American Turkeys: Identify U.S. Politicians Dressed as Pilgrims

Happy Thanksgiving!

I actually had an ancestor on that cold little ship packed with the quasi-lost and often clueless immigrants who had to have their pasty white behinds saved by the merciful, generous and hospitable natives of the land.

Given the way things turned out for the natives, I get that this is not a day everybody wants to celebrate.

On the other hand, the idea of two groups of incredibly different people peaceably sitting down to share a common meal is a good lesson for our rabidly partisan age.

Thus, my images of our current (and some soon to be swapped out) U.S. political leaders below.

Please take them in the spirit in which they are intended, with humor and goodwill to all people (even the ones we consider fantastically dumb and/or cruel) for at least this one day.

Peace.

You can make it a game if you like.

  • One point for every politician you can identify by name
  • Another point for if you can remember their actual title

Answers supplied below

From top left moving right and then back down to the left:

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House

Kevin McCarthy, Republican Leader

Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader

Steve Scalise, Republican Whip

James Clyburn, Majority Whip

Elise Stefanik, Republican Conference Chairman

Katherine Clark, Assistant Speaker

Gary Palmer, Republican Policy Committee Chairman

Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Caucus Chairman

Kamala Harris, Vice President

Patrick J. Leahy, President Pro Tempore

Charles E. Schumer, Democratic Leader Chairman of the Conference

Richard J. Durbin, Majority Whip

Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader

John Thune, Republican Whip

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Associate Justice

Joe Biden, President of the United States

Adrian Tchaikovsky: Some Quotes for Our Era of Leadership

Occasionally, though not often enough, I connect with an author: the way they write, think, imagine. Their prose style.

Over the last year or so, one of the writers I’ve connected with is British science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s prolific, brilliant and always entertaining, and his education in zoology often shines through in fascinating ways.

In one of his books, Bear Head, he was riffing on our current unsavory age of political demagoguery.

I should say this isn’t his usual style. I got the feeling that he was venting about recent political trends in Great Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere.

As I write this on a Saturday morning, the news is filled with the election of Giorgia Meloni, who has come to power in Italy. That made me think of Tchaikovsky’s riffs, which I had highlighted in my Kindle. Here are some categories I’ve applied to them.

On hate, fear and politics

  • [H]ate was not just a fire to destroy, not just an excuse to panhandle donations. Hate was an attractive force.
  • [T]he generation that held those chains are yesterday’s men, trying to hold on to power by whipping up fear of the other, just like always.

On authority, virtue and the metagame

  • [T]here’s a metagame…[Y]our worker who ‘kisses ass’ is seen as management material not because they give their all to the company, but because they spend that effort they would otherwise give to the company on looking like they give it all to the company. They spend it on all the little social games instead, and because effort spent on the metagame is focused entirely about the appearance of virtue, it overshadows those who are actually performing the primary task, it overshadows actual virtue.
  • [T]he people who end up in authority are generally not those focused on whatever the purpose of the community is, but are focused on achieving positions of authority.
  • [T]hat meant the people who achieved status and power were by definition the least qualified to have it
  • [M]etagamers could hack organisational structures and procedures to promote themselves without needing to be good at the primary task of the organisation

On leader parasites

  • He was an ingeniously evolved parasite, the scion of a strain honed over generations to fool wider humanity into following his orders and tending to his needs.
  • [My] mind kept coming back to that insect in the ant’s nest that convinces the ants it’s more ant than they are, so that they serve up their own larvae for its delectation.
  • There was nothing to engage behind those eyes, barely anything more than a voracious id, a sense that was all me me me….a pattern of behavior that could be as mindless as some insect’s mimicry of an ant, that let it into the nest to eat the young.
  • [T]here’s a predatory bug that releases the pheromones of its prey more strongly than ever the females do, so that the witless wooers come from miles around to be devoured. …And yet there’s nothing true within it, nothing at all.
  • A parasite that prospers because it presents an exaggerated performance of its host species’ salient characteristics. Not just passing for human, but passing for superhuman: putting out all the tells so that you think they’re super-confident, super-dynamic, super-inspiring, exactly the man to follow to the end of the earth. Far more so than anyone who actually has reason to be confident, or to be worth following….more human than human, a colossus, possessing all the virtues the viewer might want to see.
  • [He] wasn’t about being loyal to underlings, he was about taking their loyalty and wringing every last drop of use from it before discarding them.

There’s clearly more to be said about the role that parasites play in ecosystems–and that demagogues play within the complex reticula of political economies and human limbic systems–but we’ll leave it here for now.

Featured image by José Clemente Orozco:The Demagogue

The Karst Bridge: Darkness and Light in Florida Spring Country

I owe my love of springs to living in rural Florida. My family and I lived in Lake County, FL for years, and it was generally a happy time. Lots of hikes in the Ocala Forest, lots of visits to local springs such as Alexander, Juniper and Silver Glenn.

I didn’t worry much about politics back then. So what if I lived in a more conservative Florida county? No biggie. In local elections, I often voted for incumbents who’d reportedly (according to the local press, anyway) been doing a good job. These tended to be Republicans. Fine.

My Gulag

Times have changed. Today, partisanship has reached extraordinarily toxic levels, with some Americans espousing violence as a way to settle political differences. This is a kind of mass madness. When I expressed concern about what was happening on Jan. 6th, an old schoolmate of mine, now an avid Trump supporter,  wouldn’t condemn the violence. Instead, he told me he refused to be imprisoned in “my gulag.”

My gulag? I assured him I have no gulag on my modest estate. What would I do with one? I have a hard enough time tending to our unruly little stand of bamboo trees.

Gulag? Such a strange word, a Soviet word that I assume had been ringing in the tirades of certain social media posters or cable news personalities. A word that shapes and warps the realities of the people hearing and using the term.

Black Flags in a Green Country

I was reminded of this weird exchange when we were driving the country roads of the Big Bend region of Florida. It was not a surprise to see Trump flags and political posters dotting the country landscape. People do not give up their political allegiances very easily these days. Trump, enmeshed in many scandals that would have sunk earlier politicians, has proven this beyond any doubt.

What was less expected was the number of black American flags. Sometimes they’d fly on people’s front porches, or we’d see them lined up at the end of long rural driveways, or even waving in the backs of pickup trucks roaring by. I had never heard of, much less seen, these flags before. My first impression was of something ominous and surreal, something intentionally harkening back to the black shirts of Mussolini’s Italy.

Later on, I googled it to see what those flags portend. I saw some left-leaning media interpreting these flags in very grim ways. For example, on Salon I found the following explanation:

In one troubling new development, Trump supporters have begun flying all-black American flags, in an implicit threat to harm or kill their opponents — meaning nonwhite people, “socialist liberals,” Muslims, vaccinated people and others deemed to be “enemies” of “real America.” As media critic Eric Boehlert recently noted, the liberal opinion site Living Blue in Texas is sounding the alarm about the specific meaning of the black flag and the Republican-fascists support for terrorism and other political violence.

If I had been able to ask the drivers of these black-flag-sporting trucks what it meant to them, would they say something similar? Or, would they talk about standing up for their freedoms in a land ruled by “socialists” who wanted to put them in “gulags”? (Just by the way, we now have a total of just four democratic socialists among the 435 congresspeople in the U.S. House of Representatives, not exactly a tsunami of any type of socialism.)

As far as I can tell, black flags harken back to pirate flags. Black flags were flown to show that the pirates would provide no quarter to those on the ships they attacked. This means that they would fight to the death and take no prisoners, killing everyone in their path.

Some say that black flags (though probably not black American flags) were sometimes flown by the Confederacy. The Sun reports, “Confederate army soldiers flew the black flag to symbolize the opposite of the white flag of surrender. The black flag meant that the unit would not give in nor surrender and that enemy combatants would be killed.”

So, who are the perceived “enemy combatants” of today’s black flag wavers? I’m not sure. As far as I can tell, those enemies are largely imaginary caricatures of other Americans, which makes the sight of such flags especially troubling.

My guess is that American black flags probably mean different things to different people but generally symbolize a willingness to violently resist or attack whatever forces are viewed as aligned against them.

Spurious Divisions

The vast majority of Americans generally want the same things. That is, we want to live in a safe and secure environment. We want an economy in which we can find work. We want to feed our families, afford decent shelter, and enjoy some of goods things in life.

We want individual liberty balanced by enough collectivism to ensure things like good roads and bridges, a reasonably strong military, and enough social systems to help people who have fallen on hard times (as when they get sick or lose their jobs). In short, we still want–as Jefferson first put it–life, liberty and ability to pursue our own forms of happiness.

If we agree on all this, why is there so much outrage, animosity and division in our country today? Why do some people feel the need to fly black flags amid beautiful countryside?

Much of it boils down to leaders and media personalities intent on gaining power, influence and money by making Americans believe we are far more divided than we truly are. After all, demonization works. It works to keep to the powerful emotions of fear and loathing engaged, emotions that override our reason. 

Suddenly, we see threats everywhere. People who cross the border because they are desperate for work and a better life are viewed as dangerous “invaders.” The anxious parents of kids confused about their sexual identity are demonized as “groomers.” And people who simply disagree on political issues from tax burdens to energy policy are viewed as “enemies” rather than fellow Americans.

These grotesque exaggerations are used to keep our emotions charged so that cable channels can sell more advertisements and politicians can convince us that they are “fighting for us” rather than just cynically appealing to our darker selves so they can gain ever greater power.

Gorgeous Light

In many respects, the Florida Big Bend area is an Arcadia. The people (at least the ones we met) are friendly and good natured. The countryside is expansive fields–some farmland combined with lots pastures populated by horses, cows, goats and chickens.

But we were specifically there for the freshwater springs, which are often fantastic places of cool, crystalline waters set like jewels in the primeval greenery of old Florida cypress and oaks, maples, sweet gum and honey locusts.

Peacock Spring, by Cynthia Vickers

Springs are places of light. In the largest springs, there is a boil of water that can be seen from the surface, a boil that makes the light shimmer all around. Because the water is typically crystal clear, the light doesn’t just reflect off the surface, however, but fills the entire spring down to the very bottom. The best springs are living windows into sacred worlds from which flow, in tremendous volumes, that water so essential to our lives.

Glades of Shadow

But springs are also places of shadow and power. For every first magnitude spring, there are powerful pulses of water surging upwards from limestone caves. That’s why you will sometimes see intrepid cave diver types at the springs and sinks of Florida. They are, essentially, underwater spelunkers, a dazzling but dangerous hobby that has too often resulted in tragedy.

And then there are the spring denizens, not least of which are snakes and gators. Indeed, the caretakers of today’s Florida springs are not shy about informing visitors about the potential dangers via their signage.

So, it’s little wonder we were a tad nervous when we arrived at our first spring of the trip: Lafayette Blue. It was a weekday and, despite the fine weather, we had the entire spring to ourselves. That made the scene spookier than it would otherwise have been.

Lafayette Blue is unique in that the two parts of the spring are divided by a natural bridge made up of karst. It’s a remarkable sight. On the day we were there, the lighter part of the spring flowed out into the Suwanee River, frequented by schools of mullet and some larger fish that I took for bass. There were also smaller specimen such as sunfish and chubb. On the surface were thousands of waterbugs, moving dimples of light

On the other side of karst bridge is the deeper, darker part of the spring where I snorkled with less confidence, intimidated by shadows and rocky ledges. Even the two large turtles over whom I swam looked wary, unaccustomed to visitors in their dimly lit lair.

America Undivided

As we drove miles through rural Florida on our way to various springs, I thought about the ways in which Lafayette Blue reflects America itself: a mix of dark and light, a clearly divided yet ultimately connected and singular entity, an inspiring, beautiful yet intimidating and sometimes dangerous place.

I know it’s a strange and somewhat strained metaphor, but like the karst bridge over Lafayette Blue, the divisions between red and blue America appear rock hard. And, in fact, these perceived divisions could lead to the end of democracy itself in the U.S. But this isn’t a foregone conclusion. Lafayette is a single spring just as we are a single state in a still-united nation, no matter how much certain “leaders” want to turn us against one another.

The green and rural parts of Florida will always feel like home to me. Despite our rural/urban divides, all Floridians reside in the same fantastical, surreal landscape: a rainforest growing atop porous limestone through which flows cold, clear waters that burst and bubble up from these incredible, life-giving springs. Our divisions are mostly illusory, manufactured by people who don’t have our best interests at heart. The sooner we realize this, the better we’ll be able to savor the light and dark gifts of this preposterously beautiful state.

We’re Engaged in Reality Wars, Not Culture Wars

In a previous post, I discussed the book The Case Against Reality, by cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman. This time, I want to loosely tie those ideas to the U.S. reality wars.

Echo Chambers and Halls of Mirrors

In today’s U.S., there are multiple political camps that, due to the structure of our system, invariably wind up channeled into just two political parties. This is maddening for those of us who want more choices, but for reasons known as Duverger’s Law, we’re stuck with just the two–at least for now.

Our two-party system leads to polarization, especially in an age when Americans find it easier than ever to lock themselves in media that do nothing but reinforce beliefs they tend to already hold. This especially applies to our cable news networks, with one recent study indicating that TV is a stronger driver of partisan news consumption than even our fractured social media.

That’s not to say social media doesn’t also play a role. Indeed, as one recent Atlantic article reported:

[R]esearchers who measure echo chambers by looking at social relationships and networks usually find evidence of “homophily”—that is, people tend to engage with others who are similar to themselves. One study of politically engaged Twitter users, for example, found that they “are disproportionately exposed to like-minded information and that information reaches like-minded users more quickly.”

Everywhere people look, they see versions of themselves reflected back and hear echoes of their own voices. It’s toxic narcissism writ large. As for other points of view, they are often distorted in grotesque ways that make people hate or distrust those who hold those points of view.

What makes this phenomenon even more destructive is that social media algorithms are designed to keep people engaged on their platforms so they’ll spend more time there. There are plenty of reports about how Facebook, YouTube and even TikTok are taking people down conspiracy-laden rabbit holes out of which they emerge as extremists.

The Reality Wars

Of course none of this is breaking news. In fact, it is commonly viewed as part of the so-called culture wars. What I believe, however, is that these trends extend beyond mere culture and influence our fundamental construction of reality.

Image of soap bubble: By KarlGaff – CC BY 4

If you believe Hoffman’s thesis that our perceptions are not based on some close-to-the-surface reality but, rather, on some sociobiological interface that bears little resemblance to whatever underlying reality is out there, then we literally generate our own realities to some degree.

(Yeah, I know that in a lot of ways this isn’t a new idea, even if now we have more evidence to support it. In fact, it’s straight out of Freshman Ponderings 101, bong tokes and dog-eared copies of Herman Hesse novels.)

Let’s assume for a minute that Hoffman is right. If so, then some human beings literally see reality in different ways, and this is bound to influence our politics.

Different Brains, Different Worlds

Certain factors shape our realities, not just our cultural views. This shows up in cognitive and psychological studies. For example, one study indicates that the brains of conservatives and liberals often function in slightly different ways. Scientific American reports:

The volume of gray matter, or neural cell bodies, making up the anterior cingulate cortex, an area that helps detect errors and resolve conflicts, tends to be larger in liberals. And the amygdala, which is important for regulating emotions and evaluating threats, is larger in conservatives.

No only do liberals and conservatives view the world in different ways, they even remember reality differently: “Among other things, partisan identity clouds memory. In a 2013 study, liberals were more likely to misremember George W. Bush remaining on vacation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and conservatives were more likely to falsely recall seeing Barack Obama shaking hands with the president of Iran.”

There are, in fact, various studies indicating that conservatives and liberals see the world differently. And, it’s not just the world they see differently. It’s their own minds and motivations. For example, whereas liberals and conservatives think they are applying judgment equally to all groups of people, they each tend to judge members of their own ideology more favorably than others. 

“It seems that most people think that they are applying their moral principles in an even-handed way,” authors Dr. Jan Voelkel and Dr. Mark Brandt told PsyPost. “However, our findings suggest that we humans struggle to apply our moral principles equally to our outgroups and ingroups.”

Naively Unrealistic about Reality

There’s a name for the human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively (and to see the people who disagree with us as irrational, biased or immoral). It’s called “naïve  realism.”

Naïve realism is theoretically responsible for a bunch of systematic cognitive errors, such as:

We’ve seen naive realism play out in spades in the U.S. over the last several years. Take the pandemic. The U.S. has suffered more Covid-19 deaths per capita than any other nations in the world except for Peru and Brazil, yet a 2020 poll from Pew Research Center found that 76% of Republicans believed the pandemic was handled successfully in the U.S. while the same was true for only 29% of Democrats.

Sometimes differences come down to which aspects of our reality we choose to pay attention to. For example, about 4 in 10 American’s have closely followed news about the Jan. 6th select committee’s hearings, but the the percentage who are following at least somewhat closely vary widely from 55% of Democrats to 40% of independents and just 28% of Republicans.

Divisions have gotten so bad that they’ve crept deep into our personal lives. For example, The Institute for Family Studies reports:

Marriages across political lines appear to be falling. In 2016, when Eitan Hersh and Yair Ghitza counted married couples among registered voters, they found that 30% of couples were politically mixed, meaning they did not share the same party identification. Most of these marriages were between partisans and Independents, and 9% of all marriages were between Democrats and Republicans. Today, only 21% of marriages are politically mixed, and nearly 4% (3.6%) are between Democrats and Republicans, according to my analysis of the new American Family Survey.

On Reality-Bending Demagogues

We live in an era of demagogues. Lexico.com defines a demagogue as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.”

Politicians are probably demagogues if they:

  • try to make you fear or hate some specific group of people who have traditionally been ostracized from society
  • attempt to fan flames of outrage by making emotional appeals based on unsupported or widely exaggerated evidence
  • bully and attack others who dare to challenge their arguments, power or ego
  • make arguments that they themselves contradict because the arguments are based on emotions rather than logic
  • promise to solve complex problems with overly simple and often unworkable solutions
  • try to make “people like you” feel as if you are a victim of unfair treatment by some demonized group around which unproven (and usually unprovable) conspiracies are woven
  • repeat large lies again and again, following the dictate of Joseph Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Demagogues are typically reality warpers because their claims and emotional appeals can’t be well supported by the honestly presented facts. But this doesn’t mean the warping isn’t real. They can literally change the way people view their realities.

Some Results of Warped Realities

How does such warping work on a practical level?

Let’s use the issue of immigration as an example. On recent NPR/Ipsos poll found that fewer than half of participants correctly answered a range of true or false statements regarding immigration.

For example, 54% of Americans think it’s at least somewhat true that we’re experiencing an “invasion” at the southern border, with 76% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats believing it. Part of the problem here is that word “invasion,” which typically refers to armed forces but in this case refers to regular and generally unarmed people crossing the U.S. southern border. The emotion-laden word literally changes the way people interpret their realities and is largely a media-influenced concept. Republicans who cite Fox News or other conservative news sources as their main news source are more likely to buy into the invasion narrative.

But the reality warping extends beyond emotions attached to immigration. For example, half of polled Americans “believe it is at least somewhat true that migrants bringing fentanyl and other illegal drugs over the southern border are responsible for the increase in drug overdoses and deaths in the U.S.” This claim is not supported by the evidence. Almost all fentanyl is smuggled into the U.S. hidden in vehicles coming through official ports of entry.

So, why do so many people believe otherwise? It’s largely because demagogues and media figures mislead people. For example, Florida’s governor states, “You have people coming across illegally from countries all over the world. And so what has that gotten us? We now, in this country, have the leading cause of death for people 18 to 45 as fentanyl overdose.”

He infers that the illegal smuggling of fentanyl is directly linked to illegal immigration even those these two things are almost entirely unrelated. This is how realities are twisted and forged by politicians and media sources.

In another example, over half of Republicans believe that, compared to native-born U.S. residents, immigrants are more likely to use public benefits and to commit crimes, even though the evidence indicates that neither of these is true.

Working with the Threads of Shared Reality

So, how can we reweave some of these threads into a more cohesive U.S. reality? I wish I knew. It may be the single most important question facing U.S. democracy today.

One way to weave threads of common realties may be by starting with areas of political consensus and having people work together on those areas. For example, there are large bipartisan U.S. majorities that favor increasing the number of work visas to legal immigrants. Americans could work across party lines on the issue in an attempt to have lawmakers pass meaningful legislation in this area.

There are, in fact, various areas of political reform that both voting constituencies tend to favor by large margins. According to the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, these include:

  • a Constitutional amendment to allow governments greater freedom to regulate campaign financing
  • requirements for increasing disclosure of campaign financing
  • an extension of the period of time that former government officials must wait before working as a lobbyist
  • a movement to make it easier for independent and third-party candidates to compete in U.S. elections

Not only could such public policy work help form more examples of shared realities, they would bring these different groups into closer contact with one another, allowing people to form closer emotional connections with those who think in other ways.

Final Thoughts

Although culture plays a role, the “culture wars” are, in a deep sense, reality wars in that people literally disagree about what’s real. If we can internalize this as the problem, then we can finally grok just how deep our national issues go.

Ultimately, though, what we call these conflicts is less important that whether we can come up solutions to address them. Democracies will always be characterized by differences of opinions. Such differences are good. In the war of ideas, you want the best ones to flourish. That’s why democracies tend to produce happier and healthier societies.

But we also need ways of keeping those differences from mutating into outrage, hatred and violence. Because a democracy that results in open conflict is a deeply unhealthy democracy, one likely to metastasize into something truly dreaded and deadly.

Featured image from Ústí nad Labem, the Czech Republic. Větruše hill, a mirror labyrinth.

On Why Gen Z May Have a Great Future After All

Poor Gen Z. In the United States, the oldest members this generation (born between 1997 and 2012, give or take a few years) have only recently entered adulthood, and it’s been a pretty rough ride so far.

Let’s say the eldest are 25. That means that since their 18th birthdays, they’ve seen the divisive Trump years, the turmoil of the pandemic, an attempted insurrection, a sudden surge in inflation, record global warming, a couple of recessions (yeah, I’m calling this one even if the NBER isn’t), an invasion in Europe, the greatest amount of political polarization since the U.S. Civil war, and the descent of the U.S. political system into the category of flawed democracy.

It’s little wonder that they’re turning out to pessimistic about the future. The world in general and the U.S. in particular has looked like a real shit show in recent years, and the immediate future isn’t looking all that bright, either.

But will Gen Z really be the generation that comes to adulthood just in time to see economies collapse, the world burn up, nation states fall apart, and Orwellian authoritarian states become the norm?

Sure, it could happen, especially if they (and the rest of us) don’t fight against those dystopian futures. But here’s the thing. If you squint a bit, you can detect signs that the Gen Zers might have a pretty great future after all.

Here are just a few of the trends we can point to:

  • The emergence of a go-go green world: Few have commented on the trend so far, but renewable energy is growing at exponential rates. If we only confine ourselves to solar and wind globally, the rate of growth is doubling every 3.75 years. Even if we round this up to 4, these two energies alone will provide more power in 2034 than was generated globally in 2021. The future will be renewable, and soon. That’s not a bad way to spend your early adulthood.
  • The rise of the smart (and hopefully super helpful) machines: Artificial intelligence is advancing at remarkable rates, which may have massive implications for productivity, innovation and more. Recently DeepMind announced it had successfully used AI to predict the 3D structures of nearly every catalogued protein known to science: over 200 million proteins found in plants, bacteria, animals, and humans! Sure, it was hard to hear that astonishing news amid all the hubbub about the end of the Chaco Taco, but history will judge this a major historic event (DeepMind, not the Taco). If AI can so quickly be productive in this one extremely challenging area of science, then imagine the impact it can have on worker productivity in general. As productivity rates rise over the next decade or more, so will income per capita (in theory). Of course, those gains need to be properly redistributed throughout the workforce, but that’s a different challenge. Yes, powerful AI could potentially have a number of truly terrible repercussions as well, but let’s focus on the bright side here.
  • The dazzling advances in microbiology. The protein-folding achievement just noted is one part of a much larger set of advances in microbiology. CRISPR, for example, is an astonishing technology. The rapid creation of the Covid-19 vaccination was just one the modern miracles brought to you by microbiology. These advances will continue and, in fact, speed up due to aforementioned machine learning techniques. If we can avoid the specter of bioterrorism, these advances might well mean that Gen Z will be the healthiest and longest-living generation in history. Death? Hah. That was so 2020s!
  • The renaissance in reformed political systems. Yes, the U.S. as well as various other nations are in danger of turning away from democracy and toward totalitarianism. Based on the popularity of scary-ass demagogues like my governor Ron DeSantis, we might well see the Orban-ization of America in the near future. However, at the same time, there are various grassroots movements (e.g., RepresentUS) that are seeking to reform the more corrupt and dysfunctional aspects of government. Perhaps if the U.S. can build up its immunity to demagoguery and neo-fascism quickly enough, there could be a flowering of pro-democracy movements here and abroad. This could eventually lead not just to more democracy globally but to more functional forms of democracy than have ever existed.
  • The rise in environmental protections and the strengthening of Earth’s ecosystems. Humanity has done an enormous amount of harm to the global ecosystem, but, along with the advancement in renewables, there will also be more programs such as 30×30, which is is a worldwide initiative for governments to designate 30% of Earth’s land and ocean area as protected areas by 2030. Now it even looks as if the U.S. might be able to pass the The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which would put about $385 billion into combating climate change and bolstering U.S. energy production through changes that would encourage cuts in carbon emissions. So, Gen Z may be the first generation to spend its early adulthood in a global culture that finally takes serious steps to heal much of the environmental damage humanity has already wrought

Sure, there are lots of things that could go disastrously wrong. Some of them surely will. But there are also a lot of things that could go very right. Since the Gen Zers can’t tell for sure, they can join one of the many movements to make things better.

At the very least, they’ll be able to enjoy the comradery of people trying to improve things. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to help create a way better world than the one they’ve inherited so far.

Featured image: By Dian Dong, Toronto climate change activist Alienor Rougeot calling upon the public, with the youth, to take action in one of Fridays for Future's earlier climate strikes, 15 March 2019

What Kind of Political Animal Are You?

Political Identity Crisis

Sometimes on social media I wind up in political discussions in forums designed for that purpose.

I find that self-described conservatives often think I’m a liberal because I believe in empirically proven collectivist legislation such as universal healthcare.

Self-described liberals often think I’m a moderate or conservative because I think free markets work well in many instances–and because I argue against the ills of wrong-headed, governmental restrictions in various areas such as housing regulations.

So people judge my overall political belief system based on my take on specific political issues. But every issue is different, so I tend to believe legislation should not be based on ideology but on empirical evidence about a specific issue.

The problem, of course, is that you often just wind up with just two choices in an election no matter your take on various specific issues. This is a reflection of our increasingly polarized and, I think, broken two-party system, but we’ll put that aside for now.

The Small “d” Democrat

I think of myself as a small “d” democrat who believes our governmental legislative systems are largely dysfunctional because they have been, according to certain studies, captured by moneyed interests. As a result, they do little to serve the “will of the people,” as measured by polls and research. I’ve got nothing against the ultra-wealthy per se, but they are neither qualified nor elected to make decisions for the rest of the nation.

So what does that make me? Radical? Populist? Moderate? Socialist Libertarian?

Beats me. “Small ‘d’ democrat” is the best I can think of. Because I do believe that a representative democracy (yes, and I know we live in a federal republic, as millions of online cranks will insist on) is a good, self-correcting system if it typically reflects the will of the overall population rather than the will of most powerful plutocratic class. And, if it protects minority rights even while reflecting majority opinion.

I suspect that there are many people who, like me, do not fit neatly in today’s political stereotypes and conventional classifications. (It never did make much sense to plot the complex plethora of political ideas along the absurd paucity of a single horizontal spectrum.) If we ever banded together, maybe we could call ourselves “The Empirical Party” to indicate we base most of our political opinions on the best facts available, undergirded by a few basic values such as liberty and fairness.

Of course, I’m well aware that our two-party system means that any third-party has almost no hope of gaining a foothold. But it’s nice to have a dream, and one never knows.

Featured image: 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast; Credit Kean Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images