Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Obama or Romney?

I’d like to set down some of my thoughts here on the coming American presidential election. I’m not an American, so American readers may wonder why I don’t restrict my attention to the politics of my country, which happens to be Canada. There are a couple of reasons why I don’t do so. First, American politics are approximately ten thousand times more interesting than the Canadian variety. For example, when a so-called religious social conservative gets into office in the US, his or her religion is (superficially) front and center, as in the case of George W. Bush. Mitt Romney is the exception that proves the rule, since he hides his religion in his campaign only because he’s a member of an odd religious minority. American Christians prefer that their Republicans be Christian, even though Jesus would cast almost every single modern Christian into hell for selling him out to one secular empire or another. By contrast, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, is allegedly a religious social conservative, but you’d never tell this from his speeches or policies. This is because Canadian politicians are boringly amoral pragmatists, lacking any principled vision of what Canadian society should be like in the near future. The second reason is that I’ll be commenting only on the public aspect of American politics, on the absurdist infotainment which, like all great forms of entertainment, has universal appeal.
What, then, do I make of the coming US election? Who will win and whose victory would be best for the country? I don’t know who will win, because by some apparent miracle the American electorate is so evenly divided. Although half of eligible Americans don’t vote at all, and haven’t voted for much of the twentieth century (see here), the Gore-Bush election was still decided by just several hundred votes in Florida. Since the 1950s, the margin separating the popular votes for each presidential candidate has usually been less than 10%. The difference between Kennedy’s win over Nixon, for example, was 0.17%; 0.70% for Nixon’s win over Humphrey; - 0.51% for Bush’s win over Gore; 2.46% for Bush’s win over Kerry; and still only 7.27% for Obama’s messianic win over McCain, after the fiasco of the Bush decade (see here). Now again, polls have Obama and Romney in a dead heat. And according to this chart, the percentage of voting age Americans who vote for representatives in the House and Senate, when the presidency isn’t at stake, has consistently been in the mere 30s since the 1970s.

Has anyone studied the odds of such a close and persistent divide arising naturally in such a large country? What’s the likelihood that the liberal and conservative states would so nearly cancel each other out in terms of their state’s electors, leaving just ten or so battleground states populated by swing voters? What are the odds that just enough millions of Americans would be so apathetic or disenfranchised that they would tend not to vote, leaving--of all mathematically possible splits--a 50-50 split among the rest? And what are the odds that such dead heats would be perfect for the corporate media that have mastered the art of selling infotainment by drumming up conflicts?

This highly artificial political gridlock seems not so much designed or engineered, but favoured and accelerated by multiple social elements, including the media, plutocrats, demagogic culture warriors, and consumers. There’s a proverbial military tactic of conquering by dividing your foes against each other. American politics are now so hyper-partisan and dysfunctional (relative to the democratic ideal), because the US has both external and internal sources of division and thus of decline. Their wealth is being extracted by oligarchs who, as Simon Johnson says in "The Quiet Coup," were only practicing their free market techniques of exploitation on poorer countries, some decades ago, before hunting for richer prey like middle-class Americans. But these Americans have also learned to destroy each other with their inane culture wars.  

If I had to bet, I’d guess that Obama will win a relatively narrow victory over Romney. But I hope Obama will lose. This isn’t to say that I think Romney would be better for the US or for the world, for that matter. The main difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the former ambivalently apply old and failing brakes to the stealth oligarchs' race to centralize power, whereas the latter hit the gas pedal. There are plenty of cultural differences between American liberals and conservatives, too, but these are mostly farcical and trumped up.

The Greater Comedic Value of American Conservatism

So why should Romney win? There are two main reasons, both of which I see as aesthetic. The first reason is that a Republican victory would make American politics even more entertaining than it already is under no-drama Obama, and in particular would be a boon to the comedy industry, as was Obama’s predecessor. I’m being only slightly facetious here. On my view, oligarchy, which is to say minority rule over the majority, is naturally the default way of organizing large groups for most social species and thus also for humans. We can challenge that status quo, as in the cases of communism and egalitarian liberalism, but communists and liberals are rebels who wage an uphill battle against natural forces. The Soviet Union devolved into a kleptocratic oligarchy, as has China, and the US is also very clearly now a stealth plutocracy, operating under the guise of a classically liberal democracy. Whether the oligarchy works in secret or in plain sight, the results are the same: gross inequality, corruption, and social implosion.

Given that backdrop, the question for Americans should be not how to save their nation, but whether they want their inevitable decline to be mitigated at least by high-quality entertainment. Reportedly, when the Titanic sank the band continued to play. Had you been on that doomed ship, would you have preferred to drown in silence? No, oligarchy is inevitable in any free society, especially in postmodern and high technoscientific times in which people are, respectively, cynical about all myths and thus about any inspired alternative to our natural lot (decay within the undead god), and subject to more and more powerful measures of social control thanks to advances in cognitive science. Therefore, there should be a premium on entertainment and especially on comedy in such societies. It’s no accident, then, that the freest country, the US, is also home of the most popular entertainment industry.

You can actually measure the difference in comedic value between the Democrats and the Republicans, by comparing the levels of inspiration in Daily Show skits or Bill Maher monologues over the Bush and Obama years. There’s no question that Bush afforded them much richer material. There was even a spike in the inspiration of recent Daily Show comedy, due to the Clint Eastwood farce in the Republican Convention. However centrist and pragmatic Romney may personally be, a Romney win would empower the Tea Party, the neoconservatives, and the fundamentalist Christians. This is because a pragmatic centrist lacks principles and thus the courage to make tough choices that create enemies. Obama is also a pragmatic centrist and his compromises likewise emboldened the far right, but again, Obama’s lip service to vestigial liberal values only spoils the fun for the shrinking middle class. At any rate, the deal in US political entertainment is that the Right provides the comedic material by their manifestly absurd actions, and the Left provides the comedic discourse by mocking the right for that absurdity.

(You might think Clinton’s sex scandals were exceptions, but remember that those scandals were brought before the public eye only by a monumental effort of the Republicans to sabotage his presidency. So while Clinton was merely an adulterer who had sex in the oval office--offenses which aren’t all that funny, by themselves--the comedy came from the public humiliation of a very powerful man, or at least from the revelation that the conservatives think that lying about sex is a worse moral offense than any modern’s Republican president’s selling out of most Americans a thousand times over in deference to oligarchs.)

That’s why most professional comedians are liberals. Conservatives are too busy wrecking the planet to mock themselves for the irony of their business of self-destruction. Yes, there are popular comedians who are political conservatives, such as Ann Coulter, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, but their humour is fuelled strictly by schadenfreude. Conservative comedians are forced to root for the overdog, because conservatives are myth-makers for the rationalization of oligarchy, whereas sophisticated comedy requires the comedian’s humility so that the audience can fall for the anthropocentric illusion of human greatness which the comedian typically re-imposes after a shakeup by natural forces. (See Cosmicism and Comedy.) By rationalizing rather than rebelling against oligarchy, conservatives side with inhumane nature against human welfare, whereas the function of comedy is to give us hope that in the end we’ll not succumb to mindless natural processes, such as the superhuman corruption and grotesque inequality that typify a dominance hierarchy. For this reason, conservative schadenfreude-style comedy of bullying the weak doesn’t work, which is to say that the conservative’s commentaries are rarely funny.

The Greater Power of Republican Myths

So that’s one reason to hope that the Republicans take the White House. The ensuing comedy would be topnotch. The second reason is to reward Republicans for their superior myths. Both Parties propagate myths to sell their presidential candidate, and both sides’ myths are gratuitous misrepresentations. Part of the current Republican distortion is that Obama’s to blame for the weakness of the US economy, since Obama is a big government socialist who deprives Americans of their freedoms. The corresponding part of the Democratic myth is that Republican free market ideology is to blame for the economic troubles, and that while Romney would return the nation to Bush-style deregulation, Obama is trying to heal the economy by changing course.

The reality is that both Parties are equally to blame for the state of the economy, beginning with Reagan’s deregulations; continuing with Clinton’s Free Trade deals and his unleashing of Wall Street with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the deregulation of financial derivatives; subsequently there was Bush’s cowboy enthusiasm for oligarchy on all fronts; and that led, finally, to Obama’s capitulation to Wall Street insiders. As soon as Obama took office he surrounded himself with free trade veterans of the Bush and Clinton administrations; he bailed out the auto industry only by restructuring it, cutting many workers’ benefits and pensions, but he signed the tax payers’ blank check that bailed out Wall Street and got nothing in return for Main Street, permitting the banks even to award huge bonuses to the very bankers who ran their banks into the ground (later, Obama capped executive pay for banks receiving bailout money, at $500,000; instead, Obama should have required that any such executive be fired outright for requiring the bailout in the first place); Obama hasn’t insisted on significant reform of the financial markets, nor has he sought prosecutions of fraudsters in the big American banks, to deal with the problem of moral hazard.

The reason for this continuity is apparent: the US dominated after WWII when most of the world lay in ruins. But when developing countries like China and India took over many global manufacturing jobs, the US couldn’t compete while maintaining its middle class, and so the US had to pay for its continuing global military dominance by inventing a kind of business in which it could excel. That business is the financialization of everything that can be traded in a stock market. Financialization is largely a matter of borrowing and hiding money for the sake of gambling. But unlike manufactured goods, which have tangible and verifiable attributes, financial speculation is the continual betting on a future that always lies ahead.

It’s worth reminding you here that likely the oldest fraud in history is the theist’s promise of eternal life or punishment, depending on whether people obey certain religious officials, and that this fraud still works because the promise can’t be tested by the living. Likewise, since the future doesn’t yet exist to be examined, bets on the future can be won in the present by fraud. Theoretically, as we move forward in time, of course, we can always confirm which predictions in the stock market turn out correct. Some people end up losing money in their trades while others win. But like the religious officials who profit from their control of the afterlife narrative, sophisticated traders and money managers profit by controlling the way financial bets are made. And what bankers have discovered is that they can profit most by perpetrating frauds, using sophisticated mathematics and automation of trades, which exploit the inherently ethereal nature of the business of gambling on the future. Once enough profit is made from their frauds, the titans of the financial “industry” become too big to fail and the quality of their “products” can’t be confirmed.

The upshot of this is that no US president can afford to fix the US economy for the majority of Americans, since an indispensable US business is the financing of gambling in stock markets, the highest profit in that business is made from fraud which requires a host of suckers and dupes (middle class investors), and the profit is needed to pay for the US military by taxes on the rich, without which the US would be overwhelmed by blowback from its numerous clandestine adventures abroad. Luckily, one reason many Americans excel at frauds is that their idol of personal liberty entails freedom from moral principles. 

But to return to the aesthetic point about myths: while neither Romney’s nor Obama’s campaign narrative is told in anything like good faith, Obama’s distortions are actually less in touch with reality and less inspiring. Recall that Romney’s deceptions are that the Democrats are to blame for the stalling economy, and more generally that the Republicans aim to achieve something other than the further entrenchment of the wealthiest class of Americans. (See, for example, Mike Lofgren’s book, The Party is Over.) These myths are plainly needed as lies to ensure that the American oligarchy remains in stealth mode. Once out in the open, an oligarchy can succumb to angry mobs.

Still, the sense that Republicans are always more masculine and powerful than the Democrats, even when the Democrats are in charge, is due to the fact that Republicans stand squarely behind the greatest power of all, which is the undead god and its natural forces that evolve complex forms like you and me. Republicans are shameless defenders of oligarchy, which is the human form of dominance hierarchy, and that hierarchy is nature’s way of maintaining social structures in bird, fish, and mammal species. By their policies and actions, the Republicans signal that they represent just the oligarchs who are nature’s champions, the sociopathic predators who rule our dominance hierarchies and whose vices best approximate the undead god’s inhumanity. Of course, none of this is said publicly by any elected Republican. But this is the ultimate strength of Republican myths.

By contrast, Obama’s deceptions are that social progress, which is to say a deviation from the natural state of oligarchy, is sustainable, and that the Democratic Party strives wholeheartedly for that progress. Despite the liberal’s pretentions to hyper-rationality, Obama’s progressive rhetoric is actually more faith-based than Romney’s. Whereas conservative theism is superficially supernatural, fundamentalist theism being a rationalization of earthly dominance hierarchies, conservative political myths are actually naturalistic. And whereas liberal theism is superficially secular, liberal theism being scientistic, politically progressive myths are actually highly supernatural. Much irrational faith is needed to think that mobs of weak people can't just unseat the minority of very powerful individuals who happen to rule in a given time and place, but also violate the Iron Law of Oligarchy and establish a viable alternative to nature’s way of organizing social groups. And that same sort of faith is needed now to uphold Obama as a messianic agent of change. When the Democrats’ economic actions reveal that their liberal values are postmodern, meaning that those politicians are actually nihilistic pragmatists, Obama’s liberal myth loses even its subliminal capacity to inspire. Again, on the surface the myth is preposterous, since even though Bush is indeed largely to blame for the current economic crisis in the US, so too is Clinton and so is Obama for following both Bush and Clinton even to the point of rehiring their crony capitalist economic managers. But while Romney’s distortions retain their power because of their deeper naturalism and because of our existential horror of our position within the undead god, Obama’s campaign rhetoric is sickly to its core.

A vote for Obama now is a vote for a weaker, less aesthetically appealing myth to live by. Progressive myths are bound to be disappointing, since they require faith in a supernatural, transhuman revolt against natural forces. By contrast, conservative myths are always vindicated by demonstrations of the power of the true god: oligarchy abides and oligarchs enjoy their godlike lifestyle while even the alleged revolutionary progressives--the Democrats, in this case--kowtow to the avatars of cosmic creativity.

To be sure, or to vomit up the politician’s meme, "make no mistake"--like most professionals, politicians need worry only about making innocent mistakes, never about perpetrating moral outrages--Republican leaders and conservative politicians in general are thoroughly despicable human beings. Were Romney to win, most Americans would suffer horribly as a direct result and no one should want that--least of all an existential cosmicist whose basic moral sentiment is pity for fellow sufferers. Those who suffer for their dark philosophical viewpoint should empathize with those whose suffering is perfectly explicable from that viewpoint. And in a perfect world, a clownish figure like Romney or George W. Bush could go nowhere without being relentlessly mocked for his superhuman vices and palpable inhumanity. Sure, these tools of oligarchs can feel superior for their great wealth, power, and celebrity, but the price of their unqualified service to the morally neutral social structure is their sociopathy. Only emotionally hollowed-out wretches could so successfully perform their political function, and those who speak of human rights might ponder whether biological humanity is as crucial to those rights as is the psychological sort. Those who are genetically human, but whose minds have been so warped by years of training in secret societies and business schools, that they have no qualms about the consequences of their treacherous complicity in the undead god’s torture of most sentient creatures, should be classified as psychologically subhuman, in which case a license might conceivably be granted to hunt those elites like wild animals. Instead, Republican politicians prance and preen like beasts in zoo cages. These creatures are myth-makers, actors on a stage, professional liars with no trace of respect for average people, let alone pangs of conscience. Their political myths are so many mantras chanted to symbolically affirm their allegiance to the ultimate Beast whose inhumanity they must incorporate to ascend in a power hierarchy.

So rather than voting for Romney, the more poetically pleasing option would be to ceaselessly ridicule him and his ilk for their literal subhumanity. Nevertheless, while conservative politicians never deserve votes on account of their character or depth of humanity, their myths should be honoured for inadvertently indicating the deepest philosophical truths. Democratic politicians aren’t saints in contrast to demonic Republicans; the latter are more or less evil, while the former are just pathetic. Both work towards maintaining the American stealth oligarchy, but at least liberals yearn for an alternative. As I explain elsewhere, liberal scientism has failed and led to the liberal’s postmodern conundrum. Liberals are thus ineffectual as inhibitors of the conservative’s channeling of evolutionary forces.

My point here, though, is that the distortions in Obama’s campaign speeches, for example, aren’t even accidentally beneficial. All we learn from scrutinizing liberal interpretations of Obama’s first term in office--these being that he tried to reform the system but was stymied at every turn by the apocalyptic Republican cult, and anyway that Bush is to blame for everything--is that liberals have mastered the same class of vices as the Republicans (cynicism, spin-doctoring, pandering, hypocrisy, etc.), which are prerequisites for all politicians in free societies. But instead of being distinguished by a shameless embrace of the natural order, liberals are identified by their cowardice. Caught between the undead god, with its oligarchic kingdom that brings the cosmic hell of the ghastly void above down to Earth, and the scientistic fallacy of rational social progress, postmodern liberals obscure their service to the former with obsolete rhetoric that lacks even subliminal force. Postmodern liberals are aimless and impotent figures, either clinging to discredited modern ideals or mistaking technocratic efficiency for the rightness of social goals, as though social sciences could dictate what society ought to be like. Liberals may be better human beings than are Republicans, but their political message is presently useless.

Were Romney to win, Republicans would surely spin the election as a triumph of American freedom over the tyranny of Obama’s central economic planning. As is usually the case when a Republican politician speaks, his or her chutzpah here would be breathtaking. Obama’s rhetoric may have been mildly socialist in that he spoke out against social Darwinism and stressed the need for bipartisan unity, and Obama’s pitiful negotiating skills may also have exhibited a willingness to follow up on that belief that the public good is more important than the political gains of either Party or of any one politician. But as for his policies and his actions, Obama has clearly been a centrist who has maintained the status quo, rather than even a liberal, let alone a socialist. Everyone who knows what these words mean knows that this is so. Thus, the Republican spin would distort reality.

Nevertheless, Obama does deserve to be punished by voters for his mendacious capitulation to the far right and thus to the demands of American oligopolists. The reason Obama isn’t an all-powerful state planner is that when he bailed out the car companies or the big banks, he was only a wannabe technocrat following orders from some of the special interests that do hold the economy hostage by being too big to fail. When Bush was president, he enriched private military contractors and oil companies, that is, a different group of oligarchs who have long-standing connections with his family. The ruling special interests that actively employ the government to do their bidding may change, depending on the circumstances and the Party in the White House, but the nature of American corporate capitalism remains plutocratic; the Tea Party critics of this state of affairs merely mistake the employee for the boss. At least the Republicans, though, don’t put so much effort into pretending that they stand for anything more elevated than the moral and economic quagmire of a stealth oligarchy.

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