Archive for May, 2011

Does the delusion that most people agree with us explain the appeal of majoritarian systems?

by David McElroy

I frequently hear people trying to support their opinions by claiming that “everybody” thinks the same thing they do about some issue. It doesn’t matter much what the issue is, because most people seem to believe that how they see the world is typical of how other normal, mainstream people see the same world.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the psychology behind this — and I’m trying to track down research that might address it — but right now, I’m thinking about the implications of it. If most people honestly believe that others share their general views, could this help explain why people are so supportive of majoritarian systems? Could it be that they have an unconscious belief that an honest vote will produce a result they’re going to like?

In 1969, U.S. President Richard Nixon was faced with very vocal and growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. He gave a famous speech in which he asked for support from the “great silent majority” who he thought agreed with him. Nixon’s approval rating had been hovering around 50 percent (and was 56 percent at the time of the speech) but after invoking the notion that most people agreed with him, his support immediately jumped to 68 percent. Since nothing else happened to explain the change, it seems reasonable to believe that people have a need to identify with the majority if a politician claiming something to be the majority position increases his approval rating by 12 points almost overnight.
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Why keep playing a game that’s impossible for you to win?

by David McElroy

As I watch angry people scream about the political change they want, I’m frustrated that they can’t see they’re playing a game they can’t win. If you’re playing a game where the rules make it impossible for people with minority views to win, why keep playing the game?

You probably know who the Harlem Globetrotters are, but do you know who the Washington Generals are? The Generals are the patsy team that the Globetrotters typically play in their entertaining exhibition games. The players are paid simply to provide inept opposition. They’re not supposed to have a chance of winning a game.

In exhibition comedy basketball, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you hold a minority view about the world, you’re the one playing the patsy when you play majoritarian political games — regardless of which minority political position you hold.

If you’re being paid as a basketball player to be intentionally beaten and humiliated, that’s fine. It’s a job. But if you’re playing the same role in the political game, you’re getting nothing out of it. You’re the patsy. It’s time to quit playing a game that can’t be won.

THE McELROY ZOO: Meet Henry, the tiny kitten who was dumped with a broken leg and a big heart

by David McElroy

Henry came very close to dying before I ever even met him. In fact, if a neighbor had had the least bit of compassion, he might have been dead. But because his suffering wasn’t worth anything to her, he became my problem — and he ultimately became a great source of joy for me.

It was sometime in 1992, and I hadn’t been living where I live now for very long. I didn’t know many of the neighbors yet, but I knew a number of the neighborhood kids. As I was coming back from a walk, one of the little girls came running up with a breathless story about a kitten under a porch who needed help. Here’s the story that I pieced together from talking to various people who were involved.

A woman who lived on the street found a tiny kitten who was injured, apparently after a dog attacked him. She took the kitten to a nearby vet clinic, where she found out that his right rear leg was shattered into a number of pieces. The clinic recommended putting him to sleep as the most humane option. The woman agreed, but then found out she would have to pay for it. She refused. So she brought the little lump of life and fur back home — and left him outside to fend for himself … and to die.

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Experimentation produces beauty that won’t come from slavishly following One True Way

by David McElroy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about monopolies. We’re told that monopolies are bad when most people choose to use a particular company for a certain product or service, but few people realize that the biggest and most abusive monopoly of all is whatever government claims authority over people against their will.

I’m a big fan of blind experimentation, so I do a lot of things just to see what will happen. As an amateur photographer, I take a lot of very random pictures — exclusively with an iPhone 4 lately — so a lot of them are very bad and very useless. But sometimes a result comes through that surprises me and makes something beautiful that I didn’t anticipate.

Friday, I wanted to experiment with shooting directly into the sun, one of the most useless experiments possible in photography. For whatever odd reason, the lens flare that I got happened to create this lovely pattern — quite unexpected, quite unplanned, quite serendipitous. Things like that don’t happen when everything is planned and ordered and there’s only One True Way.

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Correcting an old error: there’s no such thing as ‘We the People’

by David McElroy

With apologies to the men who drafted and adopted the U.S. Constitution, I have to point out something that’s not especially popular: There’s no such person or entity as “We the People.”

I frequently see political groups — from every orientation — claim to be “We the People.” Democrats used it to attack the Bush administration. Republicans do it now to attack the Obama administration. (The “tea party” groups seem to especially love the phrase.) Libertarians and various fringe groups do it at times, too.

In all cases, these groups are trying to claim that their views are the legitimate will of “the people.” The problem is that “the people” don’t speak with one voice. For instance, activists demanding gay marriage in the name of “We the People” have a very different thing to say than a religious group demanding recognition of the traditional definition of marriage, even though they also claim to speak for “We the People.”

There isn’t one big unanimous voice. There wasn’t one when the Constitution was adopted. There’s no such thing as a collective will — and there’s no moral way to impose One True Way on everybody in the name of “We the People.”

The truth is that “We the People” is an emotional phrase that’s been used to mean many different things to many different people, frequently by demagogues preying on people’s ingrained prejudices. But we need to quit looking to vague and misleading collective phrases such as this. We need to realize that we’re all individuals, with the right to go our own different ways. If we’re going to get to work on the serious business of finding peaceful ways to accomplish that, we have to give up on the emotional fiction that any of us — or any group of us — speak for “We the People.”

If you want a U.S. president to ‘run the country,’ you’re missing the point

by David McElroy

You can tell just how warped people’s assumptions are when they speak of which presidential candidate is going to “run the country.” There are few political phrases that irritate me as much, because it reveals a pervasive belief that “someone has to be in charge.”

I was reminded of this again Thursday night when I saw comments on a Ron Paul website from random people in the public urging him to run in 2012, comments obviously left before he announced a couple of weeks ago. One of the comments said:

“I lean to left of center politically but I would vote for you to run the country as I believe you represent the fiscal common sense our nation requires.”

If you want Ron Paul — or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney or anyone else — to “run the country,” you miss the entire point of what this nation’s government was supposed to be all about. But the fact that so many people do want this is yet another indication that we have to start something brand new — maybe many brand-new things — in different places for freedom to have a chance to grow again.
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Do political labels make things clear or just confuse everyone?

by David McElroy

One of my very first political clients had no idea what she believed in, but she knew she was a conservative. It was about 20 years ago and I was new enough in political consulting that I’d take whatever clients I could get. The woman was a first-time candidate running for an office with enough prominence that she was going to be interviewed by a local TV news crew. She was terrified, and she became my client because she needed someone to help her prepare and then to run her campaign.

I did a mock interview in front of a video camera and tried tossing her softballs in the beginning just to get her comfortable. I just asked her to tell me what she was in favor of — what she believed in.

“Well, I’m a conservative,” she said confidently.

“What does that mean? What do you believe in?” I asked.

“Well … I’m a conservative. I believe in … well … conservative things. … So I’m … conservative.”

Things went downhill from there. Read the rest of this entry »

Attention, fellow nerds: How are we doing with ‘normal’ people?

by David McElroy

I love being part of groups with so many intelligent people. I confess quite freely that I’m a little nerdy. Sometimes … well … a lot nerdy. Or maybe geeky. Books excite me. Television doesn’t. I prefer to talk about ideas rather than argue about who should be starting at quarterback for the DoofusDogs.

As a long-time libertarian, I’ve enjoyed the benefits of being part of a group with a rich intellectual tradition. Being able to read amazing exposition of ideas and have rich intellectual conversations with my friends is something I’ve treasured for more than 20 years. We have great think tanks and books and websites and all sorts of resources — as long as your brain works in the same hyper-rational way that most libertarian brains work.

But let’s be honest. We’re not doing so well with mainstream audiences. Why not? I think we’re so focused on our ideas — and on arguing with each other and winning intellectual debates with our opponents — that we’re not very good at actually doing things. We’re very good at producing 74-page white papers on a subject, but we’re not as good at finding real-world ways of implementing the things we talk so much about.

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If the state didn’t wither away for Marx and Engels, is there really a post-statist era ahead now?

by David McElroy

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously predicted that the state would wither away after the working class seized power, although we saw in real life that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” created a stronger and stronger state. That’s because Marx and Engels saw the state existing simply to regulate class conflict. Since class conflict was going to be gone — with the “working class” clearly in charge — there would be no state. That was a fantasy at the time.

I keep talking lately about a post-statist world, and it’s time to be a little more specific about what that means. Am I predicting that all governments are suddenly going to cease existing? No, that’s not it. To make my point clear, I’m going to compare it to another controversial assertion that’s been made lately.

Nearly three months ago — following up on something he’d been talking about for nearly a year — Apple CEO Steve Jobs asserted that the computer industry has entered what he called the “post-PC era.” Outraged commentators screamed that he was crazy — because the PC was still the dominant computing device in the market. A few others got it. Eventually, I think everybody will understand what he was talking about.

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COUNTERPOINT: Still the greatest country in the whole wide world

by Zeke Dalrymple

Editor’s note: In an effort to represent the statist point of view, we will periodically bring you an opposing opinion from award-winning radio journalist and “voice of the people” Zeke Dalrymple.

In the Preamble to the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson said, “My country, right or wrong — love it or leave it.” If it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s good enough for me. I’m about tired of reading shameful things on here from my good friend, David, who doesn’t seem know that this good ol’ US of A is the greatest country on the face of this Earth. So I want to tell you a few things and he’s letting me speak up for the other side.

When I was a little boy in school, my teachers taught me that our country was great. Every other country in the world is just out for itself, but the USA is always helping everybody else out. We helped the British and Italians beat the Germans in WW II. We helped the Arabs to find oil when they were all still riding camels. And we even built nice reservations for the American Indians, even though they were trying to kill the peaceful settlers who came here to teach them English. We may make a mistake every now and then, but the good ol’ red-white-and-blue has a heart.

We have all the freedom we need and there isn’t any use in pretending there’s any need for change. If you don’t like the Democrats, you can vote for the Republicans. If you don’t like the Republicans, you can vote the Democrats. See? That’s real choice. It’s all the choice you could ever want, but not enough to confuse you. If there were more choices on the ballot, they’d just confuse things by bringing up ideas that nobody likes anyway. Our democracy means you’re really free.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

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