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 22:08 on 12-12-2016, Ichneumon
To be fair to Trump's quasi-reactionary supporters, I do think that the true roots of their grievances and the emotions that arise from them are not inherently invalid: A lot of these guys, while far from poor, have worse jobs than they expected for less pay, have less of a connection to their community than the generations before them, feel cheated by the increasing educational demands of jobs which actually matter, and are battling feelings of loneliness and hopelessness and general anxiety which society tells them are unmanly and should be denied. They, too, are victims of modern capitalism and patriarchy, but they fail to understand that women and minorities and poor people and immigrants and young people and queer people are not taking something away from them when they gain rights because every attempt to explain to them that the economy isn't a zero-sum game has been pushing a neoliberal agenda that screws them, and the people with the easiest answers are who else but crypto-fascists and reactionaries. These poisonous individuals tell them that they are having their rights and privileges stolen from them and that they have all the answers, that they will give them power, freedom, strength, security, prosperity, a return to a Golden Age and victory to the righteous. But of course this is snake-oil, meant to empower violent and hateful people, and of course it refuses to confront these men (mostly) with anything they might genuinely have done wrong, and in fact plays on those flaws in character as any good confidence artist does, to cheat and despoil. Yet the response is either the kind of defiance that confuses ignorance with real malice, or a kind of condescending pity that only makes people whose better angels might be appealed to with the right education feel belittled. There has to be a better way here. I think Elizabeth Warren will be able to do it, and maybe even make some real changes in the system insofar as it is possible from within, but I'm really frustrated by the American left and centre-left at the moment. And we still have years to contend with this smarmy, amoral mobster.
at 19:50 on 12-12-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
My apologies as well for being patronizing, I tried to think on a very general level and on the phenomenon of populism as such. Although I'm not an american(but finnish), we do have our own crop of populism here, which is eerily similar to populism in other places, which is not surprising, given that we've always imported most of our ideas, in good and in bad.

For example, our populist party's, the True Finns(although Base Finns would be both more literal and descriptive of them) leader Timo Soini has blathered on about how the media and everyone opposed to them are cultural marxists, an umbrella term which seems to include everything progressive or leftist or green or cosmopolitan or educated. I had thought he came up with the term himself and merely wondered what a relatively obscure out of academic circles German intellectual movement from the 1930s has to do with anything.

But then I happened to look into it and it seems that cultural marxism has been taken into the American alt-right lingo , where it is claimed that everything progressive since the 1930s, including sexual liberation, the women's rights movement and the civil rights movement is a dire commie plot using social constructivism to destroy America(or insert your society here). And Soini has described himself and his party being the only republican(in the american sense) party in Finland. So it seems that he is as callously reactionary as he pretended to be. Because I had had some doubts whether he was just totally ruthless and pragmatic in his tendency to feed every negative and angry feeling in the dissatisfied parts of the electorate, or whether he was just nuts. It appears that he is both.

But point being, just like climate denialism and rock music, American ideas do have a large influence here in the European perifery, so we are kinda interested what you're up to over there. But coming back to the discussion at hand, the sentiment that something is wrong and disgust at the political system and how things were going was seething under the seemingly calm waters of Finnish society and in many ways they had a good reason to be dissatisfied and they were mostly ignored. So when the financial crisis happened and just continued and when Nokia went down(mostly through their own fault, but still), the challenge to the current political balance came from the fringes and all the racism and red-baiting and general idiotism became a force in its own way, actually converting people to nasty and hateful ideas through appealing to their negative emotions and mostly distracting them away from the complex real issues at hand into the strange atavistic illusion that everything will be just fine if we regress back to some idyllic Finnish society of the forties, when everyone was happy and women knew their place and people with darker complexions were safe and exotic oddities seen on tv and in schoolbooks and generally existed as some people that the missionaries could work with. And confusing aspects of the human sexuality(other than straight male that is) were properly shunned and kept quiet about.

But I don't think that all of those people started out as atavistic and paranoid. Their feelings and anxieties were tapped into and that hateful rhetoric proved stronger, when it was even noticed. And surely there were prejudices there, dormant like, but prejudices can wane as well, if they are not enforced and fed. Kind of like with any ideology, you become convinced by one thing that seems reasonable, but every ideology is a package deal, and once you accept one thing, other things associated with that one thing become more reasonable, because you've started to trust the source, which in populist politics is just the thing. After that, cognitive dissonance and all the assorted fallacies start their inevitable work in all of us and it is hard for anyone to not fall prey to wrongful reasoning, even more so if one doesn't even admit its happening, except in other people, of course.

So I guess the big question is the following: Given that this sentiment and that segment of the electorate exists, here as well as in the US, what is the strategy to counter the people who will happily use and exploit those existing and dormant prejudices for political gain, quite often against the benefit of those same people who voted for them once they get into office (and really I don't believe that people benefit from wronging others. The wronging just makes them worse and more miserable when they have to explain their prejudices away by blaming the victims. Of course the victims are hurt much more, but still, even financial gains are limited in the end). Of course those prejudices shouldn't be accepted, much less fed and nourished, but in a democracy there will be someone who will do that if they can gain something from it. So what can be done? From a pragmatic point of view it seems to me that wile direct confrontation might be needed in many cases, it can't go too far, since direct conflict is always dangerous, damaging and very uncertain in its outcomes. But the situation has to be diffused somehow, since it can get so much worse.

I don't really know myself. Here it seems that since we have a multi-party system and every administration is a coalition, the Base Finns have lost support since thay accepetd to enter into a coalition and proceeded to betray every promise they made and seem to have ost the support of everyone except the real hardcore supporters. On the other hand I'm not very hopeful, since the next election is two and a half years away and the current Council of State has been very ineffective in doing much anything, which means that things are very much in the air.

It seems to have emptied some of the air from the balloon, though. But that is not really an option in the US, or in many other countries. How to combat hateful rhetoric by actually succeeding to turn people back to believing that progressive ideals are actually a good idea for everybody and for society as a whole?
at 05:36 on 12-12-2016, Robinson L
Apology accepted, of course, Ichneumon, and I don't blame you for getting grim, under the circumstances.

Mostly I'm thinking about an article which I didn't read but read about where the author argued that the Democratic Party should move away from "identity politics" after their electoral college defeat this year (translation: placate racists), and the first minute or so of an MSNBC panel discussion where the host introduced the segment by talking about people who apparently said, "Well, I supported Obama in 2012, but then he came out in support of Black Lives Matter, and he's supposed to be the President of everyone," and I was like. No. Just no. No to all of this shit.

I guess the idea there was that many people didn't vote for Trump primarily on racial issues, but that it pushed them over the edge. Which I suppose may be true, but as you say: "Prejudice is a quality to be rejected, not a demographic to be courted." Focus instead on the legitimate concerns voters have expressed.

most of the working class is not white in this country

Is that right? My understanding was that while proportionally more people of color in the US are working class, white people are the majority in absolute numbers - which makes sense to me, given we're almost 70% of the US population as a whole. (I'm also sure I've seen progressive commentators noting the irony of how stereotypes about black "Welfare Queens" and the like are used as a justification to slash social programs for impoverished Americans, and the majority of victims of these cuts are actually white, according to these commentators.)

Hamilton was fascinating... and a huge dick.

It seems like that can be said for a lot of the Founding Fathers. And many of the more prominent subsequent US Presidents. And, to be fair, many famous anti-colonial leaders as well.
at 16:30 on 11-12-2016, Ichneumon
Apologies for my presumptuousness, Robinson. This line of conversation tends to make me a bit grim and unfriendly, I confess.

I happen to quite agree with you on the whole notion that Clinton should have tacked harder to the right, although I was unaware of the "she shoulda been more racist, Bob" angle. It probably ought not surprise me, given the climate of stupidity and desperation, but I thought that part of HRC's appeal to most folks was that she isn't a demented racist. (And yes, the "superpredator" thing was awful, but context is key here.) But even setting that aside—and that most of the working class is not white in this country, and that most of Trump's support came from dissatisfied middle-class people, as you pointed out—the people who voted for Trump primarily on racial issues are, for the most part, the exact sort of people who would never, ever vote for Secretary Clinton, or any woman in some cases. Prejudice is a quality to be rejected, not a demographic to be courted. The people saying this seem not to recall Kennedy's famous speech about those who would ride the back of the tiger. But hey, look what it got the Republicans: The single most imminently impeachable President of the United States since, god, before Nixon. And don't we all want that?

Hamilton was fascinating... and a huge dick.
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".