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Political failure modes and the beige dictatorship
February 8, 2013 3:56 AM   Subscribe

Representative democracy is what's happening. Unfortunately, democracy is broken. There's a hidden failure mode, we've landed in it, and we probably won't be able to vote ourselves out of it. (via cstross)
posted by j03 (91 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think we should multiply the amount of people in the house of representatives by about 10, giving us about 4500 congressmen, which would put us roughly at the same ratio of congressmen to population that the US had when the constitution was adopted, which should kind of destroy the possibility of gerrymandering, and would probably break the stranglehold of the parties.
posted by empath at 4:04 AM on February 8, 2013 [18 favorites]


I came here to post this. It's a fascinating articulation of how I have, vaguely and unclearly, felt for the last couple of elections (in the UK).

My LibDem vote (I'm sorry) at the last election was a response to hope for something different - and we know how that's turned out.

I suspect that the answer to this failure isn't more of the same - it's something else, seeing the problem is a start to seeing the solution and now the question is "what is to be done?"
posted by Gilgongo at 4:07 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If representative democracy is the problem, please vote #1 quidnunc kid. I will not represent you in any meaningful sense. In fact, I will probably use you as a fleshy spitoon, launching wet mouth-missiles of contempt at your very face from my high throne of power. Then I will laugh at your disgusting phlegm-speckled hide, you worthless pleb.

So, to reiterate, please vote #1 quidnunc kid.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:17 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Or, to put it another way: Democracy doesn't guarantee the people get what they want, only that they don't get what they hate enough to prevent.
posted by Skorgu at 4:24 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, to put it another way: Democracy doesn't guarantee the people get what they want, only that they don't get what they hate enough to prevent.

If you hate, say, privatisation or encroaching surveillance, sucks to be you.

Then again, if you hate these things, you're probably a terrorist or preterrorist of some sort.
posted by acb at 4:31 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Parties were a problem in the postwar period. Parties were a problem in the early 20th Century known as the Gilded Age. Parties were a problem before the US Civil War.

It's a trend. In all cases, this isn't the failure mode of democracy, it's the success mode, during a certain part of the cycle. Then every so often a new generation comes along who didn't live through the cementation of the status quo, and they disrupt things: hey look, it's the Millennials!

Weber called politics "the slow boring of hard boards." The alternatives are worse.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:31 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you hate, say, privatisation or encroaching surveillance, sucks to be you.

It's early so apologies if I'm misreading tone but that's exactly my point. A sufficient majority of voters don't care. As shitty as it is it's the system working as intended.
posted by Skorgu at 4:37 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or, to put it another way: Democracy doesn't guarantee the people get what they want, only that they don't get what they hate enough to prevent.

If you hate, say, privatisation or encroaching surveillance, sucks to be you.


The question in a representative democracy is how many people hate something enough to prevent it, and we do not yet have a sizable enough number who do hate privatisation or the growth of the security state.

If you think that the extent of participation required to achieve change in a representative democracy is voting once every four years for the Big Honcho, you're doing it wrong. You only get change if you work very hard to change the views of fellow citizens enough to outweigh the functional inertia of the (political, social, economic) status quo.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:40 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems to be a kind of "How could Nixon win when no-one I know voted for him" argument. I don't see much evidence that many of the things he complains about are actually that unpopular:

Drone strikes
Extraordinary rendition
Unquestioned but insane austerity policies
Government services being outsourced
Peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tased, or even killed
Police spying on political dissidents becoming normal

All these things seem to have pretty widespread public support. Most ordinary people seem to have bought into the ideas that civil liberties need to we weakened or suspended to fight the deadly menace of terrorism, that private provision of services is more efficient than direct state control, that austerity is a necessary response to the great recession.

I don't see much evidence that the system of government is failing to deliver what people actually want, even if it's not delivering what people ought to want.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:52 AM on February 8, 2013 [20 favorites]


Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

- H.L. Mencken
posted by Malor at 5:03 AM on February 8, 2013 [26 favorites]


Democracy isn't an ideal way of governing people. It's a way of giving people the governing they deserve.

To build the consensus to fix things will require a huge amount of hard work. It'll require finding solutions to the tremendously degraded media environment we're in. It'll mean people combating all the misinformation that will certainly be spread about a potential third-party candidate. It'll mean grassroots work towards getting third-party candidates elected at the state level, which will be necessary for a third party both to become viable and to be perceive as a real contender. And it'll mean hard work made towards overcoming the infamous "best lizard" problem.

But it wasn't that long ago that Ross Perot made a decent run at it, and he was not, shall we say, an optimal candidate. A more centered man, with more enlightened ideas, making a run for it might have a shot, riding the same kind of groundswell that put Obama in office four years ago.
posted by JHarris at 5:06 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've worked out various political tools for addressing this :

Idea 1. Proportional representation.   Why does continental Europe adopt less insane environmental policy? Why is it hedging towards less insane intelectual property policy? Easy, the Green party and now the Pirate party gained traction in several states, including Germany, the E.U.'s most powerful state. Why did that happen? Mostly proportional representation.

Idea 2. Deliberative democracy (aka Demarchy).   In brief, you'd simply make all legislation pass a random several hundred voter jury trial. Referenda suck because people can easily be manipulated through advertising. Yet, randomly juries avoid this manipulation reasonably well because both sides receive the jurors attention span.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:08 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that suggestion that all that is needed is a "third party" misses some of the problem identified in the essay. Any third party large enough to make a difference will become part of the professionalised "beige dictatorship" The trajectory of the green party in Germany and, in a different way, the LibDems in the UK highlight this. If the grassroots become successful, they become co-opted into a system that has failed.
posted by Gilgongo at 5:18 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't see much evidence that the system of government is failing to deliver what people actually want, even if it's not delivering what people ought to want.

I'm reading a lot of Chomsky right now, and one thing it's taught me is that statements like this require actual polling data to take seriously. I vaguely suspect that most people in this country are, in fact, against all the things TheophileEscargot mentions, but that they have literally no way to vote for someone who is against them.
posted by cthuljew at 5:23 AM on February 8, 2013 [17 favorites]


Vote A: I will slap you in the face!
Vote B: I will punch you in the face!

Me: I am opposed to blunt trauma.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:32 AM on February 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just to paste what I said on Charlie's blog:

The idea that there's no meaningful choice between major parties ignores pretty much the entire sweep of American politics since 1980. Behaviorally, the choice between parties in the US is now more stark than at any point since the (US) Civil War.

Likewise, the idea that politics has gone wrong because of a class of apparatchiks who are all the same across parties can't possibly apply to the US. Outside of a very few states most of our real WTF? problems don't come from professional-ish apparatchiks, they come from the random small business owners and assorted mindless yahoos who get elected to state legislatures. Parties don't reject mindless yahoos because they can't -- they can't afford to, because their alternative is often simply nobody (because being a state legislator is a terrible job), and they can't because they do not have the legal capacity to do so. Without a truly vast amount of time in court, whoever wins the primary is the nominee, no matter what the party organization thinks about it.

Why lots of Europe has austerity isn't some mystery: you elected tories, and austerity is what tories do. Likewise, the small Keynesian package in the US died because Americans overall were stupid enough to hand control of the House to Boehner and his pack of dumbfucks, and Massachussetts was hit by the stupid-ray so hard that they handed significant power to Mitch McFuckingConnell.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:34 AM on February 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Any sustained progress that goes against corporate interests requires a succession of third-parties, or maybe some system that avoids other underlying issues with parties, Gilgongo. I'd expect that Germany's political class will eventually silences this succession of upstart parties, but for now their system of proportional representation is enabling progress, albeit slowly.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:36 AM on February 8, 2013


The other thing is, our situation is so much better today than its ever been. The status quo today is an unimaginable success from the perspective of most of history. It's worth some gridlock to hold on to what we've got.

Compare your top five grievances with this government to:

slavery & Jim Crow & lynchings
coverture & the marital rape exemption & illegal abortions & all-male workplaces
violent union-busting & no social safety net
party bosses & widespread election fraud & the spoils system
"Un-American Activities" & dirty tricks & J. Edgar Hoover's FBI
de facto Christianity & anti-Semitism & intolerance for atheists
genocide & total national war mobilization & racist state propaganda

Our great-grandparents would have killed to have our problems. Some of them died for it.

So: we bore the boards. We do it slowly, and it'll be hard. But if history is any guide, it'll get better.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:42 AM on February 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Democracy, and I don't mean "liberal democracy", but democracy itself, isn't correct because it produces the best outcomes, it's correct because no other system is or possibly can be moral.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 AM on February 8, 2013 [10 favorites]


Compare your top five grievances

I will compare drone strikes, and the suspension of both the rule of law and of checks and balances, with any bad ideas we've ever had.

The other bad ideas we've had couldn't kill the Republic. These could.
posted by Malor at 5:50 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Democracy, and I don't mean "liberal democracy", but democracy itself, isn't correct because it produces the best outcomes, it's correct because no other system is or possibly can be moral.

For what it's worth, while I agree with this, it's not in any way axiomatic; lots of the theorists and architects of democracy in France thought democracy was correct because it produced the best outcomes.
posted by escabeche at 5:53 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Inexplicably, this doesn't mention first past the post. Of course you have to aim for the middle in a system where the fight is over a crucial 5% of people; you'd have a lot more options if you were to vote in Israel or other PR counties (interestingly save Malta, which has PR and a complete duopoly of support).
posted by jaduncan at 5:54 AM on February 8, 2013


And look how well Israelis feel their government represents them!
posted by escabeche at 5:54 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure. I'm just making the point it isn't exactly beige.
posted by jaduncan at 5:55 AM on February 8, 2013


The rule of law has been much more badly damaged in the US in previous eras, and the current checks and balances are very different from the ones operating in the Civil War period. The US Republic is pretty resilient. And drone strikes are worse than firebombing?
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:55 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The other bad ideas we've had couldn't kill the Republic. These could.

Andrew Jackson flat-out ignoring Supreme Court rulings?
posted by jaduncan at 5:56 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


I will compare drone strikes, and the suspension of both the rule of law and of checks and balances, with any bad ideas we've ever had.

Your comparison will come up pretty short, becuase nothing happening now is in the same league as the Alien and Sedition Acts or slavery.
posted by spaltavian at 6:01 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes. And?

And there's the rub. You would be hard pressed to find people outside the electorate (UK, US, Canadian, Australian, you name it) that disagree with this assesment, it's the what to do about it that is the debate. The American Tea Party movement is one of the few active forces to do away with the elite, of course it's the replacement that is so distasteful to the left (or anyone with brains and/or morals really). The Occupy movement had its say for a bit in the opposite direction, but that seems to have gone nowhere. So now what?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:04 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


If PR isn't beige, then it's taupe. Israel, Holland and Germany (if you squint a bit) aren't notably different from other representative democracies. Party discipline, historical cohesion, stable ruling coalitions, all the issues Stross raises are present too.
posted by bonehead at 6:07 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Something has gone wrong with our political processes, on a global scale. But what?
The massive economic boom has come to an end, so we are sad. No-one really cared when we invaded Iraq, which is probably our worst political failure of recent times, because we had loadsamoney. However, people really really care that the rate of growth in public spending has tailed off and their jobs are threatened.

To get my point past the left-wing MetaFilterFilter: the elite managed to fling enough crumbs to the general mass of voters to keep us happy while feeding from the trough during the good times, but now the boom is over there isn't enough spare cash to keep us peons quiet and they aren't in the mood for sharing. So we're noticing that our rulers suck anew.
posted by alasdair at 6:14 AM on February 8, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's early so apologies if I'm misreading tone but that's exactly my point. A sufficient majority of voters don't care. As shitty as it is it's the system working as intended.

I think the point is that in a democratic system, as long as 51% of the voters, or in a representative democracy, 51% of the voters in 60% of the states, don't care, it doesn't matter how egregious something is, it will continue. There is no protection for minorities, unless they become majority-popular.
posted by corb at 6:18 AM on February 8, 2013


I will compare drone strikes

OK, I raise you the clandestine carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia.

Quite frankly, I can't understand the specific dismay about drones. Is it because OMG KILLER ROBOTS!? You may disagree with the general idea of killing people abroad, but aren't the specific means used for this purpose quite irrelevant?

the suspension of both the rule of law and of checks and balances

Having the military (or some intelligence agency) kill and imprison people abroad without going through the judiciary isn't exactly a recent development. I doubt that it qualifies as "suspension of both the rule of law and of checks and balances". Because in that case, those two concepts have never existed.
posted by Skeptic at 6:22 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Great piece. Thanks for passing it along.
posted by gerryblog at 6:28 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with drone strikes is that Obama doesn't even have the decency of a Nixon to try to keep it secret from the public.
posted by cthuljew at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Er, to be clear, I think other people's problem with drone strikes is....
posted by cthuljew at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2013


I haven't read the full piece yet, but I plan to...

I wonder if this bears any relation to Gödel's idea that the US Constitution has a potentially fatal flaw that allows for a dictatorship to arise (I know the post says "globally" - but if the US Constitution forms a model for most modern liberal democracies, and that flaw is embedded deep within it's structure, isn't it possible that the flaw might have been copied, too?
posted by symbioid at 6:31 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with drone strikes is that Obama doesn't even have the decency of a Nixon to try to keep it secret from the public.

Two things about that:

One is, he can't in this age of camera phones and global internet. Two is, that defeats the purpose of having the drone threat. It's more security theatre. You keep the millitants' in hiding by the threat of a drone strike, not by the actual strikes (though you do have to use them occasionally to prove your point). There isn't enough capability to watch them all all the time, but you hit one every once and a while and let them know it was you and you keep them on the run. It's the same thing that terrorists do to their enemies, except in this case it's the guys with trillions of dollars and near magical technology that are doing the terrorizin'.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:39 AM on February 8, 2013


Is it because OMG KILLER ROBOTS!?

It's because in the past, killing people abroad required the killers to also put themselves at risk. it could be troops on he ground, or in the air, or even the possibility of retaliation if we launched a nuke, but there was always immediate risk to US lives when we chose to kill abroad. So that served as at least a little but of a check on the power to kill.

Drones, at least right now, are essentially risk free. No US lives are really in play. That will change of course in time.
posted by COD at 6:45 AM on February 8, 2013


Of the problem with drone strikes was mass civilian casualties then that would be a problem I'd be extremely concerned with. If the problem is Anwar then, no, not concerned, fuck Anwar and fuck his passport.
posted by Artw at 6:46 AM on February 8, 2013


Drones, at least right now, are essentially risk free.

To be fair (and not in the snarky way), they fly out of Bagram, so somebody has to put his/her butt on the line to refuel them and keep them in working order even if the pilot is in a cushy air conditioned box somewhere in Arizona.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:50 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see Drones as a step in the right direction. We have come to value human life so much that we prefer using machines to carry out our soldiering. Now if the other side would just cooperate by using machines to carry out terrorism our machines could battle their machines.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:56 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


So the future isn't a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It's a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy that offer as much actual choice as a Stalinist one-party state. And resistance is futile, because if you succeed in overthrowing the beige dictatorship, you will become that which you opposed.

Well, duh. Why do you think there are a lot of countries where dictators who overthrow democracies have actually been welcomed as heroes by the general populace? It's because democracy itself is not a panacea, and once it gets to a certain level of entrenched corruption the only way to break out of "fail mode" is to sweep the whole thing away and start anew.

Personally, I think an enlightened dictatorship (an Augustus Caesar type, for example) can be much more beneficial than democracy. The trouble is that even the most benevolent dictatorships tend to go bad after just a single generation, whereas democracy takes much longer to curdle.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:58 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Automating the fuel supply lines is well under way, that's the obvious purpose of the DARPA challenges as well as the K-MAX automation project. I'd be pretty surprised if automated drone servicing and refueling wasn't also on the agenda. Or hell just build a big drone that you load broken little drones into and fly it back to safer territory for repairs then files new and fixed birds back to the operating base.
posted by Skorgu at 7:03 AM on February 8, 2013


Good article. The second to last paragraph sums it up for me. I think it limits the scope of the problem a bit though. The problem isn't just the government -- it's a global machine made up of big business, the military and the state that are pulling the levers in concert. Their goal is to control the money/power and thereby solidify their reign. The best, least messy way to do this is by subterfuge and manipulation, with the aid of the media. If the populace is in the dark, confused and relatively comfortable it will pretty much go along with anything -- like frogs in slowly heating water.

Sadly I think this is the state of affairs today. This sort of exploitation will continue and the generations to follow will inherit fewer rights, a lower standard if living, oligarchy, corrupt governments and a polluted planet. I see no way out barring a revolution or a massive populist movement that isn't crushed.

I hope I'm wrong. In the meantime there's tv and pizza pockets.

Happy Friday!
posted by nowhere man at 7:05 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Idea 2. Deliberative democracy (aka Demarchy). In brief, you'd simply make all legislation pass a random several hundred voter jury trial. Referenda suck because people can easily be manipulated through advertising. Yet, randomly juries avoid this manipulation reasonably well because both sides receive the jurors attention span.

I like this idea, but I fear that in the US, the next step after integrating it would be to give a sweetheart deal to Diebold or Hart Intercivic or their like to build randomizing machines for this.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:08 AM on February 8, 2013


but if the US Constitution forms a model for most modern liberal democracies

I think most modern liberal democracies follow the parliamentary model. Even US nation building sets up parliaments rather than Houses, Senates, Electoral Colleges, etc.

I would say that reading the article, it struck me that none of the author's complaints were anything new. It seems to come from a perspective of disillusionment with the misconception perpetuated by our schools that democracy has had a completely noble history. I know I grew up thinking US Democracy it was all fifes and drums and reasoned debate. Reading more adult history texts showed me that it was mostly mud and vitriol with occasional bouts of idealism which might have been more dangerous than the mud and vitriol depending on who was idealising. Remember Neoconservatism is essentially an idealistic movement.

There is a reason US democracy at least was set up as an adversarial system. Competing interests limit each other's effectiveness at a full takeover leading to rapid and complete collapse. I predict most liberal democracies will be slogging along centuries hence with most of the same problems as long as we are not extinct.
posted by rocketpup at 7:25 AM on February 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you think Augustus Caesar is the model of enlightened despot, I've got one word for you: Proscriptions.
posted by absalom at 7:27 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's because in the past, killing people abroad required the killers to also put themselves at risk.

No, if they could avoid it. Risk is something which all successful warriors have always scrupulously avoided as much as possible:

Sun Tzu:

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win

Carl von Clausewitz:

All war presupposes human weakness and seeks to exploit it.

Hilaire Belloc:

Whatever happens we have got
the Maxim gun, and they have not.


Warfare has always been about killing the other guy, not getting yourself killed.
posted by Skeptic at 7:30 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


The American Tea Party movement is one of the few active forces to do away with the elite

Isn't it pretty much an established point of fact that the Tea Party is almost wholly funded and promoted by wealthy elites? Hardly a grassroots movement, although it's designed to seem that way publicly.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:39 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Isn't it pretty much an established point of fact that the Tea Party is almost wholly funded and promoted by wealthy elites? Hardly a grassroots movement, although it's designed to seem that way publicly.

It is, but no matter how much we may hate the money in politics, corporations can't actually vote. The teabaggers put actual butts in voting booths and that takes motivated voters.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:43 AM on February 8, 2013


I'm reading a lot of Chomsky right now, and one thing it's taught me is that statements like this require actual polling data to take seriously. I vaguely suspect that most people in this country are, in fact, against all the things TheophileEscargot mentions, but that they have literally no way to vote for someone who is against them.

Your response in turn demands actual polling data, you know. Anecdotally, I know a lot of liberals who like drone strikes and don't mind the protestor abuse/extraordinary renditions. I know a ton of moderates and conservatives who actively think all these things are necessary to maintain a secure America.

Seriously, MetaFilter is that Pauline Kael quote about nobody voting for Nixon. Heck, MetaFilter is Pauline Kael: insightful, snarky, intelligent as fuck, and often bewilderingly wrong about fairly obvious things. Too much specialized learning can be a bad thing.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:57 AM on February 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Anecdotally, I know a lot of liberals who like drone strikes and don't mind the protestor abuse/extraordinary renditions.

Hmm. What makes them "liberal"?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:05 AM on February 8, 2013


Isn't it pretty much an established point of fact that the Tea Party is almost wholly funded and promoted by wealthy elites?

Sort of. But on the other hand, teahadists have more than once nominated extremists who went on to lose the election, sometimes passing over nearly sure winners. Christine Not-A-Witch, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 AM on February 8, 2013


Political parties have an unspoken survival drive. And they act as filters on the pool of available candidates.

This is partly why Canadian politics is comparatively healthy. On average over the past century we created or destroyed a major political party every ten years. The only party that has survived more or less intact over our history is the Liberals, and they have been in non-trivial danger of being destroyed or assimilated by the NDP in recent years. Our system will destroy the Liberal party if it doesn't find a way to become less beige.

Frequent party turnover is the only way a first-past-the-post system can produce democratic outcomes.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:37 AM on February 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


What makes them "liberal"?

Liberally applied violence.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:49 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


What makes them "liberal"?

I don't approve of the homophobic joke about halfway in, but Phil Ochs' Love Me I'm a Liberal is as true today as ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:08 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea of proportionate representation interests me, especially the model they have here. There are a little more than 5,000 Icelanders per elected representative; in the UK, there are about 92,000 people per MP; in the US, it's about 600,000 people per Congressfolk. At the same time, there are currently five parties in the 63-seat parliament here, and I believe eight parties will be running this April. I wonder if the relatively more direct representation has any connection to party politics being a lot more varied. Not that this doesn't bring with it its own new set of problems, but party platforms tend to more directly reflect the positions in public discussions.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:10 AM on February 8, 2013


There are a little more than 5,000 Icelanders per elected representative...in the US, it's about 600,000 people per Congressfolk.

Switching to the Icelandic ratio would cause new problems because there would be fifty thousand members of the house of representatives.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:30 AM on February 8, 2013


Augustus Caesar

His name (or that part of it) is Caesar Augustus, damn it. Why people on Metafilter keep insisting on calling him Augustus Caeser, I don't know, but it's driving me crazy. Calling him Augustus also works.
posted by hoyland at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why people on Metafilter keep insisting on calling him Augustus Caeser, I don't know, but it's driving me crazy.

If you're going to be that pedantic about it shouldn't you really demand that we all call him either just Gaius Octavius or Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus? Either of those would refer to the guy called Augustus. As long as we know to whom the poster is referring maybe we just let it go?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:45 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the relatively more direct representation has any connection to party politics being a lot more varied.

Nup. This sort of thing is pretty well understood, at least in broad, abstract strokes.

First past the post SMD and no really strong regional politics gets you two parties or two big parties and a weensy one that almost never matters (the US, England-proper)

First past the post SMD and strong regional politics gets you two main parties, but different two parties by region -- Canada, Scotland versus England.

PR gets you oodles of parties. The Althing, with its large districts, would count as a PR scheme even if that wasn't the intent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:47 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whenever this kind of thing comes up in conversation I usually try to make the case that to the extent there's a design flaw only surfacing in the modern era, it's that the complexity of the modern era means that the central legislative body has, at least "de facto", delegated the meaningful portions of its legislative authority to more specialized lawmaking bodies, into which the public has no meaningful direct input.

I mean sure, prior to the 17th amendment you could say the public had some input into the composition and direction of the senate -- after all, the public did elect their state legislature, that state legislature did then select the senators, and thus by application of the transitive property... -- but there's quite the material difference between directly electing one's legislative representatives and having to make do with just-so stories along the lines of "well you see, son, if the state legislature picks senators the public doesn't like, then they won't be re-elected come next election season, and thus the state legislature has an incentive to pick senators that the public would want anyways...".
posted by hoople at 9:50 AM on February 8, 2013


absalom If you think Augustus Caesar is the model of enlightened despot, I've got one word for you: Proscriptions.

Proscriptions are how he got his despotism. I wouldn't call that a model of how he governered. By any modern standard, enlightened? Not really, but if we consider a Czarina, of all leaders, to be an enlightened despot, Octavian qualifies. Absolutely bloody by modern standards, but modern leaders are bloody by modern standards.

Rory Marinich Anecdotally, I know a lot of liberals who like drone strikes

I wish everyone would stop using "drone strikes" as short hand; as there are several different complaints someone could mean by this. You see on Metafilter people against drones full stop. You see people mean they are against the use of drones against terrorists because we have not declared war (usually overlaps with those against the bin Laden raid). You see people saying this meaning they are against targeted killing of those with American citizenship. Finally, you see people who actually just mean the civilian casualties.

When you then get someone with a blithely snappy "what makes them liberal", I have no idea what the conversation is about because for some reason everyone decided they needed to talk about the tool and not the action. It's the liberal flip side of Bush saying "terrorism" was the enemy, not bin Laden and Co.
posted by spaltavian at 9:51 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


PR gets you oodles of parties.

Again, Malta is an interesting counterexample. The two main parties get 49.34% and 48.79% in an STV/PR system. It's astonishing.
posted by jaduncan at 9:52 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparent thesis: "Representative government is not achieving my desired policy outcomes. The solution is to try something other than representative government."

Entirely appropriate response: "Go fuck yourself."
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Indeed, we have about as much choice as citizens in any one-party state used to have.

Sorry, Mr. Stross, but that is 1/4 horse and 3/4 shit. Does anyone anywhere, even Ralph Nader, actually think we'd be living in the same world today if Al Gore had been inaugurated in January 2001?

I think we should multiply the amount of people in the house of representatives by about 10, giving us about 4500 congressmen, which would put us roughly at the same ratio of congressmen to population that the US had when the constitution was adopted, which should kind of destroy the possibility of gerrymandering, and would probably break the stranglehold of the parties.

Gerrymandering can happen anywhere, at any size of chamber. In my own state, the Michigan GOP gerrymandered the state legislature (approximately 85,000 citizens per Representative) to a pretty grievous standard, and that was with the longstanding gentleman's agreement to minimize crossing city and county boundaries.

But even discounting that, if your theory were right, then the two major parties would have much less influence in state legislatures generally. Look at Vermont, which has the incredible ratio of 1 Representative per 4,000 Vermonters. The Vermont General Assembly is the most third-party-friendly in the country. It currently has 11 non-Democrat/Republicans members across both houses. That's 6 percent, and it's not the 6 percent in the middle, either -- the VGA is 63 percent Democratic across both houses, so they can safely ignore the Vermont Progressive Party caucus. That's a stranglehold under virtually any definition.
posted by Etrigan at 10:25 AM on February 8, 2013


When you then get someone with a blithely snappy "what makes them liberal", I have no idea what the conversation is about

Well, I don't either, which is why I asked. Rory stated that "these people are liberals" and then listed two things that by and large "liberal people" don't like (and it was the rendition thing which really prompted my question). It wasn't blithe or snappy.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:49 AM on February 8, 2013


I am not versed in actual political science w/r/t Canada (or, uh, in political science at all), but as an interested casual observer it seems like a key reason why they have so many parties over there, and so much churn between parties, is because of the regional differences between the different parts of Canada. Are there that many ridings, all told, where more than two parties are viable?1 Certainly there are some, and often enough for vote-splitting on the left to cause catastrophic results, but even so, on the whole you can expect ridings in Vancouver to be a contest between Liberals and Dippers, ridings in Ontario-outside-Toronto to be (until very recently) a contest between Liberals and whatever the right-wing party calls itself that election, contests in Quebec to be between separatists and exactly one of the federalist parties, and so forth.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that by dint of having massive regional differences and by dint of having no one nation-wide election for the executive2, Canada has a (nearly) uniquely viable pathway for new parties to establish themselves in a subset of ridings, and then leverage that foothold into becoming viable ruling parties — like how Reform established a lock over Alberta, and then leveraged that base to displace the Tories nationwide.

[1]: Please correct me if I'm wrong here, or if the shakeup associated with the rise of the NDP and the collapse of the Liberals and BQ has permanently changed the nation's electoral dynamics.
[2]: I have a hunch that the national elections for president, and the pressure that that places on political organizations to coalesce into two national parties, is why there's so few regional parties in the US, and why the ones we have are (at best) fairly small.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:50 AM on February 8, 2013


Does anyone anywhere, even Ralph Nader, actually think we'd be living in the same world today if Al Gore had been inaugurated in January 2001?

One-party states have factions too. Does anyone anywhere actually think we'd be living in the same world today if Trotsky had succeeded Lenin?
posted by cdward at 10:55 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will compare drone strikes, and the suspension of both the rule of law and of checks and balances, with any bad ideas we've ever had.

Wow. If you wanted to sum up the bizarre presentism of so much contemporary political discontent on both the left and the right it would be hard to come up with a better example than that. To compare drone strikes to, say, Nixon's bombing of Laos and Cambodia is like saying that the War of Jenkin's Ear was the most devastating military entanglement ever faced by the US, and utterly dwarfs either the Civil War or WWII.

Even if we go by the highest vaguely respectable estimate of civilian deaths from drone strikes since 2004 (that maintained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) we're talking about approximately 1000 civilian deaths--and the per-year numbers have been trending downward. Nixon's secret bombing campaign killed over half a million entirely innocent civilians, and for virtually no demonstrable military benefit whatsoever.

To even mention these things in the same breath is to betray a complete absence of even the slightest whiff of a sense of history.

As for the "suspension of the rule of law" and of "checks and balances"--these would be very terrible things, certainly, if it weren't for the fact that neither of them has, you know, actually happened. Ironically, again, they have happened in the past; and under deeply beloved and widely admired Presidents (e.g. Lincoln).

I do wish those who wring their hands over the terrible "decline" of our democracy and its fall into tyranny and evil would, just once, be willing to name the era that they regard as prelapsarian. Was it a time of slavery? Of Jim Crow laws? Of McCarthy's witchhunts? Of the Vietnam War? Just when, exactly, was this time when everything was so damned peachy keen by contrast with which everything now is so obviously heading to hell in a handcart.
posted by yoink at 11:11 AM on February 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


Does anyone anywhere, even Ralph Nader, actually think we'd be living in the same world today if Al Gore had been inaugurated in January 2001?

One-party states have factions too. Does anyone anywhere actually think we'd be living in the same world today if Trotsky had succeeded Lenin?


Factions are not subject to the influence of the common citizen to the extent that American elections are, even in the gerrymandered state they're in (and have been for more than a century).
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on February 8, 2013


I think the worrisome thing about drones (if we're going to go that route) is that they depersonalize killing and can keep it secret. It's worrisome when people -- especially citizens -- can be "terminated" by the government with the push of a button. Such an order can be given quite easily by those in power, with little need to consider what it means to take a life. No dead soldiers will be sent home, hell no one even needs to know it happened at all.

I do wish those who wring their hands over the terrible "decline" of our democracy and its fall into tyranny and evil would, just once, be willing to name the era that they regard as prelapsarian.

Must I do this, or can I just point out that sh*t is messed up and I'm naive enough to think we could do better?
posted by nowhere man at 11:51 AM on February 8, 2013


I do wish those who wring their hands over the terrible "decline" of our democracy and its fall into tyranny and evil would, just once, be willing to name the era that they regard as prelapsarian.

Must I do this, or can I just point out that sh*t is messed up and I'm naive enough to think we could do better?


There's a difference between "shit is messed up" and "shit is more messed up than it has ever been." The latter is the political wonk equivalent of "You kids today don't know what good music is!"
posted by Etrigan at 11:55 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


PR gets you oodles of parties. The Althing, with its large districts, would count as a PR scheme even if that wasn't the intent.

They have 'adjustment seats' that exist purely to achieve better proportionality, so they're very definitely trying to obtain proportionality. I think there's this temptation to say there's FPTP and PR and that any non-FPTP system will result in proportionality, which isn't the case. (It's even possible that FPTP will attain proportionality, but it's a pretty remote possibility, unless you have equal-size districts that are gerrymandered like crazy, I guess.)

But even discounting that, if your theory were right, then the two major parties would have much less influence in state legislatures generally. Look at Vermont, which has the incredible ratio of 1 Representative per 4,000 Vermonters. The Vermont General Assembly is the most third-party-friendly in the country. It currently has 11 non-Democrat/Republicans members across both houses. That's 6 percent, and it's not the 6 percent in the middle, either -- the VGA is 63 percent Democratic across both houses, so they can safely ignore the Vermont Progressive Party caucus. That's a stranglehold under virtually any definition.

It seems worth noting that the Vermont General Assembly works fairly differently to the US House, for example. Probably the two most significant are that there are multi-member districts and that parties can share candidates. I looked it up while writing this comment: "So the only person elected as a Progressive and not as Progressive/Democrat was one of two people running for two seats (the other being a Democrat). Most of the Progressive/Democrat candidates came out of the Democratic primary, but one came out of a Progressive primary where no one entered the Democratic primary." I have no idea what conclusion we can draw from this
posted by hoyland at 11:57 AM on February 8, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick: You are right in that on a riding by riding basis, we tend to have two way races in Canada. You are also right in that there tend to be marked regional differences.

But that's not the whole story. When you start with 3-5 parties, all kinds of little differences can have a huge effect on the outcome of any one riding (and of which two parties are strong in a riding, which can vary dramatically within one region). You have a bunch of people who will always vote with their conscience (witness the relative popularity of the NDP when they barely had any MPs at all), others who always vote strategically or against a particular candidate/party.

In other words, we have a multi-party system that is unstable enough, on the level where the votes are actually counted, that it remains stably multi-party on a federal level. Which is nice, I guess, but it also means that our government tends to represent about a third of Canadians at any given time, which is clearly a failure of democracy.

And vote-splitting is a problem that calls out for electoral reform as a solution. If everyone on the so-called left all gave up and voted "strategically", we'd have long ago settled on an American-style two party centre-right system.
posted by ssg at 12:13 PM on February 8, 2013


Factions are not subject to the influence of the common citizen to the extent that American elections are, even in the gerrymandered state they're in (and have been for more than a century).

Really? You think if the Gang of Four had continued to rule in post-Mao China rather than Deng things would be only slightly different now as compared with the massive Bush/Gore dichotomy?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:23 PM on February 8, 2013


Factions are not subject to the influence of the common citizen to the extent that American elections are, even in the gerrymandered state they're in (and have been for more than a century).

Really? You think if the Gang of Four had continued to rule in post-Mao China rather than Deng things would be only slightly different now as compared with the massive Bush/Gore dichotomy?


Do you honestly think that I'm saying "one-party states are all exactly the same, and which people are in charge of them makes no difference whatsoever"?

Because I feel like that's totally orthogonal to my point that the average U.S. citizen has tremendously more power over his or her government today than did the average citizen in post-Mao China or the average 1920s Soviet citizen. This is what I was arguing with: "Indeed, we have about as much choice as citizens in any one-party state used to have." Agreeing with that requires a stretching of "about" to such mammoth proportions that it makes the word -- and every other word -- meaningless.
posted by Etrigan at 12:32 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well there's your problem, you're going and making sense!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:44 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Must I do this, or can I just point out that sh*t is messed up and I'm naive enough to think we could do better?

Etrigan answered this well above, but there's an additional point to make here. The claim of decline, and especially of catastrophic and unprecedented decline, is not mere empty emphasis (it doesn't just mean "things are REALLY messed up")--it has specific implications about the kinds of remedies we should entertain to the "messed up shit" we're facing. It's a claim designed to delegitimize normal politics: "things are so utterly fucked that there's no point working through normal political means to fix them; we need to wipe the slate clean and start again." I always find it amusing/frustrating that we on the left are so quick to spot the pernicious effects of this kind of delegitimization when it's employed on the right (all the BS about Obama being a "tyrant," all the masturbatory fantasies of "2nd Amendment solutions" and so forth) but we tend to turn a blind eye to exactly the same rhetoric on the left. A democracy can only work if people are capable of recognizing the difference between tyranny and simply losing a political argument; this continual refusal of defeated parties on both the right and the left to simply say "o.k., you won this round, that's fair enough--we'll keep fighting to persuade people that we're in the right, but we accept that your position has won the day" threatens to erode the very possibility of democratic governance.
posted by yoink at 1:19 PM on February 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


alasdair: "...the elite managed to fling enough crumbs to the general mass of voters to keep us happy while feeding from the trough during the good times, but now the boom is over there isn't enough spare cash to keep us peons quiet and they aren't in the mood for sharing. So we're noticing that our rulers suck anew."

I wouldn't put it quite so cynically, but this is pretty much correct. Or in more general terms: there's an inverse correlation between prosperity and democracy. In prosperous times most people don't care about government, and are happy to leave the workings of the state to their representatives. If the period of prosperity lasts long enough, the representatives evolve into a professional political class like the one Charlie Stross describes, and these "Beige Dictators" become more interested in perpetuating their own existence than representing the desires of the people. This is when government becomes most vulnerable to capture by special interests. (And if that happens completely, democracy can devolve into fascism.)

In the developed world we've had a long period of peace and prosperity stretching from the end of WWII to about 2008, and there are different forms of political dysfunction in each country. Here in Canada we had a long stretch of Beige Dictatorship, but early in the 21st century special interests in the form of regionalism upset that system, perhaps permanently. (The people as a whole are still too prosperous to notice or care, so change isn't likely soon.) In the US, the special interests are monied elites who have a quasi-religious belief in free markets, so there's Beige types trying to maintain status quo and rich types trying to convert the masses to their new religion. (The struggle between these two factions is why there's so much polarization.) But in the UK the situation most resembles what Stross is describing, with a relative lack of capture by special interests and Beige Dictators trying very hard to keep themselves in office. If I lived in a country where the Labour party and Liberal Democrats both became ideological conservatives in quick succession, I'd be pretty cynical about the system too.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:37 PM on February 8, 2013


AdamCSnider writes "The question in a representative democracy is how many people hate something enough to prevent it, and we do not yet have a sizable enough number who do hate privatisation or the growth of the security state.
"

And the US has disenfranchised many of the people with most cause to hate the security state (felons).
posted by Mitheral at 5:04 PM on February 8, 2013


Yes, and there's an argument (sometimes seen on Mefi) that the War On Drugs is a dark mirror to the Civil Rights Movement.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:13 PM on February 8, 2013


Though I personally wasn't trying to make the points you mention, yoink, I think you're more or less right about where I'm coming from. I have indeed begun to think the political system in the US is fundamentally broken -- i.e. no longer primarily responsive to the will and interests of the people. This isn't a right/left issue -- it's a systemic one. And though I understand things can change dramatically -- and I applaud those who are trying to effect positive change -- given recent history I am no longer optimistic that the "normal political means" (voting say) can fix the problem over the long haul.

But I do feel it's important to keep trying to improve the situation, even if no Platonic form of government exists. In fact, this was the point I was trying to make in the quote above. I just feel that change may eventually need to be made to the system, not come from within it.

Whatever the case, we're all going to have to do it together. So, here's to the good fight.

Of course, YM(Opinion, Ideology)MV.
posted by nowhere man at 5:46 PM on February 8, 2013


On "things are now better than they've ever been":

No, they aren't. Things have been getting slowly worse for a while now. Bush happened at the peak; it's been downhill since.

Trying to plot the quality of a time in our history on a one-dimensional plot isn't possible, but let's pretend it is for a moment. We detain people without process in Guantanamo. Most of the country give a collective meh to torturing people and sending exploding flying robots into other countries. Unemployment is still very high, we're in hock to China to the tune of a trillion dollars plus which is a tremendous hidden influence on policies both foreign and domestic, and we seem to be in perpetual danger of losing many of the things we've worked hard over decades to accomplish because of lockstep Republican voting. We live in perpetual fear of terrorists blowing things up, and because of this our government maintains a list of people not allowed to fly in airplanes.

It's worth some gridlock to hold on to what we've got.

It's always better to go forward than to stand still.

Compare your top five grievances with this government to:
slavery & Jim Crow & lynchings

How about the creation of a tremendous underclass in the US in perpetual debt slavery if they want something as simple as getting a damn education, all so that people can get consumer goods for a few pennies less by outsourcing that work to Chinese laborers who will work for amazingly low wages, simultaneously harming working-class America and propping up the Chinese government?

violent union-busting & no social safety net

Vs. unions being toothless and discriminated against, and gigantic medical bills that bankrupt thousands of people every day!

party bosses & widespread election fraud & the spoils system

Tom DeLay wasn't all that long ago. And the Republicans are hard at work reestablishing the bosses thing, spoils have turned into regulatory capture, and claiming electron fraud is being primed for use as a club by the Republicans so they can challenge very close elections they don't like, which has much the same effect!

"Un-American Activities" & dirty tricks & J. Edgar Hoover's FBI

At least that stuff was out in the open! We have hints that the CIA's internal politics are pretty bad, but we don't see it because of the government's policy of ruthlessly prosecuting whistleblowers, and the press has been effectively de-fanged.

de facto Christianity & anti-Semitism & intolerance for atheists

Are you talking about NOW or some earlier point in our history? It's generally agreed that a presidential candidate can't be an athiest, but he can be a Mormon. And there are certainly still groups who believe all these things, and some of them are heavily armed. Take my word for it, I tracked some of them down on the internet back in August.

genocide & total national war mobilization & racist state propaganda
coverture & the marital rape exemption & illegal abortions & all-male workplaces

Yeah, and the thing is, you're pitting what we have now against many bad things that have happened throughout our nation's history. You get to pick and choose all the bad things we've ever done.

Our great-grandparents would have killed to have our problems. Some of them died for it.

About the high cost of medical care problem above, some of us are dying for it now.

So: we bore the boards. We do it slowly, and it'll be hard. But if history is any guide, it'll get better.

But this attitude does not help. It gets better not because the world just floats that way, but because good people work their asses off, and risk bankruptcy and prison to tell us about them. there are forces at work to take back everything our great-grandparents worked for, if we let them, and how would they feel about us if that happened?

Drones, at least right now, are essentially risk free.

Oh, they are not. We are trading immediate, physical risk to lasting harm to our nation's reputation, and that will come home to roost someday, just as how our policies of propping up dictators did. How would we feel if Canada piloted exploding robot missiles into our borders? We are not making friends with this program.

posted by JHarris at 6:57 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Explanatory hypothesis: once population and development reach a certain point, people-control and restriction become more critically important than anything else. Your freedom extends only as far as my toes, and vice versa? Hypothesis is that we are already at the point now where no one can make any significant move without stepping on someone else's toes. Which is destabilizing and can't be allowed to happen, so people-control and restriction have become the main functions of all governments including putatively democratic ones.

As for control and restriction of governments and what they may do, nobody but a few far-right and far-left loonies ever worries about that, and they're under control.
posted by jfuller at 8:03 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]



It's because in the past, killing people abroad required the killers to also put themselves at risk. i


It also required the killers to put civilians at risk as they advanced to positions near their quarry.
posted by ocschwar at 4:53 PM on February 10, 2013


Two views on the nature of America’s political problems. Only one leads us to reform.
I fully agree with Stross’ analysis. He shares the mainstream view of our political problems, belief that they result from external causes. Stross sees structural factors. Others point to bad guys, such as the 1% or evil ideologues. Both lead us to a dead end, because both omit the most important factor: us. Both assume that citizens have no agency (the ability to make and execute independent decisions). Assuming we are pawns, with passive assent to our rulers (since we’ve not resisted).

Consider a different perspective, one radically non-consensus — too disturbing for most people even to consider: the system has not changed. We have changed. We are the broken link, the failed component.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:02 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Compare your top five grievances with this government to:
slavery & Jim Crow & lynchings

How about the creation of a tremendous underclass in the US...


Still better than slavery.

violent union-busting & no social safety net

Vs. unions being toothless and discriminated against, and gigantic medical bills that bankrupt thousands of people every day!


Still better than no unions and people getting killed for advocating them. And a social safety net with a lot of holes is better than no social safety net.

"Un-American Activities" & dirty tricks & J. Edgar Hoover's FBI

At least that stuff was out in the open!


Oppression is all right, if it's very public oppression?

de facto Christianity & anti-Semitism & intolerance for atheists

Are you talking about NOW or some earlier point in our history? It's generally agreed that a presidential candidate can't be an athiest, but he can be a Mormon.


Well, yes. That's because things are better now. We actually have an atheist in Congress. It's only one, but that's better than it's ever been.

genocide & total national war mobilization & racist state propaganda
coverture & the marital rape exemption & illegal abortions & all-male workplaces

Yeah, and the thing is, you're pitting what we have now against many bad things that have happened throughout our nation's history. You get to pick and choose all the bad things we've ever done.


Please, tell us about how all the bad things going on right this minute in the U.S., put together, are worse than the widespread belief that it is okay to own another human being. It's not exactly cherry-picking to point out that American history has included slavery.

And, by the way, how are your counterexamples not also picking and choosing all the bad things we're doing now?

Our great-grandparents would have killed to have our problems. Some of them died for it.

About the high cost of medical care problem above, some of us are dying for it now.


A lot fewer than were dying back then. Net gain, in my book.

So: we bore the boards. We do it slowly, and it'll be hard. But if history is any guide, it'll get better.

But this attitude does not help.


Saying that things are better now than they have been is not the same thing as saying, "Fuck it, things are good enough." anotherpanacea was saying that it's tough work, but worth the effort. You seem more willing to toss up your hands and discount every improvement that's ever been made, and in that case, what's the point of trying?
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2013


Well it certainly took long enough to get a reply....

My point with the long comment, though, wasn't that the US is necessarily better or worse right now than it was at prior points in history.

Comparing time periods and saying the world is generally better or worse now than before is rhetorically useless. People have different expectations. Good things happen and bad things happen -- so what? They're good not because the world naturally tends to float to a better place -- they're good because of hard work done by people who personally remember how bad it's been. As those extremely bad times pass further out of memory, so does the nation's will to make things better. That's why the Republicans have managed to have such a resurgence in recent decades.

That previous comment saying, effectively, "you know what, we have it pretty good right now, yay us," got on my nerves, because there are plenty of things wrong right now, lots of people are suffering, and I can't think of any reason to try to make people feel better about the state of the US right now except to try to sap our will to effect real change.

And folks saying it's pretty great now sounds extremely hollow to someone feeling some of the real suckiness floating around at this moment. We don't have slavery now, it's true, but we do have high unemployment that makes it difficult for many to get by on a day to day level while extremely high medical bills make it very difficult to get care without going bankrupt. And if you're personally feeling the brunt of that state of affairs now, you're not inclined to cheer something we did 150 years ago, or indeed any time out of living memory.
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on February 12, 2013


Things have been getting slowly worse for a while now.

Comparing time periods and saying the world is generally better or worse now than before is rhetorically useless.


So which is it?
posted by Etrigan at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2013


Argh, it's been like a WEEK since I had made my previous comment here, the one you respond to. This is something of a flaw in Metafilter's comment model, it's difficult to compose rhetorically consistent arguments when there can be so much time between them. I don't have the time to reread comments frequently to refresh my memory as to context.

But if, and ONLY if, my memory serves regarding my original use of the phrase --

"Things have been slowly getting worse for a while now" refers to the period since Bush's election, that is, since 2000. Certainly recent enough to still be in memory, and of use in establishing a vector indicating some direction of suck velocity.
posted by JHarris at 4:08 PM on February 12, 2013


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