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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is Trump the New FDR?

One thing that caught my eye when thinking about Trump is the following (via Arnold Kling's askblog):
Often he acted not by following any grand design but by sheer instinct, hastily improvising. . .He deliberately fostered disarray among his own people. . .Disorder, delays, and muddle were frequently the watchwords; problems were met principally by improvisation, not long-term strategy.
When I read that, I thought the writer (Jay Winik), was writing about Trump. It turns out, however, that he was writing about FDR. And now that I think about it, FDR and Trump have a lot of similarities in addition to those noted above:

  • Use of Communications Technology: FDR pioneered the effective use  by a President of that cutting edge technology of the day, radio, while Trump pioneered the use of Twitter.
  • Infrastructure Projects: Both were/are big supported of massive government supported projects, FDR via the WPA, Trump, for example, wants to build a massive wall separating Mexico and the United States.
  • Wealth: Both were/are extremely wealthy, yet appealed politically to the common/deplorable man/woman.
  • Great Britain: FDR was allied with Great Britain, Trump wants to form and even tighter alliance with Great Britain.
  • Russia: FDR allied with the communists in Russia to defeat Hitler; Trump was allegedly helped in his campaigning by the Russians.
  • Political Opposition: Both were/are profoundly hated by their political opposition.
Many have noted that Trump is an anomaly by being the first person to win the presidency after never having held political office, not to mention having people of both parties against him as well as the media and being outspent 2 to 1 by his opponent.

But he still, by definition, has to have some past president that he's most similar to. I think that past president is FDR. What do y'all think?

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Boundaries of Morality

One common argument made for an ideology or narrative is that it's the only moral narrative; all others are immoral. That argument pretty much never convinces anybody because almost everybody thinks they're moral. Indeed, even violent criminals (including murderers) think themselves moral:
The reasons behind violence are varied, but a common belief is that criminals act from a breakdown of morals.
But now, researchers in California claim most acts of violence come from a very different impulse - the desire to do the right thing.
The article calls the study "controversial" but it fits very closely with the observations of my lifetime. For example, I've never once yet met anyone who's said, "I'm a totally immoral asshole and I'm cool with that!" Don't get me wrong, I've met plenty of people who I think are totally immoral assholes, but they don't believe that. Nobody ever believes that.

Another article provides more detail:
Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations. [...]
It would be easier to live in a world where perpetrators believe that violence is wrong and engage in it anyway. That is not the world we live in.
It's not that murderers didn't get that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" memo that was delivered to Moses' iPad (or however he got it) all those years ago. Rather it's that the commandments are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual commandments (to paraphrase Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean).

Many things bound the very simple "Thou Shalt Not Kill" commandment. One key boundary is that it only applies to your tribe or nation (group of tribes). There were constant wars during the time that the commandments were developed and a great deal of God's glory in the oldest religious texts comes from all the foes of the tribe that He slew or that He assisted tribe in slaying. For most of man's time on earth, the tribe was the boundary of morality. As long as it didn't hurt the tribe, anything could be done to those outside the tribe. It was shameful to do anything that hurt the tribe but not at all shameful to do things to those outside the tribe - even including murder.

When I was a child roughly a half-century ago, I had the impression that the nation of the United States was what I would now essentially call a gigantic tribe bound together by the Constitution and other ideological constructs. As such, the commandments were to be applied as best possible to everybody in the entire nation/tribe.

Globalism's primary tenet is that everybody in the world should be treated the same and that national boundaries are artificial and contrived and should be weakened and ignored as much as possible. While that sounds ideal, I suspect it is turning out to be disastrous.

Why? Because I believe most people need to part of at least one tribe. What I've observed is that the relentless onslaught of globalization has been accompanied by the fracturing of the citizens of the United States into a group of tribes that are essentially in a cold war with each other and I believe that it's a war that will turn quite hot before this century ends. The tribes are grouped by races and genders and status and geography. The tribes have adopted narratives that are impossible to reconcile yet are very, very strongly believed by members of the tribes.

The narratives are irreconcilable because each tribe believes their narrative to be absolutely moral and that every other narrative is totally evil. I'm now going to repeat one of the quotes above:
Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.
From ISIS to Black Lives Matter to White Extremists to Progressives to Libertarians to Conservatives to Coastal Elites to Heartland Workers, etc., we are reverting to tribalism and we will revert to horrendous violence, not because we are immoral, but because of "perceived moral rights and obligations."

Happy New Year!