Archive | March, 2016

The revolt of the public and the rise of Donald Trump | the fifth wave

31 Mar

A meticulous study of Donald Trump’s biography, statements, and policy “positions” will reveal no hint of political direction.  It’s not that Trump is contradictory or incoherent.  He’s ideologically formless.  His claim to business competence is nullified by inherited wealth and several bankruptcies.  His supposed nationalism consists of complaining about countries in which he has invested his own money (“I love China, but…”).  He’s going to make America great again – yet that’s a wish, not a program.  A run at the US presidency has been concocted out of a disorganized bundle of will and desire.

A candidate deprived of direction can only drift on the stream of public opinion.  Or to flip that around:  the dizzying rise of Trump can best be understood as the political assertion of a newly energized public.  Trump has been chosen by this public, for reasons I’ll have cause to examine, and he is the visible effect, not the cause, of this public’s surly and mutinous mood.  To make him into an American Hitler or a world-historical figure of any sort, let me suggest, would be to distort reality as on a funhouse mirror.

The right level of analysis on Trump isn’t Trump, but the public that endows him with a radical direction and temper, and the decadent institutions that have been too weak to stand in his way.

The American public, like the public everywhere, is engaged in a long migration away from the structures of representative democracy to more sectarian arrangements.  In Henri Rosanvallon’s term, the democratic nation has devolved into a “society of distrust.”  The reasons, Rosanvallon argues, are deep and structural, but we also have available a simple functional explanation:  the perception, not always unjustified, that democratic government has failed to deliver on its promises.

Source: The revolt of the public and the rise of Donald Trump | the fifth wave

Is universal mistrust the moral foundation of this stage of capitalist society?

31 Mar
Over at Crooked Timber Corey Robin has a post, The Bernie Sanders Moment: Brought to you by the generation that has no future. Here’s the first paragraph:
Last week I met with a group of ten interns at a magazine. The magazine runs periodic seminars where interns get to meet with a journalist, writer, intellectual, academic of their choosing. We talked about politics, writing, and so on. But in the course of our conversation, one startling social fact became plain. Although all of these young men and women had some combination of writerly dreams, none of them—not one—had any plan for, even an ambition of, a career. Not just in the economic sense but in the existential sense of a lifelong vocation or pursuit that might find some practical expression or social validation in the form of paid work. Not because they didn’t want a career but because there was no career to be wanted. And not just in journalism but in a great many industries.
The discussion has been going on a bit, as many discussions do at Crooked Timber. I was particularly struck by this observation by George Scialabba (comment 156):
It would be interesting to know, if one could quantify such things, what proportion of all the communications one receives (or better, perhaps, the stimuli one experiences) in an average day are some form of advertising or marketing. I’d guess a large majority. In which case, a hypothesis presents itself: the nature and function of human communication has altered. Through most of history, the default reaction to any communication was “this is what the speaker believes.” One needed only to judge the credibility of the speaker in order to know how to act. In the 21st century, after generations of saturation advertising, much or most of it deceptive or at least manipulative, the default reaction is “this is what the speaker, for some purpose of his/her own, wants me to believe.” Virtually all public communication may safely be presumed to be aiming at some effect, rather than simply at conveying information or conviction. Finding out what the speaker actually believes, much less what’s actually true or false, is the hearer’s responsibility: caveat auditor. Universal mistrust is the moral foundation of this stage, at least, of capitalist society. Hence, honesty is no longer the best policy.

E. O. Wilson on preserving biodiversity

5 Mar

This week he publishes his 32nd book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, in which he argues that we must set aside half the earth a preserve for non-human life. Claudia Dreifus interviews him in The New York Times:

Q. Why publish this book now?

A. Because a lifetime of research has magnified my perception that we are in a crisis with reference to the living part of the environment.We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along.

Reading your book, one senses you felt a great urgency to write it?

The urgency was twofold. First, it’s only been within the last decade that a full picture of the crisis in biodiversity has emerged. The second factor was my age. I’m 86. I had a mild stroke a couple of years ago. I thought, “Say this now or never.”

And what I say is that to save biodiversity, we need to set aside about half the earth’s surface as a natural reserve. I’m not suggesting we have one hemisphere for humans and the other for the rest of life. I’m talking about allocating up to one half of the surface of the land and the sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

In a rapidly developing world, where would such a reserve be?

Large parts of nature are still intact — the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, New Guinea. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife. In the oceans, we need to stop fishing in the open sea and let life there recover. The open sea is fished down to 2 percent of what it once was. If we halted those fisheries, marine life would increase rapidly. The oceans are part of that 50 percent.

So, what about Trump, eh?

2 Mar
I’m afraid I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the astonishing rise of Donald Trump. Like just about everyone else – including, who knows, even Trump himself – I didn’t take him seriously. I figured he wasn’t in it to win, just to get publicity. Now it looks like he’s stuck making a serious run for it. He’s the favorite for the GOP nomination and, after that, who knows?
On the other hand, I can’t say that, however his political viability scares me, I’m deeply surprised that something like this is happening. Some years ago, as some of you may know, David Hays and I developed a descriptive account of cultural evolution [1], which allows for radical discontinuities in historical development. It was clear to us in our original discussions back in the late 1970s and after, and it is clear to me now, that we are living in an era of discontinuity.
The ascendency of Donald Trump can certainly be read as a symptom of a deep discontinuity. But if that is so, then how can we predict the future? If the discontinuity is THAT deep, then the past and immediate present give us little or know basis on which to make predictions. We’re at sea on a strange planet.
* * * * *
In an editorial from yesterday (March 1, 2016), The New York Times suggests that the Republicans brought this on themselves:
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday, after months of such games. He sounded naïvely unaware of the darker elements within the Republican Party, present for decades, and now holding sway: “This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln.”
The Republican Party is taking a big step toward becoming the party of Trump. Those who could challenge Mr. Trump — Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — are not only to the right of Mr. Trump on many issues, but are embracing the same game of exclusion, bigotry and character assassination. That Mr. Rubio would make double entendres about the size of Mr. Trump’s hands and talk about Mr. Trump wetting his pants shows how much his influence has permeated this race and how willingly his rivals are copying his tactics.
Does this mean that the Republicans are now helpless to stop Trump from getting the nomination?

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