Monday, December 05, 2016

A Grump about Trump

I try to stay positive here, but there are a few things about the incoming administration that worry me.

I fear that Mr. Trump so values his business empire, and has so little taste for actually governing the country, that he will constantly use his office to advance his private interests.  This is not a matter of bribery, exactly, but rather of shaping US policy to benefit his business, with the connivance of foreign governments.

I fear that the Trump presidency will be the most corrupt administration ever.

In a related note, I think his daughter Ivanka is really the brains of the operation.  Her recent announcement that she will be moving to Washington confirms my suspicion that she will not only be running the Trump businesses, but will also be de facto First Lady, hosting for and advising the Trump White House.  In fact, she seems more committed to living and working in the capital than her father does.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Culture Wars of a "Change Election"

2016 was a change election.  As often happens, after two terms of one party in the White House, many people vote for the other party, just for a change.

The exit polls show that the people who thought things were going well voted for Clinton, and the people who thought things were going poorly voted for Trump.

The Trump voters were not voting for issues - abortion, guns, immigration, even the economy - in any ordinary sense.

They were, though, mobilized by Trump's polarized, culture war framing of the real struggle: the  "politically correct" educated elite versus ordinary people.  This was a theme that Donald Trump and his surrogates pushed again and again.

The very vagueness of the supposed positions that the politically correct were supposed to embrace made this a useful slogan - globalization for economic nationalists, Muslim terrorism for Christian nationalists, immigration for which nationalists.

And Trump voters were not wrong that the educated elite do support free trade and pluralism.

Nationalism, though, tends to produce very bad consequences for minorities and for international peace.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Good News: Dementia Is Declining

The disease I fear most is dementia.  Like most academics, I suspect, I value my mind over most other aspects of my body.  Losing it is a most disturbing prospect.

Which is why it is so encouraging that the dementia rate has declined significantly since 2000.

Researchers don't know why dementia is declining, because they don't know what causes it in the first place.

They do note, though, two factors that correlate with a lower likelihood of dementia:  being highly educated, and being fat.

I've got this covered.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On The Passing of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro overthrew a brutal dictator, improved literacy, and vastly improved health care in Cuba.  For those those things he deserves praise.

He reigned as an oppressive dictator himself, though probably less corrupt than his predecessor, for decades.  For this he should be condemned.

The United States foolishly strengthened Castro's rule by attempting to overthrow him, and then by blockading Cuba for those same decades.  This not only strengthened him as a dictator, but also pushed him into the arms of the Soviets.  Their nuclear missiles in Cuba led to the crisis that almost started a nuclear war.

I believe if we had pressed for commercial relations from the beginning, Cuba would long ago have become democratic. Coca Cola and McDonalds can send ambassadors where mercenaries and the Marines can't go.

I hope that when his brother Raoul passes, as well, President Obama's opening to Cuba can be completed, and in short order we can construct the bases of democracy.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rising Nationalism Threatens World Peace

The greatest human achievement of the past two generations has been preventing a major war.

Since the end of the Korean War, and really since the end of the Second World War, there has not been a war between major powers.

This is because of the structure of international organizations that we created precisely to prevent another world war, and the web of organic relations of trade and social ties that grew up under that structure.

The most important of these structures, in my estimation, are NATO and the European Union.  Many people take for granted the structure of peace they created.

Nationalism is the substitute religion created by modernity.  It has some good uses in creating group solidarity. But it also has a great and obvious danger in promoting international wars.

The rising tide of nationalism that we see in all countries threatens world peace.  But most dangerous is nationalism in the United States and Europe, which undermines the structures of international order that the world's central powers guarantee.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is the Civil Religion "Holiday Season" For?

The season from Halloween through New Years contain the High Holy Days of the the American civil religion.  The great melting pot of pagan, Christian, and Roman holidays has been Americanized.  And the keystone of the arch of holidays is Thanksgiving.

Each holiday serves multiple purposes, high and low.  Halloween brings out artistic creativity, and lets us serve cute little neighbor kids coming to the door.  New Years is a time for new starts, the beginning of the year, and the beginning of the great quarter of getting down to work.  Christmas, of course, is a significant religious holiday for the Christian majority, but is also a great family holiday, the start of a week of togetherness with which to end the year.

Thanksgiving is also a great family holiday.  More than that, though, it is the moment of greatest moral depth - of reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.  Of all the actions tied to our holidays, this is the one most likely to bring enduring happiness.  The happiest people show the thanksgiving habit year-round.

To be sure, each of these holidays is also an important commercial day.  All of our civil religion holidays have elements to encourage no-holds-barred spending. The last quarter of the year drives the consumer economy.   Each of these economic customs has the potential to make us more materialistic in ways that produce dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Still, each of our civil holidays, if approached correctly, can promote happiness and a better civic spirit.  And the greatest of these is Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Violence is Never in the Interest of Rational Actors

I am not sure this is true.  I am chewing on it.

I know that sometimes rational actors will have to be violent to protect themselves from irrational actors.

But I don't think two rational actors ever need to resort to violence to settle their differences.

I take it as given that long-term survival is a premise of rationality, for societies if not for each individual in it.  So rational societies in a world of rational societies know that violence for short-term gain will not make sense if it leads to retaliatory violence or other sanctions.

In societies as in individuals, "self-interest" and "selfish interest" are not the same thing.