Jets to Canada

Along with Tom Palmer, Gene Healy, Don Boudreaux and distinguished non-blogging others, I'm off to Quebec City for the Cato University seminar on the “Art of Persuasion.” Blogging forecast: 65% chance of light blogging; 35% chance of none. Depends on the hook up in le Ch√Ęteau Frontenac.

Tom, being a St. John's man, has been revisting the classics of rhetoric. I, not being a St. John's man, have been revisiting Rodney Stark on conversion, George Lakoff on political mental models, and the social network and diffusions of innovations literature. I promised Tom I wouldn't give a talk that sounds like it ought to have a title like “Prolegomena to a Hermeneutics of Meme Exchange,” and I won't!, but it's been a real challenge distilling all this stuff into something engaging and accessible. Wish me luck!

Henley vs. Balko & McArdle? Henley!

I wholeheartedly endorse Jim Henley's endorsement of the Libertarian Party candidate, who just happens to be Michael Badnarik, for what it's worth. Radley and Megan must explain (“must explain” in the sense of “need to explain in order to satsify Will Wilkinson's curiousity”) why Jim is wrong.

I especially like Jim's point about the direction of causation for the LP: not lack of votes because of lack of good candidates, but lack of good candidates because of lack of votes.

One Honest Democrat

Thank God for Matthew Yglesias, sage of 10th St., for his frank admission that what really matters is a John Kerry victory, procedural legitimacy be damned!

Rather than take the political theory bait here, I'll just cop to hypocrisy. The people who I want voting are the people who will vote for John Kerry. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Democracy has an instrumental value and there's no fact of the matter about what really is and is not a legitimate leadership-selection process. If I thought Kerry would be a terrible president and that Bush was a good one, I'd be applauding efforts to intimidate likely Kerry voters. But Kerry will be a good president and Bush will be a terrible one, so I condemn such efforts insteads.

Now, that's refreshing!

I do agree that democracy has only instrumental value, but I think part of that value consists in social stability conferred by the widespread acceptance of the legitimacy of elections. (However, perception of legitimacy is, I say emphatically, not to be confused with actual legitimacy.) So I am not really, as Matt says, “continuing [my] contrarian scolding of Democratic love of democratic principles.” Rather, I seem to have landed in a contrarian spot, strangely enough, by insisting that voter fraud is as big a problem, in terms of democratic principles, as voter suppression, and that I think we should only expect to see both the Democrats and Republicans be vigilant in their defense of democracy.

The quandary is that both kinds of vigilance feeds into a kind of semi-intended corruption that has a de-legitimizing effect on the election. It all looks to me like a game of chicken where each side accuses the other side of primarily intending the semi-intended corrupt side-effects, and demands that the other side swerve. But if one side swerves, they lose. But if neither swerves, they crash. If they crash, (changing metaphors, sorry) we end up shining too bright a light on the cockroach nest of actually-existing democratic procedures. As we watch the repulsive insects scatter among the hanging chads, the invalidated ballots of the dead, the walking around money, and the intimidated no-show voters, the legitimacy of the election is called into question, no matter who gets the better of the crash, and we've lost some of the instrumental stabilizing qualities of democracy.

But, anyway, way to go, Matt!

Voting Dogs and Democratic Fairy Dust

A thought: Could it be that the sort of person likely to be “intimidated” out of voting isn't in general the sort of person who you want to be voting?

A lot of the coverage, both formal and informal, of the forthcoming apocalypse in Ohio strikes me as implicitly accepting a really quite stupid bit of democratic romanticism: that it is better that 100 illegitimate votes be counted than to let one legitimate vote go uncounted.

The implicit picture is that voting is a sort of magical expression of citizenship that mystically confers “legitimacy” upon democratically decided results. If some citizens vote, but have their votes tossed out, or if some citizens decide it is too much hassle to get to the polls, then each lost vote is a drop drained from the bucket of legitimacy.

This is an utterly bizzare way of looking at democratic legitimacy, but seems to be part of the civics course democracy catechism, about which journalists especially pretend to be devout. This is why we hear cries of lament if there is low voter turnout. How can democracy be the people's authentic voice if the people refuse to speak! How can we frolic in the sparkling waters of democracy if the bucket of legitimacy is but half full?

The strange thing is that the press seems to treat illegitimate votes as a kind of noise, a kind of tolerable if unfortunate democratic static, while intimidated no-shows are a travesty against all that is holy. Yet, and this should be obvious, in terms of the aggregative democratic procedure, an unnoticed illegal vote for one guy (in a two horse race) is EXACTLY EQUIVALENT to scaring off a voter for the other guy.

If somebody's dog manages to vote for John Kerry, then, in effect, Velma Thompson (or whomever) failed to vote for that nice man, George W. Bush, even though she tried. Whiskers cancels out Velma. Here's another way to make the same point. Each Bush vote is paired with a Kerry vote and they're both thrown away. The winner is the one who has votes left on the table after all the other guy's votes have been chucked. Pairing legitimate voters with voting felons, dogs, corpses, and Frenchmen has precisely the same effect on the outcome as shooting legitimate voters before they can get in the door of the high school gym.

Republican vigilance about keeping illegal voters from voting is democratically equivalent to Democratic vigilance against Republican attempts to suppress the legal vote. Republican vigilance has the semi-intended side-effect of suppressing likely Democratic votes. And huge Democratic registration and GOTV drives have the semi-intended side-effect of canceling out a large number of Republican votes with illegal ballots. I bet I can tell from your party affiliation which you think is worse.

The press, as far as I can tell, seems to think Republican vigilance is worse. If one has the popular magical view of democratic legitimacy, Velma's participation itself sprinkles a bit of fairy dust of legitimacy on the entire proceedings. Voting dogs, lacking the relevant legal status, have no fairy dust to contribute, but their votes don't take any fairy dust away. Velma expressed herself, that's what matters, and you can't take that away! Because we want the MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF DEMOCRATIC FAIRY DUST, we shouldn't complain if a huge turnout, and a huge amount of fairy dust, also entails a sizable turnout of the dead, canine, and alien. And, anyway, why shouldn't their votes count?

Comment Glitch

If you're trying to comment here on The Fly Bottle, chances are your comment is getting kicked into MT-Blacklist moderation. I don't know why this is. If this happens to you, don't worry, I'm checking frequently and will approve your comment. The way to get around moderation is to open a Typekey account, which allows my blog (and anyone else with a MovableType blog) to know who you are and automatically OK anything you have to say.

Losing the Argument? Then Follow the Money!

Eric Alterman's series on the devious, conspiratorial funding of “right wing” organizations is a great example of the left's misguided retardo-Marxist cui bono obsession. It absolutely mystifies me why the left spends so much energy tracking down funding sources of the right. I always detect in these things a ostrich-like refusal to seriously engage the fact that the left has for the last 20 years been getting its ass handed to it intellectually.

This is so noxious to the left's self-image that they can do nothing but go deep into denial, and complain incessantly about, what? . . . Just how smart those the right-wing plutocrats are? Concede relative strategic incompetence in order to preserve the illusion of the moral/intellectual high ground? I really don't get it. What, really, is the point of this stuff?

(I mean, think about it this way: if I was paid to kick Eric Alterman's ass, but I had very much wanted to kick Alterman's ass anyway, and I proceeded to kick Alterman's ass, Alterman's pointing out that I was paid to kick his ass neither shows that I wouldn't have kicked his ass if I hadn't been paid, nor that his ass wasn't, in fact, kicked, nor that Alterman could have kicked my ass if only he had been paid. So why bring it up? Does it make him feel better? [By the way, I do not, in fact, have any desire to kick Alterman's ass.])

The best I can do for Alterman is to see him indirectly prodding left-wing plutocrats to give more money to people like Eric Alterman. Alterman seems fairly non-plussed that Charles Murray gets so much money from the Bradley Foundation. If only Eric Alterman could be paid so well!

But, of course, one Charles Murray is worth a dozen Altermans in intellectual terms, no matter how much you pay him. The fascinating thing about a guy like Murray is just how independent a mind he is. He's very much his own man. He's too libertarian for conservatives; he's too conservative for libertarians. His concern for the poor and the conditions necessary for a meaningful life are deep, genuine, remarkably sensitive and, yes, relatively non-ideological. By comparison, a guy like Alterman is an ideologue you can set your watch by. The point being, that you can't explain much about Charles Murray by looking at the signatures on his paychecks. The signatures tell you rather more about the tastes of the folks who sign them.

I'm reminded of Michael Novak's characterization of the left's reaction to The Bell Curve:

the message cannot be true, because much more is at stake than a particular set of arguments from psychological science. A this-worldly eschatological hope is at stake. The sin attributed to Herrnstein and Murray is theological: they destroy hope.

The thing to remember is that there is more than one faith-based community. Alterman's assumption is that he who has the funding, he who controls the media, controls political reality. The “right-wing” foundations and tanks have been using their power to replace our theology for theirs. So we've got to understand how they do this, how the right constructs reality, so we can beat them at their game. Because we know in advance that it can't be the arguments. Charles Murray couldn't possibly be right.