When the Gods Left Our Dwellings

This is an old text, slightly reworked and rephrased.

 

We in the West are a strange people. We think we are individual, separate persons, living our lives on our own, connected only, if at all, to our immediate family. We have no gods, no spirits, we are not part of something. We are not connected with life and our fellow beings. We think meaning is something of our own making.

There are reasons for this. They go way back in the history of our culture. But our concept of what it means to be a person is so pervasive that it distorts our views on our own history. We read history with our modern eyes, thereby validating our current ways of being and dismissing others. At the same time, we long for those other ways, but as we don’t understand them we consume them in a sentimental fashion.

People are wider than the boundaries of their skins. They are embedded. Their relations reach to the communities of people, animals, plants, spirits, gods. But here in the West, these things have turned out differently. Here the way our egos are related to other people mirrors the way they are related to the gods, afar and unfathomable.

 

1     Systems of reciprocal obligations

We live in a world whose being made of objects is not all there is. The world comprises more than stuff, e.g., emotions, dreams, sufferings, conscience, moral, numbers, minds occupied with chatter internal and external. To a world a whole sphere of invisible and intangible things belongs.

Religion is, or in some respect: was, part of this world. Humans had relationships with their deities, the spirits, the fairies, for ages. Even here in the West, devotion, the relation to the deity, was something that was of concern primarily to a clan, a neighbourhood, a hamlet, a parish. It was something a community did and experienced as a community. [1]

The individual was thus dependent on and embedded in communality in at least two ways –with his fellows as with his deities – that restricted the concept of autonomy which was to become a major feature of the occidental self.

The importance of community as well as of communality not only shows in the need for physical or psychological survival of the individual person. Not only is the individual dependent on others in the production of food or the sharing of values and cultural ingredients that convey sense and meaning. Likewise, the individual takes part and contributes to them. And a main feature of any society is that between being dependent and being contributing there must be a balance. Otherwise, individual as community are threatened.

The balance of receiving and contributing amounts to a gift-economic style of social interaction that is necessary for any society to be of stability. (The individual must be able to contribute in order for it and the society to be a community at all.) This isn’t refuted by reference to ages of injustices. On the contrary, exploitation, violence, crude dependence have always been deemed unjust, and people looked for means to end them. The goal was to rebalance a communal body. Even the bondsman in the Middle Ages, as he has an economic and cultural function, is someone who takes part in maintaining a specific oikos, a distinct world. And even as his sovereign rules over the people in his vicinity, the feudal system likewise places him into a bondsmanship to God that imposes on him the duty to safeguard the well-being of his subjects – be it the distribution of food or the guarantee of a legal order. Accordingly, his subjects will accept their share in the duties only when they see that they receive such securities in exchange, when they see that the sovereign fulfills his obligations as well. If this does not happen, peace is endangered. Even hierarchical societies are thus systems of reciprocal obligations in which the breach of duty from one side is regarded as an injustice by the other.

Societies (or “systems”) of reciprocal obligations ensure that activities we usually see as economic possess a cultural value as well. They not only are a part of a culture, they create and prolong a culture. It is one-sided to think that the early barters came to an end when something like money was invented to cover the degree of (mutual) obligation. Rather, those “barters” were first and foremost singled out, and standardized with the help of a metric, if they involved material objects that could be handed to-and-fro. This kind of barter was the most basic reciprocal obligation that could be grasped quantitatively. But barter as a whole – the give and take – comprises much more and that becomes clearer when seen as reciprocal obligations. To see a society, a culture as a specific “system” of mutual dependencies and reciprocal obligations leads to the consequence that a distinct oikos, a specific world, results, whose values, meanings, and faiths are shared by the members of this culture and which are perpetuated in the process of give and take. Accordingly, the occupations and activities of the individual – be it craftsman, farmer, trader, etc. – is nothing solely economical. On the contrary, the economic sense of an activity becomes clear only when the activity is seen as something that gains cultural meaning through the whole as it simultaneously lends meaning to the whole by being practised throughout time. It’s systems of reciprocal obligations that explain why one party can come to feel being treated unjustly at all through the activities of some other. Deviation from a norm presupposes the prior understanding when the norm is followed. Somehow it must be ingrained in all members.

In this sense legal, economic, political regulations are specific embodiments of particular systems of reciprocal obligations. These systems are “natural” in the sense that they even include the understanding, the experience, the opinion and knowledge of what exists and what not, what is true and what not, what is due, opportune, mandatory, and optional. Those systems are in a sense beyond alteration as even what is optional isn’t seen as being made optional by human endeavour. Such systems are the entirety of what there is.

 

2     Forcing the Gods to Be Explanations

Part of our being human is that there are “things” much larger than us that still pertain to us – things like birth, dying, life, death, sickness, happiness, love, etc. There are the experiences that every person is part of a community of persons and that there are individual and collective stories that place the individual into a succession of ancestors and descendants. There are border experiences, experiences that somehow deviate from the ordinary and daily ones. There are fundamental experiences of rhythms like day and night, change of seasons, change of wake and sleep. There are dreams, forecasts, and forebodings. There are experiences of kinship with other people, with animals, and there is strangeness. There are the feelings of normality and abnormality, of the static and the irruption. There are experiences of mastery, of unity, and of loss of control, of failure, and of being exposed. There are the experiences of madness, of healing, of horror, of panic and dismay, of bliss, joy, ecstasy. There are the experiences of work and play, of tension and relaxation. There are jokes and humour. There is suffering. There is the question of meaning and of destiny. And there is the experience that all other people feel the same.

In the systems of reciprocal obligations it is the task or role of the gods to create such fundamental experiences. They are the “reasons” for them, and come to light inasmuch as they cause such experiences. It is important to see that in the West this role of the gods appears in a very specific and restricted manner: the contact and reference to a deity is a means of explanation as long as there is no theory – a proposal made by humans (!) – of why those things happen at all. The Christian creation myth (Genesis 1) only stepped aside when there was a cosmological theory (like the Big Bang) presupposing centuries of physical research in a variety of topics like gravitation, symmetries, elementary particles, strong and weak forces, etc. Such hypotheses are well supported, but not proven true, and as no hypothesis can be verified, the Christian creation myth became a myth in the moment it could be superseded by some other, now more plausible one (that, being plausible, doesn’t show its being a myth). A myth was superseded by another myth – if both have been myths at all. The important thing is that the possibility of an influence and effect by a god became implausible in the moment when the same circumstances could be explained by a theory that was human made. [2]

Such experiences are continuously made. And when at the end of the 19th century a scientific theory occurred that started to explain such fundamental experiences as something inherent of the individual person – e.g., deriving from her experiences in childhood –, those experiences began to lose their character of present that made them individual to the person and changed to become repetitions of childhood experiences. Psychology and Psychoanalysis (at least at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century) not only presupposed a specific concept of person, individuality, and self, that, in their dependence on the Enlightenment, embody the ideals of autonomy and separation. More important, those theories, as being scientific, presupposed the concept of causation that was to be found in the natural sciences. The biography of a person became a causal chain of events, and stopped being a story, a tale, a song. Accordingly, fundamental experiences that include loss of control, borderline situations, and the loss of the everyday routine, became diseases, disturbances of the daily, normal, controlled, and autonomous self. Borderline experiences and with that a huge part of fundamental existential experiences became pathology.

It is not important to determine whether psychology and psychoanalysis are right or wrong. Rather, it is important to see what effects their appearance have had. As with all scientific theories the recourse to the divine – this time in the field of the human and fateful – became irrelevant, unnecessary, old-fashioned, even false, and became substituted by a scientific theory. The divine disappeared (or became forgotten) when there was a possibility to describe the same “topic” with the help of a man-made theory.

The remarkable thing in both cases, physics as psychology, is that when a proposal for explanation becomes possible, the old and now replaced conception becomes termed a myth, a superstition, a sign of primitiveness. This is not really done on purpose. But advocates of the theory will nonetheless insist that there couldn’t have been a Creator God in the beginning as he was simply shaped after the model of the human fabrication of products. Now, as the former world views no longer have the status of an explanatory tool, they will say that God in fact was a Creator God shaped in the light of the human face. Man has used his own activities as a model and by extrapolating it onto the boundless transferred it onto the world. Now they will say that Man always has been destined for freedom, autonomy, responsibility (it was just not seen until recently). Now they will state that borderline experiences in (and by) which at former times the Divine “visited” Man are “in reality” pathological conditions which the individual person can only bear and explain by “projecting” experiences of powerlessness from childhood into the world. Accordingly, every borderline experience becomes a pathological condition in which not the Divine visits Man but in which the ailing Self personalizes its fears or the irruptions and places them as persons outside, projects them and bans them. This mechanism, they will say, may be described in a metaphorical or even religious language, but in reality this parlance is simply wrong (and the parlance of psychology is right). What in former times had been a factual manner of speaking now not only receives the status of metaphorical speaking – it is now seen as always have been a metaphorical parlance.

This attitude has two consequences.

First, what is valid now only for specific fundamental and borderline experiences, is, even tentatively, extended to all fundamental experiences. Dreams are no longer sent by the gods, and people are no longer visited by them, but they are now attempts to cope with conflicts of one’s daily life. Earthquakes are no longer (the expression of) the wrath of the gods but simply tectonic displacements of plates. Insofar they are no longer of any concern to us as they don’t address us – and as geophysical appearances they cannot mean us. The recourse to the Divine to explain some phenomena seems not only unnecessary in an individual case – as there is a “better”, “more plausible” or “equally strong” theory (that is created by human understanding) – this approach is extended to all areas in which there seems (or seemed) to be an encounter of Man with the Divine.

The result of this is that those fundamental experiences increasingly lose a characteristic feature that was constitutive of them in former times: Those experiences once showed that there is something bigger than Man that addresses him – as an individual or as an collective. In that way fundamental experiences lose their present character of being an encounter. They are now only signs of a dependence of Man from Nature (if at all). The fundamental experiences thus lose what was once intrinsic to them.

Second, given the development so far every belief that points to the possibility of an encounter becomes a sign and symptom of a primitive creed, as such beliefs now only enlarge human qualities (as they are now still known) and project them outside. The consequence of this is, that questions that ask why some deity sent this plague, this message, this demand (which had to be scrutinized and understood collectively) now become meaningless. Questions like how to accommodate the Divine, how to reconcile with it become incomprehensible questions because there is nothing there with which one should (and could) have to reconcile with. The upshot of this is that the world begins to consist solely of human things. When there is no Other at all, then the question simply does not or no longer arise what it might want from those people to which it occurs or how one might interact or co-work with it. The world becomes a world of humans, void of the Invisibles as of any divine.

 

3     The Exodus of the Gods

Two consequences or aspects arise from a specific way of dealing with fundamental experiences. In former times specific fundamental experiences in which the person experienced something bigger than herself (to which she was exposed) could be understood as an encounter between Man and Divine. If this other is a deity, a “higher” being, an angel, a guardian, etc., then it is this being that “visits” the respective person. It is this being that communicates with the person (rituals show the case for the attempt in the opposite direction). If there is now a scientific theory that explains this phenomenon (its occurrence, its meaning, etc.), then this larger being that shows itself in an encounter disappears, as it is no longer necessary to be part of a causal explanation in the form of a Why?-question. From this arises as second consequence a specific kind of dealing with all such former experiences that amount to a negation of the possibility of such experiences at all. The denial or negation of such experiences has some specific and very welcomed consequences on behalf of the scientific theory itself. Now it becomes clear to those who favour such a theory, that

  1. former existential experiences only seemingly had been experiences; instead they are results of phantasy, myths, pathologies;
  2. such an encounter never has happened at all;
  3. the occurrence of such seeming experiences are a confirmation to continue with the current way of research to detect more errors “of this kind” (thus validating one’s research practices and world view);
  4. such experiences that purportedly show the dependence of the self from something “larger” or “other” are not possible because such “experiences“ will always show themselves to be appearances (thus, other people are essentially like me, only with a different biography at a different place);
  5. every experience that today might show the possibility of some such encounter – trance, vision, ecstasy – are no refutation of the current research procedures but an obligation to continue the research.

Those consequences all result without recourse to a psychological theory. [3] But when we claim that gods, higher beings, angels, guardians, etc., are moulded after Man and his activities, it is important to keep in mind that the (western) way of explanation with the help of analogous models is taken from the sciences. The claim that “the Other” that visits Man comes in the guise of a person is thus an explanation why the phenomenon chooses this form rather than some other, but not why there are such phenomena at all. The latter comes into focus only when something like a scientific theory of personhood, personality, and its troubles and diseases comes into being – like psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis. Only now do we have a way to explain how deities come to their characteristics and how they may interact with the human sphere.

Psychology and Psychoanalysis work with an elaborate set of concepts, tools, theoretical entities, and doctrines. They comprise e.g. introjection, projection, countertransference, idealization, personification, trauma, resistance, the distinction of the conscious and the unconscious within the individual itself, the conviction that present conflicts have their causes in childhood or that in dreams the individual processes conflicts of its daily life. But if you have a theory that distinguishes the conscious and the unconscious inside the individual, that declares present day conflicts as rooted in the past, that declares dreams to be the place of coping with the threats and conflicts, then you end up with the result that all psychic phenomena are located inside the individual, that the individual is locked against the broader environment. Accordingly, psychology is now prone to explain borderline experiences as a pathological state of the individual’s psychê and the divine as something moulded after the analogous model of human craftsmanship and character traits, enlarged into something oversized and projected outside. That means: Only when a theory of human personality is established that is crafted according to the ideals and standards of western culture can we come to view deities, holy beings, guardians, angels, fairies, etc., as a kind of oversized personalities in our sense, can we come to identify them in other cultures as well as in our own past and declare them to be “projections” or ways of acting out or “processing” of human tribulations and conflicts.

But what gets lost is that people everywhere carried out and still carry out rituals, ceremonies, specific activities in order to invoke the gods, to get in contact with them, to do something for them. This is simply missed or declared part of the “processing”, “coping”, or “acting out” (like it is fashionable in ethno-medicine). Other cultures (now, as our history in the past) become a variation of the western civilization, and they are used to confirm one’s own conceptions.

Seen that way, something important of such encounters gets lost – the character of present those encounters still have today. Those encounters that are alive and still sought after are encounters that reach into both directions. Ancestors, deities, holy beings, guardians, etc., not only visit humans constantly, humans as well constantly evoke, call, and consult such beings. If those events are not simply declared as repetitions of earlier experiences, the only way left is to explain such encounters in the way the ethno-medicine does as healing ceremonies or theatrical happenings in the course of medical treatments. And indeed, such encounters often are part of a medical treatment. Shamanic healing ceremonies, e.g., often do have the goal to treat diseases, psychic strains or other “forms” of imbalances. But here too such treatments of hardships and the experiences that come with them have an impact on the culture in which they take place, as they are part of that culture. The ceremonies are therefore not simply about revoking some individual imbalance inside the individual, but to recognize and treat it as some disorder in the relation of individual and deity as well as to find a way to rebalance this relation. As the occurrence of this imbalance takes place in a community, it will be recognized as being an information about the current relation of the community and the deity as well. The existence of this imbalance has meaning – individual as well as collective. Seen that way someone who dreams doesn’t need to be the “addressee” of the “content” of the dream. He may “receive” it, but he may receive it substitutionally for others or the whole community.

Such views aren’t much common in the western world. (We know it in somewhat secular form in the image of the artist – not the artisan! – and his inspiration.) Here the personal or individual imbalance – be it sickness, be it suffering – isn’t something that asks for mediation and levelling with something other. It is a private affair. Only the individual has it and only he is “addressed” by it. One has to keep this in mind to fully appreciate the fact that in all shamanic healing ceremonies the shaman is someone whose task is to mediate in a disturbed relation between deity and individual, as the disturbed relation comes to light in form of a disease the deity sends to the individual. The shaman has to mediate between two parties, he acts more like a conflict counselor than a (western) medic. The relation between deity and individual is disturbed, somehow the individual has “angered” or “upset” the deity. When the relation is re-balanced the tribulation vanishes. In order to find out the nature of the “dispute” and the means required to end it, the shaman will betake himself on a shamanic journey. It is important to see that the shaman always has supporting spirits or escorts, to which belong his totem animal and his deceased teacher. Before the shaman can begin the healing ceremony he must ask for the approval of his guardian spirits (at times he even has to beg for it). And the shaman will refuse to perform the ceremony if only one of these companions refuses to lend support. A shaman doesn’t act with the confidence in his own abilities, ego, and goals (like our own physicians), but only when he knows that he is allowed to perform the treatment.

We find such “dependencies” everywhere. In some tribal nations it is still common that the adolescent engage in a vision quest. They are sent into the wild where they remain a few days fastening. In these days visions occur that show the young person his totem animal and something about his destiny in life. Coming back home he is awaited by some elders that explain to him the sense of those visions. The sight of the totem animal introduces the adolescent into his genealogy – to which ancestors, to which branch of clan he belongs (as the biological lineage is most often of minor importance).

When such experiences of initiation, of healing, of “dependence” from something “larger” and “different” are made repeatedly by a community, it has an effect on the understanding of oneself and the world that differs sharply from the one of the West. Primarily what is perceived is mutual and reciprocal dependence, obligation, and kinship. And that means: There are conceptions or rather perceptions of the (own) self that recognizes itself as a self but not as something independent or separate. There is a form of the soul or the self that doesn’t come to mind by activities of separation or the mood of autonomy. There is a way to be oneself that doesn’t imply isolation, dominance, and resistance against others. It lies in the recognition of what we have in common. In this the gods are like older brothers, with intentions and peculiarities, not like forces to be manipulated for one’s private profit. But the West has lost its gods, as they chose not to be insulted by being seen as stuff and matter. The gods are gone, and only sometimes they return, disguised as pathology, a mania, a daimon. But as long as we think they belong to us and are to our service, we’ll miss them. As the world vanishes in oblivion behind the flitter and dust.

 

[1] Individual devotion – not necessarily private devotion – seems to be a development of the 14th century. Take as example the Christian devotional images (Andachtsbilder) that arise not until the 14th and 15th century in northern Europe, picturing the suffering of Christ (from the Garden of Gethsemane to His Crucifixion) or those of the saints. Their wounds were depicted extremely intensely in order to give the individual spectator a means to contemplate (and memorize). Individual contemplation with the help of Andachtsbilder was uncommon in the centuries before.
[2] For sake of brevity I ignore not only that prediction is a major criterion for the value of an explanation along the lines of scientific explanations, but also that such explanation-schemes subsume instances under generalized formulas (“laws”) whereas deities are not generalized entities but individual (or: individualized) “causes” or “principles” (aitiai).
[3] The early 19th century declared other culture’s beliefs and conceptions simply to be superstition and didn’t ask for psychological explanations.

 

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How the Republicans Won Big in November 2016, Part 3

Although it looks right now as if Donald Trump and the GOP cannot avoid a disastrous outcome at the ballot box in November, this is by no means a sign of a weak state of the Trump campaign, nor a sign of a coming wipe-out victory by the Democrats.

  • Yes, more and more Republicans leave ship and publicly announce not to vote for Donald Trump in November;
  • Yes, Donald Trump’s hapless attempt to counter the public disparagement by Mr. Khan at the DNC in July went south;
  • Yes, 50 Republican foreign policy and national security experts strongly advised against voting for Donald Trump;
  • Yes, after a slight bounce in the polls after the Republican National Convention (RNC) Donald Trump now trails Hillary Clinton by up to 13% nationwide;
  • Yes, his economic and foreign policy proposals, in so far as they make sense at all, are pretty much unworkable, or come with a cost of adding trillion of dollars to the U.S. national deficit, will harm international relations, and will contribute to make the world a less secure place.

Granted all this, it is still far from clear how those are indeed signs of Donald Trump’s demise. One should be careful not to read those signs in favor of Hillary Clinton either. As signs, they are treacherous and chimerical.

Right now it looks that way, and this impression is primarily the result after several days in which Donald Trump reacted publicly against swipes by Mr. Khan at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). In fact, this was not a brilliant move by the Clinton campaign to beat Donald Trump on his own turf, with his own methods. Rather, this was the first time in about 16 month of the whole presidential campaign that Donald Trump found himself publicly in a dilemma he couldn’t win. And couldn’t have won. And precisely because of that, it will be the exception, not a new method of how to counter the nominee of the GOP.[1] Thus, due to the very specific circumstances of this dispute, a repetition seems unlikely.

Likewise, the public declaration by some Republicans and those working for them (like national security experts) of not-voting for Donald Trump will not pose too much a problem for him – he can always declare that those who jump the ship now are exactly those who created the mess he is trying to fix in the first place.[2]

Be it true or not, this line of spin fits in his general approach in targeting white workers and Tea Party adherents: The “establishment” is at worst the culprit, and at best a “don’t care”.

In fact, the strength of the Trump campaign shows elsewhere. Until the fallout of the Khan dispute after the DNC, the Trump campaign had been more or less on a par with the Clinton campaign, despite not paying any money for campaign ads and despite the differences in how much both campaigns spend on staff, ads, data analytics, and field organization.[3]

It is remarkable that despite all the efforts the Clinton campaign couldn’t break out and gain a significant lead over Trump; conversely, that the Trump campaign could more or less keep up with the Clinton campaign by only spending a fraction of what the Clinton campaign did. One begins to wonders why Trump has been able to keep up with Clinton at all, and why Clinton, in spite of all her efforts, couldn’t break out.

But perhaps these are the wrong questions. The question is perhaps not, why Clinton couldn’t break out and pace ahead. Nor why Trump managed to stay so close at Clinton’s feet. The question seems rather: Why is it that the Trump campaign is so strong that despite a desolate Republican convention and despite the latest developments after the Democratic convention it only now lost some percentage points in the public polls? And given that a public dispute like that between Mr. Trump and the Khan family is a rare exception, not something to become the rule, it looks very likely that the Donald Trump will regain his poll numbers in a matter of weeks, and that he is still out to win.

All depends on the events of the coming weeks and months, of course. But there is one major area in which events will play directly into Trump’s hands, delivering him a huge opportunity to win the White House.

In the last two posts on the election in the U.S. (here and here) I gave five reasons why Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the presidency.[4]

Summarized roughly, these are:

  • The supporters of Bernie Sanders will not vote for Hillary Clinton;
  • Blue collar Democrats and white working class people will vote for Donald Trump;
  • Despite the recent defections that came with much media attention, the majority of Republicans and Conservatives will still vote for Trump;
  • Donald Trump created a space in which the acting out of a long shunned dismissive virility is now not only permissible but taken as a means of liberation and rebellion (“Against political correctness”);
  • Hillary Clinton’s feminism is the feminism of the mothers and grandmothers of today’s women in their twenties and thirties. Those younger women form a strong voting bloc but are not impressed by this feminism. Thus it is not a source of energy to counter Donald Trump’s archaic form of male superiority.

To this needs to be added a sixth reason why Trump, and with him the Republicans, are in a strong position to win the presidency, the House and the Senate.

For a short while, prior to the Democratic National Convention, the wave of people being killed by police officers and the reactions by predominantly black activists – from #BlackLifesMatter to revenge sniper attacks on police officers to even some kind of resurgence of the Black Panthers – contributed to a mood of racial tension that escalated towards explosion, comparable perhaps only to the events in 1968 and 1992. It was during those months of tensions that Donald Trumps continually bashed immigrants from the south of the U.S., refugees from overseas, and «Islamic extremism» supposedly threatening the homeland. What Trump in the past nine to twelve month thus actually achieved was the blending of several distinct topics – racial tensions, discrimination of parts of the population by the police, refugees, (illegal) immigration, Jihadic violence, and domestic terrorism – into one diffuse conflict situation. (To be clear, I don’t say that #BlackLifesMatter is a form of domestic terrorism, nor that every sniper attack or Black Panther resurgence falls into that category. But it’s the atmosphere of danger and threat that is important here, into which those occurrences have been mixed by Donald Trump and others.) With a counter-movement like #BlueLifesMatters  in which police officers have been declared victims of disproportionate violence  and cities on the verge of racially motivated street violence, there only needs to be one major terrorist attack or major assault on police officers, to make the cries for «Law and Order» unmistakable. Trump, intentionally or not, has thus managed to place the concerns and demands of #BlackLifesMatter in the same corner as sniper attacks on police officers and Islamic motivated terrorism at home; every occurrence of violence against police officers will from now on count as similar to or identical with a major terrorist attack. Counter-attacks by white residents or supremacist militias will then be likely. As they will be condoned by Donald Trump, who will not only praise those reactions as attempt to «reinstate» «law and order», but will also take the whole confrontation as a sign of the need to «reinstate» «law and order» on a grand scale, Erdoğan-style. That it was him who has fanned the flames in the first place and who is now suggesting himself as the solution, will go as unnoticed as the problematic stance that the Khan family has taken in how they treated the death of their son.

The upshot is simple: The Trump campaign has proven resilient against a far better organized, far better staffed, far better financed Clinton campaign. It has proven resilient throughout all the media coverage, even in the worst of times. It will take only a small incident to turn the people’s and the media’s attention to something entirely «new» – the re-occurrence of domestic terrorism, for example. It will be enough to make the Trump campaign catch up with the Clinton campaign again. And that is all that is needed in the next three months. At the ballot in November, voter turnout will be something entirely different – and thus: independent of all the turmoil of the preceding months. Trump’s campaign is thus not only in good shape, it is ready to jump into full gear should such an event occur. The Clinton campaign will then be flabbergasted to recognize that no «policy discussion» is of any relevance in this election year. «Law and order» will be the topic, and an uproar of Trump supporters eager to «take our country back». To the shock and dismay of everybody else.

 

[1] The problem for Donald Trump with Mr. Khan’s remarks has been this: The Khan family, in grief about the death of their son in 2004, went on the stage of a major political party and gave a speech of which they must have known its main goal was to criticize the candidate of the other major party, to attack him, and to explain why it would be not a good choice to elect Donald Trump. At the same time, as a grieving Gold Star family, they were above any public critique, e.g., that they used the death of their son in order to achieve a political goal. So when Donald Trump replied to the Khan family’s accusations, he was seen as not showing respect for a grieving Gold Star family, and thus be of despicable character. If, on the other hand, he would have let it go, then Mr. Khan’s and the Democrat’s slander that Mr Trump is of despicable character would have gone unanswered, which would have shown that he is weak. The only way Donald Trump might have escaped this dilemma would have been to not engage in the accusations and only describe how the Khan family, by using the death of their son for political reasons, in fact might have dishonored him.
[2] That’s how Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, put it. Cf. David Smith, «Is it over? Abandonment of Donald Trump spreads across Republican party», theguardian.com, August 09, 2016, 19.59 BST. On August 08, 2016, the Trump campaign published a press release stating: «The names on this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess, and we thank them for coming forward so everyone in the country knows who deserves the blame for making the world such a dangerous place. They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power, and it’s time they are held accountable for their actions. These insiders – along with Hillary Clinton – are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade Iraq, allow Americans to die in Benghazi, and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS. Yet despite these failures, they think they are entitled to use their favor trading to land taxpayer-funded government contracts and speaking fees. It’s time we put our foot down and declare that their gravy train is over: no longer will Crooked Hillary Clinton and the other disasters in Washington get rich at our expense.» Cf. also Mark Hensch, «Trump slams GOP officials’ national security letter», thehill.com, August 08, 2016, 06:42 pm.
[3] Since the primary season ended, the Trump Campaign has spent no money on campaign ads, the Clinton campain approximately $52 million (Mark Murray, «Clinton Campaign Now Outspending Trump on Ads — $52 Million to 0», nbcnews.com, August 09, 2016, 9:42 am ET). In July 2016, the Trump campaign managed to take in approximately $80 million in campaign donations compared to $90 million the Clinton campaign achieved (NN, «Donald Trump raises $80 million in July, has $37 million war chest», fiance.yahoo.com, August 3, 2016). Also, the Clinton campaign didn’t acquire the sum that Obama’s campaign had reached at the same stage of the campaign at the end of July 2012 (Gabriel Debenedetti, «Trump fundraising sets off Clinton camp alarms», politico.com,  August 08, 2016, 05:47 AM EDT). A detailed breakdown of intake and spending of both campaigns throughout June 2016 can be found here: Bill Allison, Mira Rojanasakul and Brittany Harris, «Tracking the 2016 Presidential Money Race», bloomberg.com, July 21, 2016.
[4] Interestingly, Michael Moore recently made five similar points, with somewhat different emphasis and angle: Michael Moore, «5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win».

 

More? Part 1  Part 2

 

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The Fetishization of Practical Constraints

The appeal to practical constraints is a variant of the commonly supposed urgency of matters of fact. Facts, although man-made (“fact”, from Latin factum, “that being made”), are seen as somehow objective and as part of a reality whose key feature is deemed as being able to persist without us. Like objectivity is more or less described as what can be without us, without our perception of and our entanglement with it.

That things can be objective in that sense seems to be a concept that arose in Antiquity when orality was surpassed by literacy. That which can be stated in a sentence and was part of other things stated in sentences, had still been of ephemeral character, as in the moment of its being uttered and heard, its existence had already past, and would remain only in the memories of those in attendance of its former presence.

When writing came into being, things changed profoundly. Not only became ideas more or less constrained in “size” to the “length” of their expressing sentences; the idea of a sentence (instead of a paragraph or other bulks of sentences) being able to “express” an idea or content at all and that their function primarily consists in conveying just that became predominant. And why not? In writing, one wrote down a sentence, and that sentence, via its material carrier like wax tablet, parchment, or paper, could be handed over to somebody else to be read at some other time. Not only did sentences become distinct from the content they conveyed; content became distinct from the person to which it had occurred in the first place. That content could be accessed independently from its “producer”, independently from the local space and time, could stand alone via its material carrier (the sentence and the medium on which it was written) and accessed by everyone who was able to read, constituted what later should become a whole ideology of objectivity (Plato’s ideas, e.g.). That “mental objects” (as they now could be called) could be handed back and forth and could remain throughout time via the existence of their material carriers without depending on their original “producers” not only created a specific sense of objectivity, but far more a specific sense of knowledge, belief, opinion, and error. As content became durable in time, and seemingly remained unchanged throughout time, it became receptible to characteristics that likewise persisted unchanged in time. Truth became an objective quality, very much distinct from sincerity and authenticity.

In oral times things existed throughout time as well, but in a different way. It wasn’t the literal words that would be conveyed, but the connections between the ideas, the topics, the happenings and characters. Remembered were stories, not facts, and with that the connection of the story told to those telling them. The access to story was communal, and it was the repetition of accessing the story together that was an important feature of a community not only staying in time, but being connected to the knowable items, be it ideas, fairies, gifts, intervention by the gods, as well. Truth was a matter of community, that is, balance. What brought together people, an environment, its ecology, and the unseen and invisible beings that contributed to the well-being of all. There still could be huge amounts of things to remember, even the attempt to remember them as literal as possible (genealogies, e.g., to explain and reconstruct territorial and ritualistic responsibilities). But truth was not what could be verified through all times by different people at different places; truth was what kept going a community, the land, the ancestors in one continuing story. Truth was guarded, and not because someone tried to create an advantage by restricting access, but because of responsibility due to the knowledge how fragile communities can be. Sustaining a balance between the people and the other beings was about creating a communal body with no clear boundaries between who was a member and who was not.

When truth became the a-temporal quality of an a-temporal content, which, via writing, could be accessed by everybody who was able to read, the laws of nature didn’t take long to appear as well. When the Scientific Revolution succeeded in creating the necessary mathematics to capture their essence in appropriate formulas, and were able to “verify” them by the success of appropriate predictions, the distinction between objective laws on the one hand and subjective persons on the other gave way to an renewed sense of what existed eternally and what existed only for a fleeting moment. Discovery was a gradual process of attaining “the” truth, and approximation became the rational stance of understanding one’s own position in this process across time.

The sense of matters of fact derives from this supposition that there are things “outside” us that are supervenient to us, independent of us, but able to influence and impact us. In fact. such matters of fact are seen as what cannot be argued about, what impacts us no matter what, and irrespective of our liking it or not. Reality, it seems, is when there is no place left to argue. But interestingly, what may have been true about features of nature that impact us no matter what, doesn’t have a counterpart in the human world, with the exception of man-made laws and regulations. Laws and regulations (like taxes, one might quip) do have an impact on us irrespective of who designs them, who the objects are onto whom they apply, and irrespective of the consequences their exertion may impose. And although there is no direct link between being and ought (so David Hume, contrary to whom Immanuel Kant later tried to connect both again), the “consent-enforcing” power of juridical laws and regulations has been mimicked proofs of mathematics (and the laws of nature) which exerted their powers regardless of estate and fame.

John Brunner once gave a remarkable definition of Evil: “If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil, it consists in treating another human being as a thing.” (The Shockwave Rider (1975), p. 198) Not that there hadn’t been specific forms of evil throughout the times, but our modern form of evil in the sense John Brunner explicates, relies on the specific understanding of and the insistence on the dichotomy of animate self (here) and inanimate other (there).[1] It requires the understanding of some “higher”, “more real”, “less ensouled” complex of powers that can and should be imposed onto something other.

There is a little detail in Brunner’s definition which might be overlooked. If it is evil to treat another human being as a thing, then it is likewise of evil to treat oneself as a thing. That is, treating oneself as if being a thing, is in the same way against one’s own humanity as treating other people as things. But how would that happen? Usually by trying to impose some regiment of rules onto oneself to enhance one’s own performance in society, work space, relationships, communities.

I want to point out that by this I do not just mean the internalization of standards of work related performance. The same goes – if the definition and its self-application are correct – with every kind of intended self-improvement that makes one the object of some self-applied “objective” standard, be it in sports, therapy, spirituality, meditation etc. To become a better person via treating oneself as an object becomes not only a contradiction but reveals how much of the goal of improving oneself via one’s performances is an inhumane endeavour.

In particular in the work space, practical constraints are not just an external parameter that influences how a company or work group functions; far more it is used internally as a means to streamline group efforts, suppress back talk, impose a shared understanding of what is real and what is not, what is important and what is not, and what is enduring and what is transient. Given enough pressure, most participants of groups that are impacted by practical constraints will eventually appeal to those same constraints to enforce a behaviour in solidarity. That is, practical constraints are most often used as justification (or rationalization) in the exertion of pressure, to force people to perform better. Not only will the practical constraint prevail against considerations of humaneness and leniency; it will be actively used as a means of repression.

Practical constraints are a convenient way of enforcing a straightforward behaviour. And the reason for this is twofold, lying in the one who exerts the pressure as well as in those who receive it.

The virtue of practical constraints is that everyone appealing to it can shift responsibility for their activities on the matter of fact. It’s not him, but the facts (i.e., the work goal, the sales figures etc.) that forces him to force you to perform better, complain less, suspend demands. That is, not the one forcing others to enhance performance is the culprit, but the practical constraint is, of which the one exerting the pressure is victim like everybody else. He doesn’t have the responsibility, it’s some strangely out-of-world-impact that forces him and thus everybody else to keep going. This is particularly true in bureaucracies of totalitarian states, in which the one exerting the pressure is always one who can’t be held responsible as it wasn’t his choice to pressure to begin with.

Another aspect comes into play when practical constraints are combined with violence. The appeal to practical constraints can cloak the point that the one exerting the pressure onto others is not only a victim himself; far more in being a victim he can no longer be held accountable for his violence, and what appears to be violence becomes self-defense in the light of a cruel situation. Whereas violence is usually morally reprehensible, self-defense is not. In fact, becoming a victim is the sole best move to entertain one’s violence without having to face consequences.[2]

There is, on the side of those who endure violence and pressure from (appeal to) practical constraints, a huge patience and willingness to endure hardship. Especially in work groups that face constant pressure (e.g. by shortage of staff), the practical constraint (that seems immovable) and the feeling of solidarity one shares with one’s co-workers will often prevent one from speaking out against the pressure, knowing that once one leaves such situations the co-workers will only suffer all the more. It’s this feeling of humanity, of being humane, that hinders one to let others suffer in a dire situation. (And every employer knows this and will act accordingly to cut wages.)[3]

Practical constraints are means to avoid responsibility in the face of knowing that one bears responsibility. Their pervasiveness as a means of rationalization and justification of what can only be called violence is astounding. In fact, it seems that the appeal to practical constraints is not only a cherished way accepted by society to exert violence, it is likewise an insidious way of making oneself embrace and cherish this violence – if only as necessary evil. That this necessary evil is an absolute evil, towards others as towards oneself, can only be ignored by declaring it either a response to something bigger, or as a sign of vitality and performance. Both let us lose sight of what is important: the humane aspect in human life.

 

[1] Cf. my “Information Culture” (2013), “Towards an Economy of the World-Ingrained Self” (2013), sec. 1 and 2, “The Karma of Places” (2010).
[2] Cf. my “Villains And Victims – Part 1” (2010).
[3] Cf. my “Food Banks” (2014).

 

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For Your Coffee-table

There are only a few articles on the web that had a lasting impact on me. Some of them I like to list here, perhaps they are of interest to you.

 

Paul Berman, “The Passion of Joschka Fischer”, The New Republic, August 27, 2001.

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/78957/the-passion-joschka-fischer

A long-winding portrayal of the student revolt or “New Left” in Continental Europe, Great Britain, the U.S., and Germany in particular — from the early 1960s with its ramifications to the period of 1998 – 2005, when Joschka Fischer served as Germany’s Foreign Minister in the coalition government of Greens and Social Democrats under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Paul Berman depicts the various ways the revolutionary students and radicalized workers entered the urban guerillas as well as traditional politics. Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer are treated extensively, many people are mentioned, which is convenient for further research.

Astonishingly, those developments are described with only bare mention of the European Counterculture of the 1960s to 1990s which ran parallel to the European student revolt and had huge cultural impacts (far more, one could argue, than any of the student revolt’s political achievements): Pacifism, No Nukes, alternative medicine, spirituality, humanistic psychology (Esalen), organic farming, music, festivals, the commune- and Back to the Land-movements, drugs, to name a few. But perhaps this omission is precisely a strength of this article.

 

Venkatesh Rao, “A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100”, ribbonfarm, June 8, 2011.

http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/06/08/a-brief-history-of-the-corporation-1600-to-2100/

One of the most fascinating pieces in a long time. Venkatesh Rao tells the history of “the” corporation, how this concept came into being, how it profoundly shaped geo-political reality, and how its demise might be at hand. Interesting how in Venkatesh Rao’s view the concept of corporation first centered around the scarcity of space, then around that of time, and today around that that of “attention”. The latter part is a matter of taste, but the two former parts are all the worth reading.

 

Tom Junod, “The Sore Winners: Will America’s Super Minority Sink Us All?”, Esquire, October 27, 2010.

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a8800/sore-winners-102710/

Why is it that affluent people often feel unprivileged? Why is it that they feel marginalized and ridiculed so that they react by embracing a right-wing ideology like “taking back the country”? Tom Junod asked such questions in his short essay on the occasion of the rise of the Tea Party in the U.S. and it sheds beaming light on the “sore winners” in all affluent societies.

 

Dougald Hine, “What good is information?”, Aeon, March 06, 2014.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-can-we-be-bored-when-we-have-google

This is a story that needed to be told for many years, and Dougald Hine gave it a first try. His thesis is simple: In the early 1960s to the late 1970s, LSD was seen by many in the Counterculture to not only free the mind but to bring about a radical change in human attitude towards the planet, ushering in a co-viable and sustainable way of living. When in the late 1960s, early 1970s members of the Counterculture began to drive the development of the PC (“personal computer”), they effectively started “freeing” computer technology from the confines of big corporations (then primarily IBM and Hewlett Packard), from governments and the military, for the use of everybody, to enlighten and free the mind. “Information wants to be free”, Steward Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, once said, and Dougald Hine ads that since the rise of the PC information itself has begun to take the cultural place LSD once occupied. Like in former times LSD was supposed to set people free, today it’s (still) believed information is able to achieve that goal. Thus the central place the concept of information has acquired in our lives. (Dougald Hine doesn’t distinguish between information and data, but that could be another strand to follow.)

 

David Arora, “The Way of the Wild Mushroom”, California Wild, Fall 1999, Vol. 52:4.

http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/calwild/1999fall/stories/mushroom.html

I didn’t encounter this essay on the web but first in print. But as I’m still fascinated by it, I wanted to include it here. I remember reading it in Whole Earth Review around 2000, perhaps as reprint from California Wild (or it was the other way around). Anyway, this marvelous essay describes the nomadic life of mushroom pickers in the U.S. as it seems to still have been practiced in the early 2000s. It is as much a reading about mushrooms as of a nomadic life that has been possible thereof until very recently.

 

Those are some articles that I found. Which one did you? Would you like to tell me?

 

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True Buddies

Hillary was pissed. The Lewinsky affair had killed it all. She was done. She couldn’t stand this fuck any longer. And Billy knew. He had seen it in her eyes, all those years. Somehow he needed to earn her forgiveness. He yearned for redemption. He had to come up with something big. And as always when a man faces problems with his significant other, he turned to his longtime buddy for advice and help. He turned to Donnie, Donald Trump.

The plan could have been concocted by Billy and Donnie sometimes in 2008, perhaps at the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York. As they walked the rounds as usual, pitched a ball now and then, they discussed the serious matters of life. That is, Billy’s problems with Hillary. And somewhere after the 11th hole, after the ball went out of bounce again, both came up with a scheme so grand only two egomaniacs like them could have.

This was 2008, and when Donnie and Billy walked the course, it was in the midst of an acrimonious primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the latter to become the Democrats’ nominee for president at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, August 25 – 28. Gosh, how much Billy hated Barack.

At least since the year 2000, Donnie had played with the idea of becoming president of the United States himself, if only for the immense cash returns such a run would create.
«It’s very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,» he told Forbes back then, and it was in 2016 that he finally achieved this goal.

So the plan both men hatched up after the 11th hole may have been pretty much this:

After the Obama presidency, in 2016, there would be Hillary as the candidate on the side of the Democrats. That could be arranged by the Clintons themselves, no doubt. But what was needed was a Republican candidate who at the same time was so unappealing to the broader public that the presidency would fall more or less automatically into Hillary’s hands. And because of the nomination of new Supreme Court judges ahead, it would be prudent if the Democrats not only gained the presidency but the House and Senate as well. «No problem,» Donnie may have muttered, «I give you the bad-ass, I whip those yokels ’till they vote for me, make me their candidate, and come the GOP’s loss, my name, my brand, and the cash I get from this will make their hate all worthwhile.»

And so, on some afternoon on some plushy golf course somewhere in the State of New York, the idea was born that Donald Trump would run for the presidency of the United States, be the Manchurian candidate of the Clintons, ruin the GOP and prevent the Supreme Court to become the base of right-wing activist judges. He would act as outrageously as possible, tap into conservatives’ anger and hate and desperation, all to make Hillary Clinton the 45th president.

It was a nice plan, but it had its flip-side. What if Donnie did actually win? Not just the presidential nomination of the GOP but, in fact, the presidential election as well? What if he indeed succeeded and became president? For him, not very much would change, as he would make even more money from merchandise and newly founded media outlets like Trump TV that could siphon off the ratings of other broadcasters. This was no fantasy, as Glenn Beck would prove a bit later by starting his own media outlet after having created a fiery brand on FOX News. It could make one rich and famous. So for Donnie this was a win-win, regardless of the outcome. But for Hillary, and for Billy in particular?

As the primary grew coarser and coarser, and Hillary was occupied to fight off Bernie Sanders while retaining (or rather: gaining) his support base, Donnie’s chances grew steadily. And when on November 8, 2016, the last ballot was cast and Donald Trump indeed turned out to be victorious, with the House and Senate firmly in the grip of the Republicans, there was a big smile on the real estate developer’s face. Not so on Billy’s, whose face turned alternately pale and red. Man, how dearly wished he back the times of the Monica Lewinsky affair. The cold and steely stare of his wife back then was gentle compared to the condescension and scorn he was up to as he walked to Hillary’s rooms. In fact, it was only comparable to Tony Blair’s face when confronted with the news that there hadn’t been any WMDs in Iraq.

 

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Why the Republicans Won Big in November 2016, Part 2

As if in the midst of a wild fire, the smoke and heat around the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November cloud and dull the spectator’s eyes. Can Trump really win? Will he? Why is it that Clinton can’t shake off Sanders in the primary? And when she finally does, will she be able to unite the Democratic party? (As if it were her task to do that.) Such are common questions that rather than in need of answer far more betray the intensity of the fire’s smoke impeding a clear sight, bordering on a reek of foul options.

Donald Trump and the GOP will not only win the U.S. presidency, but they will keep the House and the Senate. The Democrats, that is, have nearly no chance of winning either. And the reason is not just, as I wrote in Part 1, that most of the young supporters of Bernie Sanders will shun Hillary Clinton. There are, at least, three obvious reasons, why Donald Trump is in a far better position than Hillary Clinton:

  1. Young supporters of Bernie Sanders, eager to vote for something rather than against something, will not vote for Hillary Clinton, but either abstain from the election, vote their conscience and support Jill Stein of the Green Party, or will go for Donald Trump because of some overlaps in topics (esp. economic ones).
  2. Blue collar Democrats and union members seem to be very receptive to Donald Trump, as his economic and anti-free trade tirades run to the left of the Democrats. (See here and here for more.)
  3. Republicans and Conservatives show a far greater willingness to unite behind their (presumptive) nominee Donald Trump than Democrats and Progressives do vis-à-vis Hillary Clinton.

But there are two other reasons, related and intertwined, why Donald Trump and the Republicans now have a clear and pretty much unstoppable advantage over Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

What makes Donald Trump appealing to many is not just his misogynist view on women (and related ones on minorities, immigrants, disabled people), but that he deliberately created a space in which it is now permissible “again” to have and to voice such views. As many on the right felt an “oppressive” climate of “political correctness”, they often self-censored in public, kept their views to themselves and a certain amount of anger because of that. But Donald Trump didn’t mind to voice his dismissive attitudes, and thus gave many (not only on the right) the liberating feeling that all they had felt for so many years but haven’t been allowed to express because of “the liberals” and “the media” can now be said without retribution. An old, weird virility, dismissive and brutal, reminiscent of an old, weird America, long surviving only on the fringe (even the large fringe of Rush Limbaugh’s “femi-nazis”), has now again become a veritable, almost honourable, position in the midst of the mainstream, the run for the presidency of the U.S. Something neither Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, the Alternative Right, the Rolling Thunder bikers could have ever dreamt to resurrect that shortly after everyone thought the progressive and Democratic majority to stay for generations to come.

An old, weird America, lurking in an old, weird virility.

Finally this long suppressed virility found a way back into the public light. And with that the relief that one no longer needs to shut oneself off from the world, to be able to live one’s full “potential” — what a liberation, and what a release. Donald Trump opened this door, and its wicked promise of being whole again, free, so full of energy, so real, so exciting, so happy to kick arse …

And related to this resurrecting fascism is the tragedy (as one may call it with some good reasons) that Hillary Clinton’s feminism no longer touches the younger generation. Hers is the feminism of the grandmothers and mothers, not of the daughters (and sons) who simply no longer care if and when women will crack the “glass ceiling” or not. And with good reasons. If capitalism is exploitative by nature, if there cannot be a “compassionate capitalism” that honours the earth and all living beings, that can balance the needs and rights of all sentient beings, then what is the point of becoming a CEO of a big company? Why should you, as a woman in your twenties, even strive for that, when all that economy and capitalism can achieve is hurt the planet? Thus many young women (and men) will simply see no point in being able to become an equal racketeer. Capitalism, the economy, is not an option. It’s Life, stupid!

The feminism of Hillary Clinton, of Nancy Pelosi, of Elizabeth Warren, is the feminism of equal rights and equal opportunities that has been part of the goals of the feminists of the late 1960s, early 1970s. For several reasons this feminism is no longer a viable option nor even a topic for young women (and men). That’s why they support Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein, not Hillary Clinton. And that’s why there is no feminist or, in a broader sense, progressive alternative available to counter Trump’s unleashed fascist virility. Quite the contrary: The more the leather boots stump to the drums of the Trump, the more the yearning for a revived eco-feminist alternative that cares not just for man but for the earth and all living beings will retreat, become reclusive, to survive the dark ages we are in. It is thus not at the Democrats’ disposal to counter Trump in the arena of politics and organized resistance.

So with these five points, the outlook for the Democrats and Hillary Clinton are worse than they might think. Something happened when this old, weird virility made its reappearance on the surface of the public’s psychê. It is this outlook that matters in November, not the superficial assurance that like Clinton finally supported Obama in 2008, so will Sanders support her in 2016. (Which is an erroneous comparison in itself.) This is part of the smoke of the wild fire, not what is burning on the ground.

 

More? Part 1  Part 3

 

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Why the Republicans Won Big in November 2016, Part 1

The U.S. American primary for the election of a new president in November 2016 has so far been a winding road of absurdities and utter failure to grasp reality, on both sides of the political spectre. True, the turmoil of Donald Trump’s campaign has been in sharp focus of the media, but it rather cloaked the view on the awkward dynamic on the Democratic side. Still, Hillary Clinton is favoured to become her party’s nominee, and the poll results still claim that she’ll be the next president-elect in November. Accordingly, many on the Democrats side urge Bernie Sanders to “shut down” his campaign as there seems no viable way for him to gain the nomination of his party in Philadelphia, July 25–28. Consistent with this line of thought is the urge by many Democrats to their party to “unite”, viz., that supporters of Mr. Sanders “unite” behind and support Mrs. Clinton.

What this reasoning blocks out is that there is already only a slight chance left for Mrs. Clinton to win the election in November at all. And this regardless of whether Donald Trump or somebody else will be the Republican nominee. The reason for this is that the Sanders supporters will not vote for Mrs. Clinton but will abstain from the election. Voter turnout will thus favour Republicans, so that not only will there be a Republican president-elect in November 2016, but also a Republican Congress. (In the Senate the Republicans will lose at most one or two seats, and the House will stay Republican.)

The reasons for this predicament of the Democrats are more or less twofold. On the one hand, there is the damage that the Sanders campaign has inflicted upon Mrs. Clinton. It is not that Mr. Sanders has pushed her to the left by insisting on the topics he holds dear. It is far more the harm done while pushing her to the left. If it were only a matter of topics, then Mrs. Clinton would have time enough to pull her party back to the political centre after catching the nomination. But Sanders’ impact is not on this level. Far more it consists in that by advocating his topics he (at the same time) branded Mrs. Clinton as a hardcore establishment representative, thus making her ineligible for his supporters. When it comes to the election, for most Sanders supporters there will simply be no difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump (or somebody else). Both will be seen as abhorrent establishment. So they have nobody to vote for and thus will not show up to vote for her.

Of course, on the Republican side many voters will also not show up should Mr. Trump (or somebody else) be the nominee. But there is an important difference. Voters of the Republican party are primarily older voters, voters who are capable and willing to vote either against something or vote for a second-best option while holding their nose. The Sanders supporters on the other hand are primarily younger voters, and those will not vote so much against something but want to vote in favour of something. Recall the debacle of Al Gore running against George W. Bush. Mr. Gore simply couldn’t get enough “decisive” votes — the “popular vote” isn’t sufficient, the structural votes are important — to beat Mr. Bush, and he couldn’t get them because a vast amount of young voters then voted for Ralph Nader and not for the second best-option Al Gore.

If we keep in mind that younger voters tend to vote in favour of something or abstain from voting at all whereas older voters often vote for the second best or against something, then the damage done by the Sanders campaign to Mrs. Clinton’s prospects to become the next president of the United States is obvious. For Sanders supporters, Mrs. Clinton is not an option. So they will not show up to vote for her. In fact, it is pretty much irrelevant when Sanders will drop out of the race for the nomination. The damage is already done, enough for younger voters to see no incentive to turn out in November 2016.

 

More? Part 2  Part 3

 

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