The Root of Our Politics

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” ― Jean Racine

In the last post a General Behavior Pattern of

Emotions->(Thinking, maybe)->Behavior

emerged which appears to be broadly applicable. One of those applications seems pretty much to be a universal description of our current domestic politics,

    • We choose to believe by faith that Conservatives (or Liberals, or Democrats, or Republicans) are responsible for screwing up this country. We can “prove” this by simply reading the media reports about how they have failed to act on solving the problems we see in this country. This is our position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up our Stronghold defense against them and any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  We will take action to further prevent their ruining of this country (How Everything Became the Culture War; Why the Left Is Consumed With Hate).

If you consider the ongoing three-year dramas of Brexit in the UK, other political activities in the rest of Western Europe (the EU), the world, and campaigning in the US, the same narrative can easily be applied.  It would appear that Jean Racine was on to something, other than the sense of comedy.

These same polarized western political activities over the last few years are what led Vladimir Putin to proclaim that liberalism, the ideology that has underpinned Western democracies for over two hundred years, had “outlived its purpose.”

I don’t think that the original liberalism has outlived its purpose (not what we currently call liberalism, but rather what it meant based upon John Locke’s political philosophy, here).  I think we’ve just forgotten what it is exactly (or were never taught it completely, a subject for another post) and have inadvertently (or deliberately) strayed from its intended practice.  Along the way we keep forgetting what it continues to provide us (The Many Deaths of Liberalism) in spite of trying to declare it dead.

Our current political behaviors bear a startling resemblance to the General Behavior Pattern above: lobbing flaming arrows over the walls of our strongholds, either into other nearby strongholds or onto innocents milling around below, and opening our gates only when someone mumbles the correct password.

Similar behavior can also be found in the following author’s comment from a post on Quora,

“Note: Unfortunately I’ve had to disable comments for my answer due to a string of recent comments which I believe are coming from the same person or persons with multiple accounts they use to flame answers they disagree with…”

It is becoming all too clear that this type of behavior is being enabled by the anonymity of the Internet both to avoid having a civil discussion face-to-face and to justify muddying the waters (The Grim Consequences from Studying Fake News).  And it is being amplified in the political arena.

Common Ground (soft, marshy, and stinky, at that)

One compelling observation over the last few decades or so is that the pendulum, once reflecting John Locke’s liberalism which helped establish this country’s foundation, has swung the other way with increasing pressure to take up one flavor or another of socialism.  This reflects the developing disconnect between our freedom and our responsibilities.  (Locke’s philosophy dealt with ways to provide individual freedom; it did not do so by eliminating responsibilities.)

Be realistic and honest, all of us have issues and problems, whether individual, family, clan or tribe.  We certainly have issues as a nation (as a whole, as well as in our sub-cultures) as all nations do.  Identifying issues is not the problem – admitting them and then agreeing on solutions, priorities and plans is.

If I had to characterize politicians (and politics) based on their reproducible behavior with respect to issues, it would be this way:

Progressive Liberals – great at defining a problem as a simple idea; poor at providing a realistic executable plan; and very poor at monitoring outcomes and consequences.

Conservatives – also great at defining a problem as an idea; better at trying to identify a realistically executable plan before running with it, and continually concerned about monitoring outcomes and consequences (probably too much so).

This is not to say conservatives are not guilty of throwing out an unsupported idea to create political impact.  Consider Boris Johnson, conservative PM of Britain and trying to leverage a deal to exit the EU:

Election Pitch| Boris Johnson continued to lay the ground for a general election in his comments following the Queen’s Speech Monday, promising “a new age of opportunity for the whole country” and a “high wage, low tax economy, with the highest environmental standards.”  He also drew attention to the Tories’ spending pledges for the state-run National Health Service.  (Brexit Bulletin; October 14, 2019; ideas & pledges, no plan).

(In hindsight, what does one actually do to Make America Great Again?  I have a not-so-vague idea but it conflicts with the reality I see.)

For the good order, let it be said that since the media spends more than sufficient time on the current administration’s behaviors, I’ll not focus on them (other than the above comment) but leave connecting them to the General Behavior Pattern as an exercise for the reader.  Go to it!

This leaves the other stronghold.  To be fair, while the techniques are similar on all sides (and participants), both the messages and messengers percolating to the top of this other stronghold through the same General Behavior Pattern are only beginning to receive superficial scrutiny. I say superficial because there are a few perceptive people out there but the majority is not perceptive enough.  One of the reasons for this is how over the last 50 years or so, like qualifying for the Olympics, we’ve changed our “political qualifying events” running up to a party’s convention.  Therein lies an issue (and possibly another blog post as well).

Let’s poke around the main “other” folks active in this “Running for President” season.

In order for this to focus just on the behaviors and how these resonate with the General Behavior Pattern above, we’ll leave out names.  (Identifying them is also left as an exercise for the motivated reader.  Hint: if clicking is easier than thinking, try one of the links).  There are two or three main contenders at the moment.  I will pick just one to start (studying the other two is an additional exercise for the motivated reader).  Some interesting observations from the media taking time to ‘think things through’ are the following,

    • This candidate has surged in the polls, as of this date (mid-October) now commanding a double-digit margin over second place, (nameless).
    • This candidate’s rise in the polls has been accompanied by positive media attention, in fact, the most friendly stretch of media coverage of any presidential candidate since a previous guy in 2008 (here)
    • This candidate is also the kind of candidate journalists love to cover — because the candidate is running on “policy ideas” (here).  Also notable, Journalists spend a lot time on Twitter.  And “Twitter********loves******* ❤this candidate” (here).
    • There are surging reports that this candidate is looking “too far to the left.” There’s a decent amount of evidence that candidates who are too far to the left or right are a bit less electable than candidates who are moderate (here).
    • However, the politically tuned-in people and policy experts in the candidate’s Party appear to have already moved “five ticks over on the progressivism odometer” (i.e., left) in the last four years (compared with the previous guy’s presidency, here)
    • The candidate’s campaign has had a very solid communications ethos and effort since the very beginning — “since they ran that ‘angry candidate’ last September” (here).  (Note: Here we see the rise of “anger” in the General Behavior Pattern.)
    • The candidate might have arrived at a strategy that has worked well: being extra to the left and framing the campaign as “having a plan” (‘I have a plan for that’: ***** leads the political party’s ‘ideas primary’) (also here)
    • The candidate continues to Fix the Blame on capitalism, the rich, and Wall Street, all the while continuing to maintain, “I am a capitalist.” (see also below)
    • The candidate’s first book manuscript (2003) was returned by the editor. “It seems the candidate had just turned in what the author thought was a mostly finished manuscript of the candidate’s first mass-market book.  But the editor had one major criticism.  The author, the editor worried, had spent more than 160 pages of text and a further 50-plus pages of endnotes delineating a litany of data-backed reasons that bankruptcies and debt were going up and the middle class was going down.  The author had described what was happening, and had diagnosed why, and had presented possible solutions for legislators, regulators and wonks.  Nowhere, though, had the author offered the actual people who were bearing the brunt of these crushing economic forces anything approaching practical advice. …  Eventually an ‘18 page chapter was tacked on.’ ”  (In other words, the original premise of the book was fixing the blame followed by regulating them to the ground.  That citizens bore any ability or responsibility was a ‘tack-on’ afterthought.  Here)

Looking closely at recent history one can see the Stronghold being built up and reinforced over time, with the timely addition of anger as a main component. “Institutions and their implementation of capitalism are to blame, along with their leaders who become rich” is the message launched from the fort.  New additional information is not admitted, or if admitted it is massaged to support the original Stronghold foundation: “They are to blame, and we must regulate and redistribute” (note the current ‘policy ideas,’ below.)  The message is designed to elicit an emotional reaction (rapid agreement before contemplation) triggered by anger at the current status.  Looking around, this is time honored political rhetoric and strategy.

But when some thought is eventually put in (here Gap Theory shows itself), what are the media reactions?  “What does this particular Stronghold actually mean?”

    • Put simply, the candidate’s momentum spells bad news for the Party. The candidacy is centered around far-left, big-government policies that once appealed only to the leftmost fringes of the party.  To be sure, the candidate’s recent surge in the polls is indicative of how far left the party has moved and suggests that the party will nominate a radical candidate who is unpalatable to independents and moderates, two groups essential to beating the other candidate. (here)
    • Key components of the candidate’s platform include expanding the reach of the federal government to tackle core inequities in American society, particularly through greater Wall Street oversight and policies to reduce income inequality by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans (here, here, and here). (These ignore other contributors to this inequality, one of which was identified by the candidate’s book editor in 2003 but which has not yet been recognized or incorporated in anyone’s policy ideas)
    • “As remarkable as the candidate’s life story is the sheer scope of the ambition to transform a system that the candidate believes fails ordinary people. Plenty of the candidate’s ideas are good. The candidate is right to try to limit giant firms’ efforts to buy politicians and gobble up rivals.  But at its heart, the plan relies on regulation and protectionism while underestimating the dynamic power of markets to help middle-class Americans.  As it stands, it is not the answer to America’s problems” (The Economist, October 24, 2019, also New York Times).  (However, both of these resources fail to identify a critical additional factor in a solution.  Again, for another post).

There are a couple of other data points (Missing Information recently revealed) that are pertinent to the substance of these policies.  Remembering that these policies are designed to “expand the reach of the federal government to tackle core inequities in American society” (above), what does this mean in actuality?  Moving from idea to plan apparently means increased taxes on the rich and redistributing them to those suffering core inequalities.  Unfortunately, according to the above references, the increased tax inflow is not enough to cover the ‘planned’ outflows.  (Stop a moment and think about this.  When an NFL team has a game plan for Sunday’s game, it is a specific executable approach of what they are going to DO.  Short of any executables, the “plan” above to increase taxes and redistribute them is less of a plan than a stuffed idea.)

However, the idea itself sounds as if there is a real heart and concern for the poor, the disadvantaged and the lower middle class.  Perhaps I am naïve, but I would tend to think that this heart attitude would also be exhibited in personal life (remember, Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice). Which is where it gets interesting.

“Most” all the major candidate’s tax returns (with one exception) have been publically released (here). Looking at these for both total income as well as amounts given to charity (a behavior of “helping others in need,” those suffering more from “core inequalities”) is rather enlightening:

    • None of the candidates are middle class, probably not even upper middle class;
    • Taxable incomes for all are at least high 6 figures if not more; wealth is not reported except elsewhere (there’s a difference, remember);
    • Charitable giving, the response from the heart and one valid metric of values and priorities, is surprisingly small for this stronghold. Candidate’s charitable giving as percentages of taxable income was:
      • 0.3% ($1,166 out of $370,000);
      • 3.4% ($36,300 out of $566,000);
      • 1.4% ($27,000 out of $1,900,000);
      • 1.9% ($6,600 out of $338,500);
      • 1.7% ($3,750 out of $215,000);
      • 5.5% ($50,000 out of $906,000); and
      • 4.1% ($8,295 out of $203,000).
  • On the other hand, one politician from across the aisle was mentioned: 29.4% (yes, that is correct: $4 million out of $13.7 million).

Over all, these numbers, except one, seem pretty pathetic.  To paraphrase, “I hear what you’re saying, but your wallet’s moving in the other direction…and your hand is moving in the direction of mine.” And by the way, what are you doing with the rest?

It gives pause about the real reasons for publicly talking about improving “core inequalities” when private behaviors are missing.  If that is indeed a passion, then there should be both history as well as deeply informed understanding of all of the factors contributing to these inequalities, not just to throw money at them. Especially when it is someone else’s,

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” – Margaret Thatcher

Which leads us to the question, “Why are we so easily taken in by these approaches?”  Part of the answer is due to Gap Theory and Emotions – we react from emotions before we “think out” the fullness and possible consequences to the event or comments.  Another other part is a lack of understanding, probably coupled with a lack of motivation to reach any understanding.

To whit, how many people understand a major but subtle difference between socialism and capitalism?

Socialism– socialism’s main purpose is to redistribute currently existing wealth.  It is not creative in any sense.  In theory, socialism will work very well in a small community where everyone knows one another, a commune or kibbutz (a Dunbar Group).  In this case it operates as a zero sum game, redistributing to a hoped for equality. In practice we don’t live in small communities, we live and depend upon a much larger social environment.  A larger social environment requires a middleman, organization, or institution to collect and redistribute.  And this “middleman” will not work for nothing – a ‘pound of flesh’ will be extracted to support the required activity.  As a result, in practice socialism becomes a negative sum game in which there will be less to redistribute than was collected.  This is particularly true historically when the “middle person” is a government (well known for its ability to manage money).

Capitalism– capitalism’s main purpose is to put capital to work in processes that create more value and therefore wealth.  In theory it operates as a positive sum game due to material, services, and intellectual value that is created. In practice, it works very well,

“Because of capitalism, we are privileged to live in what may only be described as an anomaly in history, a fluke of monumental proportion.  We live in a time where most people have more wealth, better lifestyles and more freedom than has been the case across a vast expanse of history” (here).

However, in practice it is also not perfect – primarily due to imperfect human beings that are involved in it (i.e., all of us).  For the most part, there are over 30 million businesses in the US (here) that practice capitalism without a hitch, and probably well over 200 million if you consider individual family units as “capitalistic entities” with income (revenue), costs (expenses), savings (reserves), and value added in the form of labor skills (physical and mental) made available.  Even with a few rotten apples (Enron, Worldcom; criminals), a few more going bad (bankruptcies, corporate and individual), the defect rate is rather miniscule.  If the golden goose is doing well but occasionally puts out a brown egg, one doesn’t kill off the goose.

Given this highly variable “understanding” of the world we live in, and a contributing factor of our being raised to fit within culturally acceptable “understanding” bubbles (Regression to the Cultural Mean), what else influences how we attempt to reach “understanding”?  That will lead us to education, and a worthy topic for a next post.

Food for thought –think about the scale of positive (joy) and negative (anger) emotions from last post, and the negative consequences of unfettered anger and its resulting behaviors.  You are probably also aware that there are uncountable Anger Management courses for organizations and counselors to recommend and use.  But have you ever heard of a Joy Management course?

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 00: Bubbles, 02: Value Added, A Definition, 04: Games People Play, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 09: Doing, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory, Lessons from History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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