Archive for August, 2022

The “Freedom” Trade-Off, Part 1

In The Dawn of Everything, a heavily documented history of the human race by David Graeber and David Wengrow, the authors show conclusively that until the last two centuries or so, a range of human societies existed, ranging from hunter-gathers to socially complex and working societies that actually maximized freedom to the point where money and wealth were prohibited, and that the “progression” from hunter-gathers to agriculturally-dominated societal structures and then to commercial oligarchies or military-authoritarian societies is at best a misleading simplification and at worst a dangerous and inaccurate myth.

What Graeber and Wengrow fail to address directly is why, after tens of thousands of years of wide-ranging societal proliferation, present societies fall within a narrow scope, ranging from commercial authoritarianism to either religious or military authoritarianism. Their book certainly gives hints, in the fact that all too often societies that elevated individual freedom and severely restricted the power of elites tended to collapse after a time or were dominated and destroyed by societies that were more authoritarian and that could mobilize more force more effectively.

Money, in whatever form, is stored power. In effect, then a capitalistic society uses that stored power to force and/or induce people to follow the dictates of those with that power. And that power is in fact necessary to create a modern technological society. You cannot build anything complex without mobilizing, organizing, and directing large numbers of people and without obtaining large amounts of resources. The effective options are buying those people and resources or conscripting/forcing their use. And paying people for their skills and resources has proved to be more efficient and requires less governmental coercion than mandating work and confiscating resources.

Even so, the organization required by early capitalism – and the requisite loss of personal freedom – was totally unacceptable to most of the indigenous cultures of North America. It wasn’t unthought of. In fact, Wengrow and Graeber document detailed philosophical discussions between French and other intellectuals and wise individuals in indigenous cultures. But those cultures found the degree of individual oppression required by European cultures repulsive and unacceptable.

The reason why such cultures were subdued or obliterated is simple. Either commercial authoritarianism or military-political authoritarianism are far more effective at developing technology and at creating and mobilizing force than societies maximizing personal freedom. Although commercial authoritarianism is more effective at creating and innovating new products and technology, and allows a greater range of freedom than other forms of authoritarianism, politico-military authoritarianism can focus force more effectively… at least until commercial authoritarian societies decide to focus their efforts on the military sphere, which they won’t until the threat is clear, and sometimes not even then.

What seems never to be acknowledged is that compared to many earlier societies, we have sacrificed a notable degree of individual freedom of action in order to obtain better health and less infant mortality [at least in the industrialized world], greater comfort, and the mixed benefits of higher technology. Personally, I’m willing to give up some of that freedom, but it’s more than clear that, first, most commercial entities don’t recognize that the “system” requires most workers to give up a considerable degree of personal freedom for sometimes dubious economic and personal security, and, second, that most Americans don’t understand that, without that commercial authoritarianism, we’d be at best on a high stone age culture level.

The Republican Dark Side

More than a few Republicans and even some Democrats think that Trump spurred or led the Republican Party to the “dark side.”

Unfortunately, that explanation ignores the fact that there’s been a dark side to the Republican Party for at least seventy years, beginning with Joseph McCarthy in 1950, and his mythical and essentially non-existent list of 205 Communist Party members working at the State Department. Republicans were so fearful of losing McCarthy’s support in the 1952 election that they insisted that General Dwight Eisenhower remove a paragraph in a speech in Wisconsin that attacked McCarthy as a dangerous demagogue and fabricator. Although Eisenhower later said he regretted that decision, he never did confront McCarthy directly.

Richard Nixon used abusive and misleading anti-Communist themes in getting elected to Congress and the Senate (where he claimed that a “pink sheet” proved that his liberal opponent was an avowed Communist, which she never was).

Then in 1961, Senator Barry Goldwater pushed William Buckley and the conservative National Review to go easy on Robert Welch and the John Birch Society, even after Welch had claimed that Eisenhower was “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” because the John Birch Society had become a well-funded source of volunteers and donors for the Republican Party. The Birchers [who declared that fluoridation was a Communist plot] enthusiastically supported Goldwater and his infamous statement that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

In turn, in 1968, Nixon courted Strom Thurmond, the arch-segregationist senator from South Carolina and said he opposed forcing integration and opposed busing and had his campaign manager tell southern Republican party leaders that he’d pick a vice president acceptable to the south and would “lay off pro-Negro crap.”

Despite efforts to whitewash matters, Republicans tend to forget that in July of 1980, Reagan’s first campaign stop was in the heart of Ku Klux Klan territory, Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he declared “I believe in states’ rights,” which was and is the mantra of southern segregationists and white supremacists. The religious right lined up behind Reagan, particularly the preacher Jerry Falwell, who waged a crusade against homosexuals because he claimed they threatened the very existence of the United States. When then-President Jimmy Carter tried to point out Reagan’s ties to the religious extreme right, he was attacked for being mean.

Throughout the 1990s, Pat Robertson claimed that all sorts of Satanic dupes – otherwise known as J.P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, the Federal Reserve, the United States, Henry Kissinger, the liberal elites – were out to destroy the United States, and threw his weight and that of the Christian Coalition behind Newt Gingrich to help the GOP get control of the U.S. House, and six years later backed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000 (possibly because McCain had far more scruples than George W.).

Then in 2009 came the Tea Party, filled with paranoia, racism, and rage, waving Confederate flags at rallies and claiming that Barrack Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya, that Obama’s health care plan would set up death panels, and that Obama was a full-fledged Marxist who hated white people and was setting up concentration camps for his political opponents. When the Tea Partiers rallied at the Capitol in 2009, the Tea Partiers carried posters showing Obama as Sambo and calling Obama and his supporters “Nazis.” Those same Tea Partiers were welcomed by House Republican leader John Boehner, and Representatives Eric Cantor [later House Majority Leader] and Mike Pence.

Donald Trump didn’t create the hatred and viciousness out of nothing. He merely called it up out of the Republican Party, thrived on it, and encouraged it in every way possible… and only a handful of elected Republicans protested.

Lazier and Lazier

The other evening, I was watching a news show, and a commercial came on. Fancy that.

But that commercial stunned me, because it was about shoes, and it began by saying how much trouble it was to have to bend over and put on or tie your shoes. Then it went on to suggest that these new slip-on shoes would save you from the drudgery involved in footwear.

Oh, the work and effort involved in putting on shoes!

Now, while I realize that putting on shoes can be quite an effort for people with physical limitations, this commercial was aimed at prosperous and quite physically able individuals and pictured them as well.

But then, I’m definitely dated. I not only wear footwear, usually boots, but I also keep them moderately well-polished, another habit that appears to have vanished.

Hasn’t the sloppiness and comfort at any cost movement gone far enough?

We already see tank tops and flip-flops on commercial flights, in grocery stores, in many restaurants, and I’ve even seen them in theatres.

Is it such a trial to wear actual clothing these days?

Well… perhaps it is. Perhaps actual clothing has become as passe as actual facts.

The Republican Bait and Switch

“The Democrats and Merritt Garland raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, and now they’re coming for you.”

Republicans are flooding the internet with that sentence, or something like it.

But it’s a scare tactic with almost no elements of truth behind it. First off, the Department of Justice has been trying for months and months to get Trump to return the classified materials.

Trump ignored the requests. Then several months ago, some fifteen boxes of classified material were returned. FIFTEEN BOXES of sensitive material that many nations would love to get their hands on, and that was stored with virtually no safeguards, documents he was supposed to return a year and a half ago. A Trump attorney signed an affidavit declaring that all material had been returned. Someone lied, because an informant tipped off the DOJ that more documents remained at Mar-A-Lago. A search warrant was issued.

The FBI didn’t burst into Trump’s mansion. They presented the warrant and were admitted – and found more sensitive and classified material.

They didn’t make it all public. Trump did… claiming he was raided, as if he were some innocent person and that it was all unexpected.


Trump was briefed on how to handle such material. All presidents and senior government officials handling such matters are briefed routinely. He didn’t follow the law, and now he’s complaining because he was caught. What he’s really claiming is that he should be above the law.

But the right-wing Republicans, which is what most of them are today, who’ve been so behind law enforcement officers suddenly aren’t supportive of law enforcement. Those very same Republicans are howling as if Trump were innocent and this is some miscarriage of law enforcement. Just like they think that rioters who staged the January 6th insurrection should be above the law.

Because, after all, white males, especially wealthy ones, don’t have to be law-abiding if the law gets in the way of what they want. And they certainly don’t believe in democracy if anyone else gets more votes.

The Unacknowledged Double Standard

Right now, it appears to me as though the majority of elected Republicans are cowardly, lying, hypocritical apologists for both Trump and the rest of the American oligarchic class.

When someone like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning makes off with classified documents, Republicans are all for throwing the book at them, but when Trump does the same thing, and the FBI tries to recover the documents – not even to charge Trump with anything criminal – Republicans scream that it’s a raid and an outrage. Their attacks against the FBI make it even more apparent that they prefer that the law only be enforced against the poor and the powerless.

The majority of them deny that the January 6th insurrection was violent or that Trump did anything wrong, and they attack any Republican who dares to tell the truth about what did happen, especially those few who remained law-abiding and principled. Yet many of these senior Republican officer-holders deplored the attack immediately after it occurred, and now they’re repudiating what they said then… which can only mean that they’re not only unprincipled, but they’re also self-serving cowards who care more about being re-elected than being truthful or upholding the principles on which this country was founded.

They bend over backward, at least in public, not to offend Trump, despite all his lies and misdeeds, and they depict him as a victim because the FBI used a search warrant to find and remove classified files from his Mar-a-Lago mansion, files that he had no right to retain – and that was only after months of efforts by the FBI to obtain and return the records.

Trump has called avowed and criminally violent white supremacists “good people” and even said that he loves them – actions that elected Republicans conveniently ignore. When being deposed about possibly criminal business dealings, Trump obviously didn’t want to tell the truth or lie under oath; so he took the Fifth Amendment to avoid making statements that could incriminate him.

And the vast majority of national Republican officeholders go along with Trump and so does a significant fraction of the Republican Party, all of whom obviously believe that Trump’s lying words and illegal actions matter less than truth and honestly… and that no crime is too great so long as it serves to get votes.

And people want to re-elect him President? What does that say about the Republicans?

The Statistics That Count

I’m sick of companies that send me reminders and requests to rate them or the products/services that I’ve purchased. I’m also more than a little tired of polls that guesstimate how the public feels about this or that issue or politician, almost on a day-by-day basis, and particularly the pseudo-polls sent by both parties that misrepresent the issues in order to beg for contributions. Not to mention companies that legally misrepresent prices and interest rates… and, of course, politicians who declare that the election was stolen when recounts, investigations, and audits show that it wasn’t.

I purchased the product or service. Whether I purchase more is what really counts for the company. What I especially hate are those questions asking how the company could improve its products and services. If a manufacturer or service provider doesn’t already know its shortcomings, the odds are that they won’t take my suggestions anyway. And why should I provide free market research that they’ll ignore? The bottom line isn’t what I think, but whether the product/service is good and the company sells enough to remain in business.

While good polls can reveal what those polled feel at the moment, what such polls don’t reveal is, in most cases, more important than what they do. Today, everyone is most concerned about inflation. It takes a poll to verify that? The more important question is why they blame the current administration, when it has only a minor part in creating the inflation. This isn’t an apology for Biden; it’s been a problem for decades, if not longer. The factors that influence the economy have long lead times, and whoever’s in office now gets the credit or blame for the acts of his predecessor. The polls just focus the blame/credit on the wrong person… and most of the public is either too stupid to understand or doesn’t care, because they want someone to blame.

And far too many companies misrepresent prices, like the replacement window company that offers your second window at forty percent off, provided that you buy four, which means that you get the first four windows at ten percent off, but the number that sticks in most people’s mind is forty percent. Or the car dealers or others who advertise no payments for the first year, but don’t mention that the payments after that include interest on the entire amount for that first year.

As for the Republicans who insist the election was stolen, the bottom line is the final authenticated vote count, and, interestingly enough, the bottom line in Kansas on abortion was that sixty percent of the voters voting [which was a record turnout for a primary election] didn’t want abortion banned, no matter what the right-to-lifers claim.


There’s a certain trade magazine “serving” the F&SF fiction field that’s facing considerable financial difficulties caused by limited subscribers, increasing print costs, and declining advertising. Now I’ve subscribed to this magazine for years and years, and over at least the past five years, I’ve donated modest sums to the foundation that publishes the magazine. But one of the biggest revenue problems the publication faces is the significant decline in advertising revenue. And frankly, from what I see, that decline is largely one of the publication’s own creation.

Years ago, the head of one of the larger F&SF publishers pointed out to me that the magazine had never really done any significant interviews, reviews, or stories on a mega-selling series or on its author. In fact, virtually none of that publisher’s best-selling authors received any significant coverage. The magazine tended (and still does) to focus more on “avant” authors or those perceived to be new and/or cutting edge, many if not most of whom do not sell even mid-list quantities of books. While that’s a laudable goal, essentially minimizing coverage of more “mainstream” F&SF authors means that larger publishing houses, in a time of tighter budgets, decided that they didn’t need to advertise as much, or at all, in the magazine. This was compounded by the attrition of older publishing executives who regarded advertising in the magazine as a form of public service.

As far as advertising funds go, small presses don’t have much money to spare, and successful indie authors are going to put spare funds into activities and venues that show a direct result. The authors and presses who benefit the most from the magazine don’t have the funds to support it, and the publishers who do have the funds no longer see much point in doing so.

If, over the years, the magazine had included more articles and interviews that benefitted more mainstream authors, the advertising drop-off might not have occurred or been so drastic, but from what I’ve seen, the magazine’s editorial choices and slant have become more and more focused on works appealing to a smaller and smaller segment of the reading and writing marketplace.