Thursday, 11 August 2011

Priorities/priorities: Mandosian ramblings on electoral politics

Like my co-bloggers, I happen to believe that electoral politics still matters---if only to stave off evil rather than promote good. Consider Hudak.

One of the bigger complaints of the leftish end of those who still interest themselves in electoral politics is that far too large a swath of the public votes for people who really, truly don't have their best interests in mind. Why do so many working class Americans vote so faithfully for people who openly want them to eat pet food* in their old age, if they are so lucky as to be able to afford it? Why do they continue to do so when it is becoming increasingly obvious that the proportion of human pet-food-eaters is going up even now? (Why do Mississauga immigrant communities vote for the people who want to oppose/reduce immigration for family reunification?)

There are two possible explanations:

  1. The classic lefty "false consciousness"/propaganda sort of explanation: people are fed lies by corporate media that cause them to identify with the elite and support causes that they believe are in their rational interest but actually are not.
  2. The alternative by elimination: many people are consciously voting against their own "rational" interest, because they don't conceive of their interests in the same way. "Sticking it" to their neighbours takes priority over some discounted future in which they may be eating out of Fluffy's bowl.

It's probably a bit of both, but needless to say, I nowadays lean towards #2 as being more of a factor than column #1. Lefties spend a lot of (justified) electrons condemning mainstream economics for attempting to deploy ideas based on a ridiculous economic homunculus model to actual policy. But for all that, they seem to believe just as well in an a priori dichotomy between "rational" and "irrational" interests. But there's nothing "irrational" about starving yourself to starve your neighbour. In fact, if you're convinced your neighbour will die first...

Unlocking the reasons for why voters vote is something that the right has spent a lot of time and effort on, and the left hardly at all, even taking into account the disparity of resources between the ends of the political spectrum. It may or may not be too late for electoral politics to fix the world to any degree; I don't know. But I don't think it was really tried.

*I'm aware that it's not necessarily cheaper...but it is a standard trope so *shrug*.


Beijing York said...

I think there is complexity to this issue that can't be summarized easily. There is a lack of class consciousness in the US that has made it easy to delineate political support along other lines than economic ones. In Europe, there is a stronger sense of class identification and parties have formed along those lines.

Point number two seems to be an offshoot of that perception of being a classless society, where every individual has equal opportunity and access to make the most of their lives. This myth of rugged and successful individualism is more pronounced in the US but we Canadians certainly distance ourselves from the rigid class system that still exists in the UK.

The whole theme of classless society with open opportunity for all who work hard is what attracted wave after wave of immigrants to both the US and Canada. I don't think there is any concept or desire to be identified as oppressed by a class of betters.

Námo Mandos said...

Fair enough, but the USA has been, in the past, able to host influential populist movements. Perhaps things aren't bad enough now to instigate that, but I think we undercount how bad things really are.

Alison said...

Was it Thomas Frank who interviewed a whole lot of people about their class affiliations as part of one of his books on the subject? I can't remember if it was him. What I do remember is that there was such a survey in which a surprisingly high proportion of people self-identified as "middle class" even though they were barely above or sometimes below the poverty line. They based this assumption on their feeling of kinship with middle class characters on tv shows.

Beijing York said...

Mandos, I have no doubt things are very bad in the US and it's starting to show. I heard a news item about inner city kids taking mob action and the mayor calling a curfew to try to deflect that unrest. As you can probably guess, these inner city kids are predominantly black and poor.

One thing that has really stoked the fires of unrest in Europe and the US, and increasingly in Canada, is the public acceptance of racist attitudes. For that last decade or two, it has become acceptable to scapegoat immigrants of colour as well as poor people of colour. It seems obvious now that political correctness was barely a bandage for seething hatred of the outsider, the other. It made many of us on the progressive side feel good - feel like multiculturalism was embraced and working. It didn't take much to unveil the truth, sadly.

Námo Mandos said...

Well, it's not just positive identification with the elite, or even negative attitudes towards the outsider; there's an increasing complacency in the face of attacks on "kin".

Niles said...

Ms BY, I have to disagree on "political correctness" being a bandage, but mostly because the phrase itself is nothing but a whining, derogatory slur. A crocodile cry of woe by privileged Chosen determined to ignore societal and legal inequities and turn the scenario into one of dominant white males being socially castrated victims of feminized conspiratorial minorities in society.

As an example, I'd have to say the "Elevator Guy" snitfits in the recent scienceblogs furore was affronted sexist privilege bellowing 'political correctness' victimization at the top of its collective lungs. Which apparently is far more preferable effort than considering the actual plea of The Other That Dared To Speak.

PC is a slur that sticks though, because, whenever possible, the privileged have pulled the teeth on mandated reforms then declared the gutless results proof that all this 'guilt' is ruining, *ruining* the national culture that was once strong and robust because of (often) white males being totally dominant in all venues(the modern US phenom is just a replay/continuation of blatantly strangling/reversing human rights acts of the 1800s).

Added to that, whenever possible, society's privileged pare off Others from sectors that might be opposed to this scenario and tell them, 'you're different from Them. I, the privileged, can see you're a misunderstood victim like me, not a lazy slob drag anchor infesting our good times. Don't hang with them, you could get cooties'.

That's likely positive identification with the 'elite'? It certainly strives to sliver broad counter-organization, joyfully providing new rope to hang dissenters separately when they don't hang together.

But since civil rights expanded in the 1800s, hasn't that been the privileged defense all along? Generously broadening White identity yet keeping Brown as bad contrast, the appeal to religion of any kind over secularism, the appeal to men over women in any ethnicity, the appeal to stay at home married moms over working women over 'welfare queens', the appeal to immigrants that Conservative values are Canadian values, etc?

People side with whatever they think will gain them more. Malicious political exploiters of all stripes are being faithful to their historical playbooks by willfully lying about gaining anyone below their patronage circles more (see: Wat Tyler). That the tactic *still* works in this alleged age of communication is what's blood pressure raising.

When most citizens don't have the training, time or access to check on what whoppers they're being told and their trust factor hasn't been shredded to the point they're willing to risk what they have for what they should have in a healthy society, I suspect they want to believe the lies because not believing them leads to potentially losing everything, including life.

When the official government line parodies 'The Secret' (you have enough unless you're a loser that's not trying) at what point are people willing to risk public 'face' and say not only do they lack but causes of their lack are integral to the present societal forms? Too often, when they have Nothing Left To Lose.

*Canadian Government Minister* Kenney appealed to "Something Left To Lose" with his not-very veiled threats towards 'enablers' of his government's non-criminal subjective undesirables, throwing in bonmots of 'political correctness' sneering at outraged cries for due process etc.

If the Conservatives are going to haul it out for that, I bet they're going to haul it out for every counter-government dissent with increasing regularity from now on. They're counting on Canadians choosing to hang on "in quiet desperation" instead of being subjected to mass arrest again.

Niles said...

Gack, I apologize. My meanderings never look that long when I'm writing them.

fern hill said...

Don't apologize, Niles. We love your meanderings. :D

Beijing York said...

I second fern, Niles ;-) And lol, you managed to reference "The Secret" - what's not to love.

Anonymous said...

What? I don't identify with no dirty, communist, academic $50,000/yr salary 'elite'!

I'm on the winning team. The team with the good, conservative, non-elite, +$1million/yr salary CEOs that just happen to own all the media that I listen to.

--An Ivory Tory

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