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I've heard a number of people suggesting that Nye made a mistake in debating Ham because people can't be persuaded.  I confess I sometimes feel this way, but this has gotten me reflecting on a formative moment in my own intellectual development.  As an adolescent I remember adoring any form of debate but also being very open minded as I really just a) didn't have fully formed positions on many things yet, and b) just had never thought about many issues.  I just loved the exploration of ideas, any ideas.  For example, I would eagerly turn to the editorial section of the newspaper every day when it arrived.  I still love ideas, though I'm more set in my positions these days.  This was a crucial time in my life where I really could be swayed by evidence on a number of issues.  In this connection, I'll never forget a sociology course I took in High School.  As a middle class white Jewish boy, I pretty much accepted the standard theory of poverty that held that poor people are just lazy.  I had never really thought about poverty, I just assumed the poor had some sort of moral failing.

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This diary began as a comment responding to a comment in Ray Pensador's most recent diary on how propaganda controls people and ballooned into a diary of its own.  While I do not at all discount the power of propaganda-- or, as it's called in critical theory circles, "ideology" --to control people, I do think we have a tendency to overestimate the power of distorted beliefs to control people, thereby overlooking far more powerful things that compel people to tolerate oppressive conditions.  If this is true, then it has significant implications for what political activism should be engaged in seeking to produce a more just and equitable society.  Follow me below the fold to see what I have in mind.

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There used to be a day when radically leftist politics was very different.  This was decades ago, and in the postmodern politics of the 80s and 90s we forgot it.  No, in that politics, it seemed that politics just became about interest groups and that it no longer reflected the dimension of the universal.  Instead, one group pitted itself against the other, claiming a hierarchy of grievances, in which others were told that their grievances were less important than those of others.

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Fri Aug 02, 2013 at 09:15 AM PDT

What is Neoliberalism?

by JosephK74

In my time here at dailykos I've noticed that there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term "neoliberalism".  Some seem to think those who use the term are republicans in disguise who are attacking liberals.  Others seem to think that the terms is intentionally designed to be misleading and to slime liberalism.  Given the way the term "liberal" is used in the United States, it is not surprising that those who do not have an academic background in political science and who are not familiar with European political categories would be confused by this term.  So it goes.  Follow me below the fold for a little clarification.

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Lately I've been thinking of why I get such a bad taste in response to so many debates I witness here on dailykos, and I think I've finally put my finger on it.  I feel as if too many kossaks (and all too often the democratic party) are all too willing to throw others under the bus while still asking for their support and votes.  Follow me below the fold to see what I mean.

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Wed Jun 12, 2013 at 10:02 PM PDT

Questions about Obscenity

by JosephK74

Given some recent controversies here, I was hoping my fellow kossacks could give me some advice.  If I've understood things correctly, when someone describes obscene political acts using obscene language, it's the obscene language this is the problem and deserving of condemnation.  Hopefully others can let me know if I'm applying the rules correctly.

If someone says:

Fred Phelps is a Nazi pig.
We're supposed to condemn the person who said this for referring to the Nazi's because such comparisons are obscene.

If someone else says:  

The government is behaving like KGB thugs.
The problem here is the person that compared the American government to the Soviet KGB, right?

The other day I heard a person say:

The banks and Wall Street are behaving like the Vandals.
Here the serious issue lies in comparing upstanding institutions like the banks and Wall Street to barbarian hordes, right?  

Am I following the rules correctly?  I mean, clearly the genuinely important issue is politically offensive language and if we stamp this out we'll solve our problems.  Certainly whether one thinks the issue is obscene or language used to describe the issue is obscene says a lot about a person's politics and commitments.  The person who thinks the issue is obscene is obviously an idiot and a fool.  Our real problem is obscene language used to describe the issue.  After all, what about the kids?  Also, someone might be offended!  I mean, it's not as if the mere discussion of uncomfortable issues, regardless of how they're expressed, doesn't offend people or make them look for ways to change the subject and divert attention.  

Anyway, I just want to make sure that I'm on the right side with these issues, that I understand what's genuinely important to the functioning of our democracy, and that I'm concerned about the right things.  Thanks in advance!

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Tue Jun 11, 2013 at 03:48 PM PDT

The Despair of a Democrat

by JosephK74

Watching responses to the revelations about the NSA this week has filled me with despair.  It has left me feeling completely powerless and hopeless.  I have seen the following:

1)  People defending the surveillance arguing that this is legal because the law says so, apparently failing to distinguish between legal and illegal, just and unjust laws.  Apparently these people must also feel that pre-civil rights laws that institutionalized racist and sexist oppression were just hunky dory.  Apparently these people must also think that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were just fine because the law said so.  There are few lines of defense that I find more stomach churning than this.

more below the fold

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This will be a down and dirty diary.  A discussion about different forms of capitalism in my last diary-- small businesses, industrial/factory capitalism, corporate capitalism, etc) inspired me to reflect on what's unique about corporate capitalism.  There, my fellow kossack wrote:

Where I see a difference is since the rise of corporations, legislation has been written to protect their greedy behaviour.  Their greed and abuses and corruption is legislated as a necessity.  Because it is a legal necessity, governments actively protect them and help them because they see those "harms" as being legal and, worse yet, important for everyone.  

Again, maybe I'm splitting hairs.  But I honestly do believe that while capitalism as a system has some abuses, there always seems to be some of a balance.  INdividuals can be prosecuted and held accountable.  Under corporatism, the companies themselves are "persons" which is intentionally specifically to avoid accountability.  Which is why so many corporations can break the law without concern.  Can't hold any individual accountable in most cases, and the fees for the company are often smaller than the profit potential.

I don't disagree with him, though because I'm an irritating twerp, I do think the situation is considerably more complex than he suggests here.  Follow me below the fold to find out why.
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There isn't a single political issue that isn't deeply affected and structured by the logic of capitalism.  If this is true, then it entails that capitalism is the ground of all other political issues.  This doesn't mean that these issues can be reduced to questions of economy, just that economy influences all of these issues and plays a key role in how they are structured.  Understanding what capitalism is is therefore vital to all political engagement.  Failure to understand the nature of capitalism leads to two things:  1) pursuing policy prescriptions that further entrench oppression, exploitation, and bigotry, or 2) treating symptoms rather than causes.  Just as you don't cure a cold by taking Nyquil, but only suppress its symptoms, a great deal of political activism in our contemporary age amounts to little more than taking Nyquil.

A lot of people have a very vague understanding of what capitalism is.  This diary is intended to contribute to rectifying that and discussing how capitalism relates to a number of political issues that are of greatest concern to us as progressives.  My hope that is that it will contribute to more clear sighted activism and better strategy in responding to issues.  I apologies in advance for the length of this diary.  There's so much to say, so much to understand, and I haven't said it nearly well enough nor have I even begun to scratch the surface.

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Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 01:52 PM PDT

Marx for Dummies 2

by JosephK74

In my last diary I discussed what capitalists and workers are, the basic outlines of Marx's economic theory of society, and why capitalism is necessarily prone to crisis and inequality.  In this diary, I'll discuss some more specific Marxist concepts such as the labor theory of value and surplus-value.  These concepts sound pretty intimidating, but they're really fairly simple.  Why should you care about them?  You should care about them because they will help you understand the world around you, where you are in that world, what is going on with your labor, and why businesses and governments pursue certain policies.  

As I remarked before, this diary is intended for a non-academic, popular audience, so I'm intentionally dumbing things down.  I think us Marxists often shoot ourselves in the foot by insisting on embracing Marx's own dialectical way of speaking, thereby rendering ourselves incomprehensible to any but other academics.

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Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:20 AM PDT

Marx for Dummies 1

by JosephK74

There's recently been a spate of great diaries on Marx, so I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring and discuss some basic Marxist themes.  Hopefully the scholarly Marxists won't come down too hard on what I say below.  This diary is intended for a non-academic, popular audience, so I'm intentionally dumbing things down.  I think us Marxists often shoot ourselves in the foot by insisting on embracing Marx's own dialectical way of speaking, thereby rendering ourselves incomprehensible to any but other academics.  If this diary does alright, I'll write a follow up diary on the labor theory of value, commodity fetishism, and surplus-value if people are interested.

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All this heated debate over site moderation has gotten me thinking about the great Roman stoic, Epictetus.  At the beginning of his book Enheiridion, he writes:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

I can't control whether or not my body gets sick, the looks with which I was born, whether or not others relate to me respectfully, etc.  These things are all granted by chance, others, or circumstances.  What can I control?  

follow me beyond the fold to find out.

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