpie says:

    Thanks Ed.

    That Edsall essay, Trump’s Cult of Animosity Shows No Sign of Letting Up, takes off from a recent study, Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support, and this detailed twitter thread by one of it’s authors:
    4:06 PM · Jul 2, 2021

    This new @apsrjournal article by me, @julie_wronski and @UptonOrwell includes an implication that we really only hint at in the conclusion and that I’d like to elaborate on here. […]
    This means that there is a faction in American politics that has moved from party to party, can be recruited from either party, and responds especially well to hatred of marginalized groups. They’re not just Republicans or Democrats, they’re a third faction that targets parties.
    THIS is the faction we, as Americans, should be worried about. […]

    • harpie says:

      Edsall [I added the numbers]:

      […] Trump has mobilized and consolidated a cohort that now exercises control over the Republican Party, a renegade segment of the electorate, perhaps as large as one-third of all voters, which
      1] disdains democratic principles,
      2] welcomes authoritarian techniques to crush racial and cultural liberalism,
      3] seeks to wrest away the election machinery and
      4] suffers from the mass delusion that Trump won last November. […]

      Who “mobilized” Trump?

        • mospeck says:

          American oligarchs?! Nope, I’m going all in with you.
          If you can’t make things, then blow them up.
          Mo·lo·tov cock·tail
          Learn to pronounce
          noun: Molotov cocktail; plural noun: Molotov cocktails
          1. a crude incendiary device typically consisting of a bottle filled with flammable liquid and with a means of ignition. The production of similar grenades was organized by Vyacheslav Molotov during World War II.

          Merv, play the Final Jeopardy music.

    • Rayne says:

      This faction which can move across parties is composed of authoritarians. Recall John Dean’s work, Conservatives Without Conscience and Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers, along with Bob Altemeyer’s work, The Authoritarians — the percentage of authoritarians is fairly constant at 25-30% across the population, and they believe and follow who they feel to be an authority figure. That’s why they can be moved across the political spectrum, they only need that authority figure to follow. Unfortunately they’re more likely to follow stereotypical autocratic strong men, Lakoff’s “strict father” model.

        • jonf says:

          Thanks for posting that article. I helped clear up a little for me.
          For some time now I have been troubled by the Big Lie. How is it possible for so many people to buy into it –that there was some massive fraud involved? But flip it around a bit and it is really simple. We know there are people who simply do not accept that their neighbors should all be able to vote. They may be POC or another ethnic group- just “the other”. Why should “those people” be allowed to vote, it is a fraud. And now states are writing it into their voting laws to the point if the wrong person wins, it is declared a fraud and is set aright by the state.

  4. OldTulsaDude says:

    I tend to think of oligarchy as a pyramid scheme – dependent on its structure to sustain itself – with a single controlling power at the top.

  5. Epicurus says:

    I know this will seem trite to most people. We aren’t a democracy. We are a republic, as in the Pledge of Allegiance. We are a republic because those that established our governmental form believed the size of the country precluded democracy as most people understood it, i.e. everyone voting directly on every issue – the New England town hall concept, and they needed a way to solve the problem of the tyranny of the majority, the greatest problem of a democracy for those in the minority. We in a republic elect representatives who represent different factions. Our government depends on those representatives and how, individually and collectively, they represent the interests of all the people that elected them. If those representatives put personal agenda and/or party agenda ahead of the good of the electorate they are representing, then we shall always be a divided nation. If those representatives believe their agenda and/or party agenda is true and foremost, then they will not/cannot represent their constituencies and the tyranny of the majority will prevail. Solutions for a republic that does not work are different than solutions for a democracy that does not work.

    I often read Federalist Papers Nine and Ten, especially with regard to majority faction. I laugh at Madison and Hamilton because even though they proposed a form of government, a republic, meant to offset the tyranny of the majority and majority faction (in essence political parties) through the division and balancing of powers, in real life as soon as each had the opportunity each reverted to pure party politics. We have been left with their detritus and conditioning to this day.

    Republics can work even if they have two or more distinct groups with nothing in common. It requires representatives putting the best interests of the country above their own interest though and that is the element sorely lacking in our current situation. I don’t have an answer for how we achieve that. Republicans and Democrats each seek to control society in their own image. A democracy can never answer that question because of the tyranny of the majority.

    • Hopeful says:

      I am thinking the same (similar) thing, Epicurus.

      I really hesitate to call the USA a democracy. A pure democracy, where the majority rules, can quickly dissolve into a totalitarian type state, see Hungary.

      The USA is a Republic. We have a Constitution that guarantees some basic rights, no matter what the majority votes for.

      We cannot vote for and enact a law that would require everyone to follow a certain religion.

      Pure democracies are inherently subject to mass hysteria and the rule of demagogues.

      • P J Evans says:

        What my teachers told us is that we’re a “federal republic with representative democracy”.
        We aren’t a pure form of anything: we’re a hybrid system.

        • Wajim says:

          Aka, a “Democratic Republic”? In theory, we democratically elect our “representatives” who, of course, are supposed to “represent” (i.e., be politically “responsive” to us). The system, structure, and operation of government is “republican” (small “r”) while the mechanism to choose who operates that system is “quasi-democractic” (small “d”). I use “quasi” because we have the so-called “Electoral College,” a way to keep the oligarchs on top, in my view

    • Rayne says:

      That’s a really pretty apologia for white patriarchal supremacy’s retention of power as non-whites increase in number. The majority has ALWAYS ruled in tyranny in this country over minorities; conversely, a minority (men) has ALWAYS denied the largest single voting bloc (women+non-binary) equal rights. These never came up in the Federalist Papers because straight white men wrote about a government of, by, and for their capital-owning class.

      And what you think of as multiple U.S. political parties is a stale anachronism when one group under a former political party’s aegis would prefer to shed democracy altogether while allowing a transnational organized crime syndicate to operate with impunity under an authoritarian model.

      • Nehoa says:

        I think your comments are spot on. I hope that Ed can explore how we can change what you described. We have made some improvements over the last 250 years. Slowly, painfully, but some progress.

        I think near term effort should focus on reversing the impact of Citizens United, and upping the estate tax to 100% for anything over $5 million. Conservatives complain about how having too much money makes people lazy and unfocused. Why are the heirs of wealthy families any different?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Thank you. In popular culture – as opposed to formal academic analysis – the distinction between “republic” and “democracy” is severely over-hyped. The purpose of doing that, as Rayne says, is to further elite interests. It does that, in part, by dismissing as irrelevant American attempts to promote the general welfare. In turn, that gives society permission to disregard the sporadic nature of those attempts, the reasons for their failure, and the names and methods of those who so staunchly oppose a government of, by and for the people.

    • Eureka says:

      It requires representatives putting the best interests of the country above their own interest though and that is the element sorely lacking in our current situation.

      That “individual behavior” space is where we recall social values and circle-back to the oligarchs and ideology, and how we (at times seemingly helplessly) reify it all.

      Altruism is not an oligarchic value. Besides via propaganda, they enact selfishness / devalue altruism with things like CEO-vs-worker pay, the diminution or demolishing of regulatory law, etc. So we as a people live — enact — this selfishness through our daily actions even as many of us detest selfishness as any type of just organizing principle. This positive feedback loop of misery is kind of missing in Peirce: we all own it even as we may hate it but see no way out in those moments we might come up for air to glimpse it; doubts (and cognitive dissonance) don’t put food on the table, and so we all go back to work the next day like trapped carrots.

      This is all besides the overt recruitment of the cravenly selfish to run for office and celebration of craven selfishness as a political platform, American value par-excellence.

      Altruists are “suckers” and “losers”, to quote plainly Bard-45.

      • Eureka says:


        This is all besides the overt recruitment of the cravenly selfish to run for office and celebration of craven selfishness as a political platform, American value par-excellence.

        Click the QT’d video to see the maga version he’s lampooning (besides watching his video because it’s funny as fuck, to all the points, and with a twist at the end).

        Adding: “the maga version” is the gal who seeks to unseat AOC, btw…

      • bmaz says:

        Heh, if you really want to look at the concept of altruism, search for Robert Cialdini, he literally wrote the book on it. And was one of my early professors. I worked on some of his very early experiments.

        • Eureka says:

          **looks at can of worms to detangle wrt jargon-laden distinctions between social psych v biological v philosophical definitions of altruism, chucks can opener into forest**

          I almost got into mutualism (which is what he is known to me for studying: basically altruism with a selfish component of feeling good, as they put it then) and spite, but Saturday.

          Loosely (and imagine a punnett square), some distinguish altruism as something that costs the actor and benefits the receiver. Likewise:

          Selfishness benefits the actor and costs the receiver.

          Mutualism benefits both parties.

          Spite costs both parties.

          Others make these distinctions in concept by using the word “altruism” with modifiers for their specific model (as bmaz’s ~ mentor did).

          • bmaz says:

            Ha! Can’t speak for the guy, but that was very early on, like in the mid-late 70s. We called him Bwana Bob because he was pretty cool and willing to sometimes hang out with us. There was one experiment where we would go to grade/middle schools and “lose” dollar bills and see what the recovering kids would do with them. As I recall, it was mostly what you would expect, but significantly more than a few were willing to make a better use of them. Jeebus, this brings back very old memories.

          • Eureka says:

            About spite (and more productive ways to go about life):

            I’ve argued before that this type of framework can be useful to understand magas (not least because their intellectual leaders/drivers see the world this way), perhaps towards solutions. Spite is germane to our problems given that everyday-magas are in a net-lose (harming/costing themselves, “voting against their interests”, etc.) situation as they go about harming/costing their fellow citizens.

            They may *think* — and be encouraged to think — that they are doing “selfish”, and very celebratorily so, but their feelz about owning the libs/all but white patriarchy will only go so far (hence why the oligarchs and showmen have to make the games so addictively-LARPy and menacing, outright terrorizing*).

            So while the insulated showrunners — interacting at a different social scale — get along _truly_ selfishly, and regular magas think they’re emulating their selfish heroes, the magas will get no pie. [And at the magas-heroes interaction scale, one might say magas are behaving altruistically, self-/family-sacrificially, towards their oligarchs. The point is they’re not being ‘just’ selfish, but either spiteful (harming selves and others) or at the knees of their money men (still costing themselves).]

            **Getting magas to be merely (or actually) selfish might be a big win for our society. #aimforthelowesthangingfruit

            Win-win mutualism then would be a hair’s breadth away (and easier when they’re not feeling like desperate caged animals). They could retain the true sense that they are getting something (and it would cost them less than what many are doing now).

            *the neoliberal solution to this is for dems to be “less woke” (Stop, you’re scaring people with your aspirations of inclusiveness and quality of life!); other issues aside, this misses the point that retreating from values won’t stop GOP/Trumpist leaders from stoking terror. It would just help the Trumpists further shrink our country.

            **And we know some windows unto this: our friends at “powered by Koch” The Hill TV featured that survey a few years ago showing that GOPers who are affected by weather-related disasters “believe in” global warming/climate change. Of course Rupert will solve all that with his new weather channel (thanks to Moscow Mitch for stalling for time!).

            • Ken Muldrew says:

              I wonder if you’re putting a bit too much faith in self-interest as an incentive here. After all, if these people are putting Trumpist ‘ideology’ (more of an active anti-ideology, but let’s put that aside for a moment) above the preservation of their own lives (e.g. covid vaccination), then self-interest has clearly been made subordinate to some other motivation.

              Historically, this has only been done through a genuine ideology, however, new technologies allow individual targeting with a time lag small enough to prevent enough independent thought so that even naked self-interest cannot take hold (to say nothing of ideologies). As long as the powers can hold the attention of those who are targeted, then they can keep them focussed on maintaining the division between themselves (the targeted) and the other. Without self-attention (the ability to turn one’s attention to matters determined by one’s own thoughts), people have no ability to assess their own situtation with anything like rational clarity.

              It’s a malicious trap, but unlike ideology, it is an active process (cf. holding a yardstick from the top and allowing it to settle into the vertical position like a pendulum vs. balancing a yardstick on your finger and constantly moving the point of contact to keep the yardstick vertical), so if the mechanisms of attention holding can be interrupted, then they whole system could fail rapidly. Unfortunately, that requires defeating the oligarchs…not an easy task.

              • Eureka says:

                Preface: I think that most people, Trump(ist) voters included, want a better quality of life for themselves and their loved ones. So does Mitch McConnell, who’s had to lock down the Senate for nearly all business but reinforcing their flanks lest any dem-sponsored legislation get through that might let folks breathe and experience where many of their self-interests might lie these days. [Related: we forget even the strain of those months with no stimulus (relief brings fresh memory); search suggestions and other citizen-generated traffic suggest that people are looking hard for another round of checks: are they all non-magas doing those searches, generating that talk? Are Mitch and the GOP guard feeling even less bipartisan (sic, gag) given the popularity of Biden’s initiatives?]

                That said, your opening concern collapses a nuance I made that potentials success: so long as magas value what they believe to be their own selfishness there is opportunity to actually give it to them (and, by proxy or consequence, our society at large).

                That’s not putting faith in self-interest so much as meeting people where they’re at.

                In my experience with Trumpers, they are not as locked-down as the mythos makes out. Since I would include this group in any discussion of multipart solutions to our ails, and in any case self-interest is usually the surest source of appeal — if not universally so, and sometimes requiring a mask — what else do you suggest? I only sharpened an angle to that old saw.

                I described already how their self-interest was subordinated (though those who find elements like hedonic engagement to qualify as meeting the definition of self-interest, such as bmaz’ prof above, would disagree and direct us to recruit that element — which is kind of what I’m suggesting, in de-hijacking The Joy of Me-mine), the nature of oligarchs’ escalating / addictive / terrorizing games, etc., so I think we’re in general agreement re mechanisms of capture but with different words. Though I think ideology’s more actively/daily constructed than you apparently do (crucially to the topic here, one of those means is COVID/anti-vax protest identity), and while the tech manipulation sprawls, there are magas not beholden to it. Perhaps I’m less pessimistic, or focused on a broader group. I used a hybrid model of addiction/terror to describe what’s keeping some of them from apprehending or spending time with their (other) needs and find that to be a break-point of opportunity, too: that ruler also falls to the ground under fatigue and habituation.

                Besides that some magas have not or will not pick it back up (or never held it to begin with) — and if we could call this a piece of optimism in the face of oligarchs’ instrumental, vast wealths — the oligarchs are kept ever-scrambling, upscaling and/or novelizing their apparatuses. (I specifically mentioned Rupert’s new weather channel because it hits all the notes: magas don’t want to suffocate in heat or have their homes collapse into rubble any more than non-magas, but that damned Weather Channel and its Science and Worry-tactics need to be displaced with Different Worry of Rupert’s liking, lest viewers entertain their own needs. This new investment, besides polling on the other end, suggests that GOPers are dancing with broader self-interest.)

                As things are ratcheting, at some point we either will be a full-fledged rather than lite authoritarian/anti-democratic state — or maybe only the rarest of unicyclists will be able to keep those plates spinning as we leave them in the round and dim the lights on their circus. I’ll go with any wedges that might work, and consider them additive. All hands on all decks.

                You have good ideas, Ken, what do you think could be done?

                • Ken Muldrew says:

                  What is to be done? It’s a good question and I wish I knew. My goal above was more modest, as in what is not worth doing (taking an operations research pov where effort should be directed to where it will help solve the problem). The divide is not caused by ideology even though there is a marked ideological separation, so fighting it as if it was an ideological battle will not be productive. Ideologies are opposed with ideas, evidence, facts, and argument, but none of these will have any purchase with the American right because they are not driven by a utopian or salvationist ideology (at least as concerns their political affiliation with Republicans).

                  Social power can be broadly classed as ideological, economic, military, and political. Ideological power usually goes hand in hand with political power by providing a constituency (the true source of political power). The cohesive power that binds the right together as a political constituency appears very like ideological power, but it really is quite different, and it is not economic or military. I call it informatic social power (keeping in mind the difference between information and semantic meaning) but perhaps it would be better to call this and ideological power as two flavours of informatic power. With ideology, the lens through which all information has to pass when going from the external world into an individual’s mind shapes that information in a particular way (so that one might joyfully embrace martyrdom even though it is very much not in one’s self interest). With informatic social power, information is shaped by some external agency (e.g. Fox news, OANN, Facebook, etc.) and delivered among a barrage of novelty that prevents one’s attention from wandering off message. It’s an active process and requires a constant feed of information; only made possible by modern communications technology.

                  That informatic social power is an active process means that it should be possible to defeat it by interrupting the flow of information. Unfortunately the oligarchs know that supporting these attention-holding platforms is money well spent, so that’s a hard problem to solve (in practice, anyway; in principle it is as simple as imposing a wealth cap).

                  • MB says:

                    re: “barrage of novelty” et al:

                    You call it “informatic social power”. I call it “digital cult”. Unlike political and spiritual personality cults prior to the advent of social media and daily propaganda broadcasters, a “digital cult” not only can have the traditional charismatic figurehead planted dead center in the scheme, but also the essence of said figurehead’s communications are amplified greatly and disseminated widely by current tech capabilities.

                    That is largely how QAnon became, in their case, a “leaderless cult”, dispensing with the man in the middle. They have the cult message and the tech to amplify it, but the mysterious Q his-self has disappeared and really is no longer necessary to propagate the game.

                    I agree with you that interrupting the flow of information is key, but have to add myself into the queue of folks scratching their head and muttering “How?” The long-term strategy would be to start re-emphasizing and encouraging critical thinking skills with the population at large – whose value has been in decline since at least Reagan’s time…

                    • Ken Muldrew says:

                      I agree that the cult framing is important for understanding the current situation. As to critical thinking, who will teach the teachers (and who will prevent the purges)? In public education, I doubt there has ever been a golden age of teaching critical thinking, especially since it needs class sizes below 10 or so. Luckily for us, not everything is learned in a classroom.

    • David says:

      The U.S. is both a representative democracy and a republic, the two are not mutually exclusive.

  6. Rayne says:

    Attn. RMD — I can’t approve your comment because it’s in excess of Fair Use.

    Please trim the excerpted copyrighted material to 300 words or less in a new comment along with a concise original point of your own about the excerpt’s relevance to Ed’s post and I can approve it. Thanks.

  7. David says:

    I never know what neoliberalism means. I Googled it:

    Neoliberalism is contemporarily used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as “eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers” and reducing, especially through privatization and austerity, state influence in the economy.

    So then, the opposite of liberalism? Neoliberal means free market conservative. Then how do we broadly paint Democrats and Republicans as neoliberals? I mean, I realize right-wingers lead the propaganda war, what with their vast right-wing media echo chamber.

    Quote: That’s where neoliberalism comes in. It tells people…that if they aren’t well-off, if they are in debt, too poor to pay for health care, unable to give their children a decent life, it’s their own fault, and there’s nothing to be done but suffer. Neolliberalism became the dominant ideology of both legacy parties…

    Yeah, no. Not seeing Democratic politicians arguing that the poor deserve their suffering.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Perhaps you might want to learn something about neoliberalism past some idiot dictionary definition. Two sources for starters: the book by Mirowski in the bibliography section. A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey. You could then try reading Foucault’s Security, Territory , Population; and The Birth Of Biopolitics. Or you could read lots of interesting articles, papers, and books on the subject.

      Democrats ended welfare as we know it and replaced it with, what? After the Great Crash Democrats took what actions to help the great mass of damaged Americans?

      • David says:

        And the Democratic Party is the party of the KKK. (Or is it? Depends on what the meaning of the word ‘​is’ is.)

        Yes, in 1996, “after constructing two welfare reform bills that were vetoed by President Clinton, Gingrich and his [Republicans] pushed for the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act.” Every Republican Senator voted for it. Twenty-five Democrats voted aye, but 21 Democrats voted nay. How would that vote go today?

        More recently, every Republican Senator voted against the pandemic relief bill and every Democrat voted for it.

        America is in deep shit. Republicans are on the cusp of making us a fascist oligarchy if not a theocracy. I think it is unhelpful to paint Democrats and Republicans with the same broad strokes. Or at least I hope it is.

        • pasha says:

          john calvin was hardly a neoliberal. calvin’s theocratic state in geneva imposed strict regulation of business. it was max weber who (mistakenly, i believe) promulgated the idea that calvin promoted a version of “the prosperity gospel” and thus laid the foundations of capitalism. this was a misreading of calvin’s writings and actions

  8. Leoghann says:

    I read all the posts in the last series, as well as most of the comments, but was far too late to the party to participate. Starting at the beginning, hopefully I can contribute as well as benefit. I checked on your first bibliography entry, only to find only one new copy of the book available. Can anyone suggest another source besides Thriftbooks and Amazon?

  9. RMD says:

    Noam Chomsky, in his “Propaganda and the Control of the Public Mind” outlines foundational principles that are deliberately underrepresented and minimized in representations of how our country is organized.

    “There’s no doubt that one of the major issues of twentieth century history, surely in the US ; is corporate propaganda… Its goal from the beginning, perfectly openly and consciously, was to ’control the public mind.’ as they put it. The reason was that the public mind was seen as the greatest threat to corporations.”

    The war against working people should be understood to be a real war. It’s not a new war. It’s an old war. Furthermore, it’s a perfectly conscious war everywhere, but specifically in the US… which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class… And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war. except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.”

    Edward Bernays wrote the manual for the public relations industry […] His book “On propaganda”,
    He opens by pointing out that “the conscious manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is the central feature of a democratic society.” “It is the essence of democracy”
    “We have the means to carry this out now. We have the means to regiment people’s minds as efficiently as armies regiment their bodies, and we must do this.”
    …it’s the way to maintain power structures, authority structures and wealth and so on, roughly, the way it is.

    […] American society was founded on the principle stated very explicitly by James Madison at the Constitutional Convention, that, “the primary responsibility of government is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
    Madison recognized that if a democratic system were established. If people had the right to vote…this would be a serious problem.
    He was concerned by “symptoms of a leveling spirit.” …that people feel that property ought to be more equitably distributed. And that’s a danger and it is going to become much more severe in time.
    As more and more people are marginalized and dispossessed, and secretly yearn for a more equal distribution of life’s blessings.
    [Madison] Now, “if those people get the vote, we’re going to be in trouble.”

    Because it’s going to be hard to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority…which is what government is all about.

    excerpted from “Propaganda and Control of the Public Mind”, ch 4. The Public Relations Industry ~ Noam Chomsky

    [FYI – I am letting this excerpt through this time as it has been pared down from your first 711-word attempt but it’s still 362 words — well over the 300-word Fair Use limit. In the future please paraphrase content when it exceeds 300 words and tell us in your own words what you’re trying to convey rather than expect this site to mediate a possible DMCA takedown request. /~Rayne]

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      RMD, for me the essential nugget here lies in Madison’s conception that tyranny of the majority specifically threatens an “opulent” minority. In other words, his (and other privileged white framers’) notion of an American minority in need of protection differs radically from our typical 21st century one. But it aligns perfectly with Ed’s discussion of the oligarchy, who would very likely see themselves as that “opulent minority” now.

      Black Lives Matter? Not as much as opulescent ones.

    • RMD says:

      Thank you Rayne, for bringing this point to my attention. I didn’t know, specifically, about the word length limit and believed that providing full citation was sufficient–and now know better.

    • matt fischer says:

      More from Chomsky, per

      Madison feared that a growing part of the population, suffering from the serious inequities of the society, would “secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of [life’s] blessings.” …

      So he designed a system that made sure democracy couldn’t function. He placed power in the hands of the “more capable set of men,” those who hold “the wealth of the nation.” …

      (To be fair, Madison was precapitalist and his “more capable set of men” were supposed to be “enlightened statesmen” and “benevolent philosophers,” not investors and corporate executives trying to maximize their own wealth regardless of the effect that has on other people…

      It’s extremely unlikely that what are now called “inevitable results of the market” would ever be tolerated in a truly democratic society. You can take Aristotle’s path and make sure that almost everyone has “moderate and sufficient property” — in other words, is what he called “middle-class.” Or you can take Madison’s path and limit the functioning of democracy.

  10. pdaly says:

    wrt: Eureka’s comment above about getting MAGAs to be selfish might be a win for our society as it gets us closer to mutualism:

    The Massachusetts government is offering, via free lottery, $1 million to adults and $300K scholarships to minors. Free, with the caveat that to enter the lottery you complete the COVID vaccination in MA (and perhaps vets can show vaccination at a VA clinic out-of-state) by the day of the lottery and show proof.

    MA will have 5 successive lotteries starting in mid-July and continuing into August 2021.
    People who are qualified need to enter their names into the lottery once and they will be automatically included in any and all remaining drawings. The people who are not yet qualified for the first few lotteries will have time (and incentive) to get their COVID vaccine to enter the later lotteries.

    Perhaps this puts a siren call into some ears of on-the-fence/waiting-to-see and never vaxers about acting to get a COVD vaccine.
    If enough do act out of their own desire to win money, then we as a society benefit from their selfishness.

    I keep an eye on a FB friend who reliably posts pro-Trump memes. So far, the best they can do to counter this program is “Weird that the government has to pay me to get a vaccine. If it is so effective, why does the government want to pay me to get it? Weird”.

    Hoping selfishness wins out over “weird.”

    • bmaz says:

      I don’t know pdaly, some of these people are just too stupid. Maybe social Darwinism is really setting in. Might obliterate our teetering medical system in the process though.

      • pdaly says:

        For overrun hospitals dealing with unvaccinated (by choice) COVID19 patients, I wish there could be a Hopes & Prayers wing where those patients could be placed and where they could watch on endless loop Trump reassuring them that this is all a hoax.

        • bmaz says:

          Right? I know that is not the ethos of the medical profession, nor should it be, but after a point…..

          • Fenix says:

            I’ve been quietly saying this to my husband as well. There is a point where one has to feel those who refuse to get vaxxed then eventually catch COVID are simply getting what they deserve so to speak. Problem is, as was pointed out to me by my physician, there are many within the community who are still being placed at great risk because they are so immunocompromised the vaccination has not mitigated their risk from COVID and ultimately THEY will be the ones to pay the ultimate price for the anti-vaxxers stubbornness.

            BTW, I really wish this site had the ability to like comments or add +1’s.

            • bmaz says:

              I think you just did! And, yes, exactly. It is not just them, but the rest of us, and our medical system. The toll for stupidity is real and tangible.

      • observiter says:

        Ding, ding, bmaz. It would be interesting to ask how many of them believe the Earth is flat.

    • P J Evans says:

      I got a call yesterday afternoon from VaccinateCA, wanting to know if the residents at my place were vaccinated (yes, yes , YES!).

    • blueedredcounty says:

      The government is paying you to get the vaccine because it is so effective, but a bunch of people are still refusing to get it. I could say it’s stupidity, ignorance, arrogance, amorality, evil…but I guess it’s just…weird.

      But the government is willing to offer to pay people to get it because, on the off-chance these weird people refusing the vaccination now DO get it, even if some of them win the vaccination lottery prize, it is ultimately cheaper for everyone because less people will get sick and die. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

      And the people who win the vaccination lottery prizes are extra lucky, because they are protected AND they win prizes. Weird.

      • Rayne says:

        The entire premise of state-run lotteries is weird. They’re inverse taxes which up to now I thought of as affecting those who should be taxed least. But the case of a vaccination lottery upends the inverse tax – those who need to pay the tax in the form of a vaccination do so to participate, and the broadest spectrum of society benefits unlike some state-run lotteries where funds may be allocated to narrower items like K-12 public education.

        • pdaly says:

          I agree.

          Also hoping the on-the-fencers don’t do the math about the low odds of winning a lottery.

          As of 7/7/21 only 1.8 million people — including 70,000 to 80,000 12 to 17-year-olds — have registered for VaxMillions out of 4.24 million eligible, fully vaccinated people.

          While better odds than most state lotteries, 1 divided by 1.8 million is still close to a “zero” chance of winning!

          Now is not the time, I hope, for vaccine-phobic to learn statistics!

          Then again, who am I to worry? Their willful ignorance of statistics puts them in their anti-vax shoes to begin with!

    • Eureka says:

      That’s a very crisp example, pdaly!

      Every bit of incrementalism helps us, bridges us to perhaps more punctuated change when the standard FDA approval(s) rolls out (and further employer mandates follow and/or individuals who can let go of that EUA concern act).

      The _series_ of drawings is a great structure — facilitates success and interest far more than a one-off.

      May the weird-curious get their freak on!

      • pdaly says:

        “May the weird-curious get their freak on!”

        LOL! I’m so tempted to post this on a certain FB friend’s page…

        And you are so right about “that EUA concern act.”

        • Eureka says:

          Sounds like you need to get yourself a FB burner account (as I yell, “Do it DO it DO IT!”). Then share reaction screenshots (or not, lol).

          Adding: I realized after this discussion that all the Trump voters I know are not only vaccinated but were promptly so (there’s one whose status I’m not sure of — voting or vaxxing — but I “assume” re the former). I have to check back in with a friend who promptly got it/followed all guidelines but was concerned about vaccinating her teen and has a Trumper co-parent. But I am not on FB.

          • pdaly says:

            Oooh! Temptation!

            Curious to know what separates your vaccinated pro-Trump friends/acquaintances from my anti-COVID vaccine Facebook friend.

            • Eureka says:

              Yeah, I don’t know and that’s kind of why I made the people-I-know-not-via-FB distinction (and at least two of them are not on FB at all to my knowledge, though people close to them are). It limits my sample to people I would communicate with by other means.

              Plus, I think people post a lot out of protest identity on there (besides drama and other stuff) (depends on their circles, of course) and that might up the chances that some behave in line with it. Or even if they act differently IRL, say, getting the vaccine, they won’t go posting (positively) about it.

              [Interjecting: though there’s also an OAN/Newsmax nutter I know of at fam’s work — I bet they are all-out on the vax unless mandatory, but their whole fam gave themselves COVID for Christmas, so…]

              It’s been my experience that Trumpers are as exhausted by Trumpism as everyone else (so many would peel away from misc. of its “tenets”), and I thought of that, too, when you described your friend’s post — which sounded like an opening (ambiguous) to me.

              We are back to the pdaly post, poke, or burner!

  11. gmoke says:

    Page and Gilens’ Democracy in America? might be useful here. My reading of the book is that our government is built for status quo politics. Even if there is 90-100% popular support for a change in legislation or regulation, it has little better than an even chance of happening, if that. It’s somewhat better when the Big Money Boyz want something but even that rises only to about 60% likelihood.

    Change, in general, is difficult and our government has devolved to make it even more difficult. For instance, I’ve monitored public opinion on energy issues and support for more funding of renewables and efficiency over fossil foolishness and nuclear has been consistently 70% or better (except for a short period of time in Reagan’s second term) since the first Energy Crisis in 1973. That has never happened and still isn’t happening now. According to those Commies at the International Energy Agency, USAmerica subsidizes fossil foolishness to the tune of $649 billion per year. And it continues.

  12. Franktoo says:

    Ed wrote: “That series led me to the conclusion that there are people pushing hard to create two separate communities in the US. Democracy isn’t possible in a society of two communities. One plausible way forward is to think about division: who is pushing it, and why and how they do it.” This is a reasonable diagnosis of the problem, but I doubt our oligarchs are the cause of this division. I think Jonathan Rauch’s new book “The Constitution of Knowledge. A Defense of Truth.” provides a better explanation.

    The author recently spoke at the Commonwealth Club about his book.

    “Over the past several years, the United States has seemingly become a country divided by facts, “alternative facts,” fake news, conspiracy theories and a “cancel culture” fueled by information and disinformation circulating on various social media platforms. Yet while the debate over truth seems to have reached a fevered and dangerous pitch since the disputed presidential election, this battle of what constitutes a factual idea is nothing new” [but social media is new, psychological warfare has advanced (and Trump is a master), partisan lines are starker with less communication across them].

    I come to this website because Marcy’s posts provides quotes and links to an enormous number of primary sources, which is where any search for the truth must begin.

    However, the problem on the left is real too. Although Trump comes in for the most criticism, Rauch is several critical of “cancel culture”. Alice Dreger, an academic activist who pursued more rational treatment of children born with ambiguous sex for a decade and was turned on by her activist friends when her research led to evidence they didn’t want to see is a favorite of mine:

    “Good scholarship had to put the search for truth first and the search for social justice second”, but many of her academic colleagues disagreed. Their position was that “science [one of the best ways of determining the truth] is as biased as all human endeavours, and we have to empower the disempowered and speak always with them.” Rebutting that position, Dreger writes “Justice cannot be determined merely by social position. Justice cannot be advanced by letting “truth” be determined by political goals”.

    The famous climate scientist Stephen Schneider and founder of the IPCC once wrote: “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts.” However, to make the world a better place, we need to capture the public’s imagination by offering up “scary scenarios, making simplified, dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts we might have [paraphrased]. You won’t find many caveats in the IPCC’s summaries for policymakers.

    These mistakes and others have allowed the right wing media to assert that the MSM (journalism is dead), academia, science and government are corrupt and can’t be trusted. Rauch quotes Rush Limbaugh: “WE really live, folks, in two worlds … two universes. One universe is a lie. The other universe is where WE are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it”. In other worlds, the truth can only be found at places like talk radio and Fox News. This was the situation BEFORE the rise of Facebook and Twitter and before the master propagandist Trump entered the scene.

    Sorry for the rant, but Ed’s mention of “two separate communities” struck a nerve.

    • Rayne says:

      However, the problem on the left is real too.” Uh, if someone claims they’re a leftist and they don’t accept the premise that all humans are entitled to equal rights and self-determination, they aren’t a leftist.

      I’ll point to “trans-exclusionary radical feminism” as a false position used to fragment the left by enforcing the idea that gender identification at birth based on the physical appearance of one’s genitals. Fuck that.

      There are still two communities: those who believe all humans are endowed with equal rights among them self-determination, and those who don’t and expect everyone else to agree with their denialism.

      • KP says:

        I agree wholeheartedly (full disclosure: I’m a grumpy old(er) hetero White guy). I thoroughly enjoy this site, as much for the many thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, as for the well researched articles. One thing about me, I am as angry at myself for having got to hate Bizarro World inhabitants, when I had spent a lifetime of trying to build bridges over what has kept us apart. I will follow this essay as it progresses, as well as the many others here. Thanks.

        • Ed Walker says:

          Thanks for the kind words. I feel the same way. The people Edsall describes make it extremely hard.

        • Rayne says:

          I love the idea of building bridges, but we really do need to ask ourselves about the limits of tolerance – confront Popper’s Paradox.

          Personally, I’ve asked myself if I’d punch Nazis and fascists. Yes, I’m a Nazi puncher. No bridges for fascists.

          • KP says:

            I have very much been a puncher in the long, long ago past. One thing to know: do not use a closed fist to punch someone in the head! I understand I am still a bit intimidating, but know too, I was never the aggressor, but I was a protector and closer. An anti-bully. But as a teacher and later a librarian, and always an activist, my actions were to try and do something good for we the people.
            I am pessimistic about my generation (Okay, Boomer), but when I see young people like Greta speaking truth to the posers representing the powers, and going out again, and sadly again, and again, to protest the very real systemic injustice in our country — well, and probably preaching to the choir, but remember Richard Pryor’s great set, “Just us.” Yes, we have made strides forward, but we have been constantly knocked aside, if not aback, by those whom reject the very tenets of our imperfect, but pretty dang good overall, Constitution.
            We all make choices. Choose wisely.

            • bmaz says:

              Well said. The Constitution is quite far from perfect, but it is indeed pretty dang good. Thing is, you cannot get perfect out of such a document, and no matter how perfect, in a republican democracy, it will always ultimately depend on the good faith and intentions of those elected to govern. The last part is the real problem.

      • timbo says:

        I disagree.

        Some on the Left disagree that there is an individual right to self-determination. I personally happen to believe in individual self-determination as a human right, but that is not the case of many folks on the left end of the political spectrum. There are leftists that believe in technological elites, leftists that believe in collectivism as a better approach to achieving a utopian dream, etc.

          • timbo says:

            Plenty of folks have been “collectivized” against their will historically. That’s what happened in Russia under Stalin and the Bolsheviks. Also see the “Cultural Revolution” in China. Etc.

              • timbo says:

                So any social collectivist construct that doesn’t support individual determination is authoritarian autocracy? “The Good of the Many Must Take Precedent Over The One”…

                Another interesting thing is the need for unanimity of thought within collectivized decisions in some constructs. That is, once discussion of an issue or problem goes before the collective body, all members of the body must agree to the solution to said problem, and in extreme cases, must agree that the decision itself is the correct decision, not just the agreed upon decision. Failing to believe in the correctness of the decision can be seen by the collective as failing to support the collective itself. (I’ve actually experienced this in real life before… for instances where agreeing to the decision is not enough and one must agree that the decision itself is the best or wisest decision, etc. Thus, the individual’s opinion is not allowed to deviate enough from the collective will as to doubt the wisdom of the collective will itself.) Is that autocracy per se?

                • Rayne says:

                  And Xinjiang Autonomous Territory is just a collective in which a minority doesn’t support the decisions which organize the collective/underpin autonomy.

                  We’re going to agree to disagree on this issue.

      • Franktoo says:

        Sorry for any confusion. Alice Dreger got a PhD in the history of science researching the history of how the medical profession had dealt with people of ambiguous sex (a topic suggested by her advisor) in 1995. Her research attracted the attention of people who had been born with ambiguous sex, who informed her that some for the barbaric and irreversible medical procedures she had described in her research were still being practiced at that time, because horrified parents wanted doctors to make their young children appear as normal as possible. She and a victim/activist founded the Intersex Society and lobbied the medical establishment and others to change the recommended procedures for dealing with such problems. After a decade of struggle, the policy they advocated was finally adopted: education, counseling, and waiting until the child grew up and could make informed decisions for themselves about their identity and their body.)

        Unfortunately, her research then led her to evidence that made her activist friends and colleagues turn against and persecute her. She obtained a Guggenheim Fellowship to study other academics who had been persecuted and combined her story with theirs in a book subtitled “Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice”. The provocative main title refers to Galileo, the prototype for a scientist persecuted for pursuing the truth. “Where would be, I wondered, if the pope had ultimately won out over Galileo, if he had succeeded in using his self-serving Catholic identity politics to forever quash Galileo’s evidence that the ancients and the Bible were wrong about the Earth.” (Some blog software finds her provocative main title offensive.) She claims the Scientific Revolution showed that man was capable of investigating and learning the truth about the world and this led to the Enlightenment and democracy – which is fundamentally based on the idea that the ordinary citizen is capable of learning enough about the truth to chose their leaders. Senator Moynihan famously said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Today we have two different universes of facts in this country, which doesn’t bode well for democracy.

        • Rayne says:

          I was not confused at all. I know what TERFs are, for example. Your comment would have fit this post better if you’d narrowed it to your last graf.

          Your premise collapses when relying on Moynihan’s understanding of his contemporaneous reality; he’s been gone since the Iraq War began. NYU’s Jay Rosen is far more accurate when he says today’s GOP is a party moving further away from the real. There are those who accept facts whether they like them or not, and those who leave the fact-bound universe behind for fiction because the facts don’t suit their interests. There are not two sets of facts.

          • KP says:

            “Hear, hear!”
            I am reminded that inter-disciplinary collaborations have brought together some research from what had been rancorous disagreements, refocusing attention to what matters: learning more about that which we study. New advances in various gear has also allowed better understanding. As late as the early 1990s cosmology was still often considered a joke; now kids are flocking to the field as it is leading the way in both the tiny and the huge study of physics. Paleoanthropology was riven with arguments on how to interpret the few bones and fragments we had at the turn of the Century — but with technical advances in short DNA sequencing, and the logarithmic drop in the cost due to new gear, almost overnight the field, bringing together many various disciplines, has dropped those old arguments, and have been revealing some fascinating truths about who we are as a species. In history, we have new ideas about what to include in our studies. Absolutely, when new data contradicts previous notions, it is time to revisit those assumptions. Bring that to the social sciences and humanities. sorry to blather

    • bmaz says:

      “I come to this website because Marcy’s posts provides quotes and links to an enormous number of primary sources, which is where any search for the truth must begin.”

      Yeah, thanks for the rant. Don’t be an ass. This post is by Ed Walker, and you should give him credit and love. You should come here for all the authors, and brilliant commenters. It is all good. Again, don’t be an ass, there are a lot of other people making this place go, and have been from the start.

      • Eureka says:

        I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating during what seems to be a bash-bmaz/mods-fest: I appreciate each of you contributors (including the absent gator-chomped Jim), and besides your and Rayne’s intellectual gifts in posts and comments, none of us can know what you go through to moderate the place (though I do find myself imagining at times). Also, it takes a lot of time to repeat oneself and to be polite, and I notice that a lot of trolls run in here explicitly (not to mention implicitly) demanding your time.

        Thanks, Ed, for the post (and most importantly for keeping at trying to solve what seems intractable), and to Peterr for kicking off the discussion, and everyone else joining in good faith.

        • bmaz says:

          Thank you Eureka. We are a pretty resilient lot though, and are pretty used to it all. And it also depends on the community, who has been, and is, truly awesome. The people here know bullshit when they see it. And that is awfully rewarding to see and know.

    • skua says:

      There is a long history of modernist sciences, medical, psychiatric, psychological, doing science on transgender people which pathologised transgender people. Pathologising them results in bigots feeling confirmed, and transgender people being social marginalised. Which is a very unhealthy and dangerous thing to have done to you. Drager was defending yet another version of the pathologisation of transgender people.
      Research that results in forseeable significant harm to the human population being studied is only ethically defensible if there is reasonable confidence of at least large benefits to that population, where those benefits are judged by the values of the population which suffers the forseeable harm. This involves consent being given by the studied population.

  13. Summertime Blues says:

    “However, the problem on the left is real too. Although Trump comes in for the most criticism, Rauch is several critical of “cancel culture”. Alice Dreger, an academic activist who pursued more rational treatment of children born with ambiguous sex for a decade and was turned on by her activist friends when her research led to evidence they didn’t want to see is a favorite of mine …” So just to be clear you want to equate an individual attacked for an unpopular academic position as a comparison to a widespread campaign of political misinformation, manipulation, and psychological warfare with Ms. Dreger as being your “favorite example”? The implication there is some inherent hypocrisy on the left that is equivalent to a systemic attack on our political system is misguided at best. You doubt that oligarchs are the source of division, but the Mercers, Mark Zuckerberg, and Rupert Fox come to mind with little effort as oligarchs that have the openly or covertly done so. It’s somewhat confusing that there is an obscure reference made to the conduct on the academic Left equated with political interference from the Right. This may not be the best forum for “both sides do it”.

    • Franktoo says:

      Summertime: With a life-time of experience as a self-promoting con man, a decade of experience on TV and no conception of the meaning of truth, Trump was able to exploit a system that was already breaking down. To make my position absolutely clear, I think some of Trump’s lies/conspiracy theories rival Hitler’s “Jews are secretly running the world” and “Germany lost WWI because they were betrayed from within”.

      As Rauch points out, however, Limbaugh and the far Right Media were successfully pushing the “two universes” theme (one of lies and one of reality) long before Trump came along. Limbaugh asserted that the universe of lies was dominated by the “Four Corners of Deceit”: academia, government, science and the media. Limbaugh’s job was made much easier when: elite climate scientists like Schneider told peers they need to tell “scary stories” if they want to make the world a better place, liberal academic like Haidt and Dreger warn us that the pursuit of social justice is suppressing debate and the search for truth on college campuses; when President Obama tells us that “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it”, Pelosi tells us you will find out what is in the bill when it passes and Gruber tells his peers that the stupidity of the American voter was essential to passage; when the WaPo fact-checker stops keeping a list of Biden’s lies after 100 days despite maintaining Trump’s much longer list for four years and when the NYT ignores the recommendations of its academic fact-checkers and publishes a claim that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery. If Trump were to disappear from the scene tomorrow, we will still live in two increasingly polarized, cultish universes amplified by the echo chambers of social media and cancel culture. Internet platforms make enormous sums of money by means of clickbait leading to content that preys upon human cognitive weaknesses including attraction to sensation and addiction to being outraged. Freedom of speech on the Internet has produced cults and conspiracy theories, but deliberately directs people away from a potential marketplace of ideas by keeping track of their prejudices. More clicks, more money. Twitter allowed Trump to send an average of 36 Tweets (multiplied by retweets) a day in the second half of 2016 to 80 million Americans. When combined with echo chambers in social media and right-wing news, Trump had a near monopoly on the information reaching these Americans, and it is not surprising that 70% of Republicans believe the election was stolen and 50% that Antifa attacked the Capitol.

      I will again try to stop ranting and apologize. Rauch is a scholar who has interesting things to say about today’s “two universes”, including a section on how the yellow journalists of the nineteenth century (who may have started the Spanish-American war) evolved into the more professional journalists of the twentieth century.

  14. Drew says:

    This is a very interesting discussion-your point that oligarchy is served by division of the electorate is particularly apt. (The oligarchy after all, consists of people with a wide variety of apparent political views and affiliations-more are “centrist” than blatantly right wing, but all are served by the developments in our laws that support amassing and protecting extremely large fortunes–the oligarchs themselves don’t need to be the “crazies” they just need to keep a coherent opposition to amassing excessive wealth from getting enough traction to change things)

    I’d like to take issue, or at least nuance your discussion of “religious zealots”- I’ve studied and taken part in religious struggles for a number of decades. So I can tell you quite clearly that the “morality” that the Christian Right tries to impose changes and has changed over time. Really quite substantially. The idea of divorce, for instance was once one of the absolutely forbidden behaviors that resulted in ostracism in the extreme, and even suggesting compassion for women who had been divorced made one a liberal heretic to be excluded. That disappeared a long time ago, and now even the clergy of the Christian Right are divorced and remarried at a rate comparable to the rest of the population.

    So when you say “they seek to impose their morality” it’s correct that this (vaguely defined to be clear) group does seek to impose something, but it’s not really a set of moral rules, what they are imposing is control. This manifests in many ways, and if you have been inside one of their religious communities it is even more clear that control permeates every aspect of life, at least in the more extreme or pure of these right wing communities.

    This manifests among plenty of people who aren’t really members of any church and indeed, many of the people who identify on surveys as Evangelical don’t attend church regularly, some wouldn’t even know what to do in a church. A survey from PRRI came out this week that showed the white Evangelicals shrinking in size a bit while the white protestant mainline (the so-called “liberal” churches) growing a bit and indeed comprising the larger group. I don’t want to make too much of the survey, esp. the trendline, but there’s definitely a divide in religious Americans. I wouldn’t attribute it to “zeal” (Dr. William Barber & the Poor People’s campaign is as religiously zealous as any of the Christian Right, certainly much moreso than Jerry Falwell, Jr.) What divides them is a sorting based on authoritarian inclinations-I would label those largely as being about status fear–assertion of control in order to retain status that is otherwise perceived as threatened. As a theologian, I’d say that’s the opposite of faith.

    So the disparate group that you call “religious zealots” are largely the foot soldiers of social control–working out (or parroting what their leaders work out) a rationale of rules to keep status (i.e. primarily White Patriarchy) from eroding. If you look on the ground where these people have their influence, it’s not that the religious people run local opinion (not where I come from in Idaho anyway) but that the opinion makers in those Religious Right communities reflect and cooperate with the other right wingers who are seeking to maintain control and status. The religious types give ideology, or a set of moral rules (which as I have said above is in no way stable or timeless, but is rather pragmatically developed to hold the community together and give a story). These rules and ideology are often used by the non-religious as much or more as the religious to push their agenda.

    How does this serve the oligarchy’s interest? Not much if we’re talking directly, but it does serve the division you discuss. I think that the predominance of this right wing religiosity/ideology with the irrational intensity that we see is largely an artifact of how effective the dividing has become. The communications between one side and the other are broken down. I know that, as an Episcopal priest, I am regarded by most of the really hardcore participants of the Christian Right as not a Christian at all, and in most ways worse than an atheist for instance. But the division is similar for “secular” or not religiously labelled sectors as well.

    • Ed Walker says:

      This is a very helpful comment. I like the idea of the difference between religious doctrine and control, and I think it explains a lot. If you have recommended readings, I’d be delighted to add to my lists.

      • Drew says:

        I’m not sure of specific works that directly address the issues directly as I’ve framed them, but here are three quite diverse books that address some of these issues.

        1. The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone (2013)
        Cone was professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in NYC 1968-2018. A prolific writer, more or less the founder of Black Liberation Theology & doctoral advisor to many theologians including Senator Raphael Warnock.

        2. The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism by James A Aho (1995)
        A sociologist using immersion methodology to study right wing groups in Idaho, in the 1990s. Covers a wide variety from Aryan Nations to local secular political groups. Some extremely religious others hardly at all.

        3. My People is the Enemy: an autobiographical polemic, by William Stringfellow. (1963, reprint 2005)
        Stringfellow was a radical white lawyer, who lived and worked in East Harlem after graduating from law school in the mid-1950s. This is his reflections on his experience of living with & learning from the black & hispanic residents of that devastated & impoverished neighborhood and the obliviousness and fecklessness of white society, including the justice system, the academy & the liberal church. (btw Dan Berrigan was arrested on a fugitive warrant by the FBI while being sheltered at Stringfellow’s home). Stringfellow is my favorite theological writer. His books are very short and very intense.

  15. Yancy says:

    When you decided to write this, did you know Mark Levin has just written a book, “American Marxism,” that he is using his Fox News program to promote? He is likewise using the book as the basis for a “map of how we got here” and what we can do to overcome the Marxism foisted upon American institutions by, wait for it, John Dewey.

    Quite a pleasant surprise to click on your post even as Levin (Levine?) was introducing his grand string theory of everything wrong with the USA and how to blame it all on Progressive Liberal Democrats.

    Note: I am not a Fox viewer. I had turned it on earlier as an exercise in masochism, I guess, listening to some of Trump’s repetitive ramblings at CPAC, and didn’t change the channel until Masterpiece Theater’s “Unforgotten” began just now.

    • Ed Walker says:

      So Dewey was a Marxist? I completely missed it. I guess I’ll have to re-read the entire book.

      • skua says:

        You’d think you would have noticed by now if Dewey was a Marxist.
        Though Marxism does propose a sort of democracy according Taimur Rahman (below) and maybe Levine is fantasising that the Democrats are Marxists too?
        If such a fantasy is given another ride by jockey Trump for 22 or 24 then Levin will be in the money as sage-of-the-minute.

    • Eureka says:

      Here’s how Levin will take up my time: someone who needs their house cleaned out has a pile of his books. The recycling center doesn’t take hardbacks, so I will have to rip off the covers before sending their pages to slushy silence. # upperbodyworkout

          • P J Evans says:

            yes – haven’t needed it yet today. It’s not all that bad here, only been up to 99 or 100F. I was amused by the SFGate story on the heat in the Bay Area talking about how hot it was in Livermore (102-107 depending on who you asked), as I know the record highs for June and July were set in 1961: 112-113F. That’s hot!
            I remember because that June our church was moving and putting up a new building. The week it hit 112 was the week they were pouring the concrete for the foundation and floor, and the truck was scheduled for 4pm. (I heard it was setting almost as fast as it was being poured.)

        • Eureka says:

          Good idea, which I may have arrived at after straining something. So thanks.

          This will be a QC test of the publisher’s product.

      • Hug h says:

        LOL… flashbacks to a very unpleasant do-gooder episode in my life a few years back, I helped organize the cleanup of a HOARDER house. The home had been occupied by a dear friends “crazy uncle”- retired Seattle Police and severely RW politically radicalized while stewing in that culture. Before the house could be professionally cleaned we had to very carefully search through the waste deep debris in search of 25 firearms (some loaded). Amid the garbage and porn and… YUCK!!!! I found piles of hardcover books by Coulter, Savage, Hannity etc. To ensure that the propaganda didn’t further pollute other minds I gathered them all, gave them a good soaking with the garden hose and threw them in a dumpster!

  16. Boris says:

    Taken as read, Ed (sorry), and have for some time.

    Look forward to your future thoughts, especially what, if anything, can be done about it in an era of severe contraction ahead of the global conflagration.

  17. may says:

    four questions from the other side of the equator.
    why does some-one have the right to lie about or infect or threaten with a weapon another person
    and that person have no right to be not lied about, infected or threatened by a weapon?
    how come a federal Supreme Court judge has no term limit?
    what happened to the people(thousands of them,apparently) who gave away everything they owned before the failed “rapture”in the “great disappointment” of 1848 (in think)?
    did they get their stuff returned?

      • Ed Walker says:

        Yes and No. The conservative ideologues on SCOTUS who reinterpreted the Second Amendment in 2008 and filled the nation with guns. They also interpreted the Constitution to make them the Supreme Arbiters and Platonic Guardians of their views, so that nothing can change without their consent. So, yes in the sense that they “rely” on the Constitution. No in the sense that it could easily have gone the other way as it had from 1789.

  18. Herb de Bray says:

    The recent events in the US have me mulling over why it all came to this.
    Oligarchy goes back 100’s of years and continues anger and haunt us as its strength continues to move forward. Oligarchy to me is driven by greed underwritten by power, now or to be gained. I visited some history websites to be certain I wasn’t blowing air out my a_ _ _. and revisited what I knew about the history that has driven wannabe authorities to develop into oligarchs. It seems almost Darwinistic, (Earlier Ref.) although the oligarchs don’t see themselves as finches. They seek their gods of good fortune and power.
    It seems, in retrospect, that this is a plague that overtakes the mentally vulnerable, and disillusioned pretenders;sort of an illness which has profoundly affected centuries of revolutions. It’s not so hard to understand, “I’ll make a bigger more powerful club than yours.”
    In world history, there are innumerable examples of the rise of the oligarch. It’s on every continent. Even from countries from afar trying to impose their will on others. I don’t think it’s going to go away soon.This is a review for me and as such I am adding references to my thinking.

    The Oligarch issue has been long in mind and pushed me back to my study of how this all developed around the world.
    The US needs to do some weeding.

  19. Herb de Bray says:

    The recent events in the US have me mulling over why it all came to this.
    Oligarchy goes back 100’s of years and continues anger and haunt us as its strength continues to move forward. Oligarchy to me is driven by greed underwritten by power, now or to be gained. I visited some history websites to be certain I wasn’t blowing air out my a_ _ _. and revisited what I knew about the history that has driven wannabe authorities to develop into oligarchs. It seems almost Darwinistic, (Earlier Ref.) although the oligarchs don’t see themselves as finches. They seek their gods of good fortune and power.
    It seems, in retrospect, that this is a plague that overtakes the mentally vulnerable, and disillusioned pretenders;sort of an illness which has profoundly affected centuries of revolutions. It’s not so hard to understand, “I’ll make a bigger more powerful club than yours.”
    In world history, there are innumerable examples of the rise of the oligarch. It’s on every continent. Even from countries from afar trying to impose their will on others. I don’t think it’s going to go away soon.This is a review for me and as such I am adding references to my thinking.

    The Oligarch issue has been long in mind and pushed me back to my study of how this all developed around the world.
    The US needs to do some weeding.

Comments are closed.