What we do here. Why it’s unpopular. And our new theme.

Summary:  The post about the TV show “Castle” began a new series on the FM website. Before we start, let’s review what we do here. The FM website delivers harsh truths (or guesses at such). It’s a poor business strategy delivering unpopular news. On the other hand, the record shows we’re good at it. Here’s the scoop on our next project.

Cassandra
Cassandra, our patroness

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Contents

  1. What we do here
  2. Looking ahead to the next theme
  3. For More Information
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. How I feel when reading comments

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(1)  What we do here

Since November 2007 readers of the FM website have seen 2,700+ posts, most 1,000 – 2,000 words long (totaling over 4 million words), adding up to almost 5 million page views. The FM website has become an extensively cross-indexed machine on which one can find information and forecasts on a wide range of political and geopolitical subjects.

As we (the FM website’s authors and readers) approach our 7th anniversary, let’s take a moment to ask “why bother?” building this.

It’s not for the fortune and glory. I’m often asked how many “likes” these posts get. “Likes” were turned on last month. But I expect few. The 33 thousand comments (most of which I’ve replied to) are an equally valid indicator of audience approval, and they’re overwhelmingly critical. That’s a feature, not a bug. We judge our record by the accuracy of our analysis as seen in the prescience of our predictions (see the correct ones and the misses)

The authors of the FM website post harsh truths about Americas. It’s an unpopular message — especially in our increasingly tribal society (where truth is obeisance to the tribe’s beliefs). Here are a few examples.

(a)  These posts by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired):

  1. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, 2 May 2011 — Going against today’s mindless flag-waving adulation of uniforms.
  2. The Psychology of Killer Drones – action against our foes; reaction affecting us, 28 September 2011 — We love our killer drones, not less despite the evidence of their ineffectiveness and harmful blowback on us. Published 3 years, with insights only recently in the news.

(b)  Marcus J. Ranum’s prescient posts about cyberwar starting in 2011, with painful insights ignored or mocked in the news media until Snowden’s revelations in Summer 2013.

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(c)  My posts about a score of subjects. Warnings about the death of the Constitution starting in 2006. Busting the Right’s myths about guns. Showing early on that we were in recession (as late as June 2008 commenters argued that I was wrong). Posts showing the Left and Right misinforming us about climate change (neither is a friend of the IPCC and major climate agencies). About the ineffectiveness and immorality of torture.  All with sizelingly hostile comments.

(2)  Looking ahead to the next theme

More bad business practices: we drop themes when they become popular. On the other hand, why bother covering ground others are covering better?  The first posts here about inequality were in 2008; now that the 1% have become entrenched at all levels of our society, it’s become obvious even to the news media (or perhaps just safe for them to mention).

As the focus for the past year we’ve discussed what might be our greatest problem: the decay of the Republic — and how a movement to reform it can be structured and run. But we have missed part of the equation. What’s the cause of our problem? Accurate diagnosis must precede development of a cure. Understanding why we are as we are might be the key to starting a successful reform movement.

What’s the cause of our apathy, our unwillingness to work the machinery of the Constitution, and our inability to take collective political action (except as small groups in our own self-interest)?  You’ll find no answers here.

Where might we look for clues? Perhaps in popular culture. Hit films and TV shows provide a mirror in which we can see ourselves. They project our hopes, fears, and possible futures — so we can watch without involvement. This allows our emotions to freely flow so we can experience different paths.

There’s a dozen posts on the FM website about popular culture (see the next section), but it’s not something explored here. The intense reaction (hostile, of course) to my post about the TV show “Castle” suggests that we should.

Is this a good idea? Do you have suggestions where to look? Post your thoughts in the comments.

(3) Other posts in this series about “Castle”

Superhero

(4)  For More Information

(a)  To learn about the FM website see the menu bar at the top of the page. See this page about comments.

(b)  Posts about popular culture:

  1. Pirate Bay points the way to a new political reform movement, 4 May 2014
  2. Spoilers for season 7 of “Castle”: who killed Castle, & why., 15 May 2014

(b)  Posts about heroes:

  1. A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  2. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
  3. Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
  4. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
  5. Our choice of heroes reveals much about America, 2 June 2013
  6. The Lone Ranger tells us about America, 6 July 2013
  7. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?, 28 October 2013

(c)  Posts about myths and movies:

  1. Symptoms of a fever afflicting America’s culture, 5 November 2008 — Hollywood’s hero deficit
  2. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 — The Law of Equivalent Exchange
  3. Their Martyrs and Our Heroes, an essay by John Feffer, 8 August 2009
  4. Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for, 30 June 2013
  5. Loki helps us to see our true selves, 15 May 2013

(4)  How I feel when reading comments

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Cassandra
How I feel when reading comments

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36 thoughts on “What we do here. Why it’s unpopular. And our new theme.

  1. I would guess that a major reason for our growing indifference to the Constitution is the philosophy of Individualism. It is very popular with the wealthy and supports the traditional American belief in the worth of the “self-made man.”

    This philosophy exhorts the value of the individual over the value of the group. True believers argue that consensus is always wrong because it dilutes the value of strongly held individual beliefs. Government can only work through consensus; which, as you’ve noted before increasingly hard to come by.

    Randism, from the writings of Ayn Rand, is a particularly virulent version of Individualism, emphasizing Social Darwinism and urging people to stop helping each other. It is also popular with the lower echelons of the one percent.

    Individualism is also striking in varying forms of secession movements both here and overseas. Countries such as the UK that have been successful for hundreds of years are arguing over relatively trivial internal matters and scheduling secession votes.

    The internet allows us to think we are isolated (or interconnected, whichever we prefer) while ignoring our neighbors. Movies (especially those super hero movies you dislike so much) emphasize the powerless nature of the state that has to be rescued by an individual or a small team.

    This has been going on for a long time, remember when the Army switched it’s recruiting slogans from “Be all that you can be” (implying that an individual can only reach maximum potential by being a part of a larger organization) to “an Army of One?” The trend has reached new heights during the last 20 years through judicious use of advertising dollars by the wealthy and news stories from other countries.

    I increasingly find Individualism to be an empty philosophy because most great works can only become reality through the efforts of larger organizations.

    1. Pluto,

      That’s a great analysis. Better than I’ve done on the subject (briefer, too). I agree on all points.

      There are several important threads in your comment. Here’s a quick note about two of them.

      (1) The succession movements are, imo, not an expression of individualism. Rather they are shift of allegiance from the Republic — and the national goals it represents — to smaller units representing different goals. It is, imo, not difficult to see what these people are seeking. They don’t attempt to hide their values. Where westerners seeking to isolate themselves from the “others”, or rich Californians seeking to create their own haciendas in which they can rule unopposed.

      (2) Our loss of faith in collective action. This is one of the defining traits of our age, one which accounts for our evolution from citizens into sheep. My guess is that this results from generations of indoctrination: new ideology, induced amnesia about our past. I might write about this.

  2. Why is Castle important? I must admit I have not heard of Castle or its cultural importance. Why do we care about fictional characters on television more than the real life drama that surrounds us and is so much more compelling each and every day?

    We have former President Clinton who is allegedly going to lobby Congress on giving a tax holiday to US multinational corporations so they can repatriate two trillion dollars tax free from overseas. What could be more interesting than a former populist president trying to assist American corporations sticking it in the face of the American people than with a tax holiday?

    I am clueless about Castle and its importance to this website but I am willing to listen.

    1. Joseph,

      Why is “Castle” worthy of study? That’s, of course, an important question to ask as we start this series. As usual, I have several answers.

      (1) What we were doing — direct analysis of our problems and proposing solutions — proved ineffectual. The modest traffic showed there was some interest, shown even better by the high traffic at more tribal sites doing the same schtick (National Review, Naked Capitalism). But, imo, it’s just entertainment. Motivational power = zero.

      The posts about how to do political reform — the most-often requested subject here — didn’t even get traffic.

    2. Joseph, continued

      (2) So let’s try something new. Now for your question: “why is “Castle” important? It’s not, taken as one of scores of hit media events (TV shows, films, songs, advertisements, etc). But each of these can serve as a mirror, and as long-time readers know I believe mirrors provide potentially powerful points of leverage (see the many posts about mirrors). Specifically, “Castle” acts as a mirror to give us 2 kinds of leverage.

      (a) Why do we watch “Castle”? What are the specific sources of its appear. Understanding this small thing might help us understand larger trends at work in our society — things so large we cannot easily see them. This is standard social science analysis (albeit of the amateur kind).

      (b) More speculatively, I’ve described in many posts the hope that we — America — might recover our true selves if we see what we have become. We see ourselves in these shows in a hazy way, as through a filter that gives our picture a soft glow. Taking the rose-colored spectacles to show the harsh true picture might shock us, and create a need to change.

      More about this in the next few posts. This is obviously all a few steps beyond guessing, taking a step beyond the edge of the known (where the FM website has lived since opening in 2007). Comments welcome.

      (3)

    1. When I was a more active fan of Japanese media, especially manga and anime, I used them as windows into Japanese fantasy life, but also realized they were fun-house mirrors of Japanese reality. I learned a lot about how the Japanese saw themselves, and what they thought of other people. I also discovered that, beneath their conformist exteriors, there is a lot of weirdness, both by American and Japanese standards. Of course, what I watched and read reflected what would sell best in the export market, and might just reflect what American viewers and readers wanted but couldn’t get in our own entertainment. The revolution was imported.

      I also realized that the same could be said about our popular culture. What fears and desires are we showing to the world in our TV programs and movies? I guess I get to find out now.

  3. I find many of your comments interesting but haven’t found a fulcrum that appeals to me.

    In general With regard to culture I would like to see more Mr. Rogers and less Rush Limbaugh. I would also like to see more people like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_N._Welch.

    Also having just read the Mother Jones piece about gun enthusiasts spitting on and trying to intimidate their opponents I think it’s also time to elevate the humorists and start ridiculing these people by name.

    (I also find it an interesting “tell” about our society that Bill Black is virtually ignored.)

    1. Charles,

      I agree with you on all points. But some details.

      (1). I have not “found a foul rum that appeals to me, either. But I don’t believe we will find it on the surface as we stroll through the park. We must look for sign, as trackers, archeologists, and geologists say. Then dig. Probably through rock, perhaps deeply.

      That’s what we are doing here.

      (2) I strongly believe these kind of so what tribal responses — I like those that agree with me — get us nowhere. We are far more likely to find pay dirt by reading those we disagree with. Why do they have these values and world view? What aspects can I agree with?

      Continuing the current. Left – Right battle is IMO TOTALLY FUTILE. Makes WWI look like a campaign run by Sun Tsu, and perpetuates our rule by the 1%.

      We must change the terms of engagement. To do this we need to look in different spots to find new insights.

      That is what we are doing here. I doubt results will come fast or easy. Even less do I expect applause, perhaps not even from success (not that I consider substantial success to be likely). But if many of us do this, the odds might give us a break.

  4. There is a danger with popular culture items. Successful creators produce works that are like ink blots: they seem to speak to so many people because they have just enough ambiguity that each viewer sees what he or she needs to see. Using this kind of material means leaving the realm of objectivity and engaging with what we want to believe, rather than what, with boring difficulty, we can determine is probably true.

    I recall that Fabius Maximus and I had very different readings of the Mad as Hellsequence in the movie Network. Fabius wrote, “This is what we need to be.” I see what is typical of American citizens as we already are: angry, frustrated, confused and powerless. It is not difficult to induce us to express our (impotent) rage; but that does not empower us. (See: Tea Party, Occupy)

    Only two things empower people—and they have to come in this order:

    First, take the red pill. Except that it’s not as easy as taking a pill. (We did try that in the Sixties. It helps more than most people would believe, but it’s not enough.)

    Second, assess your abilities and resources and figure out how best to use your time and energy. There is a fascinating irony in this.

    Successful political movements require leaders who have rational strategies aimed at producing results and not wasting effort. On the other hand, if you are not a leader, politics is a great sink-hole for time and effort. Almost anything else an ordinary individual can do has better return-on-investment than politics. Yet leaders’ rational strategies usually require a mass of followers who must be dedicated, but not rational; for if they were rational, they would put their individual efforts to better use, since no one alone has any significant chance of making enough difference to change the course of political events one way or the other.

    So leaders must have a fundamentally different perspective from that of the people they lead: one which makes them willing to use their followers in a way they would not let themselves be used. They must be committed to knowing the truth, but they cannot be committed to telling the truth, which includes the truth that almost every individual would be better off taking care of his or her own affairs and doing what good he or she can. They must stoke the instinct to be part of the tribe in their followers, while remaining rational themselves.

    My reading of America (I cannot prove this) is that we are not yet ready for those leaders. The groundwork, I think, is best laid rationally. This is where I see Fabius Maximus as being valuable. You can help set up the conditions. Dispense the red pills. Someone else will light the fire.

    Enough people must recognize that none of the existing tribes—major political parties—are theirs. That condition probably exists already; but the concept of real alternatives does not yet exist. Our citizens must be able to recognize a movement that represents their common interest when they see one. Only then can leaders come along and take advantage of the human tribal instinct to motivate people, against their own individual best interests, to do what is in their collective best interest. That irony, again: the rational must beget the irrational, to (almost) everyone’s benefit.

    But I am neither a leader nor a tribal follower; so I might be seeing this through my own filter. I am also cynical, in that I believe it is pointless to make a moral argument that people should place collective interest over self-interest. People follow instinct most of the time and reason some of the time; morals are strapped on afterward to justify one’s own actions or to condemn those of others, but have almost no effect on what people actually do.

    1. Coises,

      Nine analysis. I agree with most of this. But…

      ” I see what is typical of American citizens as we already are: angry, frustrated, confused and powerless. It is not difficult to induce us to express our (impotent) rage; but that does not empower us. (See: Tea Party, Occupy)”

      Not only do I agree with this, I suspect that I wrote it first (I.e., before you). I have said this many times, in many ways. I cannot imagine why you believe you are disagreeing with me.

    2. Not sure what my point was just responding to coises seeming to link the two. Also not sure the left is angry enough yet and not sure what the right is actually angry with. Much on both sides is based on false “be afraid be very afraid” IMHO more on far right then Left but hard to have discussion in this atmosphere. In general I think Ritholtz correct
      http://t.ritholtz.com/big-picture/#!/entry/the-left-right-paradigm-is-over-its-you-vs-corporations,50c2bd08d7fc7b5670947f72 and that confuses the discussion that the Elites don’t want us to have.

    3. Coises,

      Wow. Finally some one says what I have been thinking(in a somewhat cloudy way) for years. I have never been able to put those thoughts together as well as you just did.
      The rational use of irrational followers is a powerful concept. I suspect it is well known by campaign advisors.

    4. Coises,

      As doug p said, you make a powerful point. Even in local zoning matters, one has to have a good deal of spare time, or like doing meetings, in order for political participation to really “pay for itself” as a part of daily life. Thus special interests gain advantage over the undisciplined masses (which includes myself). City machine politics may be an alternative model (or, the Mormons), where rational self interest builds a political organization with a broad base. These seem like dubious guiding lights, unfortunately.

    5. Fabius,

      You wrote, “I cannot imagine why you believe you are disagreeing with me.”

      In the post to which I linked, you quoted your own remark from a previous post regarding the “Mad as Hell” sequence: “This is what we need to be, from ‘Network’ (1976).”

      I commented to that previous post (you quoted this in the later post):

      My reading of the Network scene is much different.

      Howard Beale (the newscaster) describes his frustration with the way things are, that they are not as he knows they could and should be, and would be if only it weren’t for… well, something, there has to be something, though he doesn’t know what it is. He is the quintessential member of the bewildered herd.

      I do not believe we disagreed then or disagree now about the state of the American people. My point was that we understood this particular pop culture artifact—the “Mad as Hell” sequence in Network—very differently. In my comment to this post, I wrote:

      There is a danger with popular culture items. Successful creators produce works that are like ink blots: they seem to speak to so many people because they have just enough ambiguity that each viewer sees what he or she needs to see. Using this kind of material means leaving the realm of objectivity and engaging with what we want to believe, rather than what, with boring difficulty, we can determine is probably true.

      and I offered our previous interpretations of Network as an example of this.

  5. I’m interested to see where this will go, and I suspect that it will brush up against critical theory and postmodern thought.

    Superheroes, as the modern pantheon, promise to be fertile source material, particularly as they’ve solidified their presences in Hollywood through big budget features.

    However, I fancy the uncompromising futuristic journalist Spider Jerusalem of “Transmetropolitan” as sort of an avatar of Fabius Maximus. I wonder if this enterprise will turn out like the issue where Spider watches a whole day of TV for a column he’s writing, interacts with various talk shows causing severe mental distress for the hosts and guests by heckling them until, having become the news, he ends up watching his own recent exploits on TV. Then, when he tries to get to sleep, advertising bombs start going off in his mind, and he screams to his “filthy assistant” to quickly get him some drugs.

    1. Thanks. I’ll e mail about the superhero posts when I’m able to as that might get a bit
      lengthy.

      For anyone that’s interested, this wikipedia entry about the philosophy of the Spider
      Jersualem character nicely encapsulates why I compared him to Fabius Maximus’ editor, who has stated that his motto is “Never ask for the blindfold.”:

      “His approach to journalism has been encapsulated by Spider as “The truth…no matter what,” and his appraisal of others rises if they feel the same way.

      The primary focus of conflict within Spider’s psyche, over the course of the series, is a combination of concern for his delivery of ‘The Truth’ and misanthropy towards his public. Spider hates and struggles against authority figures who oppress others, but he is also bitter toward the uninvolved public who give the authority its power. Likewise, he struggles to convince the public to listen to The Truth, but is disgusted by those who blindly accept what he reports.”

    2. Turns out I had already posted replies to many of the hero posts. Imo, in general, there is too much emphasis on individual heroes as representative of a libertarian (greedy, selfish) ethic as opposed to team members’ abilities being enhanced by group cohesion, loyalty, trust. Not that the lone wolf v. team member theme isn’t important or valid, it’s just that there’s other ones that also reflect upon societal and cultural issues.

      For example, my 2 year old nephew is at the stage where anything that he thinks is cool is “me”. One of his alteregos currently is the Hulk. Precocious adolescents may dream of inventing ships for interstellar or extradimensional travel like Mr Fantastic. So that some insights might be derived from these fantasies of wish fulfillment by way of supernormal abilites in terms of individuals and societies. Note that The Hulk and Mr Fantastic are on opposite poles of the lone wolf v team member divide, but are distinctive in terms of age groups. These disparate characters are united, though, by their origin stories having to do with bombardment by cosmic and gamma radiations.

      Just some thoughts.

      Do you have any impressions regarding the new Spiderman and X men films?

    3. Derek5,

      “Do you have any impressions regarding the new Spiderman and X men films?”

      Not a fan of them, but these things are purely subjective.

      “X-men 3” was, imo, a travesty — a typical “destroy the franchise” by Hollywood folks who don’t like this genre but forced by the money to make them. The new Spiderman films are pastiche of the character. The subsequent films were paint-by-the-numbers.

      IMO there have been some films by talented people with a feel for the genre. Josh Weldon’s “Advengers”. Sam Rami’s Spiderman films. “Batman Begins” (I am less fond of each sequal, in turn). Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor”.

      Perhaps the best superhero comics, by far imo, is the team that brought DC comics to TV. The “Superman” series was good; the “Batman” series was great; the “Justice League” series was fantastic. Done by skilled people who love the content, as shown in the discussions with the staff sections on the DVDs.

    4. It might also prove useful to discriminate between the productive and consumptive sides of mass media. Ex: Compare and contrast the market forces leading to the Days of Future Past X men comic with those of the film by the same name today.

  6. I have already made the suggestion of watching Sons Of Anarchy but will suggest it again. The whole show is about the struggle of a leader and how he will move his group/community/gang forward to security and prosperity. He sometimes get a little Boydian when he talks about how a true leader has to be outwardly focused children are focused inward.

    Now let me answer your question by asking one. Did you really think you were going to change America by just writing a blog ? You are going to need a lot more than that.

    1. slapout9,

      “Did you really think you were going to change America by just writing a blog?”

      What a wonderful example of how so many Americans have lost even the concept of collective action! When you vote, do you think you are going to change America? When you give $100 to United Way, do you think you are saving the underclass?

  7. Yes, I do because I know when I vote that it takes place in a system with leaders,processes,a physical infrastructure,a population that operates those processes and if need be an Army and Police department to enforce and protect the options I am voting for. So the question still stands how are you going to compete against that systems with just a few blog posts?

  8. Do you see any value in starting to promote specific views? (I.e., Gun laws should be…) Much advocacy today tribalizes our society because it does all the things you talk about – emotion over reason, preaching to the respective choir, etc. Your website does a great job noticing the flaws, but what about preparing the intellectual groundwork for a Third Republic?

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