Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Posts Tagged ‘politics

Let’s talk about ACA repeal

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So I want to talk about the ACA repeal effort for a minute.

When the House tried this at first, there was a really serious popular mobilization, and it was blocked. People called. They mobbed their representatives’ town halls. They chased down those who refused to hold them. People were angry.  When the first attempt at repeal went down, this was treated by a lot of people as a final result, and a lot of people (not everyone!) stood down.

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Written by David Kaib

June 8, 2017 at 10:42 pm

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Axis 1: What is important?

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This is the first post is a series, Some Thoughts on Politics.

Often in political arguments, we rely on binaries. But life is rarely so simple that things can fit comfortably into binary categories without a tremendous loss of clarity. In particular, I want to talk about a series of dimensions along which we have to take positions on when we talk about politics. We have to take positions, but it that doesn’t mean we have to be explicit about it. But we ought to be. Being explicit about it will improve the likelihood that those we are talking with will understand us. Asking others to be explicit about it will increase the chances we’ll understand where they are coming from. If we are to argue, better we argue about our actual disagreements. Better still to argue about our most fundamental disagreements. Besides that, it’s good to be explicit so that our own thinking is clearer, and we are less likely to make mistakes because we haven’t fully thought things through.

The first dimension we should think about when talking about political action is what is important. “Important: yes or no” is a terrible way to do that. The question is always a relative one.

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Written by David Kaib

April 17, 2017 at 3:22 pm

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Some thoughts about politics

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I keep having the same thoughts pop up as I participate in or watch various conversations about politics. I also think that trying to offer frameworks for understanding things differently in the middle of arguments is generally worthless. So I thought instead I could try to spell them out here. They will end up being somewhat abstract, precisely because I do not want to tie them to the controversies of the day, or of last week, etc. I hope they will be read in the spirit in which they are written–not proclamations, but provocations. I may be wrong. And surely nothing I am saying here hasn’t been said before or better by someone else. But hopefully some people will find them useful, which is about the best you can hope for in most conversations. I will plan on linking to them all here. They won’t add up to a theory or anything like that, although I hope writing them will bring me closer to one. I always like reading comments from readers, but I’m especially curious what you think about this, even if your thoughts, like mine, are fluid and difficult to articulate.

Axis 1: What is important?

Axis 2: What is changeable?

Axis 3: What is you have leverage over?

Written by David Kaib

April 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm

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The Most Basic Fact About Politics is Slack

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hamilton_day_of_action
What’s the most important thing you should understand if you want to make sense of American politics? Ask most well-informed people, and then answer will be Polarization. The parties–both party-in-government and party-in-the-electorate–have gotten more ideological, less willing to compromise, leading to gridlock. Some will rightly note that this has been largely asymmetrical, a product of changes in the Republican Party not the Democrats. But the rest of the story remains the same. Less often it is noted that polarization isn’t really an issue among the public, only among the elites–especially members of Congress.

The polarization story often treats this as some sort of natural phenomena, or a tendency that was always there with fragile efforts to stop it failing to do so. Or it is chalked up to the power of money, or even of the Koch brothers themselves. Rarely is it treated as something about which something can be done.

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Written by David Kaib

November 29, 2016 at 8:26 pm

Hypocrisy Arguments are Bad

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Hypocrisy arguments are bad and you should stop making them. I want to distinguish here between an hypocrisy argument–one where hypocrisy is pointed out to delegitimate a  person or position without more–and a hypocrisy claim. By a hypocrisy claim, I mean an accusation of hypocrisy embedded within a larger argument. My argument here applies to the former, not the latter.

Hypocrisy arguments are overrated. In life in general, and in politics in particular, consistency is the exception not the rule. I am favor of striving for consistency, but skeptical of anyone who claims their own group in uniformly consistent while their opponents are not. If hypocrisy were rare, it might pack more of a punch. But it not and it doesn’t. I’m unconvinced they have ever convinced anyone of anything. 

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Written by David Kaib

September 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

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Top Posts for 2014: Wall Street, Education, Charts and Fighting

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1. Wall Street and the School House Part I: The Culture of Smartness

This was the first of three posts exploring the connections between Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, and so-called “education reform.” I have Alexis Goldstein to thank for pushing to to stop talking about this idea and just do it.

[T]his sort of smartness infuses the movement for corporate education reform.  It can be seen in the pattern of seeking to provide maximum power to a few executives over public education, displacing the authority of schools boards, unions and the constituencies these represent: parents and teachers, and more broadly, citizens.  This can mean mayoral control over schools, or top school administrators (some, like in Chicago, now labeled CEOs), or state appointed boards like Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. The idea that a single strong authority can “fix” schools by overriding the concerns of other stakeholders is so commonplace it was the theme of the movie Waiting for Superman, which focused on reform darling / authoritarian and DC Chancellor Michele Rhee.  Rhee made a name for herself through her confrontational style in relation to teachers and parents, famously taking a film crew along with her to fire a teacher. Significant experience teaching or administering schools is not required to wield this sort of unchecked power.

2. The Donald Sterling Supremacism No One’s Talking About

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Written by David Kaib

December 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

Politics, Claims and Scope Conditions

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I’ve been talking here about a twin set of concepts, democratic efficiency and oligarchic inevitability. In short, ‘democratic efficiency’ involves the assumption that public opinion automatically translates into policy (or at least does generally absent some distortion), while ‘oligarchic inevitability’ is the notion that elites necessarily win out regardless of what the public does. It occurred to me recently that I ought to connect these concepts with something else I’ve been discussing here–the idea of politics as a contest of claims making.

I’ve been less clear on how I think about these two concepts. Both are usefully understood as claims. Sometimes they are made directly–people insist that an outcome must be supported by the public because we are a democracy. Other times they are made indirectly–where people make statements that assume one or the other concepts.  Direct claims are always based on some set of assumptions that are themselves indirect claims. Another way of saying this is that we need to attend to both manifest and latent content.

One of the key things to remember about claims is that they are observable, intersubjective things, unlike beliefs (which are internal states and not observable, and generally understood as subjective). It may be that the actor who makes the claim believes it, but this isn’t necessarily true nor relevant. A claim can be made successfully without being believed, by either the speaker or the audience. This also means demonstrating that a claim isn’t true is irrelevant to whether it matters. Some statements can never be facts, but will always remain claims–for example, when they involve essentially contested concepts or when they depend on claims about motives or beliefs. In political science, there is a tendency to dismiss claims as “talk” as opposed to “action”, despite that fact that many of the “actions” studied are themselves talk, such as a veto or the filing of a lawsuit. Scientific claims can be substantiated or not, and to different degrees, but often can never be facts–something that can be considered simply true or false.

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Written by David Kaib

October 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm

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