Culture Wars or Something Else?

Well, not really. See comments below. From London’s The Economist:

Bagehot

The culture wars arrive in Britain

The election reveals astonishing changes in the political landscape

Jun 9th 2017

BREXIT was supposed to let Britain be Britain. Disentangled from the European Union, its island race would rediscover its native genius and embrace a unique mixture of nationalism and globalism. In fact this election suggests that something different is happening: divided and stunned by Brexit, Britain is turning into America.

Over the past 30 years American politics has been transformed from the politics of class into the politics of values. [No. Not really, that’s the media and party narrative.] In the 1970s the Republicans were broadly the party of the rich and rising and the Democrats were the party of blue-collar workers. Thereafter, values edged out class. Ronald Reagan brought blue-collar Democrats into the Republican Party by emphasising traditional values. George H.W. Bush used the “three Gs”—God, guns and gays—to strengthen his hold on blue-collar voters. Under George W. Bush America descended into a full-scale culture war: the Republicans put together a coalition of Evangelicals, working-class conservatives and business people and the Democrats responded with a coalition of knowledge workers, ethnic minorities and social liberals. [Blogger’s Note: No, the Democrats put together their Great Society rainbow coalition after the 1968 Convention in Chicago and in 1972 chose George McGovern as their candidate. Nixon responded with his Southern strategy.]

The cultural division has fed into a generational division: younger voters, particularly unmarried women, have gravitated to the Democrats. It has also fed into a regional division. The Republican Party thrived in the provinces (the suburbs, exurbs and rural America) while the Democratic Party thrived in the cities. There was also a growing division between the Democratic coasts and the Republican heartland and between the Republican South and the more Democratic north-east.

This election suggests that Britain is moving rapidly in the same direction. Look at the electoral map through the prism of class and the picture looks confused. The Tory party has held onto its wealthy heartlands in the rural shires. It has lost other rich areas in the cities, such as Battersea in London. It has also increased its vote share in some working-class areas, and taken some traditional Labour seats such as Derbyshire North-East and Stoke-on-Trent South. The Labour Party has made striking advances in some wealthy places: London and several other cities, particularly university towns. It has had a more mixed performance in working-class areas.

Look at it through the prism of values and the election makes sense. The Tories have been the party of old-fashioned British values: patriotism, self-determination and suspicion of foreigners—especially when they are trying to tell them what to do. These values have united middle-class people in the shires with older working-class people in the post-industrial north. Labour, meanwhile, has been the party of cosmopolitan values: multiculturalism, compassion, dislike of Brexit. These values have united people who might otherwise have little in common: devout Muslims in Perry Barr, Birmingham; struggling students in Newcastle; millionaire human-rights lawyers in Islington; train drivers in Dagenham.

The value division is also a regional division. The Labour Party has thrived in big cities. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is above all the party of London: Mr Corbyn represents Islington North, Emily Thornberry, his shadow foreign secretary, represents the next-door seat. At the same time the Conservatives have retreated: Justine Greening, the education secretary, saw her majority in Putney slashed from 10,000 to 1,000 and Jane Ellison, the financial secretary to the treasury, lost her Battersea seat. But even as they retreated in the metropolis, the Conservatives have taken some unexpected seats in post-industrial Britain.

The rise of values politics is rife with paradoxes. The Tory party calculated that this new type of politics would favour the right—Theresa May deliberately stirred the pot by telling the 2016 Conservative Party conference that “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means”. Nicholas Timothy, her co-chief-of-staff and policy guru, believed that the Tories could win over working-class voters by talking about traditional values and patriotism. But the Party failed to recognise that talking about “citizens of nowhere” might do more to repel middle-class voters than to attract working-class ones. The Labour Party is led by two Marxists: Mr Corbyn and John McDonnell, his shadow chancellor, who believe in the materialist interpretation of history. Yet they now preside over a coalition of voters defined overwhelmingly by their shared values.

The value of nothing
The fact that this was a values election is underlined by one of the many oddities of the contest: the absence of any role for business. Business has traditionally been one of the Conservative Party’s most loyal constituencies. The Tory party touts itself as the party of business, boasting of its record of low taxes, job creation and light-touch regulation, and the business community responds by strongly backing it. Not this time. The Tories borrowed most of Ed Miliband’s “business-bashing” ideas from Labour’s 2015 manifesto, including putting caps on energy prices, workers on boards and a ceiling on executive pay. Mrs May’s stinging dismissal of “citizens of nowhere” was directed as much at the Davos crowd as anybody. Business remained more or less silent—partly, no doubt, because nobody likes being bashed by their former allies but, more importantly, because British business is profoundly worried about Brexit. Mrs May’s insistence that immigration can be reduced to the tens of thousands and that no deal is better than a bad deal threatens to drive a wedge between the Tory party and its most loyal constituency.

The politics of values can be exciting. Values stir up emotions in ways that technocratic issues never do. But it can also be dangerous. The example of American politics over the past few decades is depressing. The culture wars have divided the country into tribes that won’t speak to each other. It has made it much more difficult—and sometimes impossible—to address pressing issues such as the Budget. And it has led to a decline in the quality of political life: the Republican Party’s enthusiasm for using cultural issues to recruit downscale voters has led inexorably to Donald Trump, a president who thrives on dividing the country and indulging in cheap demagoguery. Britain is taking its first steps down a dangerous path. [Blogger’s Note: No, these trends are the inevitable result of identity politics practiced by both parties but at the heart of the Left/Liberal parties.There is no compromise at the end of the road of identity politics and that is the tragedy for democracy we are witnessing today.]

 ——————–
My comment:

First, the American “culture war” is a bit of a sideshow that started back in the 1960s, politically with the Great Society programs and the anti-war McGovernites redirecting the Democrat party of JFK. The thrust of this movement was to define the Democrats as a coalition of diverse identity groups: by race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference. Nixon’s targeting of the traditional South came after Johnson targeted urban minorities, promising that if they were going to vote, he wanted to be sure they voted Democrat despite the party’s “apartheid” history.

Second, what we see today is not really the inevitable extension of this “culture war,” but a bifurcation of democracy based on policy preferences associated with geography and household formation. This bifurcation is actually dividing us over the disparate effects of globalization, migration, and technology that is loosely associated with where one lives and how one fits into the digital information economy. Most obviously the division is between urban vs. rural/suburban communities and one can see this in the national voting patterns from 2000 onward.

Third, to perceive this accurately one must analyze voting at the county and congressional district level and compare it to demographic variables. What one finds is that 2/3s of the results can be explained by population density and household formation (married vs. not married). But classifying these differences as cultural often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the urban media and political parties have promoted this divide-and-conquer narrative to gain eyeballs and win elections.

Finally, average citizens are starting to see through this charade and are voting against “politics as usual,” by registering their protests with the likes of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and James Corbyn. These candidates are not a cause, but a symptom of the deeper fissures mentioned above, which result from the malicious application of identity politics to a changing world. There is no compromise at the end of the road of identity politics and that is the tragedy for democracy we are witnessing today.

Healthcare Mythologies

First, I will disclose I am no expert on the health care industry, but I am somewhat of an expert on finance theory applied to risk management and insurance pooling. The political healthcare debate is so disconcerting that it’s impossible to sit by and watch without trying to inject some reason. Sorry.

We need health care reform, we’ve needed it for about 20 years now, but it matters what kind of reform we get. Here are two excerpts from recent articles written by Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation and Holman Jenkins Jr. of the WSJ that illustrate some of the uncomfortable truths.

First, we need to deal with some reality concerning the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare:

Almost every promise made eight years ago about ObamaCare turned out to be a falsehood. You couldn’t keep your insurance plan, doctor or provider in many cases. It didn’t save $2,500 per family (more like $2,500 more). It didn’t lead to expanded patient choice. And the tax increases badly hurt the economy and jobs market, and the insurance markets really have entered a death spiral that if left unfixed will blow-up the entire insurance market.

The fundamental lie of ObamaCare is revealed in the law’s very title: The Affordable Care Act. Democrats and Barack Obama can sing the praises of this law until the cows come home, but no one with a straight face can say that it has made healthcare more “affordable” — except the millions whom we gave coverage to for free.

So, unless one believes in the “economics of free,” we’ve got a problem here and it’s written into the faulty logic of the plan.

Second, the way out of this quagmire is not going to be led by Bernie Sanders doubling and quadrupling down on “free.” Mr. Jenkins speaks an inconvenient truth:

Down this road [of reform] lies hope that Americans will stop channeling extravagant gobs of their income to the medical-industrial complex. Down this road Medicare could be rethought, perhaps with rational Democrats lending a hand. We know these things will have to happen anyway. Otherwise the country is bankrupt.

P.S. Don’t kid yourself that Democrats have a plan other than blindly defending more and more subsidies for more and more health-care consumers. Single-payer is not a plan. It’s an invitation for the health-care industry—doctors, hospitals, the research establishment—simply to turn their full attention to serving the self-paying rich.

So, as far as I can see, the AHCA is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Do I believe this because I’m partisan? No. A healthcare market can only function to deliver a high-quality, affordable product if there is an abundant supply to meet the desired need/demand. Only a functioning consumer-product market can provide that supply at an efficient price. Yes, we need a safety net for pre-existing conditions and we need to save more for future medical needs. We’ll only be able to do that if we give up the fantasy that health care is a right to be provided “free” from the government.

Lastly, in economics we learn that everything in life is a trade-off. We need to figure out what kinds of trade-offs we want to make, individually and as a society.

The Presumptuousness of Urban Blue America

I had to post this article because it is just too much on the money. There is an historical equilibrium between rural, suburban, and urban life-style preferences in this country – there is no long-term trend in either direction. Our politics mostly reflect that – not the red-blue, sub-cultural civil war nonsense propagated by most of the media.

But for me the truly amusing irony of the self-righteousness of urban blue liberalism is that it turns traditional Marxism on its head. Urban sophisticates who empathize with Bernie/Warren-style socialism now claim that the rural periphery is exploiting the good will of the urban core. “We create all the wealth! We attract all the educated elites! We work and subsidize the ignorant bumpkins!”

This is the exact opposite of how Marx and the neo-Marxists claimed that the capitalist core was exploiting the workers and consumers who lived on the periphery of the capitalist market economy. Today’s neo-Marxist liberal urban sophisticates now claim the opposite to justify their deserved political dominance. Certainly one can see that their presumptuousness is akin to blaming the European colonies for the burdens of their European colonists! Workers of the World, Unite! Well, they have and voted for Trump. Rich.
Now what?

Of course, Marx and the new unwitting anti-Marxists are both half right and half wrong. Periphery and core are co-dependent in a free market economy: imagine Silicon Valley without its Internet users across the 50 states. What is necessary is that the market be free, open, and competitive so that coercive power does NOT determine distributive outcomes. Because humans are power-hungry, that, admittedly, is a persistent challenge.

Outside the Bubble

The Arrogance of Blue America

If you want to see the worst impacts of blue policies, go to those red regions—like upstate New York or inland California—in states they control.

Joel Kotkin

04.29.17 10:00 PM ET

In the wake of the Trumpocalypse, many in the deepest blue cores have turned on those parts of America that supported the president’s election, developing oikophobia—an irrational fear of their fellow citizens.

The rage against red America is so strong that The New York Time’s predictably progressive Nick Kristoff says his calls to understand red voters were “my most unpopular idea.” The essential logic—as laid out in a particularly acerbic piece in The New Republic—is that Trump’s America is not only socially deplorable, but economically moronic as well. The kind-hearted blue staters have sent their industries to the abodes of the unwashed, and taken in their poor, only to see them end up “more bitter, white, and alt-right than ever.”

The red states, by electing Trump, seem to have lost any claim on usually wide-ranging progressive empathy. Frank Rich, theater critic turned pundit, turns up his nose at what he calls “hillbilly chic.” Another leftist author suggests that working-class support for Brexit and Trump means it is time “to dissolve” the “more than 150-year-old alliance between the industrial working class and what one might call the intellectual-cultural Left.”

The fondest hope among the blue bourgeoise lies with the demographic eclipse of their red-state foes. Some clearly hope that the less-educated “dying white America,“ already suffering shorter lifespans, in part due to alcoholism and opioid abuse, is destined to fade from the scene. Then the blue lords can take over a country with which they can identify without embarrassment.

Marie Antoinette Economics

In seeking to tame their political inferiors, the blue bourgeoisie are closer to the Marie Antoinette school of political economy than any traditional notion of progressivism. They might seek to give the unwashed red masses “cake” in the form of free health care and welfare, but they don’t offer more than a future status as serfs of the cognitive aristocracy. The blue bourgeoisie, notes urban analyst Aaron Renn, are primary beneficiaries of “the decoupling of success in America.” In blue America, he notes, the top tiers “no longer need the overall prosperity of the country to personally do well. They can become enriched as a small, albeit sizable, minority.”

Some on the left recognize the hypocrisy of progressives’ abandoning the toiling masses. “Blue state secession is no better an idea than Confederate secession was,” observes one progressive journalist. “The Confederates wanted to draw themselves into a cocoon so they could enslave and exploit people. The blue state secessionists want to draw themselves into a cocoon so they can ignore the exploited people of America.”

Ironically, many of the most exploited people reside in blue states and cities. Both segregation and impoverishment has worsened during the decades-long urban “comeback,” as even longtime urban enthusiast Richard Florida now notes. Chicago, with its soaring crime rates and middle class out-migration, amidst a wave of elite corporate relocations, epitomizes the increasingly unequal tenor of blue societies.

In contrast the most egalitarian places, like Utah, tend to be largely Trump-friendly. Among the 10 states (and D.C.) with the most income inequality, seven supported Clinton in 2016, while seven of the 10 most equal states supported Trump.

If you want to see worst impacts of blue policies, go to those red regions—like upstate New York—controlled by the blue bourgeoise. Backwaters like these tend to be treated at best as a recreational colony that otherwise can depopulate, deindustrialize, and in general fall apart. In California, much of the poorer interior is being left to rot by policies imposed by a Bay Area regime hostile to suburban development, industrial growth, and large scale agriculture. Policies that boost energy prices 50 percent above neighboring states are more deeply felt in regions that compete with Texas or Arizona and are also far more dependent on air conditioning than affluent, temperate San Francisco or Malibu. Six of the 10 highest unemployment rates among the country’s metropolitan areas are in the state’s interior.

Basic Errors in Geography

The blue bourgeoisie’s self-celebration rests on multiple misunderstandings of geography, demography, and economics. To be sure, the deep blue cites are vitally important but it’s increasingly red states, and regions, that provide critical opportunities for upward mobility for middle- and working-class families.

The dominant blue narrative rests on the idea that the 10 largest metropolitan economies represents over one-third of the national GDP. Yet this hardly proves the superiority of Manhattan-like density; the other nine largest metropolitan economies are, notes demographer Wendell Cox, slightly more suburban than the national major metropolitan area average, with 86 percent of their residents inhabiting suburban and exurban areas.

In some of our most dynamic urban regions, such as Phoenix, virtually no part of the region can be made to fit into a Manhattan-, Brooklyn-, or even San Francisco-style definition of urbanity. Since 2010 more than 80 percent of all new jobs in our 53 leading metropolitan regions have been in suburban locations. The San Jose area, the epicenter of the “new economy,” may be congested but it is not traditionally urban—most people there live in single-family houses, and barely 5 percent of commuters take transit. Want to find dense urbanity in San Jose? You’ll miss it if you drive for more than 10 minutes.

Urban Innovation

The argument made by the blue bourgeoisie is simple: Dense core cities, and what goes on there, is infinitely more important, and consequential, than the activities centered in the dumber suburbs and small towns. Yet even in the ultra-blue Bay Area, the suburban Valley’s tech and STEM worker population per capita is twice that of San Francisco. In southern California, suburban Orange County has over 30 percent more STEM workers per capita than far more urban Los Angeles.

And it’s not just California. Seattle’s suburban Bellevue and Redmond are home to substantial IT operations, including the large Microsoft headquarters facility. Much of Portland’s Silicon Forest is located in suburban Washington County. Indeed a recent Forbes study found that the fastest-growing areas for technology jobs outside the Bay Area are all cities without much of an urban core: Charlotte, Raleigh Durham, Dallas-Fort Worth, Phoenix, and Detroit. In contrast most traditionally urban cities such as New York and Chicago have middling tech scenes, with far fewer STEM and tech workers per capita than the national average.

The blue bourgeois tend to see the activities that take place largely in the red states—for example manufacturing and energy—as backward sectors. Yet manufacturers employ most of the nation’s scientists and engineers. Regions in Trump states associated with manufacturing as well as fossil fuels—Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Salt Lake—enjoy among the heaviest concentrations of STEM workers and engineers in the country, far above New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Besides supplying the bulk of the food, energy, and manufactured goods consumed in blue America, these industries are among the country’s most productive, and still offer better paying options for blue-collar workers. Unlike a monopoly like Microsoft or Google, which can mint money by commanding market share, these sectors face strong domestic and foreign competition. From 1997-2012, labor productivity growth in manufacturing—3.3 percent per year—was a third higher than productivity growth in the private economy overall.

For its part, the innovative American energy sector has essentially changed the balance of power globally, overcoming decades of dependence on such countries as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela. Agriculture—almost all food, including in California, is grown in red-oriented areas—continues to outperform competitors around the world.

Exports? In 2015, the U.S. exported $2.23 trillion worth of goods and services combined. Of the total, only $716.4 billion, or about a third, consisted of services. In contrast, manufactured goods accounted for 50 percent of all exports. Intellectual property payments, like royalties to Silicon Valley tech companies and entrepreneurs, amounted to $126.5 billion—just 18 percent of service exports and less than 6 percent of total exports of goods and services combined, barely even with agriculture.

Migration and the American Future

The blue bourgeoisie love to say “everyone” is moving back to the city; a meme amplified by the concentration of media in fewer places and the related collapse of local journalism. Yet in reality, except for a brief period right after the 2008 housing crash, people have continued to move away from dense areas.

Indeed the most recent estimates suggest that last year was the best for suburban areas since the Great Recession. In 2012, the suburbs attracted barely 150,000 more people than core cities but in 2016 the suburban advantage was 556,000. Just 10 of the nation’s 53 largest metropolitan regions (including San Francisco, Boston, and Washington) saw their core counties gain more people than their suburbs and exurbs.

Overall, people are definitively not moving to the most preferred places for cosmopolitan scribblers. Last year, all 10 of the top gainers in domestic migration were Sun Belt cities. The list was topped by Austin, a blue dot in its core county, surrounded by a rapidly growing, largely red Texas sea, followed by Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, and Jacksonville in Florida, Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

Overall, domestic migration trends affirm Trump-friendly locales. In 2016, states that supported Trump gained a net of 400,000 domestic migrants from states that supported Clinton. This includes a somewhat unnoticed resurgence of migration to smaller cities, areas often friendly to Trump and the GOP. Domestic migration has accelerated to cities between with populations between half a million and a million people, while it’s been negative among those with populations over a million. The biggest out-migration now takes place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

Of course, for the blue cognoscenti, there’s only one explanation for such moves: Those people are losers and idiots. This is part of the new blue snobbery: Bad people, including the poor, are moving out to benighted places like Texas but the talented are flocking in. Yet, like so many comfortable assertions, this one does not stand scrutiny. It’s the middle class, particularly in their childbearing years, who, according to IRS data, are moving out of states like California and into ones like Texas. Since 2000, the Golden State has seen a net outflow of $36 billion dollars from migrants.

Millennials are widely hailed as the generation that will never abandon the deep blue city, but as they reach their thirties, they appear to be following their parents to the suburbs and exurbs, smaller cities, and the Sun Belt. This assures us that the next generation of Americans are far more likely to be raised in Salt Lake City, Atlanta, the four large Texas metropolitan areas, or in suburbs, than in the bluest metropolitan areas like New York, Seattle, or San Francisco—where the number of school-age children trends well below the national average.

This shift is being driven in large part by unsustainable housing costs. In the Bay Area, techies are increasingly looking for jobs outside the tech hub and some companies are even offering cash bonuses to those willing to leave. A recent poll indicated that 46 percent of millennials in the San Francisco Bay Area want to leave. The numbers of the “best and brightest” have been growing mostly in lower-cost regions such as Austin, Orlando, Houston, Nashville, and Charlotte.

Quality of Life: The Eye of the Beholder

Ultimately, in life as well as politics, people make choices of where to live based on economic realities. This may not apply entirely to the blue bourgeoisie, living at the top of the economic food chain or by dint of being the spawn of the wealthy. But for most Americans aspiring to a decent standard of living—most critically, the acquisition of decent living space—the expensive blue city simply is not practicable.

Indeed, when the cost of living is taken into consideration, most blue areas, except for San Jose/Silicon Valley, where high salaries track the prohibitive cost of living, provide a lower standard of living. People in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, and Detroit actually made more on their paychecks than those in New York, San Francisco, or Boston. Deep-blue Los Angeles ranked near the bottom among the largest metropolitan areas.

These mundanities suggest that the battlegrounds for the future will not be of the blue bourgeoisie’s choosing but in suburbs, particularly around the booming periphery of major cities in red states. Many are politically contestable, often the last big “purple” areas in an increasingly polarized country. In few of these kinds of areas do you see 80 to 90 percent progressive or conservative electorates; many split their votes and a respectable number went for Trump and the GOP. If the blue bourgeoisie want to wage war in these places, they need to not attack the suburban lifestyles clearly preferred by the clear majority.

Blue America can certainly win the day if this administration continues to falter, proving all the relentless aspersions of its omnipresent critics. But even if Trump fails to bring home the bacon to his supporters, the progressives cannot succeed until they recognize that most Americans cannot, and often do not want to, live the blue bourgeoisie’s preferred lifestyle.

It’s time for progressives to leave their bastions and bubbles, and understand the country that they are determined to rule.

The Deconstruction of the West

What concerns me most from the following article is the misguided notion that pan-nationalism and global citizenship has displaced the sovereign nation-state international system. The sovereign nation-state is all we have to manage global affairs in a representative democratic, people-centered global society. Without it we are all vulnerable to constellations of power among political elites and authoritarians of all stripes.

Reprinted from The American Interest:

The Deconstruction of the West

ANDREW A. MICHTA

April 12, 2017

The greatest threat to the liberal international order comes not from Russia, China, or jihadist terror but from the self-induced deconstruction of Western culture.

To say that the world has been getting progressively less stable and more dangerous is to state the obvious. But amidst the volumes written on the causes of this ongoing systemic change, one key driver barely gets mentioned: the fracturing of the collective West. And yet the unraveling of the idea of the West has degraded our ability to respond with a clear strategy to protect our regional and global interests. It has weakened the NATO alliance and changed not just the global security calculus but now also the power equilibrium in Europe. If anyone doubts the scope and severity of the problem, he or she should ask why it has been so difficult of late to develop a consensus between the United States and Europe on such key issues as defense, trade, migration, and how to deal with Russia, China, and Islamic jihadists.

The problem confronting the West today stems not from a shortage of power, but rather from the inability to build consensus on the shared goals and interests in whose name that power ought to be applied. The growing instability in the international system is not, as some argue, due to the rise of China as an aspiring global power, the resurgence of Russia as a systemic spoiler, the aspirations of Iran for regional hegemony, or the rogue despotism of a nuclear-armed North Korea; the rise and relative decline of states is nothing new, and it doesn’t necessarily entail instability. The West’s problem today is also not mainly the result of the economic decline of the United States or the European Union, for while both have had to deal with serious economic issues since the 2008 meltdown, they remain the two largest economies in the world, whose combined wealth and technological prowess are unmatched. Nor is the increasing global instability due to a surge in Islamic jihadism across the globe, for despite the horrors the jihadists have wrought upon the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, and the attendant anxiety now pervading Europe and America, they have nowhere near the capabilities needed to confront great powers.

The problem, rather, is the West’s growing inability to agree on how it should be defined as a civilization. At the core of the deepening dysfunction in the West is the self-induced deconstruction of Western culture and, with it, the glue that for two centuries kept Europe and the United States at the center of the international system. The nation-state has been arguably the most enduring and successful idea that Western culture has produced. It offers a recipe to achieve security, economic growth, and individual freedom at levels unmatched in human history. This concept of a historically anchored and territorially defined national homeland, having absorbed the principles of liberal democracy, the right to private property and liberty bound by the rule of law, has been the core building block of the West’s global success and of whatever “order” has ever existed in the so-called international order. Since 1945 it has been the most successful Western “export” across the globe, with the surge of decolonization driven by the quintessentially American precept of the right to self-determination of peoples, a testimony to its enduring appeal. Though challenged by fascism, Nazism, and communism, the West emerged victorious, for when confronted with existential danger, it defaulted to shared, deeply held values and the fervent belief that what its culture and heritage represented were worth fighting, and if necessary even dying, to preserve. The West prevailed then because it was confident that on balance it offered the best set of ideas, values, and principles for others to emulate.

Today, in the wake of decades of group identity politics and the attendant deconstruction of our heritage through academia, the media, and popular culture, this conviction in the uniqueness of the West is only a pale shadow of what it was a mere half century ago. It has been replaced by elite narratives substituting shame for pride and indifference to one’s own heritage for patriotism. After decades of Gramsci’s proverbial “long march” through the educational and cultural institutions, Western societies have been changed in ways that make social mobilization around the shared idea of a nation increasingly problematic. This ideological hollowing out of the West has been accompanied by a surge in confident and revanchist nationalisms in other parts of the world, as well as religiously inspired totalitarianism.

National communities cannot be built around the idea of collective shame over their past, and yet this is what is increasingly displacing a once confident (perhaps overconfident, at times) Western civilization. The increasing political uncertainty in Europe has been triggered less by the phenomenon of migration than it has by the inability of European governments to set baselines of what they will and will not accept. Over the past two decades Western elites have advocated (or conceded) a so-called “multicultural policy,” whereby immigrants would no longer be asked to become citizens in the true sense of the Western liberal tradition. People who do not speak the national language, do not know the nation’s history, and do not identify with its culture and traditions cannot help but remain visitors. The failure to acculturate immigrants into the liberal Western democracies is arguably at the core of the growing balkanization, and attendant instability, of Western nation-states, in Europe as well as in the United States.

Whether one gives the deconstruction of the Western nation-state the name of postmodernism or globalism, the ideological assault on this very foundation of the Western-led international system has been unrelenting. It is no surprise that a poorly resourced radical Islamic insurgency has been able to make such vast inroads against the West, in the process remaking our societies and redefining our way of life. It is also not surprising that a weak and corrupt Russia has been able to shake the international order by simply applying limited conventional military power. Or that a growing China casts an ever-longer shadow over the West. The greatest threat to the security and survival of the democratic West as the leader and the norm-setter of the international system comes not from the outside but from within. And with each passing year, the deconstruction of Western culture, and with it the nation-state, breeds more internal chaos and makes our international bonds across the West ever more tenuous.

Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Views expressed here are his own.

Interesting Money Graphics

08-roman-empire-chart

dollar_devaluation

One cannot take these graphs at face value, for example, the long $ decline from 1933 to the present has also been the Pax Americana where the US has dominated geopolitics. Also, the Roman denarius was a commodity based currency, while the US$ is a fiat currency backed by US government taxing power over US assets.

But the larger issue of the costs of empire over time are instructive. One should dig deeper in analysis, but not be too complacent. Especially in light of the currency manipulations of the current age.

WTF Happened? Pick Your Poison.

I can agree with the headline of this article, reprinted from the Huffington Post, but the majority of the analysis is plainly inconclusive (see comments). The Big Lesson is: Don’t believe everything you read in the media.

The Big Lesson From 2016 Is That Neither Party Has A Winning Vote Coalition

The Obama coalition turned out to be pretty weak, but Trump’s might be even weaker.

11/25/2016 03:49 pm ET

Donald Trump won the Electoral College by a 306-232 margin, but lost the popular vote by a more than 2 million votes (and still counting) ― more than any previous presidential winner ever has in a split decision. How this happened is a complex story, much more nuanced than most “here’s why Trump won” stories imply. [We don’t seek complexity, but clarity and accuracy.]

Almost all of those stories contain a piece of the puzzle, but in order to see the real story you need to consider all of the explanations combined. Neither party has much reason to celebrate the outcome of the 2016 election. Republicans have a demographics problem, and Democrats have a geography problem compounded by turnout issues. [Fair enough.]

At the state level, the 2016 vote patterns seem to show a sea of red states with blues isolated to the coasts plus Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and Illinois. Looking county-by-county, it becomes clear that the divide isn’t just coasts vs. flyover territory; it’s rural-urban. Pockets of blue in the major cities, college towns and a handful of majority-black areas in the South are evident in this view. TheNew York Times’ graphic below shows just how little actual land area went to Hillary Clinton at the county level: She won 15 percent of the land to Trump’s 85 percent.

 

Yet declaring the United States a country divided by population density overlooks several trends that are key to understanding Trump’s success. The urban-rural split is nothing new; perhaps it’s more exaggerated in 2016 than before, but we’ve known for a long time that rural areas are conservative and urban areas are liberal. But if we consider gradations ― not just dividing counties by which candidate a majority of voters selected, but shading by the proportion of Trump and Clinton voters in each county ― the story is far less clear.

If we can’t blame everything on the rural-urban divide, then what happened? There’s not one single reason why Clinton lost several states where majorities voted for President Barack Obama twice: there are several reasons. [Blogger’s Note: Of course there is more than one reason (i.e., variable) that explains this election outcome. The scientific question is what matters most. Again it is the enduring urban-rural divide and how these match up with the parties’ platforms. All these other explanations are anecdotal to this particular election, in other words, not part of a trend. The interesting new trend is the continued weakness of both party coalitions that has been unfolding over the past 25-40 years.]

These Purple States of America

A few, significant, subplots played out in the supposed Democratic “firewall” states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and the perennial battleground of Ohio. These states have been close recently, but in 2008 and 2012 Democrats were able to generate support among the rural working class to win over majorities of voters in the states.

But there was a sizable shift in 2016. It’s unclear how many people voted for Trump that had voted for Obama, but Trump did pull a larger percentage of the vote in many counties: more than Mitt Romney did in 2012. That could be in part different groups of voters turning out in 2016 as compared to 2012, but anecdotal stories and survey data reveal that there were some party switchers.

Turnout is part of the picture, though, particularly in Michigan and Wisconsin. AsHuffPost previously reported, turnout was down in Detroit’s Wayne County, Michigan and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, in numbers large enough to swing the election in those states. Clinton received nearly 78,000 fewer votes in Wayne County than Obama did in 2012, and lost Michigan by under 12,000 votes. She underperformed Obama by 39,000 votes in Milwaukee County and lost Wisconsin by just over 27,000 votes.

Similar patterns of lower urban turnout were evident in Philadelphia and other cities in the Midwest. The numbers suggest these people didn’t vote for Trump: they just didn’t vote at all. And according to reports, the Clinton campaign didn’t make concerted efforts to get them to the polls. Many of these nonvoters were likely minorities who Democrats assumed would support the party in large numbers ― which they do, when they vote.

An additional subplot involves suburban areas and white women. Democrats hoped to make gains in these areas, particularly among typically-conservative women who might be turned off by Trump’s actions and rhetoric. That hope proved false. Nationally, suburban areas and white women voted for Trump in very similar proportions to their votes for Romney in 2012. Romney received 50 percent of the suburban vote, and Trump garnered 59 percent. Fifty-six percent of white women voted for Romney, and 52 percent supported Trump. [All exit poll data – see comments below.]

Nationally, as well as in the Rust Belt, Democrats lost support among the least educated groups. According to the exit polls, education didn’t matter much in 2012: Obama won college graduates by 2 points and non-college graduates by 4 points. Clinton won college graduates by 10 points and lost non-college graduates by 7 points. Relative to Obama’s totals, Clinton gained 2 points among college graduates and lost 7 points among non-college graduates.

The difference is even more stark among whites: Trump won white college graduates by 2 points, but he won white non-college graduates by 37 points. The racial breakdown isn’t provided in the 2012 results, but it’s safe to say there wasn’t that sharp of a divide among whites or there would have been a gap in the overall numbers. Among minorities, Clinton won college graduates by 50 points and non-college graduate by 56 points. Once you account for the educational divide, income doesn’t seem to make a difference in vote choice.

Yet despite all these trends that favored Trump, Clinton won the popular vote by a wider margin than several past presidents. Clinton cut the Republican advantage to around 5 points in the red state strongholds of Arizona and Georgia, and Texas dropped from a 16-point Republican advantage in 2012 to a 9 point win for Trump. California is still counting, but it looks like Clinton blew Trump out by nearly 30 points in the state ― substantially more than Obama’s 23-point win over Romney four years ago. [Duh. CA is an outlier in national politics these days.]

These results were likely driven by high support for Clinton among minority populations, particularly among Latinos and Hispanics in the Southwest. And although there’s some dispute over just how strongly that group supported Clinton, the most conservative estimates from the National Exit Polls indicate that Clinton won Latinos by 36 points. Other pre-election polls show even stronger Democratic leanings among the group.

Republicans also struggled with black voters. Trump’s 8 percent support is actually slightly more than Mitt Romney’s 6 percent in 2012, but slightly less than George W. Bush’s support among black voters in 2000 and 2004. Black turnout was slightly lower this year compared to 2012 as well, which helped states like Georgia stay red. An uptick in turnout among a group that so heavily favors Democrats has considerable potential to shift those states. [Hispanics, blacks, women, whites – these group identity variables are all driven by exit poll data, not reality.] 

The problem is that none of these states actually switched directions. Had Clinton won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes and Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, she still would have been short of the 270 mark, but it would have compensated for the losses in Michigan and Wisconsin, which combine for 26 electoral votes. But neither state appears as close to turning blue as some polls had indicated. So these gains meant nothing for the Electoral College, which is what really matters.

To state the obvious, as long as the Electoral College determines the winner, Democrats can’t rely on increasing support in already-blue states, and it seems that key red states aren’t ready to flip yet. The best strategy for 2020 will be to focus on the very narrow losses in the Rust Belt and win those voters back ― which probably means convincing them that Democrats are a better option for improving their economy than Republicans. Democrats clearly lost that battle this year. [That means a tough economic and social policy reversal for Democrats.]

Meanwhile Republicans will try to hold onto those gains and build their very fragile coalition that won the Electoral College. Whether it survives beyond 2016 is anyone’s guess. The Obama coalition didn’t outlast Obama, but the Trump coalition might not survive Trump.
………………..

A caution: most of the interpretations draw data from exit polls, which usually support the kind of personal narrative desired by media. In other words, the idea that our differences are driven by voter group characteristics is baked in the cake of exit polling. The dominant factor of geography and lifestyle choices is obscured by exit polls. Discount the exit poll inferences accordingly, but then what would journalists write about?

Taken at face value, the argument presented here merely outlines how the Obama era was a one-off and the same may hold true for the Trump regime. (Hillary Clinton could have won and that conclusion would still hold true, as confirmed by down ballot results.) But we have no real indication yet of Trump’s fate and reading the tea-leaves (“might not survive”) is a sign of wishful thinking, not objective analysis. I don’t expect much more from the inherent biases of the Huffington Post.

 

 

 

 

Ten Things We Now Know About American Politics

Ahem. We seem to have been graced by the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” The surprising upset by Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton has left many people flabbergasted. Since I live in Los Angeles, it seems a lot of those people live around me.

But there were many hints of this possible outcome going back months if not almost a year. The results seem to have confirmed some new “realities” to replace former “speculations.”

  1. The polling surveys proved to be less than accurate-to say the least-but this had been going on since the early primaries. Remember, Trump was never supposed to get past the first couple of primaries. The Hollywood adage that “Nobody knows anything,” held true to the end.
  2. The Republican party has been split between its party regulars or leaders and their voters. The voters won handily, now the party will need to respond with some supplication. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Despite being counted out, the Republicans managed to retain the Senate and the House, awarding President-elect Trump a golden opportunity to enact his agenda, whatever that is.
  3. The Democratic party establishment apparently sold their voters a pig in a poke. It was not hard to see a year ago that Hillary Clinton was probably the weakest candidate the party could have selected given the political climate. She represented the status quo, promising Obama’s third-term, after two midterm elections that repudiated his policy agenda. Moreover, she came in carrying a 25 year load of baggage that caused voters to question her authenticity and candor, to put it politely. Her tenure as Senator and SOS did little to promote her candidacy. It seems that the fact that she was the wife of Bill was her most valuable asset, but even that was tarnished as voters were reminded of Bill’s former scandals and tawdry reputation. The voters had little choice and Sanders appeal should have been the first clue that things were going very wrong, again, for Clinton. The flip of the Rust Belt is another warning signal that the party has gone astray.
  4. The mainstream media pundits once again have egg on their faces. The politicization of coverage backfired and the more they pushed, the worse it got for their favored biases. They failed miserably at their efforts to shape political opinion instead of informing objectively. Now some of the more prominent talking heads should probably seek a new profession since the public has turned them off. But no, stupid will likely double down, until they discover nobody who matters is really listening.
  5. The Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama/Clinton era is over, as each administration’s overreaching came back to bite them with a vengeance. Obama and his policy legacy is a casualty of this collapse of a 28 year party era. As painful as it might seem to some, Obama’s presidency helped to bring about the collapse of his party and the rise of an outsider like Trump. He now owns it, just like Bush wears the Iraq albatross.
  6. We have divided ourselves into a 50-50 nation, polarized by population density: urban vs. rural and suburban.* This means the popular vote will be less of an indication of true, broad support and may often diverge from the Electoral College vote. Thus, the EC is crucial to securing a clear electoral and governing mandate. It appears Clinton eked out a popular vote victory, but more importantly, Trump won the decisive margin in the EC. The swing state problem is that we don’t have enough swing voters at the center of our divide.
  7. We should probably be thankful that media and political transparency is being forced on us by technology. It is too ironic that we are getting our political insights from hackers and Wikileaks.
  8. “Politics as usual” was a big loser. The people took control of this election, for better or worse, so elites had better pay attention while the rest of us figure out how to move people power toward the broader good, rather than the narrow. When failure occurs, we need to see it clearly and own it. I’m wondering how many can do that after this election. Too many will probably respond angrily, but that’s self-defeating.
  9. The wise among us will try to figure out why our popular narrative for understanding American politics has been so wrong and what needs to change. The demonization of voters seems to be highly counterproductive in an open media environment.
  10. Lastly, political correctness and identity politics have suffered a severe backlash. Perhaps it’s time to put aside these punitive speech codes and divisive political strategies. We can only hope.

BTW, I voted for Gary Johnson, just for the 2%. He outperformed and got 3%!

*This urban-rural split is a historical divide that has defined much of our nation’s politics for the past 200 years.  We’ve managed it thus far and we can continue to do so if we can see it clearly. It’s NOT about biological identity – it’s about class interests, lifestyle choices, and political priorities. We can find compromise on all these issues.

The Degeneration of Political Discourse

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this election season, it is the increasing degeneration of political discourse in our society. Probably everyone in America these past few months has experienced this phenomenon, and either jumped into the mudpit or turned away in disgust. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to turn.

Democracy, as an institution of social choice and self-governance through voting, relies on compromise to resolve divergent interests. This compromise, or middle ground, is often depicted as serving the interests of the “median voter” in election models. Our electoral system seeks to reward candidates or parties who can appeal to this median “center.” The idea of the centrist is one who moves away from the extremes to find common ground. The problem is that we have obliterated the center in our national politics.

How did this happen?

Some have blamed the two-party system that has divided us into red vs. blue and subsequently conquered us as we squabble over ideological trivia. Others have decried our lack of choice between the parties of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, sometimes using the catch-all term the Republicrats for the political class. Still others blame the systemic bias of the media in their desperate bid to remain politically and economically relevant in the digital world.

All of these factors have contributed to our political degeneration. However, I would say the problem is less about only having two parties than about how the parties abuse the system to divide us. I’ve written repeatedly about how the parties and the media benefit from our dysfunction and promote it every chance they get. It is true of Obama, as it is true of Congressional leaders of both parties. It is true of the mainstream media as it is of FOX News and Talk Radio. If we’re looking for relief, it won’t come from these sources.

It will come from us, and there’s the rub.

My own experience as a political commentator illustrates my point. A few weeks ago I wrote that I will vote Neither…Nor in this presidential election for reasons explained here.

Immediately I was accosted by partisans of both sides claiming I was really favoring the opposing candidate. So Democrat liberals accused me of essentially supporting Trump and Trump Republicans of putting Clinton into office. Obviously both can’t be true, but that seems beside the point.

What’s going on here is the desire to paint the issue in black and white and castigate one for joining the wrong side. Identity politics, the growing cancer on democracy, almost forces this dynamic. The tactic is truly the last resort of dirty, rotten scoundrels, but let me explain. What I’m referring to is a typical debating tactic of winning the debate by delegitimizing your opponent (not the argument, but the person). This tactic can take several different forms.

The most extreme way is to simply condemn your opponent’s moral character: a racist, a bigot, a crook. A related way is to impugn your opponent’s motivations: greedy, power monger, predator. Next up is to question one’s intelligence: ignorant, uneducated, low IQ. A more subtle, less aggressive method is to accuse one of being a willing victim of misinformation and propaganda. Sometimes this can be accurate in this corrupted media world, but it’s often used as a blanket dismissal of opinions, views, or facts one disagrees with: I see, you listen to FOX News or read the New York Times.

So, I call this the last redoubt of a scoundrel because it is a feint away from the issue that must be resolved or compromised, and the scoundrel merely realizes that the just compromise with the stronger rationale is not the one they favor. Hence the desire to intimidate and throw one’s opponent on the defensive in order to win an argument. It tosses  democratic compromise into the lion’s pit of do or die.

I’ve written here how this silly finite game of winning an election is overwhelming the more important infinite game of democracy founded on the principles of liberty and justice. Scoundrels do damage to justice and to liberty. Yet too many of us have succumbed to the emotional appeal of winning at all costs. Unless we stop this and start to legitimize our fellow citizens’ preferences (we’re really not debate opponents), our discourse will continue to degenerate and lead to ever increasing dysfunction with disastrous results.

The politicians won’t do this for us. Heaven help us on November 9, because this election is merely the canary in the coal mine.

 

 

 

Why You Should Play Music

 

Following text excerpted from The Ultimate Killer App: The Power to Create and Connect   Chapter 3.

…Music is a bewitching art because it seems to engage areas of our brain that integrate emotions, memory, language/communication, and motor skills. Music not only stimulates more areas of the brain, it resonates to the very core of our physical being, especially when we dance and sing.

Through the ages philosophers and artists have often argued over which of the arts is preeminent and most venerated.[i] The ancient Greeks lauded poetry, Leonardo da Vinci exalted painting, and Michelangelo favored sculpture as the most sublime art of all. I have to side with philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s judgment that music portrays the inner flow of life more directly than the other arts,[ii] and Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously said “Without music, life would be a mistake.” With music we dance, we sing, we communicate, we synchronize and coordinate, we contemplate, we remember. Sometimes we even fall into an otherworldly trance. Reggae icon Bob Marley perhaps puts it most simply when he sings, “One good thing about music, it gets you feeling okay…”

schopenhauer

Reflect, for a moment, on how we interact with music: how we remember and respond to certain melodies over time; how a particular song or melody can replay constantly in our mind’s ear, even to the point of distraction[iii]; how particular melodies and harmonies can make us feel joyful or sad, fearful or fearless; how some individuals can see musical pitches as colors; how a particular shuffle rhythm can make us relax with a resting heartbeat, or an up-tempo straight beat can make our hearts race. Interestingly, humans are unique among primates in being able to tap their feet in time to a rhythm, an activity that involves a process of meter extraction so complicated that most computers cannot do it.

E.O. Wilson argues from an evolutionary perspective that creating and performing music is instinctual, one of the true universals of our species. Anthropological studies of tribal cultures show the extent to which singing and dancing is a natural activity in various communities, seamlessly integrated and involving everyone.[iv] In many of the world’s languages, the verb for singing is the same as the one for dancing; there is no distinction, since it is assumed that singing involves bodily movement.

Functional brain imaging shows that playing and listening to music involves nearly every region of the brain and nearly every neural subsystem. Learning to play a musical instrument even alters the structure of our brains, from subcortical circuits that encode sound patterns to neural fibers that connect the two cerebral hemispheres and patterns of gray matter density in certain regions of the cerebral cortex. One neuroscientist [Harvard’s Gottfried Schlaug] has shown that the front portion of the corpus callosum—the mass of fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres—is significantly larger in musicians than in non-musicians.[v]

Music is also powerful in its impact on human feeling and on perception. This is why movie soundtracks have the sublime capacity to enhance our multisensory experience. Music is extraordinarily complex in the neural circuits it employs, appearing to elicit emotion in at least six different brain mechanisms. We have all experienced the pleasures of music and neuroscientists have found that music is strongly associated with the brain’s reward system through the release of dopamine.

The emotional power of music is also reflected in that most time-honored form, the romantic love song. One researcher who analyzed the lyrics of the year’s 10 most popular songs listed in Billboard for two eras, 2002-2005 and 1968-1971, found that 24 of the 40 songs in the modern era — 60 percent — and half the songs of the classic era were devoted to the subject of love and relationships.[vi]

In The Descent of Man Darwin surmised that “musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex. Thus, musical tones became firmly associated with some of the strongest passions an animal is capable of feeling, and are consequently used instinctively.” Beyond love and sex, music in politics and revolution can become a national anthem, a rallying cry, or a military march. In a communal celebration, such as Mardi Gras, music becomes an expression of collective joy and celebration.

Music is a language, not only an aural language but a written one. Music invokes some of the same neural regions as language but, far more than language does, music taps into primitive brain structures involved with motivation, reward, and emotion. The mental structure in music requires both halves of the brain, while the mental structure of language only requires the left half. In this sense, music is even more powerful than spoken language and is its likely precursor. Music may have prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive, representational flexibility necessary to become human. Singing and instrumental activities might have helped our species to refine motor skills, paving the way for the development of the exquisitely fine muscle control required for vocal or signed speech.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that children who take music lessons for two years also process language better. Music therapy using listening and instrument playing has been shown to help people overcome a broad range of psychological and neurological problems. Patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, in whom movements tend to be incontinently fast or slow, or sometimes frozen, can overcome these disorders of timing when they are exposed to the regular tempo and rhythm of music.

In This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin offers evidence to support the view that musical ability served as an indicator of cognitive, emotional and physical health, and was evolutionarily advantageous as a force that led to social bonding and increased fitness. Levitin writes:

The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving both the oldest and newest parts of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes. It involves a precision choreography of neurochemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems. When we love a piece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates memory traces of emotional times in our lives. Your brain on music is all about…connections.[vii] (emphasis added)

Medical research into two specific neuro-developmental disorders reveals an interesting neurological link between music and social development. Williams Syndrome (WS) is a rare genetic disorder that causes physical and cognitive deficits, such as heart defects, stunted physical development, brain abnormalities, low IQs, high levels of emotional anxiety and various learning disabilities. However, WS individuals also exhibit high levels of sociability, gregariousness, and an affinity and talent for music. In contrast to WS are the family of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), such as Asperger’s syndrome. Individuals with ASD exhibit deficits in sociability and an inability to empathize. In general, they also display no emotional affinity for music. As Levitin explains, complementary syndromes such as these, which neuroscientists call a double dissociation, strengthen the putative link between music and social bonding.

Historically and anthropologically, music has been involved with social activities. People sing and dance together in every culture, and one can imagine them doing so around the first fires a hundred thousand years ago. This observation dovetails with E.O. Wilson’s narrative of the campfire as the focus of social and community development cited in Chapter 1.

In Music and the Mind, psychologist Anthony Storr stresses that in all societies, a primary function of music is collective and communal, to bring and bind people together. As Storr explains, in modern culture the choice of music has important social consequences. People listen to the music their friends listen to and people who listen to the same music form friendships. Particularly when we are young, and in search of our identity, we form bonds or social groups with people whom we want to be like, or with whom we believe we have something in common. As a way of externalizing the bond, we dress alike, share activities, and listen to the same music. It becomes a mark of our chosen identity. This ties in with the evolutionary idea of music as a vehicle for social bonding and societal cohesion. Music and musical preferences become a mark of personal and group identity and of distinction.

As a powerful biological, psychological, emotional, and communicative medium, music reinforces the ties that bring us together and then bind us. Think of two musicians playing together, jamming, or playing a structured piece – the music is heard as one indivisible expression. A duet can become a trio, then a quartet, a quintet, and finally a full orchestra or big band. The possibilities for creative variation multiply with collaborative input. There is nothing more enjoyable to jazz aficionados – players and audiences alike – than an artful improvisation on a theme that becomes a new musical exploration of the unknown. Philharmonic audiences, likewise, are thrilled by the grandeur of an orchestra that plays as one.

I have deliberately highlighted the role of creativity in music because it provides strong evidence for the synergistic power of creating and sharing (connecting). The power of creative art is that it connects us to one another, and to larger truths about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human.

music

[i] Granted, this judgment may be largely influenced by the era in which the art is technically applied. Certainly film has been a dominant art form of the 20th century, while others claim that virtual gaming will be the preeminent creative art form of the near future. Nevertheless, I will stick with the universality and simplicity of music.

[ii] See Schopenhauer on the “Hierarchy among the fine arts.”

[iii] For some inexplicable reason as I write this, the song “Winchester Cathedral” keeps repeating in my head. A song I most certainly have not heard replayed for at least 50 years, and yet, there it is playing back in my memory. Not my first choice!

[iv] This points out the modern travesty of dividing communal music performance between virtuosi and the rest of us listening in the audience. The communal drum circle is much more in tune with our nature.

[v] Gottfried Schlaug, “Musicians and music making as a model for the study of brain plasticity.” Prog Brain Res. 2015; 217: 37–55.

[vi] http://news.ufl.edu/archive/2007/05/love-still-dominates-pop-song-lyrics-but-with-raunchier-language.html

[vii] Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music, p. 188. For a lovely graphic illustrating the myriad brain functions that music engages, which I cannot print here due to copyright issues, go to http://www.fastcompany.com/3022942/work-smart/the-surprising-science-behind-what-music-does-to-our-brains?

Finite and Infinite Games: the Internet and Politics

About two decades ago James Carse, a religious scholar and historian, wrote a philosophical text titled Finite and Infinite Games. As he explained, there are two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

This simple distinction invites some profound thought. War is a finite game, as is the Superbowl. Peace is an infinite game, as is the game of love. Finite games end with a winner(s) and loser(s), while infinite games seek perpetual play. Politics is a finite game; democracy, liberty, and justice are infinite games.

Life itself, then, could be considered a finite or infinite game depending on which perspective one takes. If ‘he who dies with the most toys wins,’ one is living in a finite game that ends with death. If one chooses to create an entity that lives beyond the grave, a legacy that perpetuates through time, then one is playing an infinite game.

One can imagine that we often play a number of finite games within an infinite game. This supports the idea of waging war in order to attain peace (though I wouldn’t go so far as saying it validates destroying the village in order to save it). The taxonomy also relates to the time horizon of one’s perspective in engaging in the game. In other words, are we playing for the short term gain or the long term payoff?

I find Carse’s arguments compelling when I relate them to the new digital economy and how the digital world is transforming how we play certain games, especially those of social interaction and the monetization of value. That sounds a bit hard to follow, but what I’m referring to is the value of the information network (the Internet) as an infinite game.

I would value the internet according to its power to help people connect and share ideas. (I recently wrote a short book on this power called The Ultimate Killer App: The Power to Create and Connect.) The more an idea is shared, the more powerful and valuable it can be. In this sense, the internet is far more valuable than the sum of its various parts, and for it to end as the victim of a finite game would be a tragedy for all. So, I see playing on the information network as an infinite game.

The paradox is that most of the big players on the internet – the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons, etc – are playing finite games on and with the network. In fact, they are using the natural monopoly of network dynamics to win finite games for themselves, reaping enormous value in the process. But while they are winning, many others are losing. Yes, we do gain in certain ways, but the redistribution of information data power is leading to the redistribution of monetary gains and losses across the population of users. In many cases those gains and losses are redistributed quite arbitrarily.

For instance, let us take the disruption of the music industry, or the travel industry, or the publishing industry. One need not lament the fate of obsolete business models to recognize that for play to continue, players must have the possibility of adapting to change in order to keep the infinite game on course. Most musicians and authors believe their professions are DOA. What does that say for the future of culture?

Unfortunately, this disruption across the global economy wrought by digitization is being reflected in the chaotic politics of our times, mostly across previously stable developed democracies.

These economic and political developments don’t seem particularly farsighted and one can only speculate how the game plays out. But to relate it to current events, many of us are playing electoral politics in a finite game that has profound implications for the more important infinite game we should be playing.