Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dream and reality

Some things are so good that they bear repeating, and an example is this post from the felicitous Doc Zero, entitled "Awakening from the Collective Dream". The start is a bit slow -- I'm more agnostic about gun rights than many Americans, but then I'm Canadian -- but it picks up steam in the middle, and the by the end it gets the contrast between the simplistic imaginings of the left and the simple realities of experience clear, sharp, and exactly right:
The alternative to ambition and commerce is not “social justice,” but widespread poverty. The absence of growth brings collapse, not sustainability. The Constitutional rights of free people cannot exist alongside “positive rights” provided through redistribution. Abandoning the security of our borders does not produce a melting pot of happy immigrants. The government cannot repeal the laws of supply and demand. The freedom to vote does not render all other freedoms inconsequential. Prosperity for millions cannot be designed by a central committee. Social justice cannot be created by administering controlled viral doses of injustice.
Ironically, this is reminiscent of the words Marx used over a century and a half ago to describe the effect of capitalism: "... man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind." (and see this too):
Waking up from these dreams is not easy. ... The collectivist fantasy can end in a relatively controlled manner, with a widespread rediscovery of how freedom and prosperity are inextricably linked… or it can end with the bloody violence of Greece, as angry dependents strip the last measure of their unsustainable benefits from the hide of the middle class. One way or the other, it is ending. Twilight falls upon the empty dream of the twentieth century: to sanctify a brilliant elite through the sacred ritual of the vote, and be ruled wisely.

Epistemology and the aims of journalism

An interesting post by John Holbo at Crooked Timber, and my subsequent debate in the comments. It deals, once again, with the fallout from the Weigel affair, which has stayed far longer than its due fifteen minutes on its own merits, but which has some added importance re: the issue of media bias. (To be honest, epistemology only really arises superficially, re: the possiblity of "objective" reporting.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The political metamorphoses of Dave Weigel

Dave Weigel, the former blogger/reporter for the Washington Post on matters conservative, has put out a long mea culpa, on Big Government, of all places. But it's a little hard to see exactly what he's saying, other than "okay, ya got me", plus some confessional stuff about hubris. There may be a kind of personal-political-change story there as well, but in his case it doesn't appear to run very deep -- it seems he began as a sort of campus conservative, but of the lite variety, meaning more style than substance:
I was more interested in covering politics than in advocating for a political stance (outside of columns I wrote for my paper and later the daily campus paper). I cared more about finding out stories first than about advocating positions — those stories would get me the jobs I wanted, not the opinions I had. And I knew that I didn’t want to be pigeonholed.
Little wonder that when he got the invite to join the cool kids, as they seemed to him, on Journolist, he didn't think twice:
I was dazzled by the sudden, immediate access I had to more than a hundred journalists and academics, mostly on the left, some without an ideology I could discern.
So Weigel's political transformation has been from campus conservative lite to something like a political chameleon, willing and happy to blend in with whatever crowd he's amongst at the moment, "trash talk" the crowd's enemies, and change color at the next cocktail party. It's a sad little arc, characteristic, I've no doubt, of many in the "journalist" tribe, and goes a fair way toward explaining the herd instincts of so much of the so-called main-stream media. They're "mostly on the left" simply because most of them have never thought any further.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How many reporters does it take to cover liberals?

It's a trick question. First, you have to ask, as Byron York does with Sherlockian insight, why there are reporters "covering" conservatives, as Dave Weigel was supposed to do, in the first place? Answer: because conservatives are a puzzling, alien phenomenon to MSM editors/producers. Here's the money quote:
In the past several years, newspapers have assigned reporters to specifically cover conservatives, but they haven't done the same thing for liberals. It started in January 2004, when the New York times chose David Kirkpatrick to cover the conservative movement. The goal, as Times editor Bill Keller told then-ombudsman Byron Calame in 2006, was to identify "the [conservative] thinkers and the grass roots they organize" and explore "how the conservative movement works to be heard in Washington."
"We wanted to understand them," Keller said of conservatives.
So, the answer to the question about the number of reporters needed to cover liberals is zero, since there's clearly no lack of understanding of that kind of politics within the MSM. But if the question is, how many reporters do cover liberals, explicitly or tacitly, the answer must be just about all of them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two tales of a city

Desaib Mi, MSMedia reporter:
The violence that many predicted from the right-wing Tea Party movement finally manifested itself in full force at the site of the G8/G20 summit over the weekend, as cars were burned, stores smashed, rocks hurled by masked, black-clad Tea Party thugs. One bystander observed, "it's but a short step from carrying hate-filled signs mocking the President, who's African-American, to inciting a revolution in the streets." Many were  calling for sweeping arrests and --
What? They're not Tea Party? Are you sure?

Oh. Okay, right. Sorry. Let me try again:
The site of the G8/G20 summit was the scene of another police-state overreaction as mainly peaceful protesters tried to make a forceful, democratic case that the leaders of nations should not be allowed to meet in person. A "heavy, heavy police presence" and other security arrangements were said by many to have been highly provocative, and may have led to some possibly accidental forms of expression, such as a burning police car, or a broken window. Spokesmen for the protesters claimed that in fact the police burned their own car in an attempt to ....

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Don't worry, Democrats -- Be Happy!,

So says Charles Blow, trying to rally the troops. But first he has to admit that things aren't looking too good at the moment. It's not just that Obama's approval ratings have fallen, nor that the numbers of people who think the country's moving in the wrong direction have climbed to over 60%, "for the first time since the Bush years" -- it's also that over 40% of the people now self-identify as "conservative", vs. 20% "liberal". And the really scary thing is that there seem to be some "factors" in the real world that relate to these bad polling numbers:
Obama has been an abysmal salesman; Americans’ patience has the lifespan of a fruit fly; we are still mired in two intractable wars; the economy has yet to turn the corner; anxiety is mounting over ballooning deficits; and oil is still gushing into the gulf.
I'm not sure what the "intractable" war is besides Afghanistan, and we should probably cut him some slack on the dissing of Americans' patience, given the polls, but those other factors all look pretty dismal, no? Particularly galling must be that first one, Obama as "abysmal salesman" -- wasn't it his silver tongue that got him the job in the first place, and was going to transform American politics for a generation?

Ah, well. Whenever things look bad, just remember -- there's always the "long term". Things will just "get better", and then they won't look so bad, or something.

He actually has a point about the recession, or so we all should hope -- despite all manner of government bungling, capitalism generally rights itself sooner rather than later. And for the future, well, apparently there's growing "diversity", education, and irreligion to keep hope alive for shivering Democrats. He might have some kind of point there too, but -- and I'm just throwing this out -- what if none of those things really made the growing numbers of non-Democrats feel any better about the reaching tentacles of Big Gov swaddling embrace of Big Nanny?

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Weigel-Journolist Affair and schadenfreude

It's all over the Internets, or at least the bloggery, or at least the right side (in more ways than one) of the blogosphere -- in the wake of some leaked but highly classified emails from one David Weigel to a cozy little online club of "center to left" journalists, Weigel's lost his job and the club itself is about to be disbanded.

Awwwww. That's a little of that most widespread of guilty pleasures, schadenfreude, which I think becomes a little less guilty when you add to its Merriam-Webster definition: "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others" -- that are richly deserved. Why deserved, in this case? Well, first, because Weigel was the reporter the Washington Post had assigned to cover conservatives. Right? A guy who's a member of a lefty email club is supposed to be reporting -- objectively?! -- on conservative or right-wing issues and events?? Why wouldn't it be good riddance?

And second, there's that little business of the "journolist" itself, which was a lefty in-group consisting of many other members of the media who, in their day jobs, also purport to be more or less objective. Now, the right-wing complaining about left-wing media bias can get a bit tiresome, I'll admit, in its repetitiveness. But it's repetitive not only because the bias is so bleedingly obvious, but also because of the  irritating chutzpah constantly displayed by said biased "journalists" and editors/producers in their bare-faced denials of the bleedingly obvious. In any case, Mickey Kaus does one of the better take-downs of this little cabal (via Moe Lane):
Everybody has private notes, sources, or conversations. That doesn't mean a secret conversation among "hundreds" of influential Democratic writers doesn't potentially create problems. Groupthink might be one of them. ... Hey, and another might be the fostering of an us-vs-them mentality! Maybe even a weakness for smug rationalization. ...

PS: Julian "epistemic closure" Sanchez feels badly for Weigel, who apparently is a friend. Julian's pretty sure that Weigel isn't "any sort of liberal or progressive", but he also doesn't seem to be any sort of unbiased observer of conservatives either, which is apparently what he was hired as. E.g., some Weigel quotes (from the origin of the kerfuffle, the Daily Caller):
Honestly, it’s been tough to find fresh angles sometimes–how many times can I report that these [tea party] activists are joyfully signing up with the agenda of discredited right-winger X and discredited right-wing group Y?
In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”
Republicans? “Ratfucking [Obama] on every bill.” Palin? Tried to “ratfuck” a moderate Republican in a contentious primary in New York. Limbaugh? Used “ratfucking tactics” in urging Republican activists to vote for Hillary Clinton in open primaries after Obama had all but beat her for the Democratic nomination.
"Ratfucking"? Okay, that's a little weird. Biased and weird.

The why of it - part 3

In the last part, by the early 90's, in the wake of the collapse of Actually Existing Socialism, I'd started moving away from -- and in fact reacting against -- what had become of the left. But I was still uncertain about what I was becoming, politically. By this point of my story, then, I'm pretty much through with the "why of it" (but keeping the title for the sake of continuity). Here I want to talk a little bit about that more puzzling question of how such change happens, and then see about getting to what I myself was changing into.

The "how", i.e., the process of personal political change, has unfortunately a lot to do with the labels that people attach to various political positions -- e.g., Marxist, conservative, socialist, libertarian, progressive, fascist, liberal, etc. Such labels attach to the people that hold these general positions as well, more or less, and can be used to identify social groupings, from friends to workplaces to entire communities and sometimes regions, though of course with less precision as the groupings broaden. At the most general level -- "left" and "right" in the conventional 1-dimensional polarity -- these political-social labels are associated not just with one's social groupings of all kinds, but can become value-belief systems so deeply rooted that they form important parts of a person's identity, and of a whole way of life.

A label like that is not an easy thing to change. Still, like any belief system, such political identifications can come under pressure from events -- doubts begin bubbling up, from more and more sources, less and less repressible, and threatening to break open the system as a whole. When that kind of process gets underway, there are roughly three kinds of response. You can vow to suppress the doubts by sheer will and retreat into a hardened, inflexible shell of fundamentalist faith that nothing in the real world can penetrate; or, you can largely keep your doubts to yourself, retain your outward political label for the sake of getting along, but pull back from politics as a source of value or purpose in your life; or, finally, of course, you can at least try to be open and rational about such doubts, and see where they take you. Since reason, even in a limited sense, has always been a primary source of meaning for me, I never felt much attraction to either of the first two options. The third, though, has its difficulties and problems, without question -- I've lost friends in some cases and lost aspects of friendship in others, and that's been sad. But other friendships have remained, even over  long stretches of years, and considerable distance, both geographically and  politically, and that's been deeply gratifying. Politics, after all, isn't everything and it isn't the only thing.

But there's one important thing to note about that third option: taking that route, one of the first things you need to overcome is what I would call "the tyranny of the label". This comes up when, in analyses or discussions of particular issues, people attempt to use such labels as arguments in themselves -- e.g., using "That's right-wing" or "conservative" (or "left-wing" or "liberal") as an accusation. It's tempting, particularly when you're just starting down this path and still flinching at having a long-despised political label flung at you, to want to try to deny or refute such "accusations", but I think such a temptation should be resisted. It  risks sidetracking the discussion as a whole, and in any case immediately puts you on the defensive -- in effect, you're letting yourself be bullied by a mere label. Instead, I think it's better to respond along the lines of: "Whatever; the argument isn't whether such-and-so is left or right, the argument is whether it's right or wrong." Which applies to one's own internal arguments as well.

(To be continued.)

Republican metamorphosis?

And now, after bring up David Brooks (one of the "two mighty Davids of conservative intellect") a couple of times, as well as the inimitable T. Coddington Van Vorhees VII, it's time to mention a rising alternative in that neck of the woods (so to speak) -- what Doctor Zero of Hot Air's "Green Room" calls the "yeoman wing" of the Republican Party:
The other Republican party is young and vital. On the 2008 ticket, its banner was carried by Sarah Palin. It’s the yeoman wing of the party, composed of people with middle-class backgrounds and real-world business experience. These people are appalled at the bloated mess in Washington, and the smaller but equally fatal tumors infecting many state capitols. They see a government speeding toward systemic collapse, its doom spelled out in the simple math of unsustainable entitlements and economy-crushing taxation.
The interesting thing is how many non-Republicans -- independents and even some Democrats -- are similarly appalled and energized to do something about it, finally. Further evidence that political space needs more than one dimension.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Even T. Coddington is having 2nd thoughts about Obama now

Having linked to David Brooks two posts in a row lately, I thought I should look in on that most iconic "Intellectual Conservative At-Large", T. Coddington Van Vorhees VII (ICA-Ls can sometimes be a bit flinty about equality when it comes to attention). At first, everything seems fine:
Summer once again tiptoes in on crepe soles to the eastern extremities of Long Island; affording, as is its wont, fresh opportunities to enjoy the providence of nature and the financial acumen of one's forebears.
But clouds seem to be gathering:
Each day seems to introduce some new crisis on the world scene with hints of more to come, and one is left to wonder if even our elegant young President's oratorical and tonsorial gifts are equal to the challenges ahead.
I was visited by one such harbinger last weekend, in the form of a 80-meter Ferretti motoryacht, as I was hosting my weekly confabulation of like-minded conservative thinkers at the old family Montauk estate. Dame Peggy Noonan was there as always, along with the vivacious Kathleen Parker and those two mighty Davids of conservative intellect, Frum and Brooks.
Alas, poor Barack. We know he's already lost Dame Peggy, though not yet sure about the two mighty Davids. But if you lose T. Coddington, well....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


See -- and I know this speaks poorly for my taste, in so many ways -- but the thing is, I have a fondness for Ikea. I like the stores, I like the prices, I like the funny names, I like the bins of impulse-buy doodads, and over and above everything else I like the clean, light, simple, happy Swedishness of it all (this is the non-Bergman Sweden, of course).

So anyway. I have a friend with whom I can still argue politics. He's left-wing and I'm right -- wing, that is -- but I at least learn a lot from these discussions (they're not always debates). On rare occasions, though, I can make an anti-welfare state point that gives him pause, as of course he does for me re:anti-capitalism. In his pauses, however, he's gotten into a habit of quickly filling them with a one-word comeback: "Sweden". After that, we usually just change the subject.

But, I finally have something like a response:

I'm not a conservative, but...

I liked this column a lot (David Brooks again!): "Two Theories of Change". I happened across it from a post in Greg Mankiw's blog, entitled "Modesty, Gradualism, Balance" (I don't claim these are qualities or approaches I exhibit -- merely that I appreciate), which also has a very small-c conservative ring. Mankiw applied those words, taken from Brooks' column, to his own style of "libertarianism", which I would agree with largely, but with a proviso that I'll get to:
I described myself as a "libertarian at the margin." By that, I meant that given our starting point today, I believe more reliance on individual liberty and less on governmental solutions is usually a step in the right direction, but I often recoil at more radical libertarian positions.
Brooks' column itself had a wider reach -- he began by talking about the two versions of the Enlightenment, one being the much better known French or continental Enlightenment, the other being the lesser known but no less important Scottish/British Enlightenment of Hume, Burke, Adam Smith, and others. And "...if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits." -- which relates to an important part of the "Theme" of this blog. Brooks relates the two versions of Enlightenment to two styles of politics that continue to contend today -- he ends his column thus:
The children of the British Enlightenment are in retreat. Yet there is the stubborn fact of human nature. The Scots were right, and the French were wrong. And out of that truth grows a style of change, a style that emphasizes modesty, gradualism and balance.
And that too I'd largely agree with. But -- this is my proviso and the reason why in the end I'm not really a conservative -- we need more than a style of change. We need a direction. And a reason. And once we have those, we need actually to make change, modestly, gradually, pragmatically, and with balance.

"Social justice" vs. "just society"

This arises from a quick post on Metamorphoses the other day which, after making allowance for some Hayekian skepticism regarding the phrase "social justice", suggested that the concept might be interpreted in a broader sense than the usual blanket rationale for left-liberal state confiscations and distributions. Borrowing from another post, I called this broader context a "just society". (As an aside, I'll just note that in Canada this phrase has unfortunate associations with a charismatic but controversial former Prime Minister -- please, no snickering at the notion of a "charismatic Canadian" -- and then I'll ignore those associations.)

Now it's plausible, and interesting, to think of those two notions as strongly related, if not synonymous -- wouldn't "social justice" prevail, after all, in a "just society"? And it's also enjoyable to see how, as the original article relating to the Tea Party movement pointed out, the latter notion either forces an enlargement of the meaning of "social justice", or forces the partisan narrowness of the concept out into the open. But it's also possible, and maybe instructive, to consider the two notions as distinct in an important way. The notion of justice that's contained in the phrase "social justice" is the notion of a just end or condition of society, in which everyone receives exactly what's due him or her, and is maintained in this condition. The notion contained in the phrase "just society", on the other hand, is the notion of a just structure or framework for society, within which everyone is free to act as they see fit and obtain what they're able and willing to.

This is a familiar enough distinction, perhaps, but laying out the alternatives in this way I think helps make clear some of the oddities and difficulties inherent in the "social justice" view. First, how are we to determine just what is "due" to a particular individual, or even to some grouping of individuals? Second, even if we could determine this, how are we to ensure that individuals actually get what they're due, and no more than they're due? Third, even if we can make this sort of "just" distribution once, how are we going to ensure that everything stays just, as people go about their daily lives? It would certainly help if we had a divine perch from which to look down on and into the lives of individuals to determine what was each their due, and then a divine power to dispense or distribute goods like Santa Claus at Christmas, as well as to reach into their lives on an ongoing basis so as to maintain this just distribution. But, lacking that, "social justice" proponents tend to fall back on the simple notion of dividing the available goods equally, regardless of merit, character, motive, choice, etc., -- not to mention right -- and relying on the tax man and other state bureaucrats in lieu of God to enforce this rough state of "justice". In the real world, of course, few such proponents any longer think it's possible to impose such an absolute egalitarianism -- there aren't many real communists left -- but that simply means, in practice, that they'll always view any actual condition of any actual society as requiring ever more substantive equality to be more "socially just".

All of which, though, should make it clear that the notion of "social justice" as some sort of just end state or condition of human society is not just a mirage, the pursuit of which is folly -- it's also wrong, or unjust in itself. We're not God or gods, nor are our political representatives, nor the bureaucrats they appoint, and the pretence that anyone can determine what is justly due everyone is nonsensical and arrogant. The attempt to enforce a crude version of that kind of "justice" through an endless campaign of egalitarianism is manifestly unjust.

"Justice", however, as a form or structure rather than as a substantive condition is quite another matter. In this sense, justice consists of a set of fair or just rules for behavior, within the limits of which the varying human situations are all equally just, regardless of condition. This doesn't mean that we should do nothing about such varying conditions -- justice isn't the only human virtue, after all, but is only one among such others as mercy, compassion, and love. But, unlike the way in which "social justice" often subverts virtue, the "just society" is one that provides a foundation and structure for the exercise of virtue.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The connection between economic policies and values

Why aren't Big Gov liberals doing better, asks David Brooks, after a deal with the devil seemed to give self-styled "progressives" everything they could want? His answer:
Bitterly and too late, Dr. Faustus recognized that economic policies are about values. If your policies undermine personal responsibility by separating the link between effort and reward, voters will punish you for it.

Make the rich pay?

John Quiggan, from that nest of unreconstructed commies anti-capitalists, Crooked Timber, asks: "So, can the well-off be made to pay for the crisis, and should they?" He says "well-off" instead of "rich" (since "no-one much thinks of themselves as 'rich'"), and he does tack on that pro forma last question, but immediately forgets he's asked it. It's quite evident that the only real question in his mind is the same one that occurs to ordinary thieves or bank robbers: can we get away with it?

He's comfortable that we could, so far as the evasions of the rich are concerned -- we've got them, or can get them, trapped. And, while it's curious that he seems to understand that taxing the rich can cause "great economic damage", he thinks that as long as the marginal rates are below historic highs (or, as he says, below what they were "at the beginning of the neoliberal era"), such damage won't at least be "great". Why he should assume that economic history can be simply run backward in this way without great, or at least unforseeable, damage he doesn't say; why he should assume that economic damage great or small is a worthwhile policy objective, again he doesn't say -- it's almost as though seizing money from the "well-off" is a good thing regardless of a little damage.

In any case, the real risk, apparently, isn't evasion or damage, but politics: "The big problem then, is the politics." Why, one wonders? It obviously isn't because the well-off voters outnumber the non-well-off -- Quiggin is so far only proposing to loot from the top quintile, leaving 80% to split the proceeds. Could it be because he worries that the 80% might actually have some moral qualms about this, might in fact think that simply taking other people's money isn't far enough removed from the ethical level of a common thief to suit them?

Nah -- silly me. It's all just because "The political power of the well-off and rich has increased massively over the past three decades, and (with the arguable exception of the finance sector) has not really been diminished by the crisis." So much for democracy, but then democracy was never much more than a farce in the eyes of the "anti-capitalists" anyway, was it?

Freedom: faith- or reality-based?

In an interesting review of an interesting book, the economist Edward L. Glaeser says:
Libertarianism rests on two bedrock beliefs: human freedom is a great good and the public sector tends to screw things up. The first belief is based more on faith than empirical result; the second derives from millennia of human experience.
I won't argue with the latter, and there's no doubt that human freedom is in large part viewed as a primary good, not as a means to some other good, and not just by libertarians. But the idea that some good or goods must be taken as primary seems not to be a matter of either faith or experience, but rather of moral logic. Glaeser, of course, is an economist, not a philosopher, and he's after practical results -- still, it seems odd to me that even the most cursory knowledge of the history of the last 500 years, say, wouldn't tell you that human freedom is also a means to many other goods, wealth being just one.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Versions of apocalypse porn: "Peak Oil"

There's no denying that apocalypse has its gothic appeal (witness the popularity of various world-ending sci-fi movies and books), but some renditions of it have so obvious a political agenda that it kind of makes you smile. E.g., here's Oxford researcher Jorg Friedrichs telling us "what will happen when peak oil hits" -- apparently "the outlook is not good":
His conclusions: the world will have a “slow and painful” adjustment to peak oil lasting a century or more with the inevitable collapse of industrial society and the disintegration of free trade. How cheerful.
And why might we think that last sentence isn't sarcastic? Well, maybe because:
If he were to guess which countries would be the most stable during the collapse, Friedrichs concludes that “Countries with a recoverable authoritarian tradition are likely to work better than liberal democracies.”
The U.S. would have a hard time resorting to Cuban style local resilience because of the Western lifestyle. “When social glue and traditional lifestyles have eroded, they are not easily recovered,” he said, comparing the Cuban and U.S. societies. “After several generations of individualism and affluence, Westerners will have a hard time accepting that they need to rely on communities and must revert to a sustainable lifestyle...."
 Yes, socialism may have failed everywhere it's been tried, but there's still hope, no? Y2K didn't do it for us, but if peak oil doesn't, there's still climate change, global pandemic, asteroid strike, ...

The sickness of the contemporary left - 1

David Thompson seems to have been collecting examples of the diseased state of the left for a while now, and it makes for a real chamber of horrors. It's noteworthy that these are more or less prominent figures, columnists, poobahs of various kinds, not exactly culled from the cellars of anonymous Internet comment threads.

And following a link chain from Thompson's post above, we come across one of the more vomit-inducing examples in quite some time -- here's Terry Eagleton, supposedly "Britain's most influential living literary critic", burbling about suicide bombers as "tragic heroes":
Suicide bombers and hunger strikers are out to transform weakness into power. Because they are ready to die while their enemies are not, they score a spiritual victory over them. The ultimate freedom is not to fear death. ... It is, to be sure, a pyrrhic victory. But it proclaims that what your adversary cannot annihilate is the will to annihilation. Like the traditional tragic hero, the suicide bomber rises above his own destruction by the very resolution with which he embraces it.
I don't think he was ever much good as a literary critic, actually -- compared to someone like Fredrick Jameson, say, Eagleton's ideological blinkers seriously limited his vision. But it's still both sad and creepy to see an old Marxist reduced to vaporing over the "spiritual victory" of the likes of the Columbine killers, or any common murderer-suicide.

The why of it - part 2

The last part ended with the first real election in Russia since the 1917 Revolution, in which the anti-communist boor was overwhelmingly elected, the candidate of the distinguished, intellectual, but communist Gorbachev decisively defeated. And this surprised me. I, in my bourgeois, consumerist "hell", had all this time been labouring under the delusion that the people who actually had to live in the original "workers' paradise" would appreciate its basic achievements, though no doubt chafing at its bureaucratic irritants -- and I was disabused of that notion. Coming at the culmination of a whole series of world historical events in which one socialist regime after another was toppled, and/or socialism itself repudiated, the foundations of my own political beliefs were shaken. In this sense, the historical too can be personal, and it seemed that the only honest and rational response to this global upheaval was at least to pause to re-examine those foundations.

In fact, at first I remember welcoming this time as an opportunity to do just that, and hoped and expected that the left in general would seize the opportunity as well. There were a number of signs preceding these events, I thought,  that seemed to indicate a certain drying-up of leftist thought and creativity, anyway. I've already mentioned the infiltration of so-called post-modernism into what it would term leftist "discourse" as one sign of sterility through obscurantist, calcified jargon. Another was the rise of "political correctness", which substituted a superficial concern with language and rectitude, not unlike that seen in religious fundamentalism of all kinds, for actual political thought and strategy. It was as though the left's arteries had been hardening, its mind constricting, well in advance of the spectacular collapse of "actually existing socialism" everywhere but Cuba and North Korea. So there was good reason to hope that the shock of these dramatic events would shake the left out of its stupor and open it up to new, creative, and fundamental ideas about its bases and objectives, about where it had been and where it was going.

But, sad to say, that didn't seem to occur. Some parts of the left, to my amazement, acted as though nothing much had happened -- "nothing to see here", etc. -- carrying on with the style of detailed but Marxist analysis of events that, this time especially, missed the forest and the trees in its heads-down determination not to see what was before it. Other parts in the early 90's seemed to intensify that preoccupation with victim issues that was an aspect of political correctness, to the virtual exclusion of any talk about "socialism" as such, or indeed about any kind of social-political solutions other than, perhaps, that the state should make people not be racist or sexist, etc. Other parts found another way to drift away from the socialist ideal, in the form of the rising Green movement, which, in its motherhood embrace of "the earth", had its broadest appeal among children, students, ad-men, and, ironically, the more affluent of middle-class social groupings. Some parts seemed to retain at least an interest in the social-political-economic sphere but also seemed to have dropped the word "socialist" from their vocabularies, as though it were now a kind of embarrassment, and instead substituted words like "anti-capitalist" or "anti-globalization", without giving any indication whether or not such words had any positive meaning at all. And some, the most honest and most poignant, simply expressed a kind of elegiac lament for the failure of their ideals, recognizing at least that something quite significant had happened, but never venturing to enquire why socialism had failed -- it was as though the world or "the people" had simply not measured up.

Through this time I was groping about myself, of course, trying to think my way through this personal intellectual crisis. Now, not everyone takes political concerns quite so seriously, I know. I once considered such concern a virtue, self-flattering though it was, but have since mellowed out considerably on this, recognizing that there are many other focuses of concern -- e.g., family, friends, work, play -- and politics is at most just one. Moreover, there are many different levels of political concern, from local to global, and from the practical and immediate to the abstract and theoretical. But for me at least, political concern on that more abstract, general level was, and still is, an important source of meaning, value, and purpose. Those are qualities that religion provides too, you'll notice, and I won't for a second deny the comparison. What I will say is that virtually everyone needs and in fact has some source for those qualities, and that source can accurately be termed a belief system -- the pertinent variables, then, are simply the degree to which one is aware of one's own belief-system and the degree of rationality of such a system.

So in any case, at this time I found myself back in discussions in pubs again, though without quite the fervor of the grad school days. Everyone I knew was on the left side of the political spectrum to some extent, and though by this time not so many could be described as Marxists any longer, I think there was still a widespread sense that -- what with the pomo cult, the Gaia pseudo-religion, the PC righteousness, etc. --something had gone awry with the left. For many, this was simply a time to find other, and no doubt healthier, interests. For me, it was a time of rising and spreading dissatisfaction, amounting to irritation, with many forms of overt leftist politics altogether, since, without the anchor of a viable positive vision,  they seemed increasingly irrational or reflexive, and also belligerent and almost nasty, in a very personal fashion. That slogan "the personal is political" began to assume a kind of totalitarian invasiveness, and I found myself reacting against it in part by taking a new interest in re-examining the targets of the left's hostility -- e.g., conservative values like family, character, liberty, and even religion. I became, in that sense certainly, increasingly a "reactionary", though that reaction was in direct relation and proportion to what I saw as the liberal-left's decreasing hold on common sense and decency.

For all that, I remained -- and still remain -- an atheist, for example, an opponent of capital punishment, a supporter of abortion rights, a proponent of the important distinction between science and religion (for both creationists and environmentalists), among other things; I'm not, in any true sense, a conservative. But that just raised the unsettling question of what I was then, politically -- unsettling in no small measure because of the powerful effect that political labels can and do have on one's entire social context.

(To be continued.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Peace activists" as sadistic psychopaths

Remember that Gaza "aid" flotilla? Here's how one of the participants described it:
We talk about humanitarian work, we talk about activism. I don’t know how much more peaceful this could have been.
And here's what some of the participants actually did:
Testimony one of the commandos released later described how the “activists” shot this commanding officer in the leg and stabbed him in the stomach before tossing him off the deck. Other “activists” on the lower deck then dragged the officer inside, taking a knife to expand the wound in his stomach.
“They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out,” the soldier said.
“When they finished, they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. He was conscious the whole time...."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Social justice", the "just society", and the Tea Party

Despite my scare quotes around the phrase (see Hayek's entire book on "The Mirage of Social Justice"), this interesting article from what seems to be a religious site demonstrates that the concept of "social justice" might be applied more generally:
... one might [and self-styled "progressives" usually do] say that conservatives are really motivated by selfishness and not concern for the poor. Yet this is simply a failure of imagination, a failure to comprehend how conservatives quite genuinely believe that their policy preferences are for the betterment of all society and not only for themselves. Just because conservatives have a different vision of the just society does not mean that they do not care to bring justice to the poor and needy. [emphasis added]
These reflections come as a result of his observations of one of the many Tea Party rallies around the country, and, continuing a theme of simple political fairness if not justice, he concludes with the following bit comparing the Tea Partiers with their attackers:
I am less concerned with the anger and bigotry I had been warned to expect in the Tea Partiers than I am with the anger and bigotry I have seen directed against them. The latter, to my eyes, appeared the stronger by far.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Free markets under communism

Apparently, North Korea, of all regimes, is the latest to undergo what must be a painful adjustment for the fanatics that run the place:
Bowing to reality, the North Korean government has lifted all restrictions on private markets -- a last-resort option for a leadership desperate to prevent its people from starving.
Earlier, of course, its protector, China, had long since bowed to the gods of the market place (not to sound triumphalist or anything), and, in another of history's ironies, so had Vietnam

The why of it - part 1

Previously, I'd said that my politics had changed sometime between 1992 and '94, but that this change had little if anything to do with actual events in that time period -- that instead it was the culmination of a process that had begun sometime earlier, and that I could be fairly clear about why that process had begun but not so much about how it worked. That distinction itself may not be entirely clear, but I'll come back to it (I hope) in subsequent posts in this thread.

As to the why of it, though, it's first necessary to see where I began. From high school, my politics had been leftist, though liberal, and then, following a well-worn trajectory, had moved further left in university and grad school. I'd witnessed the upheavals of the 60's and, though never much of a joiner, participated in enough of them to burn in a commitment to radical politics, where "commitment" needs to be understood as perhaps the central virtue for the politics of the time, akin to a kind of lefty "born-again" status. Frequented leftist book stores, argued Marxist theory and practice in the beer parlors of the time (and this was a time in Canada when "beer parlors" attached to seedy hotels, in all their terry-cloth tawdriness, were the only drink outlets available to thirsty grad students), attended the odd protest and the even odder study group, etc. Still have not just all three volumes of Capital moldering at the bottom of a book shelf, but the three separate tomes of the supposed fourth volume, Theories of Surplus Value, and the preliminary notes of the Grundrisse. I put this out not to boast of my reading (whether out of laziness or maybe just a sense even then that life might be too short, I've never even made it all the way through the first volume), but just as an indication that I've always been interested in the intellectual underpinnings of what was then, and still must be, the most serious and "scientific" brand of socialist theory available. I never quite called myself a "communist", and of course the actual Communist Party (of Canada) was by that time just a geriatric joke. But I was about as convinced as any intellectual/activist wannabe of the time that socialism -- i.e., state control of "the means of production" -- was the ultimate goal, and the only question, hashed over incessantly among the various sects and disputants on endlessly recurring beer nights, was how to get there.

Now, though pretty much everyone in those sessions was a leftist, some were more or less Maoists, and, in any case, most were one variety or another of Marxist, I can safely say that virtually no one was an unreconstructed Soviet apologist, much less a Stalinist. It was readily admitted, if and when it came up, that the Soviet Union was a sclerotic bureaucracy, and that the socialist states of eastern Europe were largely its puppets. Still, for me, and I think for most involved in this kind of politics, there was always a soft spot for the birthplace of the first successful Marxist revolution, always a defensiveness about it vis-a-vis the predatory and nefarious designs of the US-led imperialist West, always a kind of puzzlement as to how things had gone so wrong with it, and always a certain hope that eventually it would moderate into what had been so ironically called, back in the tragic Prague Spring of 1968, "socialism with a human face".

Time passed, reality bit, though slowly, and the argumentative enthusiasms of youth congealed into a solid structure of belief. Solid at least on the outside, though still a bit fluid underneath where, all through the late 70's and 80's, deeper concerns about the seemingly increasing mismatch between Marxist theory and capitalist reality continued to generate some heat. This wasn't at all helped by the fetid miasma of post-modernism that spread like a dense fog over virtually all the humanities during that period, depositing layers of obscurantist jargon that sometimes went under the comically pretentious label of "Theory". In fact, this whole academic fad was deeply anti-theoretical, requiring its devotees to acquire a style of verbal posturing that was about as immune to thought, critique or analysis as computer-generated gibberish. Nevertheless, alongside family, career, and the other accoutrements of bourgeois, middle-class life that I'd acquired by this time, my leftist belief-system carried on, surviving, and perhaps feeding off of, the Reagan-Bush years in America, the Mulroney years here in Canada, the Thatcher years in Britain.

And then along came Gorbachev. Here, finally, was a relatively young, intelligent, well-read, open, and healthy man as the head of the state that was the origin of "actually existing socialism" -- and he was full of new ideas, including, famously, "perestroika" or "restructuring", and "glasnost" or "openness". Here, then, at last, was the great historical opportunity to put right whatever had gone wrong in the Soviet Union under Stalin and after, and to show the world what real socialism -- that "socialism with a human face" that had bloomed so briefly and then been crushed some 30 years earlier -- could do. It's important to understand, at this juncture, that while I'd always been critical of the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union, as I've said, I also was appreciative of what I'd felt was its real socialist accomplishments, in terms of its "free" education and health care, its moderate and more or less equal costs of living, its full employment, its technological and industrial triumphs, etc. I'd thought that the great majority of the Soviet people appreciated those too, despite the bureaucracy and despite, of course, not being given the chance to show such appreciation in a free vote -- and in this I think I was similar to the majority of fellow leftists of the time (though they may not want to say so now). So Gorbachev's moves toward democracy seemed to be just the icing on the cake. Yes, the Berlin Wall had fallen, and much of the rest of the east European puppets as well as chunks of the USSR itself had broken away from Moscow, but this was all really to the good -- all aspects of perestroika. But in 1991 a vote was looming in Russia for the first time since the Bolsheviks came to power -- on one side was Gorbachev-supported figure who carried the mantle of Gorbachev's openness and promise though remaining a communist, and on the other was a buffoon with alcohol problems, who was the anti-communist candidate. I think, before the election, I considered it a bit unfortunate that the pro-free market Yeltsin was such a poor figure himself, since it wouldn't be a fair test of the systems they each stood for. But, of course, when it was over, the buffoon had gained  57% of the vote in a large voter turnout; the candidate of Gorbachev, perestroika, glasnost, but still communism, got 16%.

This, finally, gave me pause for thought, a pause that lasted some two or three years.

(To be continued.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More cowbell!

This is what I mean by personal political change: once I fancied myself some sort of Marxist; now, I can't get enough of this guy. (Of course, who can have enough cowbell?)

hattip: SDA

Why America is in fact exceptional

Neo-neocon has a nice post that starts from that sad bit of condescension from BP's chairman to the effect that "We care about the small people." As Neo points out, chairman Svanberg "may speak English, but he doesn’t speak American, and he let slip a Europeanism. That part of the world has traditionally been, and still is, far more hierarchical and class-ridden than we in this country."

That is, America, from the nature of its founding, is the nation of the emergent individual, each one of whom resists being submerged in the "masses" or the "people", of whatever size -- much to the continual consternation and frustration of the various segments of alienated elites.

New Threat to Freedom: the anonymous commenter?

It's not that he doesn't have a point. Anyone who bothers to read them -- and I'm one -- knows very well that anonymous blog commenters can and too often do drag an entire online discussion into the same slime pit they dwell in. And in doing so, of course, they can't help but bring out into the open the ugliness that does indeed lie beneath the more fevered reaches of ideological politics.

No, it's just that Rosenbaum, despite not being anonymous, is a little over the top, not to say fevered, himself -- e.g.: "There's a world of Travis Bickles out there, and they're not driving cabs. They're reading blogs." Or, with an almost comical lack of self-awareness:
As the Web has grown into a key power centre during the past decade, all the more reason for concern about the vicious digital mobs who police and purge their own ranks of "unacceptable" views -- and threaten to impose an unhealthy uniformity on left and right alike.
Or,  the somehow predictable moment when he loses track of his "anonymous web commenter" theme altogether and veers off into a rant against the Tea Party at town halls:
The resulting mob mentality was evident to me during the summer of 2009 as I watched footage of the howling, thuggish crowds at the health-care "town halls," some of whose members came carrying guns. This was the ugliness of commenter culture spilling off the screens and out into the streets -- the dehumanizing hatred for those they disagreed with politically, bred in the mushroom cellars of the blog comment sections.
You wonder if he ever heard that line about pot and kettle.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is it conservative to just play the game?


Just one of a number of different paths toward fundamental change in one's personal politics ( sometimes it's a mugging, sometimes it's history, sometimes it's statistics) -- but this one says something too about the politics of class or social groups, and the change that's overtaken contemporary liberal politics as well.

Climate and paradigm-shifts

Peter Foster brings up a useful allusion to Kuhn in his contribution to the National Post's "Junk Science Week":
In his classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn noted that scientific groups adopted, and committed to, "paradigms," which then became fundamentally unquestionable. That stance was hardened further when moral values, such as being "socially useful," were involved.
The IPCC came with its moralistic paradigms pre-installed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is Peter Singer's life worth his living it?

No, seriously. "If we could see our lives objectively," he says, "we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone." So, you first Pete -- be objective and disinflict yourself.

A bit sillier than average, perhaps, but this is the kind of sophomoric, emo exudation that passes for Deep Thought among the more earnest and impressionable Greenies these days -- and in the pages of the NY Times:
Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Making it better by making it worse

Instapundit links to a post that refers to something called the "Washington Monument strategy" -- quoting from the original post by Veronique de Rugy:
This refers to the bureaucratic practice of threatening to close down the most popular and vital programs in response to prospective budget cuts; it gets its name from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which always threatens it will have to close the Washington Monument if its budget is cut.
Which is actually kind of funny, and doesn't say much about making anything better except in the sense that keeping bureaucratic budgets intact is axiomatically better for bureaucracies. But it brings to mind a theme from my radical lefty days when arguments used to rage over whether one should work to change "the System" from within, or work to subvert it from without. For the latter side, the worry was that "working within" ran the risk of actually improving things, but -- because we're still in the System -- such "improvement" would, axiomatically, be illusory for real Revolutionaries (which, from time to time, people liked to imagine themselves to be). The logic, in any case, was that things had to get worse before the otherwise complacent (not to say bovine) masses could be sufficiently roused to support -- or at least not get in the way of -- real change, i.e., revolution. (See also this Alinsky quote.)  Given that logic, it was a very short step to wonder why one needed to wait for the collapse -- why not actively hurry it along, especially since it's inevitable anyway?

Well, that was then, this is now. Lately, it's true, something called the "Cloward-Piven" strategy has been talked about -- this refers to a paper written by a couple of academics back in the 60's (of course) which suggested trying to overload the welfare bureaucracy of the time in order to cause its collapse, which in turn would force an improvement in the lot of the poor (?!). This seems at once both so fiendish and so loony that it's been taken up by the right as the strategy behind a vast left-wing conspiracy, so to speak. Which may be no more plausible than Hilary's vast right wing version was a while back, but conspiracy theories, after all, are not only fun, they're strangely soothing to the partisan soul.

Nevertheless, it's curious to see that old radical lefty -- or maybe just radical -- logic reappearing, however resuscitated, because, once you grant the premise, the logic does have a certain force to it, no? If the System -- whatever that may be -- is itself the problem then working to "improve" it will only sustain it, which is futile at best, pernicious at worst. And if the System must and will go pop eventually, why be passive about it -- why not actively worsen it rather than pointlessly trying to make it better?

As is often the case, though, the logic evaporates once you examine the premises. One is that evil resides in the abstract "System", not in the concrete effects of the System, so that no amount of amelioration of effects could ever fix the underlying problem, thereby turning actual social/political issues into idealized abstractions that only another Ideal -- Revolution -- could address. The other, more significant one, was that only we self-styled radicals and wannabe Revolutionaries actually know what is good for people, who otherwise are always being lulled by piecemeal reforms -- the post-Enlightenment arrogance of Reason (see the Theme) carried to an almost psychopathic degree.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Geeks's rapture: the movie

A review of what seems like a kind of docu-drama based on Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near (h/t Instapundit). What's intriguing is the description of the character of "Ramona", who begins as a crude construction in Second Life, but ends as something else altogether:
Could such a simple construct of vocabulary and interaction cues really evolve into a thinking and feeling person? The answer is...maybe. Maybe Ramona can one day become like us.
But the movie doesn't end there. It ends with Ramona, speaking to us from the future she has helped to create, inviting us to hang in there long enough so that we might live to join her in that world. So the question then is flipped: can we someday become like Ramona?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Obama as Carter meme gathers steam

E.g., David Broder re: the oil spill:
He clearly couldn't prevent it, and he was slow in signaling its severity. But he owns it now, and until it is over, the man who aspired to be the next John Kennedy or maybe Franklin Roosevelt will have to hope he doesn't end up as Jimmy Carter.
Or, the NY Times -- the NY Times! -- editorial:
... a year and a half into this presidency, the contemplative nature that was so appealing in a candidate can seem indecisive in a president. His promise of bipartisanship seems naïve. His inclination to hold back, then ride to the rescue, has sometimes made problems worse.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Generalizing Alinsky

A useful collection of Alinsky quotes, that can be applied to political change generally -- more than one side can play by these "Rules". E.g.:
A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don't know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won't act for change, but won't strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution. -- xxii

Friday, June 11, 2010

Totten on Berman: rare sighting of the "reality-based" liberal

Great, wide-ranging interview on intellectuals, liberals, liberal guilt, Israel, Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tariq Ramadan, and "the sixteenth minute", among many, many other things.
"The whole intellectual atmosphere of right now has become a little strange on points like these. That's the meaning of my title, The Flight of the Intellectuals. Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time. They don't want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best."

Israel and the shame of the contemporary left

Pilar Rahola (Spanish politician, journalist and activist) exposes it:
"... as a non-Jew, journalist and lefty I have a triple moral duty with Israel, because if Israel is destroyed, liberty, modernity and culture will be destroyed too. The struggle of Israel , even if the world doesn't want to accept it, is the struggle of the world."

When Prophecy Fails

What happens when prophecies of eco-doom, in particular, fail? "Festinger and his colleagues predicted that the inevitable disconfirmation would be followed by an enthusiastic effort at proselytizing to seek social support and lessen the pain of disconfirmation." Climate change anyone?

Halfway to anywhere

A space elevator in 7 years?

The erosion of political verities

The liberal Richard Cohen via the conservative Jennifer Rubin: "Did liberals get it wrong on crime?" And if they did then, as Rubin suggests, perhaps it would be an opportune moment to take another look at other articles of the faith....

The political is religious

"Religion has long been a powerful force in American politics, of course, for good and ill. The difference with the more traditional varieties of religion was the open acknowledgment that they were religious."

E.g., Newsweek editor Evan Thomas : "I mean, in a way, Obama is standing above the country, above the world. He’s sort of God."

Anti-semitism: something old is new again

Everybody but anonymous bigots, it seems, has by now backed away from Helen Thomas' "Jews out of Palestine" remarks, including Thomas herself, though too little too late. But I'm one who would have been willing to cut an 89 year-old woman some slack on this (if only we could get back even some of the ridiculous amount of slack she'd been given for years previously). Because I think she just inadvertently blurted out something that major portions of the contemporary left in particular really do believe, however unthinkingly. That is, what underlies not simple criticism of Israeli policies, but the increasingly over-the-top, one-sided, and hysterical attacks on Israel -- almost all of which emanates from the left -- is just plain, old-fashioned anti-semitism. A good bit of that hysteria, it's clear, stems just from a steadily rising frustration that Israel persists in existing at all. I know, of course, that there are also not a few gentle souls -- Lennon-style "dreamers" -- who would just like to see everyone getting along, as, for that matter, would we all. But even such bien pensant naifs will tend, reflexively, to attribute any failure to get along to Israel, and to "understand" any viciousness on the part of the Palestinians. It's become impossible to avoid the conclusion that the only way to understand and explain so blatant a bias is to see that beneath the cover of unremitting hostility directed at the world's only Jewish homeland lurks an age-old anti-Jew bigotry. It's the scapegoat all over again, this time in the more convenient form of a nation-state.

Which, ironically, points out the value of Helen Thomas' brief assertions. Just the mention of Poland and Germany, I think, was enough to make anyone with a shred of decency pause in their routine denunciations of Israel's acts of self-defense -- e.g., the blockade against arms-smuggling. In Europe, sadly, the discrimination seems little abated, but on this continent it does appear that her toxic comments have administered a kind of shock to the political environment surrounding Israel, and at least for a time, hopefully, the rhetoric will be dialed back a little.

The point is that the left, for complex historical and cultural reasons, has become soiled itself by contamination with a long-standing evil temptation. But it needn't have, doesn't have to remain so, and can and should take the opportunity of Thomas' "Kinsley gaffe" to clean itself up on this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The political is personal

Or so it is for me at least. Not as much -- I'm hoping -- as it once was, but still an important ingredient. And this is the reason (apart, no doubt, from simple narcissism) why I'm bothering to blog about myself, or perhaps my self, here at all, alongside the other more abstract and obviously more significant contexts of change. Because, a while back, my politics changed, and I'm still a bit puzzled or bemused as to how. I can say why they changed, but that's intellectualizing the thing, and doesn't get at the actual processes of change. That's still mysterious, in a way that should be familiar to anyone old enough to come across photos of themselves caught in some vanished style or fad -- it's the "what was I thinking" kind of incomprehension.

I can also say, roughly, when my politics changed. In 1992, I supported Bill Clinton for President; in 1994, I cheered the Republican takeover of Congress. (I should say immediately that I'm a Canadian and had no active involvement in US politics, but like probably most of my compatriots did have an active interest.) Which might look like a 180, but was really something more like a 90 or maybe 120 degree turn, a complication I'll get to further on. For now, though, the main point is that the change had little or nothing to do with, for example, the Clintons' botched attempt at health care reform, or any of the other now-forgotten issues of that first half term. It was instead just the culmination of a process that had been bubbling along for some years.

So, one of the things I want to talk about here -- and there are certainly others -- is the phenomenon of personal political change, using myself as a test case.

ADDED: a link to the start of my explanation of the "why"