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The Politics of Conviction and the Responsibilities of Citizenship

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What are the responsibilites of citizenship?

This phrase is usually deployed by political propagandists trying to suppress the expression of dissent, but I have a different take on it.

We’re all, left or right, accustomed to distrusting the motives of the media – for me, it’s hard to watch Fox News and think these people are suffering from honest misunderstanding. It’s quite clear issues are distorted to support a certain political and social viewpoint.

But what about the electorate?

I had a casual conversation with some guy on the street in the West End a while ago who defined whole categories of argument about the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) as irrelevent because it’s “standard left-wing stuff.” This seemed to mean he doesn’t have to consider them, although he seemed aware they’re reality-based and cogent (and he wasn’t arguing from a faith-based position).

This is hardly an honest position, and it made me think about the electorate in the same terms as I think about political flacks and media propagandists. The left/liberal/progressive axis tends to conceive of politics as a rational activity involving persuasion, evidence and argument, yet are constantly outflanked by people who treat it as irrational i.e. the people who appeal to consumers’ aspirations and life style allegiances, or to the darker sides of their nature.

We’ve even seen people voting not for what a candidate has said, but what they believed he really meant but couldn’t say.

So, if a large proportion of an electorate supports (and votes for) criminal, aggressive, hyprocritical foreign policy because it makes them feel good about themselves as Americans (or men/women, black/white, Jew/Christian/Muslim, whatever) when they are well aware they’re ignoring facts which contradict that position (e.g. torture, murder, theft), how can they be engaged in a rational and just political process? Is it even possible?

Maybe that’s why the right wing has largely dispensed with the rational, evidential approach, in favour of advertising, industry sloganeering, lifestyle marketing, and high flown political mythology.

And a question made immediate by the GWOT: should they still be entitled to the standard non-combatant defence of being civilian, innocent bystanders?

(UK note: there’s a strong chance this last statement would fall foul of Tony Blair’s new thought crime legislation about validating/justifying terrorism. I certainly hope so.)

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About Chromatius

"You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent." Thomas Merton. The Unspeakable.
  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    We’ve even seen people voting not for what a candidate has said, but what they believed he really meant but couldn’t say.

    I know that this is why a great many people here in America voted for Bush. He really is brilliant at dropping clues about what he really believes while saying something almost completely different.

    Maybe that’s why the right wing has largely dispensed with the rational, evidential approach, in favour of advertising, industry sloganeering, lifestyle marketing, and high flown political mythology.

    Odd, this exactly describes the left wing here in America. From the comment earlier in your article about the guy in the west end just blowing off the opinions of the left I sort of figured things were the same in Britain. Over here we find again and again that you’re just wasting your time even considering the positions taken by the left because they start from assumptions so divorced from reality and grounded in pure emotion and entrenched prejudice that there’s no possibility of reaching conclusions which make any sense at all. You can’t start from an illogical assumption and reach a logical conclusion.

    Dave

  • http://www.nrlc.org/ Anthony Grande

    The responsibility of a responsible American citizen is to not vote Democrat no matter if you agree with them or not because I can guarantee that they will flip flop at the first chance they get. And always vote Republican even if you don’t completely agree with the canidate because a vote that is not for a Republican or Democrat is a half a vote for a Democrat.

    This set of rules goes for city council elections, mayor elections, school board elections, state congres elections, federal congress elections, presidential elections and just about any other election you can think of.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    Bush was certainly one of the examples I had in mind. These are advertising techniques really; lifestyle stuff and religion.

    Hmm. Two discussions really. One about the technique/strategy, the other about who it’s more characteristic of. That might be subjective – i.e. the other guy’s always worse at it. Certainly in the throes of electioneering, everyone goes for the irrationalist approach.

    But in my experience it’s the well-intended lefties who persevere with argument and reason, beyond what is reasonable. Often rooted in unexamined naive belief about inherent human goodness and rationality, and stuff like that.

    It’s hard to respond to “assumptions so divorced from reality and grounded in pure emotion and entrenched prejudice” without a concrete example.

    I presume you mean the primacy of the economic base and that sort of thing, rather than pretending the US doesn’t have a history of aggression, criminality and appropriation of resources?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Over here we find again and again that you’re just wasting your time even considering the positions taken by the left because they start from assumptions so divorced from reality and grounded in pure emotion and entrenched prejudice that there’s no possibility of reaching conclusions which make any sense at all. You can’t start from an illogical assumption and reach a logical conclusion.

    dave, you sure are one broken record. thank you for contributing to the cesspool that is the politics column on bc.

  • RedTard

    “But in my experience it’s the well-intended lefties who persevere with argument and reason, beyond what is reasonable.”

    Because you agree with them. It is also human nature to ignore the flaws in arguments you agree with and scrutinize those you don’t. It doesn’t take a rigorous argument to convince you of something you already believe.

    Also, Dave has a point about basic assumptions. All arguments start with them, if we cannot even agree on those things then our best arguments are meaningless to the other side.

  • Dave Nalle

    Ok, Mark and Chrom. Let me modify my original statement for you. It was unfair to single out the left for criticism. I did so solely because Chrom similarly unfairly stereotyped the right as irrational, which is equally incorrect.

    The flaw of irrationality and emotionalism is not actually a flaw of the left or the right so much as it is a flaw of ideologues in general. In my experience there are more ideologues on the left than on the right, but they certainly exist at both political extremes, and although the ideologically rigid right is a small group compared to the larger group of similarly dogmatic leftists, they are particularly hardcore.

    These ideologues are characterized primarily by being unwilling to examine or question the assumptions on which they base their beliefs, and by rejecting any opposing viewpoint out of hand without giving it even cursory consideration. They operate on the principle that what they believe is true and factual solely because they believe it, in the absence of any hard data to actually back up their position. They also tend to reduce arguments to emotional but irrelevant issues or to fall back on standard paradigms which aren’t necessarily germane or applicable to the topic at hand, including ad hominem arguments, accusing the accuser and aggressive repetition of the same argument in slightly different forms.

    But in my experience it’s the well-intended lefties who persevere with argument and reason, beyond what is reasonable. Often rooted in unexamined naive belief about inherent human goodness and rationality, and stuff like that.

    Your definition of lefties and mine may be different. It sounds like you may be describing liberals, and there’s nothing liberal about the the modern left in America or Europe.

    It’s hard to respond to “assumptions so divorced from reality and grounded in pure emotion and entrenched prejudice” without a concrete example.

    Where to start with the concrete examples. How about the faith they have in government schools. How many years of clear and undeniable proof that a system of massive bureaucracy with no accountability cannot possibly educate efficiently or effectively do they need before they will come to grips with the fact that government run education as it exists in the US has failed? How can they see that allowing oil companies to influence energy policy is a bad thing, but yet not realize that the relationship of teachers unions to the school system is exactly the same sort of relationship and just as harmful?

    I presume you mean the primacy of the economic base and that sort of thing, rather than pretending the US doesn’t have a history of aggression, criminality and appropriation of resources?

    Here’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about. The history of aggreession, criminality and appropriation of resources you bring up may or may not be real, but it’s definitely irrelevant to any rational discussion of policies or current events. It’s a classic misdirection, saying that the US must be up to no good because it has done questionable things in the past – regarless of whether those mistakes were addressed or have any actual bearing on current policies.

    Every nation has a history with bad things in it. That doesn’t mean that their current policies are automatically bad because of that past history or that they should be punished for their misdeeds forever. Is modern Holland to be held accountable for delivering the first slaves to North America? Should France be excluded from the international economy because of its history of financial scandal in the 19th century? Should the current generation of Germans be expected to pay reparations to the state of Israel for the Holocaust?

    Dave

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    As a hard-core, weak-kneed, drifting in the wind liberal, I agree with all sides that the other isn’t rational. RedTard put it well:

      “But in my experience it’s the well-intended lefties who persevere with argument and reason, beyond what is reasonable.”

      Because you agree with them. It is also human nature to ignore the flaws in arguments you agree with and scrutinize those you don’t. It doesn’t take a rigorous argument to convince you of something you already believe.

    But it goes beyond that. Neurologists, psychologists, economists and others have pretty well proven that human beings are not rational animals–that our brains are wired so that the emotional and rational are intertwined.

    Worse, much of our opinions, values, beliefs, and even behaviors are formed at the unconscious level, and many scientists argue that we don’t have good access to that.

    The point? When we look across the great ideological divide and see emotional, irrational, unconscionable behavior, we should remember that we’re seeing it through our own unconscious filters. At least being aware that we filter gives us a better chance of reaching understanding.

    Yuk. I hate being serious. I need a drink.

    In Jamesons Veritas

  • Dave Nalle

    This is what makes us human, Mark. The struggle between our emotional and rational selves. Those whose better judgment is totally subsumed by emotion have failed to live up to the potential of their humanity. Those who constantly check their emotional instincts with rational self-assessment are doing what they can to exercise their humanity and temper their emotions with reason. It may not always work, but the effort is what sets humans above the irrational/instinctual animals.

    Dave

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    RedTard: “because you agree with them.”

    As I said – “That might be subjective – i.e. the other guy’s always worse at it. ”

    DN “Chrom similarly unfairly stereotyped the right as irrational”. I think my point was they were making more effective use of these irrationalist techniques, but here I’m referring to previous comment exchanges as much as this piece.

    “Here’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about. The history of aggreession, criminality and appropriation of resources you bring up may or may not be real, but it’s definitely irrelevant to any rational discussion of policies or current events. It’s a classic misdirection…”

    Not true, it has deep and abiding effect – it is the main cause of the anger apparently caused by the cartoon, for example. And the ‘level ground’ of the present is the product of this history. The rulers in power in many countries are too.

    We can’t ignore history. Even when we don’t like it.

    “Is modern Holland to be held accountable for delivering the first slaves to North America? Should France be excluded from the international economy because of its history of financial scandal in the 19th century? Should the current generation of Germans be expected to pay reparations to the state of Israel for the Holocaust?”

    Yes.

    In fact this process is already beginning, and may eventually become as much a part of our economies and exchange as the exploitation of resources. When these are largely depleted, what better than to reexamine and attemt to rectify the advantages gained from that past exploitation, and concomitant crimes?

    It would also place forensic examination of history at the heart of our culture and economies. No bad thing.

    I’ve looked at this idea before in Speaker for the Dead.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Chromatius, your position in the last comment is completely unrealistic and potentially very dangerous. Endlessly visiting the sins of the past on each successive generation with no forgiveness and no acknowledgement that people change and that new generations are different people from their progenitors is nothing but vengeful and destructive. It is exactly the kind of attitude which produces the thousand year old revenge fantasy which fuels Islamic terrorism.

    People need to take responsibility for their own actions and be judged on what they have done and accomplished. Starting them out behind the eight-ball of history is enormously unfair and oppressive. You can’t right the wrongs of the past by punishing people in the present.

    Dave

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    I’m not agitating for it; I’m predicting it. But not necessarily in the next decade or two. Did you read Speaker for the Dead? It depends on a view of the state of the environment

    “Basically, we live in an age where many, if not most natural resources are near exhausted, in the hands of institutions and nations who gained them through acts of rank injustice. How can this be rectified, especially if traditional resource competition is no longer viable?

    How can we have justice in a world ruled by those who have already stolen and exploited most of its resources? Whose current power rests on this theft and the leverage gained from it, in a world where resources are increasingly exhausted, and all is already ‘owned’. The exchange of these resources clearly a loaded game.

    Shouldn’t the responsibilities and burdens of ownership last as long as the benefits, and as long as the price of non-ownership is still felt by the deprived?”

    But ‘forgiveness’ is a pretty loaded word, and game – it really means forgetfulness, and that’s mainly a product of education and the media.

    And responsibilty should cut both ways – the wealth of Shell, ICI, IG Farben, Nestle, Roche, the private banks, of the UK, Europe and the States didn’t spring from nowhere.

    We should probably defer this aspect of the discussion. I’m going to post a revised/updated version of my Stolen Futures –> Speaker for the Dead stuff.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    By the way, my prediction doesn’t rely on justice or goodness, or anything like that. More the behaviour of institutions and vested interests. All those lawyers need work… but that’s another story.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Chromatius,

    I took the trouble to read the essays at your site. They are indeed interesting. Unlike Dave Nalle, I do not regard the idea of reparatory justice as something that cannot be done.

    The idea has solid basis in the Hebrew Bible, in the concepts of the Jubilee, as expounded as a means of keeping the tribes alive and keeping the Land pure, and as a prophetic statement – in Isaiah 60, it talks about how the Children of Israel will inherit the wealth of the west (Given that I have about one pound in my pocket, I could use an advance installment on the inheritance). In addition, the idea of “an eye for an eye” etc. has always been interpreted as monetary damages.

    Can American blacks be repaid for the years of slavery they suffered? Can American Indians be repaid for the genocide inflicted upong them in the last two or three centuries? Can aboriginal peoples elswhere be repaired? The thought is worth entertaining.

    Working out reparations may well be a big part of what Jewish messianic thought calls Tikkún Olám – the repair of the world.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    Thanks for the pointer to tikkun olam and Jubilee; checking it out. More, here or elsewhere, after I read your links and pointers…

  • Bliffle

    Dave: “…they start from assumptions so divorced from reality and grounded in pure emotion and entrenched prejudice that there’s no possibility of reaching conclusions which make any sense at all.”

    I find this true of both ‘left’ and ‘right’, and of both ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’. And that’s why I conclude that one must decide every issue based on it’s own merit, not on whether it is left or right, democrat or republican. Furthermore, those who claim one side or the other is always wrong or always right are simply lazy.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Bliffle, read #6. I already said substantially what you just said. However, I don’t believe it’s true of the entire right or the entire left, just the highly motivated extremists on both sides. There do seem to be sensible people in the middle in both political parties, like Barney Frank and Arlen Specter.

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Chromatius,

    I just thought I’d clarifiy this for you.

    The concept of the Jubilee is rooted in the Jewish calendar. Every seventh year, the land is supposed to rest – that is to say, not be planted or harvested. This is called a shmittah year, or sabbatical. Every seven sabbaticals (fifty years), there is supposed to be an additional year during which the land is neither planted nor harvested, and during which the land is restored to its original occupiers at the time of the distribution of the land to the Tribes. We Jews do not own this Land. G-d owns the Land. We occupy it upon His sufferance, a concept many Israelis do not understand, much less Gentiles.

    This is also the religious reason that a division of this Land between Arabs and Jews just cannot succeed. It has nothing to do with terrorism, or politics. We Jews cannot give away what we do not own, and if we reject this concept again, we will driven from our homes again. A substantial portion of the populace does understand this concept, and that is our only hope here now.

    Reconciliation between the Children of Israel and the Children of Ishmael is predicted in the Hebrew Bible, and will take place. We will be restored. with G-d’s help, to what is truly ours, and the Arabs will be restored to what is truly theirs.

    If this is so, then perhaps other people can be restored to what is truly theirs – either through land transfers or monetary transfers. Thus each man can sit in peace under his own fig (or eucalyptus) tree in peace and not feel afraid.

    That is why I suggest that these ideas of yours may be part of the “repair of the world” that will begin in the messianic era.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    #16 Does that make me a “highly motivated extremist”?

  • zingzing

    dave, you see extremism in the left far more (or more often) than you see it in the right. i’m sure i see it the other way around. it’s no big secret that you lean (fall over) to the right. any attempt at nuetrality on your part is a bit disingenuous. i’ve rarely (if ever) seen you back up a “leftist” ideal or posistion, and you rarely criticize the right (and never* without some sort of qualification). and if “there is nothing liberal about the modern left,” what is your definition of the left? of liberals?

    *show me if you have. i’d like to need to change my underwear.

  • Nancy

    Depressing to have it recognized as a generic axiom that the majority of humans are intellectually lazy, mindless idiots; but I suppose we all knew that (or suspected it) anyway.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    Intellectually lazy perhaps, or just preoccupied by the distractions of daily life – which as a result of so called ‘free market’ economics have become much more pressing in recent decades.

    Which is why it takes two middle class professionals to buy and maintain and old working class home – i.e. one that used to be bought and maintained by one working class salary. And of course the state’s increasing abandonment of responsibility for, and the rising cost of healthcare, education, retirement etc.

    Most of which are pure gambling as well as more expensive (will my pension be there, will the company abandon it, will my fund management company still be around etc).

    (And what about all the money the UK government took off me when we had an earlier agreements about pensions and healthcare?)

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    Intellectually lazy? The mainstream? Oh, yes. It’s easier to live vicariously through the celebrity elite than it is to think about reality – or to do anything about it.

    Preoccupied by the distractions of daily life? Yes, that’s true too, and that is exactly how TPTB want the masses to be so that the rank and file are oblivious as to what’s really going on. Wave your yellow ribbons, wear red to support Bush’s invasion, and stock up on duct tape and trust the administration – that’s what the “leaders” would have you do. And keep your mouth shut if you’re a thinking dissenter. They may allow anyone to own the nation’s ports, but their security is focused on spying on peace activists and liberal bloggers.

  • http://chromatius.blogspot.com/ Chromatius

    “They may allow anyone to own the nation’s ports, but their security is focused on spying on peace activists and liberal bloggers.”

    Probably because they don’t really give a damn about the stuff they scare us with, not really, not when it comes to business. And they don’t want a critical mass of people to notice.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    dave, you see extremism in the left far more (or more often) than you see it in the right.

    Only because I expect more from those who claim to be the intellectual elite.

    i’m sure i see it the other way around. it’s no big secret that you lean (fall over) to the right.

    Really? It’s news to me. I’m a thinking liberal, rather than just swallowing the rhetoric of the left wholesale. And if you’re a liberal and have any good sense you really can’t support the democratic party.

    any attempt at nuetrality on your part is a bit disingenuous. i’ve rarely (if ever) seen you back up a “leftist” ideal or posistion,

    Of course I don’t back leftist ideas, but you aren’t paying attention if you’ve missed my support for liberal ideas.

    and you rarely criticize the right (and never* without some sort of qualification). and if “there is nothing liberal about the modern left,” what is your definition of the left? of liberals?

    The left would be characterized by supporting a basically socialistic political agenda. Liberalism is the belief in the primary role of government being to protect and promote the rights and liberties of every individual in America.

    *show me if you have. i’d like to need to change my underwear.

    Just look through my posts. You make the mistake of thinking that not being a socialist and supporting Bush to a certain extent makes you a conservative. Bush is a moderate and socialism is a discredited and destructive political tradition which has destroyed every country which has embraced it as has been proven again and again.

    Here are just a couple of recent articles which are far from right-wing:

    Free the Gitmo 500!

    Eugene McCarthy -The Last Great Progressive

    And that’s just a couple out of dozens which take a clearly non-conservative perspective.

    Dave

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Bush is a moderate? I have a hard time believing that. Of course, I also believe that the Clintons are absurdly moderate, Dave; can I correctly assume that you would consider them on the far left?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I think Bill Clinton is genuinely quite moderate and that Hillary is much farther to the left, but putting on a good show of being a moderate. But even in her secret heart she’s not as far left as many Democrats.

    As for Bush being a moderate, there’s no question about it. Why do you think the far right keeps getting so pissed at him? Look at his positions. Regime change and spreading democracy are totally anathema to the far right who are generally isolationists. His position on immigration is extremely moderate compared to most on the right. On abortion he pays lip service to the religious right and then doesn’t make any effort to push their agenda. And he’s certainly not far right on budgetary issues – else we’d have massive spending cuts. And on the gay rights issue he’s publicly endorsed civil unions while opposing gay marriage. That’s the definition of a moderate position.

    The truth that most on the left can’t even contemplate is that the Neocons are actually moderate to left-leaning compared to the hardcore of the Republican party. Their agenda is NOT a conservative agenda, but an expansionist imperialist agenda much more characteristic of the militant left than the traditionalist right.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    your definition of liberalism is really that of the ACLU, while your definition of the left is social liberalism, neither of which shows the breadth of policies or beliefs held under either term.

    as for your neo-cons=militant left thing… the left is pretty well against imperialism, nationalism and aggresive warmongering, so that’s not really that true.

    bush may be more moderate than he pretends to be on a domestic level, but he’s pretty neoconnish outside of this country.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    your definition of liberalism is really that of the ACLU, while your definition of the left is social liberalism, neither of which shows the breadth of policies or beliefs held under either term.

    The ACLU is certainly liberal in a lot of ways. More so than most of the rest of the left who would just as soon shut down most of our basic Constitutional freedoms.

    as for your neo-cons=militant left thing… the left is pretty well against imperialism, nationalism and aggresive warmongering, so that’s not really that true.

    They are? Then why do they support Hugo Chavez who’s currently engaged in all of those things. The truth is that the current American left is only against these things when Bush does them. If they were doing them, or if someone they like such as Chavez does them, then they’re just great. They hate the Neocons because they are Trotskyite socialists who changed teams more than anything else.

    bush may be more moderate than he pretends to be on a domestic level, but he’s pretty neoconnish outside of this country.

    Then you don’t know the Neocon agenda very well, since he hasn’t made more than a token effort to follow it and key Neocon leaders are very unhappy with him.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    again, you’re talking about the radical left. it’s like me saying i disagree with the right because they bomb abortion clinics. i’m on the left, and i don’t support chavez. i think he’s a bit insane and he’s doing a lot of posturing while running his country into the ground on what is basically an anti-america or anti-bush platform that is otherwise empty.

    the left wants to shut down our basic constitutional freedoms? like what, guns? join a fucking militia and train at 6 am every day and you can have your guns. what other freedoms are the left trying to take away? well… smoking indoors. i’ll give you that as well.

    the aclu is liberal in most ways, that is true, but the definition of a liberal is not the aclu.

    the neocon agenda? what part? protecting america by controlling/attacking the outside world? that’s certainly on their agenda. that’s on bush’s agenda. maybe they are angry at him because he makes them look like fools most of the time.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    The Neocon agenda isn’t about attacking other countries – that’s where Bush has crossed them. Their agenda is about economic and political domination of other countries to create a de facto American Empire. Bush has done nothing to advance that agenda, except perhaps the free trade agreements which got rolling well before his term/

    As for freedoms the left wants to take away I wasn’t even thinking about the right to bear arms. I was thinking about freedom of speech and association, and of course the even more fundamental right to property.

    As for the radical left, they are more numerous and more influential within the Democratic party than the radical right is, largely because the radical right is so radical that they are easy to sideline as cranks. The problem is that in the Democratic party they take the cranks seriously.

    Dave