Performance Politics and Freedom
Let’s call this a “Blended Blog”… There are two important things I think bear introspection, and rather than splitting them into two separate blogs, I have decided to engage in my typical stream of conscious writing and see if we can connect the two. Join me now on this somewhat ambitious adventure!
Let’s start with topic number one: the advent of Performance Politics.
I would love to take credit for this nomme une chose… but Cadet Chaney Lieberman gets the mark for naming this advent. In discussing the protesting / rioting / commercial “glomming on” in our current political dialectic she referred to many of the “mostly peaceful protesters” (yes… I use that name with sarcasm and derision), as actors engaging in “performance politics”. Basically people using the division in our country as a form of recreational political theater.
Now, to be fair, this is not by any means a one-sided issue. There are performance political actors on both sides of the chasm, such as the collectivists and counter-revolutionaries who seek a return to the heady days of yesteryear when expansive state operations could reasonably be predicted to grow. When economic growth was measured and anemic. Where our place on the world stage was apologetic, but present through military and economic might. Where multilateralism in foreign policy allowed for regional warfare but it was contained. Where perpetual victimhood of certain multinational players offered political cover for other nation-state actors to eschew sustainable peace negotiations with their neighbors.
On the other side of the divide are Trumpian activists who have engaged in deep deregulation of U.S. markets that has caused a massive wave of both foreign investment in the U.S., as well as domestic participation in the capital markets. This has also been connected to a foreign policy that has completely upended traditional post-containment globalization efforts. This lack of American predictability has, much to the chagrin of established academia, had a counterintuitive effect: it has worked. (At least worked to the extent that globalized “peace” is decidedly better than it has been since the established order existed with the United States, and the Soviet Union essentially “calling the shots”.)
These two groups are comprised of some deep thinkers. People who lend a thoughtful discourse and strengthen the positions of both sides.
Then there are the pensait a nos acteurs:
Individuals, who find emotional resilience in the dynamics of the group, who agitate, because agitation provides two things: release and entertainment. Their understanding of their underlying core philosophical beliefs are dubious at best. (As seen by the countless YouTube videos of Trump supporters agreeing with Democratic policies when they are fooled into believing it was uttered by Trump or Democrats endorsing Trump polices when they are erroneously told it came from the Democratic Party.)
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These participants offer nothing of substantive value to the political conversation. Actually, they harm it. A robust understanding of one’s political values and philosophy is a prerequisite to engage in political dialogue. Secondarily, and in my opinion more importantly, that same understanding needs to be tempered with the knowledge that we do not all enjoy something similar to Papal Infallibility. The pure fact of the matter is that we may very well be wrong, or at the very least, partially wrong. John Stuart Mil in his work, On Liberty, articulated a Hegalian approach to free speech. If your position is strong, then you should fear no contrary speech, for the challenging rhetoric will be seen as inconsequential to your incontrovertible truth. On the other hand… that contrarian speech may point out some inconsistencies in your belief that need to be bolstered or modified. This, by its very definition, strengthens your position. In the final analysis though, that contrarian speech may completely decimate your position. If that is the case you are now better off than before since you were being guided by an untenable political philosophy in the first place.
The problem with performance political actors is that their dialectic is completely outward facing. Their rhetoric is not issued forth to illuminate those on the other side… it is to emotionally bolster their own camp. We have become two echo chambers amplifying a cacophony of a confederacy of dunces.
Now onto “Freedom”.
I saw a meme from a European source lamenting the “idiocy” of the American public. It intimated we fought a revolution over taxation, yet we are willingly paying taxes today without any expectation of adequacy on the part of our government. We allow individuals to accumulate exorbitant amounts of wealth, while others struggle for basic survival. An ideal world, in the eyes of the author, would be for the government to “smooth” out the system so that all have “basic needs”. For freedom, in their mind, is freedom from the underlying slavery of economic servitude that comes from needing enough money for basic needs.
Speaker Pelosi echoed something similar to this philosophy when the Obama Administration was working on its version of health care. A resident of San Francisco in her mind needs to have the ability to be an “artist, a writer, or a photographer”. Being trapped in an economic condition that requires them to perform work for another for the singular purpose of earning enough money for health care is the very antithesis of freedom. (Taken to its logical conclusion this should also require basic housing, clothing, food, transportation, and, dare I say, recreation.)
Many Socialists, Democratic Socialists, and Proto-Communists look aghast at our system and are consistently perplexed that workers have actively rejected this economic world view. They attribute the antagonism to a PR program actively promulgated by corporations. This is an infantile explanation and one that, candidly, runs counter to their arguments. Corporations and small business have little time or energy to engage in such a calculated program. The real hesitation comes from whom we are as a people, which is deeply different from most of the world.
We are (for the most part) individualists. We are also deeply distrustful of power. We distrust the power that comes from the economic imbalance of an employer / employee relationship. (This is why we enjoy the economic freedom to fire an employer and seek out a new one.) We also realize that the power an employer has over our healthcare / housing / clothing etc. will not go away with state control… it will simply transfer to the government. Once housed there the ability to “fire” your employer is lost.
Once power to provide needs transfers from the Initiative of the individual to the largess of the State, the only remedy for failure to provide services becomes violent revolution.