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      We spend a lot of time here dealing with everything that’s going wrong in the world. Rather a lot. The goal isn’t to be pessimistic, nor is it to be optimistic, the goals is to be realistic. But in some eras realism can be fairly depressing. So I think it’s important to remember that there’s still a lot of good in life. Love, food, beauty, excitement and mor […]
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Dark Triad or Tetrad?

dark_triadPutting a finger on what’s going on in this country and the world in general since the financial crisis of 2008 has been slow going.  Part of that might be because when you are in the midst of it, trying to make a living and keeping your head above water, it’s difficult to see the forest from the trees.

Recently, I came across the term “dark triad”, which as I understand it is the convergence of three personality types: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism.  It’s a real personality type.  I’ve gone over the traits of narcissistic personality disorder previously and it’s pretty clear to me that many of our financial overlords suffer from it to one degree or another.  But I’ve been puzzled about how it is that the narcissists managed to convince so many ordinary Americans to ignore their best interests. Something was missing. That is where I think the Dark Triad comes in and can explain why the airwaves are saturated by the pundits who encourage the worst behavior and thoughts, and why they can get away with it.

But there’s a new theory in town.  It’s called the Dark Tetrad.  The psychologists who are studying these negative personality disorders say that the fourth component is sadism.  I’m wondering if sadism is the natural outcome of the convergence of the previous three traits.  Is it cause or effect?  If it is true that cruelty results from the need to assuage our guilt for taking advantage of someone, wouldn’t it make sense that setting up a system that exploits other people will naturally lead to more cruelty?  But if a person feels guilt, wouldn’t that negatively correlate with psychopathy?  Doesn’t the quality of remorselessness, which is associated psychopathy imply sadism?  It feels like there is a PLS model just waiting to be constructed to figure out what the principal components are.  How do we know which qualities of the dark triad or tetrad can be derived from the others?

If there is anyone out there with more information on the Dark Triad or Tetrad, or has links to papers that don’t cost an arm and a leg (I like free), let me know.  I’m not a professional and only took one course in psychology (but I’m beginning to think that I should pursue a degree in the subject.  Just hit the tip jar at the upper left to help defray the cost of tuition.  Damn, if I were just Machiavellian enough, I could *make* you hit that tip jar.) so I’m going to have to rely on iTunes U, youtube and Kno to teach myself all the lingo.

Still, it might be worth the effort.  If we can figure it out, maybe we can develop a psychological vaccine.

One more thing: it looks like the Dark Triad is used to describe predatory men who use manipulation to mate, or at least a lot of the early papers seem to focus on “players”.  But I’ve often found that the metaphor of the player has been very useful to explaining what happened to the political system in 2008 especially the evolution of Democratic activists in support of whatever it is that infiltrated the party.  For example, what was the purpose of this?  I don’t think this picture was leaked:

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau with HRC cutout after Obama victory.

I’m not picking on Democrats here. Republicans are worse and they’ve got a bigger megaphone. But there’s no doubt that something dark and malevolent snuck into the party while we weren’t looking.

Republicans bringing back the bad old days

William Tell keeps his hat on

You have to give Republicans credit for their dogged persistence.  They are going to drag us kicking and screaming back to the bad old days if it takes them a lifetime.  Look at all of the systems and bad ideas that western civilization got rid of over the past couple of centuries that the Republicans have updated and passed off as new and shiny.

1.) Sumptuary Laws: Wiki defines them as “are laws that attempt to regulate habits of consumption. Black’s Law Dictionary defines them as “Laws made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc.””  The Chained CPI is the perfect way to restrain consumer spending, to the eventual detriment of the economy.  Back in the middle ages, the aristocrats didn’t want to have to compete with the commoners for things like purple dye and fine cloth.  If some merchant could buy that stuff for his daughter and supplies were strictly limited, that meant a duchess might have to do without.  We can’t have that.  In a similar way, the chained CPI is almost guaranteed to keep seniors from spending too much.  The working assumption is that they will scale down their purchases, going for cheaper consumer goods, probably of lower quality as well.  This will save the upper salaried from having to give up their Bush tax cuts or have their payroll taxes increased.  More money for them to spend on whatever their hearts desire, less for everyone else.  Too bad for poor seniors who scrimp and save for the meagerest luxuries.  This is what you get for a lifetime of work and getting laid off in your middle age.

Besides, it’s so much easier to tell who the lower classes are at a glance.

2.) The Truck System: Wiki defines it as “an arrangement in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute (referred to as scrip), rather than with standard money. This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a company-owned store, where prices are set artificially high. The practice has been widely criticized as exploitative and similar in effect to slavery, and has been outlawed in many parts of the world.”

The proposed Medicare voucher system comes pretty close to a truck system.  Employees pay into the Medicare system throughout their working lives with the expectation that when they are of age, they will be paid their deferred compensation in the form of Medicare benefits.  Instead, they would get a voucher whose worth is much less than the originally promised benefit and it could only be used to purchase health care from a private insurer, who has no incentive to compete because there is no public option.

Truck systems have been outlawed in much of the world because it is seen as a form of slavery. Note that the proliferation of unpaid internships for college students is also a form of truck.  They cost parents a lot of money, the student gets no pay and the internship itself is frequently of questionable value in terms of acquiring further employment.

3.) Fear and lawlessness: In Republican world, the only people who have any true liberty are insane people with guns.  Apparently, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Absolutely nothing. Everyone else is at their mercy and must either pay handsomely for security or fight gunfire with gunfire.  That leaves the rest of us afraid to walk around or go to school safely without fear of being gunned down.  We’re the ones huddled behind castle walls while the lawless roam at will.

4.) Serfdom: This trend is disturbing.  This is what you get when you make precariats out of workers.  The more insecure their lives are, the more they are willing to take whatever work they can get to pay their bills and they’ll do it at remarkably low prices. The attacks on labor unions is designed to create more insecurity.  Note that when you decide to go along with this trend, it’s bloody hard to win back your rights without some major socioeconomic shock, like a Great Depression.  As much as people might dislike labor unions, it’s better to have them to push around the management than not have any.

5.) Exploitation: If you want to know what the Republicans and their allies in the 1%, listen to this This American Life* episode about the The Little War on the Prairie.  This war was between the Minnesota Dakota against the US government who cheated them out of their lands.  You might be surprised to find that Thomas Jefferson was the guy who laid out the strategy of how the government was going to acquire the Dakota off their lands.  Basically it goes like this: we want the Indian lands, they aren’t going to give it to us nicely.  So, we’ll sell things to them that they want and get them deeply into debt.  When they see they’re in a hole they can’t climb out of, we make them an offer they can’t refuse.  We’ll cancel the debt if they give up their land.

It worked.  It also lead to the largest mass execution on American soil in the 1860s.  Go listen to the whole thing.  Abraham Lincoln turned out to be a decent guy but he must have been overwhelmed by the Civil War.  It’s a sad story.

So, how does this apply to Republican strategy?  As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, it’s the Republican plan to put us in thumbscrews.  The idea is to basically turn down the heat on the economy so that people ain’t got jobs, people ain’t got money.  The corporations will stop investing, bankers will sit on the cash like the greedy dragons they are and the whole executive branch of government will be invaded by financial industry moles who will make sure that no one outside of their little evil group to which no one we know belongs gets any relief for the debt they can’t get out from.  And let’s make this clear, we’re not talking about the people who stupidly took out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford.  Those people got their comeuppance early.  No, the squeeze is now going to be on the middle class, including the college educated, whose wages have plummeted but whose living costs have not.  As long as there is an ongoing crisis of funding the government, unemployment insurance and all the other things that keep the economy barely chugging along, the screws on us will get tighter and tighter.

The Republicans want to break the social insurance programs.  We know this because if the deficit was really bothering them, they could end the Bush Tax Cuts on the highest earners and end the wars.  If they really wanted to cure the deficit problem, they would enthusiastically back a jobs program and fund unemployment benefits so that money could go back into the economy through consumer spending and so that people could pay their taxes again.

This is not what they are advocating.  So, I can only conclude that they are willing to risk severe injury to some industries, like pharma, and the economy in general and have people lose their houses and careers because they want to push us to the point where we are overwhelmed with living expenses that we can’t pay.  Then they will generously offer to turn the money tap back on if we just give up our social insurance programs.

The temptation is going to be great in the next couple of months, especially for the state of New Jersey.  Unemployment rates here were already above 10% when Sandy hit.  Now that one of the state’s major industries, tourism, has suffered a devastating blow, there will be a lot of pressure on our Congressional delegation to cut a deal so the money can flow.  I expect every one of New Jersey’s representatives and senators to crumble.

What would happen if we don’t give in?  I don’t know but it sounds to me like taxes will go up on the wealthiest among us.  I don’t know about you but my Bush tax cut never did amount to very much.  I’d never even miss it.  But I’m guessing that if you make between $250K and $800K, it amounts to quite a bit of money.  It might mean a change in social status. I suspect that’s why the White House press corps was so anxious to find out what the plan was when Obama gave his post Sandy Hook shooting presser.  They’re trying to figure out where they will stand after January 1, 2013.

So, that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.  The wealthy and their political arm think they can wait us out.  It’s all they’ve got left at this point.  They’re never going to be able to swing another wave election with social issues.  That demographic is dying off.  So, they’ll just keep us in pain until we give in.  Maybe it will work, maybe not.  Either way, they’re going to strangle the economy until they are no longer under any obligation to participate in social insurance.  And then they’ll move in and take everything.

That’s the Republican party in it’s modern form.  It’s still the same bunch of rapists and pillagers.  They’ve just got a formal party organization to hide behind now.  We’re now back to the bad old days of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  It’s hard to believe the middle and working class happily squandered their advantage over the past 30 years over such tripe like “family values” and “patriotism” and the “moral majority”.  I thought people would have learned their lessons by now but the Tea Party has signed up a whole new set of gullible Americans who are more than happy to bash the head of the person lower than them in the hierarchical scheme.  Some people never learn.

* I know nothing about semiotics but I find it interesting that Ira Glass, the semiotics major, manages to find stories that tie in so well to current events in a metaphorical sense.  Accident?  Coincidence?  Intentional?

Primary Responsibility

I just realized the other day that Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias are still in their twenties.  When I was their age, I was working full time and caring for a kindergartner.  My life was full of routine and responsibility, paying my bills and making sure the kid was well fed, dressed and safe.  I could still have fun, within boundaries.  The constrictions on by time and life were not too much to ask, though the money was tight.   I was the first person in my working class family, ever, to get a degree and that in a fairly difficult subject.

Things are different for the Matt and Ezra types who, it appears, never had to struggle economically for their ivy league sheepskins or current cushy positions behind the megaphone.  Now, that could be interpreted as a bitter remark, full of class resentment.  But to be honest, I see them as perpetual adolescents who have yet to feel the environmental stresses that would force them to grow up.  These immortals are going to live forever.  They just don’t live on the same tier of Maslow’s pyramid that the rest of us are occupying, or sliding down.  Their decision making processes, what and who they support and why, are radically different from ours. What they write about will not affect them personally.  They have the luxury of distance.

Of the most frequent contributors to The Confluence, half of us have either been laid off or have had an immediate family member laid off.  We have seen our salaries disappear, our health benefits gone or become prohibitively expensive, seen our family support team disintegrate.  The Mother of All Recessions is very real to us.  And we are not the steelworkers and industrialized disadvantaged, the low skilled workers of thirty years ago, not that there’s anything wrong with working with your hands.  No, the frontpagers of The Confluence who have lost their jobs are economists, academics, mathematicians.  Their laid off family members are chemical engineers and cheminformaticists.  These jobs require years of training and education and experience.  In this Recession, there is a fundamental shift in the nature of the jobs being lost.

This time, there is a plague of locusts, out of control, eating the seed corn.

The reason why this is happening is not because there are structural changes in the economy.  No one who has been paying attention to the pattern of unemployment believes that.  The reason why this is happening is because no one is stopping it from happening.  Congress and the White House have taken a very hands off approach to dealing with this problem. It’s not even good for business, although it will take a few years for that reality to sink in.  The result is a severe weakening of the economy.  If you are in constant fear of losing your job, you don’t spend money.  If you don’t spend money, more people lose their jobs.  It’s a vicious cycle that leads to deflation and depression.  You don’t have to be an economist to understand this, though Dakinikat can explain it to us now that she has plenty of time on her hands, when she’s not shopping for a salary.

I get very angry when I read about our expectations of the 2012 and 2016 elections.  There is a resignation that Obama has the Democratic nomination all sewn up.  There won’t be any money for a challenger.  That small evil group to which no one we know belongs has already made the decision for us.  We aren’t invited to participate in our own democracy.  It’s the Matt’s and Ezra’s and BTD’s out there who have crafted this conventional wisdom because there is no stress on them to perceive things differently.  To them, it goes without saying that Obama will get the nomination.  It’s tradition.  It’s his turn still; no one else gets their turn until Obama is through with his two terms.  It’s just incomprehensible to contemplate that anyone else would have the rudeness and incivility to challenge him.  And besides, all of the African Americans would abandon the Democrats.

That last statement is an indication of how disconnected the progressive blogosphere really is.  Do they really think that people who can’t get decent jobs are going to pass up the opportunity to vote for someone who they think can actually help them?  That they are so wedded to identity politics that they would forget which politician shoved them aside for the wealthy and well connected and which politiician has a history of doing the right thing?

It’s always been a mystery to me why the Matt, Ezra, Kos, and Chris Bowers types of the self identified “creative class” hate the Clintons so much.  They excoriate the Senator from New York for voting for the Iraq War Resolution even as they give John Edwards and now, Barack Obama a pass.  They complain about NAFTA, when North America is not the problem.  They lament the welfare reform bills without having any conception of how damaging welfare is for families.  No one *wants* to be on welfare, even if there will always be a tiny subpopulation of people who will need ongoing support because they are mentally or emotionally unable to cope with the outside world.  But somehow, the harshness of the actual bills, get attributed to the Clintons when their terms were actually hammered out by movement conservative Republicans.  They forget that the last truly liberal justices appointed to the Supreme Court were Clinton appointees.  Elena Kagan is no Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

And now, I am receiving emails blaming the Republicans in advance for proposed cuts in Social Security.  I have an idea, Jim Dean, why don’t you ask Barack Obama to disband the commission he put together to decide where the cuts will be?  And by the way, I’ve been paying into social security and the babyboomer trust fund since I started my career.  My retirement investment decisions were based on a portion of my income coming from social security.  It is too late for millions of us who are still decades away from retirement to make a course correction, nor do we want to.  We paid into it, we believe in it and we want Barack Obama and the Democrats to stop using it as a political football.

Social security has taken the place of abortion in scaring voters to the polls.  The curtain has been pulled back on the abortion issue.  This incarnation of Democrats doesn’t really care about women.  All they care about is manipulating enough of the people most of the time.  It is the same with Social Security.  I’m calling it out.  This is beyond reprehensible.  There’s an element of political calculation here that is evil.  If Republicans retake Congress this fall, it sets Obama up as a hero for defending social security from their most draconian cuts. Democrats may think they have the media eating out of their hands and can push this meme down the throats of every voter out there but voters are getting wise to them.  They see the disconnect between words and their lives.

We are invisible, Hillary told us in 2008.  We are still invisible.  But we are not powerless.  And we need not be helpless and drifting, waiting for the next wave to propel us towards some predetermined outcome.  If Matt and Ezra and the rest of the progressive blogosphere are disappointed by Obama, they should know by now that he’s not going to change.  He is what he is.  This is the guy they married.  He’s careless, inexperienced, immature, self-agrandizing, manipulative and selfish.  More time with him, persuading him to be better than he is, isn’t going to work.  He isn’t a secret progressive.  He is a political opportunist.  If your lives aren’t getting better *now* when he has all of the votes he needs and all of the money to influence people and all of the crisis required to exert his power, then your lives are not going to get better.  He is saving it all up for the moment when he thinks you will abandon him and then he will scare you into staying.  That’s what’s going on here.

If you stay with him, you are irresponsible.  If you don’t threaten him with a primary challenger, you accept the system as it is.  If you don’t allow someone else to take over the reigns and actually govern for the benefit of all of the people, then you allow the continued suffering of millions of families who will lose their tether to the middle class.

No one is entitled to four more years in order to check some accomplishment off of their life list.  Those four years have meaning to the rest of us.  And even if it is hard, we owe it to each other to not allow our country to be squandered and consumed by the ravenous few to the detriment of the many in order to preserve some kind of conventional wisdom.  That may mean voting for a third party, or one that already exists or it could mean insisting that Barack Obama step aside in 2012.  If we wait until 2016, it could be too late.

We all need to accept responsibility for what happens to us in 2012.

Starting now.