Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation


Blog # 117a – Boss Trump and the Uses of Humiliation

The manipulation of emotions and their consequences plays a major role in the politics of power i n America today. The emotion of humiliation is a weapon in the hands of Boss Trump, strengthening is power by undermining the resistance to it. Their victims in the broader society litter the landscape of political action. The search for dignity, which may be seen as the opposite of humiliation, is partly in response to humiliation by its direct and indirect victims.  The causes and consequences of humiliation need to be understood by those opposing its human cost.

Calling Michael Cohen “incompetent” as a lawyer is an obvious example, meant to denigrate him and undercut anything he might say. It’s become  standard practice for Boss Trump to let loose twitters aimed at humiliating critics of any of his policies or positions by name. It leaves his victims with a choice between an ongoing contest with someone with a wide audience and a sharp tongue, or endure the humiliation in a silence that is in itself humiliating in its necessity, the choice that Attorney General Sessions seems to be making.  And humiliating his critics directly has a wider benefit for Trump: those witnessing his humiliation of his critics themselves become intimidated by what they see, and restrain any inclination to join in. That they feel thus constrained is itself internally humiliating, and a further defensive reaction can be to accept Trump’s side of the story and persuading oneself of its correctness, a many seem to be doing vociferously at Trump rallies and in interviews. They thus justify a potentially humiliating exchange with an apparent show of support, joining Trump’s reputed hard core loyal base.

But humiliation plays a broader societal role, a role of which Trump is a beneficiary but not a principal cause. It often produces the clichéd “white working class,” response of those who may be active in the work force but still feel insecure, underpaid, working below their capacity or deserts. It can be expressed as a claim to a lost dignity, a feeling of helplessness in conceding to bosses’ power, a feeling that has often fueled labor unrest, but that can also lead to a form of inhibition in its expression by an attribution of the result by defenders of the status quo to lack of ability,  lack of education, laziness, the victim’s own conduct, own fault. That can be a humiliating perception, and because so widely accepted and so insistently reinforced by those in power like but not limited to Donald Trump and his direct entourage, it is also likely to lead to humilitation inhibiting fighting back.

uch self-blaming, such created humiliation and the inhibition to which it may lead is often reinforced by well-meaning critics of the reality it reflects. When Hilary Clinton spoke of “the deplorables,” when the Harvard grads or the lucky investors or those in securely positioned armchairs who view the passing parade and “don’t understand how anyone can swallow Donald Trump’s lies or condone his behavior,” they can easily be perceived as looking down on their fellows, as being members of an elite not recognizing the lived experience of the less fortunate. If many of the “white working class” are emotionally humiliated in the social structure of society as they experience it, so are many of “the elite” inhibited from questioning those social structures that have produced their own advantages for fear of having to face some humiliating causes.  The elite may find it hard to accord to others less well stationed than themselves the dignity that those others feel they also have a right to demand.

Humiliation can also lead to a variety of emotional responses. Opioid addiction, gang membership, street violence, domestic abuse, can  all be read as distorted reflections of a search for a dignity which prevailing relationships do not provide for their  victims.  An unconscious and inhibited identification with the boss can play a role, a desire to be oneself a boss, to have all that freedom which the real bosses have and which they are often faulted for exercising. Such responses often create difficulties of understanding in well-meaning efforts to address their causes

Conclusion: If humiliation is a widespread and debilitating emotion, its existence is not an inherent aspect of human nature. If there is humiliation, there are humilitationees and humilitationors.

When Trump humiliates anyone, what he is doing can be explicitly labeled and condemn as such, without long arguments about who’s right and who’s right in the dispute. Boss Trump can be challenged for simply acting like a bad boss, and who likes a bad boss, even if they’re right every now and then. And if those who are being deprived of their dignity by a bad boss or his lackeys, what is going on can be pointed out without reinforcing it by another form of humiliation in how it is pointed out as a necessary lesson the more well-off need to teach their less understanding others. .

  My thanks to Don Bushnell and Thomas Scheff for the provocation that lead to these thoughts                                                                .          They should not be blamed for the result.

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Blog #93 – Election figures show Trump with only 27.2% of eligible voters: What Mandate?


Donald Trump aimed his New Year’s Eve tweet at “my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” Leaving aside the incredibly childish gloating over “his enemies,” from someone who occasionally talks about “bringing our nation together,” has Trump’s staff succeeded in keeping from him all knowledge of the actual vote counts in the 2016 election, in which his leading opponent, far from “losing badly” to him, in fact got 2,000,000 popular votes[1] more than he did?

Or has his staff not let him learn that, out of some 232,000,000 persons eligible to vote [2] in 2016, only 62,000,000 actually voted [3] for him, not only less than for Clinton , but also only 27.2% of those who were eligible [4]. 79% of those who were theoretically eligible to vote for him did not do so– less a glorious victory for Trump than a rejection of his candidacy by a large majority of Americans, a failure of the Trump campaign, hardly a victory.[5]

Or has his staff not let him learn that the roots of the compromise that resulted in Article Ii of the Constitution creating the Electoral College, was the founders’ distrust of grass-roots democracy and later white leaders concerned to hold down freed black voting impact, coupled with the gerrymandering of Republican-led legislatures o distort their states’ votes?[6] Or is Trump simply incapable of acknowledging facts that undermine his claims to have a broad popular mandate in this election?

The argument in defense of the Electoral College, now sometimes made, that it did not affect the outcome in the 2016 election, even though a national popular vote shows Hillary Clinton winning over Donald Trump now by over 2,000,000 votes; if the rules had been to have the popular vote determine the result Trump would have campaigned differently and won anyway. Indeed, Trump may have campaigned differently and gotten a different result; but so would Clinton. There is no reason to believe it would have made more of a difference in the number of voters voting for Trump than the in the number of those voting for Clinton.

Conclusion:

So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively.

[1]So on the figures, it was Donald Trump who “lost so badly” in the 2016 national election, who often seems not to know what he will do, whose mandate, if he has one, is a negative mandate, a mandate to follow the wishes of the electorate and serve all of the people of the country, not just his friends, ignoring those who disagree with him as “his many enemies.” Susan Douglas lists multiple cases in which opinion surveys clearly reveal the majority differing from Trump on key police issues, speaking of them as an “anti-mandate” to his claims.[7] His true mandate, from the figures, is one to unite and to seek compromises and unity for the good of all Americans, inclusively. > “Trump’s Antii-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.
[2] The actual figure is “almost 3,000,000”: 65,844,954 – 62,979,879 =2,865,075
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
The actual figure is 231,556,622 (http://www.electproject.org/2016g).
(http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=2016).
[4](62,979,879 / 231,556,622) = 0.2719847891026844
[5] Why for whom they would have voted had they voted must necessarily remain speculation, logic suggests categories:
a. prevented from voting by deliberately restrictive provisions;
b. dissatisfied with all the alternatives , or
c. happy to let the then predicted if mistaken expectations of majorities for Hillary Clinton become effective without needing heir vote .
If a, they would hardly be likely to vote for the Republicans who by and large were behind the increasing voting restrictions ;
if b. believing their inaction would result in the victory of the predicted for Clinton, were satisfied with that second-best non-Trump result ; or
if c. supporting a Trump defeat, believed their votes not necessary to ensure that result.
In any of those cases, non-voting voters were logically more likely Trump critics than supporters
But ignore these speculations, the broad parameters of the argument that Trump has only minority support in the electorate, still stands.
[6] A good summary of the history is at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/stephen-henderson/2016/11/19/electoral-college-race-problem/94079504/. For a more extended discussion see: . Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.” P. 1155, 1156. Finkelman, Paul, “The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College” (2002). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 23, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1447478. The author concludes: “Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago the United States rid itself of slavery. Perhaps it is now time to rid ourselves of the last constitutional vestige of the peculiar institution: the electoral college.”
[7] “Trump’s Anti-Mandate,” I These Times, January 2017, p. 8.

Blog #90 – The Paradox of Trump and his Followers


What follows is a Work in Progress  attempting to explain a quite  apparent paradox: how is it that Donald Trump, a billionaire real estate developer,  whose claim to fame includes popularizing the slogan : “You’re fired!” can  end up leading a right wing populist following that in fact is plagued by the very  activities he as businessman epitomizes? How it is so many people enthusiastically and vociferously support him, in apparent contradiction to their own interests?

The argument here begins by suggesting that Donald Trump is in fact operationally three different persons, three Trumps (perish the thought, if taken literally!), three entities he has struggled to keep separate: Trump the Individual, Trump the Businessman, and Trump the Political Campaigner. His individual psychological characteristics, idiosyncrasies, if not neuroses, have been extensively examined elsewhere, and are not examined here.

As Businessman, Trump’s activities are a combination of conventional exploitation, underpaying workers in the conventional businesses he operates, principally managing real estate, and an entrepreneurial instinct expanding profit-making by commodifying desires for consumption, for luxury activities providing status over and above actual use. He seeks support as a Political Campaigner for his political ambitions as well as for his businesses, by exploiting conventional aspirations for economic security and social safety, both linked to private enterprise and dreams of wealth accumulation.

As Political Campaigner Trump gains support by latching onto what might be called a Deep Story, an emotionally held ideology and set of values that explains, rationalizes, and legitimates how the world works. Such a Deep Story has long existed as to how the industrialized capitalist world works.  Trump has modified that old Story to proclaim a New version counting on the vulnerabilities of voters and popular media to changes in the economies of the world that have frightened masses of ordinary people seeking assurances that the supposed promises of the old Deep Reality, seemingly vanishing, could be restored quickly and easily by his authoritarian rule. He has used promises of “Making America Great Again” to propagate a new right-populism and a New Deep Story appealing to those susceptible to promises of quick and easy solutions to deeply threatening and hard to understand changes.

Major economic and social developments in the Deep Real Economy have underlain Trump’s success as a Businessman. In these developments profit is derived not primarily from industrial  production but also in the process of its realization in user consumption. The commodification of luxury consumption in which Trump specializes, and the financialization which he is adept at manipulating, is then justified by a New Deep Story resting on a widespread popularly accepted account of how the changed reality works.

I hope in the next week to flesh out the argument here in a series of perhaps six blogs, perhaps as follows

This Blog #90 – The Trump Series: The Paradox of Trump and His Followers

  1. Blog #90a – The Three Trumps: Individual, Campaigner, Businessman
  2. Blog #90b -Trump the Businessman: The Commodification of Luxurious Living
  3. Blog #90c – Trump the Campaigner and his Opposition
  4. Blog #90d – The Deep Realities and The Deep Story of Industrial Capitalism
  5. Blog #90e – The New Deep Realities of the New Economy and its New Deep Story
  6. Blog #90f The Philosophic Explanation of the Persuasive Power of the new Deep Story
  7. Blog #90g The Alternative Reactions to the New Deep Reality: Right, Middle, and Left

****   WORK IN PROGRESS   ****

Blog #46 – The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal


The Ethics of Gentrification, Social and Personal

Gentrification is an ethical problem. At the societal level, it is a problem of social justice.

At that level, some quite clear guidelines for an ethical approach can be developed. At the individual level, however, there may be more complicated answers, more dependent on individual circumstances

 The following discussion takes it that the undesirable consequences of the displacement caused by gentrification are by now well established, [1] and the issue is how to address such displacement to obtain a more social and ethically just result. A number of approaches are outlined.in the first section. The second section deals, less satisfactorily, with the issue of individual ethics, with only one firm conclusion.

The Transformative Ethical Societal Measures:

 The general principles should be clear by now:

 

I) Where there are vacancies, provide for some limited middle income in-movers into workng class neighborhoods, in numbers and under conditions acceptable to existing residents, conditions established through democratic controls. Those numbers and conditions should include measures to prevent speculation in increased housing values both by limited equity and income controlled occupancy, as with community land trusts or mutual housing associations, or by local BID-like residential stabilization district tax and planning programs. In New York City empowering existing but democratically selected community boards in threatened districts to determine the limits of such development, as through effective more than advisory ULURP proceedings, would make a major difference. Encouraging rising incomes of existing residents through general economic policies and community economic development is a longer-time but more fundamental solution. .

 II) Require that all new construction be of mixed income housing, in sensitively planned developments with publicly established and legally controlled balanced price and occupancy limits, as part of a broad program for adequate housing supply across incomes.

 III) Strictly limit the ability of upper-income households to make or keep neighborhoods exclusionary. Prohibit such actions by development controls on occupancy through zoning, confiscatory taxation of speculative real estate land transaction and profits therefrom, rent controls throughout the system, high progressive property value taxes with revenues partly dedicated to subsidizing the provision of housing under 1) and 2)

IV ) Reexamine and adapt all existing governmental programs and controls, at local, state, and national levels, to take into account these principles[2]

 And one could list the specific guidelines that would go in the right direction:

 1. First principle. No Displacement. Period. No evictions. No one moves unless they agree they’re better off after, and want to.
2. Any replacement housing must protect social ties.
3. Where displacement is not an issue, including economic displacement, etc., the first priority is looking at area needs of all  those potential in-movers in need of housing, and providing for them first, based on need, not on income.
4. For any action whatsoever, community control is key, and not for every community, but for those serving residents based on need — i.e. limited community control where it’s a high income exclusionary community, according to general principles for community goals, outlawing exclusion.
5. Heavy anti-speculation taxes, virtually eliminating profit for increases land values.
6. Widespread use of alternate tenure forms taking housing out of the market, e.g. community land trusts, mutual housing associations, public land banks, public financing and resales controls.
7. Extensive public or community investment in shared facilities: kitchens, libraries, recreation and sorts, education, security, all under community control (but #4).
8. Willingness to use militant tactics and strategies to achieve just ends.           9. More research, not simply descriptive of extent of gentrification and its causes, but also on what has or could work to deal with displacement. on what has worked.
10. Public education advancing critical understanding, demolishing established ideological shibboleths such as balance as a goal in the allocation of public resources (high-income folks’ needs don’t deserve “balancing” against low-income folks needs).

 Such answers are not likely to be easily or fully implemented in any private market economy in the near future. But the effort to adopt them can be transformative. Efforts to implement them can help move the decision-making as to residential patterns from the market, which reflects the inequalities and injustices of the capitalist system, to the public sector, where the terrain for decision-making is substantially more democratic (even if with severe limits) than in the market.

 The Individual Ethical Measures:

 “Gentrifier? Who, Me?” is the aptly named sensitive recent article by John Joe Schlichtman And Jason Patch,[3] and poses the individual ethical question clearly. If displacement from gentrification is wrong – the issue of social ethics – then are gentrifiers who displace ethically wrong in the individual actions in moving in where they’re not wanted? But gentrifiers are people too, with their own needs and facing their own constraints. Studies from the very beginning have shown that they are often people just like those that study them and what they do – just like us. Damaris Rose found that to be true at the very beginning of research on the subject. So did Neil Smith, writing on gentrifiers as pioneers. And so did Lance Freeman, implicitly. But what makes these decent people displace other people with lower incomes in a worse position to find decent housing than they? Not their moral turpitude, but, at least, in many cases, their lack of available alternatives affordable to them.

 If the world of residential real estate most gentrifiers would look at is divided among working class/lower income neighborhoods, middle income largely suburban neighborhoods, and rich exclusionary neighborhoods, and if decent gentrifiers like us don’t want to live in suburbs for a variety of good reasons, where can they go? Either up or down. They can’t go up to pricey neighborhoods, often gated, racially exclusive. Expand their own neighborhoods? They are too limited, and either subject to too strong upward price pressures from upscale conversion, or too run down physically, to provide long-term answers.. So: move down, price-wise, to working class neighborhoods in tolerable condition and still marginally reasonably priced, displacing those already there, whose housing needs are even more constricted than theirs? A set of Hobson’s choices, for socially concerned gentrifiers.

 Schlichtman and Patch point out that some young urban researchers are reluctant to engage with questions of gentrification out of embarrassment that they are themselves gentrifiers, and thus in no position to criticize gentrification while at the same time takng advantage of it. . It is an honorable dilemma. A young researcher able to pay more for a given apartment than another with a slightly lower income may find that other justly aggrieved, but his or her refusal therefore to bid on the apartment will not help produce a more just distribution of apartments – unless it is part of a social action, e.g. for boycotting a landlord, or adopting rent controls, or endorsing or opposing a given zoning change. . Individual young researchers live in a market economy, and should conscientiously examine how their individual decisions as to where to live can best contribute to a socially just distribution of apartments, what alternatives they have, at what cost. If university-controlled space available only to university affiliates is available to them, and reasonably equivalent to gentrifying space, they should take the university unit. But they may well find that the contribution they make by refusing to contribute to gentrification by their choice of an apartment is less than the contribution they can make to limiting gentrification by their political activity, their solidarity with neighborhood movements to limit gentrification, the use they make of their research skills, including their findings from their own personal experience.

 The ethical obligation of young researchers studying gentrification does impose  other ethical obligations on them that indeed require careful attention, and whose pursuit will contribute more to curing the ills of gentrification than their choice of where to live. That is the obligation to draw conclusions from their own research, and as they learn more of the injustice that gentrification causes, to become actively engaged in the fight against it, to use their research skills to spread recognition of those injustices, to help formulate and implement the kinds of measures suggested under Transformative Ethical Societal Measures above. That’s the hard-core ethical course confronting them.

Peter Marcuse

 [1] Serious scholarly consideration largely took off from Fried, Marc. 1963. “Grieving for a Lost Home: Psychological costs of Relocation,” in Leonard J. Duhl, The Urban Condition: People and Policy in the Metropolis, New York: Basic Books, Chapter 12, pp. 151‑171; recent empirical work is well rerpesented by Fullilove, Mindy Thompson, M.D. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It.. One World/Ballantine Books, June 2004, and the work collected in The Gentrification Reader eds. Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvyn Wyle, Routledge, Milton Park, UK, 2010.

[2] For discussion of some possibilities at the local level in New York City, see Marcuse, P. (1985b) ‘To control gentrification: anti-displacement zoning and planning for stable residential districts’, Review of Law and Social Chang, 13, pp.931-945.

[3] Schlichtman, J. J. and Patch, J. (2013),” Gentrifier? Who, Me? Interrogating the Gentrifier in the Mirror.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Blog #30 – Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas


Blog #30: Beyond Immediate Proposals: Some Transformative Provocations

The last blog, Blog #29 began with the puzzle that the United States faces deep-seated problems today: problems of poverty, inequality, discrimination, poor education, unemployment, unaffordable housing, unaffordable health care, social aggressiveness and exclusion, insecurities of all sorts, all in a country that claims the values and has the  resources to remedy them.  The answer suggested was that the situation was partly the result of shortfalls of democratic procedures, partly the result of inequalities of wealth and power, but that both of these rest on an ideologically and culturally blocked awareness of fundamental causes and available alternatives – a blocked consciousness that needs to be directly addressed.

That blog  argued that, in dealing with the tea party (as a stand-in for the defenders of the status quo}, it would be most effective to combat those blockages by starting with the problems that are generally acknowledged, pushing some immediate steps towards solutions, but constantly linking those steps to a critique of a frame in which they ought to be embedded, showing how logically the immediate leads to more and more radical and even utopian visions of what in the long run needs to be done.

Some examples, not presented as developed proposals for the formulation of demands or platforms, but as examples of the approach that might be taken, follow. [1]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: reforms that simply make existing programs or policies more efficient, eliminate waste, trim costs, but change neither the thrust of the program not the power relations in which it is enmeshed.

B: Liberal reforms: reforms which expand or modify a program, using market mechanisms wherever possible, and without challenging its structural causes or the power relations in which it is embedded.

C: Radical reforms: reforms which drastically modify programs and expand their aims, challenging the power relations in which they are embedded

D: Transformative Claims: claims, going beyond specific reform proposals which address their structural causes and links to systemic issues, directly challenging the power relations in which they are embedded and serve.

[These examples are suggested only as illustrative, and are thus far really only perfunctorily sketched. For each, there are groups and individuals who have gone much further in working out demands and claims, at all levels, who should be consulted on each issue.  The point here is only to suggest the kind of differences to be found on each, and in each case running along a non-exclusive spectrum from dealing merely with efficiency-only to presenting the need for full-scale transformation. More detail and other examples would be welcome.]:

        Higher education:[2]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Standardized conditions of private loans

B: Liberal reforms: Provide a public option for loans; provide substantially increased public grants

C: Radical reforms: Limit scope of private for-profit institutions.

D: Transformative Claims: Make higher education free.

2.      Mortgage foreclosures[3]:

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Higher reserve requirements of banks; judicial review of sloppy paper work.

B: Liberal reforms: Expand opportunities for voluntary renegotiation of loans; subsidize lowering of interest rates and writ-downs of loans; regulate rents taking into account landlords’ finances.

C: Radical reforms: Require write-down of loan principals; mandate continued occupancy at reasonable rents after foreclosure; facilitate non-profit ownership; regulate rents taking into account occupants’ finances.

D: Transformative Claims: Remove housing from the speculative market through public acquisition or facilitation of conversion to private non-profit, limited equity, cooperative, or community land trust ownership, with adequate subsidies to cover maintenance and utilities at levels affordable to lower-income occupants; confiscatory taxation of speculative profits; aggressive expansion of public housing. Housing should be treated for its use value, not its exchange value.

3.      Public Space:[4]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Administer to protect surrounding property values.

B: Liberal reforms: Provide, expand, and administer to protect surrounding property values and quality of life of neighbors; regulate use by reasonable police measures; give zoning bonuses where privately provided.

C: Radical reforms: Provide, expand, and administer taking into account needs of surrounding community; Protect use against police repression, Require private provision in connection with new construction.  Protect right of use by homeless.

D: Transformative Claims: Provide, expand, and administer adequately to satisfy the needs of the population as a whole; give priority to uses appropriate for the exercise of political democratic rights; mandate public use for these purposes of private property where necessary. Provide supportive permanent housing for homeless users.

4.      Health

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Planned decentralization/consolidation. Computerize records; permit cross-jurisdiction private insurance in a transparent marketplace.

B: Liberal reforms: Finance Medicare and Medicaid properly. Permit unified bargaining with pharmaceutical companies; subsidize insurance, providing a public option.

C: Radical reforms: Medicare for all. Buy out private hospitals and care facilities at asset, not income, values. National Health Service

D: Transformative Claims: Eliminate fee for service provision, comprehensive national health care system, without access restrictions, paid for routinely as a public service, like police and fire protection.

5.      Jobs and Labor Relations

A: Efficiency-only reforms: Full appointments to NLRB; adequate information to workers;

B: Liberal reforms: Adequate inspections and enforcement of FLSA, health and safety standards; facilitation of discrimination cases. card checks for elections; indexing minimum wage levels

C: Radical reforms: Living wage requirements for all jobs; expanded public service jobs; ceilings on management and ownership incomes and benefits

D: Transformative Claims: Requirement of worker participation in decisionmaking in ownership; public provision by public employees of all essential services.

6.      City Planning:[5]

A: Efficiency-only reforms: independent technically qualified City Planning Commission with adequate staff

B: Liberal reforms: Advisory community planning boards

C: Radical reforms:  Community Planning Boards with decision-making powers

D: Transformative Claims: Public ownership of land, city-wide Assembly of Planning Boards with decision-making power over all land use issues.

7. Homelessness

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Screen applicants for shelter eligibility; track applicants; police supervision of shelters;

B. Liberal reforms: Expand shelter system; provide social service consultations.

C. Radical reforms: Provided expanded affordable housing opportunities; staff transitional housing where needed; provide homeless persons input into policy and administration.  Policy;

D. Transformative reforms: Establish and implement a legal Right to Housing for All, including direct public provision and stringent rent controls.

8. Municipal Budgeting

A. Efficiency-only reforms: Putting the capitol budget within the jurisdiction of the City Planning commission.

B. Liberal Reforms: Giving Community Boards or Councilmanic District assemblies a decision-making role in expenditures within their districts.

C. Radical Reforms: Providing a comprehensive city-wide Participatory Budgeting process affecting both operating and capital budgets

D.Transformative Reforms: Expanding a Participatory Budgeting proeess to cover revenues/tax policies locally and adopting national legislation prohibiting tax evasion by cross-border evasion and prohibiting local-level competition in tax programs.

 9. Worker Ownership and Co-operatives

A. Efficiency-Only Reforms. Permit NLRB-supervised elections for union representation

B. Liberal Reforms. Permit Card-check Voting. Aggressively enforce rights to organize and bargain.

C. Radical Reforms. Provide for majority worker ownership, in stock or co-operative form, of individual firms.[6]

D. Transformative Reforms. Strengthen or transfer to democratically controlled public ownership entire sectors of the economy and of production and services provision. [7]

Many other examples could be given, and the above certainly need further development. The point is that, at whatever level of reform is strategically immediately attainable, the principles behind the further levels should always be on the table, including the arguments for the most transformative. They may seem utopian goals here and now, but there is no historical or material reason why any of them are not reachable. Insisting that they be acknowledged even in the midst of the more immediate objectives is at least a small step in the direction of getting there.

Blog #31 will hesitantly suggest some New Rules for New Radicals as possibilities for moving to implementation of such transformative reforms.


[1] My debt to Andre Gorz and the concept of reformist and non-reformist reforms should be clear.

[2] See Andrew Ross’ discussion, described in Dan Schneider, “Occupying Student Debt,” Dollars and Snse, Jan-Feb 2012, p. 6

[3] See further Marcuse, Peter. 2009. “A Critical Approach to the Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the United States: Rethinking the Public Sector in Housing.” City & Community, vol. 8, No. 3, September, pp. 351-357.

[4] See my blogs #3, 4, and 5.

[5] Tom Angotti, New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011, provides excellent background.

[6] Gar Alperovitch,

[7] See Alliance for a Just Society.

Blog #29 – Premature Democracy, Congress, the 99% and the Tea Party


What’s the matter with the United States Congress? Too much democracy? ? “Premature democracy”? If the 99% are dissatisfied with the status quo and it only benefits the 1%, why don’t they change it? What explains the Tea Party’s positions and its power? Need it be dealt with? How?

 To put it another way: Why do we have serious problems of poverty, inequality, discrimination, poor education, unemployment, unaffordable housing, unaffordable health care, social aggressiveness and exclusion, insecurities of all sorts, all in a country that has the resources and claims the values to remedy them. Why then do they exist, why is not the government addressing them actively and effectively? Is the problem with our democracy?

Blog #29 suggests three answers; Blog #30 gives examples..

Summary:

 1)      Political procedures and material development. Congress’s rules are quite democratic (small d). They are not so different, for instance, from those governing Occupy Wall Street’s General Assemblies, although they do need significant change. Nor is the material level of development that is sometimes held a prerequisite for democracy missing, although also needing significant change.  Specifically, inequality in wealth permits undue influence  to be exerted in the electoral and political processes, over and above procedural rules and practices.

2)      Consciousness: Cultural, ideological, and behavioral patterns. What keeps the 99% from acting in its own interests is the gross disparity in power between the 99% and the 1%, both in political governance and private wealth. It is power both reflected in and buttressed by a set of cultural, ideological, and behavioral patterns, a consciousness, which results in substantial support for the 1% even among the 99%, a support represented by the tea party movement in the United States.

3)      The need for radical/utopian critical challenges. Those patterns, and the material economic relations on which they are based, need to be addressed directly and frontally at the ideological level as well as the political and economic if fundamental change is to take place. Liberal reforms are needed. But they must ultimately challenge the underlying structural aspect of power which keeps the 1% where they are, even at the expense of being called utopian. The ideology and consciousness that must be challenged is represented, symbolically, by the tea parties and their elected representatives in political office. The challenge must be addressed front on.[1]

 * * * * *

 1)      Political procedures and material development.

 “Premature democracy” is a phrase Slavoj Žižek refers to in a provocative discussion[2] of current criticisms of democracy. It suggests that you can’t expect democracy if the ground is not prepared for it.

 There are many in the mainstream who so hold.  They may allude to “failures of democracy” in countries recently moving from real existing socialism towards capitalism as in Eastern Europe and China, or in countries with deep ideological or religious cleavages, as in the Near East, or countries with deep ethnic or tribal divisions, as in parts of Africa. Perhaps some level of economic development is necessary before democracy can work, they argue.[3] A significantly high level of nationalism supporting a unifying national identity may be necessary, others hold. Or a sufficiently sturdy set of institutions. Or a consensus on the very idea that democracy is desirable. Or simply time, experience with democracy in practice.

 But the material developmental conditions for democracy in the United States seem to be sufficient. The evidence is overwhelming that the country has ample resources and productive capacity to feed, clothe, and decently house its entire population, and provide it with the material conditions of life adequate for the full and free development of all members of society. Living conditions that would have been considered utopian in any previous era, and that to many may still seem so today in comparison to what they experience, are in fact well within reach today. Lack of material actual productive capacity is not the problem.

 Nor are the formal rules of political participation necessary in a democracy fundamentally lacking. A focus on the actual procedural rules being followed, both for voting in and for Congress, are  a part, but only a part, of the problem.  Pointing at the procedures Congress follows as undemocratic and requiring reform isn’t enough. Occupy Wall Street struggled to put into practice as thoroughly democratic a process as is to be found in public use today. It allowed for anyone wishing to speak at a meeting on an issue to speak, in the order requesting permission, it provided for voting by show of hands almost by request any time (and informally by hand gestures after any speaker), for super- majorities to carry a vote, and even then Occupy permitted anyone with deeply felt objections to block the result. Anyone displaying an interest was entitled to vote. Some objected that it was not a very efficient way of making decisions, but it was considered an affordable price to pay for a vibrant democracy, which indeed it was.

 Surprisingly, Congress actually follows the rules Occupy uses pretty closely in practice.  It isn’t that Congress’ formal procedures are non-democratic. Those that are, like gerrymandering or interference with the ability to vote, could all be changed by Congress if it wanted, even  within existing procedures, to do so. It could regulate campaign expenditures more than it does, even given current Supreme Court rulings, and the impact of those expenditures depends on many factors other than their quantity.

 The problem Congress faces goes beyond procedure. What Republicans do now that is called undemocratic, like the filibuster,  Democrats might wish to be able to do if party strengths were reversed, and it is a form of protecting rights of small minorities. Arguably even removing the road-blocks to fairness in existing procedures would only make a marginal difference in the results, and going whole hog to the Occupy model might have even worse results. Apparently even the massive money sloshing around and used in the last election did not make a major difference. Private lobbying, given members of integrity, is not per se undemocratic.

 Blaming “Congress” for the current impasse on budget expenditures and taxes, and arguing that a change of rules would solve the problem, is in any case fallacious. It is the position of the Republicans, and only some fraction of them, that is immediately to blame.  Wherever the difficult line between the protection of minority rights and the implementation of majority desires might be drawn, few would argue on principled procedural grounds that it has been crossed. The filibuster rules in the Senate are perhaps the one exception, but even those can be changed under the Senate’s own rules as they now exist.

 So it is not that Congress is fundamentally an undemocratic institution, but that it substantively reflects the fact that a significant part of the electorate disagrees significantly with the majority, a large enough part so that according them minority rights does not violate fundamental democratic precepts.

 But does Congress really reflect the electorate?  the hope for democracy in the United States premature?

 That depends on how democratic the election process is, and thus on what the rules for electing members of Congress are. There are certainly large questions about how democratic those rules are. But the election of right-wing Republicans is not solely dependent on the bias in those rules. Conservatives benefit disproportionately from those rules, but their successes are only in part due to them. Certainly there are problems with registration procedures, with gerrymandering, with the Electoral College, big problems with access to the media and the role of money in elections. And certainly those rules can and should be made very much more democratic. The end result would be much more reflective of what one person – one vote would produce if all the ideal formal rules of democratic procedures were followed to the letter.

 Yet one would have to admit that, if Obama squeaked through the 2012 election with a mere 52% of the votes on a moderately liberal platform, whether the percentage of votes going to a more challenging platform have been greater, or lesser,  is an open question, even under procedurally better conditions.

 So all of the necessary conditions for success by any of these standards exist in the United States, and none of the conditions predicting failure.

 But the conditions need examination. Both the effectiveness of the procedural rules of democracy, and the benefits of the existing productive capacity, are dependent on the distribution of power that lies underneath them, and that in turn is determined by something other than sheer numbers involved in voting or in production.

 2)      Consciousness: Cultural, ideological, and behavioral patterns.

 If all rules achieved perfect democracy, there would be, in today’s United States, a substantial minority that would support the position of the right wing Republicans, say of the Tea Party. It is substantial even if only 8% of voters consider themselves Tea Party members (already a significant number, since membership implies active support, not simply voting), but according to polls 30% look favorably on it, and only 49% do not.[4] It is a large enough minority to be entitled to a substantial role in the deliberations of any democratic body, even with discounts for all the undemocratic elements contributing to its electoral strength. If there is substance, even if not mathematical accuracy, behind Occupy’s slogan: “we are the 99%, they are the 1%” why do 48% of the electorate vote with the 1%? Are their votes “freely” cast?

 The argument is strong that voters are not free to decide for whom to vote, in any but a limited formal procedural sense. The votes of a substantial number today do not reflect their actual material interests, or the results would be much closer to the 99%/1% split of Occupy. As Arundhati Roy frequently says, “We are many, and they are few.” Material interests are important, and material inequality stands in the way of a full actual realization of material equality, a realization sharp enough to determine a vote. Voters are in fact very unequal and those at the losing end of inequality are not free in their voting.

 To be fully free, voters would have to be in a position to have access to and interpret the necessary information free of manipulation by others. They would have to be free of material pressures forcing a vote against long-term interests, requiring a suppression of actual preferences in favor of satisfaction of immediate needs. That would require a higher level of material equality than we have today, one at least guaranteeing for all some minimum threshold, of income, education, health, personal security, the effective ability to exercise political, social, and economic rights. Material burdens get in the way, in a vicious circle, of the ability to comprehend the cause of those burdens. Even for Tea Party members not immediately subject to direct want, the worry about the future, interpreted for them by others in so many ways, has the same effect as if it were actually fully present today, whether or not its danger is in fact real, as it is for some.

 These material burdens could, theoretically, be changed immediately by the strong concerted action of the 99% that would benefit from change. Yet the strength of the labor movement, which might be taken as one indicator of the power of that 99%, is weaker today than it was at any time since the New Deal, and the militancy of social movements today is demonstrably less than it was then. But even a return to New Deal levels of political and social action seems remote today.

 The problem has a deeper dimension.  Even, say, a return to the social provisions of the New Deal, or even of the most social welfare oriented countries of Europe today, would likely make a limited difference. Such provisions might deal with one dimension of the problem, but a deeper dimension would remain: the ideological/psychological. It is the blocked dimension of the consciousness of alternatives. The blockages keep individuals from realizing, from visualizing, what the alternatives might be to the problematic situations they face now. Other dimensions deal with what the relations among people would be in a truly  equal society, what alternatives for the organization of society might exist, what other motivations besides profit might drive the economic engine – and what individual values might provide satisfaction  with one’s life.

 The realization of these alternate dimensions is blocked by characteristics imposed subtly but pervasively on individuals in our present society: the felt need to consume ever more goods, live in ever bigger houses, compete forever for greater incomes and wealth and power. Culture is a weak name for the pattern. Ideology, the explicit formulation of the rationale behind the system as it is, is another contributor to the blockages. Ideologies are of course directly connected to material relations, but not automatically, and are part cause as well as consequence of the material, and retain an independent and growing role in the nature of the order of society.  As long as these characteristics of the present social and economic relations persist, political relations will be subject to their influence, and the steps from 52% voting majorities to close to 99% voting majorities will be blocked.

 3)      The blockage of radical/utopian critical challenges.

 The first task to achieve real democracy is to remove the rules and procedures that prevent us from having a truer democracy, and the second is to reduce the power of those who create and benefit from the inequality of others. But undertaking those tasks needs to keep in mind the third task, opening awareness to the further dimension that is possible, the alternative dimension, perhaps seen as utopian today, but yet completely possible given the productive capacity our society has achieved. Immediate gains need to be linked firmly to a vision of the full potentials of a democratic society.

 The problem of the tea party—of a response to the problems with which the existing system seems incapable of dealing—is one embodiment of what needs to be dealt with. The tea party is made up of many diverse types, and supported financially by some in different positions but having a vested interest in its success.  For an apparent majority, the liberal side, the apparent slight majority within the 99%, the system produces enough to prevent reactions of desperation for material change, and provides enough immediate benefits to suppress troubling consciousness of underlying problems mentioned at the beginning.  More, its benefits block    visualization of how change could fundamentally create the better society necessary to deal with those problems.

 The tea party reacts to those deep-seated problems from the right, as the discussion here reacts from the left. Lacking a vision of a different future, it looks to the past it believes it had, realistically or not. It embeds the concerns it does have in a framework that past, one which includes belief in what it considers free markets, competitiveness, individual responsibility, the value of consumption, small government, nationalism verging on imperialism. That ideological frame needs to be criticized, explicitly and directly. But for most in the tea party, that frame is probably best not criticized at the beginning, but rather starting from a base of agreement on the problems and some immediate steps towards solution on which agreement can be reached, then linking those steps to a critique of a frame in which they ought to be embedded, showing how logically the immediate leads to more and more radical and even utopian visions of what in the long run needs to be done.

 * * * * *

Conclusion:  The first task to achieve real democracy is to remove the rules and procedures that prevent us from having a truer democracy. That will help with the second task, but is not sufficient for it: to reduce the power of those who create and benefit from the inequality of others. Undertaking those tasks needs to keep in mind the third task, which again will help with the first two: opening awareness to the further dimension that is possible, the alternative dimension, radical and perhaps seen as utopian today, but yet completely possible given the productive capacity our society has achieved. Immediate gains need to be linked firmly to transformative proposals based on a vision of the full potentials of a democratic society.

 That is the third task that needs to be undertaken. Blog #30 addresses how this third task might be addressed, with some examples intended as provocations rather than full-fledged proposals.


[1] I have elsewhere written of this, following the reasoning of Herbert Marcuse’s Essay on Liberation, as the need for the “liberation of consciousness.” See my article in Andrew Lamas, Ed, Occupy Consciousness: Reading the 1960s and Occupy Wall Street with Herbert Marcuse, in Radical Philosophy Review, Volume 16, 2013, forthcoming.

[2] Slavoj Žižek “What Europe’s Elites Don’t Know:When the blind are leading the blind, democracy is the victim” Available at http://inthesetimes.com/article/14617/what_europes_elites_dont_know1

[3] Suggested by Zakaria, Fareed. 1997. “The rise of illiberal democracy.” Foreign Affairs, Vol 76,No. 6 (November-December), pp. 22-43, in the article from which Zyzek quotes the phrase.

  [4] According to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, available at http://www.allgov.com/news/controversies/tea-party-membership-or-those-who-admit-to-it-plunges-to-8-130110?news=846706. And see my Blog #14: “Who is the 1%: The ruling class and the tea parties.”

Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality


Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality

There are five blogs dealing with:  the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Right to the City Alliances, as representative of the 99%, who is in them and who in the 1%, why historically they have arisen now, how they have changed since their beginnings, and what their future demands and strategic possibilities and dangers might be.

They are divided as follows:

Blog #12 – We Are the 99%: The Slogan and the Reality

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed

Blog #14 − Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the Tea Party

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution

The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement

The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement

Blog #16 – The Future: Transformative Demands, Transformative Strategies

Blog #12 provides a detailed Table of Contents.

THIS IS BLOG #17, WHICH ASSEMBLES THESE FIVE BLOGS, BLOGS 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, INTO ONE.. The only difference is that footnotes for all five blogs are endnotes in blog #17, and page references are accurate in Blog #17. The argument is presented both ways only for possible convenience in down-loading (and my uncertainty on the best way to use a bog!).
Continue reading “Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality”