Tag Archives: Conceptual Infrastructure

System design matters

Early this morning I came across a twitter thread summarizing the “theory of now” of Professor Jason Stanley, who endorses the summary. While not exactly my own phrasing or choice emphases, it seems generally accurate to me also.

The main difference in my own “theory of now” may be that I think system design—omitted from Stanley’s theory or at least from a 20-tweet summary he just promoted—plays a critical role.

My own “theory of now” might in fact be summarized in six words that I scribbled down earlier this year:

  • rabid right
  • flabby left
  • bad rules

The summarized Stanley addresses effectively the first two, which are both important. I believe that the third is also essential to understanding the sabotage of America.

Read More →

Bipartisanship Deal Infrastructure

Friday morning I began writing a blog post about the absurdities in and around the “bipartisan infrastructure deal” announced the day before. Then I stepped away from keyboard for a while, and before I resumed writing, parts of the Jenga tower had already begun caving in.

There’s a small life satisfaction, there, although people are scurrying around trying to patch up this dumb thing, and I don’t presume the effort is at and end.

I do believe that the most important point is the same, regardless. Republicans’ shiny-object obsession with bugaboos, conspiracies, and other made-up bullshit, has a counterpart among too many Democrats as well as the culture at large. This center-left obsession is with, perhaps fittingly, obsolete conceptual infrastructure.

Customs, norms, rhetorical clichés, mental clichés, bipartisanship, filibuster, reconciliation; it’s an obsession with the score of a game which no longer serves any purpose at all, in large part because only one of the participating teams is trying to play said game. Despite which, this ridiculous scrum continues of spectators and one team ferociously debating tactics and points, while the other team (and an increasing number of referees who have joined their team) simply play Calvinball.

From this starting point, it seems like a pattern of over-complicated and inherently dishonest “deals”—Obama’s 2016 attempt to waltz the Trans-Pacific Partnernship through Congress, Republicans’ 2017 game of hot-potato over healthcare repeal, and now the “two track” infrastructure scheme—is not a coincidence but basically inevitable.

The old is dying. The new cannot yet be born until more people pull their heads out and confront reality. Here, meanwhile, are some of the morbid symptoms.

VALIS

Philip K. Dick’s novel VALIS is, 40 years after its publication, a bit like watching one’s self live on video: what seems bizarre is actually what’s there all the time, revealed by the unfamiliar reflection of the familiar reflection which we see in mirrors.

VALIS is a bizarre work, made more bizarre by the way it challenges the concept of fiction. Many of the thoughts and experiences in VALIS are allegedly those of the author. This is recorded in most standard accounts about Dick’s life, as well as within the novel itself, although the novel also includes the character “Horselover Fat” as, at various points, 1) a mask worn by the author, 2) a self-delusion which the author sees through, and 3) an independent entity who interacts with the author. VALIS does not seem to me like it’s simply a pantomime exercise in freaky shit, for what that’s worth. The gnostic musings as well as the reported experiences seem, in combination with external writing about the book and the author, to be coming from sincerity—although the author makes considerable allowance for some of the experiences to be hallucinations or other cognitive-only experiences, sincerely reported.

Taken all together, VALIS seems like a tour of delusions, myths, and conspiracy bunk, provided by a guide partially aware that some of it is incredible and may not be strictly real, but not at all certain what alternative is real.

In 2021, in America, this also seems like a prime example of the literary characteristic of applicability for which J.R.R. Tolkein expressed appreciation.

Read More →

Seeing politics literally vs seriously

I recall some debate about whether to take Trump literally or seriously, particularly early in his presidency. I think this concept got kicked around enough that it was even the subject of mockery on Twitter at one point.

Lately I feel like my evolving attitude toward politics, generally, might be described as taking it seriously but not literally.

The terminology isn’t ideally precise. By “seriously” I mean that I’m certain that policy matters, and so therefore does political activity which influences it. By “literally,” I mean taking politics at face value, or on its own terms, of which I have recently become much more skeptical.

I think most people are in practice generally the opposite: they take politics literally but not seriously. The average person pays little heed to politics, but when they do, I think they readily swallow most of the concepts offered to them with minimal questioning. The average activist usually pays attention, but still takes a lot of “how things are done” for granted.

I pay attention, but doing so has of late made it harder and harder to take politicians and political narratives entirely on their own terms. I still think that policy matters, and that politics influences policy, but that process only loosely resembles official narratives about what the rituals mean. There’s a lot of pushing on a rope. There’s a lot of noise.

Read More →

What Capitol Insurrection?

This morning, Marcy Wheeler shared a blog post featuring an entirely ordinary image from the January 6, 2021 Capitol Insurrection, and it hit me.

A horde of Republicans decked out in the defeated Republican president’s flags and banners invaded the US Capitol to break shit and attempt a violent insurrection.

Months later, it’s like that never happened. Politics is carrying on exactly as it would had there been no Capitol Insurrection.

This seems like it’s as simple as this can get. America is a zombie failed state, just shambling along braindead waiting for the next chainsaw, as demonstrated in a few simple lines without resort to any of my charts, timelines, or arm-waving jeremiads.

Since the latter items are the primary fare here, however, a few notes on potential rebuttals or excuses and why they are nonsense:

Read More →

The Senate, parties, and misidentification

The moment the dust settled enough, from the November 2020 election, to see that Democrats’ best hope in the Senate was a 50-member pseudomajority, I knew that it would be an awful mess. I was right.

The perpetuation of a bipartisan-majority “filibuster” caucus, in combination with the guaranteed perpetuation of total obstruction of everything by Republicans, cripples Democrats’ ability to govern and pretty much confirms that America’s political crisis is terminal. That’s very bad.

What’s almost more frustrating, though is that no one seems to have any idea how to talk about this nightmare or even a readiness to try talking about it honestly. I grant that it’s very complicated for a culture which wants everything simplified and preferably familiar, too.

Read More →

The Consortium Calls It

Friday evening a friend wondered “Are they gonna call the election in a Friday news dump?” I laughed, and had been musing on the same question earlier in the day. Though the notion amuses, the alternative carried out today by “they” is much richer.

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 concludes a week which is a microcosm of contemporary America:

  1. Political debate has conceptually been devoured by a sectarian/race war
  2. Bad rules thwart the majority from doing anything effective about the above, or about the bad rules, or about much of anything
  3. In this dysfunction, power defaults more and more to corporate capital
  4. For ordinary people, conditions get worse, intensified by a dangerous natural phenomenon which could easily be controlled by a functional modern civilization, but which in this case is largely allowed to burn as it will because that’s the option most suited to short-term corporate profits
  5. Meanwhile few people even give much notice to any of this, because our information and conceptual infrastructure is hopelessly misaligned with what’s really going on, owing to a combination of senescence and sabotage
Read More →

Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

Read More →

The long shadow of 1964

I have spent close to four years not only recording the major contemporary events of America’s political collapse, but fitting pieces into a backstory.

Major structural vulnerabilities were there since the ink dried on the Constitution, but the present collapse was really set in motion in the early 1960s.

If I had to choose three events for a summary, I would choose these:

Democratic president Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, setting off an enormous generation-long exodus of racists from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

The same year, according to Kevin Kruse, “NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried to win the party back from ‘extremists’ but was heckled and harassed” at the national convention where moderate and liberal Republicans sought to “make a stand.” It proved to be a last stand.

In 1979, “evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.”

Read More →

Conceptual infrastructure failures

It’s possible for situation to be both terrible and ridiculous at once. This has indeed been the case almost constantly for America, for at least four years.

My awareness of this phenomenon, confronting us from almost every direction, has become overwhelming.

On one hand, things are absolutely abhorrent. Where to begin? The western U.S. is literally on fire, a pandemic has killed 200,000 Americans and climbing, and the president is an authoritarian raving monster who spends his time flying around the country for organized COVID-19 superspreader events, and encouraging Republicans’ frenzied effort to “get rid of the ballots” that might oblige them to cede power in any kind of functioning democracy; they’re clearly willing to destroy what remains of ours, and are preparing to install another radical partisan operative on the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile everyone is screaming and e-mailing and deploying every cliché in the book—red alert, all hands on deck, etc.—and it feels equivalent to yelling “pull up, pull up!” when the plane’s engines have exploded and it’s in a tailspin trailing smoke and fire.

Read More →