Wednesday, October 09, 2013

How Does This Story End?

Watching the happenings in Washington D.C. lately, I have an eerie feeling like I am living through the opening premise of a post-apocalyptic novel. If I were a better writer, I think I'd take the scenario and follow it through in an imaginary world. As it is, I'm stuck watching it unfold in slow motion, in the real world.

I should probably stop reading the left-leaning press on this issue, because articles like the recent ones in Salon arguing that right-wing ideologues have staged a sort of bloodless coup and that the Civil War never really ended are not helping my state of mind. I do not want to live in a liberal echo chamber anymore than I think the folks who get all their news from Fox should live in that echo chamber of crazy. Back after the last election, I made a conscious effort to add some non-crazy Republican voices to my Twitter feed, but (1) they are getting harder to find and (2) even they are a bit alarming these days.

Luckily, Scalzi (who has the dubious distinction of having Boehner as a representative) has an analysis of the situation that is a bit less frothy, although doesn't make his representative look that good.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing I have read about the shutdown was from Jonathan Chait, who characterizes this as an incipient Constitutional crisis. That is a genuinely scary thing. I finished reading that story and could almost see the back story of a Paolo Bacigalupi novel, in which America devolves into gridlock and then factional fighting and then splinters into regional fiefdoms after a Consitutional crisis that we cannot find a way to solve. And then bad things happen and we end up in a dystopian future in which Bangkok is flooded and genetic engineering is used as a weapon of corporate warfare. Or something like that.

Ah well, the signs from Washington are that we'll step back from the brink. This time. But can the sane among us find the will and political wherewithal to fix the underlying problems? Can we set aside our not at all minor policy differences to fix the structural issues of gerrymandering and overimportance of money in our elections? I genuinely do not know. I do think, however, that if we can't do that, we'll face this doomsday scenario over and over again until either we muster the will to fix the structural problems or one of the crazies drives us over a cliff.

Luckily, Elizabeth Warren gives me hope.

And this thread on github makes me laugh at it all.


  1. You need to stop reading so much William Gibson.

    Just kidding.

    No, but one of the things that most disturbs me about the US, and one of the reasons I'm not tempted to move back, is the unhealthy ideological polarization, and the refusal by both sides to give a good faith listen (Not act or agree, just LISTEN!) to the other.

    As for constitutional crises, eh, they've overrated. Here in France we're in the 5th republic, and the enshrinement of the American constitution in the US is looked upon with some amusement. But I guess if a nation has lived through the Terror, and Napoleon...

    1. Anonymous6:15 AM

      I keep hearing "both sides" but I'm not seeing it. The democrats have bent over backwards to accommodate, much to the consternation of their liberal base.

    2. I was trying to be unbiased, but yeah, I'd have to agree.

    3. I also see this as a Republican-driven crisis this time around.

    4. I'm relieved to finally see the media taking up the issue of the false equivalence - this business of "both sides" do x, y, and z. Have you ever seen Gasland? (It's about frakking) The director has this great short video about the sky being pink. ONe scientist says the sky is blue, the other says no, it's pink, and the media suddenly reports that there is doubt about whether or not the sky is blue. (He is more eloquent than I.) False equivalencies are dangerous and they are making us all less intelligent, and they lead us all to believe that being neutral = reframing the entire conversation the way the republicans want us to. There is such a thing as reality and history. I'm terrified by how far the extreme right is willing to take their positions, and part of me wonders for some of them if their intent all along hasn't been to dismantle the government. They don't want it to work, so they've been working to make it not work (refusing to approve cabinet appointments and judicial nominations, making obstruction the routine way they do business, for no substantial reasons). But even worse is the absolute indifference to the suffering of people, especially of course the poor. And the fact that this is happening because a small minority of Congresspeople will it is even scarier.

  2. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Have you tried Reason's Hit and Run blog? There is this odd demonization on the left of libertarians as insane Randians, but Reason has been the most consistent voice in defense of civil liberties, against foreign interventions, and generally intelligent discourse I've seen on the web for the past several years.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out. I generally find libertarians too willing to tolerate structural inequalities in the domestic sphere, but I'm always willing to listen to intelligent discourse, even if I end up disagreeing with it.

    2. Anonymous6:17 AM

      Why is it that libertarians in the us want to control my uterus?

      Most libertarians who aren't libertarian in name only (the few who do not want govt controlling my access to medical care) have only an Econ 101 understanding of free markets. They think free markets always work because they haven't heard of market failure. There are few if any libertarians who understand public finance beyond externalities. That isn't demonizing, that is educated economics. Yes govt intervention often causes unintended consequences, but there is a need for govt intervention even if you dont care about people or inequality of those other things bleeding heart liberals care about.

  3. I am trying not to look at the news today. No, not going to do it. I can't do anything about it, and it just drives me crazy.

    Like you, I also don't want to live in a liberal echo chamber. And considering that my Zite account feeds me the news it thinks I like. . . and that my friends also lean liberal, I'm afraid I do mostly live in one.

    By the way, I've felt for the past few years that we're all living in an apocalyptic sci-fi novel.

    1. I'm now worrying they'll decide to avoid the debt default cliff, but leave the government shutdown as WIC and Head Start programs run out of money. Which might make me scream.

  4. I may be overly optimistic by nature, but I don't really worry about these sorts of issues. I think every generation has had apocalyptic (or so it seemed at the time) crises. When I think of the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which most of the country was worried they might not survive the week, a budget meltdown seems to pale in comparison. Plus, if you look at the approval ratings of Congress and the Presidency, it gives some indication that the American public as a whole is hella pissed off that both sides (no matter who you believe is to blame) are failing to work together on this. And I think that's a hopeful sign.

  5. EarthSciProf3:04 PM

    Finding people on the other end of the political spectrum has been a challenge for me for a few years now. Usually I just get angry. Not sure if getting older means that I've heard all (many?) of the arguments before and now I know what I think so I'm not particularly inclined to change my mind.

    That said, two libertarian-leaning academic bloggers that I read when I have time (which hasn't been at all lately) are Daniel Drezner at Foreign Affairs and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Drezner is an international relations prof and Cowen an econ prof. Drezner isn't that conservative though since he voted for Obama both times.

    Part of what makes them appealing is that they don't just talk about politics. They talk about ideas, usually related to their discipline in some way.

  6. EarthSciProf3:06 PM

    Forgot to say thanks for the link to the Chait piece, which was quite interesting.

    Also realized that I didn't leave links...


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