November 6th, 2010

purple hair

How To Keep Voters With You Forever, or What We Talk About When We Talk About Duverger's Law

So I'm a bit late to the game with this trifecta of links, and maybe what I have to say has already been said elsewhere, but what the hell:

How To Keep Someone With You Forever -- a concise guide to some extremely effective techniques for stringing someone along in a shitty job or relationship by placing them into a "sick system". There's some remarkably high-quality material in the comments here, particularly about sick institutional systems. Keep those bits in mind if you read them.

Please ignore the title of Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative. In light of the proposition that this article makes (more on which momentarily), that distinction is really rather meaningless (ditto). In the last few years, there's been some interesting psychology research that bleeds over into sociology and political science; it identifies five dimensions of moral reasoning, and their fieldwork indicates that "liberals"1 value two of these dimensions most highly (fairness, harm/care) while "conservatives" value all five (the other three being loyalty, authority, and purity) about equally. Rebecca Goldstein observed, and Greta Christian recounted, that the virtues of fairness and prevention-of-harm are reciprocal -- or, in their terms, "universalizable" -- whereas the other three are not. When two people deal with one another, they can agree on what they consider fair, and for everything else there's the time-honoured standard of equality before the law. The simplest reciprocal statement of a moral standard in the harm/care dimension is the old libertarian saw, "Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose," and we extend this to our systems of criminal and tort law. And these are indeed universalizable; mathematically, the same "fairness function" and "harm/care function" are defined for every pair of people in the set that constitutes that society, and F(x,y) == F(y,x). Not so for the other three; if standards of morality in these dimensions provide that X and Y must treat one another differently when X is a [draft-dodger | war protester | thought-criminal], or when Y is a [cop | Party official | Alpha], or when one of them is a [rape victim | Untouchable | Jezebel], F(x,y) != F(y,x).

I took a couple of the surveys on Haidt's site (the ones they'd used in their studies) and, big surprise, I prioritize the fairness and harm/care dimensions highly and come out far lower on the other three. Which is kind of funny, because while I'm sure my neocon reader thinks I'm a Flaming Libruhl, most of my actual liberal/progressive friends find me quaintly conservative and most Europeans think I'm frighteningly right-wing. I suspect many of my objectivist/libertarian friends fall into the same camp. (In before Rand-wank: I'm sure you've met lots of objectivists who were shitty people. I don't befriend shitty people. Carry on.) But anyway, it seems rather daft to identify this particular clustering as "liberal" and another as "conservative", as those terms have to do with altering or preserving the status quo, as the case may be2. I don't have a better term for it -- "reciprocal moralist" is pretty clunky -- but it would be nice to see something more, you know, descriptive rather than the supposedly prescriptive but aggravatingly mutable-over-time terms commonly in use now.

And for the hat trick, How Conservative Values Create Sick Systems, which synthesizes the theses of the two articles above to criticise jingoism, the Southern Strategy, the financial crisis ... none of those directly by name, mind, but those are just the first things that pop to mind.

But what I actually want to talk about is the US two-party system. Well, mostly the Democrats. But generally the entire system.

I probably hear it most from LGBT quarters, but I've noticed a growing sentiment that the Democratic Party has a number of constituencies that it's perfectly happy to throw under the bus when it's convenient. But these constituencies continue to vote staunchly Democrat, because bones do get thrown from time to time, and these successes are trumpeted as reasons why it is imperative that you, the queer/black/disabled/&c voter must spend your time, your money, your social capital, to get us through THIS NEXT CRISIS!!1!

I mean, maybe it's just the mailing lists I've ended up on by way of signing petitions or whatever, but goodness, the language of emotional involvement and cyclic crisis is right there, everything will be "better when", but so much has to be done right now that it's enough to wear anyone out ... are mailing lists for, oh, I dunno, creationism in schools or banning abortion quite so stridently demanding?

For that matter, is there a perception among some conservative constituencies that they're being thrown under the bus? I do not know these things, and am looking forward to seeing what comes up in comments. Arguably this is how the Tea Party got started, and why it contains such a baffling consortium of moderate libertarians angered by eight years of flagrantly irresponsible Republican spending and fundagelicals who think the GOP isn't "conservative enough": they all left at the same time and it was a sort of association of opportunity.

Or, if you look at it from the other direction, perhaps the Democratic Party is playing the Keep Them With You Forever game with its disaffected membership more effectively than the GOP did. And what bugs me -- what really, really bugs me -- is the rah-rah-loyalty, rah-rah-authority rhetoric that emanates from the White House just as strongly today as it did three years ago. Seriously, guys, we have a president who asserts that he can eavesdrop and order hits on American citizens with impunity. This is fucked. People are not flipping their shit every day about this why?

The system is sick. The system is not about proportionally representing the interests of the citizenry. The system is about perpetuating itself. It does so, on all of our backs, and will continue to do so until we can fix it or get the hell out.

1 Scare quotes used from here on out. Note, FWIW, that in Belgium, "liberal" means someone whose beliefs in the US would register as far right-wing.
2 I can see the argument that a system which perpetually seeks to maximize its ability to provide fair treatment for its members and reasonably protect them from harm would always be evaluating its performance and looking for ways to improve, so that might indeed be a system that resists the status quo by design, arguably describable as "liberal".