On American Democracy
In American political discourse we frequently hear the term “our democracy.” For example, the Russiagaters are fond of this term. The term grates. The sound of the utterance “our democracy” is not as bad as the sound of fingernails scratching a chalkboard, but it’s reminiscent.
It’s been said that a great advantage of democracy is that there will be no wars under it. Since the people have no desire for war they will not vote for it. The people do not have the motive the dictator or king or queen has to start war for self enrichment. But the United States has started more wars than any other country. What is to account for this? Is the United States really not a democracy, or are the people more warlike than has previously been thought?
Twenty years ago I predicted a presidential race between Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg. How can that be you ask, since twenty years ago it was unimaginable that either of these men would be a presidential candidate. I predicted it metaphorically. I said that lesser-of-two-evils voting would someday lead to its advocates saying, “You better vote for Mussolini or else Hitler is going to win.” Lesser-of-two-evils voting allows the Democratic Party to move to the right. And the Democratic Party’s move to the right allows the Republican Party to move even further to the right. Had the fearful leftists formed a strong third party twenty years ago we would not be in the predicament we are today.
Some leftists, the cynical faction of the left-wing movement, have a different description of lesser-of-two-evils voting. They make the radical claim that lesser-of-two-evils voting is actually a corporatist strategy for maintaining power. They start with the premise that lesser-of-two-evils voting allows both parties to move to the right. Then they conclude that this allows the Democratic Party to simultaneously: (1) counter its constituents’ interests and, (2) garner its constituents’ support in a way that supports corporatist interests. Here’s the evidence.
Joseph Biden won the most elections in the 2020 presidential primary election. In every, or almost every, state the exit polls showed a majority of the voters favored the creation of the single-payer health care system advocated by Biden’s opponent, Bernie Sanders. But Biden had openly and honestly stated that he opposed a single-payer system. And yet the voters who supported Sanders’ policy voted for Biden because they thought that Biden would have the best chance of defeating President Trump in the general election. So by instilling fear of the greater evil, the ruling corporate elites are able to scare the people into voting for the other candidate committed to preserving corporate power. In the end the corporatists are guaranteed the health industry stays in the hand of private insurance companies against the wishes of the majority of the voters.
Can such a cynical theory be correct? The answer to this question is beyond the expertise of a retired engineer, not to mention the fact that with the shelter-in-place order all the libraries around here are closed. Plus the big research library in this area is across the bay, and I can never find a place to park in Berkeley. And BART doesn’t run to Marin County. Perhaps answering this question is a job for a Marxist intellectual. I’m not gonna fool with it. I’m just telling you what I heard.
I say that the party that fails to advocate for ranked-choice voting has forfeited its right to complain about a third party being a spoiler. But some will object. The cynics on the left will say that, with my use of the word “forfeited,” the claim is too strong. The cynics will say that the Democratic Party, for example, doesn’t forfeit anything but rather depends on spoiler campaigns. The spoilers are fodder for the blamers. Another American characteristic shared by both Democrats and Republicans is failing to take responsibility for their own actions by blaming others. And so the left-wing cynic says that the Democrats need the Green Party, Russia, and whatever else to blame for its losses.
On American Capitalism
How can there be self-rule in a country whose economy is based on consumer capitalism? Since the people are brainwashed by advertising to buy so many products of questionable value, how do they engage in critical thinking in the political realm? Does the consumer who in the afternoon impulsively buys products as she checks out of the supermarket, then engage in critical thinking when watching the news in the evening? Or in a presidential campaign do people suddenly and radically switch into critical thinking mode? Or did Michael Bloomberg’s rise in the polls show that even in the political realm a candidate is just another commodity to sell?
You don’t need a Marxist intellectual to tell which way the wind blows. The oligarchic nature of the United States and the dominance of the capitalist elites is so transparent that anyone with an open mind can see it.
I assert that under the American capitalist system the shortages we see in medical equipment as a result of the devastating impact of the coronavirus could not have been prevented. There are times in which it is useful to turn to the sophisticated and insightful analyses of left-wing thinkers and philosophers. This is not one of them. To defend the present thesis the only political theory I need refer to is that of the free-market advocates themselves. It is much simpler. You don’t need a Marxist intellectual to tell which way the wind blows. Under free market theory all that’s needed to sustain society is a free market. As a member of the far left, I refer to this as “the dictatorship of the market.” But the dictatorship of the market cannot provide for unexpected needs of the people. If there is no pandemic, there is no market demand for ventilators. The market demand for ventilators can only arise when there is already a preexisting epidemic or pandemic. The problem from a human needs perspective is that people will have to die before the market demand kicks in. Let us consider a hypothetical.
Imagine a publicly traded corporation, Good Samaritan Medical Supply, Inc. The company leadership has read the numerous predictions of a pandemic over the years and is aware of the 2018 report from Johns Hopkins University warning that the country needs more ventilators. So the leadership invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in the production of ventilators. The board of directors is now subject to a shareholders’ derivative suit for wasting corporate assets. The shareholders can claim that the hundreds of thousands of dollars should have been returned as dividends or invested in production meeting present market demand. Capitalism cannot provide all the needs of the people.
On American Political Culture
Obama and Trump killed American liberalism. Obama took the liberals out of the antiwar movement, and out of the civil liberties movement in so far as surveillance and privacy issues are concerned. Not noticing how Jeb Bush and Mario Rubio, by engaging in irrelevant (Bush) or debased (Rubio) political discourse, abandoned their standards and good sense when attacked by Trump, the liberals followed suit. In high dudgeon they lowered their standards, or otherwise demonstrated they had none. Opposing the Evil One as best as they apparently could, these liberals became the self-righteous, narrow minded, neo-red baiting, group-think conformists that in the 1950s and 60s they used to look down their noses at the conservatives for being. If this seems implausibly harsh to you, the proof is on the Daily Kos website. Additional proof is found in most liberal discourse about Russiagate.
For the conservative, the liberals should not exist. That’s because the liberal represents a vile and sacrilegious threat to the values that the conservative holds sacred. Liberals look down on conservatives who they see as know nothings. But the liberal thinks conservatives should at least exist. That’s because the liberals believe in pluralism and so the conservative has a role to play in the liberal universe. That is, the conservative’s existence helps to justify liberal theories of pluralism and diversity.
In America, the relation between the conservative and the liberal can be explained by reference to the Daoist concept of the unity of opposites. The famous circular symbol of the Dao represents this. The intertwining black and white figures can be seen to represent liberals and conservatives respectively. I used to think that American liberals and American conservatives were totally different beings. I used to think that the mainstream conservatives were uneducated, prejudiced, anti-intellectual folks who saw the world in black and white categories. They could not make logical distinctions, and adhered to ideological dogmatism. They were rigid thinkers who used ideology to quickly put people and events into a box. As a member of the far left, I saw liberals as ideological allies. I saw them as rational, open-minded, tolerant, but in some ways unaware. But the rise of Trump and Russiagate has liberals imitating the worst tendencies of the conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s. Along with other sources, the proof can be found on the Daily Kos website. In America, liberals and conservatives are a unity of opposites. While there are differences between them, they are bound together into a unity by the most American of qualities: narrow mindedness, a lack of fairness and objectivity, and adherence to dogmatism. I believe these qualities descend from American Puritanism. Consider the following.
Some Republicans want to expel Mitt Romney from the party because of his vote to remove President Trump from office. But many Democrats cannot tolerate Tulsi Gabbard’s vote of “present” on the question of whether President Trump should be impeached. In both cases the problem is that the heretic has failed to tow the party line. In America independent thinking and adherence to conscience are not respected. Here’s another example.
Many Democrats and media people attack Bernie Sanders because he dares to acknowledge that Fidel Castro adopted programs to spread literacy in Cuba. Sanders’ crime is the failure to rigidly adhere to ideological dogma. In America people do not make critical distinctions. And this is not a rare example. Such dogmatism was continually demonstrated by liberals during Russiagate. Americans may be nice, but don’t bet on them surviving the competition in the global economy. They lack the sagacity necessary for national survival.
I was born in 1947. Being acculturated as an American, I had no desire to hang out with old people. It’s different in Latin cultures, especially in Brazil. A twenty-year-old Brazilian will engage an old person as a social equal. I am now an old person. This allows me to look back to the past and learn from experience; to gain perspective. For example, I have been both a young person and an old person. And with that perspective I now see what a problem is with old people. It’s summed up by the well-known expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Many old people are handicapped by their past experiences and beliefs. And in America this includes the anti-communist, anti-Russian propaganda that was drummed into people during the Cold War. It is easy to sway the people in countries whose economies are based on consumer capitalism. Turning the people against Russia is just selling another product. It’s very difficult for old people to overcome this propaganda, this experience. This difficulty prevents the United States from adapting to changed conditions. Evolutionary theory tells us that the inability to adapt has fatal consequences.
The problem with the advocates of Russiagate is not that all of their claims are wrong. It’s that they show such bad taste. They lack perspective. They’re handicapped by their past.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s many students attempted to expand their consciousness by taking marijuana and psychedelic drugs such as LSD and mescaline. I thought that was unhealthy. As an engineering major I attempted to expand my consciousness by hanging out with anthropology, comparative literature, and Chinese studies majors because they seemed to be the most open-minded and to have great perspective. Everyone read Dostoevsky back then, and a few of us read Nietzsche. Even fewer read Zhuangzi. For many years I felt that reading these authors made me a strong person. What difficult social situation can you not face after reading Dostoevsky? And so it was that, while I looked upon them with compassion, I felt superior to those I believed were weaker because they turned to drugs or religion for an escape. Some of those who I thought were weaker became mentally ill as a result of the stress they felt in our society and economy. But in the last few years I’ve lost a little of my confidence. When looking at America and some of its problems I do not always think in a hard logical manner for solutions. I now find myself occasionally laughing at America and its problems, and more as time goes on. Is this evidence of a mental illness?
In third place behind the threats posed by global warming and nuclear war, the greatest threat to the United States is the Internet. Before the Internet the United States had more prestige than it does today. The oceans separating the country from most other countries kept much of the world from getting an intimate look at American culture. From a distance the United States is much more impressive. It put a man on the moon, it invented the Internet, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Ice Cream, the light bulb, and much much more. Not only could the Americans be seen as the leaders in science and technology, they used to be seen as hip. American culture gave rise to rock’n roll and hip hop. But the Internet has changed all that. Now people in other countries can get so close to the United States with their Internet browsers that they can see the warts: the inequality in wealth, the crumbling infrastructure, the U.S.’s relative ranking in terms of freedom of the press, civil liberties, child mortality, availability of health care and on and on. These warts are, metaphorically speaking, co-extensive with the warts found on the feral hog. Foreigners do not understand the Electoral College. It’s not clear to foreigners how the United States is classified as a democracy. Thanks to the Internet the country can be seen as backward and barbarian. To Make America Great Again it is necessary to censor or firewall the Internet. Take that as a prediction.
On American Militarism and Imperialism
Militarism is pervasive in American society. It invades almost all areas of the culture. The anchors on both Fox News and CNN engage in the religiously obsessive ritual of thanking every veteran who appears on their show for “your service.” Every professional sport I know of promotes militarism. In NBA basketball games, there are standing ovations for the serviceman who surprises his family by entering the arena when he is thought to be overseas. The major league baseball players wear camouflage uniforms for certain holidays, and if it wasn’t enough to start every game with the national anthem sometimes “America the Beautiful” is played during the seventh-inning stretch. The NFL gives the appearance of being an arm of the Pentagon. And the military seems to have recruiting advertisements on every televised college game. When I was a young girl these types of customs were associated with America’s enemies. But times have changed. This is not the country I grew up in.
When the Americans talk of protecting freedom in a particular foreign country, you better run. A lot of people are going to get killed. When I was a young girl growing up in Bakersfield, the term “commander-in-chief” was not part of American political discourse. No one said, “Vote for Dwight Eisenhower for president because he’d make a better commander-in-chief than Adlai Stevenson.” And no one said, “Vote for John F. Kennedy because he would make a better commander-in-chief than Richard Nixon.” The use of the term in contemporary American political discourse is a reflection that America has become quite a militaristic nation. After World War II the Americans saw themselves has having defeated the militarism of the Japanese and the Germans. But those days are long gone. This is not the country I grew up in.
Some historians claim that the citizens of an empire do not see that empire’s fall until many years after the fall begins. We frequently hear that the United States is a superpower. Paul Craig Roberts once asked, “How can the world’s largest debtor be a superpower?” My question is: how can a superpower lead the world in the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic?
So far I have only seen a few of foreign press accounts of the United States’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. To use a dated American expression, it seems to me that these articles take an almost “uppity” tone with regard to the superpower. Spiegel International has a particularly interesting article. We read comments like this: “Europe’s social welfare states are proving to be better prepared for keeping economies afloat in the shutdown, with measures like Germany’s short-time work furlough program and government-backed loans for companies.” And this: “Some economic scientists expect the coronavirus recession to be deeper in the U.S. than in many other industrialized countries.” It is not surprising then at the end of the article there is speculation that the economic consequences of the pandemic might be a shift in global power relations in favor of China. These European social welfare states that are claimed to be doing a better job are what the Fox News folks would call “socialist.” And depending on which of these European states are referred to even AOC and Bernie Sanders would say they are “socialist.” So if the various claims and speculations to be found in Speigel are true, it may be that the capitalist elites in the United States could have done a better job ensuring a longer dominance of American imperialism and super power status had they adopted a more humane, liberal, or “socialist” economic system. But then again, Americans do not do strategy.
Another of the interesting terms bandied about in America is “leader of the free world.” Borrowing a Daoist method of linguistic analysis, we can say that leader implies follower. So, if I may be so bold as to ask, if America is the leader, who are the followers? And once someone has identified these followers, I would ask: Do these followers have a say in whether they are followers? If so, do these followers have a say in who their leader is?
In his introduction to one of the editions of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Thomas Cleary stresses the importance of understanding that the book is a Daoist work. Philosophical Daoism, especially as found in the Zhuangzi, is an empirical philosophy. In the Zhuangzi we read of lessons learned from the observations of nature including storms, tigers, monkeys, and people. As for Sun Tzu, do not be misled by this: “As to government expenditures, those due to broken-down chariots, worn-out horses, armour and helmets, arrows and crossbows, lances, hand and bodyshields, draft animals and supply wagons will amount to sixty per cent of the total.” If you are, you may miss the many statements like this: “For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.”
Sun Tzu stressed the importance of knowing oneself and one’s enemy. Many years ago my former partner and I had a 1986 Volvo station wagon. After a while, the car radio broke and was stuck on one station. It was the local station that broadcast the Rush Limbaugh show. So for three years I listened to Rush Limbaugh while driving. I know my enemy.
How odd. The Daoist classics were written centuries before the creation of the United States. And yet the Daoist classics clearly foretell the collapse of the United States.
On American Weather
The indigenous peoples of California knew what they were doing. In the summer when it was hot in the valley and foothills, they’d move up to live in the mountains. When winter approached they’d move back to the lowlands. That is a good idea.
My aunt once told me that the early residents of Sacramento did something similar. They built two-story houses. In the winter they moved up to the second story to avoid the floods. In the summer they moved back down to the first story where it was cooler. Sacramento has way more trees than most cities. Sacramento’s trees are like the forests the indigenous peoples escaped to in order to avoid the heat. My aunt was not an historian, but that’s what she told me.
I once met a man from Boston who said that San Diego had the best weather of any city. I met a man from Vallejo who said that Vallejo had the best weather of any city in California. The man from Vallejo was right.
Okay, compañeros, un gran beso de Sausalito. Hasta la próxima.