A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Boxing The Political Compass

My genial editor Andrew Quinn over at Verite has discovered a fine new site called The Political Compass. It appears to be a British site, and they have developed a marvelous antidote to the cardboard cartoon character labels of "left", "right", and "center"--which are all we normally use in our superficial world of political punditry.

This antidote consists of an x-y coordinate grid for locating anyone, a world leader or ordinary people like ourselves, against two measures. For us just plain folks, Compass has evolved a battery of questions-- with a four answer, Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree, set of responses--to place us on the grid. For political leaders, current or historic, they take practical policy decisions and known opinions, to similarly place them. I won't say more about the method until you have had the chance to take the test for yourself.

But I want to say a little more about my results on the test, because I found it extremely illuminating about why I often feel so rabidly angry about the policies of the current Administration.

Now, unlike many of my Conservative friends, I don't really pat myself on the back for being angry with individuals whom I disagree with politically. I hold no brief to do to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Tom DeLay what my friends often do to Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Barbara Boxer, or other prominent politicians with whom they disagree:

The man is simply a disgrace to the memories of his better brothers. "There is an old Irish Chestnut," my Granny would always say, (she knew a lot of Chestnuts, from every culture) "you come in with the face God gives you, and you go out with the face you've earned!" I think of it every time I see Ted Kennedy's ruddier-than-a-cherry face and blue-veined nose...

The Anchoress

Who are they trying to stop from Cabinet appointments? Only people of color. Coincidence? Nah, I think that Robert(KKK)Byrd, who has been dubbed the "conscious [sic!] of the Senate", is having a profound effect on the hardcore lefties.

Rosemary the Queen of All Evil

I know there are 12 others who joined her, but Boxer gets my direct criticism because she has used this confirmation process as a blatant fundraising/media extravaganza for herself. She cast a fictitious vote for fictitious reasons, as someone on Boxer's side might say.

Karol at Alarming News

I don't like Barbara Boxer, and not because she's a liberal. That can be excused. I don't like her because she's a misinformed, envious partisan hack who hates the country that allows her the freedom to run for political office despite being a misinformed, envious partisan hack.

La Shawn Barber

This follows Hillarytalk earlier this week about (what else) faith, her deep faith, how faithful she is, and her faith...and she's not saying it herself, she's getting others to say it. I can't judge her faith. God will have to do that. Maybe she is incredibly holy, but so gifted in humility that she hides it. I dunno - anything is possible, and I'm not God.... Transparent and ballsy. She doesn't care that she's as see-through as plastic wrap....Her new, and non-stop, yakking is part and parcel of her usual maneuvers of disingenuity and cynicism. In case you haven't noticed, or forgotten, the woman says anything she wants, and gets away with it, courtesy of a press that is utterly owned.

The Anchoress

Now I am equally angry with those in public office whom I disagree with, and perhaps you could find an occasional lapse in my blogging, or my commentary on other blogs, which is equally ad hominium argument and just plain personal abuse. But I'm very conservative about that sort of thing and do not liberally let it festoon my political writings, unlike my friends.

For example, when I suggested to the Anchoress that she was too fixated on Hillary as a potential presidential candidate and should pay more attention to Eliot Spitzer, the New York State Attorney General, my good friend replied, without missing a beat, Elliot Spitzer is a man who needs watching, though. He's quite the little totalitarian toady!

Oh. I see.

Why do I feel this way? Because it seems to me that the words of Frank Herbert in Dune that, even a sworn enemy whom you are fighting to the death, "has human shape and deserves human doubt", are profoundly true. And, since no one I know in America is my sworn enemy, whom I must fight to the death, I generally go further and assume that my political adversaries are simply good people in the grip of bad principles.

So I want to know why I am so angry with the people who have captured the American government, rather than assuming that they are one form or another of irredeemable blackguard and just indulging in the anger with them. And I think that the little test illuminated a great deal of why I am so angry. My score on that two-dimensional x-y grid matched that of one particular world leader the closest: the Dalai Lama.

This is not very surprising. We share, after all, the same religious commitments, the same religious values, and even very nearly the same teaching traditions (the technical term is "lineages") within our religion itself. The two of us also configure in the same general area on the Compass Test as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

But the Political Compass test also reveals one very illuminating fact, when you look at a two-dimentional political universe, instead of a mere Left-Right continuum. Leaders such as George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and even, to a lesser degree, Tony Blair are polar opposites to the Dalai Lama and myself.

Now the Dalai Lama, if you've ever seen him in person or on television, is self-evidently a whole lot less exercised about it than I am. But he is a tulku, the embodiment of the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion and Loving Kindness, and, in his own words, "a simple Buddhist monk". I am considerably less than this, and am torn by the winds of what we call "conflicting emotions". I try to remember however, what His Holiness knows from many lifetimes experience, that when you have made the Bodhisattva Vow, you have plenty of time and can afford to be patient.

Seeing the graphic display of the absolute political polarity of myself and George W. Bush/Margaret Thatcher, however, suggested to me that I scan the remarks of Ms. Thatcher a little more closely to see if I could define just what it is about these leaders that I politically oppose.

Why Ms. Thatcher? Because of her extraordinary capacity to articulate the Conservative and Capitalist point of view in clear, short, pointed, and elegant aphorisms. In other words, she is eminently quotable. I don't want to be accused of "misunderestimating" George W., but I think that even his most ardent partisans would agree that clear, short, pointed, and elegant aphorisms are not his long suit.

There are three Thatcher aphorisms that define clearly (and very depressingly) what in Conservatism I oppose. The first is:

There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

No. Absolutely not. And self-evidently so. Individual men and women or families (even extended ones or clans) got no further on this planet than the Clovis Point, the Paintings in the Lascaux Caves, and the statue of Venus of Willendorf, and maybe not even that far. Everything else which is not those things, or the extention of them (such as easel paintings by individual 'geniuses'), was made collectively, through Society, and through individuals recognizing and assenting to Society's demands. No individual makes a Mutual Fund and no family builds a Stonehenge, a Pyramid, or a Brooklyn Bridge. To say otherwise is to plain willfully ignore a planet full of objective evidence.

Nor is it the case that we all survive, physically or emotionally, like Daniel Boone and his kin. First of all, we are social beings, and Donne's remark "No man is an island entire unto himself..." has more applicability than just to our common travels toward death. The Boones of this world are, emotionally, exceptions to the general rule of humankind, not exemplars of it. Conditions for such things as Boone's constant moving West to avoid being 'crowded' by Society are not common either, and, like it or not, Boone himself was as tied to Society as anyone else for things like trade axes (commonly known as "tomahawks" and neither made, nor just carried by, Native Americans) and Pennsylvania Long Rifles.

In short, Ms. Thatcher is in the grip of a totally ludicrous ahistorical view of the human condition which is a smokescreen for the abrogation of individual responsibility by the politically powerful of the effects of policy on Society. I think many, if not most, of my Conservative friends are equally in its grip.

She also has this to say:

Capitalism is the only alternative.

No. Absolutely not. It may be the best alternative abstractly, it may be a better alternative than State Socialism, it may be the most workable alternative at the moment, it may be "the alternative of the hour", but it is not the only alternative. The alternative has only been available on this earth since the invention of deposit banking and the joint-stock corporation after the Renaissance. That is where the Capital in Capitalism comes from. And there are still a handful of places even yet where the alternative of Capitalism has not that effectively penetrated.

This is again the general Conservative evasion of the study of history, and the study of Capitalism as a historical human phenomenon. If we can pretend that Capitalism is as durable as the neighboring mountain has appeared to be for generations, we don't have to consider the possibility that it is an active volcano--until it erupts. And of course we are always forbidden, under pain of displeasing Mammon, from asking, "Where is Capitalism taking us to?"

Finally, Ms. Thatcher has remarked:

As God once said, and I think rightly...

This little gem summarizes what strikes me as the general Conservative attitude when referring to the Diety and His pronouncements on "moral values". It is a trivialization of the Infinite and Eternal from the seeds of spiritual pride. Now, of course, The Anchoress, like many Conservatives, practices in a Catholic tradition where things like spiritual pride are given due weight and subject to repeated warnings of due caution.

But I would assert that one of the implications of Christ's remark of "render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" is that too close an application of the things of the Church to the concerns of the Polity is not desirable. And I would further assert from careful observation both of Christian history and contemporary politics is that the attempt to do so opens many cracks in one for spiritual pride to enter.

Moreover, I would say to those like La Shawn, Conservatives of the Protestant Evangelical tradition, that the possession of the Bible is, by definition, not an absolute and complete blueprint of every concern or opinion of the Infinite and the Eternal. For the Bible is finite and He is not. The Bible should be for the Christian, rather, like the owner's manual that comes with a car, which is written by Honda but is not the final word for every possible thing Honda may be doing. A wise person of any faith, or lack of it, keeps well in mind how much they do not know about the counsels of God.

I often ask my Christian Conservative friends what they would do and say if they met the targets of their political rants in Heaven. I ask myself equally every day whether I am prepared to assume the Obligations of my Bodhisattva Vow to the people whom I politically oppose, both immediately (in terms of what we call "aspiration bodhicitta") and in future lives when I can actually interact with them directly, and from direct spiritual insight (what we call "fulfillment bodhicitta")?

I know my answer. And I hope from reading my blog you know it, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO: Joseph Marshall
RE: Yeah. Right....

"It is a trivialization of the Infinite and Eternal from the seeds of spiritual pride." -- Joseph Marshall


When you actually get to talk with God and He, or his rep, replies, you'll have a different opinion.

You don't accept that God exists. Just because of that, you suggest that anyone who knows better is trivializing your position. In the military, we'd call that a 'personal problem' and suggest you deal with it.

"I often ask my Christian Conservative friends what they would do and say if they met the targets of their political rants in Heaven." -- Joseph Marshall

I'd say, "Glad you made it."

I understand that Hillary is beginning to do God-talk these days. Hope she's being motivated by the prayers I know that real christians say for her sake.



10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO: Joseph Marshall
RE: Church & Polity

"But I would assert that one of the implications of Christ's remark of "render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's" is that too close an application of the things of the Church to the concerns of the Polity is not desirable." -- Joseph Marshall

Here you go again, thinking that one can separate morality and politics. You know this is impossible. We've been over the 'why' of it before, here.

Sure, you can pay your taxes. God doesn't care much about 'money'.

But He does care about how we comport ourselves. And we, as a society, decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable by our laws. And our laws are based on our morals.

You can no more separate morality from the law than you can separate your heart from your mind. Without either you would die, literally.


P.S. We've moved. We were caught up in the Bloghosts fiasco and are now re-establishing ourselves. We'll be operational in another week or so. I'll keep you apprised.

10:56 PM  
Blogger The Anchoress said...

A good, thoughtful and instructive post, Joe.

You make some good points, but I think you're missing a point that gives some explanation - justifiable or not - for some of the anger you're seeing in the conservative blogs, and that is that we've just hopped onto this medium in the last year or (I'm speaking of the relatively new conservative bloggers, whom you quoted) after having some years of utter, maddening frustration at watching the press do a one-sided pr job on every issue/politician they support or oppose.

Having found an open gate in which to run, we're like little, steam-breathing bulls and bull-ettes (!)uncorralled and running off pent up energy.

Things will balance out. They always do. :-) Meanwhile I'm not blogging today, but have a good one.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Hi, Chuckles! Good to see you back!

One thing which slipped my mind in the post above was how much Capitalism owes to the Spanish discovery of gold in America. Spain flooded Europe with gold specie setting off one of the most spectacular intervals of runaway inflation in history. The rapid increase in the amount of "hard money" available in Europe is what truly made deposit banking, particularly in the Netherlands, possible.

And as to the joint stock corporation, it is a little known fact that Sir Francis Drake's raiding of the Spanish for their gold was actually financed by one.
The return for the investors was huge. And one of the major investors was Elizabeth, Queen of England.

You can examine both halves of the story in John Maynard Keynes' Treatise on Money, his major work before The General Theory, and in John Kenneth Galbraith's Money, Whence It Came, Where It Went.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO: Joseph Marshall
RE: Steps Along a Path

"One thing which slipped my mind in the post above was how much Capitalism owes to the Spanish discovery of gold in America." -- Joseph Marshall

Funny you should bring that up. I've been on a history bent, with respect to my reading efforts of late.

Finished biographies of Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan. Now working on a tome of the Second World War in the Pacific.

The author starts spinning this report back in the mid-1600s. Almost 100 pages into the book and I'm just into the first half of 1941.

Interesting how all our problems seem to stem from so LONG ago, neh?

And, as the Spaniards got things going in the Western Hemisphere in their quest for material riches, via the conquest of other peoples, US did things differently.

And US STILL do things differently from the way the old imperialists of old/new Europe do things.

Keep that in mind next time you go looking for the Buddha in the 'road'. And consider how Islamists treat Buddhists, Hindus, other 'pagans', etc., etc., etc.

And thank whatever you pray to that you live with US.



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