Change the Police

I often make an argument that we should be generous towards minor acts of professional misjudgment, particularly those caught on video, that no one deserves to have their professional future changed in an instant for a single miscalculation.

However, the more consequential the professional activity, the less we should extend that generosity. A brain surgeon who comes into the operating theater with two martinis in him is not saying the wrong thing to a student in a classroom or adding a sum incorrectly on a tax return. He’s holding another human life in the balance.

Of all the professions that came into their own in the 20th Century, none of them is as consequential as policing. A police officer is an agent of the state who is charged with using its most fearsome power: the power to take the freedom and life of individuals. If you believe in any sense that the state is enacting the collective will of its people, then the police are the people that we, all of us, have hired to do that work for us.

Even other professions with life-and-death responsibilities do not have that kind of authorization to take the freedom and life of people. Though we insist that most professions where a single error could cost the life or health of a person should involve extensive training and multiple systems of licensing and oversight, we do not consistently expect the same of police.

In the United States, black citizens stand in perpetual risk of being summarily executed by police officers who will rarely face criminal charges or even professional sanction for doing so. Anguish and anger and protest seem powerless to change that. What we need is a systematic change in policing itself, and we need a strong coalition of people in national, state and regional politics who will demand those changes. We need to treat policing like the most important, most dangerous, most sacred professional work in our society, work that needs more oversight and standards and consequences than anything else. More important than brain surgery by far. Because it’s not just that people die and justice fades. This is the heart of our freedom. None of us are free while some of us can be murdered with impunity for no reason other than race or sexuality.

Here’s some ideas about what we could demand to get us to something like genuinely professional policing.

1. Federal law should mandate that all police forces in this country must have a civilian review board that examines every incident of firearm discharge by police in the line of duty. Mandate that the review board’s business be 100% public and transparent. Failure to initiate public review of a discharge incident within seven days should be a prosecutable offense.

2. Disarm police who are on routine patrols, making traffic stops, and so on. Police should only carry firearms in response to specific, designated incident calls where firearms may be required. Firearms should be kept locked in the trunk of patrol cars.

3. Create stringent standards for appropriate use of firearms in police work that aim to limit firearm discharges to only the most extraordinary of circumstances. Violating standards should usually lead to immediate termination of employment.

4. Even a hint of evidence tampering of any kind by police officers, including losing body cameras or having missing dashcam footage during incidents involving firearm discharge, should immediately lead to being fired. Evidence tampering by police, district attorneys, judges or any other employees of the criminal justice system should be harshly criminalized and treated as one of the highest prosecutorial priorities at all levels of jurisdiction. Evidence tampering by officials with criminal justice responsibilities should be roughly as consequential as second-degree murder.

5. Law enforcement in communities with high crime rates or with histories of being racially harassed by police should be strictly focused on serious infractions. Arrests or interactions for minor offenses like “broken taillights” or selling untaxed cigarettes should lead to the arresting officer being disciplined for wasting precious resources.

6. Heads of police departments should review video of any shooting or alleged harassment involving their officers. If they are dissatisfied with the performance of their officers upon review in any way, all the way down to comportment or attitude, they should immediately make a public statement that specifically describes that dissatisfaction and begin disciplinary procedures or termination procedures in all but the most minor incidents. Police chiefs are leaders for the community, not leaders just for their employees, and they owe the community an acknowledgement of unprofessional misconduct first and foremost.

7. Being convicted of a criminal offense is not the standard that defines poor professionalism for police. Police departments should not wait for a conviction to decide whether an officer has engaged in unprofessional conduct. Termination and suspension for serious misconduct should be swift and should use an evidentiary standard that is far less stringent than criminal investigations.

8. Nothing should be private in the workings of the criminal justice system. There should be no private prisons, no private police officers. All services used at any level of the criminal justice system should be subject to continuous, unedited public disclosure, with all records freely accessible to all members of the public at the time of their creation. This includes footage from body cameras, DNA tests, etc. All technical or specialists services should be subject to regular audit by a neutral third party to ensure high standards of competency and functioning are being maintained.

9. No municipality, county, state or other government should depend upon revenue from fines, property seizures for its daily or routine operations. No official who is responsible for seizure of property or fee collection should ever have any direct access to such funds or property or benefit from the execution of those duties.

10. All police departments should undergo external review once every five years by teams of 20-30 randomly chosen community members (perhaps using the same mechanism as calling jury duty) who are embedded with officers on patrol, who spend time in stations and in holding facilities, and who conduct interviews with a random selection of officers and employees. At least five of the review team must be community members who have been arrested or cited by this department. The transcript of the review materials and the final summary report should be available to all members of the public.

11. Elected officials should routinely dismiss top-level police department appointees who make no progress in implementing these and other changes in policing. This is what executive hierarchy is good for: demanding change from the top and holding the next level of the hierarchy responsible for implementation.

Posted in Politics | 10 Comments

The Instrument of Future Mischief

A friend of mine has been quoting a few thoughts about the minor classic SF film Colossus: The Forbin Project, about an AI that seizes control of the world and establishes a thoroughly totalitarian if ostensibly “humane” governance. He asks how we would know what a “friendly” AI would look like, with the obvious trailing thought that Colossus in the film is arguably “friendly” to the intentions and interests of its creators.

This is a minor subgenre of reflections on AI, including the just-finishing series Person of Interest (no spoilers! I am still planning to power through the last two seasons at some point).

I think the thing that makes “friendly” AI in these contexts a horrifying or uncanny threat is not the power of the AI, though that’s what both stories and futurists often focus on, the capacities of the AI to exert networked control over systems and infrastructure that we regard as being under our authority. Instead, it is the shock of seeing the rules and assumptions already in place in global society put into algorithmic form. The “friendly” AI is not unnerving because it is alien, or because of its child-like misunderstandings and lack of an adult conscience. It is not Anthony Fremont, wishing people into the cornfield. It is that it is a mirror. If you made many of our present systems of political reason into an algorithm, they might act much the same as they do now, and so what we explain away as either an inexorable law of human life or as a regrettable accident would be revealed as exactly what it is: a thing that we do, that we do not have to do. The AI might be terrifying simply because it accelerates what we do, and does it more to everyone. It’s the compartmentalization that comforts us, the incompetence, the slowness, not the action or the reasoning.

Take drone warfare in the “global war on terror”. Write it as an algorithm.

1. If terrorist identity = verified, kill. Provide weighting for “verified”.
2. If non-terrorist in proximity to terrorist = still kill, if verified is strongly weighted.
3. If verification was identifiably inaccurate following kill = adjust weighting.
4. Repeat.

The only reason that Americans live with the current implementation of that algorithm is that the people being killed are out of sight and are racially and culturally coded as legitimate victims. One of the weightings of our real-world actual version of the algorithm is “do this only in certain places (Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan) and do this only to certain classes of the variable ‘terrorist'”. Americans also live with it because the pace of killings is sporadic and is largely unreported. A “friendly AI” might take the algorithm and seek to do it more often and in all possible locations. Even without that ending in a classically dystopian way with genocide, you could imagine that many of the AI’s creators would find the outcome horrifying. But that imaginary AI might wonder why, considering that it’s only implementing an accelerated and intensified version of the instructions that we ourselves created.

Imagine a “friendly AI” working with the algorithm for “creative destruction” (Schumpeter) or the updated version, “disruption” (Christensen).

1. Present industries and the jobs they support should be relentlessly disfavored in comparison to not-yet-fully realized future industries and jobs.
2. If some people employed in present jobs are left permanently unemployed or underemployed due to favoring not-yet-fully realized future industries and jobs, this validates that the algorithm is functioning correctly.
3. Preference should be given to not-yet-fully realized industries and jobs being located in a different place than present industries and jobs that are being disrupted.
4. Not-yet-fully realized future industries and jobs will themselves be replaced by still more futureward industries and jobs.

The “friendly AI” would certainly seek to accelerate and expand this algorithm, always favoring what might be over what actually is, possibly to the point that only notional or hypothetical industries would be acceptable, and that any actual material implementation of an industry would make it something to be replaced instantly. The artificial stop conditions that the tech sector, among others, put on disruption might be removed. Why buy any tech right now when there will be tech tomorrow that will displace it? Why in fact actually develop or make any tech considering that we can imagine the tech that will displace the tech we are developing? Apple will simply obsolete the next iPad in a few years for the sake of disruption, so the friendly AI might go ahead and pre-obsolete it all. Again, not what anybody really wants, but it’s a reasonable interpretation of what we are already doing, or at least what some people argue we are doing or ought to do.

Posted in Information Technology and Information Literacy | 6 Comments

Fix on Fail I: Everyday Arguments for Pluralism, Multiculturalism and Diversity

This is the first in a small series of essays about everyday forms of social reason behind commonly defended values or propositions, each of which will argue that those values are now profoundly at risk. Political elites, intellectuals, and civil society activists often assume that there is or ought to be broad acceptance of those values. They act as if breaches and challenges to those dominant beliefs are the result of ignorance and backwardness, and that these challenges will fade eventually over time if sufficient power is used to contain and suppress those challenges in the present. Instead, I believe that the arguments for these values are in serious crisis, that they no longer persuade many people in many societies (if they ever did), and that elites in many cases are stuck enforcing views that risk becoming parochial or local values held by their own social class. We must undertake the work of rethinking, refurbishing and revisiting these ideas in the real everyday experiences of 21st Century humanity.

First up: pluralism, multiculturalism and diversity.

Whatever happens in today’s Brexit vote, the fact that the vote to leave the European Union was strongly supported by many voters in the United Kingdom, largely in connection to antipathies towards immigration and unrestricted border control, is precisely the kind of graveyard that cosmopolitan elites, liberal policy-makers, self-satisfied activists and Hallmark-card level celebrators of multiculturalism have contrived to whistle past, louder and louder as the close calls have become razor-thin and the documented failures of actually-existing pluralism to achieve most of what it has congratulated itself for achieving have piled higher and higher.

I am a person of my own social class, and pluralism and diversity are values that I deeply support and aspire to practice in my decision-making and everyday life. So the following critique is very much intended to protect and strengthen these values with the ardent conviction that many people who are not part of my immediate social world should share these values. It has come to the point, however, that if we cannot investigate with an open mind why pluralism is at risk and with whom, and thus begin to understand how to renew what it might mean to cherish an ideal of pluralism across our society, I fear very much that in thirty years time some forms of performed and expressed fidelity to diversity will be drawing-room manners for an aging and sequestered elite.

Keep in mind that valuing self-conscious commitments to pluralism, valuing the idea of building communities that cherish a wide range of life experiences, cultural and expressive practices, convictions and beliefs, is not the same as living in necessarily pluralistic societies. Even if we lose an aspiration to intentional pluralism, we will still live alongside people who are different in many respects than we ourselves are. That’s a deeply human experience, in greater profusion and intensity over the last four centuries. So the alternative to cherishing and building pluralism is not homogeneity.

This is a good place to start with refurbishing the argument for intentional pluralism. It starts with thinking about what has been wrong with the sort of pluralism that grows out the accumulated relations between peoples and identities which have been thrown together by the accidental, organic or incidental movement of groups or through the forced or violent migration of one group under the oppression of another. Groups living next to one another or alongside each other within a single place have often reached practical understandings about the limits and rules of their relations, but they have not often had any principled or persistent view of those rules. In many cases in history, peaceful and mutually advantageous relations between relatively equal groups or societies hold for as long as the overall political economy of a region or place is stable (a rare enough circumstance) and as long as no one thinks they can gain a permanent advantage through violence or subordination directed at other groups. Or as long as a small minority group of residents have some particular skill or resource that the dominant majority find useful. Merchants who have access to long-distance trade networks, scholars from far away who have linguistic or interpretative competencies, artisans who keep some craft knowledge opaque to others, and so on.

Why try to build communities, societies, nations, or a world that set out to be pluralistic on purpose, and that enshrine pluralism as a central value or belief system? What many people today might support is the promise that this is a way to break the wheel of uncertainty about accidental neighbors, to escape from a cycle where violence, flight, compulsion and mistreatment are always the threatening possibility of every understanding or contract. But this then is the first place that we’re failing, badly. Intentional pluralism defended as a state ideology or a civic virtue in the early 21st Century does not feel to many people as if it is an alternative to being left to your own devices to work out as best you can an understanding with neighbors welcome and unwelcome, and if necessary, to violently resolve a bad understanding with whatever collective power your own communities can mobilize. There is no greater security or understanding for most people in most nation-states that arises out of an official or civic endorsement of pluralism. Nation-states rarely offer safety, protection or rights evenly to all identifiable groups and communities within their territories. Having neighbors who are different religiously, ethnically, or in terms of lifeways and everyday practices, is for many people not a source of strength but of danger, even if the overall society claims otherwise. The only people who consistently experience multiculturalism and pluralism as an empowering and affirming value system are those with the resources to take the best of what it offers materially and socially, who are associated with historically dominant groups, and who are in charge of civic and governmental institutions that take pluralism and multiculturalism as their authorizing principle.

Wider populations in nations or across transnational boundaries will never embrace pluralism as an official political and civic value system until it actually keeps people more secure in their bodies, their hearts and their material circumstances. More secure and consistent in outcomes than the unpredictable processes of negotiation and struggle that unfold between groups that have been thrown together by history. No matter what, groups will deal with other groups as they must–and struggle or fight when they judge that inevitable–unless official pluralism is a consistently and truthfully better alternative. Unless it’s safe to be different, unless the language of rights and the realities of power conventionally and commonly align.

What else do we need to know or need to rethink? Elites who delight in cosmopolitanism and diversity need to listen carefully to individuals and communities who tell us about the times that diversity exhausts, weakens or exasperates them. That’s not just in the case often described by social justice activists, who justifiably point out that having to explain your difference to majority or dominant groups largely for the educational benefit of those dominant elites is at the absolute minimum a tiring cost of co-existence and at the worst feels degrading and affirming of the power of those elites. It’s even true in situations where groups have some degree of parity in their social power and have substantial reservoirs of understanding about the other social worlds that exist alongside them. It’s true even for groups that are dominant over others: they do not need remedies or special consideration, but their emotional experience of difference matters in trying to make sure that diversity and pluralism thrive as real values that are actually held by consensus. In-group social life has all the affordances (and dangers) of intimacy: the possibility that you can simply exist without explanations, in comfortable fellowship. That you can have the inward discoveries that long shared experience allows. Much of our valedictory rhetoric about pluralism and diversity ignores, downplays or denigrates the value of exclusive social belonging, or justifies it only in an instrumental and functionalist sense that historically oppressed groups need such exclusivity in order to feel safe. But this feeling is not just practical or politically necessary: it is in some sense a necessary part of a good pluralism. Without groups that also have a sense of exclusive, inward belonging and intimacy, there is no pluralism. Without heterogeneity that is genuine, there is no diversity.

We are often blithe about just how hard it is to live in a continuously diverse or heterogenous situation, how abrading it can be to a sense of selfhood and autonomy to have to constantly defer to every other practice or lifeway in the name of being happily multicultural. We also forget how profoundly confusing it is in the context of everyday life to have to distinguish between the diversity that we are called to embrace and the divergence that we are called to oppose or condemn. Educated cosmopolitans sometimes act as if this is a simple matter (though others, thankfully, regard this as among the hardest kind of everyday work we do as human beings.) We have got to acknowledge how hard it is to do, and how many difficult cases there can be when we set out to distinguish between a way of life that we should embrace as part of the range of diversity and a way of life that we should condemn as a violation of basic democratic or moral principles. The current trend in a lot of left or liberal activism is the opposite, to mock and condemn some for their hesitation at that boundary and to see the distinction between the two as obvious and undebatable. When we act as if it’s easy to be pluralistic, as if it’s a simple and obvious moral imperative to embrace diversity at all times and in all places, we are again substituting a narrow, class-bound and institutionally privileged habitus for the values we hope to see our entire society adhere to. It’s not even easy, really, for highly educated professionals who live within communities that have a picture-perfect kind of visual diversity. Until we let people have back a kind of honesty about what’s hard about living with difference and hard about being labelled as different, we will see people quietly slip away from pluralism. More and more will come to see pluralism as the parochial view of a narrow elite, as the specific cultural belief of a specific kind of person who lives somewhere else.

We also have got to get real about when pluralism and diversity have at least some relationship to the zero-sum games that neoliberalism in particular but not neoliberalism alone or exclusively have established within the global economy. Here I do not mean the idea that racism is an ideology that the dominant elites encourage in some subordinate but favored group of proxies for the sake of social control. I mean instead simply this: that if there is a fixed pool of wealth and power with an upper bound, then a justly pluralistic society where diversity is protected and supported is also a society that is redistributive. Even in a situation where that redistribution was absolutely equitable, that means some people will have less than they did. A lot of elite liberal or left commenters who live in more privileged situations with mannered cosmopolitanism tend to either politely ignore objections about redistribution or to regard redistribution as a just outcome about which they are entitled to gloat–as long as it’s happening to someone else. Now the real answer to all of this has nothing to do with pluralism or diversity: it is really about the ghastly consequences of extreme concentration of wealth in very small groups, and about the need to find as many ways as possible for economic and material life to not be subject to strict zero-sum limitations. People who believe in pluralism and diversity as supreme social values are not doing their cause any favors when they mock or ignore fears among those who stand to lose some wealth or power, however modestly or justly, if we move towards a more just and equitable kind of pluralism.

All of this points the way to more listening, less telling. In particular, more listening about how people experience difference and pluralism. Maybe even the best parts of that experience are not what political and cultural elites in many nations expect. The 21st Century cannot become more securely pluralistic, more committed to diversity in all nations and across nations, unless the people and institutions that hold to those values stop lecturing and hectoring and condescending to those who have violated, condemned, or most worrisome of all, quietly and without fuss slipped away from those values. A better world will be, must be a pluralistic one. The desire to make that the world we live in has had and will continue to have real enemies who have to be fought. But it needs many more friends than it has, and that takes doing more work to keep the friends we have and seek out the ones we’ve lost.

Posted in Politics | 5 Comments

Welcome to the Skinnerdome

I think a tremendous amount of writing so far this election season about the Presidential race shows primarily that the effect of social media on public discourse is increasingly dire. Here’s the thing: I would characterize the majority of what I have read as arguing that the convictions people have declared are only held by them because of some form of prior social ideology or consciousness, that they are not based on anything “real” in terms of a particular candidate’s likely policies, rhetoric or record.

When we’re dealing with large-scale voting patterns, a certain amount of sociological musing is completely appropriate, because that’s what the patterns make visible–that this group of people likes a certain person more or less, etc. At that level, sociological thinking is explanatory and it is also an important part of arguing for or against particular candidates in terms of reading what they mean and what they will do.

But when we bring that into an address that’s meant to speak to particular individuals to whom we are connected via social media, it feels, first of all, reductive: as if those individuals whom we have chosen to be connected to are no more than their sociologies. More importantly, the arguments we have at this point feel straight out of B.F. Skinner: many writers in social media treat other people as if they are something to be conditioned–to be pushed this way or that way with the proper framing. With the punishment of scolding and call outs if they’re being sociologically bad, with praise and attention if they’re expressing the proper selfhood. We begin to be the master of our own little Skinner boxes rather than as human beings in rich conversation with other human beings. We begin to think of each other person in our feeds as a person to be punished and rewarded, conditioned and shaped. We stop thinking of our own reasons why we believe in a particular candidate, why we think *or* feel what we think or feel. More importantly, we stop thinking of the reasons why someone else feels or thinks that way, and stop being curious about those reasons if they’re not being shared or enunciated. The difference in their views starts to be merely exasperating, the manifestation of an enemy sociality. Disagreement starts to be like an untrained puppy making messes in our space: we give treats, we hit noses with rolled-up newspaper. If the puppy doesn’t learn, we euthanize. We start thinking of “frames”, of rhetoric as the way to run our Skinner box. We don’t persuade or explain, we push and pull.

I think there’s a reason why formal debate named “ad hominem” as a logical fallacy. It’s not that arguments are not in fact a result of the personalities or sociologies of the people making them. We’ve all had to argue with people whose arguments are motivated by spite or some other emotional defect or are defenses of their social privileges. But it is that allowing ourselves the luxury of saying so during the discussion short-circuits our capacity to engage in future conversation–it becomes the default move we make. We start to have conversations only when someone who is a shining paragon of virtue in our eyes steps forward. (And that person increasingly may become someone who is emotionally and sociologically identical to ourselves.) One by one human beings around us vanish, and so too does evidence, inquiry, curiosity. We end up in a landscape of affirmation and disgust, of reaction to stimuli–e.g., as we Skinner box others, so too are we Skinner boxed.

Posted in Blogging, Information Technology and Information Literacy, Politics | 3 Comments

Three Thoughts on the Nomination of Hillary Clinton

1. This is simple. If Hillary Clinton loses the election to the possibly the most unpopular, polarizing and vulnerable Presidential candidate in American history, I will not blame her. I will, however, blame her supporters, aides and the Democratic party leadership. If she were to lose, it would not be because of her gender or even because of her own relative personal unpopularity. If she were to lose–and I hope very much and believe that she is going to win–it will be because her party is structurally hamstrung and continues to nominate uninspiring technocrats whose main electoral virtues are that they are not the Republican candidate and that they are competent and well-trained. In this sense, gender notwithstanding, Clinton is pretty much the same as Kerry, Gore and Dukakis. (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are somewhat similar in their actual governance but at least have a more charismatic style of leadership.) If Clinton were to lose, then it is not the Republican Party that is over, but the Democratic Party: that would be a sign that the one major usefulness of the party is finally exhausted. If she loses, we all have a nightmare on our hands, but I for one intend to pause just long enough to remind her supporters that just about the only thing they had to offer was her alleged electability.

2. It is not the loss of Clinton that I fear most, though that prospect is so terrifying that it barely bears thinking of, because I don’t think she’s going to lose. It is her victory that worries me.

Let’s imagine a best-case scenario in which Clinton wins in a landslide, the Democrats regain the Senate, and the House shifts to a near 50-50 balance. A situation not that far off from 2008. What do I think we can anticipate as positive outcomes in that situation?

First, the leaders of the Republican Party will have finally gone off the cliff in their three decades-long game of chicken with populist anger. That might well interfere with their ability to block or constrain the kinds of useful policy leadership that Clinton is capable of providing. The logjam at the Supreme Court and in other appointments might be broken. Some modest and incremental attempts to address income inequality might be in the offing.

Second, Clinton will continue the use of the executive branch as a kind of spoils system for the political class, meaning that she primarily will not look all across the country for appointees who bring a mixture of fresh thinking and meritocratic skills to executive leadership but instead pull from the same pool of Democratic stalwarts who already know to pitch their ideas within the confines of what the party leadership and its chief pool of financial backers are prepared to consider. That approach often gets competent and admirable people for government, but it also prevents the White House or the Congressional leadership from considering both new specific policy ideas and more fundamental challenges to their entire way of thinking about the nation’s (and the world’s) problems.

Third, this lack of freshness will be particularly evident in national security policy. America’s unending war will continue uninterrupted, and our intelligence and law enforcement agencies will largely have carte blanche to do as they see fit with little to no meaningful oversight.

So that’s not that bad compared to the alternative, certainly. Some good things will happen, some bad things, but none of the upper bound of the bad is anything approaching Trump’s possible upper bound of transformative disaster. Why am I so worried about four years of Clinton?

It is not enough. Because I think Clinton and all the people surrounding her are very nearly incapable of recognizing, let alone responding to, the actual crisis they will be facing. That crisis is not Islamic militants. It is not political stalemate or Republican obstructionism. It is not police brutality and the scourge of racism. It is not income inequality or a lack of financial regulation. It is not even or only the structural transformation of the global political economy through technological change and social reorganization. All of those seemingly disparate things are only symptoms of a general problem.

The general problem is that the modern liberal nation-state and its characteristic institutions are simply no longer capable of delivering on their baseline promises and possibilities to any national population anywhere. Even in nations that appear by most measures to be successful, the state withers due its lack of vision. Liberalism cannot handle the extension of its rights to all who are entitled, and its major alleged champions increasingly endorse depraved forms of military and economic illiberalism in the name of its defense. The brief moment of reform in which capital seemed to be harnessed to social democracy is very nearly over, and the difference between illicit and licit economies now seems paper-thin at best. Very little policy gets made because it’s the right thing to do; most policy is about transfer-seeking. Every dollar is spoken for. Every play is a scrum in the middle that moves the ball inches, never yards. Political elites around the world either speak in laughably dishonest ways about hope and aspiration or stick to grey, cramped horizons of plausibly incremental managerialism. Young people all around the world recognize that there is little hope of living in a better or more comfortable or more just world than their parents did, and their grandparents must often live every day with the possibility of losing whatever they’ve gained, that they are one lost job or sickness away from falling without a safety net.

In the United States, what this all means in a more immediate sense is that Donald J. Trump is only the beginning. He may have a peculiarly American cast to his authoritarian populism, but he has his counterparts elsewhere in the world, many of whom have enjoyed or threaten to enjoy similar electoral success or other access to power. We reach out for analogies, fascism most prominently, but those are useful only in suggesting the dangerousness of our moment.

So I worry about a Clinton Presidency because it is at best likely to be a stalling action in the face of this gathering storm, and at worst may well accelerate and aggravate its arrival. Trump is only the herald; his successor will likely be a more fearsome, skillful and dangerously plausible version who will speak directly to the spirit of desperation in the hearts of many. Clinton doesn’t understand what’s out there in the world. She will allow herself to be lulled by the notion that the election of a woman on the heels of the election of an African-American is progress and that all opposition to them is just the dead-end reactionary impulses of a dying order. Her vision will be clouded by a swarm of blandishing pundits whose understanding of social change and political challenge is confined to horse-race predictions and the delivery of favors and services to various clients.

3) Let’s be optimistic and suppose that Clinton turns out to have depths I don’t suspect, or that the leadership of the Democratic Party and various liberal supporters don’t just spend two years schadenfreuding themselves about the Republicans and then start to panic when it becomes clear that Trump and Sanders voters were the canaries in the coal mine, a sign of profound alienation from the way things are. What could she actually do if my description of the scale and character of crisis were real?

The first thing she or other leaders could do is simply start talking honestly and straightforwardly about these problems–with a bit of real passion and anger mixed in. No more polling. No more Bill Clinton-style searching for small but popular initiatives that can get a favorable day or two in the news cycle. Only connect. That would be the first revolution. It’s what they don’t do at Davos or G8 meetings. It’s what they don’t do in Brussels or inside the Beltway. Start talking about what’s really going on out there and start talking to people in ways that are about what’s really going on.

The second thing she could do is talk about and explore, again with passion, anger and fearlessness, how a system of checks and balances has turned into a system of chokepoints and barriers. It’s not just Republican obstructionism, though that has contributed mightily. What we need is a genuine investigation of and national conversation about how thinking about the future turned so small and cramped, unless it’s jackass billionaires who want to be immortal and live on Mars. When people voice their frustration with the political system and register low approval ratings for almost the entirety of the political class, that’s what they’re responding to: that everything that requires a mixture of vision, will and competency gets sandbagged and obfuscated by people who either have something to gain from inaction or who are hoping to capture any action to their own exclusive advantage, whether that’s crafting a response to the Zika virus, dealing with crumbling infrastructure, or rebuilding an economy that works for most people. Most of us can see plainly what needs to be done on a variety of fundamental challenges in front of us–only a few of them are genuinely and irresolvably difficult in both moral and technical terms. The mystery, which a real leader might explore and confront, is what stands in the way of the doing. In many cases, it is the very systems that we presently believe exist to solve problems.

That’s all. I don’t expect magic solutions from anyone, especially Clinton. But I think visionary leadership now might simply be speaking to the scale and nature of the human crisis of the 21st Century, rather than trying to beat a few more years out of a queasy admixture of technocratic managerialism and a sort of insincere, half-hearted invocation of New Deal liberalism shorn of all passion or promises. It’s enough to recognize the crisis and speak to it. That alone is startling, and accounts in some measure for both Trump and Sanders having the success that they’ve had.

Just being in charge for the next four years? That’s enough to guarantee losing control of the future entirely, I fear.

Posted in Politics | 26 Comments

On the Arrival of Rough Beasts

One of the things I find most interesting about the history of advertising is the long-running conflict between the “creatives” and their more quantitative, data-driven opponents within ad agencies. It’s a long-running, widespread opposition between a more humanistic, intuitive, interpretative style of decision-making and professional practice and a more rules-driven, empirical, formalistic approach.

The methodical researchers are generally always going to have to create advertisements and construct marketing campaigns by looking at the recent past and assuming that the near-term future will be the same. In an odd way, I think their practices have been the analog equivalent to much of the algorithmic operations of digital culture, trained through the methodical tracking of observable behavior and the collection of very large amounts of sociological data. If you know enough about what people in particular social structures have done in response to similar opportunities, stimuli or messages, the idea goes, you’ll know what they will do the next time.

My natural sympathies, however, are with the creatives. The creatives are able to do two things that the social science-driven researchers can’t. They can see the presence of change, novelty and possibility, even from very fragmentary or implied signs. And they can produce change, novelty and possibility. The creatives understand how meaning works, and how to make meaning. They’re much more fallible than the researchers: they can miss a clue or become intoxicated with a beautiful interpretation that’s wrong-headed. They’re either restricted by their personal cultural literacy in a way that the methodical researchers aren’t, and absolutely crippled when they become too addicted to telling the story about the audience that they wish was true. Creatives usually try to cover mistakes with clever rhetoric, so they can be credited for their successes while their failures are forgotten. However, when there’s a change in the air, only a creative will see it in time to profit from it. And when the wind is blowing in a stupendously unfavorable direction, only a creative has a chance to ride out the storm. Moreover, creatives know that the data that the researchers hold is often a bluff, a cover story, a performance: poke it hard enough and its authoritative veneer collapses, revealing a huge hollow space of uncertainty and speculation hiding inside of the confident empiricism. Parse it hard enough and you’ll see the ways in which small effect sizes and selective models are being used to tell a story, just as the creatives do. But the creative knows it’s about storytelling and interpretation. The researchers are often even fooling themselves, acting as if their leaps of faith are simply walking down a flight of stairs.

This is only one manifestation of a division that stretches through academia and society. I think it’s a much more momentous case of “two cultures” than an opposition between the natural sciences and everything else. If you want to see this fault line somewhere else besides advertising, how about in media-published social analysis of this year’s presidential election in the United States? Glenn Greenwald and Zaid Jilani are absolutely right that not only have the vast majority of analysts palpably misunderstood what was happening and what was going to happen, but that most of them are now unconvincingly trying to bluff once again at how the data makes sense, the models are still working, and the predictions are once again reliable.

The campaign analysts and political scientists who claim to be working from rock-solid empirical data will never see a change coming until it is well behind them. Up to the point of its arrival, it will always be impossible, because their models and information are all retrospective. Even the equivalent of the creatives in this arena are usually wrong, because most of them are not really trying to understand what’s out there in the world. They’re trying to make the world behave the way they want it to behave, and they’re trying to do that by convincing the world that it’s already doing exactly what the pundit wants to the world to do.

The rise of Donald Trump is only the most visible sign of the things that pundits and professors alike do not understand about which way the wind is blowing. For one, Trump’s rise has frequently been predicted by one set of intuitive readers of American political life. Trump is consequence given flesh, the consequence that some observers have said would inevitably follow from a relentless disregard for truth and evidence that’s been thirty years on the making, from a reckless embrace of avowedly instrumental and short-term pursuit of self-interest, from a sneering contempt for consensus and shared interests. He’s the consequence of engineering districts where swing votes don’t matter and of allowing big money to flood the system without restraint. He’s what many intuitive and data-driven commenters have warned might happen if all that continued. But the election analysts can’t think in these terms: the formal and understood rules of the game are taken to be unchanging. The analysts know what they know. The warning barks from the guard-dogs are just an overreaction to a rustle in the leaves or a cloud over the moon.

But it’s more than that. The pundits and professors who got it wrong on Trump (and who are I think still wrong in understanding what might yet happen) get it wrong because the vote for Trump is a vote against the pundits and professors. The political class, including most of the Republican Party but also a great many progressives, have gotten too used to the idea that they know how to frame the narrative, how to spin the story, how to massage the polls, how to astroturf or hashtag. So many mainstream press commenters are now trying to understand why Trump’s alleged gaffes weren’t fatal to his candidacy, and they’re stupidly attributing that to some kind of unique genius on Trump’s part. The only genius that Trump has in this respect is understanding what was going on when his poll numbers grew rather than dropped after those putative gaffes. The content of those remarks was and remains secondary to his appeal. The real appeal is that he doesn’t give a shit what the media says, what the educated elite say, what the political class says. This is a revolt against us–against both conservative and progressive members of the political class. So of course most of the political class can’t understand what’s going on and keep trying to massage this all back into a familiar shape that allows them to once again imagine being in control.

Even if Trump loses, and I am willing to think he likely will by a huge margin, that will happen only because the insurgency against being polled, predicted, dog-whistled, manipulated and managed into the kill-chutes that suit the interests of various powers-that-be is not yet coalesced into a majority, and moreover, is riven internally by its own sociological divisions and divergences. But even as Trump was in some sense long predicted by the gifted creatives who sift the tea leaves of American life, let me also predict another thing: that if the political class remains unable to understand the circumstances of its own being, and if it is not able to abandon its fortresses and silos, the next revolt will not be so easily contained.

Posted in Academia, Oath for Experts, Oh Not Again He's Going to Tell Us It's a Complex System, Politics | 1 Comment

Dramatic Arc

Me at the beginning of a class meeting where I’ve assigned one of my favorite books.

Me realizing that maybe a quarter of the class read it with any real attention despite the fact that I already said it’s going to be an essay question on the final.

Me inside as we wind down the class.

Posted in Academia, Swarthmore | 6 Comments

Cost Control Is a Progressive Value

If you are a long-time reader of this increasingly intermittent blog, you know I have some recurrent frustrations and fascinations that I return to again and again. Sometimes in fact the blog is intermittent because I am afraid I am becoming a bore on those themes.

One of these recurrent issues for me is the financial sustainability of higher education. On one hand, I aspire to some skepticism about the neoliberal attempt to produce scarcity where it does not need to exist, out of belief that the mindset of scarcity produces proper decisions about value, that homo economicus behaves wisely whereas people who feel they live amid plenty and security waste resources and underproduce value. It’s not just that the moral underpinnings of that view are barren and repellant, it’s also that it is plainly empirically untrue whether we’re talking universities or companies. Realism about limits and constraints is a good thing, but artificially producing constraints in order to compel a winner-take-all struggle and squeeze productivity out of people has already destroyed much of what the 20th Century usefully accomplished towards the forging of saner, kinder, and more richly meaningful societies.

But the opposite of phony scarcity is not “we’re rich, so we can do whatever we want”. Which is a view that I hear sometimes from local and national colleagues and students, that in order to reject scarcity we must never be deterred by or involved in determinations of financial and material limits to our resources. That for one is one of the major ways that tenure-track faculty in many institutions became at least passively complicit in the casualization of academic labor. Acting as if one’s own teaching load or service obligations or labor is a matter of strictly personal or departmental negotiation with an administrative head, and the larger implications of the outcome of those negotiations are somebody else’s business is how in some cases we ended up with curricula that dictated that matriculants had to take courses that couldn’t possibly be staffed out of the available tenure-track labor force. Faculty at some institutions participated slowly and incrementally in the building of a curriculum that could never be possibly staffed by even the wealthiest institution and then blamed administrators for the shift to impoverished, marginalized and excluded laborers.

Though of course they are to blame in many universities, and for doing a great deal that has made all sorts of financial situations worse. Faculty and students may sometimes push for and be appallingly naive about institutional growth, but one of the basic reasons to have academic administrations in the first place is to keep a university or college close to its essential mission, and to resist relentlessly additive expansion of that mission.

The late Marshall Berman’s book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air has a marvelous analysis of Faust as the “primal Growthman”, as the quintessential example of a modern archetype, the person dedicated to a vision of modernity as not only ceaselessly mutable but dedicated to the replacement of all that we have with more than we have, with the making of all things into bigger things, with accumulation and expansion. It’s not a surprise to me that the most heedless and energetic Fausts of our own times are now restlessly looking to “disrupt” anything that seems to expand too slowly. Some of that’s about money, about financial Alexanders who weep because there are no worlds left to conquer, no investments left to make. Some of it very nearly a religious or sacred belief: that whatever seems to stand still is an offense. No wonder too that people like Elon Musk are shilling for Mars colonies and asteroid mines. Faust is hungry for the same reason Cookie Monster is: tired of waiting for a batch from the oven, he’s eaten the spoon, the pan, the mixer, the table. The cookies are as good as eaten already: they were eaten before they were even mixed.

Do not feed the Faust. That’s really what reaching sustainability is going to be about. At every moment, in every conversation, in every plan and meeting and process, any progressive academic who pays even the remotest attention to sustainability in higher education (or elsewhere) is going to invariably ask: what can we repurpose or reuse? If we want novelty, or change, or difference, if we believe in originality and innovation, what can we do differently? So in that sense, one thing we should always be alarmed about is any sign that adminstrators (or colleagues) have found a new source of revenue. Even if that’s about making up cuts in public support, which is how University of California administrators defend bringing in more out-of-state students with relaxed admission standards, new revenue (or even replaced revenue from a new source) is always imagined as temporary but effectively becomes permanent from the moment it is integrated into an operational budget. Whatever was done to secure new revenue will have to be done forever after. Growth quickly requires itself unless it’s limited, finite and finished all in a single momentary flash, unless it is only for a single specific purpose.

I think in a way most of us know it, and that’s why academics are so temperamentally conservative. We know that whatever new things we do will eventually be at the cost of something we are already doing, unless we sign on as little apprentice Fausts. But that’s the harder habit that sustainability in all our life will eventually call upon us to accept and even embrace, to live impermanent lives. We will need to build yurts where now we build fortresses, to move on as the intellectual seasons change. I think we can offer working lives of security and satisfaction within an academy that doesn’t grow. Impermanence in the work we do and the missions we accept is not precarity. But the only way we get there is to accept that if we don’t talk about cost and limits and budgets in this spirit, no one else in our present worlds will. That kind of talk cannot be outsourced, it cannot be deferred, it not someone else’s business. When temptation comes in the form of bigger and more (though not in the form of restoration and preservation, which are sorely needed), we’ll have to be able to turn it down.

Posted in Academia, Politics | 2 Comments

A Chance to Show Quality

Romantic ideals of originality still remain deeply embedded in how we recognize, cultivate and reward merit in most of our selective systems of education, reputation and employment. In particular we read for the signs of that kind of authentic individuality in writing that is meant to stand in for the whole of a person. Whether it’s an essay for admission to college, a cover letter for a job, an essay for the Rhodes or Fulbright, an application for research funding from the Social Science Research Council or the National Science Foundation, we comb for the signs that the opportunity-seeker has new ideas, has a distinct sensibility, has lived a life that no one else has lived. Because how else could they be different enough from all the other worthies seeking the opportunity or honor so as to justify granting them their desires?

Oh, wait, we also want to know, almost all of the time, whether the opportunity-seeker is enough like everyone else that we can relate their talents, ideas, capabilities, plans and previous work to the systems which have produced the applicants. We want assurances that we are not handing resources, recognition and responsibility to a person so wholly a romantic original that they will not ever be accountable or predictable in their uses. We want to know that we are selecting for a greatness that we already know, a merit that we already approve of.

This has always been the seed that grows into the nightmare of institutions, that threatens to lay bare how much impersonality and distance intrudes upon decisions that require a fiction of intimacy. Modern civic institutions and businesses lay trembling hands on their bankrolls when they think, however fleetingly, that there is a chance that they’re getting played for fools. That they are dispensing cheese to mice who have figured out what levers to push. That when they read the words of a distinctive individual, they are really reading the words of committees and advisors, parents and friends. That they are Roxane swooning over Christian rather than Cyrano, or worse, that they are being catfished and conned.

The problem is that when we are making these choices, which in systems of scarcity (deliberately produced or inevitably fated) must be made, we never really decide what it is that we actually value: unlikeness or similarity, uncertainty or predictability, originality or pedigree. That indecision more than anything else is what makes it possible for people to anticipate what the keepers of a selective process will find appealing. Fundamentally, that boils down to: a person with all the qualifications that all other applicants have, and a personal experience that no one else could have had but that has miraculously left the applicant even more affirmed in their qualifications. Different in a way that doesn’t threaten their sameness.

I’ve been involved in a number of processes over the years where those of us doing the selecting worried about the clear convergence in some of the writing that candidates were doing. We took it to be a sign that some candidates had an advantage that others didn’t, whether that was a particularly aware and canny advisor or teacher, or it was some form of organized, institutional advice. I gather that there are other selective institutions, such as the Rhodes Foundation, that are even more worried, and have moved to admonish candidates (and institutions) that they may not accept advice or counsel in crafting their writing.

The thing is, whenever I’ve been in those conversations, it’s clear to me that the answer is not in the design of the prompt or exercise, and not in the constraints placed on candidates. It’s in the contradictions that selective processes hold inside themselves, and in the steering currents that tend to make them predictable in their tastes. When you try to have it all, to find the snowflake in the storm, and yet also prize the snowfall that blankets the trees and ground with an even smoothness, you are writing a human form of algorithm, you are crafting a recipe that it takes little craft to divine and follow. The fault, in this case, lies in us, and in our desires to be just so balanced in our selection, to stage-manage a process year in and year out so that we get what we want and yet also want what we get.

Maybe that was good enough in a time with less tension and anxiety about maintaining mobility and status. But I suspect the time is coming where it will not be. Not because people seek advantage, but because anything that’s predictable will be something relentlessly targeted by genuine algorithms. Unpredictability is never a problem for applicants or advisors, always for the people doing the selection or the grading or the evaluation. If you don’t want students to find a standard essay answer to a standard essay prompt, you have to use non-standard prompts. If you don’t want applicants to tell you the very moving story of the time they performed emergency neurosurgery on a child in the developing world using a sterilized safety pin and a bottle of whisky, you have to stop rewarding applicants who tell you that story in the way that has previously always gotten your approval. If what we want is genuine originality, the next person we choose has to be different from the last one. If what we want is accomplished recitation of training and skills, then we look for the most thorough testing of that training. When we want everything, it seems, we end up with performances that very precisely thread the needle that we insistently hold forth.

Posted in Academia, Information Technology and Information Literacy, Swarthmore | 3 Comments

Opt Out

There is a particular kind of left position, a habitus that is sociologically and emotionally local to intellectuals, that amounts in its way to a particular kind of anti-politics machine. It’s a perspective that ends up with its nose pressed against the glass, looking in at actually-existing political struggles with a mixture of regret, desire and resignation. Inasmuch as there is any hope of a mass movement in a leftward direction in the United States, Western Europe or anywhere else on the planet, electoral or otherwise, I think it’s a loop to break, a trap to escape. Maybe this is a good time for that to happen.

Just one small example: Adam Kotsko on whether the Internet has made things worse. It’s a short piece, and consciously intended as a provocation, as much of his writing is, and full of careful qualifiers and acknowledgements to boot. But I think it’s a snapshot of this particular set of discursive moves that I am thinking of as a trap, moves that are more serious and more of a leaden weight in hands other than Kotsko’s. And to be sure, in an echo of the point I’m about to critique, this is not a new problem: to some extent this is a continuous pattern that stretches back deep into the history of Western Marxism and postmodernism.

Move #1: Things are worse now. But they were always worse.

Kotsko says this about the Internet. It seems worse but it’s also just the same. Amazon is just the Sears catalogue in a new form. Whatever is bad about the Internet is an extension, maybe an intensification, of what was systematically bad and corrupt about liberalism, modernity, capitalism, and so on. It’s neoliberal turtles all the way down. It’s not worse than a prior culture and it’s not better than a prior culture. (Kotsko has gone on to say something of the same about Trump: he seems worse but he’s just the same. The worst has already happened. But the worst is still happening.)

I noted over a decade ago the way that this move handicapped some forms of left response to the Bush Administration after 9/11. For the three decades before 9/11, especially during the Cold War, many left intellectuals in the West practiced a kind of High Chomskyianism when it came to analyzing the role of the United States in the world, viewing the United States as an imperial actor that sanctified torture, promoted illiberalism and authoritarianism, acted only for base and corrupt motives. Which meant in some sense that the post-9/11 actions of the Bush Administration were only more of the same. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. But many left intellectuals wanted to frame those actions as a new kind of threat, as a break or betrayal of the old order. Which required saying that there was a difference between Bush’s unilateralism and open sanction of violent imperial action and the United States during the Cold War and the 1990s and that the difference was between something better and something worse. Not between something ideal and something awful, mind you: just substantively or structurally better and substantively or structurally worse.

This same loop pops up sometimes in discussions of the politics of income inequality. To argue that income inequality is so much worse today in the United States almost inevitably requires seeing the rise of the middle-class in postwar America as a vastly preferable alternative to our present neoliberal circumstances. But that middle-class was dominated by white straight men and organized around nuclear-family domesticity, which no progressive wants to see as a preferable past.

It’s a cycle visible in the structure of Howard Zinn’s famous account of American history: in almost all of Zinn’s chapters, the marginalized and the masses rise in reaction to oppression, briefly achieve some success, and then are crushed by dominant elites, again and again and again, with nothing ever really changing.

It’s not as if any of these negative views of the past are outright incorrect. The U.S. in the Cold War frequently behaved in an illiberal, undemocratic and imperial fashion, particularly in the 1980s. Middle-class life in the 1950s and 1960s was dominated by white, straight men. The problems of culture and economy that we identify with the Internet are not without predicate or precedent. But there is a difference between equivalence (“worse now, worse then”) and seeing the present as worse (or better) in some highly particular or specific way. Because the latter actually gives us something to advocate for. “Torture is bad, and because it’s bad, it is so very very bad to be trying to legitimate or legalize it.” “A security state that spies on its own people and subverts democracy is bad, and because it’s bad, it’s so much worse when it is extended and empowered by law and technology.”

When everything has always been worst, it is fairly hard to mobilize others–or even oneself–in the present. Because nothing is really any different now. It is in a funny kind of way a close pairing to the ahistoricism of some neoliberalism: that the system is the system is the system. That nothing ever really changes dramatically, that there have been in the lives and times that matter no real cleavages or breaks.

Move #2: No specific thing is good now, because the whole system is bad.

In Kotsko’s piece on the Internet, this adds up to saying that there is no single thing, no site or practice or resource, which stands as relatively better (or even meaningfully different) apart from the general badness of the Internet. Totality stands always against particularity, system stands against any of its nodes. Wikipedia is not better than Amazon, not really: they’re all connected. Relatively flat hierarchies of access to online publication or speech are not meaningful because elsewhere writers and artists are being paid nothing.

This is an even more dispiriting evacuation of any political possibility, because it moves pre-emptively against any specific project of political making, or any specific declaration of affinity or affection for a specific reform, for any institution, for any locality. Sure, something that exists already or that could exist might seem admirable or useful or generative, but what does it matter?

Move #3: It’s not fair to ask people how to get from here to a totalizing transformation of the systems we live under, because this is just a strategy used to belittle particular reforms or strategies in the present.

I find the sometimes-simultaneity of #2 and #3 the most frustrating of all the positions I see taken up by left intellectuals. I can see #2 (depressing as it is) and I can see #3 (even when it’s used to defend a really bad specific tactical or strategic move made by some group of leftists) but #2 and #3 combined are a form of turtling up against any possibility of being criticized while also reserving the right to criticize everything that anyone else is doing.

I think it’s important to have some idea about what the systematic goals are. That’s not about painting a perfect map between right now and utopia, but the lack of some consistent systematic ideas that make connections between the specific campaigns or reforms or issues that drawn attention on the left is one reason why we end up in “circular firing squads”. But I also agree that it’s unfair to argue that any specific reform or ideal is not worth taking up if it can’t explain that effort will fix everything that’s broken.

4. It’s futile to do anything, but why are you just sitting around?

E.g., this is another form of justifying a kind of supine posture for left intellectuals–a certainty that there is no good answer to the question “What is to be done?” but that the doing of nothing by others (or their preoccupation with anything but the general systematic brokenness of late capitalism) is always worth complaining about. Indeed, that the complaint against the doing-nothingness of others is a form of doing-something that exempts the complainer from the complaint.


The answer, it seems to me, is to opt out of these traps wherever and whenever possible.

We should historicize always and with specificity. No, everything is not worse or was not worse. Things change, and sometimes neither for better nor worse. Take the Internet. There’s no reason to get stuck in the trap of trying to categorize or assess its totality. There are plenty of very good, rich, complex histories of digital culture and information technology that refuse to do anything of the sort. We can talk about Wikipedia or Linux, Amazon or Arpanet, Usenet or Tumblr, without having to melt them into a giant slurry that we then weigh on some abstracted scale of wretchedness or messianism.

If you flip the combination of #2 and #3 on their head so that it’s a positive rather than negative assertion, that we need systematic change and that individual initiatives are valid, then it’s an enabling rather than disabling combination. It reminds progressives to look for underlying reasons and commitments that connect struggles and ideals, but it also appreciates the least spreading motion of a rhizome as something worth undertaking.

If you reverse #4, maybe that could allow left intellectuals to work towards a more modest and forgiving sense of their own responsibilities, and a more appreciative understanding of the myriad ways that other people seek pleasure and possibility. That not everything around us is a fallen world, and that not every waking minute of every waking day needs to be judged in terms of whether it moves towards salvation.

We can’t keep saying that everything is so terrible that people have got to do something urgently, right now, but also that it’s always been terrible and that we have always failed to do something urgently, or that the urgent things we have done never amount to anything of importance. We disregard both the things that really have changed–Zinn was wrong about his cyclical vision–and the things that might become worse in a way we’ve never heretofore experienced. At those moments, we set ourselves against what people know in their bones about the lives they lived and the futures they fear. And we can’t keep setting ourselves in the center of some web of critique, ready to spin traps whenever a thread quivers with movement. Politics happens at conjunctures that magnify and intensify what we do as human beings–and offer both reward and danger as a result. It does not hover with equal anxiety and import around the buttering of toast and the gathering of angry crowds at a Trump rally.

Posted in Blogging, Information Technology and Information Literacy, Oh Not Again He's Going to Tell Us It's a Complex System, Politics | 4 Comments