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Wednesday, November 03, 2004


the world still turns...

... though i wonder for how long.

bush's victory all but assured now, one has to begin to examine the fallout.

daily kos surveys the wreckage. the washington note pleads for a democratic housecleaning. juan cole, watching al-jazeera, suffers indignity as they ask a pretty good question. andrew sullivan tries to sound optimistic and calls for solidarity.

and me? first, mea culpa -- i plainly did not conceive the full dynamic of this election and miscalled it for kerry. the incumbent did significantly better than the polling record indicated he would. so i have learned:

1) polls are useless -- and i don't restrict this to political polling, but include all polling. polls are not as simple as they look, and the abstraction and statistical manipulation that goes into them in the name of utility yields them useless. this is empirically induced knowledge, with a sample that grows larger with every election.

2) markets are not prophetic -- fine system of distribution, yes, but the wild gyrations of political futures on tradesports and IEM shows that, indeed, these systems are inherently emotional and of little or no predictive value, up to and including their final reading.

3) prophecy is impossible, of course, but forecast in detail is likely also. anyone who calls it right seems smart; but the observer must account that, for every one who called it right, another exists that called it wrong. detailed forecast is them little but a coin flip -- and none of the forecasters can be considered much better than a two-headed sliver of metal thrown into the air. that is *especially* true for me.

as for what happens now, i cannot predict events. but i can speak for myself.

jmb commented last night on a link to tcs trying to assess the psychological possibilities. the author estimated leftist anger as the likely symptom of a bush victory, and there will certainly be some.

but i don't feel angry. i feel disengaged.

the truth is that a great many of the thoughtful will have to conclude that the democratic party is suffering for not having enough zell millers -- they, in entrenching themselves in the cities so effectively in the 19th c., have been affected by the cosmopolitan air. they've lost touch, as ccb noted, with the american cultural conservative. it isn't just that kerry lost -- the democrats conceded surprising numbers of seats in the senate and made no headway in the house.

the plain truth seems to be that the democrats need an injection of bubba-gump NASCAR-and-wrestling if they are to remain politically relevant in the near future. as neanderthal and appalling as it is, that's the rules of the game: every hillbilly votes the same as every scholar -- and there's a hell of a lot of hillbillies.

what is an erstwhile philosopher to take from that? i would note that cultural conservatism isn't an entirely unhealthy instinct. time destroys much of the noise in cultural innovation; by waiting out every new idea, one is left only with what has endured. this is what some refer to as the "wisdom of the people", i think.

but it can be misapplied -- and in this case, imo, is. there is precious little conservative about our president. but he has packaged himself well. bush tempers militarism, imperious internationalism and jacobin ideology with mean language and homely appearance. and he uses the revisionist, nationalist propaganda of prideful "american superiority" that would drive our humbler forefathers to hide their faces in shame, but is now somehow taken as justifiable fact.

and therein is a deeper issue. america isn't conservative anymore -- not really. there is a faux conservatism that bush taps into, which takes for tradition the altogether untraditional intolerant, exclusionary zeal of the christian right. isolationism lays dying -- as pat buchanan can tell you -- replaced by this nationalist sense of a new manifest destiny. very few americans retain the litmus test of conservatism, an aversion to debt. people have all but quit thinking locally and pragmatically; instead, grand ideology is the lens through which an american sees his autocentric world. humility, once the mark of sensible men, is weakness. in all, the new "conservatism" looks a great deal more like national socialism.

i've come to believe, in reading classics from plato to plutarch, that democracy is idiocy -- an expedient to tyranny, sentimental but awful. to the extent that a democracy will have a lifespan, its continued existence is founded in the conservatism and humility of its citizens -- for a mob, once moved to pride and excess, cannot be restrained from destroying itself. that is the lesson of every democracy that has yet existed.

so i am vexed at this electoral conclusion. it is a bad decision, i think there can be little doubt, for all the reasons i've articulated over the last month here. it is but one decision, true -- but one in a line dating back a century now, slowly eroding the principles and mechanics of the republic, justified by an ever more prideful citizenry.

how is one supposed to view one's beloved country and fellow citizens when confronted by this outlook?

i don't know. but my swelling feeling today is of disengagement, of resignation, of nihilism.

this morning, i read bertrand russell's overview of the greek philosopher heraclitus, who said, "every beast is driven to the pasture with blows."

that's right.

i don't feel our democracy can be saved -- and i'm disinclined to lift a finger to save it, as it stubbornly steps toward the precipice. the loss is inevitable; let it come, and i will embrace it.

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