Thursday, October 13, 2016

Toward a More Perfect Union

“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution” by Howard Chandler Christy (1940)

In the preamble to The Constitution of the United States of America, the reasons for establishing the document are set forth.  One of those reasons is “to form a more perfect Union.”

This particular justification is often subordinate to those lofty ideals of insuring “domestic Tranquility” or promoting “the general Welfare.”  However, as the Constitution indicates in the Preamble, “We the people of the United States” want to do all these things “in Order to form a more perfect Union.”

It seems that “a more perfect Union” was a very important purpose of our Constitution.  Contrast that with more recent political efforts; those activities we’ve seen in the last 100 years.

In the decade from 1935 to 1945, German citizens worked to form “a more perfect race.”  Those efforts to achieve a Master Race for Germany didn’t work out well for a large group of people.

In 21st century America, we are working to form “a more perfect society.”  It seems that the current generation of Americans is less concerned with forming perfect governing systems than with forming perfect groups of people.

I think our Founders would be appalled.

Forming a more perfect system of governance has a singular benefit not shared by the other efforts: It results in a system that can be sustained in the absence of human intervention.

Contrast that with forming a more perfect society.  For that purpose, we must have a group of people dedicated to the definition and adjustment of the society.  We must embed a permanent group of Social Justice Warriors to ensure the perfect society is properly maintained.

Take a look at American academia.  In our current academic system (at the post-secondary level) we have university administrators who dedicate themselves to setting the right mix of “diversity” in the student body.  That might be a student population 60% female, 20% black male, and 20% Oriental, Hispanic, and other male students.

Those percentages would need to be tweaked from time to time, and the monitoring and administration of the system would be a full time job for the diversity experts.  Deciding on the definition of perfection and maintaining it requires a lot of work!

Imagine that this college initiative becomes so successful that we need to implement those percentages in our popular institutions.  Government agencies, entertainment industries, media organizations, etc. would all be encouraged (forced?) to set up employment pools that match the look of the “perfect society.”  The all-encompassing need for perfection would trump any other organizational purpose.

This is a seductive goal, and dominates American culture.

The dark side of the proposition is that it fosters the requirement for a governing class of people.  It would require administrators to mete out the punishments and rewards associated with achieving societal perfection.  Those activities would need to be directed by an authoritarian oligarchy.

There would be no room for democratic adjustments.  The systems put in place would sustain and promote the power and authority of the governing oligarchy.  In fact, it might appear that the quest for a “perfect society” is simply a tool for maintaining control by the oligarchy.

Our Founders showed an elevated sense of enlightenment when they chose to seek out “a more perfect Union.”  They understood that human nature is attracted to the creation of societal perfection, and the unintended consequences can be dire.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Malicious Extrapolation

Filmmaker Ken Burns delivers the Stanford commencement address. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The current Republican Party nominee for President is characterized as having extremely negative personal characteristics.  We hear repeatedly that Donald Trump hates women, Mexicans, and disabled people.

The technique used to create these characterizations is called Malicious Extrapolation.  Here’s how it is employed:

--Donald Trump criticizes his political adversary, who happens to be female.  Donald Trump hates women!

--Donald Trump accuses District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of having a conflict of interest as he presides over a civil fraud lawsuit against Trump University.  (The judge is Hispanic.)  Donald Trump hates Mexicans!

--Donald Trump makes fun of a journalist who is critical of him.  The journalist has a physical disability.  Donald Trump hates people with disabilities!

In each case, a particular incident is extrapolated to become an expression of extreme prejudice toward a particular identity group.  Coincidentally, in these examples, each identity group is aligned with the Democratic Party.

Let’s put all this in context.

Kristen Wiig is an entertainer known for her sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”  She has portrayed several characters, one of whom is “Dooneese.”  Dooneese appears to have various physical impairments, but never has Kristen Wiig been accused of mocking people with disabilities.  Instead, our culture seeks out Donald Trump.

Malicious extrapolation is wildly successful in the realm of political theater.  Two public figures recently demonstrated how malicious extrapolation became a transformational event in their personal lives.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.  She aligns with the liberal wing of the bench, but tries to maintain an air of impartial objectivity.

That broke down in July of 2016.  NY Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote an article describing her as thinking she would move to New Zealand if Donald Trump were to become president.

Her remarks, while heartfelt, were impolitic.  Members of the judiciary are expected to avoid taking sides in political campaigns.  Justice Ginsburg was overcome by the impact of malicious extrapolation.  It transformed her.

Another example comes from documentary film maker Ken Burns.  He is well respected in his field, and took the opportunity of a speaking engagement at Stanford University to illustrate the transformative power of malicious extrapolation.

Mr. Burns (pictured above) was asked to speak at the graduation ceremony for the class of 1916.  He began his remarks with information on his work over the past few decades, but felt obligated to display his extreme prejudice against Donald Trump.

His remarks were well-received by the attendees.  Nonetheless, his comments were well outside the norms for a graduation speech.  Malicious extrapolation moved him to inappropriately lash out against a fellow American.

Malicious Extrapolation helps diminish and isolate its targeted victims, but as Mr. Burns and Justice Ginsberg have learned, it also causes people to mistrust the authority figures that use the technique or come under its spell.

This week another example came from a blog by Scott Shackford at  Mr. Shackford describes how various reporters have styled the content of a speech by Donald Trump as being anti-military.

The actual transcript of the speech doesn’t support this notion, but those reporters chose to portray Mr. Trump’s remarks in that fashion.  They practiced malicious extrapolation.

Political Religious Movements tend to use this technique to a greater degree than other entities.  It serves them as the vehicle for instilling hatred against a particular identity group.  Our cultural leaders simply repeat the malicious extrapolation over and over until it becomes Truth.

Malicious Extrapolation: It just works.

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