On straws and particularly the one that broke the camel’s back


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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45 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I hope for nothing but the best for you in your journey. Keep abandoning things. You may be shocked at how much lighter you find your burden to be.Report

  2. Fair enough. I guess what I’d say is that I’m genuinely surprised that, uhh, you were surprised to find that conservatives are gung-ho for this legislation in general or even don’t think it goes far enough. I think one thing we tend to forget (and here I include myself) is that historically most strains of conservatism in this country are far more reactionary than Burkean. I don’t mean this perjoratively, by the way.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    I think right and left are too broad to conceptually house most serious thinkers. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with iconoclasm and free-thinking. Much of what I believe regarding government’s role in society falls on the side of the old right — Chodorov, Rothbard, Childs, etc, but what I think about individual liberties falls on the left — I’m liberal when it comes to lifestyle — each to their own as long as they don’t violate anyone else’s freedom to do the same — morality can be worked out in the marketplace of ideas. The problem with right/left, liberal/conservative is that we need new words to identify the changes — “liberal” is not what it use to be — “conservative” is not what it use to be – at the extremes of each, respectively, are totalitarianism and authoritarianism. The most important distinction to me right is between free market/non-interventionist principles and statism — drilling down to this makes more sense at this time — whatever other beliefs a person has are not that important.Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer, unfortunately, there’s increasingly less space, especially in the environmental field, where people can legitimately claim just to be left alone. Modern ag. practices, from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding lots) to heavy application of fertilizer, are having devastating impacts downstream.

      I’m white, well-educated and middle class. I’d love to be a conservative. But so much of modern conservatism consists of (in some cases quite literally) passing the sh*t downstream, onto someone who’s poorer and less politically powerful. (see, also, hard rock mining, coal mining, and carbon emissions.) That’s just not acceptable.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer, Mike – agreed mainly, though I think we get into thorny places when we talk statism vs. anti-statism largely because we have a whole tangled mess of starting points to concern ourselves with…Report

      • Avatar Mike Farmer in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        @E.D. Kain,

        Yes, cause and effect are so far removed in time most people can’t follow the dots back to the original causes — there’s so much entanglement of corporations and government, that to flip to a free market would leave a void that would create havoc, yet, the direction we’re headed is unsustainable. Let’s hope it’s possible to change the direction — it seems doubtful at this point. However, in the event of collapse, I would hope for a reset to a free market rather than chaos and decline or authoritarianism and trains that run on time.Report

    • @Mike Farmer, Mike, you touch on a good point which I know I have made here before which is that we need to outgrow this compulsion we have to ‘belong’ to a political group and if we must label, label our positions, not ourselves. For ED, you seem to be so determined to find just the right label for yourself and you have tinkered around with many, but think how easy it would be if you could just discuss your positions and have the freedom to be liberal on some and conservative on others with no fear of being shunned by the group you have declared membership of?

      I call myself a conservative because most of my positions fall on the Right of American politics. My conservatism is rooted in T.Roosevelt and Disraeli but I try to be realistic about how that applies to contemporary ideas. As for party membership, I don’t have any illusions that the GOP is pursuing good conservatism, but I also acknowledge that the Bull Moose Party isn’t going to rise again and I need to hitch my wagon to the side which has the most liklihood of delivering for me occasionally. That certainly isn’t the Democrats, so I put an (R) next to my name.

      For folks like ED I think there needs to be a willingness to shun personal labels (other than maybe Independent) and tackle things issue by issue. It’s the only way to find peace IMO.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer,
      True enough.
      I see a lot of people on the Right confusing policies with principles.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    I like labels, they’re fun so long as you don’t take em too seriously. E.D. as a self identified neoliberal I’d say that camp would be privledged if you ever even considered calling yourself one. Still there’s much more complexity to your nuances than any simple label can encompass (no matter how fun).

    But if you’d like I’m totally down with calling you a neolib. I’ll make us some t-shirts.Report

  5. Avatar sam says:

    Your quandry brought to mind something I did for a time years ago when one of the first questions you got asked was, “What’s your sign?” I got bored with the question right away and took to answering, “Tapioca”. Surprisingly, this seemed to satisfy a lot of people. Or at least they didn’t continue down that rathole. Perhaps you could try something similar re your political affiliation(s).Report

  6. Avatar Rufus says:

    If anything, I think you’re right at home here, E.D.! Whereas a lot of sites I think of as either being pretty clear-cut right (Redstate) or left (Huffpo), I feel like a lot of what we talk about here is about not fitting snugly into either camp. No problem either way- the water’s fine.Report

  7. Avatar Tally says:

    I, too, have trouble identifying with conservatives today. There is not any one straw, but a haystack that is breaking my back.

    I find it amusing to predict where our extremist orientations will take us as a society.Report

  8. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    Let’s make up a new category…

    I dunno.

    Neo-classical Liberal.Report

  9. If your beliefs are mostly grounded in one or another philosophical tradition, there isn’t anything wrong with claiming that tradition of thought as part of your grounding, and also saying that when it comes to today’s politics, you’re part of Team Unaligned.Report

  10. Avatar Jivatman says:

    E.D. Kain, your political orientation has simply got to be one of the most enigmatic I have seen. I think that’s why I, and so many of us, find you so interesting. You’re a puzzle, it’s always interesting to read you and try and see if I can figure you out. Truth be told, you would probably no longer be as interesting if you ascribed to a simple dogmatic political philosophy, unless that philosophy were one you invented! Reading you gives us a refreshing earnesty, and lack of typical political trappings that separate us into camps and pit us against one another.

    Since this is how we learn and analyze, I’m going to work with the labels and see if we can’t figure you out more.

    For one, I’m not sure we can really learn a whole lot about you by purely analyzing your positions on political issues – which is, a sort of moderate libertarianism that isn’t really strongly well defined.

    You have an enduring love for local government of course, you like Blond a lot but seem to have recently found him somewhat imperfect in some ways.

    I think one way you need to ground yourself and begin moving is looking at certain concrete things.

    One that I’m especially thinking about it a tough one, but really occupied me a lot. What does your ideal system of government look like? What sort of framework would you like it to be?
    Parliamentary? Proportional Representation? Something so-far not used like balanced multi-party? What degree of federalism do you like… an extreme degree like Switzerland, slightly less but still strong like Germany, Austria, do you like the German upper house, which is literally a council in which the individual state governments are directly represented (# of votes each gets is weighed by population, but voted en block by each). They call this system “Cooperative Federalism”. Do you like the Swiss federal council, in which a 7-member council is the collective head of state?

    You like localism, do you like Swiss where the cantons have an extremely high degree of autonomy? There are 26 of them and the populations quite small.

    (My favorite government is Switzerland, I’m mentioning because it’s a particularly unique and outlier case)

    Would you include a bill of limitations on federal power against the states (such as only allowing it to collect taxes from state governments, not directly from the people?)

    A strengthened bill of rights on the federal level could prevent things like what’s happening in Arizona, which I believe you wrongly blame on federalism. State’s rights are a misnomer, just because we don’t want the federal government to do something does not solve the question of whether we want the states to do it, in fact libertarians generally will want the most restrictions they can on both.

    Libertarianism, taken to it’s extreme, is in my opinion vastly comfortable, amendable and realistic as a radically devolved, federalist and localist government than it does as one that is near-anarchist.

    Even though, in a very real sense, radical devolution like this is sort of anarchist, and I think that ultimately far leftists would love it – after all, the most successful anarchist experiments, such as in pre-Spanish civil war, and in depression era-USA, were all localized affairs.

    And of course front porchers and “conservatives” like you would love it too, as you would get to live your own community as you like.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jivatman says:

      @Jivatman, Well I’m flattered, Jivatman. I like the Swiss system a lot, actually, though I’m not sure how well it would translate to our much larger states. What about radically increasing the number of states? Anyways, I’ll give this some thought. Very good questions…Report

      • Avatar Jivatman in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        @E.D. Kain,

        I think it would be good to have more states, certainly California should not be one state, but I think what’s more important is to simply reduce the power of the federal government and increase federalism.

        Remember, the bare average population of a U.S. State is 6.14 m. For reference, Switzerland, which is NOT in the E.U. because multiple referendums for membership have failed, has a population of 7.6 million. Norway, a country with a high standard of living highly admired country by our country’s liberals, also NOT in the E.U. has a population of 4.6.

        I find the idea that we’re too stupid, or our states are too incompetent to rule themselves, absurd. I think our states are corrupt we don’t pay attention to their politics, unlike Switzerland and Norway, for whom, though they have a similar population to a state, it is their national politics. Thus they pay attention.

        For those that can’t countenance such state autonomy, I suggest another division, regions, around 6-12 of them. Regions would be a very natural way to split up the country because certain regions have an obviously and basically shared culture.

        It might look something like this, (created from an analysis of facebook data) http://petewarden.typepad.com/searchbrowser/2010/02/how-to-split-up-the-us.html

        Please not that I’m not suggesting that the federal government or some central authority create these regions. Rather, I think that with a much weaker federal government and strong states, that states in certain regions might voluntarily and organically form into groups. And some states might not join them – Utah for example – Or maybe Texas, a large state relatively economically successfully and a fairly coherent culturally already. And that’s fine too. I just think that certain areas, like the old south, and the east coast, would be far more comfortable with some degree of autonomy, and reflection of their generally shared culture and interests.

        Just an idea interesting idea, though I remain more strongly attracted to federalism in general than regions.

        Another Idea is that of the City-State.

        Illinois is somewhat of an awkward political arrangement in that Chicago totally dominates the states politics. It seems that it would make sense for the politics to reflect that actual cultural and demographic truths of the state, that the Chicago Metro Area is totally separate from the rest. I think we could do similar things for other very large Cities like New York. Why not let them be, essentially, their own states?

        Our lower house would not require change – though I think all redistricting nationally should be done based on a mathematical formula written in our constitution, and the house significantly expanded anyway. The senate would, though, as it is based on states. Anyway, I am in favor of abolishing the senate entirely if it’s form is not changed. Not because it’s population representation is skewed, but, mostly because it’s now an uber-house of reps of which there are far fewer, and whose terms are thrice as long. It’s original purpose, prior to the 17th amendment, is gone. For the creation of city-states, this would need to be restored in a modified form that allows for variation in the number of people based on population. Or simply used the German Bundesrat model and give all states or city-states a block of votes based on their population sizes.

        Side note, to talk about something at least remotely realistic: I an a very strong believer in term limits on the number of consecutive, though not lifetime, terms. Incumbency rates are getting pathetic, higher than the soviet politburo, even in 1992 it was over 90%. I do not think politics should be a profession, but rather a place where it is common for many pre-eminent and honorable members of our society to spend some time and contribute, without being swallowed up by it. Limits on consecutive, but not lifetime, terms would ensure that people like Ron Paul, who is not in it for either money or power, would be able to be in politics often enough, but likely return to his doctor’s practice or join some sort of political group, when not in office. Anyway, note that in a Bundesrat, limits would not be needed for the upper house, only lower.

        The last thing I’d like to see, which I already mentioned, are constitutional amendments limiting federal power against the states. I think it’s the necessary corollary to the bill of rights, which limit all state power against the individual. The bill of rights has been wildly successful, with the unique effect that to a certain extent, most of the rights have actually been expanded in power over time.

        The 10th amendment failed because it did not spell out specific areas where the states should have sole executive authority, or things that the Federal government can’t do to the states.

        Yes, the constitution was supposed to only spell out areas where the federal government has authority, but that hasn’t worked… only explicit prohibitions will.Report

  11. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    I could never figure out why you were identifying yourself as any kind of conservative.
    If it walks like a statist…well, its a statist!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

      @Bob Cheeks, Exactly! And the halls of conservatism, while likely desperately empty, will be reserved for the least statist among us who can snipe from their little towers of certainty without surcease. Politics, as usual, takes predominance in all things.Report

  12. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    I’m in here late but I can’t help commenting.

    I really don’t know why you think the Az law is so bad in the first place. I’m open to being corrected, but I think that just creates incentives for illegal immigrants to move out of the state.

    This is where I think you’re missing an important point: there is an increasing criminal element among the illegal immigrants. Gangs like the Maras, the Aztecas and others are operating in Arizona and especially in its prison system. These are not your hard-working, law-abiding, family-oriented Mexicans who go to the US to make a better life. They are young and out of control.

    This should add a new element into the discussion, don’t you think?

    What do you say to people living on the border who are threatened by this situation?

    What do you say to people living on the border whose land is being degraded by hordes of immigrants who have no respect for it. They leave garbage strewn all over the place, they scavenge for firewood where it’s scarce and where the only reason there is even enough to scavenge is that people have taken care of the land for generations. They cause erosion on delicate desert land that has been managed for generations to control it. Do you tell them to just hang in there and vote for open borders?

    Why, exactly, are people expected to tolerate such a situation? Let me tell you something: Mexicans tolerate even less than Arizonans do. The treatment that the Mexican authorities mete out to Central American immigrants truly makes the Arizona law seem superbly civilized. After all, no violence and even no discrimination is being applied by the Arizona law. It just creates an attractive incentive to get out. If you want to see Nazi-like scenes of violence and discrimination, take a bus from Mexico City to any border crossing. You’ll be subject to Army road-blocks and spot checks by immigration authorities. In any case, you’ll see uniformed men demanding papers from anyone who looks foreign, which includes gringos. Gringos, however, are not hauled off the bus and put in concentration camps, like the Central Americans are.

    It’s when I think of this kind of thing that it occurs to me that you and your ilk are completely out of touch. There is no mention of the violent crime being perpetrated by illegal immigrants and there is no measure of reality in your construction of the Arizona law as “overwhelming antipathy toward basic civil liberties.” If the Arizona law is so “overwhelming,” then what would you call the Mexican one? Do you have a word to top “overwhelming?” “Beyond overwhelming,” perhaps? Gimme a break… Even so, your proud refusal to provide any alternative to the Arizona law besides pie-in-the-sky theories about “open borders” reveals you as fundamentally unserious. You’re just writing about how the Arizona law makes you feel, as if that was so interesting. The law makes you feel really, really bad about living in Arizona and associating with conservatives so… the law must not stand!Report

    • Avatar Bootlegger in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      @Roque Nuevo, Criminal gangs can and should be handled by the criminal law and law enforcement. Why should every non-white person in Arizona be forced to prove citizenship because of the actions of a handful of criminals?

      And you want us to model Mexico? Seriously? Those army checkpoints aren’t for security, they are for shakedowns.Report

      • Avatar Roque Nuevo in reply to Bootlegger says:

        @Bootlegger, These criminal gangs are something that law enforcement is not capable of handling. They have military training and heavy weapons. The police are no match.

        In any case, I’m simply saying that considering that the federal government is not preventing such people from crossing the border illegally, I can sympathize with the people of Arizona if they want illegals to move away from the state. I know it’s not fair but that doesn’t mean that I can’t sympathize with people who have seen their lives disturbed by this situation. They are not showing “overwhelming antipathy” to civil rights. They are just creating incentives for the illegals to move out of the state. The illegals themselves will chose to move out and nobody will be using violence against them and nobody will be discriminating. The illegals themselves will just decide to move out or to go somewhere else if they’re still in Mexico. That seems imminently civilized to me. Nobody gets beaten over the head, nobody gets hauled off a bus in the middle of the night and thrown in a concentration camp. The people of Arizona are just using the law to create incentives.

        But, the cliché goes, “be careful what you wish for.” The situation in Arizona will be a laboratory test for the conventional wisdom that the illegals contribute to the economy and do jobs that US citizens refuse. If true then the people of Arizona will regret the new law. Their economy should implode rather quickly under the impact of the law. Since the conventional wisdom is often wrong, I suspect that is is here too. People like ED Kain don’t want their hypothesis tested. They just want to bleat about their emotions and to feel good about themselves. They have no concern whatsoever for either the illegal immigrants themselves or the people of Arizona who have to deal with the violence the illegals generate.

        I didn’t say I wanted us to “model Mexico.” That would be a stupid thing to say so I don’t like your calling me stupid.

        I said that if you look at the “Mexican model,” you can see what “overwhelming antipathy toward basic civil liberties” really looks like. That way you can get some perspective on the Arizona law. It’s not that the “Mexican model” is worth imitating but it’s relevant because that’s where the illegal immigrants come from. They won’t think their civil rights have been “overwhelmingly violated” because they’ve seen the real thing on a daily basis their whole lives.

        People who bleat about “open borders” while calling others “racists” or whatever are ignoring the problem entirely in the service of their own egos. All we get out of ED Kain is interminable screeds about his own feelings about illegal immigration. How is this helping people—US citizens and residents of the border—who are faced with the problem on a daily basis? All ED Kain is capable of doing is using this problem to showcase what he thinks are noble intellectual sentiments. ED Kain and his ilk are just as guilty of racism as the people of Arizona are, which they’re not. He’s using the misery of the illegal immigrants and the misery of the border residents as nothing more than a background for what he wants us to believe are noble sentiments. Neither the illegals nor the Arizona border residents count at all for ED Kain. The only thing that counts are ED Kain’s sentiments, which one must share or be called a racist, or whatever garbage he wants to call them.Report