Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Running on the Difference

I am a green anti-racist anti-militarist democratic socialist-feminist, and I know that for many people who are as left of center in their convictions as I am it seems easy to assume a vantage on the contemporary political terrain from which the two parties seem comparatively indistinguishable. But I do believe that the differences between the parties make a difference, and that to assume a position in which these differences are rendered a matter of indifference is really to assume a stance that is either the furthest thing from radicalism, an essentially aesthetic apoliticism roughly indistinguishable in actual practice from the usual consumerism, or is a radicalism indeed -- a reactionary radicalism clothed in deceptive and probably self-deceptive pseudo-revolutionism.

For me, the Republican party in the United States in this epoch of Movement Conservatism is the single most dangerous organized force in the world as opposed to the Democratic party which can be pushed from the left as well as used by the left as the best available instrument for real-world democratization in America. I do not think the GOP so dangerous because Republican people happen to be more radically evil than other people are -- it seems to me that all humans are pretty susceptible of evil when they are insulated from consequence or stewing in bad conscience or looking to rationalize commonplace selfish bad behavior -- and also I don't deny the great doctrinal evil of fascist, racist, fundamentalist, corporatist forces existing otherwise -- no, it is the unique continental scale, diversity, wealth, knowledge base, infrastructural affordances, and cultural reach of the United State that make it an actor that can still contribute to planetary solutions or problems in ways that render it exceptional even if it is true, as I both think and hope it is, the epoch of American global hegemony is palpably on the wane.

In the last post I was talking about the Affordable Care Act. To continue, Democrats in charge of Congress and the White House will fix ACA in its ongoing period of initial implementation in ways that mostly expand coverage, Republicans will continue mostly to deny coverage in ways that kill citizens, raise healthcare costs, cause bankruptcies, and otherwise disrupt the economies of their states. To be a person of the left and yet deny the difference made by this difference is to be indifferent to most of the values and consequences that make one a person of the left.

I'm glad that Republicans are running on this difference -- given the ACA showcase represented by Kentucky this Fox-bubble incubated misstep of the Republicans is the best chance Democrats have to keep the Senate and kick out their minority leader. Given that the GOP is going to lose governorships in the mid-terms, which means still more states participating in the Medicare expansion in the last year of Obama's Presidency further baking ACA into the cake of his legacy, it is hard to see how Republicans are going to tell themselves a very reassuring story of their prospects even if they keep the gerrymandered House. The wave of Republican retirements in the House symptomizes a burgeoning crisis in the GOP as it confronts the conundrum of the indispensability of the energy of a profoundly misinformed base the irrational, defensive demands of which render it illegible as a nationally governing party.

People of the left need to push hard for Democratic gains in this year's mid-terms. Raising the minimum wage, the Jobs Bill to increase public employment in schools and on infrastructure projects, comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, social security expansion, expansion of medicare through ACA implementation, ensuring women's access to abortion and contraception and healthcare services through the ACA, ending job discrimination against queer folks, common sense gun safety measures, unwinding the catastrophic racist war on drugs, increasing regulation of carbon pollution, raising taxes on the wealthy and introducing a financial transaction tax, establishing the terms on which to end the so-called War on Terror, all of these are proposals many elected Democrats support and with which the White House has expressed sympathy, continuing to fill the courts with sensible judges who believe in equity-in-diversity and in the indispensability of good government to achieve this common good, all of these accomplishments remain doable with Democrats in office.

There is plenty to fight over and push on and rail against. I am far from happy about the amplification of Unitary Executive, but I do think this has been in part an unhealthy executive compensation against dysfuntional obstruction in the legislative branch. I am far from happy about digital framing of citizens as targets for eventual prosecution, marketing harassment, and drones. I am far from happy about the failure of governance to address the reality of climate change and resource descent. But I know that most of the people in office who care about these things are also Democrats and I know that even the Democrats who don't are more likely to be educated or pressured into better action on these issues in Democratic majorities less beholden to their least progressive members than otherwise. Even the good outcomes detailed in the last paragraph remain too far from the ultimate ideals I strive in the direction of -- planetary democracy, a world civilization of sustainable common goods, public goods, and private goods, equitable recourse to law for all, celebration of consensual lifeway diversity, the provision of universal healthcare, lifelong education, and satisfying public service available to all who want it at a flourishing wage. But the all too real alternatives to the more modest progressive outcomes above are simply awful to contemplate, and indeed they are disgusting to contemplate when one recalls that all we need to do to assure the better outcomes is vote in our actual numbers for Democrats.

What is wanted are More, and Better, Democrats! "The best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but I want to be on the left wing of the possible." -- Michael Harrington

9 comments:

ian paul said...

While the state will surely have to be instrumental in the struggle for the procurement of healthcare for all, regulations against climate change, regulations on various markets, etc., etc., I still find it unconvincing that simply fighting within the democratic party for substantial reforms is a worthwhile pursuit.

The movements that I find inspiring are movements that refuse the homogenizing logics of party power, and particularly 2-party power in the U.S.. Wouldn't there be more to be gained from democratic movements that engaged with the state at large, made demands of it, attempting to radically reshape the terms and standards of various claims/discourses/debates themselves?

Remaining on the 'left of the possible' leaves one in an unfortunately liberal position, in which we choose between a small set of already existing bad options in the present (although I will agree that some of these options are 'less bad' than others, and that these differences are not insignificant).

I still find it more appealing to lay claim to the always-present possibility of other worlds already seeded in the present one, the possibility of novelty, of the 'new' (the virtual in the actual, if you will, a kind of Rancierian dissensus, or even an Arendtian natality).

It seems the radical-left movements in much of South America have done exceedingly well making use of this kind of relationship.

Note, this isn't a call for the abolition for the state, nor a reduction of all of the complex party dynamics within the state, but rather an insistence that democracy itself necessarily precedes and exceeds the state (to use a phrase you're fond of).

Dale Carrico said...

Good to hear from you Ian, I am very excited by the public work you are doing in the world. There is of course education, agitation, organization, expression in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity beyond voting, office-holding, and legislation.

I strongly agree with you that there is more to politics than governance. And yet government is indispensable to any politics. I think you probably agree with that in principle, too, although I am not sure if your emphasis allows the principle in practice. When I say "I'm not sure," I really mean that. I'll take your word on it. What matters is that the first two sentences of this paragraph delineate perfectly compatible premises.

When I said that one must push Democrats from the left, part of what I hoped to communicate by that was that I agree the left is bigger by far than the Democratic Party. Hell, my own teaching and writing as a democratic socialist is not reducible to partisan politics.

But, as I say in the post, the Democratic party is an indispensable available instrument for the left, and any left politics that disdains that instrument (in ways that inevitably empower the reactionary instrument that is the GOP whether you like that or not) has failed to grasp basic realities of the practical-institutional political terrain as it exists.

You mention "movements that refuse the homogenizing logics of party power, and particularly 2-party power in the U.S." This seems to me to entail a denial of fundamental practical political realities to no good purpose at all.

Dale Carrico said...

There are legislative campaigns for public financing of elections and instant runoff voting that might open third parties to function as more than spoilers in our dysfunctional duopoly, especially at the state level -- but even those politics (which I endorse for many of the same reasons you probably do) require here and now a lot of organizing at the level of partisan politics and legislation.

"Wouldn't there be more to be gained from democratic movements that engaged with the state at large, made demands of it, attempting to radically reshape the terms and standards of various claims/discourses/debates themselves?" Engaged with the state "at large" apart from campaigns, legislators, constituted legislative processes... Honestly, what is that? Make demands how? Radically reshape how?

If we are disdaining legislation and party politicians are we talking about revolution here? You and me with what majority behind us? General strikes? For what? Workers councils, universal basic income? I find these outcomes very appealing as well. Honestly, I see more legible pathways to these outcomes through legislative reform preceded by a whole lot of ground level education and organizing.

Remaining on the 'left of the possible' leaves one in an unfortunately liberal position, in which we choose between a small set of already existing bad options in the present

I think the "bad options" exist in part because of existing stakeholders who differ from us in their situations and aspirations. Are we wishing these people away, killing them off? I am hoping steeply progressive taxation paying for widely expanded welfare can yield a stakeholder diversity more susceptible to coalition building for the kind of equity-in-diversity that makes me a democratic socialist.

Look, these stakeholders at various distances to our right still exist even if one decides in one's radicalism that one doesn't want to try to build coalitions with liberals (who are also to our right) to accomplish progressive outcomes that they see as ends in themselves but which we see as footholds we would use to push on to still more equitable, sustainable, diverse outcomes to come.

Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. I do not want to smash the state, but to democratize it. I am very happy to agree that there is more to having a say in public than voting, holding office, or appealing to legislators. But I know that states remain indispensable to having such a say, and any political position that denies, disdains or functions as a distraction from this indispensability is doing more harm than good, even in terms of the good to which it is likely explicitly devoted.

ian paul said...

I'm not a revolutionary, not for a lack of desire for one, but as you've outlined, for the lack of any prospect of one.

The problem, as I see it, is that if we overly attenuate ourselves to "fundamental practical political realities", we've already foreclosed upon sometimes unknowable potentialities, those that appear as impractical. The 'practical' is an incredibly ideological category after all, and what we allow ourselves (or refuse to allow ourselves) to imagine does a great deal to delimit the practical itself.

For example, when you say:

"I think the "bad options" exist in part because of existing stakeholders who differ from us in their situations and aspirations. Are we wishing these people away, killing them off?"

....my response is that I would rather think about what would have to pass for those stakeholders to be transformed, to learn and become people capable of being involved in democratic movements for justice, rather than already assume the existing stakeholder divides constitute the entire range of the political field. (this goes along with the ways in which those 'we' would consider 'we' have the capacity to transform as well)

I don't see our positions as being incredibly different ~ I think a plurality of relationships with the state are necessary (both formal, antagonistic, and otherwise), and see reform alongside agitation. I suppose it's largely a question of emphasis.

Perhaps artists just have a hard time letting go of the 'possible' in the actual.

Best,
~i

Dale Carrico said...

if we overly attenuate ourselves to "fundamental practical political realities", we've already foreclosed upon sometimes unknowable potentialities, those that appear as impractical.

That "overly" is doing a lot of work for you, tricky man! Setting that aside, though, I actually think this familiar point is wildly overstated, actually. I say this as someone who long took it for granted. I now think deciding what is good and then taking a measure of the distance between where we are and where we should be by proposing the track between the two is actually a discipline that enriches rather than impoverishing the imagination.

I would rather think about what would have to pass for those stakeholders to be transformed, to learn and become people capable of being involved in democratic movements for justice, rather than already assume the existing stakeholder divides constitute the entire range of the political field

I would propose that finding ways of investing coalitions in existing organizational formations defined in large part by their relation to party platforms/members/representatives is actually a way to induce the stakeholder transformation you rightly cherish as well as the transformation of the organizational terrain itself.

I don't see our positions as being incredibly different

I think this is right.

artists just have a hard time letting go of the 'possible'

And a good thing too -- most agitprop is shitty art.

Dale Carrico said...

I say "actually" too much.

ian paul said...

The 'overly' largely comes from reading Epicurus recently ~ it's a fun rhetorical device and hard to argue against, especially when hedonists use it!

Mark Plus said...

White progressives (WP's - and I include you, Dale) who have supported and enabled the Mexican Volkwanderung into the U.S. have a lot of explaining to do to the black community you claim you care so much about.

If I didn't know better, I would suspect that WP's have in effect hired Mexicans as proxy racists; you want them to become a human wall to keep poor blacks away from affluent your white enclaves, while maintaining not very plausible deniability about your real intentions.

Dale Carrico said...

Uh, no. Also, yuck.