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Saving Small Businesses in the Cities

[ 151 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Interesting piece on one of the less discussed problems with the incredible expansion of capital in the cities and thus rapidly rising prices for residents, which is the eviction of small businesses and their replacement in new developments by chains. With every other building in New York becoming a Duane Reade and my New York friends constantly bemoaning all the great restaurants, bars, bookstores, music clubs, local joints, etc., that are closing because of huge rent increases, doing something about this is something that should be part of our vision for future cities. There are concrete responses floated about already.

One strategy is to broaden ownership. Salt Lake City is considering a fund to help local businesses purchase their spaces. Mitchell also points out that small business development groups, even those that are developing cooperative businesses, should consider including the acquisition of a business’s space as part of its business plan. Broadening ownership also includes models for cooperative or community-ownership of spaces, such as the Northeast Investment Cooperative in Minneapolis, cited in the report.

Zoning or regulating for a local business environment is another strategy. San Francisco’s formula business ordinance, first enacted in 2004, requires business with more than 11 locations worldwide to apply for a special use permit in order to locate in the city’s neighborhood commercial districts. One of the criteria for such a permit is how many businesses of that type are already in the district, and whether the applicant business would add something that the neighborhood doesn’t already have. Between 2005 and 2013, according to ISLR, San Francisco received 104 applications to open formula retail stores and restaurants, rejecting about a quarter of them.

Another strategy is to address power dynamics, which are widely overlooked. “There’s a perception that businesses somehow have relatively equal power to landlords, but really there’s this incredible power imbalance between landlords and business tenants,” says Mitchell.

In 2014, NYC Councilwoman Annabel Palma, representing parts of the Bronx, reintroduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which has been introduced to no avail multiple times by multiple council members since at least 1984, according to ISLR’s report.

SBJSA aims to balance the power dynamics between landlords and business tenants. Among other measures, it mandates binding arbitration to settle cases where landlords justifiably must up rent by a certain amount to cover higher property taxes or maintenance costs, but tenants oppose exorbitant rent increases that may reflect irrational speculation as opposed to the economics of a given location.

To say, the New York real estate lobby is outraged by the mere suggestion of such a law. But what is the answer here? More Duane Reade’s, if we don’t do something about it.

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How Right-Wing Transgender Fearmongering Hurts People

[ 19 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Powerful essay by Gabrielle Bellot about being transgender and using the bathroom in the mall. Read the whole thing. But let me point out the first paragraph.

For me, it is already a new year of old fears. 2016 has scarcely begun, and there is already yet another bill, from the end of December, being proposed to criminalize transgender persons—like myself—for using the restroom that corresponds with our gender identity. Republicans have largely lost the cultural debate on same-sex marriage, and so the question of who can use what restroom has become the new site of fear-mongering rhetoric—a shift made chillingly clear after the failure of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance. And this new law, which has been proposed by Sen. Jim Tomes in the Indiana state legislature, is as draconian as they get. Tomes’ bill would put us in jail for up to a year and charge us as much as $5,000 for using any restroom that does not correspond with the sex we were assigned at birth—regardless of whether our gender is recognized by the law, regardless of whatever gender confirmation procedures we may have had. It is a bill that binds us to our bodies from birth, a bill unwilling to imagine that transgender people truly exist, a bill born out of a fundamental lack of understanding of how demeaning—and dangerous—it is for a transgender woman—like me—not to use the women’s restroom. It is a bill that fails to recognize the fears that follow so many of us into the restroom already.

A year in prison and a $5000 fine for using the restroom. I am nearly speechless. I imagine such a bill will have real support in the Indiana legislature as well.

Greenland Melting

[ 28 ] May 1, 2016 |

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Not good.

So much about the planet’s future will depend on processes that humans today cannot directly observe — because they are occurring hundreds of meters below the sea surface where enormous marine glaciers, in Greenland and Antarctica, simultaneously touch the ocean and the seafloor.

The more we learn about this crucial yet inscrutable place, the more worrying it seems.

The latest exhibit: New research out of Greenland conducted by Dartmouth earth sciences Ph.D. student Kristin Schild and two university colleagues — work that has just been published in the Annals of Glaciology. The study examined the 5.5-kilometer-wide Rink Glacier of West Greenland, with particular focus on how meltwater on the ice sheet’s surface actually finds its way underneath Rink, pours out in the key undersea area described above and speeds up the glacier’s melt.

It’s a feedback process that, if it plays out across many other similarly situated glaciers, could greatly worsen Greenland’s overall ice loss. “These big tidewater outlet glaciers are the ones that are contributing these huge icebergs, they’re the ones that have rapidly, rapidly sped up in the last decade,” Schild said. This makes it critically important to learn “what are the main factors…that are leading to all these fast changes,” she added.

Greenland is an enormous sheet of ice, capable of raising sea levels by some 20 feet if it were somehow to melt entirely and its waters were to pour into the ocean. Fortunately, it can’t just do that all of a sudden — the vast ice sheet only reaches the ocean at relatively narrow, finger-like glaciers that stretch out into fjords, or underwater canyons that lead out to the sea.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 29

[ 42 ] May 1, 2016 |

This is the grave of John D. Rockefeller.

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I hardly need to explain to you all who Rockefeller was. The wealthiest man in American history in real money, the Standard Oil monopolist took over 90% of the American oil industry using methods both legal and nefarious, as Ida Tarbell famously exposed. A Baptist prig who combined his fundamentalist Protestantism with Social Darwinism to justify his own disgusting actions, we can all take comfort in the fact that Rockefeller suffered from a condition later in life that made him lose all his hair, looking like the shriveled troll on the outside that he was on the inside. Like many of his monopolist contemporaries, Rockefeller loved to combine public statements about morality with private doings that showed no moral compass at all except the insatiable desire for ever-greater profit.

What I really love here though is that beneath the obelisk is the actual resting place of Rockefeller and various family members (though not his famous sons and grandsons). But there is nothing growing out of Rockefeller’s actual resting place.

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I am hoping that this lack of growth can be explained by one of two things. First, Rockefeller’s putrescent corpse is so filled with bile and evil that it is the equivalent of salting the Earth and nothing will ever grow above it again. The second option is that the soil is turning acidic from people leaving liquid offerings. At least we can hold on to this dream, whatever the actual circumstances.

John D. Rockefeller is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.

Fearmongering

[ 75 ] May 1, 2016 |

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The anti-gay, anti-transgender fearmongering never ends. It might retreat as civil rights and social acceptance is slowly achieved, but there’s always another scare campaign about scary queer people.

Such fear mongering against gays and transgender people is a time-tested strategy, despite plenty of evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. In the battle for marriage equality, the nation was told time and again that marriage itself, along with the American family, would be imperiled if same-sex couples were allowed to marry. “Freedom will be taken away,” said one infamous 2009 ad titled “Gathering Storm.” Religion would be destroyed because the clergy would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, no matter their convictions. Yet none of these doomsday scenarios has come to pass.

The particular terrors that fueled the campaigns in Houston and North Carolina have an even longer history. In the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” opponents of openly gay service spent decades fanning the flames of anxiety about straight recruits sharing quarters — sharing showers! — with known gays and lesbians. At one point, senators held congressional hearings in the bowels of a nuclear submarine to infuse the news cycle with frightening images of the compromised privacy of military life. The message was clear: In such conditions, gay people were not to be trusted, unit cohesion could not be maintained and an inclusive policy would be a clear and present danger to the United States.

Again, none of this was true, as a wealth of research before and after “don’t ask, don’t tell” concluded (some of it was buried by those opposed to change).

A 2003 Palm Center study found that the experience of military and paramilitary organizations that lifted their gay bans showed that “cohesion, morale, recruitment, retention and privacy will be preserved or even enhanced” by ending policies that required gay people to lie about their identities or stay out of uniform. Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them) in fact developed an “etiquette of disregard.” In doctor’s offices, in military barracks, in locker rooms and restrooms, most people simply finished their business and ignored those around them. Those who had predicted disaster were spectacularly wrong.

But no amount of evidence seems capable of stopping the fear strategy. The Rand Corp. has completed a new study on transgender military service concluding, unsurprisingly, that ending discrimination against transgender troops will not harm military readiness. The Pentagon has neither released the study nor met its own deadline for reviewing the policy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who wrongly predicted that openly gay military service would “complicate things” and “make it very difficult for us to take care of the troops,” is now opposing service by transgender troops because — guess what — he can’t understand which bathrooms they would use. And Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who had earlier wrongly predicted that openly gay troops would drive away one-quarter of the military, is now predicting that transgender service will increase sexual assaults.

Disrupting MBAs

[ 69 ] May 1, 2016 |

If there’s one group that it’s not too easy to feel bad for, it’s the business community, but the corporate all-in to maximize profit at the top is now affecting MBAs as the Uberization of the lower and mid-range business workers is now taking place.

In a brick-and-beam former warehouse in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood, Rob Biederman and Patrick Petitti are building an online network that could change how white-collar work gets done.

In the same way Uber built a network of drivers, and Craigslist can help you find someone willing to paint your back porch tomorrow, the company that Biederman and Petitti cofounded, HourlyNerd, has attracted 22,000 independent consultants with MBA degrees from 45 top universities, all willing to do projects for clients that range from the corner clothing boutique to conglomerates like General Electric.

Business owners can understand the allure of paying someone a few thousand bucks to analyze three different locations for a new shop. But anyone who sits in front of a computer every day, analyzing data and assembling PowerPoint presentations, is probably justified in fretting about what this could mean for their job.

And these online expert networks could evolve into potent competition for some of the best-known management consulting firms, like McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting Group. The traditional consultants are a bit like the livery companies that were the only game in town before Uber arrived: high-touch and expensive, but don’t try to call them 10 minutes before you need them to show up.

The outsourced, temped, franchised, subcontracted, independent contractor economy is frequently justified and celebrated when it hurts working class people. Getting rid of or disempowering taxi drivers and hotel cleaners and Toyota employees and McDonald’s workers is all good when profit is at stake. But there is no reason that this can’t go far up the corporate ladder. Much of pharmacy work, legal work, and financial workers can be sent overseas. Other work can be temped or contracted in other ways. This is just one example. The emphasis on “disruption” and corporate profit over steady jobs is not only a real threat to the middle class, not to mention the working class, but it is actually destroying it as we speak.

Daniel Berrigan, RIP

[ 53 ] May 1, 2016 |

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The great anti-war priest has died at the age of 94.

The legendary anti-war priest Father Daniel Berrigan died today at 94. He was a poet, pacifist, educator, social activist, playwright and lifelong resister to what he called “American military imperialism.” Along with his late brother, Phil, Dan Berrigan played an instrumental role in inspiring the anti-war and anti-draft movement during the late 1960s as well as the anti-nuclear movement.

In 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan made headlines when he traveled to North Vietnam with Howard Zinn to bring home three U.S. prisoners of war. Later that year he and eight others took 378 draft files from the draft board in Catonsville, MD. Then in the parking lot of the draft board office, the activists set the draft records on fire using homemade napalm to protest the Vietnam War.

Teach For America Applications Declining

[ 37 ] April 30, 2016 |

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Seems as if young people are starting to realize that Teach for America is a scam that puts them in educational settings for which they have no preparation in order to bust teachers’ unions, a position that might not make sense to some who want to become full-time teachers.

Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.

Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive, announced the figures in an online letter to supporters Tuesday morning, describing the steps that the organization is taking to stoke interest and reverse the trend.

“Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades,” she wrote. “And they call on us all to reconsider and strengthen our efforts to attract the best and most diverse leaders our country has to offer.”

TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.

Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.

But as Teach for America’s influence has grown, so has resistance to it. The organization — which trains prospective teachers for five weeks and demands just a two-year commitment — has drawn criticism for creating instability in troubled schools that could benefit from sustained efforts with more experienced educators.

She blamed the decline on a number of factors that are driving enrollment drops in many teacher-preparation programs, including the improving economy, which offers young college graduates more options than they had during the recession. In addition, she wrote, the public debate about education is polarized and “toxic,” driving away talented people from a profession that needs them.

“Anyone concerned with the future of our nation should be alarmed by the staggering decline in enrollment we’re seeing across the country in teacher preparation programs,” she wrote.

She tacitly acknowledged that some of the recruitment problems are due to increasingly vocal critics of TFA, including some alumni. “The toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact,” she wrote.

Who Rejects the Science Behind Climate Change?

[ 64 ] April 30, 2016 |

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Why, it’s old white men! Younger people accept climate science at rates far higher than older people and both African-Americans and Latinos at rates far higher than whites. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t specifically break it down by gender as well, but it definitely places the blame on what it calls “the white male effect.”

The ethnicity gap (and the age gap) can likely be explained in part by certain groups’ general preferences for maintaining the status quo. Social scientists have identified what they’ve termed the “white male effect,” describing the fact that white males tend to be less concerned about various sources of risk than minorities and women. Scientists have speculated that this effect largely stems from the fact that mitigating these risks could result in restrictions on markets, commerce, and industry that have historically tended to disproportionately benefit white males. In other words, if you are already doing well from the system, you’re less inclined to change it—no matter how much the ice melts and the oceans rise. In their 2011 paper “Cool Dudes,” Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap concluded: “The unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.” And climate change denialism is largely—but not exclusively—a US phenomenon.

In fact, their research found that conservative white males who express the highest confidence in their opinions about climate science and risks are the most wrong, and in the most severe denial. McCright and Dunlap concluded that “climate change denial is a form of identity-protective cognition, reflecting a system-justifying tendency.” This may also contribute to the age gap, since younger Americans have not yet benefitted from the societal status quo to the same degree as older Americans.

Minorities also tend to be disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change, and realize the benefits of addressing it. For example, minorities are more likely to live in close proximity to coal power plants and their associated air pollution. Cutting carbon pollution would result in fewer coal power plants, and hence cleaner air for these populations. Many minorities have also recently emigrated from countries that are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. In other words, some minority groups (particularly Latinos) are more likely to have “transnational ties,” and an awareness of how people in other countries think about and are affected by climate change.

It’s almost like old white men may not be the cause of many of this nation’s intractable problems!

The Worst Spot in America

[ 38 ] April 30, 2016 |

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Stone Mountain, Georgia is an abhorrent place, one of the single most reprehensible spots in the United States. A beautiful geological formation, unfortunately it has served as a center of American white nationalist ideology for over a century. It was the meeting point for the founders of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. In 1916, the owner deeded the north side of the mountain to the United Daughters of the Confederacy so that figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis could be blasted into the side, the largest and most ambitious of the new monuments to white power erected in the South during the late 19th and early 20th century. It didn’t really go anywhere for a long time, with various architects, including Gutzon Borglum, failing to make much progress. The KKK took over fundraising for it and in 1923, the owner granted the KKK an easement to hold rallies there at any time. But it still stalled out until the civil rights movement led to a new spasm of white nationalism in the South. In 1958, the Georgia legislature passed a law to buy the mountain and in 1964, the carving of the slaver heroes started. It was completed in 1972, shortly after Jimmy Carter, who won the Democratic primary against someone to his left in part by criticizing his opponent for supporting Martin Luther King, replaced the arch-segregationist Lester Maddox as Georgia’s governor.

It’s now surrounded by a theme park and a cheesy light show shines on our Treason in Defense of Slavery leaders nightly, but that doesn’t mean that the tackiness means it shines less brightly in the meth-addled eyes of current white supremacists. In fact, there was a racist rally just last weekend, which of course led to the counter-rally and then the real horror, the canceling of the evening’s laser light show.

Who Died on the Job Today and Why?

[ 11 ] April 29, 2016 |

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Who? Probably a Latino immigrant or someone working for the fossil fuel industry.

 Latino workers remain among the most vulnerable, with a job fatality rate about 9 percent higher than the national rate, partially reflecting Latinos’ prevalence in high-risk, low-wage manual labor jobs. The total number of Latinos killed at work is up slightly, from 707 in 2010 to 804 in 2014; nearly two-thirds of those killed were immigrants.

Among industries, the oil and gas trade seems deadlier than ever: Workers perished at a devastating rate of “15.6 per 100,000 workers, nearly 5 times the national average,” resulting in an unprecedented 144 deaths in 2014. Despite the global decline of the natural-gas market in recent months, Rebecca Reindel of AFL-CIO’s Safety and Health Department says via e-mail that even if the fracking sector sheds jobs, the occupational dangers might not decline, but instead, rise as bosses tighten budgets: “While there might be fewer workers in the industry due to those changes, experience in safety and health tells us that when businesses need to cut corners for cost, safety and health is often the first and hardest hit. So even with lower employment, safety and health hazards could get worse for workers.”

Why? Because legal and regulatory enforcement is so lax that there’s no good reason for employers to care about worker safety.

 Yet, even when regulators respond swiftly, employers have little to fear: In fiscal year 2015, the average penalty for a federal OSHA violation was $2,148, and just $1,317 for a state-level violation. A dead worker doesn’t cost much more: The median penalty for a lethal federal violation was $7,000. And while tens of millions have been injured or killed at work since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970, the study notes that “only 89 cases have been prosecuted under the act, with defendants serving a total of 110 months in jail. During this time, there were more than 395,000 workplace fatalities…about 20% of which were investigated by federal OSHA.” Meanwhile, the report notes, under another beleaguered federal regulatory protection, the Environmental Protection Act, fiscal year 2015 alone saw “185 defendants charged, resulting in 129 years of jail time and $200 million in fines and restitution.”

Although there have been a few high-profile criminal prosecutions for worker deaths, sometimes under other federal or state statutes, generally corporate impunity shields even the most scandalized bosses (see Massey Coal executive Don Blankenship’s tiny misdemeanor conviction last year for his role in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster). Workers’ lives are cheap, so the ultimate economic burden of unsafe jobs is drastically socialized onto the public, as occupational injury and illness costs the country an estimated “$250 billion to $370 billion a year.”

It is true that workplace fatalities have declined over the years. But this is more about the offshoring of dangerous labor to the world’s poor as it is employers caring about workplace safety. In fact, a far more telling statistic would be workplace deaths in products made by and for American companies than the number of workers specifically who die in the United States. In a fully globalized economy, that really matters more.

Privatizing Hope, Individualizing Politics

[ 30 ] April 29, 2016 |

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Ronald Aronson has an interesting, if rather lengthy, essay about the privatization of hope, adapted from his forthcoming book. I don’t agree with all of it. He falls into the frequent trap of bipartisanism when discussing the mid-20th century without taking into account the party alignments of that time in order to say “bipartisan solutions were once possible and now aren’t and isn’t that bad,” which is a question with an actual answer that is usually ignored. And I think the New Left gets too much blame for individualizing activism, as those activists were already a creation of postwar consumerism who turned that consumer lifestyle toward activism. There are other things to nitpick about the history as well–the late 20th century didn’t invent advertising and his example of baseball and consumerism falters in the significant, if less bright and loud, advertising of prewar baseball.

But the overall essay is really interesting in thinking about how strong a role the atomized, empowered individual plays in our culture and in our politics. A couple of excerpts:

The most stunning instance of this shift is the eruption of the Tea Party in early 2009. By what political alchemy did the only movement generated during the first three years of the Great Recession demand more of the same policies that caused the crisis? The financial collapse of September 2008 refuted thirty years of deregulaton and dismantling of the welfare state but provoked little action at the other end of the political spectrum, which was busy electing the new president and celebrating his victory but not pushing him on policy or giving him needed support. Still, wouldn’t the next activist wave—after thirty-five years of top-down class struggle and increasing inequality—be a movement of the unemployed and foreclosed demanding collective action for jobs, relief, and punishment of the business executives and regulators behind the financial collapse?

Instead, the most successful activists to emerge from the recession called for even less regulation, even lower taxes, and an even flimsier safety net. Were these self-styled patriots wearing three-cornered hats out of touch with reality? Not their reality: the Tea Party is a sour, middle- and upper-middle-class wave of resentment, comprising mostly college-educated white males over forty-five years old, one-fifth of whom earn more than $100,000 per year. We must take stock of the ironies of history that brought us to this point, where the first mass mobilization with teeth since the New Left turned out to be the “libertarian mob.”

Attending to this history reveals an unmistakable irony. That mob is in important ways fueled by the spread of freedom and equality since the 1960s, often reckoned a progressive undertaking. Since the social revolutions of that era, the individual and his or her rights and responsibilities have come to count for far more than collective tasks such as combating global warming and eliminating poverty. With social revolution has come economic: the expansion of consumer society, the proliferation of personal electronic devices, the growth of free-market ideology, the defeat of alternatives to unregulated capitalism. All foster a scenario of detachment, in which each of us is free to ignore our sense of belonging to a larger society. Citizenship is being reduced to participation in regular elections that rarely offer genuine alternatives to the prevailing system, to moments of cheering for our side and honoring “our heroes.” Even such collective action as exists is increasingly pitched in terms of the self-interest of millions of mes.

The privatization of hope, then, is not simply a matter of focusing energy and attention on oneself and one’s family. It is the withdrawal of personal expectation from the wider world, the rejection of even a possible democratic solidarity on behalf of a collective life encompassing and fit for all.

And the conclusion:

Today what must command our attention is not the radical falsity of the privatization of hope, which denies everyone’s deep social being, but its debilitating consequences. We are collectively losing the ability to cope with the most urgent problems. People who experience themselves as random, isolated individuals will never find the wherewithal to understand or agree upon, let alone master, the reality of climate change. The increasingly dangerous effect of two centuries of uncoordinated actions and dangers blurred by self-interest can be brought under control only if we accept that there is an us that has transformed nature and our relationship to it. To protect our common home from disaster, humans must form a responsive global collective. We must recover and enlarge social hope in the name of survival. But how to do this if a critical mass is in denial about the problem and lacks the ability to form a consensus and act together?

Our need, according to French social theorist Francis Jeanson, is for “citoyennisation”—the transformation of isolated and impotent individuals into active, militant citizens who experience their fate collectively and are willing to act on it democratically. Those trying to make this happen will have to negotiate not only the privatization of hope, but also the widespread acceptance of the maelstrom of progress and the pervasive cynicism of today’s advanced societies. Those who are already invested in political struggle will have to work their way beyond the boundaries inherent in identity politics and the thousands of other good causes clamoring for attention.

But no matter how privatized or narrowly focused we become, our latent capacity for generosity and need for connection remain only a tragedy or a disaster away from activation. In A Paradise Built in Hell (2009), Rebecca Solnit describes those utopian moments of hope, few and far between, when catastrophes lead to the breakdown of normal order and thereby demand that people collectively take control of their lives. Her examples reach from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina. Let us hope other collective challenges—from the Syrian refugee crisis to global climate change—do not have to reach disastrous proportions before we overcome our passivity and isolation and recover our capacity to act together.

This focus on the individual versus the collective is I think pretty central to how a lot of the left thinks about politics. As I have said many times in the past here, politics should not be about you. Really, you don’t matter, or you shouldn’t think you do. It’s not about what you want. It’s about the people around you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, society at large. Self-centeredness is a terrible way to approach politics. Yet it is too common in an era where people, and here I’m talking specifically about the left, show off their politics like their new tattoo. “If Candidate X doesn’t support my positions of GMOs, vaccinations, and foreign policy, then there is no way I will vote for that person.” As much as I respect Bernie Sanders, this sort of formulation is pretty common among a lot of his supporters, as applied to the Great Satan of Hillary Clinton. This is the core of the third party vanity campaigns of Ralph Nader that still are attractive to large numbers of people. It’s this idea of the collective over the individual, an idea with deep roots in the labor movement, that leads me so strongly to reject an electoral politics of purity so that “I can teach the Democrats a lesson.”

Rather, the greatest good for the greatest number is a much more productive, if significantly less satisfying, way to approach politics. Yet that requires compromise and a lack of personal fulfillment. At the core of this whole problem is that we consider ourselves empowered consumers who need to be personally appealed to in order for us to grant our vote, and thus we often make personal demands of politicians who of course cannot follow through on them. Sometimes this gets channeled into a mass movement that leads to inevitable disappointment (Barack Obama), sometimes this gets channeled toward a single candidate who doesn’t quite make it (Bernie Sanders), and quite often it leads to people either not voting or voting for protest candidates (Nader, Jill Stein, staying at home talking about the need for socialism or the evils of vaccinations on Facebook).

Ultimately, we need to break this extreme version of individualism that postwar culture has created to work toward collective solutions to our societal problems, ranging from unequal schools that are exacerbated by people moving to the suburbs for their kids to climate change to a fair and equal economy. That’s a big challenge and probably not one where we will make any progress.

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