Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow. It’s another in a series about experts.
Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes
I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.
For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.
It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).
It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.
As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.
Summary: Our political pundits focus on the “election as horse race” to conceal the relatively small policy differences between the two parties, and so sooth a somnolent public who might become restive if they understood the nature of the New America being constructed on the ruins of the Second Republic. Here are some articles to help us see more clearly. Second in a series. Also see the posters at the end of the post!
Some useful articles describing our one-party system
An important lesson, but we are blind and can’t see it
America can be seen more clearly from abroad
Posts in this series about the results of Campaign 2012
Seeing our situation in pictures instead of words
(1) Useful articles describing our one-party system
This list will be updated. These are the useful articles as of 9am EST. As described in the previous post, most of the discussion is either about political horse races (past and future), or rants (often quite delusional) about the glories of our side and the evils of the others. Descriptions of our actual condition create cognitive dissonance, and (worse) scare the sheep.
The Democratic Party won the election by moving decisively to the right, co-opting many of the GOP’s policies (especially those most loved by the 1%). Obama retained his liberal gloss by advocating social reforms of little interest to the 1%. Romney failed to counter this with a move to the center (after his win in the primaries), instead attempting to ignore Obama’s actual policies and portray him as Lenin. This failed, allowing Obama to build on his strength on the Left (nowhere else to go) and capture a winning margin in the center. QED.
Please mention in the comments any articles you find useful.
“America’s Increasingly Tribal Electorate“, Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard, 1 November 2012 — “A political scientist explains the disconnect between our moderate policy views and our intense hatred for the other side.”
(2) The most important lesson, but we are blind and cannot see it
“American politics go tribal“, Pacific Standard, 1 November 2012 — “A political scientist explains the disconnect between our moderate policy views and our intense hatred for the other side.” Excerpt:
Political scientist Lilliana Mason’s analysis is more subtle, and more disturbing. Her research suggests that, in terms of our attitudes towards issues, we are no more polarized than we were decades ago. But our emotions, and the behaviors they drive, have largely uncoupled from our actual analysis of the issues. Essentially, the Stony Brook University scholar argues, our identities have become increasingly intertwined with our political affiliation. As a result, we feel ever more certain that our party is right and the other is wrong—even in cases where their positions aren’t far apart.
Our attitude towards the opposing party has become, basically, tribal: We detest them simply because they’re the other side.
“The American public can hold remarkably moderate and constant issue positions, while nonetheless becoming progressively more biased, active and angry when it comes to politics,” she argues. “Even as we agree on most issues, we are becoming increasingly uncivil in our approach to politics.”