Archive | January 2015

Luke’s Log- Stop Dividing Americans by Race and Gender, You Divisive Demagogues

harrisvillaraigosa

Fox&Hounds is out with a new piece on the contest for the Senate seat in California left open by the retiring Senator Barbara Boxer. The jist of it is this- former California Attorney General Kamala Harris should have the clear advantage in winning Democratic votes because she is an African-American woman, but it turns out that she likely will face stiff competition from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa because many of those Democratic woman voters are Hispanic, and would likely vote for their ‘fellow’ Hispanic over their ‘fellow’ woman.

“Latinos and Latinas have shown a very strong propensity to support Hispanic candidates over non-Hispanic candidates of either gender over the past few decades. Ethnicity for Hispanic voters appears a stronger motivator than gender – a common attribute among voters of color. This is precisely what was driving African-American women to support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton at extraordinary levels.”

Racist much?

I recently had the opportunity to watch LA City Council President Herb Wesson speak on leadership, and he made a point of noting that he endorsed Kamala Harris over his old friend Villaraigosa because he knew that ‘either way [he’d] be doing something historic; but he wanted to do something more historic.’ That is not an exact quote, by the way.

And THIS, I think, is exactly the sort of divisive racial and gender identity politics we need to be steering away from if we want to become a more inclusive and unified nation. The Civil Rights struggle ended on the side of goodness and light 40 years ago; it was almost immediately replaced with a regressive self-segregation of identity politics and multiculturalism, which does not intend to divide people, but in effect turns the nation into a morass of squabbling factions and clans.

So long as African-Americans prefer to vote for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans prefer to vote for Hispanic-Americans, so long as white-guilted bourgeois white people tend to denounce their own ‘white privilege’ loudly and publicly, so long as the mass of white Americans tend to get annoyed by minority candidates and quietly vote as a group for white candidates, then we are making no racial progress. So long as anyone views it as progress that ‘every minority has its representation in government,’ we will remain a divided and segregated nation, with each faction prone to jealousy and violence against the others. Inequality will reign, and sources of conflict will not cease, so long as voters vote by their ethnic loyalty and not by their higher convictions.

Mark my words, I’d like to see more Americans of minority descent in government. But I don’t want to see African-Americans or White-Americans or Asian-Americans or Latino-Americans; I want to see Americans. We should live in a colorblind country of relative social equity that respects, but does not worship, the backgrounds of its citizens. And here’s the interesting thing- we were once on this track. We never made it, but we were working towards it.

The history of American nationhood has been a history of the dominant American majority slowly allowing its barriers to minority entry to be broken, and by natural forces of social assimilation, mixing with minorities of various stripes and periodically remaking the social and ethnic fabric of the country. Once upon a time, Englishmen-become-Americans looked down upon the Irish Catholics, the Germans, the Jews upon our shores; by the 1940s each of those groups, once ghettoized and oppressed, was a fully American group, symbolically retaining its own heritage but owing no political loyalty to blood, only to creed.

And by the 1960s, it appeared that the way was paved for the non-European minority groups to break down formal barriers and assimilate into (and fundamentally change) the broader American culture, to be included as full-on Americans. Racist anti-Asian immigration laws were gone, discriminatory anti-Hispanic labor practices were on the run, and most significantly, the African-American people had not only escaped the chains of slavery but had fought for and won their civil rights as Americans. Had the colorblind application of the law been allowed to operate and the natural flows of culture been allowed to work their magic, we might be living in a colorblind American republic today, beset by no ethnic divides and little cross-ethnic inequality.

But the radicalization of the 60s- both by elitist, white, postmodernist and anticolonialist intellectuals, and by minority nationalist groups justly aggrieved by decades and centuries of oppression and unjustly demanding communal ethnic rights- took hold, and dominated the newly apparently-resolved racial narrative. Melting-pot nationalism never stood a chance, and racial divides remained while the social conditions of Asian-Americans and the social and economic conditions of African-Americans and Latino-Americans continued to worsen, while White America grew fat and decadent in its own right.

And so we have a decadent white overclass today that throws bones to activist minority groups and encourages them to snipe at White America and each other, while it encourages White Americans to feel resentment at the activism and frank annoyingness of minority identity-politics groups. We have a multicultural America, and it is not pretty- class-based segregation pervades our inner cities, mostly to the detriment of the black and Latino communities, while every seeming racial injustice is propped up to extreme proportions by a sensationalist media, playing on the passions of both the aggrieved minorities and the white backlash. There’s enough that divides us as a nation; but thanks to multicultural ideology and policy, we have even more fault lines.

Luke’s Log hopes we don’t stay this way. Luke’s Log would encourage Californians to consider the policies and legacies of BOTH Kamala Harris and Antonio Villaraigosa, and judge which of them is the better public servant, rather than vote simply by race and gender identity. Luke’s Log would encourage voters to vote for either candidate based not upon the color of their skin, but upon the content of their character.

But perhaps that’s too much to ask for in multicultural America today. In any case, here at Luke’s Log we will continue to formulate and advocate policies that would lead to the tearing down of our currently self-imposed racial barriers, bring current ethnic communities to relative middle-class economic parity with the white majority, and lead to a general mixing of culture that will contribute to the formulation of the next inclusive and unified American cultural nation, hopefully one which will dominate this continent for most of the 21st Century. Here’s to hoping, my fellow Americans.

Luke’s Log- My Three Issues, and then some

My mentor, Dan Schnur, has repeatedly told me and his other students that in politics, it’s crucial to find your three top issues upon which you’ll never compromise and for which you’ll always fight; everything else can be compromised on.

Well, I think I’ve figured out my three for the moment, and I think they say a lot about my political identity.

First- American National Identity. Nothing is more important for our perpetuation as a people than the abandonment of multiculturalism and the white backlash, and the restoration of a unified, inclusive national identity based upon our shared culture and political creed. I want as many good Americans as possible- and this involves comprehensive immigration reform, Americanization in immigration, increased focus on civic education and civic culture, including mandating passage of the American naturalization test in order for a citizen to vote, remedying of the ailments afflicting minority communities to bring them up to economic parity with the white majority, and gradual abandonment of multicultural holidays, hiring and education practices, and other influences precluding the development of a multiracial but monocultural American nation.

Second- the Renewed American System. Nothing can be more important to our economic growth than the encouragement of federal and state investment in infrastructure of all kinds, education at all levels, and research in all phases. We need to work to modernize our transportation and transportation regulation systems for a world of clean, networked, driverless cars and ultra-fast aircraft; we need to invest in clean, advanced nuclear energy and build a grid capable of providing power for free to every American thanks to the heat of a thousand suns being produced in our new reactors; we need to improve our water infrastructure with better storage and recycling capabilities down to the individual and we need to begin looking at a series of desalination plants on the California Coast to water our parched Southwest; and we need to update our wireless law and infrastructure to provide fast, reliable, secure and free internet to every American everywhere. This easing of movement of goods, ideas, resources, power, and people will be crucial for establishing the United States as a more networked nation for the 21st Century. Moreover, we need to reinvest in the education of our citizenry at every level, ensuring a minimum standard of funding for every school while opening access to greater competition between all sorts of schools. We need to make basic college education a right available to every worthy American for free just as K-12 education is a right; we need to drive down the skyrocketing costs of higher education and shift degree-granting to a things-learned rather than time-served model. We need to open up alternative educational opportunities and re-establish individual educational mentorship as a cultural norm; and we need to do away with the requirement-checklist model of education and shift toward a more creativity-inspiring, self-learning-inducing system of grading and teaching. Finally, we need to invest massive resources in the development of technology, for both military and civilian uses. Hi-tech energy, hi-tech computing and communications technology, biotechnology, and advances in transportation are some of the basic examples of what public-private partnership can do. We need to invest in our national research institutions and universities to help our scientists discover the true complexities of life and of the universe; and we need to set a national mission to colonize Mars and turn humanity into an interplanetary civilization. The striving for of these goals will do innumerable blessings to break up out of our current malaise and lead us onward to greater things. It is the government funding and coordination and agenda-setting of infrastructure, education, and research that will bring us to the next century.

Third- A Program of Increased Equality of Opportunity aimed at Middle-Class Growth. Not everyone can be a John Rockefeller or a Steve Jobs; but everyone can be a winner, and it is government’s and society’s job to expand so far as possible opportunities for Americans to enter and remain in the Middle Class, to allow them to follow their dreams and live as they see fit. The current system privileges the economic advancement of the top 1%, and disincentives those at the bottom of society to work hard, save, and make new opportunities for themselves. We need to fix that, and strive to provide opportunities for the broad majority of American to enter and maintain middle-class status. This program involves a reform of taxation against loopholes and towards higher taxation of the very rich, and towards tax breaks for entrepreneurs and middle-class families; an imposition of national social insurance for laid-off workers to account for the negative effects of creative destruction; an encouragement of small business growth through a favorable tax environment, and an encouragement of big businesses providing jobs through a favorable regulatory environment; an emphasis on bringing down the cost of living in areas where housing and rents, food costs, utilities costs, and childcare are very high; an attempt at opening up pioneering new regions through the sale of federal lands and the federal subsidization of space-launch; a federal backing of the creation of new jobs in areas across the board, from hi-tech manufacturing to tech to construction to service jobs to creative jobs to resource extraction to finance and insurance and real estate to everything in between. Broad-based economic growth and middle class opportunity go hand-in-hand; let’s push for them.

Beyond these three primary issues, I see three other major issues upon which I’d be willing to compromise, but which I still hold close to my heart-

-The devolution of powers to those political and social entities best capable of resolving the issues at hand, through a generalized system of subsidiarity and local governance, coupled with an emphasis on strong and responsive centralized governance for those issues requiring national solutions; this will require a systematic look at public policy and analysis of where problems are best solved.

-A re-emphasis on the formulation of social capital at every level, to generate those bonds of public trust which grease the organic machine of society, coupled with measures to get out of the way of the growth of- and therefore to encourage- the growth and autonomy of a strong, vigorous, healthy civil society in which Americans will find their home across diverse climes and locales; this is a problem that can’t be solved by government action, but can be nurtured in a garden-like setting by government stepping out of the way and assuming its proper role.

-Democratic political reform for the perpetuation and expansion of our democratic traditions. This includes the reform of campaign finance, the abolition of formalized gerrymandering, the adoption of electoral systems and campaign systems that allows third parties a voice in the public debate, and general redistricting and reform to ensure that responsible American citizens have more avenues to communicate with their civic leaders in the spirit of American democracy.

These six issues form the core of my vision for a strong America in the 21st Century. I will fight for them with my writing and my career. As you can see, I hardly fit into either major party; I take ideas and ideologies and policies from each, while scaring both and satisfying neither.

Are there more Americans out there like me? I would hope so. Time will tell.

Luke’s Log- What is Americanism?

greatamericanmeltingpot

Here at Luke’s Log, we occasionally write about questions of national identity. A mentor of mine, Dan Schnur, told me that every aspiring politico should have three issues upon which to base their political character; and that from these issues they should never deviate, while being willing to compromise pragmatically on everything else.

Well, for me, the biggest issue that defines me politically is the unity of American national identity. Middle-class economics and equality of opportunity, good governance, a renewed American system, and democratic political reform against the plutocrats vie for the other two slots on my trinity; but by and large, a unified American nation bound together by common culture and language and way of life and, most importantly, by a shared civic ethos, is what I intend to devote my political career to forging.

What exactly is this ‘Americanism,’ one might ask. Well, in short, it is the inclusive and unified ticket to membership in the American body politick espoused so eloquently by Theodore Roosevelt, in his various speeches concerning the assimilation of immigrants. It is the character that binds every American to every other- the North American English language, dotted as it is by the words of other tongues; the culture of bounded individualism and familial duty; the availability of innumerable opportunities in every facet of life, the ability for the individual to rise from obscurity to greatness through the power of smarts and hard work; and the eternal conviction that participation in all levels of government- and the willingness to die for it- makes a citizen a citizen. That mishmash of complementary ideals, in my opinion, constitutes Americanism. It is crucial to note that it is open to every individual, regardless of race, religion, origin, ideology, or profession, who so chooses to live upon our shores. It is the most important identity of all.

From the get-go, it sounds so nice that it would seem that all Americans would want it. But there are, in fact, forces working against it from either side. The white supremacists are a thing of the past, and the global humanists have never been a threat. But within this country, Americanism is attacked on the one side by multiculturalism, and on the other by the white backlash.

The white backlash, in essence, is the tendency for the broad middle-class white majority of Americans to view themselves as a coherent group and to dismiss the concerns of various minority communities as meaningless, as the majority of Republican voters tend to view the mass incarceration of black Americans for petty crimes, the continued impoverishment of the black and latino communities, and the continued de facto separation of Asian-Americans from the broader American society. Individuals within the white backlash ask “Why can’t the minorities just stop complaining and assimilate?” and generally turn a blind eye to the legitimate concerns of other communities, while failing to appreciate in full the contributions these communities bring to the broader body politick.

Meanwhile the multiculturalists insist that individuals remain hyphenated Americans, that ethnic and racial identity is as important or more important than broader national identity. They demand the effective segregation of the population through such means as ethnic power movements and race-based affirmative action, operating on the assumption that ethnic identity is so important as to trump- they say complement, but they mean trump- national loyalty and unity. They insist upon seeing every ethnic group that can point to white discrimination in the past as effectively its own separate community, entitled to its own rights and privileges and deserving of political, economic, and social representation proportional to its numbers. They divide Americans by race, and create a host of communities within the broader community, insisting that such an arrangement can do no harm.

Both tendencies- white backlash and multiculturalism- tend to divide the broader American people by asserting the importance of lesser loyalties. They divide Americans along racial lines, and contribute to the notion that race- race, race, race- defines a significant part of who you are, something more traditionally-minded thinkers would call character.

As though there weren’t enough divisions within the body politick already. Multiculturalism and white backlash can and do further divide the American people into identity-based voting blocs, and voting blocs are capable of doing much more than voting- witness the dissolution of Yugoslavia and see what happens to a nation with multiple nations present within it.

The solution Americanism offers, then, is one of both economic advancement and cultural cohesion. Various scholars have pointed out that cultural fusion cannot be forced; while identity might be forceable, the development of unified new identities happens in a more local, organic process, typically accompanying broad-based economic growth. Others have argued that in order for new identities to be forged by natural processes, it is imperative that the artificial barriers to unity which were once propped up by slavery, Jim Crow discrimination, and anti-immigrant legislation (and which are now largely propped up by multiculturalism in policy and the instincts of the white backlash) be removed so far as is possible. For the unity of the American nation which has historically grown more and more inclusive with time to continue, we must tend the garden, clear the weeds, and let the hybrid flowers grow.

But that is not enough. The fact of the matter is that at the moment, there ARE distinct racial communities, each with their own problems and their own challenges. Bringing all groups to parity can and will help speed the process of cultural unification, and to that end it is important that public policy deal with challenges like black incarceration, Asian alienation, and latino poverty. Colorblindness is the goal; but to get there we have to deal with the problems of each of the communities as they currently exist.

What would this new, colorblind nation look like, and what would happen to the assimilated groups (including white people?)

I think the best example to use would be the Irish Catholics- for decades, over a century even, they were despised as the lowest of the low in the northern cities, and turned to ethnic voting, political organizing, and occasionally frenzied violence to let their frustrations be voiced- all this should look familiar, for this same scenario has happened with other minority groups. But as barriers to their success were lifted and they were integrated more deeply into the national unified culture, so as it existed by the 1950s and 1960s, to be ‘Irish’ became no longer a stain in the eyes of non-Irish, and no longer became a point of political identification amongst American Irish themselves. The first American Irish President, John F. Kennedy, is routinely forgotten to have been Irish at all; and moreover, most Irish-Americans today pride themselves on their Irishness only symbolically, without seriously thinking themselves part of a broader Irish-American political community. They maintain some of their traditions, of course, for the sake of legacy; but they are fully Americans in a way that they couldn’t be if they chose to be both Irish-American and American.

The same story has been true of nearly every white ethnic group, from the Germans to the Italians to the Poles, and for a while there it seemed that most non-white ethnic groups were headed that direction too- until the multiculturalist movements of the 1960s arose. It is impossible to determine how many members of the Asian, Latino, Black, and other nonwhite communities view themselves as Americans first versus viewing themselves as hyphenated Americans first; and indeed a lot of the blame falls upon the elitist white supremacists for setting the conditions for a legacy of racial division in the first place. All we can hope for is a tearing down of the barriers to unity that exist at the moment, in hopes that a broader identity will take the place of the divided identities we know today.

In the future, I hope Americanism again pervades the whole of this great country, and that our descendants look upon white backlash and multiculturalism with as much disgust as we now look upon slavery, formal discrimination, and social darwinism. I hope our descendants inhabit an America united in identity, where every child born upon these shores knows that they are an American first, a valuable contribution to the national story. That will take the sacrifice of pride by some groups, and the willingness to help alleviate social conditions of others by other groups. But most critically it will require the willingness to assimilate into the broader melting pot on the part of everyone, coupled with the acknowledgement that symbolic identities of background will and should be maintained by individuals and communities. It will be a long, tough slog, and I do not expect that it will be done without hardship and toil. But I am confident it will be done. May our descendants know a colorblind land of opportunity, and may that land well serve them and their posterity.

Luke’s Log- What Does Gallup Say about Women and Abortion?

prolifevsprochoice

Listening to any feminist activist, you’d be forgivable to assume that every single women in the world was clamoring over the right to abort the fetus within them. That’s certainly how the loudest and most commonly-visible feminist activists tend to argue, anyway. There’s a tendency among modern feminists to label people who are morally opposed to abortion as ‘anti-woman’ and to make greater access to abortion rights as the top item on their agendas. Anything less than the full submittal to the feminist line is the result of patriarchal men trying to legislate their way into women’s bodies, or something like that. Abortion is THE women’s issue and men shouldn’t be involved- didn’t you know?

So I was surprised when one day I did a quick search and found that the actual opinions of American women aren’t nearly so clear-cut. Here’s what Gallup- which, by the way, doesn’t usually fudge its numbers for ideological purposes- has to say about American women’s opinions on abortion:

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************

American’s own views on abortion- by major subgroups

Women:

Pro-choice: 47%

Pro-life: 46%

Net pro-choice majority: 1%

Men:

Pro-choice: 42%

Pro-life: 50%

Net pro-choice majority: -8%

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Granted, Gallup says the poll didn’t specify the definitions of pro-choice or pro-life, so we don’t really know what those respondents said. I, for example, am legislatively pro-choice- I think laws outlawing abortion are counterproductive and wrong- but I am morally pro-life- I personally see no justifiable abortion save in instances wherein the woman’s life is in danger. So what would I answer, where would I fit? I would probably have answered ‘pro-choice’ had I been polled- but my vote would not have been for the women-have-the-absolute-right-to-abort-and-men-can’t-interfere ideology that feminists seem to assume pro-choice respondents ought to hold.

So anyway, there are two conclusions we can draw from these poll results (which were published in 2013, by the way.)

First, it doesn’t seem that there is a vast male conspiracy to control female bodies. Certainly it appears that there are more men opposed to abortion than women, and certainly that may have to do with the fact that they are not the subjects of this conflict- women are. But given that a full 40% of men consider themselves pro-choice, it would be a far stretch to say that men in general try to put women down (and this is just my personal musing, but I would damn well bet that the majority of men who responded pro-choice are more desirous of having sex with lots of women- and thus making abortions more frequent, if they screw up- than the 50% of men who responded saying that they’re pro-life. Prove me wrong.)

But second and more striking, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT THERE IS AN EVEN SPLIT DOWN THE MIDDLE ON WOMEN’S VIEWS OF ABORTION. This is HUGE. This COMPLETELY invalidates the feminist narrative, that all women seek abortion rights. It shows that there is a significant pro-life portion of the female population that does not feel represented or included in the feminist viewpoint that abortion is a woman’s right. It shows that the feminists who claim to speak for all women actually- and no one is surprised- represent but a faction of women.

This should be something of a relief for pro-lifers and something of a warning for feminist pro-choicers. Nothing wrong with having your views; but it’s important that neither side claims to speak for the majority of American women, because quite frankly, neither does. (It would be probably best, though, for both sides to moderate their rhetoric and their demonization of the other- if Americans are truly as moderate as many other polls seem to suggest, it would seem that strong abortion rhetoric in either direction makes more enemies than friends.)

I’m tempted to conclude with an old ditty of mine, ‘The world really is more interesting than it seems.’ The world is so complicated, human nature so confusing and human societies so complex, that no vapid ideological model would ever be able to capture the full beauty of it. Better to think and deal with facts, than to feel and make your own.

Luke’s Log- Infrastructure in the 21st Century

I have covered various proposals concerning infrastructure, but it seems to me that there are four main areas where Americans will have to focus their efforts in the coming decades. As legacy systems decay, they must be replaced with state-of-the-art electronically-networked and physically durable and adjustable systems capable of meeting the needs of the information economy. In order of least to most important at a national level, these areas would be-

-Water.

-Power.

-Transportation.

-Wireless.

In each of these areas, it is imperative that multi-sector authorities be formed, composed of businessmen, policymakers, community representatives, foundation representatives, think tankers, and other interested parties capable of bringing sound ideas to the table. These hubs of thinkers can then conduct studies and provide analysis and proposals for the reform and improvement of infrastructure at all levels. But moreover, these need not be only at the local, state, and regional levels- if we are to have a fully integrated, fully computerized, fully responsive, and fully adaptable infrastructure at a nationwide scale, then we require nothing less than a permanent national infrastructure board capable of conducting studies and making proposals for the entirety of our sturdy, networked infrastructure moving forward. Some proposals for each of the areas follow-

Water- Greater investment in local storage, capture, and recycling; optimized use options, particularly in the southwestern states where scarcity and competition between sectors becomes problematic; research into prospects for desalination plants in California to provide water to the parched Southwest.

Power- Investment of revenues from shale oil boom into hi-tech clean energy, particularly advanced nuclear. Investment in hi-tech nuclear power and the establishment of a hi-tech nuclear grid, composed of small, safe, mobile reactors planted at strategic locations in urban locales.  Investment in greater connectivity between urban and rural locales and more effective power storage. Moreover, funding of the nuclear power industry en masse to drive down the cost of energy and make electricity essentially free for every American.

Transportation- Acknowledgment of the American infatuation with the car culture and ultra modernization of that trait of our national culture, including but not limited to-1) Investment in making high-quality electric cars cheap, in conjunction with efforts to nuclearize the energy economy and make electricity as close to free as possible; 2) investment in centrally-networked self-driving car systems, wherein traffic flows can be optimized and accidents avoided by various algorithms made available by advances in computing and cybertechnology; 3) investment in flying car technology, still within the context of networked cars and centrally-computer-driven cars; and 4) restructuring of nation’s industries dependent upon drivers, such as trucking and taxis, to be newly dependent on publicly-owned self-driving car systems. These reforms should also include ways to integrate the self-driving electric car system with the airline systems, and do what they can to drive down the cost of ownership and tickets in both.

Wireless- Given that the huge majority of commerce and communication has for years now taken place over the internet, and that in coming years that trend will only continue, it is imperative that future governments do what they can to make strong, secure, and lightning-quick wifi free for every American. This will involve both restructuring current wifi law and building a new infrastructure of omnipresent nodes capable of supplying service to every corner of the United States. And given that this is the most important part of the new infrastructure, it also happens to be the least understood. More research, more investment, and more reform should follow.

Granted, there are other areas of infrastructure and semi-infrastructure that need paid attention to. In particular, housing is one of those borderline infrastructure areas which is currently undergoing crisis, and one which will have to be addressed by upcoming generations of statesmen. But for now, let us be content with working on the current list of networks which will be necessary for the efficient transportation and delivery of water, power, goods, services, people, and information in the near future and likely further than that. Let us strive to push our leaders to reform these critical infrastructure sectors, for the more fluid and dynamic development of the American economy and a society as we push forward into the century.

AMA vs. C-SPaM: A Call for Dialogue Between Moderates and Activists at USC

blindfoldfight

First off, this post is going to piss a lot of people off. I’ll be saying some controversial things. Trigger warning, if that kind of thing bugs you. Also, I’m posting this on my personal blog because I’m basically certain the Daily Trojan won’t run it.

I, Luke Phillips, am a member of the political group No Labels. NL’s basic goal is to get ideologically diverse politicians and politicos to talk with each other, to recognize each other’s humanity, and ultimately to get things done. While their targets are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, I have noticed that here at USC, there is not much need for No Labels, since for the most part the active members of the political organizations on campus do in fact treat each other with respect and tend to stay on friendly terms while disagreeing.

The same cannot be said, however, between the two sides of another debate on campus at USC- the socio-moral debate, between the activist minority and the moderate majority.

Long story short, there’s a split in Undergraduate Student Government that pretty accurately reflects divisions between students on campus, I think. On the one side you have the cultural assemblies- Asian-Pacific American Students Assembly, Queer and Ally Students Assembly, Women’s Student Assembly, etc- which are staffed by activists and tend to support various causes along the lines of ‘the rights and empowerment of oppressed minority groups.’ Let’s call this group the AMA’s- the Aggrieved Minority Activists. (Literally no connection between that acronym and the name of the current director of USC Program Board, a component of USG-the fact that she spells her name the same way is entirely coincidental.)

The AMAs are very well-organized, very vocal, and very passionate about the causes they believe in. Unfortunately for them, the broad majority of USC students will vocalize support for their causes, but not agree with anywhere near the entirety of the minutia they support. Case in point, WSA purports to represent the entire female student body on campus- but, and I haven’t looked at the polling data on this one, I think it’s fair to say that nowhere near the entirety of the female student body on campus feels represented by WSA.

The majority of the student body tends to be equally progressive as the AMAs on social issues- supportive of the rights of all, believing in the necessity of treating everybody equally, and fully believing in the fundamental dignity of the human person and the fundamental role of government and society being to protect the rights of individuals. Yet they are temperamentally far more conservative, in that they don’t view the bullet points that AMAs make a big deal over as being anything more than bullet points,  and in that they don’t see oppressor-oppressed as the fundamental relationship in human society, nor a Manichaean battle of good against evil- light against darkness- as the fundamental moral condition of humanity. The vast majority of the student population sees inequality and injustice as unfortunate realities to be struggled against in daily life, but realities still, and realities that mature temperaments must accept and work around. They ascribe much more power to individuals than to invisible social forces or unconscious prejudice; and they are generally opposed to the tactics of activists out of favor of order and social decency.

The moderates of the student body are not the reactionaries like the Matt Walshes of the world, who go out of their way to pinpoint every last flaw with activist arguments and work to demonize good people simply because they disagree. No, the majority of student body non-activists see and want the good in life for all people, but are unwilling out of principle to view themselves as the bearers of truth to an unfeeling world, as most activists seem to see themselves.

And here we get to the other major faction in the USG split. Across the aisle from the AMAs is what I like to call C-SPaM- the Coalition of Social and Political Moderates. C-SPaM (yes, I know the letters are out of order, but it sounds better that way) is composed of those individuals- be they in the Program Board non-cultural event-planning assemblies, in the Senate, in the Executive Cabinet, or wherever- who subscribe to the general tendencies of the broad majority of USC students on social issues. They do not use their office to promote ‘social justice,’ though they do look upon human affairs with a sympathetic eye to the oppressed. They do not parade their trials in life, nor do they claim to speak for the rights of the oppressed against the heartless majority. They are practical people with a purpose beyond that of narrow group-interest; they look to the whole and attempt to better the conditions of USC students as a whole, rather than in particularistic groups. They leave that task to the AMAs.

And moreover, the C-SPaMmers have next to no formal organization compared to the AMA groups. They might have a few groups here and there on campus, but there is no Moderate Middle-Class Students Assembly (or, as I like to joke, a Privileged White Male Students Assembly) or anything of the like. Like Richard Nixon’s Moral Majority, the majority of these students stay silent and allow the activists to dominate the debate and the policy world, either because they do not care enough to get involved or because they see a thousand other problems more important than mundane social concerns. But they DO have an opinion- a very valid and very powerful opinion- and when prodded enough, they make their voice known.

So there you are- on one side the AMAs, on the other the C-SPaM. And how are relations between these groups?

On the surface, pretty dang good. They communicate as individuals, there are friendships between individuals of widely differing viewpoints, and there’s little to no drama.

Except when there is.

Bubbling beneath the surface, occasionally a C-SPaMmer does something that infuriates an AMA, or an AMA does something that presses the wrong buttons on a C-SPaMmer. Then things get ugly, really quick. Accusations of bigotry from the one side fly against accusations of hypersensitivity from the other, both sides thinking they are unequivocally correct and the other side downright wrong, if not pernicious and oppressive. Factions form, and the divided executive leadership occasionally takes steps to halt the confusion- but not always.

This is all indicative of a deeper tension between AMAs and C-SPaMmers. The AMAs view the C-SPaMmers as oppressive, and the C-SPaMmers view the AMAs as whiny and oversensitive. Both view the other as militant, seeing themselves as the innocent good guys and the other as the trepidating bad guys. (Yup, made up that word too.) In short, it’s not blatant and out in the open; it’s a seething pit of red and black vipers, teamed up against each other, waiting for the barrier between them to smash to bits so each can fall upon the other.

Just two quick examples. First off, bear in mind that this split isn’t confined to active members of USG- it’s across the campus community, including between those who are active in various groups but not necessarily active in USG. And bear in mind that C-SPaM includes groups who are directly opposed to the ideologies of AMAs, but not conservative enough to be considered reactionary.

So, I’ll start off with where the AMAs are wrong, and then get to where the C-SPaMmers are wrong.

The USC Students for Life- an anti-abortion group, I believe based in the Catholic Center- held an event where they had a rape baby come in and talk. (Rape babies are children born of rape, when the mother chooses not to have an abortion.) I later overheard members of the Women’s Student Assembly gossiping in a derogatory fashion about the anti-abortion group, deriding the event as “Anti-Woman” and going so far as to joke about spying on the group to find out what days they had events planned, and booking all the potential venues on campus to prevent the event from being held (a tactic which one might associate with white supremacist groups in the Jim Crow South attempting to prevent black people’s rallies and marches from being held.) I assume- no, I hope to God- that the WSA members in question were joking, because such a power play would otherwise be too despicable to be imagined- an activist group dependent on the public space to get its message across, using all the options in its power to prevent an opposing activist group from getting its opposing message across. What country are we living in?

Now for MY sins.

If it’s not clear yet that I self-identify as a C-SPaMmer- a member of the Coalition of Social and Political Moderates- then you, dear reader, have not been reading this little essay of mine closely enough. I’ve been sympathetic to the C-SPaMmers and more than a little bit crass about the AMAs. Start reading this more closely, I have at least a few important points.

I’m as guilty as anyone, if not more, of playing a very partisan role in the AMA-C-SPaM War. I’ve published a few articles in the Daily Trojan attacking activists for being activists. When the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation occupied the hallway in front of President Nikias’s office in protest of USC’s relationship with some garments company that did work/used low-wage labor in Bangladesh, I published a Letter to the Editor in DT arguing that these well-intentioned young city kids had not the slightest idea of how either international political economy, economic development, or university policymaking worked. Here’s a  particularly rude passage in which I, using flowery elitist rhetoric, accused the activists of both hypocrisy AND ignorance:

“Moreover, if factory deaths are a reason to divest ourselves into cleanliness, what else is drenched in the gore of the innocent? Must we give up, too, our laptops and smart phones, which contain minerals that are brutally fought over in Africa? Should we cease to travel anywhere because the gasoline in our tanks comes from oppressive regimes? How much food do we have to stop buying because the people picking it aren’t paid enough?

Injustice is a natural part of human life, a part that so completely bathes all reality that it is impossible to fight it without partaking in it and revealing one’s own hypocrisy. Great change tends to be caused either by great injustice, or terribly slow evolution. The activist will never find satisfaction, for he or she desires a quick and just solution to a problem too complex to have one. Though they might be noble, their worldview does not fit the reality of this world.

This is not to suggest that we ought to simply accept the world’s imperfection and stay silent in the face of evil. To do so would go against our very nature, as the moral law is written on our hearts. It is to say, however, that the wise and just must acknowledge that there will never be anything like true justice, yet strive forever towards the best possible ends, with the most practical possible means. Justice is worth nothing less.”

When the Michael Brown verdict came out months and months later, I wrote a similar article attacking the activist marchers, and on Facebook I called them ‘zombies.’ I justly received flak for both pieces.

So there. I’m as foul a player in this game as any, and I freely admit to harboring negative stereotypes and ill regard for many of the leading members of the activist community at USC, because of their personal beliefs and because of the tactics they take. I am fully aware that they hold similar views of me and my fellow C-SPaMmers. It’s a war of ideas, and an ugly war at that.

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So why have I taken the time to detail the inner workings of USG politics to the world?

Well, I am fully aware that I would be perfectly happy continuing in this conflict for life. I’m pretty sure most of my fellow C-SPaMmers would too, as would our counterparts in the AMA camp. We can go on fighting for our various causes and sliming each other as long as we want, and we’ll never get exhausted. Fighting the good fight is in our blood; it’s literally part of our identities.

Then why trash it? Why not keep fighting?

Well, I did say at the beginning of this piece that I am a card-carrying member of No Labels. Like most of my fellow unlabeled political partisans, I don’t like the partisan rancor that so often characterizes Washington D.C., and I would rather have a sense of common courtesy, human decency, and pragmatic problem solving, than feel that I was unanimously right and therefore purposed with telling everyone else how right I was. In politics at least- and I think a lot of Americans would like that in politics.

So why not have that in other aspects of life as well? Maybe not college football rivalries- cuz that would take out all the fun- but I definitely think that the No Labels ethos of respect and common-ground-seeking is something applicable to most of the great questions of life, up to and including religion, the meaning of life, and the afore-mentioned debate on social issues so prevalent at USC and other campuses around the world.

There could be, like, roundtables or double panels featuring representatives from AMA and C-SPaM, who could talk to each other about their worldviews in a respectful manner, moderated by someone sufficiently disinterested. These wouldn’t be the activist awareness campaigns that AMA people put on, nor the backroom political philosophy discussions in which the C-SPaMmers engage, but something entirely different- a place where the activists weren’t trying to convert the moderates and where the moderates weren’t trying to tame the activists, a place bent not on political action but upon understanding- the understanding by diverse groups of each other as not demons nor oppressors nor rabble-rousers, but as equally-flawed, equally-passionate human beings with different experiences from each other, who could LEARN from each other, who could GROW IN MIND with each other. They would know that neither they nor their opponents knew the wholeness of truth- a beautiful piece of knowledge known only, in my understanding, by God- but they would know that they themselves AND their opponents each had a kernel of it, and could learn more by learning to understand, rather than demonize, the opinions of the others. There’d be less in the way of rancor and more in the way of civilized understanding. And realizing that no human being can begin to comprehend the fullness of truth, the sentiments of all would be swayed towards what (in part at least) truly makes a person human- the internalization and activation of one’s deepest capacities for respect for others, regardless of beliefs, regardless of desires, regardless of prejudice. This respect in debate is the only thing that can be truly known to be good; and therefore ought to be the defining aspect of the humanity of all who attain it, rather than whatever else they can bring to the table.

Is this a realistic thing to ask for? I doubt it- it’s a very tall order. It’s basically having two tall, blindfolded men with knives drawn, and asking each in turn to put down his knife and approach and embrace the other, without having full trust that the other had placed down his knife. It’s asking people to be incredibly vulnerable and expose their dignities and beliefs, asking them to be humble beyond belief. It’s almost too much to ask for.

Personally, I don’t think this will ever be done; the activists will be too proud and the moderates will be too apathetic; moreover, neither side will trust the other to lay down their knives and come with open arms. I don’t even know that I would be trusting enough to do this en masse. I definitely could with individuals- I have dear friends within the AMA community- but I don’t think it’s feasible that I could be a delegate going with other C-SPaMmer delegates to meet with AMA delegates to work out our differences.

Perhaps Thucydides was indeed correct, and war is indeed a natural component of the breast of society. Perhaps there never will be an end to conflict, and man must forever clobber fellow man in the never-ending war of ideas. In just looking at this thought exercise in ideological conflict on a college campus, and seeking unlikely modes of its resolution, is it any wonder that conflict still boils across the Middle East, Africa, Northern Europe, East Asia, Central Asia, the Hindu Kush, and a thousand other locales? Would anyone be surprised if Thucydides were proved correct by something even firmer than experience?

Luke’s Log- Joni Ernst is What’s Wrong with the GOP

After President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address, Senator Joni Ernst spent a half hour pandering to American populism, denying that anything President Obama said about the economy growing is valid. Throughout her half hour of partisan drivel far exceeding Obama’s, she offered not one practical bit of policy wisdom, nor one suggestion as to how the GOP might offer policies counteracting President Obama’s policies.

Fortunately, not all conservatives are so crass. The Young Guns network has published a little book of policy proposals for the benefit of the American middle class, and a series of reformicons and moderate conservatives from David Frum to David Brooks to Peter Wehner to Ramesh Ponnuru to Ross Douthat to Reihan Salam have encouraged quasi-populist pro-middle class policies aimed at promoting broader economic growth and rising wages and incomes.

These thinkers contribute a very underrated role in the national discussion, and have served as some of the inspirations for the ideas behind Luke’s Log.

Search them out. Meanwhile, check out the YG Network book of proposals, Room to Grow.