Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 18:30 on 09-12-2016, Robinson L
Ichneumon: Just chiming in as an actual American here

Er, the way you say that, it makes me feel like I should check to make sure my citizenship hasn't been revoked.

Anyway, I'm sorry if I implied earlier that Trump garnering sufficient votes even to carry the electoral college was entirely reducible to misplaced anti-establishment sentiment. Among other things, that would be an overly reductionist argument.

My intention is to push back against the (equally patronizing) narrative in some liberal circles that the reason their candidate lost the electoral college was that she didn't pander sufficiently to racists. Or, as I remarked to my sister a little while ago, I think it's entirely fair to blame racism for Trump's victory, but not for Clinton's defeat, if you see the distinction.

I've also heard that Trump accumulated fewer total votes than Romney, meaning more Democratic Party voters stayed home in 2016 than in 2012, despite the Republican candidate this time around making Romney look like a moderate. (And yeah, there's also the matter of the ~800 polling places closed after the US Supreme Court struck down some of the Voting Rights Act provisions.) And an article I read soon after the election claims 20% of Trump voters told exit pollers they don't believe he's qualified to be President - I haven't been able to track down that polling data from a cursory internet search, though.

What I have found is data which supports an assertion I heard on a podcast that Trump got massive support from middle income voters, so while many liberal and progressive commentators may work under the stereotype of Trump voters being overwhelmingly poor, it's a fallacious assumption to make.

(Speaking as someone who grew up in the United States' middle income bracket, I can easily believe that many of these commentators have not, in fact, ever met a poor person before.)

The electoral college is a sick joke. To a lesser extent, first-past-the-post is another sick joke.

I completely agree, as does our dearly beloved President-Elect - or at least he did in 2012, when he thought Romney carried the popular vote.

Though I'd argue that fundamentally, the entire US electoral system is a sick joke, much of it orchestrated by Founding Fathers like the musical-inspiring Alexander Hamilton, precisely to avert what Samuel Huntington, writing two centuries later, termed "an excess of democracy."
at 00:16 on 09-12-2016, Ichneumon
P.S. Clinton won the popular vote by two-and-a-half million votes. This difference between the popular vote and what the electoral college has been given is the widest since Samuel Tilden traded his three percent lead against Rutherford B. Hayes for the end of Radical Reconstruction in the South.

The electoral college is a sick joke. To a lesser extent, first-past-the-post is another sick joke.

Here's hoping Dr. Stein's recounts turn up something dire.
at 00:11 on 09-12-2016, Ichneumon
Just chiming in as an actual American here (albeit one who favours Commonwealth spelling, which is perhaps deceptive) that this idea that the wave of support which Trump received was reducible to a misguided reaction to laissez-faire economics is utter bullshit. One can be strongly opposed to the prevailing approach to international trade, financial regulation and the redistribution of wealth without leaping into the arms of a screeching authoritarian demagogue sans substance; and indeed, most people of that inclination favoured Clinton, albeit grudgingly, with the understanding that a highly capable if undesirably conservative and uncharismatic administrator with whom one might reason is inherently preferable to such a monstrous alternative.

That said, not all Trump supporters were necessarily Nazis or total morons, although I would not be surprised if the margins of both were fairly high here: There were certainly a number of single-issue protectionist wonks with only a *slight* racist tinge who were unable to get past the Democratic nominee's husbands trade record; and there were no doubt quite a number of die-hard Republicans who vainly hoped that Il Duce might be tempered by establishment guidance. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a goodly number of people who fully expected Clinton to win and voted for the other side as a rather wrong-headed protest vote against, say, the perceived "theft" of Sanders' nomination—which, speaking as a long-time fan of the esteemed Senator and a full-throated supporter of his presidential campaign, I must also call foul on, but I digress.

In either case, pretending that working people cannot feel radically opposed to the current state of the American economic system while harbouring an even stronger disdain for latent fascist rhetoric and blatant fascist campaign officials (hello, Steve Bannon) is just such classist nonsense. I see it a lot from a certain kind of self-satisfied bourgeois Marxist milieu, particularly on sites like Jacobin and certain corners of Tumblr, and I'm always forced to wonder, "Have you never met a smart poor person before? Have you never met a poor person before?"

Sorry if it seems like I'm spreading imprecations but I really find that whole set of assumptions deeply patronising.
at 22:30 on 19-11-2016, Robinson L
Yes, well, formatting aside, I think it's an excellent analysis, one which largely aligns with the commentary I've seen already, but in slightly different language, which I find useful in reaching a more thorough understanding of the overall points.

I definitely agree about the role of underlying causes. To paraphrase a couple of the post-election commentaries I've read recently, Trump said, "These are the problems," and then offered mostly dingbat solutions, but ones which tapped into long-standing narratives which still haven't been sufficiently confronted and refuted in the culture at large. Whereas Clinton said, "Problems? I see know problems, here. We're going to stay the course." (Sanders also said "These are the problems" and offered superior solutions to Trump, and tapped into more positive cultural narratives, but he was side-lined in favor of Clinton, so once he was out of the race, none of the anti-establishment voters had an alternative to Trump in the Big Two political parties.)

Slate had a thing on this in connection to Trump, how he milked the resentment of elites in his favor, even if he is of the elite(even if of perhaps a slightly different set) in such an obvious way.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few weeks before the election, where someone was summarizing something they'd heard secondhand about the mindset of Trump voters: yes, he's an elite, but he doesn't look down on them. (I highly suspect they're mistaken in this perception, but it would hardly be the first time voters have become deluded about a candidate from either of the Big Two parties.)

disappointingly often people's feelings of resentment resemble Spartacus's revolt (the historical one, not the one depicted in series and movies); that is, people don't really have a problem with inequality or weakness, the problem is their own perceived weakness and inequality

This is unfortunately true, which is why the divide and conquer tactic of making concessions to a relatively privileged sector of an oppositional group or movement to get it to break with its comrades and blunt the oppositional momentum is so effective. (Actually, it puts me in mind of Gandhi in South Africa, organizing against British oppression of Indians before he returned to India - he apparently failed to link up the struggle of South African Indians against British rule with that of black South Africans' but argued Indians were better than black Africans and therefore were undeserving of such mistreatment.) There are plenty of counter-examples of genuine solidarity, too, but it's definitely a prevalent phenomenon.

persons who have enough education in humanities to know that personal and political biases are immanent to having most opinions about the world, but coupled with just enough arrogance and belief in their knowledge of science(based on popularizations mostly) so that they believe their own opinions to somehow be objective, as if they had some direct connection to reality and not just be suffering from the same confirmation bias as the rest of us, except they are in denial about it.

I know this is tangential to what you're talking about, but when you give this description, the first thing which comes to my mind is one of those "scientific" atheists who treats their lack of belief in the supernatural and unshaking belief in a materialist, mechanistic universe as inherently superior to believers in the supernatural, or a non-materialist, non-mechanistic universe. (Coming from the perspective of an unbeliever in the supernatural, a believer in a materialist universe, and an unbeliever in a mechanistic one, but one who acknowledges my own viewpoint is as biased and contingent as most other people's.)
at 19:23 on 19-11-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Ugh, I need to stop using my phone to write such long things. Sorry for the lack of paragraphs.
at 19:21 on 19-11-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
An interesting view on the rise of popularism and more extreme parties is that it also reflects a backlash against political elites. And while the varied prejudices(racism, misogyny, &c.) are in many cases something that unites these voters, there is also the chicken and egg question of how much of this negative sentiment has worked in the other direction. On the one hand we have those who are very prejudiced and gravitate towards a political party (or person) who represents those prejudices. And on the other hand we have people who are estranged from the political process, feel powerless and are despairing about their economic future, who gravitate towards something that offers an out from that feeling of despair. A direction. And once they are on board, their pre-existing prejudices are strengthened or they assimilate the prejudices of the more extreme people of the same movement(in a very broad sense). And such popularist movements will often offer simple scapegoats to blame and whose defeat will somehow make things better, which engenders further prejudices. The cognitive dissonance of having to defend their choice, that was made from a position of weakness will strengthen their emotional commitment and deepen their prejudices and distortions of what is fair and how other people should be respected, as well as how to decide who is telling the truth. And this thing happens I think, regardless of whether those original feelings of despair and disenfranchisement arose from false sense of privilege or from a justified feeling of not being represented by the existing political forces. Whether they are all wrong is really beside the point, since once that feeling is there and someone with opportunity starts to tap it, it becomes hard to stop. Its interesting that there is so often talk of rising against the elites, but the people leading the movement are very elitistic themselves. And of course it is true, that disappointingly often people's feelings of resentment resemble Spartacus's revolt(the historical one, not the one depicted in series and movies); that is, people don't really have a problem with inequality or weakness, the problem is their own perceived weakness and inequality. But in some cases, some people(well, mostly men) gravitate towards these movements simply because it gives them simple answers and seemingly easy solutions and they did not belong to anything before, they were just disjointed. Slate had a thing on this in connection to Trump, how he milked the resentment of elites in his favor, even if he is of the elite(even if of perhaps a slightly different set) in such an obvious way.

attention to the far greater radicalization of white men online in that same time period

This is a very apt observation and it is evident in many different countries. In my surroundings, it is disheartening to see the utter negativeness of that slide. It seems accompanied by such a hopeless worldview of perpetual conflict between civilizations and quite alarmingly has as its leaders many of the "educated elite" that they so hate. By which I mean persons who have enough education in humanities to know that personal and political biases are immanent to having most opinions about the world, but coupled with just enough arrogance and belief in their knowledge of science(based on popularizations mostly) so that they believe their own opinions to somehow be objective, as if they had some direct connection to reality and not just be suffering from the same confirmation bias as the rest of us, except they are in denial about it. And somehow this objective knowledge of the world comes out in utter reactionariness, where things that are unfair in society to groups that they do not self-identify with are the result of "nature" whereas the things they feel are unfair to themselves and groups they identify with are "distortions of nature". They add a sort of faux-legitimity to the radicalization, which is hard to defeat, since the whole posse is in denial about their faulty premises or do not really understand the argument.

It still seems to me that much of this hatred is caused by underlying causes, by which I do not mean to offer as an excuse to anyone. But the continuing economical uncertainty in combination with global political environment (caused by the economical situation and feeding it as well) causes a lot of distress which is ill handled by our political establishment and is left to be exploited and turn even more sour.
at 15:30 on 16-11-2016, Robinson L
Also, I think it was on DemocracyNow!'s post-election analysis, someone pointed out that the media has yammered on and on over the past ~decade and a half about the radicalization of Muslims online, and paid hardly any attention to the far greater radicalization of white men online in that same time period, which was one of those points where I was like, "Wow, I'd never thought about it like that, but year, you're totally right."
at 18:30 on 15-11-2016, Robinson L
Arthur: Chainsawsuit nails it with their response to the Trumptastrophe.

Yep, that about sums it up.

I've seen and heard a lot of excellent commentary on the US Presidential election over the past week, including a clip of Glenn Greenwald on DemocracyNow! talking about how in both the US general election and the UK Brexit campaign, the respective mainstream medias created an echo chamber effect where they were (almost) all agreed on a desired outcome, and convinced themselves that a majority of the voting public agreed without looking closely at what the voting public were actually saying.

In both cases, also, I see many commentators arguing that the results should not be seen as *just* expressions of racism and xenophobia by Trump/Leave voters (they undoubtedly were, just as a large number of Clinton/Stay voters were undoubtedly also racist/xenophobic in different ways; they're two very racist/xenophobic countries) but also as (highly misguided) protests against austerity and neoliberal laissez-faire.

Also, a friend of mine who's a British immigrant shared this article the other day, about the way the BBC is normalizing the far right in instances such as Trump and, Farage and UKIP, and Le Pen and the National Front in France.
at 18:30 on 11-11-2016, Arthur B
Adrienne: I have just e-mailed you something! Thought I would mention it here in case the e-mail associated with your Ferretbrain account isn't good any more.
at 00:26 on 25-10-2016, Adrienne
Arthur, you seriously need to hire yourself out writing titles for people who are bad at them. Your titling game is ON POINT.
at 23:27 on 07-10-2016, Ichneumon
Send them to me, naturally. After all, I've been sitting in this bunker all this time, and eating nothing but tins of tuna and potted meat gets old after a while.
at 03:00 on 04-10-2016, Robinson L
Great, now what am I supposed to do with all these marshmallows and graham crackers? I don't even like s'mores. (I don't, actually.)
at 12:09 on 02-10-2016, Shim
There definitely won't be any problems this year. We have our reunion meetup this October and everything, down in the lakeside Ferret Clubhouse. It's fine, because the path never gets flooded in autumn.

Apropos of nothing, the other day I caught a book hanging near my window that looked weirdly like Drood. I yelled, but it was gone by the time I got outside.
at 01:28 on 02-10-2016, Arthur B
Nah, it's fine, there won't be an outage this year.
at 20:15 on 01-10-2016, Robinson L
Dunno about you folks, but I'm set up with marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, and looking forward to making some killer s'mores. And just yesterday, they delivered my TeXt Factor Classics Volume 1 Platinum Deluxe Edition, which I figure should see me through the long, cold blackout.

I think I've got plenty of kindling, but if I run low, you can rest assured Furies of Calderon will be the first one to feed the fire pit.
at 18:30 on 01-10-2016, Robinson L
Well, it's October, Ferretbrain, and you all know what that means. Has everybody battened down the hatches, stocked up the supply closets, and prepared to hunker down for the annual Epic Website Meltdown?
at 22:33 on 30-09-2016, Ibmiller
I enjoyed those articles as well. I love comics, but I am tired of writers who hector and lecture and alienate their audience, instead of developing a persona which makes people want to read their stuff.

I think Robinson is totally right about why it happens - but it's really frustrating when people who are clearly high enough on the totem pole have no self awareness.
at 23:02 on 28-09-2016, Arthur B
To be fair, I think that's all implied by "some kind of weird version of Stockholm syndrome".
at 22:00 on 28-09-2016, Robinson L
Read through the first half of the first article and skimmed the rest. It's an excellent piece, and well-argued.

My only quibble is when the author writes: "All of this is Marvel's fault, not yours or mine, and the propensity of comic book creators to guilt trip fans about preordering has to be classified as some kind of weird version of Stockholm syndrome."

I don't dispute the author's assertion of where fault lies, but I see nothing incongruous about this behavior on the part of creators. Think about it: you are a 21st century comic book creator. Chances are, you love comic books, and you love writing them. You want to be able to write comic book stories and distribute them for other people to enjoy. And you would like to be paid enough to make a living off of writing comic books, because likely none of your other job prospects are anywhere near so fun.

This means you have to find employment at one of the major comics publishing companies (or, more likely, more than one). It's an asymmetrical relationship in which they hold most or all of the power: they can afford to go on without you, but you can't survive without them. All of this being the case, what are the chances that you will publicly criticize an aspect of your employers' business model, no matter how outrageous? Pretty damn low, right? You're more likely to toe the party line and keep those paychecks coming in.

Now, I learned in Psych 101 that our behavior plays a role in shaping our values. People don't handle cognitive dissonance very well, so if you as a creator act in a way that's consonant with your employer's business model, you're apt to internalize the logic of that model as well. So when you get angry and upset over a good book's cancellation, are you going to blame your employers' business model? Or is your professional self-preservation instinct more likely to kick in and subconsciously prompt you to channel those feelings of anger and blame onto the employer-approved scapegoat group(s)? Will you lash out against your own source of livelihood, or against the people your source of livelihood claims are responsible, no matter how weak the claim may be?
at 15:02 on 08-09-2016, Robinson L
No fear, Janne, it's entirely understandable. As you can see, my own reply has taken me a few days to share. I hope your statistics studies are rewarding for you.

It's funny you bring up Snyder's scholarship. I actually heard a podcast of his lecture at the LSE and also an appearance on the BBC's Start The Week after the publication of his latest book, Black Earth a thematic sequel to Bloodlands. I'm going to talk about those in some detail in the next paragraph, and I want to put up a trigger warning for discussion of the European Jewish Holocaust.

In both podcast appearances, Snyder argued that Jews from states which the Nazis essentially dissolved (such as Poland and Czechoslovakia) were much more likely to be murdered in the Holocaust than Jewish citizens of states which maintained their institutions, even ones which, like Hungary, were much more antisemitic in temperament. Snyder gives this as an argument for why states should not be allowed to dissolve - though in the LSE lecture, he clarified that if they are, we should first ensure those life-saving institutions of the states remain in place. It seems to me that his own logic argues in favor of the latter scenario, for by his own account, while the French state did a fairly good job of protecting French Jews (quite a few were murdered, but not nearly as many as Czech and Polish), it also cheerfully shipped numerous foreign Jews to the gas chambers. Once again, we see nationality preempting common humanity.

(I was going to include this stuff in my last comment, but whilst looking up a couple of details, I ran into several articles criticizing Snyder's scholarship in Bloodlands and Black Earth and disputing many of his claims. I haven't looked into the details, and I suspect I'd have to be a much more informed student of the history to sort out whose argument is most plausible; but I'm now taking Snyder's claims with a grain of salt.)

I'm aware that indigenous and other minority cultures have embraced nationality as part of their struggles against exploitation and domination. From my point of view at several removes, I have two broad thoughts on this. The first is that something which gives you a tactical advantage in struggling for cultural survival is probably a worthwhile pursuit in the short run, regardless of its desirability as a model of society at large. The second is that such groups usually share belief systems, foundation myths, ritual practices, communal organizations and other cultural markers (including a strong connection to geographic territory) - the stuff which, as I've said, is pretty weak if not absent in a territory as vast as, e.g., the US of A; under those circumstances, "nationalism" might be a reasonable organizing category. As I said, I haven't made a study of this stuff, and it's so far outside of my experience that we might as well be talking about completely different concepts, so I can't comment further on that one.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Orwell's distinction between nationalism and patriotism, and I'm not sure what the practical on-the-ground consequences of what you're suggesting would be. My feeling is that nationalism as I am most familiar with it - in the context of places such as the United States - denies flexibility, porosity, hybridity, fluidity, multiplicty, and seems to facilitate "us vs. them" thinking more easily than other potential group identities.

Probably most things in life have some positive or negative qualities. I view nationalism - again, as I understand it - on approximately the same level I view feudalism or militarism. I think their negative qualities are systemic and their positive qualities can be better organized through other means. Maybe that's an irrational bias on my part, I don't know.

I think the European Union has done wonderful things in promoting more free movement and cross-cultural experiences among EU citizens. My worry, however, is that it also promotes a sort of supranationalism based around European identity, with the unspoken subtext being "white, and secular Christian." The "Fortress Europe" mentality, in other words. It conjures to my - admittedly not very well informed - mind images of Medieval European countries agreeing to set aside their differences to an extent, and coming together in the spirit of love and Christian brotherhood to go murder the hell out of those Muslims in the Land of Jesus. Maybe those are two unrelated factors and maybe they're not - I don't know.

Austerity rears its perfidious head all over the damn place, doesn't it? I'm sorry to hear about the troubles you folks are going through out there, and I hope more sensible forces prevail, and sooner rather than later. I'm glad to hear that your education system is mostly hanging on, so far. You deserve nothing but the best, and the rest of us can do with examples to club over the heads of people who come to us spouting bullshit about how "there is no alternative."
at 12:12 on 05-09-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
Sorry it took me such a long time to answer! I'm just starting my new studies in mathematical statistics and am kinda swamped right now, since I really need to work on my math skills(like basic stuff).

I do agree with your points about nationalism and its connection to statehood or how it is so often conflated with ethnicityand the negative aspects of group thinking. There is an interesting book by Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands where one of the emerging argumnts is that even in the middle of the horribleness that was the eastern front in the Second World War, being a citizen of a nation protected an individual to some degree (of course not that much, that it was safe in any meaning of the word), even if they were of a threatened group. So being a citizen of a nation confers several privileges that are denied those, that are not citizens. And like all privileges, it is often thought of as a right intrinsic to a certain kind of individual (of certain ethnicity, language, religion &c.), rather than as something created by law by a certain society for certain individuals, which is not necessarily connected to any real shared characteristics and rather more on coincidence (where the individual happens to be born, for example). And when privileges are seen as natural rights of certain people, but not of others, it is easier to think less of those other groups and treat them as something less. Like for example by their instrumental economic value in the short term for example. And this sort of nasty group thinking can be exploited for many nefarious ends.

So no, nationalism can not be a basis for ranking individual worth and it is certainly not an adequate basis for a political ideology. But it, like most things can have positive traits as well. It does create a sense of identity and social cohesion, which can make many benevolent policies possible. And it can be an inclusive phenomenon as well as exclusive. It very much depends on other things interacting with it, like politics often do. But granted, an us vs. them mentality is an easier sell in many cases. Stalin was probably not a nationalist, but he ceratinly exploited Russian nationalism. Similarly, it has been argued that Hitler was actually not a nationalist, he merely exploited nationalistic sentiment to make his own ideas of society a reality.

It is interesting to note that nationalism was in many cases a movement that co-existed with liberalism and socialism in the 19th century and many small ethnicities in the world have organized to struggle agains exploitation and oppression by nationality as well as ethnicity. And this, of course has backfired multiple times too, perhaps most famously in the Balkans at the beginning of 20th century.

But taking into account, how prevalent a sort of thinking by groups is, it might be a good idea to include the tendency to think of societies as something concrete in political movements, since it can be inclusive and it does not have to be the basis of anything. I guess there should be a distinction of terms, like Orwell had between nationalism and patriotism.

Now I have to confess that I have been using these terms a bit haphazardly, assuming their definitions are unambiguos. In the finnish language, what Orwell referred to as nationalism and which seems to be your take on it as well, is called sovinismi, from chauvinism, or at least it used to. Nationalism is sort of neutral and depends very much on the context. Patriotism on the other hand is seen as a mostly positive word, but is maybe a bit militaristic in the sense of national defense, which has a domestic political dimension all of its own, because of historical and some contemporary reasons. But I guess what I'm aiming at is some sort of positive reading of patriotism.

The idea of anti-nationalist or internationalist(or cosmopolitanist or pan-nationalist?) ethic is acceptable to me, but it is like you said a question of why just one each? Is cosmopolitanism and patriotism mutually exclusive? The question of citizenhood is a good one and I think one of the better achievements of the EU has been the concept of EU-citizen, which makes it possible for individuals to change countries much more freely than has not been the case really ever before. And such co-operation between communities (which I consider countries to be), is a good thing. But internationalism is still a very large idea and fairly abstract in its universalism. Perhaps patriotism could be understood in a sort of care ethics way, where if you consider the country your in to have a beneficial effect on its citizens and in balance a good effect beyond its borders, then it is sensible to wish to preserve the good you perceive to be there and try to minimize the bad. The real question of course is what each individual considers to be good or bad. If one works with a right sort of basic ethical concept, like egalitarism, perhaps the form of patriotism is more considerate of all people as well. But if one considers that some people can be and are better than others, then the resulting chauvinism is not as beneficial.

In terms of recognition, though - doesn't Finland have, like, the greatest education system on the planet? That's something to be proud of.

Yes, it is a very good system. Our current governments have made some pretty large cuts to education, especially higher education. It seems that our governement thinks that in order to get ready to support a very large aging population, the smart thing to do to save money is to cut from educating the young. Its a consequence of trying to do austerity in combination with investing for the future. But education is still good, if struggling a bit, at the moment.