Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Simple Message of our Nation's Complexity

We depend upon so much. Events like this demonstrate that. In shaping politics, we need to keep in mind that for all the fun and games we play here, there is a practical consequence for who we elect.

Right now, my home, still mostly intact, lacks power. We still have phone. We don't have the power to run the computers that get us the internet, so I'm writing this from somewhere else.

Over the past few days, I've seen how people can come together on their own. We don't need government to tell us to do some things. People naturally gather together, if they are of good conscience, to help each other out.

But there are some things we cannot do. Since Saturday, nearly the entire neighborhood, with few exceptions, is without power. What can we do about that? We've piled debris high. What can we do about that? The stores can only sell somethings, but nothing really perishable. By luck we get ice to cool some things. A warm meal has been a rarity.

How long can we tolerate this? The flashlights will eventually run low. The patience of people and the caution of criminals and mischief makers will do so as well, sooner or later. We are lucky that a cold front came through, dropping nightime temperatures into the sixties. This time last year, we were probably seeing eighties and nineties.

A word about stoplights. You will know the value of coordination if you have to navigate our streets. Try negotiating an intersection with an stoplight out, when it's got two main lanes and a turning lane on each side. Four way stop stop sounding good at that point. At some point, at some degree of complexity, people's ability to efficiently coordinate between each other on an ad hoc basis becomes snarled in conflicting impulses and signals.

Perhaps we're bothered by the burdens of taxation and regulation. We shouldn't take on much more of those than we need, nor ignore the necessity of keeping such systems cost efficient. However, the notion that a society like ours, an interstate, independent modern-day America, can function like many conservatives dream of it functioning is foolhardy. It's not that the average person does worse with their own money or that the government knows better. It's simply that we no longer live our lives independently, rustically, able or required to fend for ourselves. We live more interconnected, more dependent on one another, and without some agreed upon rules and common effort, we're not going to do a good job of negotiating our problems and setting our priorities, and some problems that would remain one's own problem under the old system (say, like bad meat from a cow) will nowadays become many folk's problem very quickly.

Disasters like Hurricane Ike highlight just how dependent we are on those other than ourselves, and this dependency cannot be wished away by conservatives looking to do everything on a private basis, or have the private actors be freed of obligation to those that depend upon them. There is simply no way to go it on our own to that degree.

The coming political changes, I think, are a recognition of that. But it's not simply some cyclical return to the old-fashioned liberalism. We've learned a great deal in that time, and more to the point, the world where the old politics made sense is as dead as the world in which conservative dogmas made sense. There may not be a clear precedent for the approaches we take as we leave the old conservative system behind. I think both Republicans and Democrats need to rethink their goals and methods. The Republicans especially. Some answers of yesterday still apply today and make sense today, but some attitudes are relics of a time when conditions better suited their line of thinking. The Republicans, I feel, have done a lot of damage to our system trying to make policy in America conform to such sensibilities. Still, Democrats could do their own damage, if they insist on their party's old policies with too much of a sense, you could say, of conservatism about it.

One of the things I have tried to do is bring thinking from beyond the political world into it, Small Worlds Theory and Complexity Theory among them. I do not believe that politics is a self-sufficient system of logic which can be relied upon exclusively to make political decisions. I believe that we must allow other wisdom to permeate our judgments, other considerations besides just "political realities".

As I sit at home, most likely without power tonight, I will be counting upon the power company and others to do their job on my behalf. I sure hope that "political realities or "economic realities" of one kind or another don't lead people to make what are in real reality stupid mistakes. I sure hope somebody coordinates these people properly, and doesn't get in their way. I sure hope that deregulation or sloppiness hasn't lead to an equipment or infrastructure problem that slows down recovery. As a person who knows he doesn't run his own life completely, and never will, I hope that, in our division of labor, other people do their best job at what they are best at, and enable me to do my best job as well.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at September 16, 2008 11:56 AM
Comment #263125

Stephen, out of respect for your situation I will offer nothing but my prayers for you and for all those suffering in the world.

Posted by: Jim M at September 16, 2008 6:19 PM
Comment #263127

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne

Stephen, good luck and have patience.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 16, 2008 7:12 PM
Comment #263128

I’m glad to hear that you are okay. I am sure that repair crews will be coming to your area from around the country to help restore power, highlighting the necessity for underground wiring. I don’t know what “coming political changes” you are talking about, but climate changes are certainly here.

Posted by: ohrealy at September 16, 2008 7:17 PM
Comment #263129

Best wishes, Stephen.

Posted by: phx8 at September 16, 2008 9:24 PM
Comment #263130

Ditto on all the wishes for your safety and recovery.

Posted by: janedoe at September 16, 2008 9:37 PM
Comment #263133

My house was flooded one spring when the river overflowed near our house and not long afterwards that summer came a forest fire. If the wind had been blowing the other way, the place would have burned. I know what it’s like, so be safe down there.

In my opinion, the government has its role to play when it comes to disasters, but at times like that you realize it’s the community that really matters.

You’ll find conservatives right along with liberals and everybody in between filling sandbags, donating food and blankets and taking victims into their homes. That is just a fact. Community and helping those in need isn’t an idea that members of one party believe in while other people don’t.

The fact that conservatives believe in self-reliant economic policies and indvidual responsiblity doesn’t mean for a second that they don’t also believe in their communities and pull together when the going gets tough. In fact, a lot of conservatism is about preserving communities. I’ve served hot food to the needy in the church kitchen many a time.

You’re taking one part of conservativism and applying it in a false way, a way that conservatives don’t apply it themselves.

Saying conservatives don’t know how interconnected we are because of conservative views and that they can’t be depeneded on to help those in need is flat wrong and based on stereotypes and misunderstanding. In fact, there a lots of things that people to help each other that they can do a helluva lot better than government officials.

It would be like saying that in a crisis liberals won’t help out because they want to stay home smoking weed and burning the flag. That would be the same kind of stereotype and I wish people would quit judging each other based on these false ideas.

Posted by: Liam at September 16, 2008 10:30 PM
Comment #263152

Glad to hear you’re okay, Stephen. Sounds like you all are going to be dealing with a lot of inconvenience for awhile. Any word at all on when they think power might be restored to your area?

Just a thought: If your going to have to wait a long time, you (and maybe your neighbors?) might want to think about getting a small RV or under-the-counter sized propane-fueled refrigerator?

Posted by: Veritas Vincit at September 17, 2008 1:25 AM
Comment #263158

At one time FEMA was a great agency. When disasters struck they rushed in and got NGO’s like the Red Cross some help in setting up.

Now FEMA is nothing but a bureaucracy that holds meetings, hire political contributors, and interferes in disaster relief.

This is Republican doctrine. This diminution of FEMA is by design.

The recovery of Houston is being led by local government. FEMA, as it exists, should only be aiding in funding local government.

Veritas, good idea, but you’d have to travel a long way to get it. Right now, just getting gas is difficult. The bigger reality, is we’ve become too dependent on the grid. Most people simply don’t have the means to have two sets of appliances. Many people live pay check to pay check. In this kind of disruptive event, they often become totally dependent on the mercy of others.

During the 1900 storm people were used to living on their own. Except for water and minimal sewage, and minimal roads, there was no infrastructure. Of course, 8000 people on Galveston died, because NOAA did not exist.

This time Galveston survived because of a seawall and thousands fled, and the storms worst effects moved eastward as the center veered east at landfall. Had it not, the toll in Galveston could have been much higher. Many people did not evacuate because of the bad experience with monumental traffic jams during Rita. This time the freeways were empty the day before the storm.
The traffic jam was the result of poor local planning and media hysteria over Katrina. Even the media was surprised by the early high tides, this time. People were trapped on the Bolivar Peninsula because they waited too late to evacuate. I suspect we will eventually find that many there perished, though, no where near the 8000 of the 1900’s.

Posted by: googlumpuugus at September 17, 2008 7:53 AM
Comment #263160

Wow man, I was wondering where you had gone to. I have missed my favorite writer on this blog, I hope things return to some sense of normal for you soon.

Best wishes— peace.

Posted by: dulcetpine at September 17, 2008 9:11 AM
Comment #263169

The idea that I’ve had is that as much as some would like it to be, that you can’t advocate for stinginess in government without ultimately encouraging stinginess among the masses. You can’t run a government that encourages management to take an ever greater share and expect people not to get use to the situation and become equally competitive and grasping.

You can’t, ultimately, avoid the backwash from an overly aggressive pursuit of one’s interests, whether it’s political, economic, or otherwise. At some point, people will feel compelled to protect themselves and the resources they depend upon.

The trick, ultimately, is that those people, aggressively seeking what they want, rarely get what they want. Anybody looking to seek out their best interests, therefore, must consider this when they ask things of other, before they ask things of others.

Some parts of society self-organize in healthy ways, other times, they don’t do so well. I’ve seen the healthy self organizing of people cleaning up their yards, helping each other out, lending each other things.

But although some liberals may not trust such things to happen, most allow for such things.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of adapting to the situation. Take the stoplight. Though people had trouble, yesterday, with certain four-way stops, they seem to be negotiating something of a means of dealing with it. However, it’s not the smoothest means of dealing with the issue of such complex intersections. We set up stoplights for a reason.

Where many Republicans have gone wrong, I think, is in their willingness to make desired programs work less effectively, to bureaucratically corrode their usefulness, to justify their elimination. FEMA is an example of this. Note all of the Republicans saying that its failures were simply the result of big government not being good at anything. But people remember better responses by the agency, and that creates the kind of negative image you resent having on moderates like yourself.

In essence, it becomes the Republicans trying to scuttle government programs that work out of a hatred for government intervention. The problem here is that while people can easily be swayed to appreciate the end of wasteful, paralyzing, and overbearing government policy, only a few radicals among the Republican ranks cheer the end of working government programs and agencies.

I had to chase around a FEMA truck for a couple hours, hoping to get some ice and other stuff. Not the most pleasant experience. They made contradictory assessments, sent out bad information, etc. I searched three different school parking lots, and finally learned that the POD center was to be set up in Klein Market.

Some might say, “big government”, but that seems like an excuse to me. There are strategies and approaches that can be employed to reduce such confusion. They seem to be separating crews that are clearing roads, crews that are restoring power, and police/national guard escorts. They could be more effective if they went about coordinated responses.

But what conservative wants government to prove itself effective? The answer might be that they don’t. The cronyism that crippled the last major hurricane response probably was a result of that indifference. The result of that indifference proved how effective, though, people in general wanted FEMA to be. The low expectations that have spread are a product of the higher expectations that have been thwarted. If a politician pleasantly surprises people with the effectiveness of their version of FEMA…

There’s another conservative response: optimization. The impulse of smaller government steered not towards wholesale demolition, but instead towards making government focused, effective, and streamlined.

Which, by the way, is a fine centrist response for moderate Democrats as well. Though we might have a stronger impulse towards expanding what government does, we Democrats can also look at things in terms of optimization. Why? We benefit if Government performs its job economically. More bang for the buck, more good for the funding, less political liabilities in the form of wasteful and insane spending. A real liberal, somebody who believes government can and should actively work for the welfare of the public, sees little good in waste, inefficiency, and bureaucratic complication.

There’s a middle ground to be had, a reasonable compromise between interests that serves the impulses and goals of both sides. Some have posited that gridlock is good for government, but I see that as a bit too random and reactive to do much good. No, cooperation is the name of the game.

As a Clinton Democrat, I had little problem with this. One of the things that made me such a fervent opponent of Bush and the Congressional Republicans was their unwillingness to compromise, to reasonably share the political field with somebody else. The reality is, politics is not a game where wins are permanent or should be permanent. Government can and should be dynamic, to meet the needs of the nation as they change. Neither government for its own sake or non-government for the sake of principle are tenable approaches. We must be more judicious, more realistic, and less ideological in our approach.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 17, 2008 11:19 AM
Comment #263174

On the power front, The house on the corner opposite mine has gotten back power. The lights along the street have come back on for the most part. More stores are open, more gas stations as well. More “four-way” stops now have their lights functioning again, which makes for a lot less brake use.

We’re slowly coming back.

Thanks for the support. It’s good to know that partisan lines exist mostly for the sake of argument. It’s a real pity, sometimes, that we let politics become such a hostile bloodsport, because my sense is that people like and agree with each other a lot before politics enters the picture. It leads me to think that the claims of a bitterly divided country are more an artificial illusion than a substantial reality, and that with the right leadership, not trying to force confrontations and discord, America could function much better.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 17, 2008 12:16 PM
Comment #263267

A late update: power has returned, and I am writing this from home.

It’s good to be back.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 17, 2008 10:38 PM
Comment #263340

Bush Called For Fannie Freddie Reform

On December 20th 2007, while signing the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, George Bush said, “The Congress needs to pass legislation permitting state and local governments to issue tax-exempt bonds for refinancing existing home loans. Congress needs to pass legislation strengthening the independent regulator of government sponsored enterprises like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, so we can keep them focused on the mission to expand home ownership. Congress needs, as well, to complete work on responsible legislation modernizing the Federal Housing Administration, so that we can give the FHA the necessary flexibility to help hundreds of thousands of additional families qualify for prime-rate financing.’
Since then Democrats in Congress have scoffed at the need to strengthen independent regulation of those entities and now the crisis has hit home.

Posted by: pom pom girl at September 18, 2008 12:31 PM
Comment #263373

pom-pom girl-
McCain employed Phil Gramm, one of the authors of the bill that’s allowed much of the current crap to go down, as his economic advisor. This is also the man who said that the recession was mental, that America was a nation of whiners.

As for Bush’s action, he pushed the relaxation of regulations that allowed this to happen in the first place. You can either trust the facts or the political rhetoric, but you can’t trust both.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 18, 2008 1:45 PM
Comment #263719


Recovery will be a lot easier with power back on. Good luck!

Bush is back at it today…900 billion corporate welfare program…

I’ll ask it again…Since the S&L bailout, has general welfare programs cost taxpayers more or less than corporate welfare? Only Republicans need apply?

Ronald Reagan…deregulation and union busting
Sam Walton…Union busting and China building
George W Bush…Incompetent, dishonest and dishonorable policies and actions
H Lee Scott…continued killing of American middle class

The above are the four greatest nemesis of America in our history. Collectively they beat out Hitler, Stalin and Mao in damage done to our great country.

Posted by: Marysdude at September 20, 2008 9:38 PM
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