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« "Stillness - At Kykuit" - Poem by Peter Karoff; commentary by Phil Cubeta | Main | Institutional Memory, Stories, and Community »

June 11, 2006

Comments

Michael

Well put....

How many citizens feel there is no difference between the major parties? And why do they then continue to parse matters in the dichotomies as presented?

How many global citizens see the lineage of our foreign policy as a continuitY of agression and strategic domination devoid of the principles we espouse?

phil

Coke versus Pepsi. As long as we get emotionally involved in the finer diffrences the larger similarities elude us. Democracy, as opposed to plutocrqacy/oligarchy would come as a shock to the system of both parties. Change starts with conversations at the margins, not inside the beltway, not from the think tanks, not not driven by attack ads from move.on, not accomodated to the bland mush of the mainstream media. Red versus Blue is a distraction, a Punch and Judy show for the rubes. Building community on the periphery, conversations from which I can actually grow and learn, is what interests me, not the politics of partis pris.

Michael

How much refinement is too much? At what point do we lose democracy?

I find by becoming a little bit specialized we open ourselves to the charge of not being of the people... that we are a special interest as much as the others, when our aims are democratic or in the interest of the public good.

And to some in the public, we begin to look that way.

phil

We all play two roles, one inside and one outside our trade. We are butcher, baker, etc, also citizen. Democracy is not necessarily all singing in unision, either. The checks and balances are important. "We the people," but also "E Pluribus Unum." When special interests who get their voices heard through K Street and election fundraising and think tanks are mostly the wealthiest interests (private wealth, corporate wealth) then the others, call them citizens or lesser speciali interests get crowded out.

Michael

We have to be able to defend specialized knowledge, or the benefit of having become somewhat learned in a subject area from a specialism of interest seeking benefit for a narrow group.

For some reason I think it is all to easy to get the former dismissed as if it was the latter... and frequently the former is culled together on the basis of voluntarism or individual effort, and the latter occurs amid an army of attorney's and lobbyists...

phil

Yes, democracy as knowthingism, pandering to the masses, Creationism, The Rapture, coded racism, etc. Excellence can seem like elitism to the rabble.

J. Alva Scruggs

Some of the rabble's objection to excellence is the way it's measured and who gets to do the measuring. "Who died and made you God?", is one aspect of that and another is the irrelevance of much of what is called excellence -- and may even be -- to daily life. I asked for bread and they gave me tickets to a Schoenberg concert. I wanted to talk about my interests and they lectured me on violence.

Specialized interests need the most defending when they're closest to familiar scams. Know nothingism is sometimes a defense, to short circuit a discussion which ends with a hand in the threadbare pocket. Just what makes a lawyer's time worth more than a plumber's: the immense harm that can be done to you by him and his colleagues. There are very few barn burners in the rabble. That only looks good to the mob when everything else is a sick joke.

To defend excellence, all you really need is a way to show its immediate or near term relevance to people's lives. When I need a reminder that there's a taste for beauty in there too, I think about scrimshaw, blacksmithing and music you can move your feet to.

Phil

Representative democracy was supposed to refine the process, as the prejudices of the electorate, and the craziness of some of them, was filtered out at the state and national level. Now, it seems, the top people use focus groups and marketing to exaggerate that craziness, driving wedges among us.

I think Mike's point, though, was that we are "special interests" in some respects. We are all special pleaders in some respect. And we may all also have special expertise that deserves a hearing.

The "smart mobs" approach, where a consensus emerges, and experts are said to be a hindrance, may work in some cases, but mobs are sometimes just mobs. Isn't that the rationale for representative, as opposed to plebescite, democracy?

J. Alva Scruggs

I missed those parts of Mike's point, Phil. The part about the special expertise that deserves a hearing is frustrating. Regarding that, I think especially of this author, who knows how to help people keep their humanity alive in tough times.

I think the point about experts is that they're useful politically for the how of something that needs to be done, and often a hindrance on the why of it. One small area of expertise I have is delivery methods for digital video. But my vote on whether something should webcast is worth no more than anyone else's.

I think plebiscites do have a place, but you can't hold them all the time. I've been thinking more about delegate democracy, which has too much to it for a comment. Similar to representative, but emerging from a somewhat lengthier process and without the handicap of legitimizing one of two bad choices.

Phil

Thanks, Mr. Scuggs, blogged the link here.

Michael

I await more word on delegate democracy

J. Alva Scruggs

Three good summaries are available.

European Commission scroll to #4.

Bureau Of Public Secrets definition.

Indirect democracy with a link to an unfinished Wikipedia entry.

I'd have to really wrack my brain to do it justice, but those at least are a start.

Phil

Given the degree of fantacism in certain quarters, does delegate democracy underwrite lunacy? Creationism, Constitutional Amendments to Define Marriage, denial of global warming, embrace of the rapture, etc come to mind. Do we want rule from the "streets," when the street is so given to the madness of crowds, religious fantaticism, xenophobia, jingoism? Elites can and have been captured, but populist demogagues mobilizing delegates locked into a stiff-necked agenda may not be much better.

Phil

The dangerous words are "we," "the people," "the community." You always have to imagine vividly the groups you personally most detest comandeering those terms. And they have as much right to them as the groups you personally might prefer At the constitutional level isn't the goal to set up checks and balances and buffers so that "factions" that call themselves "we the people," or "the community," or "the saved," or whatever do not overwhelm the others? Representatives have little slack and sometimes slack is the best alternative to fisticuffs among factions who simply cannot agree at the grassroots level.

Of course, given slack or discretion, the privilege may be abused, and the representative may end up representing those who fund the campaign and provide the propaganda dollars to galvanize the electorate around emotive issues. That seems to be increasingly our reality. The check and balance is the vote, but the vote seems like a purchase in marketing, one that can be swayed heavily by propaganda, expensive propaganda, purchased with the funders dollars, ultimately electing representatives responsive to funders.

J. Alva Scruggs

What moderates lunacy now? There's no reason a delegate democracy would have to dispense with a constitution, the concept of precedent and some nod to the overall traditions and mores. BOP Secrets also emphasizes the importance of taking the economic circumstances into account. A more just system would probably lessen some of the tensions that make fanaticism appealing. The biggest fanatics are the downwardly mobile and those who feel in immediate peril of disastrous loss. It needn't a bunch of feckless cranks text-messaging each other for prank while the stores get looted around them.

phil

I would settle for a constitutional democracy in good working order.

J. Alva Scruggs

The problem with the one we've been trying to build is due in no small part to the representative class finding the most important parts of the constitution an impediment to effective rule. I'd wager the delegates of all the different interest groups would take a much more generous interpretation of the enshrined rights. How else could the groups keep their unique character?

There really is no aspect to delegate democracy that rules out a constitution and a bill of rights. Phil, I don't see how you can have any kind of governance without a covenant like that. It might be nice to add the Four Freedoms, however, but the bill of rights we have is serviceable already. That bill and the Declaration of Independence are works of genius.

phil

The setup is a work of genius, but the most ordinary people have corrupted it.

et alia

Mr. Cubeta in response to Maestro Scruggs' links: “Given the degree of fantacism in certain quarters, does delegate democracy underwrite lunacy? Creationism, Constitutional Amendments to Define Marriage, denial of global warming, embrace of the rapture, etc come to mind.”

If these are examples that come to mind, Mr. Cubeta has obviously not read Maestro Scruggs' links. Also, raising the spectre of “populist demagogues” while ignoring how such demagogues are created in this time and this nation is scare-mongering. The indigenous nutters have limited appeal and negligible resources; the mass-market variety have all the forces of capital around them. All one has to do to see this is to compare a Fred Phelps to George W. Bush.

The obstacles to a healthy, more democratic society in the US, but bottom-up demagoguery is not one of them.

Phil

et., now, please, I did indeed look at the links, though maybe not grasped all the points. "In delegative democracy, delegates are selected and expected to act on the wishes of the constituency. In this form of democracy the constituency may recall the delegate at any time. Delegates are expected only to transmit the decisions of electors, advance their views, and if they fail to do so they are subject to immediate recall with only minimal process." What I was suggesting from Dallas is that our "delegate" to DC would likely be highly conservative on social issues. He or she would not have much discretion or wiggle room to become more urbane. He or she would just carry the message, not negotiate or moderate the message, and that message might well be "The Christian Worldview."

What am I missing as to the risks here?

I agree that the threat to representative constitutional democracy includes, say, "signing agreements," 24/surveillance, the unitary executive, and many other ills. I don't think these are flaws in the constitutional setup, but rather in the way we have let that setup be finessed.

The World We Want could use a Marxist perspective. Would you be willing to supply it?

J. Alva Scruggs

If you do have people who are constitutionally unfit for democracy, then there is no form of government that's going to be viable. Our crippled, oligarchic representative continues to limp along in spite of dimbulb SUV yuppies, Phelps, the Windsurfer and the Decider. Why might that be? It might be because in the main, people are a whole lot better than is popularly believed. If people are fit to get out and vote every two years, after being bombarded with bunkum from idiot pundits, they may very well be fit to spend six weeks a year discussing policy like adults and selecting the delgates to go negotiate with other delegates.

It's laudable to try and patch up a deliberately broken system, but it's also a good idea to see if there's something better that could be tried too.

As to how the system got finessed, that's a feature, not a bug and it would actually take very little to iron out. A legislature that was properly jealous, institutionally jealous, of its powers would eat the "unitary executive" alive. The legitimacy exists in greater quantity the more truly representative a body is. Delegates whose purpose is affirmed in a rigorous process, not this disneyfied cretin/counter-cretin farce are going to be less susceptible to the shills of K Street and the think tank "scholars". They could vote their cushy berths out of existence. They would have no need of them at all, being in no need of talking points or money for perception management.

J. Alva Scruggs

The ways people have selected delegates for other things include: church meeting, round table discussions with many small tables where people mingle and gradually focus on the most interesting, barbecues and the from pleasures of the New England town meetings, with its unmatchable hard wood seating and sober bellowing over infamies. Would any of those harm our current process?

phil

But you are hashing out policy locally and sending an emissary to deliver the decision from the caucus. Who follows the endless flow of bills? Isn't it necessary at some level to have paid staff sort through all the legalisms and provide the gist? Do you really think people can take the time to sort all this out, even if they have the background?

Money will still be needed to sway these caucuses. As long as advertising and punditry can get the dittoheads lined up you are still dealing with money = power.

phil

Fun though to hear a defense of "workers councils." They were the ideal too among the Situationsists in '68 in Paris, right? I just wonder how many intellectuals have ever hung around with "the workers" long enough to want to meet with them in bureaucratic conclave to discuss the technical provisions of a finance bill. Sit in a car with a few and listen to the conversation, "American Idol," sports, gossip, soundbite answers from last night's punditry. I am not snobbish about it just saddened, bored, seething.

What I like about the world we want is the possibility of stirring up these local conversations, but I am almost certain it will be a small, educated, talkative minority who show up.

It starts with education. By the time the worker is 35 he or she may well not be in mode of critical thinking. What would be the payoff for that in Wealth Bondage? They don't get paid to think, as the worker will sometimes say.

"We the people" are Limbaugh people, Scarborough people, Bill O'Reilly people. Fox news people. We the people play the lottery each week, read the advice to the lovelorn, follow the career of our favorite "celebs." The mind is closed and it is locked from the outside and the inside.

Workers Councils in the Red States are patrolling the border with rifles, homeshooling their kids, awaiting the Rapture.

J. Alva Scruggs

I dropped out of school at fifteen and again at twenty. I'm still educable in my forties and I've done everything from farmwork to dishwashing to corporate servitude. I've experienced those banal and boring conversations, over anything from strip clubs to value theory. It's almost always possible to dig out something people can discuss with insight, but you do need the time for it.

Okay now, bit by bit if that's okay.

Who follows the endless flow of bills?

There are a lot of vanity bills that mainly serve to enhance a marketed representative's "electability". The infamous freedom fries bill is a good example. There's also naming post offices, memorializing retired and deceased hacks on federal turf, and tactical nuisance bills designed to thwart productive discussion. There's no need to send people off with a remit to engage in that. The "sense of Congress" stuff is empty calories.

Isn't it necessary at some level to have paid staff sort through all the legalisms and provide the gist?

We do have the GAO, Congressional Research Service, CBO and others. Admittedly there's some risk of some power tipping over to a butch civil service, but they lack the imprimatur of legitimacy that comes with delegated authority. This would take a lengthy discussion all by itself. Reserve that for later?

Do you really think people can take the time to sort all this out, even if they have the background?

One component of apathy and exhaustion, in our overworked society, is the certainty that no matter what productive discussions ensue, they'll be rendered moot by a marketed representative's career needs. A delegate has no career and may only serve once. Consider, a converstaion that achieved some positive consensus between the dumpster denizens over at WB. How much difference would it make which one of us went to negotiate? Provided the general guidelines of what is acceptable and what is not were clear.

Money will still be needed to sway these caucuses. As long as advertising and punditry can get the dittoheads lined up you are still dealing with money = power.

Why would it? Perception management causes resentment when people meet each other, face to face. Ditthoeads only dominate a discussion when they have a champion who already holds power. Please don't forget that delegates are selected, not presented, and their remit is circumscribed. The discussion is over a platform, not a person versus another person. Taking the celebrity out of it makes things a lot easier.

Limbaugh people, Scarborough people, Bill O'Reilly people. Fox news people. We the people play the lottery each week, read the advice to the lovelorn, follow the career of our favorite "celebs." The mind is closed and it is locked from the outside and the inside.

Much of that parallels the ascendancy of the elite wingnut backlash of the sixties and seventies. They are the ones who are so hung up on those years. It's an article of faith that the defiance of those awful kids and uppity minorities spoiled utopia. The wingnut elite offered rich rewards and funded careers for operatives who would squash them. They gritted their teeth and threatened scorched earth. Very few people kept the conviction to oppose them. By making all of the easily accessible public discourse into those awful cretin/counter-cretin pundit smackdowns, they drove good discussion into the margins. People who know no better and can't easily find better default to what's available.

Gerry

Fascinating discussion. Delegate processes could work, I confess to not having read the links yet. In my thinking the biggest problem with our system is that most of the electorate doesn't count because they are in the minority in their districts. If the idea is that each of us can delegate our governance power to a specialist of our choosing, and each such delegate sits at the table with a pile of proxies to be cast in deciding the issues. You might even be able to choose a different delegate for different issues.

Of course, the underlying need for more of our citizens to be educated enough to be effective in asserting their power politically. As long as we have armies of zombies coming out of the schools, some pretty way out ideas will come to the fore.

Remeber that the fringe opinions are amplified by the "cretin/anti-cretin" rhetorical stances. If each of us has to say who represents us, few will give their proxy to some fringe character, but rather to someone who will represent their views reliably.

It also relates to the need for more change from "push" media to "pull" from broadcast to relationships in our communication pathways.

One idea I have is to create an on-line community system to "peer product" candidates at all levels. The idea is that if a large enough group do this together, and instead of candidates self-selecting themselves, the community looks for the qualities they want and make a merrit based selection. This could be done as a sort of primary, and then the candidates wouldn't need a lot of money for mass media, because the peer production system is also the way the information about who is good and why gets out.

Phil

Hey, Mr. Scruggs, that is my favorite post or comment of yours ever. You really are defending democracy and human nature. As a teacher, I actually, concur, in practice. Even the hardest adult head is educable. That is what the parable of The Happy Tutor is all about - with enough guile even wealthy people can be taught, even to give. Getting through to people is hard, and conversation can be the "Rock Tumbler" in which we begin with abrasive soundbites learned from media hacks and think tank 'hoes, and then gradually find our own voices as decent and tolerant, though principled, citizens. Conversation as a Rock Tumbler is an Augustan ideal, it was how democracy was birthed, in salons, and pamphlets, and coffeehouses, and study circles, and clubs, bringing people together in new combinations outside the hiearchy of "noble" and commoner. Today we must break out of employer/employee, producer/consumer, owner/debtor, and Red/Blue debates to find ourselves with a world worth having.

This is one "argument," Scruggs, I am pleased to lose to your well made points.

Phil

Gerry, thinking of peer to peer conversation versus top down media, isn't it sad that Murdoch, Mr. Tabloids, purchased MySpace? The guy also owns Fox, right? We really have to wake up to the co-optation and ownership structures that are springing up in Wealth Bondage to keep our civic spaces inside WB and under the control of the same old Hidden Hands.

J. Alva Scruggs

Phil, I'm awfully glad you put "argument" in quotes. I switched over to an attempt at cooperative building for that last comment. I don't think I have it in me to do that again for a while and your applause is a real balm.

I have some positive news regarding MySpace. Our Media has had a server upgrade and also now offers much more generous bandwidth. There's a place to go for people who can't stomach Murdoch and his lizard approach to business.

Phil

Thanks, added it Our Media to the Resource List. Yes, your comment was teaching, not badgering. Thank you. Given that the World We Want could be organized as a microcosm of The World We Want, how would you write its Constitution, or how would assemblies send delegates to write it?

(Assuming Peter puts it up for grabs, but really, if he wants to own and control it, we don't have to play beneath that banner, any more than in Murdoch's MySpace or Omidyar's Space-Named-For-Owner. Technology or a book do not in themselves provide an insurmountable barrier to entry. What we need is a commons that is protected, no matter how the internet gets dicked around with by owners, managers, pundits, and politicos.

et alia

To expand on one of Maestro Scruggs' points:

(The elite wingnuts) are the ones who are so hung up on those years. It's an article of faith that the defiance of those awful kids and uppity minorities spoiled utopia. The wingnut elite offered rich rewards and funded careers for operatives who would squash them. They gritted their teeth and threatened scorched earth. Very few people kept the conviction to oppose them. By making all of the easily accessible public discourse into those awful cretin/counter-cretin pundit smackdowns, they drove good discussion into the margins. People who know no better and can't easily find better default to what's available.

It's important always to keep in mind how much of today's political discourse is bought and paid for by elite interests. That may seem like old news for bloggers, but consider how many of the so-called progressive critics of the mainstream media are recycling Chomsky and Hermann's Manufacturing Concent—and then bashing Chomsky in their asides? Eric Alterman and Joe Conason are two names that come to mind, and that's just off the top of my head. And how many of the liberal bloggerati were for the war in Iraq, but against Dubya's way of waging it? Josh Marshall, Matthew Yglesias, ... And what do these folks have in common? They were already insiders (or in Yglesias' case, on the fast track to becoming an insider). Alterman and Conason were successful journalists; Marshall wrote for the Washington Monthly (and had one of essays reprinted in the Saddam Hussein Reader)...I could go on, but I won't; I think you get the idea.

What I'm not saying is that there's a conspiracy going on. What I am saying is that success is often a function of a person's capability for conforming both outwardly and inwardly. These alleged progressives are on this one issue clearly center-rightists, and I think they sincerely believe in what they say. There's a laundry list of issues—war in Iraq, universal health care, access to education, vote fraud—where significant chunks of the population are simply not represented at all. Elected delegates, while not a panacea, would at least remedy that problem, and show the center-right media celebs for what they are.

Phil

Thanks, et. Take a place like Dallas, or TX generally. How does someone like me get "represented" at any level of government here? What groups would assemble at what level to create a "Quorum" to send a delegate where? Aren't we imagining a town meeting size group, of 25-100? How many such groups have to "nest" inside one another to cover the whole population? And what happens to those who don't show up, who have no interest? Who speaks for them? (Probably a majority who are too beaten down and/or stupified to participate at any level, even todays hyped up contests between candidate A or B?

et alia
Take a place like Dallas, or TX generally. How does someone like me get "represented" at any level of government here?

That's a good question, and I confess I don't have an answer. OTOH, I should point out that in the allegedly progressive northeast, people with positions like mine also lack local representation. I read Marx for his critique of Capitalism, sure, but my own preferences for policy are what the wackjob revolutionists (who idolize Marx but don't read him) would call bourgeois social democracy.

Just to think out loud (and stretch a metaphor a bit): the problem of alienation within a locale might be better addressed through community building (I know that all sorts of evil and feckless organizations have appropriated that term for their own use, but I mean it in a straightforward, non-managerial way). You may be in a tiny minority where you are, but I doubt that you're alone. For example, there's a Pacifica radio affiliate in Houston. That's got to count for something.

J. Alva Scruggs

You need something around which you can build community first. An institution that strives to be inoffensive to the mainstream won't do it. The Happy Tutor put in a lot of effort in building up his website and managed to attract people who wanted to help build it too. The mainstream generally ignores it, mistakes the purpose or treats it as a generic Democratic site. The framework for participation there is spelled out in a satirical disclaimer. I'm halfway suggesting calling for a meeting around an actual dumpster might be a good thing. It at least has the value of novelty.

We are gathered today around this dumpster in a fellowship that acknowledges its relevance to our lives. May we never live within it.

An opening invocation can be acerbic without being self-pitying. The problem is an institutional failure to support community, or to be able to leave it alone if the powers that run them can't manage support.

J. Alva Scruggs

In case I wasn't clear, I was musing on something that would be mistaken for something dull and easily pigeonholed, ignorable or appear to be somewhat frivolous.

et alia

Maestro Scruggs:

You need something around which you can build community first. An institution that strives to be inoffensive to the mainstream won't do it.

Good point (I'm assuming you're speaking about the Pacifica affiliate). But where you have something like that, I'm sure you could peel off people who find it weak broth but take it anyway for lack of anything stronger. A meeting around a dumpster could be a good way to start.

J. Alva Scruggs

I know very little about Pacifica, et alia. I've read some things, but I've never listened to it. That doesn't affect your main point, however. It's even possible that if Pacifica is truly a community radio then it might lend some support to what it can't do itself.

Phil

"Dearly beloved, We are gathered today around this dumpster in a fellowship that acknowledges its relevance to our lives. May we never live within it, nor without it, until our ashes are laid in the landfill."

I may write this funeral oration into my final documents by way of legacy planning. Perhaps Scruggs or Et, you could read it, open the nearest dumpster and empty the urn. Then share a bottle of Thunderbird with the assembled losers.

Scruggs, the issue of tone, decorum, genre are mission critical. If a space is set up with "normal rules" and "normal middle class earnest style of moderation," and if the earnest strivers write their earnest screeds, then we may occasionally get poems like "Stillness - at Kykuit," which is fine, since it politely rues that style of going along to get along, but we will not get more essays like "Sleepwalkers," accusing us and all the earnestly conformist strivers of unperturbed complicity in moral horror.

The Portal or community will tend to regress towards the middle class manners and mores of corporatized life, particularly if it is driven by a commercial book publisher seeking sales, etc. Setting the tone, or the limits of possible tones, is a big issue.

"Begin as you mean to continue." "Pariah" may be the Happy Tutor's career choice, but Peter has better options, probably. I will write Pariah-prose until some polite person asks me to "move along, the rich people are coming and we don't need your kind in The World We Want, unless you mind your manners and show some respect for your betters."

klaus

Delegate democracy is "non-representative". Sounds postmodern. Sounds like metaphysical concerns being smuggled into politics. Sounds anti-political.

J. Alva Scruggs

Phil, I was hoping for a network of MoveOn DVD party style of get togethers, with some managerial brio, where we could pull the shades and examine people for their authentic happiness quotient. But I don't have my heart set on it.

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