Readings by John Scalzi and Paul Krugman; Book Notes; Morality

John Scalzi on writing about politics; Republican performance art; Paul Krugman on Republican intentions over decades against Medicare and Society Security; and notes about books about American myths past and present.

The ever-entertaining John Scalzi, author of popular SF novels Old Man’s War, Redshirts, and many others, runs a daily blog that’s a mix of personal anecdotes, guest posts by authors to discuss their new books, and occasional commentary about politics and other big issues. His blog is called Whatever: Furiously Reasonable (with orders of magnitude more views than mine, I’m sure) and the section of guest posts by other authors is called The Big Idea.

A couple days ago he posted this: I Think I’ve Finally Figured Out Why I Write About Politics Here Rather Less Than I Used To.

I’ve always admired Scalzi’s political posts, because they seem so reasonable and nonpartisan, the latter in the sense that he’s not promoting one ideology and dissing another. He’s so nonpartisan he’s not afraid to point out what’s obvious to all clear-thinking people, for fear of *sounding* partisan. Unlike the mainstream media that strives for ‘balance.’ Here’s the opening of Scalzi’s post.

I mean, besides the reason I’ve already noted several times, which is that there are only so many times you can say “The political right in the United States is unambiguously all-in on bigoted authoritarianism and white supremacy and has no interest in helping any American, just in punishing some of them” before it gets tiring, both to say and to hear. That remains accurate!

Followed by this, a key point about the current political news cycle.

And also, the other thing is that so much political messaging these days, particularly on the right, is so performative that engaging with it is also performative, and a furtherance in distributing the original performative messaging. The political right in the United States understands that, inasmuch as it currently lacks a coherent political strategy other than will to power, it must keep its followers forever afraid, and its opponents forever on the defensive — spending their energy responding rather than doing anything else. So: outrage at trans people and black people and librarians and candies and anything else that will keep the outrage cycle going on for another 24 hours.

That is, Republicans aren’t pursuing solutions to problems, so much as they are performing for their base, churning up outrage over CRT or AP courses in high school or, even, M&Ms.

The rest of Scalzi’s post well-worth reading.


Latest example of Republican performance.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 13 Feb 2023: Why do so many Republicans now dress like cartoon supervillains? It’s what the MAGA base craves, subtitled “Blame Roger Stone: On the right, playing up how they’re the bad guys only makes them more popular”

Concerning a certain far-right firebrand who yelled at the President during his state of the union address, and who wore a white wool coat with alpaca fur trim to the event. She got compared to Cruella de Vil. Why did she do it? Was she not aware how she looked?


But, of course, it’s wiser to assume that Greene knew exactly how she looked. Moreover, her ridiculously out-of-place outfit did exactly what it was meant to do: Get her photo on the front of every newspaper and website imaginable. Also intentional: Drawing scorn from people like Meyers, which she can then repackage as “proof” that she’s a victim of the “coastal elite,” defined not by money, which she has plenty of, but the fact that they know the difference between the Nazi police and cold tomato soup. Above all else, she wanted to look the part of the villain. Far from being people who are unaware they’re the baddies, the MAGA movement is about glorying in their own self-image as political scoundrels.

Marcotte goes on with other examples. Just as I tried, at one point, to avoid mentioning Donald T***p ever again, it would be nice if I could avoid mentioning anything about all the other performative conservatives who make noise and attract attention without having any actual ideas or solutions to problems. Except that, their noise is actual “news,” in a sense, right? It’s what’s happening, even if it’s all that’s happening. At least this time I avoided mentioning Greene’s full name. And why I didn’t link the photo of that person at the top of this Marcotte post.


Following up on SOTUS again.

Paul Krugman, NY Times, 13 Feb 2023: The G.O.P.’s Long War Against Medicare and Social Security

Despite the shouts of “liar!” by Republicans over Biden’s claim that some Republicans want to scale back Social Security and Medicare, Krugman points out they have a long history of trying to do exactly that.

Krugman sees the basis for right-wing news media’s denunciation of Biden’s comments thusly:

The basis for these denunciations, as far as I can tell, is the idea that calling a plan to sunset legislation a plan to sunset legislation is somehow misleading, because voters don’t know what “sunset” means. Indeed, just because the legislation authorizing a program comes to an end needn’t mean that the program will die; Congress can always vote to reinstate it.

But, of course, many Republicans do want to eviscerate these programs. To believe otherwise requires both willful naïveté and amnesia about 40 years of political history.

Krugman goes on to recall Reagan, the Cato Institute, George W. Bush, Gingrich, Paul Ryan, and now DeSantis.

So are people who claim that Biden was over the top unaware of this track record? Do they really not know that Republicans have spent more than four decades trying to find ways to undermine Medicare and Social Security? Are they unaware that there’s a long history of Republicans whining that Democrats are engaged in smear tactics when they describe Republican policies using exactly the same words Republicans used themselves until political consultants urged them to find euphemisms?


Book Notes

So I did after all buy that book Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past, which I previously mentioned here and here, and I will be dipping into it.

I also just bought a book published today (I think Amazon flagged it as of potential interest based on other books I’d bought, perhaps the one above), called Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments, by Nathan J. Robinson, which claims to present concise responses to what I would describe as the biggest misconception on the right about our current time. Example chapter headings: “Government Is the Problem, Not the Solution”; “The United States is a Force for Good in the World”; “The Nazis Were Socialists”; “Abortion Is Murder”; “There Is a War on Christianity”. I will be dipping into this one, too.

This book has several introductory chapters with these titles: “Conservatism versus Rationality”; “The Terror of Having to Think”; “Common Tendencies in Conservatives Arguments”; and “Tips for Arguing”.

These themes seem to align with my thinking over these many years, and many other books that I’ve read; I look forward to this book to see how these themes apply to such specific issues. In consideration of the top two topics in this post, conservative or Republican thinking seems to consist of ideological positions and appeal to tradition or populist prejudice, while liberal or progressive (and scientific) thinking seems to consist of evidence about the real world and rational thinking.

Is this some kind of biased, partisan, thinking? I’ve further gotten the impression from listening to conservatives that they simply don’t understand the idea of forming opinions or conclusions based on evidence. Any idea that comes into their head is a position that can be floated to see who rallies around it.

And so it occurred to me to see if there was any such book as “Responding to the Left: Brief Replies to 25 Liberal Arguments.” Or anything remotely similar. I did several Amazon searches. Nothing, nada. Just books about Christianity, like We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding Courageously to Our Culture’s Assault on Christianity. Arguments from ideology, not facts or evidence. Arguments for a Biblically based ideology that represents both an obsolete cosmology and an obsolete morality.


Finally, I am reading my way through one of those John Brockman books I discussed earlier, This Explains Everything, which I mentioned back on Feb 9th. I am reading a few of these short essays every morning, and will note them here. The one that struck me today was by Abrey de Grey, about how morality evolves through consistency, not necessarily on any objective base; and how that applies to the modern idea of monogamy. His broad premise strikes me as important; his conclusion about monogamy, problematic. But I will explore this, and other essays from the book, in future posts.

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