Makebelieve

Why do people hold beliefs? Think about it on a mundane level. If you get in your car, and turn on the radio, and you hear the weatherman talking about rain, why do you believe him? A disembodied voice is telling you one thing or another about the future, and we all know that voice is wrong sometimes, but we go on and believe anyways. How does that work?

It has seemed clear to me for a long time that competing political groups in the United States simply do not believe each other. Conservatives, and therefore Republicans generally, do not trust–do not believe–Liberals, and therefore a leading minority of Democrats. Please note that between Liberals and Conservatives there are a bunch of Democrats, because the Democratic Party is still the acknowledged center. It seems important to develop a sense of gravity in politics.

When I read Erick Erickson over at Red State (oh, the irony), I am persuaded to believe that he really does think Ted Cruz would make a good President. This does not mean I think Ted Cruz will make a good President. But it does mean that Ted Cruz is Erickson’s idea of a good President. Erickson is no slouch. I’ve been following him for years, and he’s a smart guy. And I’m pretty sure he’s not a racist. He might even be a nice guy. But he is definitely really, really conservative, and that means endorsing Ted Cruz–Ted Cruz!–for President.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. To take a phrase from Richard Pryor, “That honky is crazy.” Imagining a world where Ted Cruz is an improvement is frightening for me. Probably as frightening as a world where Hillary Clinton is President for him. Part of my political view is that, if I had my way, it would be oppression to many conservatives. If it was up to me, gas would be more expensive, and people would call it oppressive. And if it were my call, I would say environmental and financial regulations ought to be more strict, and many businesses would call that oppression. Ted Cruz’s entire political career has been based on a moral objection to the Presidency of Barack Obama, because for many conservatives, that administration has been oppressive.

Some time ago, one of my Professors at Roosevelt recommended to me The Rhetoric of Reaction by Albert Hirschmann, which breaks down reactionary writing categorically, demonstrating how it is more or less a function of language. In elucidating the hallmarks of reactionary thought, I noticed that is was always some sort of response to an event. Something happens, and the reactionary says “No it did not!” Please note that the reactionary acknowledges the event that did not happen, while insisting, loudly, that it most certainly did not occur.

Remember 2010? Barack Obama had become President, and the Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress; the stimulus had passed, the ACA had been passed. Obama had been elected in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a reform President on a platform of “Hope.” Two years later, you get the perverse response: “Fear.” That was the year of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck frothing at the mouth. 2012 you get the jeopardy response: “Mitt Romney, you’re our only hope!” It was the last gasp of an establishment party before the reactionaries really took over. In 2014 you get the futility response: “Ignore Obama, focus on intraparty feuding.” Rather than fight Obama directly, they can simply focus on repealing everything he ever did, and squabble over strategy and leadership.

Believing and not believing are both activities, with means and ends. How I understand the world matters for how I believe and do not believe. “Make-believe” usually refers to childish fantasies, but I often wonder how, indeed, are beliefs produced? In this world of infinite production possibilities, where anything and everything can be commodified and quantified, how do we make believe?

There’s more, but I have to get dressed.

 

Breaking into the Blogosphere

Why write a blog? There are already too many blogs on the internet. Too many words, too many plots, and not enough time to connect all the dots.

I have discerned a blog shaped hole in the world, a place to put some thoughts I have been carrying with me awhile. I do not know if they are profound or profoundly dull, only that I wish to put them where they can be seen in the world, where others might see them.

I am a long time reader of blogs—indeed, much of my reluctance to begin writing a blog comes from knowing the already very high quality of contemporary blogging. In particular, I enjoy the blogs of academic economists: Paul Krugman, Mark Thoma, Brad Delong, Simon Wren-Lewis, Noah Smith, David Ruccio, JW Mason, and also Crooked Timber, which is not strictly about economics. I have an MA in Economics from Roosevelt University, and I will be teaching Econ 101 in a cornfield starting in a couple of weeks. I became interested in economics in my mid-twenties, while I was living in San Francisco, because I liked the way it explained the world. Later on, I moved to Chicago and somehow found my way into one of the few remaining heterodox economics programs in the US. Having a broader theoretical base of understanding than most economists, I have developed a peculiar, eclectic view which is not especially radical, but critical of the mainstream.

Political economy, which is to be a primary subject of this blog, is a kind of label placed upon my speculations regarding politics and the economy. I mean it to sound old-fashioned. I am a Christian and a practicing Catholic—I am also a Liberal, and a voting Democrat. I support equal rights for everybody, black people, LGBT people, undocumented people, everybody. I also support the right of all women to have access to adequate and appropriate birth control services including abortion, which should be legal and safe.

Another big influence for me is the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek—and here he is relevant. While I am an advocate of social justice, I am not particularly enamored of toleration. We (I mean people in the United States) should not ever tolerate racism or sexism. I believe that we should forgive bigotry and ignorance, always and without reservation, but we should not tolerate them. I believe in right and wrong, but everybody is wrong sometimes, and therefore everyone needs forgiveness. It’s not really okay to be wrong, but I believe in universal divine mercy, so it’s all good. You can be wrong all day, every day and we can still be friends.

Zizek is something of a radical, and I should be clear: I am not a radical. I am not even a socialist. I support programs and organizations that are sometimes called socialist, like Social Security and Medicare for example, but by no means do I consider myself socialist. I support Hillary Clinton for President not because I think she is least bad candidate but because I think she is the best person to lead the country right now. I also know a lot of people supporting Bernie Sanders, and I still respect their views. But I am not one of them, in part because I am not a socialist. I went to the Socialism 2015 Conference in Chicago, and it was really interesting (perhaps I will write at length about my experience there at a later time). There are plenty of redeeming qualities to socialists and socialism—for me, the priority is on democratic governance and legal equality above social concerns.

While I am something of an ambivalent non-socialist, I am a deeply committed anti-libertarian. I occasionally look at Tyler Cowen’s blog, and I think he’s a good writer and a respectable economist even, but he is a libertarian, like the rest of the economics Professors at George Mason University, and I pretty much disagree with everything he says. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time speaking to Deirdre McCloskey, a renowned Economic Historian and Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, and she’s really smart and interesting and totally worth listening to…but she also is libertarian, and therefore wrong about all kinds of stuff. I have little use for the long-winded libertarian theoreticians like Rothbard or Brooks, and I have a special disdain for Friedrich von Hayek, that darling of the Neoliberal set.

Libertarianism is reactionary ideological poison. It conceives of the modern world as an insidious conspiracy meant to subvert the individual and in doing so makes a perverse game of life. It is also wildly popular nowadays, and has immense intellectual support from think tanks (which are, in turn, supported by wealthy individuals interested in cultivating narratives rationalizing their outsize wealth and influence). I intend to explore this theme more thoroughly as time goes on.

Ideological contortions aside, I am also hoping to cover more whimsical sorts of discussions on music and culture. Being something of a musician (not especially talented nor devoted), I enjoy the subject of music history very much. One of the best ways to explore history is through the arts. For example, a friend of mine who is a successful performer of traditional dance and song told me once about going over 18th century Scottish folk tunes how prevalent the theme of land privatization was in the lyrics. The implementation of the Acts of Enclosure in Scotland during that time has numerous wide ranging and long term effects, among them the Industrial Revolution and the culture of the Appalachian Mountains. Tracing out those sorts of stories is something I want to do here on this blog.

There is, I suppose, a certain element of post-modernism in my conception of this blog. I want to write the blog that I would want to read; the author is the audience. Narcissism, perhaps. This is a risk I will simply have to take. Hopefully someone besides me will find reading it useful.

For myself, just writing it at all is freeing. Most of the time I am afraid to speak at all, for fear of sounding stupid. The only way to write well is keep writing, the only way to think well is to keep thinking. If you’ve read this far, keep reading. You never know when it might get good.