Tag Archives: Dysfunction

The Police

Police, crime and gun violence have been much on my mind the past few days, and it all feels like a key example of how our sociocultural infrastructure is misaligned and wrecking itself and defies fixing and is probably going to blow up.

Executive summary:

Police officers just keep on shooting and killing unarmed Black people, largely without consequence, and my own Twitter feed reflects all day long the outraged responses of “all cops are bastards,” “abolition now,” “you can’t reform evil,” etc.

At the very same time a few violent crimes close together, here in Lakewood, have people screaming “where are the fucking cops” and lashing out, calling for the mayor’s head, forming (armchair) vigilante groups on Facebook, etc.

To the extent that there exists “an answer” to this, I think it lies at least as much in other directions e.g. the gun-crazy political-industrial complex, as it does “somewhere in the middle.”

But this is America, the many reinforcing features of our toxic culture include constant and powerful infantilizing systems, and all things must be either 100% bad or 100% good and any kind of other suggestion is widely offensive, and basically, like I was saying the other day.

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Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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Vaccines and HyperNormalisation

Personally, things are going okay at this moment. On Wednesday I got the second half of my two-part “$2,000 check,” and the first half of my two-part COVID-19 vaccination. I’m doing some work for clients. Cleaning up around the apartment.

I can’t deny a feeling of emergence, especially because of a personal feeling of emerging from something like a five-year fugue state. I have written a number of times about a similar feeling, after recent elections, as though I had somehow been absent from my own life during extended preoccupation with campaigns, then one day came back to find months had gone by. This feels something like that except for years instead of months.

The end of the 2020 election and its long overtime, plus winter, plus social distancing, plus perhaps the slow start to 2021 campaigns, kind of put me in a place to slow down and reflect for more than in years. But browsing some blog posts from 2015 (like this or this) really made me realize that in terms of thinking about my life, the place I’m in lately is a lot like one I reached five or six years ago. Then activism and related activities began to mushroom, pushing me out of that place for five years. For all the ways that transformed my life, and probably my self, it is now like I’m back confronting very similar deep questions.

Also shit is still just on fire around me which does complicate things.

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The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

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La la land

I already established the theme of this post a month ago, the short version of which is “the fundamental reality surrounding us is a disaster, and for individuals the additional choice to confront that is made even more unappealing by the huge number of people engaged in some form or another of escapist play-pretend.”

The past week has served up more and more of this on basically every front. I have adopted the term “la la land” as shorthand for the many forms of reality-denying nonsense, especially the energetic promotion of one after another new reform bills which are all pure fantasy absent a revolution within the US Senate.

I mockingly asked last week if people believe that the Senate is a dam, which simply must burst if a large enough flood of legislation builds up behind it. Honestly I would like to believe that some theory resembling this really is circulating among Democratic reformers. If there’s any hope for Senate Democrats’ pseudo-majority to overcome the Republican obstruction and the small but critical number of Democrats enabling it, it seems like it will involve every interest within the Democratic coalition insisting on it. Introducing legislation which coalition members really want, e.g. the PRO Act, would plausibly encourage such an uprising. I don’t assume that this would work, but it would at least be a “theory of the case.”

I suspect not, though. Also last week, I literally called the office of my representative to the US House and asked if there is any theory of the case, or if the party is just giving up and introducing message bills now; the staff’s response was basically a that’s-how-things-are shrug.

More significantly, it just seems like nearly everyone is adrift in la la land, all the time.

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America’s Politics Not Fit for Purpose

The American political system does not solve problems, or even resolve disputes, at a national level.

This feels like a big-picture understanding of failed-state reality, above the day to day or even year to year blowups.

A good political system ought to solve broad problems of society, and create better and fairer conditions over time. But for a political system to qualify as functional at all, it ought to resolve some disputes. Even if one credits a political system of endless unresolved disputes with being at least preferable, compared with those fights playing out through violence, this does not seem stable beyond a short term. If arguments just fester, while infrastructure decays, explosions seem inevitable.

As America draws near a decade since the optimistic forecast “that the fever may break” soon, I believe we may say that our political system is just not fit for purpose at a national level. I know I say this kind of thing, a lot, but this fundamental futility seems important.

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Bipartisanship Deconstructed

Our political culture of reverence for “bipartisanship” has become like a cargo cult. Few have really caught on to the reality that the rituals aren’t working, let alone questioned their origins. Many simply carry on apparently convinced that going through the motions and chanting the magic phrases—”find common ground,” “reach across the aisle,” “bipartisan“—must eventually revive the politics of decades ago.

If one can manage even basic pattern recognition, it’s easy enough to dismiss this. Fake radios don’t work, the Ghost Dance didn’t work, repeating clichés with no relevance to contemporary politics won’t work. But ignorant superstition is not a convincing complete explanation, here, and it’s worth examining how America became so attached to this concept in the first place.

Much reference to “bipartisanship” seems like a shorthand. It’s an overused gesture toward cooperation and reasonableness, employed out of habit. Or it’s an all-purpose endorsement of policy, in place of details which few will follow.

But a deeper reflection on bipartisanship reveals an important part of governing and America’s social contract itself, for well over a century.

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Brexit via exhaustion

My interest in “Brexit,” at this point, is mainly entertainment. I suppose it always has been. The points of comparison between British and American politics are interesting—sometimes downright eerie—but mostly I look at Brexit news for a diversion from our domestic dysfunction. A friend and I refer to it as The Daily (Shit) Show.

This week, at last it’s more or less official. Years after the referendum the UK is leaving the European Union, with a replacement trade agreement being rolled through a political system which seems mostly to be reacting with sheer exhausted resignation.

Far more informed people have already analyzed this from countless angles and will go on doing so for years. My primary “take,” as such, is the same one I arrived at two or three years ago: the key word for interpreting all the thrashing and contortions of Brexit is “plus.”

In an earlier season of the show, the word “plus” was an indispensable suffix. What practical model for relations with the EU should follow the egregiously vague 2016 referendum verdict? The answer was always something-plus. Canada-plus. Norway-plus. Etc.

The repeated insistence on some model different and better than any which existed seemed, and seems, to encapsulate the denial which produced years of fumbling to little apparent purpose, which turned the English left inside-out, and which may disunite the UK.

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Ungovernable

I pitch around terms like “failed state” and “ungovernable,” in referring to our crashing nation state, but I imagine that these are just words for nearly all who may chance by.

The dramatic difference between where we already are, though, and how much more functional our political systems were just within my lifetime might offer helpful context.

An approximate and abridged timeline of dysfunction:

  • c. 1980 amending the U.S. Constitution becomes impossible
  • c. 1990 multi-day government shutdowns enter the picture
  • c. 2005 steady growth in filibusters takes hockey-stick upward turn
  • c. 2010 significant reform via legislation becomes impossible
  • 2011 gerrymandering approaches perfection; debt ceiling brinkmanship
  • 2015 total blockade of cross-party judicial appointments
  • 2018 Violence Against Women Act cannot even get renewed
  • 2019 total blockade of cross-party legislation
  • 2020 broad Republican consent for schemes to reject a presidential election defeat

I don’t think this pattern points to “an epiphany” followed by a sudden return to cooperation and responsible good governance.

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Improv pandemi-coup-cession

Political processes and ordered society itself are fundamentally a form of theater which most people agree to take more or less seriously. When that goes it all goes.

This observation, which I made a couple of weeks ago about the significance of even performative cosplay coup attempts, is about as close as I can get to any kind of theme at the moment.

What’s the use, after all? I have been addressing this for a while in various ways; you don’t “organize to fight” faced with a hurricane; if you’re pushing on a rope then “try, try again” is not a virtue. In recent years I have dreamed up increasingly unlikely scenarios for how America might be repaired and renewed from within existing systems, while recognizing the trend away from plausibility with each new corruption of the system.

At this point I think the motion away from plausible repair scenarios has reached escape velocity. What does one do, say, or think amid this? Even believing that intervention still matters, a big picture ongoing cluster-crisis is kind of distracting. So I will try to collect some scattered thoughts in an assortment package, since developing all or even most of them as complete essays may never happen.

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