Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Farm (R)aid: The collective memory of the Boer

In Africa, Media and Politics on March 31, 2010 at 9:51 am

You take my pride and throw it up against the wall…You take my name and you scandalize it on the street. Oh anything you want to do, I say its alright by me.

John Cougar Mellencamp

There are few better examples of conflict resolution than South Africa. When I was young this was the last remaining symbol of old school racist colonization, and the struggle for freedom, symbolized by Nelson Mandela’s long incarceration, was among the most celebrated of progressive causes. I remember watching Mandela’s release from prison as many from earlier generations remember Kennedy’s assassination. I was sick in bed with the flu and stuck watching TV all day. The euphoria attending the event was well justified because Mandela seems to have been one of those incomparable leaders who can forgive in pursuit of their vision. That is the transformative potential of conflict resolution. The inspiring part of this story is that it happened and could happen again. The worrying part is that it may depend integrally on the quality and character of the leadership of particular individuals. There is a fear that Nixon was right: politics is not a science.

Here we are, just over twenty years from Mandela’s release and the signs from South Africa are positive with clear signs of strain. You see, the core of the claims in recognition struggles, like those against racism, is usually not recognition itself but something more foundational to liberalism like formal liberty or the equalization of life chances–i.e. class. What is troubling about most successful resolutions is that they move forward in baby steps by moving toward equalization of life chances, but not by achieving it outright. As Read the rest of this entry »


(I don’t know what to do) Say it wasn’t you: The white working class and the Shaggy party

In Domestic Politics on March 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm

It is only when you go to say something in public that you realize how prurient our popular culture really is. The hook for this post is the Shaggy song from back in 2000. I won’t even deign to link to it on a quasi academic site, but I will suggest to you that the theme is that a guy is caught cheating on his girlfriend and he works through the farcical implications of his vain attempts to convince her that it was not him when caught in flagrante delicto.

What got me thinking about this was the fascinating responses to Frank Rich’s column over the weekend that blames the opposition of the white working class to Obamacare on race and ethnic issues. Now, I had written on this a few days earlier myself and so my position is fairly clear. I do think race has something to do with this, but I think that racial biases that attach to lifestyles matter even more. The core of my argument is that the Democrats have had the misfortune to alienate the people with lifestyles close to the white working class and have therefore lost many of them to the party. They have not done this on purpose, Read the rest of this entry »

The Endogeneity of Might and Right: “Uncle Mo” and American Politics

In Domestic Politics on March 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

Just before the big health care vote on Sunday, I wrote about the famous Clinton line from 2002 in which he said that the American people occasionally prefer someone who is strong and wrong to someone who seems weak and right.

Let’s call this the endogeneity of might and right problem. It works like this, if I don’t know how the world works, I have to rely upon signals from others. Much of what I mean by the word “works” is that it produces practical effects that are better to those that now obtain. Although I might prefer the optimum, I would prefer the better to the worse. This means that right action in practical life depends on what is possible. What is possible is a function of power or might.

This gets us to the endogeneity of might and right problem. Endogeneity here just means that we have a chicken and the egg problem. It is hard to know which one causes the other and what one would be without the other. They are related to one another in iterative cycles. Something is right if it works; it works if we recognize the virtue in its conception.

Although the power to produce effects is the most crucial, the power to frame them might matter nearly as much. This is why the right is so eager to work the refs Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Fantasies: Left and Right on “24”

In Media and Politics on March 27, 2010 at 10:38 am

Well that exciting Fox show “24” is finally winding down. Am I right that we have had nine seasons of the show? This will be even worse than my Trekkie admission, but I have never seen a single episode. I have seen it advertised dozens of times, but it just never appealed to me. I suppose this draws on the same motivational sources that placed me in a Conflict Resolution program, even though I am not really averse to the action adventure genre. It can’t be the violence that turns me off. I suppose I always felt that the show was a kind of subtle ideological force that glamorized tough tactics. That is a bit of an understatement from what I now know of the show. The felicitous timing of the opening in late 2001 just fits the gestalt.

I have read a bit about fan reactions to the cancelation and what stood out to me came from the NY Times article. The shows lead actor Kiefer Sutherland gives an interview on the show and its lack of slant that should be really shocking. He says:

One of the things that I was always so unbelievably proud of our show is that you could have it being discussed by former President Bill Clinton and Rush Limbaugh at the same time, both using it and citing it to justify their points of view…That, to me, was incredibly balanced.

So, why is this shocking? Read the rest of this entry »

In the Air: Economics and the Social Sciences

In Intellectual History on March 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

In response to a request by ICAR’s communications guru, Paul Snodgrass, I will say a few words about the David Brooks column today. He must have read Kristof yesterday as well, because he has a really fascinating column on the history of Economics that gets us thinking. I think that Brooks’ call for a great history of economics is wanting right now. Of course, there are many good examples out there. One that bears noting is Joseph Schumpeter’s  History of Economic Analysis. If you read this posthumously published book, you see that there is quite a bit of diversity concealed in Brooks’ first act. His history is a bit truncated. In fact, there are many sciences of economics out there (and I hear at least one colleague quietly condemning me for my last post for overemphasizing fresh water schools). We could spend time with the now forgotten methodenstreit in Germany, which produced Max Weber among other things. We could remember John R. Commons and his Wisconsin institutionalism that helped to give birth to the Social Security Act and much more. This is alive today mainly in Transaction cost economics, which I once quipped did not inherit the lion’s share of Commons estate. There is today Read the rest of this entry »

Rigor Without Mortis: Do-gooders and do-badders

In Intellectual History on March 25, 2010 at 10:12 am

This will be a quick shot that reveals more of my prejudice than my wit, but I had to say a few words about a column by Nicholas Kristof today. I should say first that I really enjoy his columns in general. He shocks me out of my dogmatic slumber on occasion and keeps me focused on the world when I might drift back into the details of American agonistic minutiae. But he got me going today in a bad way and it seemed to be worth explaining why that is. Here is the offending paragraph:

We’re getting a much better handle on what policies can overcome poverty. We’re now seeing more experiments, modeled after randomized drug trials, that measure carefully whether an approach works and how cost-effective it is. Partly this reflects the rise of economists (at the expense of political scientists and do-gooders) and the rigor they pack in their briefcases.

Now, Kristof Read the rest of this entry »

Howl of the Haoles: Health as a Civil Right

In Domestic Politics on March 24, 2010 at 7:53 am

Perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from the fight over the health regulation bill that was passed in the House Sunday night was the linkage between health insurance and race. I had the chance to watch the fight while away in the Midwest and the tight connection between race and insurance was made more clear to me in that setting than it might have been here inside the Beltway. To put things simply: the bill itself has little to do with race, but the opposition to the bill is very likely inspired by some degree of racial anxiety. The important thing about this most recent incarnation of race consciousness is that it pits white people not against black, which was most common in the civil rights era. Instead the changing demographics of the country pits Middle America against demographic diversity itself. While hardly new, the changing context of ethnic confrontation makes it different this time and demands a different approach to conflict resolution.

For some of you, there will be no need to establish the link between health and race.  I often hear that this is all about race. There is Read the rest of this entry »

Down to This: Which side is stronger and wronger

In Domestic Politics on March 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

In one of the most cogent statements of this era of inclusion, Bill Clinton provided an analysis of the 2002 midterm election in which Republicans not only failed to lose seats, as is typically the case between Presidential contests, but also manged to pick up a few. In a speech to the Democratic Leadership Council Clinton said:

So we have to be firm and clear and strong and positive and prepared to defend our positions and those who are brave enough to stick their necks out to take them…When we look weak in a time where people feel insecure, we lose. When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have someone strong and wrong than weak and right…We have a heavy responsibility to cooperate in uniting this country on security issues, and also to come up with better ideas across the board.

What Clinton has Read the rest of this entry »

We Kill it Because We are Free: John Adams meets Courtney Love

In Domestic Politics on March 16, 2010 at 8:44 am

There is a cunning to history, and the zeitgeist tosses up the characters who can accomplish its ends. Well, things are probably a lot more chaotic than that, but selection processes do amazing things at times. One example of this was the early 1990s when the screaming girl band hit the scene. The most famous example was led by Courtney Love, but I had known a band in my hometown of Bloomington Indiana with much the same spirit several years before. It was as if we would affirm gender equality as would do in statistics by proving that there was more within group variation than there was between groups. The extremes behaviors of men could be matched step by step by women.

We have another moment like that before us, but this time in the political scene. Hollywood celebrity seems to precede Washington  by a healthy lead. John McCain discovered Sarah Palin, but someone else would have if not he. Bill Kristol could recognize her talent and its fit to the current scene. Mary Cheney was Read the rest of this entry »

First as Tragedy: New messaging rules from Karl Rove

In Domestic Politics on March 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm

There were several confrontational events to write about today. In fact the material is so rich that it was hard to decide what to highlight. For example, there was “the slap heard round the world” for Joe Biden. There was the rise of the Coffee Party (in media coverage at least), and there is the health care end game. All of these deserve posts of their own. What stood out among these, however, was the performance of Karl Rove in defense of his new book “Courage and Consequences.”

My title for this post draws on one of my favorite Read the rest of this entry »