Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lesser Of Two Evils

Authoritarians often do not realize that they make decisions based on the deeply-ingrained impulse to obey authority. These people do not say that there is an approved way and someone's else way and they choose the approved way. They say to themselves that there is only one way and it's foolish and wrong to refuse to follow it. There are always multiple options in any scenario although some of those options are desperate and final.
It is our responsibility, our duty, and in our self-interest to criticize the people to whom we have handed over our power/vote. We chose them, supported them, funded them, obeyed them. We are personally responsible for their actions.  They represent us and everything they do reflects on us. It is delusional to expect others to give us a pass for the actions of our leaders. We certainly don't do the same for them.

If our president, the leader of our nation and in this case the leader of our political party, kills foreigners with drones we will be held responsible. We will suffer the consequences of those actions, just as we hold Republicans responsible for voting for George W. Bush. They chose him because they wanted to be winners and Bush promised them that they would be able to use that power to grab more money, force the poor and minorities to show them more respect and obedience, and kill foreigners at will. Liberals chose Barack Obama and they do not just have ownership of some gay rights and health insurance reform, they have ownership of a lot more. From Jimmy Carter's op-ed, via Glenn Greenwald, we are also personally responsible for:

"top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens"

"our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the [Declaration on Human Rights'] 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”

"Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces”

"recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications"

"drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior"

And, via John Cole, Matt Stoller also points out our responsibility.

This alternative narrative is a hard truth to hear, because it carries with it an implicit rejection of American exceptionalism. Yes, American institutions are no better, and in many ways are more malignant, than those of many other countries. Yes, our political leaders, our press, our military leadership, operate in service to sociopathic aims. Yes, our freedoms are often an illusion, unless you fit a very narrow criteria. Yes, our banks are run to rob us, yes, our CIA spies on us, and yes, our government is fundamentally anti-democratic. Yes, our President is a con artist, and yes, nearly every reporter who writes about him participates in this set of lies, because of careerism, social financial reasons, or a simple lack of competence or imagination.

But, the idea that the king is always good, which is where the hope and change narrative draws its deep strength, is something we do not have to accept. We as people can break this spell, and speak to our own dignity, as citizens. We can learn our own power, if in no other manner than in saying at the voting booth and in public, “I do not accept your lies, and though you might take it by force, I will not grant you my consent willingly.” We can choose not to address our political officials by their titles. We can work to organize ourselves, and our lives, with those of us who understand that power is something that must be taken, with money, organization, but most of all, with moral courage. It is not something that politicians have except through our consent, consent we have been giving for decades, to a rotten political class. This is what they truly fear. This is why they spend tens of billions on propaganda, on advertising, on symbols and personalities and celebrity. This is why they hide the workings of our government and banks and institutions of power in the language of boring bureaucrat-ese. This is ultimately why they are weak. Because in order for them to do their work quietly, we must go about our day, and believe either the hope and change narrative, or the Kenyan socialist narrative, scoffing at the opposing “team” who thinks what we do not. Instead, we can choose an alternative narrative, that power and consent come from us, come from the choices that we make, as people, and as citizens. And we will no longer believe that Barack Obama, that cool, brilliant, self-aware con artist is anything but what he has revealed himself to be. (my bold)

Power is terrifying because it comes with responsibility. All we have to do to avoid this responsibility is refuse to use our power. The concept of power and responsibility seem very vague and far away. Most people are only concerned with their immediate world, the actions that directly affect them. But when you give away your power you can't keep the part you need and give away the part you don't need. You have given all of it away and it's no longer there when you need it. So you simply say that you don't need it. Obama's cool. He's got it. Let him handle it. Trust him to do his job. And then you go back to your daily life, and people die from bombs and joblessness is ignored and banks grow richer while we grow poorer. I am reading the same economic warnings that I read in 2008. It is terrifying. Which is worse--lose an election or lose a nation?

Mr. Cole and many of his commenters were very displeased by Stoller's words. Stoller was immensely insulting and disrespectful of their authority. They believe that Obama is better than Romney, which is undeniably true but short-sighted. They only look at what they might gain and ignore what they might lose. They do not weigh the long-term consequences against the short-term consequences or exercise their power for their own personal gain. They work only for the personal gain of their authority, a defining characteristic of authoritarianism.

If we will not be more moral or wise, let us be more greedy. We trade economic gains for social gains but money is power, and if we don't trade votes for jobs we will continue to be utterly powerless and dependent on the charity of our elected officials, who will only reverse their assault on our civil rights when they need our votes.

And yet, how do you tell people that their authority thinks they are chumps when they were raised to respect and obey authority? Tell them their parents were selfish, foolish and cruel to teach them to obey? For most people the idea is an absurd and evil accusation. They do not believe it; they cannot admit that people we love can harm us, even if that harm was done unwittingly and with the best intentions. We love our parents so much that we can't bear to admit that they forced us to mistrust our own judgement, underminded our self-confidence and self-esteem, and left us looking for someone to obey for the rest of our lives. We might be willing to die rather than admit it.

We certainly would rather let strangers die than admit it.


Anonymous said...

Authoritarianism has long been one of the major themes of this blog. I appreciate your posts on this topic, which have helped me to recognize and understand the motivations of people whose behaviors made no sense to me previously.

Anatole David said...

Excellent piece. Arthur Silber's latest series on Authoritarianism in the US is also excellent.

DPirate said...

"They chose him because they wanted to be winners and Bush promised them that they would be able to use that power to grab more money, force the poor and minorities to show them more respect and obedience, and kill foreigners at will."

Stopped reading right there, because you didn't continue on to say liberals chose Obama because he would execute US citizens, further most if not all of Bush'd programs, launch drones over all of us, clamp down harder on transparency (lack thereof), and in general keep fucking us all over like's been done since I've been alive.

Susan of Texas said...

I wish liberals were that self-aware. No, they convinced themselves that everything Obama said meant Obama agreed with them, even when he said the opposite.

Almost all of us fool ourselves but sometimes we fool ourselves about different things.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

This liberal figured out where Obama was coming from after the 2010 elections/disaster.

(I never thought he was liberal, but I didn't realize how terrible he was until then.)

Of course, Arthur Silber had it figured far sooner.

Susan of Texas said...

I expect everyone will figure it out after the 1% starts to strangle the 9%. They're the only ones left with any money.

Anonymous said...

Matt Stoller is your new hero?

Political naifs seem to have a great following here. Well, at least it's a hiatus from your obsession with McArdle.

Wait. How are you any different from whomever generically you're trying to field-strip with this entry?

You're not. Your whole damned Old Testament of McArdle-argybargy suggests you are right, McArdle is wrong, and it's not a measured value comparison.

But don't let that stop you. Arrogant naivete suits you!

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Wow, a Both Sidism Troll. very nice.

Never mind the fact that McArdle is demonstrably wrong in the pages of the Atlantic, and now that she has been/fired/demoted Susan has said already that this blog will be paying less attention to McMegan.

Susan of Texas said...

He seems to be upset that a blog with only a few hundred readers--all of them voluntary, as far as I know--says stuff about people. Maybe that's why he doesn't come by very often--there are millions of little blogs that say stuff about people and one only has so much time.

Downpuppy said...

I have a very, very, big problem with "Which is worse--lose an election or lose a nation?"

It turns the real choices inside out.

The chance of losing the country for a generation through this election is real. Just off the top of my head, Citizens United, voter suppression laws, a totally lawless Supreme court & the Military turning into a cult are all out in the open as threats. Bush tried to lock in permanent rule, and the effort hasn't stopped. You surely know that the Texas Republican platform wants to repeal the Voting Rights Act. It's a direct assault on representative government.

I heard too much of "it doesn't matter, they're both awful" in 1980 & 2000. In 1980 it cost us huge, in 2000 even more, plus the complete destruction of a whole nation, Iraq.

Lose this election, we probably will lose the shreds we have left of our nation. Win it, and then go right on kicking, screaming & trying to have some influence. Probably failing, but at least we won't be in Nehemiah Scudder territory.

Susan of Texas said...

We don't kick and scream, though. We refuse to push back, to threaten the left with the witholding of our votes or money. Obama decided to campaign on achieving health insurance reform and so he pushed that through for his own good. It is very good that we gained some benefit but the plan wasn't liberal. Obama supported gay rights right before the election and not before. It was to his advantage. He does not do anything that is not to his advantage.

We are trying to win locally and we always must continue to do that, and we do have some small influence because Obama wanted votes, but we are not advancing slowly, we are going backwards.

I don't remember anyone saying that there was no difference between Bush and anyone. His dangerousness was clear to everyone. We can't say the same about Obama; he is better is some ways and the same or worse in others.

We will not fail if we push back, if we actually work at taking back our power. But that would take massive cooperation among people and right now that will not happen. People have to be talked into using force and that is what I'm trying to do.

Kathy said...

I think people are kicking and screaming, organizing recalls, signing petitions, participating in 'Occupies': but no one hears much about it, except for negative stories in the media (there is no Free Press, and without it people just don't know what is really happening or what to do about it. Sadly, the internet doesn't make up for the loss of our Free Press, and when it tries to (Asange) do so our corporate government masters step in and foul it up.

Anonymous said...

I see it somewhat differently: to me the crucial question is - to take the drone example - Does the voting public of this country truly care about what is done in its name? Do they know enough about it and do they have a conscience that tells them this is wrong?

If the answer to all that is no, then we are screwed no matter who is in power.

If the answer is 'yes, but I am more concerned about my immediate problem of not having a job' the answer is to continue to elect the con-artist and hope for the best.

At the end of the day, values have to be inculcated over time.

Unfortunately, values are inevitably handed down by 'authority' - parents first, teachers next, peers next and so on.

Your take on authority is right but only partly right. Authority to day is very self-serving, but it doesn't have to be. There is such a thing as benevelont authority - which is not self-serving - even if it were not always obvious.

Take Jesus Christ, for example (and I am not even a Christian) - after all, what did he do? By all accounts he lived a simple life and spent it helping others when he could. Stripped to this level, wouldn't his 'authority', if handed down as values benefit society as a whole? Yes. So, the fact that eons of spokespersons for Jesus Christ have completely screwed up this simple message should not be an indictment of the very concept a simple message from 'authority'.

Your argument seems to be that authority inevitably leads to moral corruption. Sadly, that seems to be true today, but is not enough to indict the very concept of authority.


Bob Dobbs lll said...
Mr. Anonymous Cynic, I hope this sheds some light.
I love you SOT!

Ed Crotty said...

Completely agree that Obama is not liberal. But he was the best choice in that election. Gore was not liberal either - but if he had won in 2000 instead of Bush the world would be a much better place. Advocating for what you want is good - it is democracy. Slagging Obama so the Romney gets elected is biting off your nose to spite your face.

It is said that politics is the "art of the possible". I would suggest that educating more folks to understand what is possible (i.e. real liberal gains) is more helpful than calling Obama names. The FDR quote about "make me do it" still holds.

"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Comment to a group of reformers. His point: Until they lead the way, they shouldn't expect leaders to follow.

The irony here is that you make a good argument about Authoritarianism and then complain that Obama is not leading the way you want - not being Authoriatian in the correct way. FDR knew that the president doesn't really lead - he needs a majority ( and usually more ) of the country to want change before it will happen.

You are right to want change, I do too. But Obama is just part of the system. The entire system has inertia and is resistant to change - it is not Obama's fault.

I understand ( and share ) your frustration. But Romney will be much much worse.

Anonymous said...

The essential confusion of Jiddu Krishnamuti:

"One of the results of fear is the acceptance of authority in human affairs. Authority is created by our desire to be right, to be secure, to be comfortable, to have no conscious conflicts or disturbances; but nothing which results from fear can help us understand our problems, even though fear may take the form of respect and submission to the so-called wise. The wise wield no authority, and those in authority are not wise. Fear in whatever form prevents the understanding of ourselves and of our relationship to all things."

See, he equates authority with fear - as though that is the only basis on which authority may claim its position. But when I turn to Feynman for Physics or to Einstein for Relativity, my basis is not that of fear, but trust (and verify).

Even in the matter of human endeavors, when I listen to a coach on a basketball team, it is not out of fear. Nor is it fear when I accept my Spanish teacher as an authority on Spanish - at least until I learn enough to perhaps contradict him.

So, here is the rub: authority, by itself is amoral and necessary for all practical human endeavor. The wielder of authority is the one who determines whether it is for ill or well.


nate said...

Ugh, thanks for reminding me that I should never read comment threads at Balloon Juice unless the topic is related to

You know, all of this "but Democrats are better!" is true, but what has it gotten us in the long run? Losing more slowly.

Say what you will about the teabaggers, but they cost the Republicans elections, and probably control of the senate, yet look at all the power they wield to this day.

Dollars to dougnuts, if real progressives knocked out some Dems like that, John Cole and TBogg would be howling for blood.

Downpuppy said...

I like the picture of TBogg howling for blood, with Wembley & Fenway rending the flesh off firebaggers bones.

If somebody primaried Manchin, Cole would probably slap their bumper stickers on Rosie & work their phone bank. He loves Manchin like the Jane Hamshers of the Left love Leiberman.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Slagging Obama so the Romney gets elected is biting off your nose to spite your face.

Really? Bush tried to cut Social Security. Watch your lesser evil get that heinous act accomplished.

nate said...

Downpuppy, what if the progressive candidate was a spoiler and cost a D seat? Think Cole would be down with that?

Howling for blood was a bit of hyperbole, I'll admit. Let's say, "paternalistic condescending posts featuring my little ponies".

And I love both of those guys, I truly do. It's just looking at how we got from Carter to Obama, with no end in sight that brings me down.

Downpuppy said...

Alas, it's just a hypothetical. I'd love to see a lot of primary challenges to some of the more plutocratic democrats, but the last major one I remember was Ned Lamont. The record of Blue Dogs lately has included a lot of general election defeats, not any primaries I recall.

Almost everyone at least respects the effort when somebody runs on principle.

Susan of Texas said...

"One of the results of fear is the acceptance of authority in human affairs. Authority is created by our desire to be right, to be secure, to be comfortable, to have no conscious conflicts or disturbances; but nothing which results from fear can help us understand our problems, even though fear may take the form of respect and submission to the so-called wise. The wise wield no authority, and those in authority are not wise. Fear in whatever form prevents the understanding of ourselves and of our relationship to all things."

I think he is right. Many if not most of us are afraid to make choices. We were not allowed to make choices growing up or we were told all our choices were wrong or we were told that we are too unimportant to make choices and choices belong only to our authorities. "I know what's best for you/It's for your own good/I know more about the world than you/I make the money you don't so I know what you need to do/God will tell you what is right or wrong/Honor thy Father and Mother. The list is endless.

If our parents never let us think about, explore, or make decisions about our interests, sexuality, values, career, etc., then we will be afraid to (1)make a mistake (2)prove that our parents were right and we don't know what we're doing (3)harm others through our actions (4)lose our parents' love/God's favor (5)prove to ourselves and the world that we are stupid or bad or always wrong. That list can go on forever too. So we avoid making decisions and thereby never make a mistake. But we also never act either. We choose inaction because we are afraid to be wrong.

But life is full of decisions and someone must make them. So we give our power to someone else and he becomes the authority, the one with power to make the decisions for us. He is not necessarily an expert, a totally different type of authority. We may consult and learn from experts but we don't obey them. We obey authority. They might be the same person but usually are not. The qualities in a person that creat expertise are usually at odds with the qualities that creat someone who craves more power and wants to control others. "The wise wield no authority, and those in authority are not wise."

"Nothing which results from fear can help us understand our problems." Fear drives us to avoid what we perceive as danger. Avoiding decisions does not help us solve problems. The only way to understand our decisions is to face them without flinching; to accept the truth and move on. We must accept the fact that our decision will have negative consequences for some. Right now the worst consequences of our decision to support Obama fall on the lower classes in our country and the powerless and violent abroad. (Plus anyone who happens to be standing near them when the bombs hit.) We would have to risk our civil rights to regain some economic rights. We might lose. We would have to accept responsibility for that loss and suffer the rejection of our group, with all that entails.

Susan of Texas said...

We would have to live through the pain of making a mistake and failing ourselves and others. That is far too difficult for many people. They have such little confidence in themselves that they can't risk losing any. We are so starved for love, approval, admiration and respect that we will not sacrifice the smallest amount by risking the chance of making mistakes and losing these things. Likewise we will not go against the crowd, especially when we like the crowd, when members of our group that we admire have been kind and supportive and welcoming.

If we keep voting for Obama and people like him we will continue our 30-year march to poverty and supression. We need stop giving all our power to an authority with his own, different, self-enriching agenda. And we need to take back the power which we have given away, which can only be done by the use of force.

We need to use the only power we have left, the power of the vote, to demand concessions from those who want that vote. They are the only people we can force to do anything. Once we have voted into office people who will do what our group wants them to do, we can change laws to take more power away from the rich.

We must also put pressure on the rich so they do not prevent us from voting for a person of our choice. They are now so arrogant that they believe their own lies of superiority and want everyone else to act on that belief as well. We need a media class war; it is one of the very few ways in which we have the upper edge. Pretensions of superiority are always ripe for mocking, which undermines authority. We can't attack their persons or property but we can attack their authority and that will make them uneasy and preoccupied, because their entire self-image is based on their wealth.

No, let's not just keep on voting for the lesser of two evils. There's a lot to do. The first step is convincing every one of us that we deserve better than what we're getting. Otherwise things'll never change.

BillCinSD said...

"The chance of losing the country for a generation through this election is real."

This was true for passing the Civil Rights Acts under Johnson. I'm glad he did it anyway.

BillCinSD said...

"I heard too much of "it doesn't matter, they're both awful" in 1980 & 2000. In 1980 it cost us huge, in 2000 even more, plus the complete destruction of a whole nation, Iraq."

Interesting, what I remember hearing a bunch of during those elections (and really almost every election in between) was how we had to vote for the Democratic candidate regardless of their flaws because the Republican candidate was so much worse. As a plan this has not worked particularly well

Substance McGravitas said...

They say to themselves that there is only one way and it's foolish and wrong to refuse to follow it.

I dunno, there is a bottle in front of me and I see only one thing to do.

Still, the default response to authority should always be FUCK YOU. Those people should beg for votes out of guilt, but feelings are rare I guess.

Anonymous said...

The only way Stoller's piece makes any sense is if he wrote it for rubes.

Both Sides Do It said...

I wish there was html I could use to post a big red button labeled "The Obvious Answer to Fix All This Shit Everyone Can Agree On", and when people pressed the button it would shout through the speakers


There are two problems facing the prospect of a Democratic Party that is not evil: 1) The President can't be elected without gobs of corporate money and 2) The party apparatus is filled with people who don't give a shit about reforming the system so that 1) is no longer in effect.

Taking over local party groups is most likely the surest, and possibly the quickest, way to start changing 2). And I don't see a way to change 1) without having to change 2) first.

And to tie this in to Susan's overarching theme, in some sense we have the responsibility to do so, because we are the personalities who can remain politically engaged. We are the people whose buttons get pushed thinking and talking about this stuff, and it's us who are going to have the interest to see this stuff through in the long haul. We can't expect people who are bored to tears at the thought of a discussion about redistricting sit through hundreds of hours of party meetings.

It's from our very limited ranks that the people who can do this are drawn, and if we don't choose to do it in a very real sense we have abdicated part of our moral responsibility, just as someone born with an eight-figure trust-fund abdicates hers if she does not do philanthropy or charitable work.

Unknown said...

So if I don't agree with you and like Obama, I am authoritarian? Even if I don't like some of the things he does but because, like all candidates, I vote for the one that holds more of my values, I am authoritarian? Hmmm. It seems like you are just calling people names if they don't agree with your idea of what authority should be.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm obviously an infrequent visitor that enjoys your blog when I do do and never comment. While I wholeheartedly agree with your views on ownership of our government's actions; I as surprised by your willingness to so broadly input characteristics and motivations to people who were upset/ outraged by Mr. Stoller's statements.
Things you can't possibly know. I was outraged by Stoller's self satisfied pronouncement for a number of reasons, only one of which you got half- right. I'm at an age that the election will have no meaningful effect on what I get or don't get from our government for the remainder of my life. I believe it will have a very real and immediate effect on millions left fortunate than me in both e short and longterm regardless of thinking or personality traits. You'd be hard pressed to to convince any of my friends that I'd be insulted by anyone questioning my personal authority or the authority of anyone else. We've had 30 years of authoritaians and their assault on Democracy and I'm not sure we can survive anothe 8 years of the most authoritarian bunch we now see. And if you don't remember hearing anyone comparing bush to gore as being the same differnce, try googling A vote for gore is a vote for bush. Michael Moore made it a big enough deal that Nader used it on his web site and The New York Times mention it often in their coverage of the race. Papers have been written arguing the effect of the argument on the outcome.
Again, I enjoy your blog and hope you might reconsider the opinion.