On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

Bannon’s ideas actually mirror mine, at the personal level (but I don’t believe in crusades)

There have been several columns about Stephen Bannon’s values.  For example, Fareed Zakaria wrote on Feb. 9, “Stephen Bannon’s words and actions don’t add up.”

On Jan. 10, David Brooks wrote about Bannon’s idea of “humane capitalism” as connected to faith.

Lester Feder has a similar piece on BuzzFeed “This s how Steve Bannon sees the entire world.” (Nov. 15).

Bannon’s views on how this maps to the economic system were demonstrated in his 2010 film “Generation Zero” (review).

We could say that Bannon is critical of “casino capitalism” or perhaps “extreme capitalism” (like in David Callahan’s 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”) or even “shareholder capitalism” as Nancy Pelosi would compare to “stakeholder capitalism” – but also as compared to fake capitalism, or statist capitalism in modern post-Communist (of sorts) Russia and China.  Maybe Singapore would appeal to him.

Bannon also maps this back to individual morality.  As people (baby boomer-born) have reasserted individualism (in concert with the Civil Rights movement and Stonewall soon to follow in the 1960s), sometimes people don’t see how their self-expression and lifestyle “choice” is tied to the unseen sacrifices of others, often in a family and community context. Bannon, a former Naval officer during Carter’s Iran hostage crisis, sometimes has been critical about the lack of military service among most Americans in positions of influence (but remember Charles Moskos’s talk about needing the draft again right after 9/11);  “freedom is not free” but always contextual.

I can see in my own life,  my actions and values have meaning in the social contexts believed by others, and vice versa.  It’s all too easy to “rationalize” any value system with logic alone (look at “body fascism”),  so people often look to systems of faith and scripture for guidance.  With moderate versions of Abrahamic faiths, we usually get moral values (somewhat centered on the family, which becomes more flexible) commensurate with “humane capitalism”, compared even to what raw libertarianism or Ayn Rand’s objectivism can offer.  Libertarianism, though, would recognize “The Golden Rule”.

I find myself driven to some internal contradiction (a mental “internal server error”), which I can resolve only if I become more willing to offer “a hand up” in an interpersonal way and taking more risk than I have been willing to accept in the past.

But Bannon’s ideas go beyond personal values and beyond policy in the usual sense, to encompass ideas of holy crusades or wars, which I cannot accept.  I don’t get the connection.  I do understand that some of the Islamic world hates us, partly because of our interventionism in their lands, and partly because of the modernism of each of us as individuals.  Look at Francis Stead Sellers and David A. Farenthold, “Why even let ‘em in?

(Posted: Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10 PM EST)

Gun control: what happens when civilians are confronted with war at home?

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The attack on a gay club in Orlando, FL by Omar Mateen brings up emotional controversies connected to sexual identity, religion, and various fundamental rights, as well as this year’s elections.  Let us not forget there was a shooting in a straight club of a singer the night before in Orlando.  I think it is most helpful to lay aside the identity politics for a while and talk about fundamental issues, and the most obvious issue is gun control, perceived as adversarial to a Second Amendment right to bear arms.

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I can backtrack in my own mind to June 1995, to a convention of the Libertarian Party of Virginia in Richmond, where the biggest topic on the agenda that Saturday was “guns”.

One of the most shocking aspects of the Pulse attack was the apparent use of military grade automatic weapons, apparently in execution style.  But these weapons can also maim survivors much more than ordinary rounds, leaving them handicapped, disfigured and an emotional challenge for those in relationships with them.  Although the effect of the weapons was well-known during the Vietnam war, the use of them in attacks on civilians seems to a determination to make the attacks as personal as possible.  This bears on “resilience” (May 9).  This seems to have been a factor in the Boston Marathon pressure-cooker shrapnel bombings, with the amputations that resulted among those who survived.

One obvious question, then, is why not renew Bill Clinton’s assault weapon’s ban?  CNN legal consultant Mark O’Mara, as it happens, lives a few blocks from the Pulse in Orlando, and argues the case here.  Indeed, it’s hard for me to imagine a legitimate lawful use of military style weapons by civilians.  However, as Brad Plummer of the Washington Post notes in the video below, the ban was limited (partly by a grandfathering clause) in real effectiveness.

Vox has a good discussion by Libby Nelson of the common assault weapons like the AR-15 or Sig Sauer MCX, and notes that, despite minor differences from the M16 (of the Vietnam era) which is much harder to get, they are both almost as deadly as standard Army infantry weapons familiar to some of us from 1968.

It is true that banning possession of anything can go down a legal slippery slope. Donald Trump, for example, has proposed sledge-hammer solutions to societal risks that could lead to banning most user-generated content on the Web as we know it today, because of the idea that it is gratuitous and not obviously economically “productive” in employing people.  So, you ban possession of “useless” drugs (the marijuana debate), or you ban possession of weapons that people really don’t need.  At the risk of sounding circular, one breakpoint would be whether the item or capability being banned has a legal use.  It’s hard to imagine a legal use for the weapons Mateen was carrying. You can reasonably say, we usually don’t allow civilians to possess most radioactive materials, so we can say they shouldn’t have military assault weapons that can function as WMD’s in closed spaces.

There is also the idea of strengthening the background checks, to exclude more people on watch lists (like the no-fly list) from buying weapons (as supported by Hillary Clinton).  The problem with all administrative (non-judicial or “Article 15”) exclusion lists is the likely abuse of due process. But a ban on one’s flying based on less “process” may be more constitutionally acceptable than a ban on one’s owning a firearm because the latter is (arguably) explicitly protected by the Second Amendment, whereas the right to move around (physical mobility) is not so well protected (unless one somehow brings in the Fourteenth Amendment, perhaps).  Congress could offer more administrative “due process” for both travel watch lists and gun purchases as a possibly acceptable compromise.

There are some stories on the Web that explain how difficult it would have been to stop Mateen with existing laws, including a piece by Russell Berman in the Atlantic, and Logan Churchwell’s piece on Breitbart calling Mateen the most “gun control compliant shooter in history”.

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I still see conservative to libertarian opinions claiming that if the customers at the bar had been armed they could have defended themselves, such as Mary Ruwart’s.  The Pulse is small and crowded (I was there in 2015).  Imagine everyone being armed during dirty dancing on a large disco.  (Maybe in a Hollywood comedy.)  Even the NRA admits that people probably should not have guns with them when drinking alcohol in an enclosed space.  Almost no owner of a sports stadium, shopping mall, theater chain, or disco wants to allow weapons on the premises.  In fact, some are at least starting bag checks (or banning backpacks and bags) and larger facilities will have to start installing magnetometers for access.  It is appropriate and necessary for businesses to have properly licensed armed guards on the premises during events.  It may be appropriate for public schools to do this, and to require that some teaching positions have firearms certification.

In fact, looking back to that LPVA meeting in Richmond, I remember some people saw capacity for self-defense as a moral duty. In a home, with a manual weapon, maybe yes.  But a smaller weapon might not be sufficient against very determined attackers or home invaders or targeting enemies, and so this takes us back into another area, why some “preppers” believe they need to be well-armed indeed. At some point, you need to have a discussion about how people share common perils in a community from outside forces.

That idea even takes me back to the subject of conscription (the recent debate over requiring women to register for Selective Service) and the solution that the Swiss have (where every male or family is armed sensibly and has a weapon at home).  It also leads me to the way Britain and Australia, and other western countries, have approached the problem by banning most civilian gun ownership outright, something Piers Morgan used to talk about.  That approach may reduce ordinary street and domestic crime and ordinary burglary, while increasing the vulnerability of a population to very determined enemy terrorists (and hence, the attacks in Paris and Brussels). With gun control, there is a “herd effect” where the safety of an individual person may be compromised or enhanced according to interactions of different circumstances.

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The ”conscription” idea reminds me of something else.  Depending on how you interpret some details of the Pulse attack (the contents of Mateen’s 911 call, for example), one could argue that the disco patrons had been made into combatants, against their will – in a sense, conscripted, because of US foreign policy.  They had been selected to make the personal sacrifices, just as drafted soldiers did in Vietnam.  Wikipedia would characterize this as “fourth generation warfare“. That is how I would process it.  In my mind, there is some validity to Donald Trump’s claim that we have an “enemy without a uniform” stalking and pouncing on us.  (I’m somewhere with both sides Cruz or Trump v. Obama, Clinton and Sanders — on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” in public, but that’s a whole different debate; President Obama did make his points well today.)  I have advocated ending Selective Service as unnecessary, but at least having it reminds us all of the latent but always lingering possibility of having to step up personally to challenges imposed on us by unforeseeable natural disasters (and I’m also insisting that a lot of them we can prevent and prepare for), or enemies that we have made.  When civilians are attacked in a military style, then there is a good case for extending a 9/11-style compensation fund to re-insure or otherwise cover medical treatments and employment and property losses.  Congress would have to do this (and would include San Bernadino and maybe Boston).  It’s also obvious that the services of active duty military combat surgeons and rehab medicine from the Armed Forces need to be made available to the casualties.  I’m not one who likes to talk about victimhood as something special or honorable, but we need to treat conflict brought to American soil for what it is – warfare.  Sebasian Junger covered this in his recent book “Tribe”.

(Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at 3 PM EDT)

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Update:

Muriel Bowser, at a service in Washington DC on June 15, 2016 at an Interfaith Prayer Service for the People of Orlando and for Peace, says “I hate guns” and makes her case against assault weapons simple:

She also talked about gangs, street crime, and domestic violence in conjunction with the easy availability of guns.

CNN’s Philppa Strum offers an interesting perspective on the Second Amendment, arguing that the founding fathers presumed a right to basic individual and familial self-defense, it not even needing to be enumerated, but saying the wording does apply to militia and implies that states and Congress can regulate weapons purchases reasonably. This may be in contrast to what Justice Scalia and others ruled.

Vox has an explainer by Alvin Chang showing that too much is made of the supposed lesser risk of handguns. And Jon Stokes, also for Vox, minimizes the distinction between military and civilian use of weapons in this piece on the AR-15, and idea motivates this entire posting.

Update: Thursday, June 23, 2016.

Here’s an account on CNN of the Democrats’s theatrical (but sometimes off camera) “sit-in” on gun control at the House of Representatives in Washington, just ended.