Optimism Inc.


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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27 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    Well, my main critique is of the Francis Fukuyama, End of History argument which posits that while of course much will change, the basic political and economic system of liberal democratic capitalism will endure. Since you’re arguing that you aren’t in that vein, I’m not sure I have much to offer.Report

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

      I haven’t read Fukuyama though I do get the gist of his argument, and I do disagree with it as well (though perhaps not as fervently as you).

      Forgive me if I mistook you. Your Polyana comment in the previous thread, combined with this post, made me think this was directed more at me than not.Report

    • Avatar Ben in reply to Freddie says:

      Here might not be the best place for this, but here goes:

      That induction argument bounces right off Fukuyama’s End of History stuff .

      Fukuyama takes most of his argument from an interpretation of Hegel made by a guy called Kojeve, and boils down to essentially this: all other Ideas that drive History don’t satisfy the human need for respect/worth, because they are based on a master-slave dynamic. Liberal democratic capitalism is not, and satisfies the need for respect/worth for those under its aegis. Therefore in the extreme long run liberal democratic capitalism will spread everywhere.

      There are lots of arguments to make about this, many of which have cropped up in the discussion of the Roberts post since the topics are similar. But saying “things have changed before, they’ll continue to change” in response to an argument which gives an explicit mechanism for why earlier things had changed and why that mechanism is no longer operative is not even weak tea, it’s boiled water.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Freddie says:

      I have issues with the concept of an end of history myself. Our political and economic institutions are a form of technology, just as much as the stuff that makes iPods go. Liberal democratic capitalism did not exist once, and now it does. It would be naive to assume that we just happen to be living in a time when we have reached the end of that particular tech tree.

      Having said that, if I knew what future institutions would look like, I would have effectively invented them. So I do what every forecaster does when faced with the massive uncertainty inherent in humanity – assume the future looks slightly different to the present, and stick some huge error bars around it.Report

  2. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    “If Freddie has a better idea on the actual issue being discussed, rather than merely opinions about the people discussing said issues, he’s more than welcome to chime in. Of course, he’s welcome to chime in no matter what, but the issues themselves strike me as somewhat more important than the naiveté of the interlocutors.”

    Hah! Good luck with that. That’s Freddie’s entire ouvre, now that you have that column in Forbes, you’re considered big-time too, I guess. Just be ready for ongoing assault ala his attacks on Yglesias, Klein, Coates et al.

    Freddie’s pessimistic attitude and lack of optimism strikes me as sailing very, very close to reactionary conservatism actually. For example in his crusade against school choice – he’s sailing close to the “these kids can’t be helped anyway so what’s the point of spending all that money”. I guess there’s a point where extreme left and extreme right would actually meet.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to sonmi451 says:

      This seems uncharitable dude.Report

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

        I agree with North…this is most certainly *not* Freddie’s “entire ouvre” at all, though as I’ve argued before I think almost all ideologies have a conservative side, and Freddie certainly has a conservative streak (though I would, again, argue that we all do).Report

    • Avatar Freddie in reply to sonmi451 says:

      “Sailing close” is interesting, considering I’ve repeatedly advocated for more funding for public schools. I also support more experimentation with charter schools when those schools use unionized labor, as some have. I simply require that evidence be collected and taken seriously. Otherwise, charters are another in a long line of endeavors in education that feel good but accomplish little. Empiricism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It’s merely responsible.

      My point was actually not pessimistic. Indeed I intentionally removed normative assessment at all. It is only that, in the long term, change at the fundamental level of resource distribution and political economy seems very likely, since it keeps happening.

      Finally, you’re free to feel however you want about me, but I have to say that the insistence on a) the personal and b) professional jealousy are both ways to marginalize dissenting voices without actually refuting them.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Freddie says:

        Sometime, Freddie, I’d like you to comment on the moral component of culture/society and the effects thereof. Or link me to something you’ve written. thanksReport

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Freddie says:

        The “insistence on being personal” is because YOU insisted on being personal when attacking those bloggers more established than you. You couldn’t just deal with their arguments and the deficiencies, you have to impute motives to them – wanting to establish establishment cred, protecting their journalism career etc etc. Not so pleasant when other people do the same thing to you, isn’t it? And I’m just some anonymous commenter on the web, imagine how insulted Klein, Yglesias, Coates et al felt when you say those things about them, in your own blog and in their comment sections as well. What can’t YOU just deal with their arguments?Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Freddie says:

        As sonmi451 says, if you do a psychoanalytic reading of others, you cannot object when others do the same to you.Report

      • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Freddie says:

        And I don’t think it’s professional jealousy at all, actually. If I were to do a psycoanalytical reading of you the way you do these other bloggers, I would say that you revel in your supposedly “outsider” status, and that you look down on these bloggers who are working for what you consider the “establishment”, these sell-outs and compromisers, not as pure and idealistic as you.Report

        • Avatar Freddie in reply to sonmi451 says:

          I mean, you can see the comedy from my perspective. I say “people insist on the personal in order to silence dissenting opinion,” and you react by… insisting on the personal in order to silence my dissenting opinion.

          You guys are aware that I hear this literally every day, right? And always– without exception– from people who want to enforce a very narrow vision of correct political argument online. Always. Look at how this is happening here: I am the one going against the grain of the consensus in this space; I am the one who has a host of commenters trying to read me out of the bounds of the respectable. Oh, and trying to big time me through proxy, talking about Yglesias and Coates, et al, everybody who is more important and more read, on and on…. That is not a coincidence.

          Incidentally, when you say “not so nice to be on the receiving end, huh?!?” you really assume too much about your own ability. Again– I hear this stuff every day. I have been doing this for years. If you imagine that you are going to be the one to make me take my ball and go home, think again. It’s precisely attempts like these that inspire me to keep going.

          Yglesias, Coates, Klein– these people are well remunerated professionals in a career where your only real obligation is to argue and prepare to be argued against. If they don’t want to be disagreed with, they can seek a different profession. They are certainly in the top half of earners in this country. I won’t weep tears for them.

          I really believe that it’s just impossible for you guys to parse this: there is no place where the legitimate arguments end and the personal begins. People have used that to forbid extremist opinion forever. You’re no different. There’s no personal or impersonal, no fair or unfair. There’s just what you’ll allow and what you won’t. Which is fine. Just own up to it.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

            there is no place where the legitimate arguments end and the personal begins

            Does this mean that your complaints about the unfairness of people using the personal against you will cease?

            Or is this yet another case of them being hypocrites who have the following things wrong with them (X, Y, Zed) who cannot appreciate Your Struggle?Report

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

              You know, I’d like it if this entire comment thread stopped being about Freddie. I realize the post was about Freddie to some degree, but it was actually about the need to discuss the issues rather than the people arguing them. So we’ve all just failed miserably at the stated goal.Report

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

                But but! There’s no place where the legitimate arguments end and the personal begins!!!

                Okay fine.

                It seems to me that the number one thing that gave us oh-so-much material prosperity over the last hundred years or so was the negligible price of energy. We needed zero effort to be warm in the winter, we needed but a little bit more to be cool in the summer, and getting from here to there was spectacularly cheap.

                It’s as energy prices go up that cultural panics are felt.

                It seems to me that nuclear power is practically untapped as an energy source in this country and while it does have a very big potential downside when it comes to catastrophic failure, it has the tiniest percentage of the downsides that come from clean coal, or solar, or wind, let alone the stuff like fracking or deep well drilling… and there are nuclear power variants that can deal very well with other tradeoffs.

                The mini nuclear reactor, the pebble bed reactor… we’ve come decades since Chernobyl. I’d wager we’d even learned a great deal from Japan’s recent event.

                Far too often, it feels like the goal is to get people to live differently and it doesn’t matter that technology can do an amazing job of filling in gaps.

                What is the goal? What is it *REALLY*?Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to sonmi451 says:

      “I guess there’s a point where extreme left and extreme right would actually meet.”

      Like if the socialist tendencies of the left crossed with the nativism, or nationalism if you will, of the right?Report

  3. Avatar The Warning says:

    Key word “decentralized”.

    My optimism for the future is inversely proportional to the concentration of power in corporations and the state.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to The Warning says:

      The problem with that statement is that, depending on how you interpret it, it can leave you with no way to deal with problems of a global scope. It doesn’t matter if you have one plant putting out a million tons of carbon, or a million small businesses putting out one ton apiece–the damage to the climate is the same either way. Global problems need to be acted on on a similar scale.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Of course — there has to always be at least a couple of unassailable reasons for domination of the few over the many, otherwise the darlings would become irrelevant. They are forced to dominate for the sake of the world.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to MFarmer says:

          It is entirely possible that Chavez had nothing but the best intentions in his heart before he aspired to El Presidente for Life. He wanted to improve the plight of the poor (his constituency). Unfortunately reality always has a knack for getting in the way. As Chavez has taken over industry after industry, the plight of “his” poor has only gotten worse. As he nationalizes industries and kicks out those rotten foreigners, he leaves naked hulks of companies with no investment potential and previously middle-class workers out on the street – unemployed (and joining the poor he was pretending to help in the first place). Utopian to dystopian in 3 easy steps.Report