Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Marketplace of Ideas

That's a common metaphor for the political process. I haven't been able to find out who coined the  specific phrase,  but the underlying idea goes back at least as far as John Milton's Areopagitica of 1644 and for  modern political theorists is probably most associated with John Stuart Mill's On Liberty of 1859.


The basic idea is that if unrestrained speech and debate are allowed in the public sphere, truth and logic will ultimately win out because they have more inherent value than falsehood and irrationality. This idea was famously influential with the authors of the U.S. constitution and is the basis of the First Amendment.


I have always doubted this model of putatively democratic politics as a debating society.  People are much too inclined to motivated reasoning and logical fallacies; and most do not have the informational background, methodological expertise or time and energy to distinguish truthful from tendentious claims. These problems are greatly compounded by the informational institutions that govern the public sphere -- precisely the so-called free press which is also protected by the First Amendment, but which inevitably promotes motivated points of view and includes irresponsible actors who promote falsehood.


At least it is possible, in principle, to respond to Fox News with reasoned presentation of facts and logic, although Fox News viewers aren't likely to hear you. The propaganda organs of the right no longer even try to make sense. Covid-19 is a hoax, the vaccines don't work, but Donald Trump doesn't get the credit he deserves for developing the vaccines -- presumably by himself in the White House basement, perhaps with the assistance of Steve Bannon. Now the new variant of concern is a liberal hoax that is somehow supposed to benefit Joe Biden politically and lead  to a One World Communist state. But again, for all the good it will do me, I can respond to that with words of my own.


However, as The Nation's Jeet Heer tells us, for the right, it's no longer about ideas or arguments at all, even absurd ones. It's about violent threats and intimidation, without resort to thought at all.  

The normalization of threats of political violence has been an intensifying trend in 2021. At its core is the simple fact that Republican leaders like [Sen. John] Barrasso have decided the party can’t afford to lose Trump—or even [Rep. Paul] Gosar. The GOP has become an alliance between the brutal and the craven.

Surveying the rise of threats of violence in public life, The New York Times reported on November 12 that “threats against members of Congress have jumped by 107 percent compared with the same period in 2020, according to the Capitol Police.” Remarkably, the situation is so bad that the paper, habitually given to framing all political disputes as the fault of both parties, was frank about the role of the GOP. The Times report noted, “From congressional offices to community meeting rooms, threats of violence are becoming commonplace among a significant segment of the Republican Party. Ten months after rioters attacked the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, and after four years of a president who often spoke in violent terms about his adversaries, right-wing Republicans are talking more openly and frequently about the use of force as justifiable in opposition to those who dislodged him from power.”


The howling mobs who show up at school board meetings threatening members aren't presenting arguments. They are trying to exercise power, for its own sake, by brute force.  As Heer concludes:

Far from denouncing those issuing such threats, the GOP uses its political muscle to protect them. When the Justice Department indicated it was going to investigate threats to school board members over critical race theory, Republicans in Congress objected, with Representative Jim Jordan complaining of the creation of a “snitch line.”

Ultimately, these threats of violence need to be understood as primarily a political problem. They are happening because the GOP views them as offering a political advantage with no real downside.

 Try to find the Both Sides here. I dare you.

Update: Just what I expected. There is not one single Democratic elected official, in congress or state legislatures, or anywhere else that I know of, who endorses or condones violence. There may be some people who consider themselves leftists who commit property crimes, but even they don't threaten violence against public officials or invade capitol buildings. But in any case, they don't have anything to do with the Democratic party. If you can't understand that distinction, you couldn't find your own ass with a map and compass.

Read Jeet Heer's essay. He specifically names Republican elected officials who endorse and condone violence, including all but 2 Republican members of Congress and the former president of the United States.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: A subplot

We now get a little story that is essentially unrelated to the main plot. It features a woman with agency, in fact she acts contrary to her husband's intention and gives away a good deal of his property. One point of this seems to be to emphasize David's virtue, but it hardly seems virtuous to me that he intends to massacre an entire household -- which in this case evidently means at least dozens of people who are the employees of a wealthy sheepherder. And the reason he will do this is simply because the householder declined to reward David for not robbing him. Does that make sense?


Oh yeah, Samuel dies. Or does he?

25 Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Paran.[a]

A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.

While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!

“‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”

When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name. Then they waited.

10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.

14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”

18 Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs[b] of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. 19 Then she told her servants, “Go on ahead; I’ll follow you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal.

20 As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. 21 David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. 22 May God deal with David,[c] be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!”

23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, and let me speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. 27 And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my lord, be given to the men who follow you.

28 “Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

32 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

35 Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, “Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request.”

36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. 37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.”

Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”

41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife. 43 David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel[d] son of Laish, who was from Gallim.


  1. 1 Samuel 25:1 Hebrew and some Septuagint manuscripts; other Septuagint manuscripts Maon
  2. 1 Samuel 25:18 That is, probably about 60 pounds or about 27 kilograms
  3. 1 Samuel 25:22 Some Septuagint manuscripts; Hebrew with David’s enemies
  4. 1 Samuel 25:44 Hebrew Palti, a variant of Paltiel

Saturday, November 27, 2021

But we can't afford it

 A picture is worth a thousand words. (From Pramila Jayapal)