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Al Rodbell's Blog

Tuesday

Hurricane Sandy, God's Message to America

I suspect that Superstorm Sandy is an Act of God, not in a legalistic sense of an unanticipated natural catastrophe, but something much more. Along with those who believe the words of our Pledge of Allegiance that we are a nation "under God,"  even though I am an atheist I have to conclude that this unprecedented event could not have been a meteorological accident.  No, just as God sent the flood that destroyed the world to send his warning to Noah, this too was a message to fulfill the promise he made to our founders.

His message is not to ignore the "one nation" part of the Pledge given under his name.  His saturating the cold winds over the north Atlantic, energizing the swirling  cyclone being brewed in the tropics, and sending them both on a twisted course to merge at the same hour off the coast of his "bestowed" country to submerge it's greatest city could never have been an accident  It was a biblical-level warning not to elect someone who would begin to destroy the great compromise of 1789, The Constitution of the United States of America, that E Pluribus Unum moment, when from many states was forged a single country.

The election to be held in a few days will be more than between two men, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but a referendum on two principles of governance.  Romney's being a reversion to the period when the United States of America was a loose alliance of sovereign states under the Articles of Confederation; the second is our country now, a nation indivisible.

As a people we have forgotten why we abandoned these Articles of Confederation.  This charter was based on the Republican political philosophy that will be achieved by devolution as defined by their standard bearer, who in every area, from health care to emergency response has stated that, "authority is always preferable at the most local level, states rather than the federal government".

Only through the distorted lens of this ideology is it possible that a universal heath care system could be admirable when it implemented by a state, but oppressive when extended to the larger polity, namely the United States of America.   Romney has also stated that emergency response to catastrophes, now under FEMA, should be replaced by state agencies.  This means that a tragedy, whether like what we are experiencing now in the Northeast, or the anticipated major earthquake in California, will not bring a national response, but be limited by state resources, all of which are now struggling to maintain existing services. This would become a source of dissension, very similar to what now exists in that other loose confederation of states, the European Union, that is on the brink of economic collapse as the richer nations are reluctant to come to the aid of those in the most economic stress.

Governing a small homogeneous polity is a simple task in itself.  What such entities, whether called states, countries or principalities, lack is the ability to survive natural calamities or invasion by more powerful empires.  This is why entities such as the United States, Great Britain and the Roman Empire are more stable over longer periods, continuously devising cultural, legal and technical innovations to sustain the challenges of diversity.  Living as we do in such a mature society, it is easy to see its problems and contradictions, while losing sight of why they came to be, and how,  in spite of these profound defects, it is still a system worth defending.

We see the artifacts of this grand compromise in our electoral college system of selection of president, which still reflects that era when states were sovereign and would only join this central government if they were ensured certain residual protections. We see it in our Senate, where contrary to democratic principles , each member retains a veto over most legislation.

Given the challenges, the conflicts including a great civil war, that flowed from creating a strong central government under the Constitution we must ask, as we have throughout our history, whether it was the right decision.  The answer has been provided in stark relief,  first by the current experience of the financial crisis of the European Union. But nothing could make it more clear than this "act of God" of Sandy.

The answer will be dramatized over the next few days, as the current president will face the limits of his power to assuage the pain of millions who are victims of this natural disaster. The danger is that the very party that fosters devolution, a virtual return to the Articles of Confederation that would vastly limit the resources to help the victims of this natural disaster, could successfully spin this as a personal failure of the President. What must be articulated clearly to voters, is how achievement of the Republican goal of devolution would make consequences of this tragedy so much worse; beyond more suffering of its victims, it would become a crisis that endangers the very cohesion of our nation.

Devolution is dissolution.  Mitt Romney, by advocating his party's principle of  transfer of power from the United States government to the states, is breaching what he has stated is sacred to him,  a pledge to maintain "one nation indivisible."  While he has stated that he takes the Pledge of Allegiance to be his own personal oath,  his expressed intention to weaken the federal government, to deny it the authority and funding that makes us a nation, is an inherent denial of that Pledge's central affirmation of intrinsic unity.

Whether or not there is a God -- one who is all powerful and all wise who sent this storm, or whether it was caused by natural forces -- how we are able to respond, either as a country unified in spirit and in law or as individual states, will be shaped by the choice we make on Tuesday.  In this respect it is either a repudiation or affirmation of the central thrust of that decision made in Philadelphia in 1789.  The signers knew that their document, this Constitution, was fraught with challenges.  We are now being asked whether it is still worth defending in view of the complex diverse country that we have become.

At the very least, it is worthy of our serious evaluation.




 




Tea Party Democrat in tight Congressional Win

This is a first draft of an exploration of the consequences of a single ad in a congressional election.   Since I have used this for a link, I'm keeping it live  even though it has been reworked.  The latest version is here. 


November 8, 2012

The academic version of this is,  "Memes or Ratiocination"

Using two words for a title that are unknown to a target audience is contrary to all recommendations for writers.  The words represent contrasting ways of knowing, of comprehending the world.  They describe not only the quality of the message, but also the originator and the target, be it the speaker and the audience, the teacher and the student or the candidate and the voters.

The dictionary explanations don't quite get to the crux of the distinctions. They go into the differences in process such that for for meme,  "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture," or the same dictionary source for ratiocination , "the process of exact thinking : reasoning , a reasoned train of thought."

This misses the essence, that Meme is the use of common expressions that are felt more than understood, that provide cohesion within groups without the need for the exploration and understanding that is an integral part of ratiocination. As an example, in mass media reports on medical research, the results are described as "significant" which is both a meme and a datum of ratiocination.  The reporter often does not know the difference, and the reader has to guess which one it is.  I wrote this essay for those who want more details.

Ratiocination is "book learning" rather than what we get from the "school of hard knocks."  It is also a cause for suspicion of candidates for public office that must be avoided, as Mitt Romney's fluency in French was mostly hidden from the public.  In America such intellectual skill is something that will lessen a central quality for winning elected office, being a person you would want to share a beer with. This is so important that Romney's ability to communicate in a major language of diplomacy had to be downplayed, rather than promoted as something that would have been a benefit in his navigating foreign affairs.

The immediate occasion for this essay is a congressional campaign that has just ended where the use of the two esoteric concepts of my title is the best way to explore the message of one candidate, the Democrat Scott Peters.    This is in a new district, California's 52, where the entrenched incumbent Brian Bilbray was redistricted into a competitive demographic that resulted in a photo finish, the votes still being recounted as I write this.

Now, to make this essay clear, I have to bring in some "book learning" or what is the modern equivalent, evidence of researching concepts beyond the immediate emotional meaning.  And so, before I begin, I have to clarify some terms, that I expect most readers will know, yet as I will demonstrate, I can no longer be sure of.

Lets start with something that is in the headlines now that has been discussed for over a year.  It is called The Fiscal Cliff,  an unusual piece of legislation passed in August of 2011 that was meant to be so onerous that it would never actually be implemented,  but to get us past the stalemate between the two parties that was about to close down the federal government.  It provided that if Congress did not produce a bipartisan budget, the draconian across-the-board spending cuts would take effect on January 2, 2013.

I have copied below the full press release on Candidate Peter's advertisement  with the link to the video here.   There are several key points:  Peters is running as a Democrat, and as such the major ideological opposition is the Tea Party, whose ideology has become the unanimous position of the Republican House of Representatives, including that of Peter's opponent.  The essential long term goal of this opposition is known as broadly as "austerity," the primary goal being reduction of the a country's deficit through "balancing the budget.;" and given they have signed commitments against any increase in taxes, this must be achieved through decreasing government services   While it is universally agreed that in the long term the deficit must be reduced, no one in political life is suggesting that it be done immediately at this time of worldwide economic recession.  The reason that the term "cliff" has been adopted for the aforementioned Budget Control Act of 2011 is that it is seen as an immediate ending of the inherent stimulus of federal expenditures that would precipitate an economic disaster.

This brings us to the content of Scott Peters' advertisement. It is important to note that this is meant to influence voters in one of the more educated and wealthy districts of our country.  90% of adults have at least a high school degree and forty percent a bachelors or advanced degree.  These are people that would be expected to know the adverse consequences of a precipitous balanced budget.

The text of the ad, certainly tested carefully on focus groups, was a seriously considered decision, being the final thrust of one of the country's most expensive House campaigns.  I will show that this demonstrates the ascendancy of memes, over ratiocination, of appeals to emotion over cognition, a growing trend that has debased the essential principle of democratic governance.

The last part of the 30 second video begins with Peters strolling along the beach, and with the words , "....I say no budget no pay."  With this he hopes to bond with the voters who have disdain for all legislators, implying that their salary, their main incentive,  should be withheld for lack of performance .   "If congress doesn't do their job to balance the budget," with a shrug indicating how simple the solution is, he concludes with, "They don't get a pay check."  The ad continues with the pro forma, "I'm Scott Petters and I approve this message," closing with a firm, "Enough is Enough."

I'm sure this tested well, that it will be taken by the viewers as differentiating him from those grubby legislators, especially the one he wants to unseat, who just builds up his pension while not taking the difficult stands that could ameliorate the nations structural problems.  The profound irony is that he makes his argument by using, and thus perpetuating, the most egregious defects in our political mass communication.

While he blames his opponent for not finding a way to avoid The Fiscal Cliff, his solution is to propose that congress pass a law that would, if ever adopted, not only speed the country to this economic precipice, but would lead to even a greater economic catastrophe.  What he is proposing, in a friendly casual way while enjoying his stroll on the beach, is not the Fiscal Cliffs activation, which would require an immediate withdrawal from the national economy of a half a trillion dollars, but one that would be twice as severe.

This casual proposal by a man who is running for the national legislature is not supported by any mainstream academic or political school of thought, as even the Paul Ryan budget, passed unanimously by the Republicans in the house, does not project a balanced budget until many decades in the future.  This campaign ad, one addressed to a literate audience, sheds a harsh bright light on two aspects of American culture in the second decade of the 21st century that are deeply troubling,  The first is the decline of ratiocination among even educated Americans; the second is the increase in political tribalism that makes it acceptable to those who understand its harmful consequences.

I have to believe that Scott Peters and his team were well aware of the contradictions I describe in this essay, yet they chose to toss the dice by running this ad.  I assume that if I were to pose the question off the record, "Do you really advocate a balanced federal budget in your first term." that Peters would admit that he was being cynical and he knew it."

It is not only the advertisement that made his point, In an interview on this local news program, San Diego 6 in the Morning on November 1,  he dispelled an ambiguity of his proposal.  He ignored its political impossibility and, since the interviewer was clueless about such things as government finance and took him seriously, he affirmed his position with,   "Look, if you can't balance the budget every year, which is your job, then you shouldn't get a paycheck"

There are other questions that flow from this.  Did he believe that those in his "tribe" who are committed Democrats will condone his using this reverse jujitsu  to make voters feel that he is just like them, someone they could "share a beer with."  Or would he argue that this is now the nature of politics, that  the currency of mass marketing of candidates is memes rather than ratiocination, and to abandon this irrational emotional language would be unilateral disarmament.

This is the first major election after the Citizen's United decision unleashed unlimited cash to swamp the media with political ads, mostly negative. What this election has shown is that the worst fear of the effect of this decision on campaigns didn't come to pass.  This decision was based on, among other less noble reasons, the belief that the American voters will not be swayed by a deluge of advertisements, but can understand enough of the central issues to make an informed decision.  Peters' ad described here is counter to this premise. He was not providing any information on either the fiscal choices to be made, or his position on them.  By distorting the reality of what a balanced budget means, he is not providing any counterbalance to the effect of unlimited emotional messages allowed by this decision. 

While in the prepared ad he carefully avoided stating he would propose  "No budget no pay" as a law, keeping open the defense that he only expressed his  opinion,  In his television interview, by defending this position, he confirmed that this is exactly what he intended to do.

There is one defense, a justification of Peters action described here.  What if because of this dishonest proposal, Peters does get the extra votes to win the seat in the House?  And because of this, he is instrumental, along with a few members from the other side of the aisle, in forming a coalition to pass a reasonable budget. Will this be vindication for his distortion, his adopting a Tea Party meme to win the election.

If Democrats want to validate their claim of being the "reality party" those members who flout its principles must be called to account.  Whether such pandering described here results in victory or defeat, this is secondary to the damage done to the integrity of our political system.

In the election campaign just completed, with hundreds of thousands of advertisements, almost all that make spurious personal attacks on the opponent that avoid actual issues, why would this one be notable?  First, it shows how universal this is, extending to this district that is among the most educated, including the prestigious U.C.S.D campus.  It demonstrates how far we have deviated from the essential element of democratic governance, that universal suffrage requires informed involved voters.  Second, this overt counter-factual claim  provides a natural epidemiological event that can be mined by surveys of the reaction by party affiliation. Is this type of distortion now so commonplace that it is simply dismissed as meaningless.   Does this win elections, and if so at what cost.

Will Scott Petter's victory, by use of memes, advance this irrational modality as the universal language of elections.  And if so, what is this thing we call a democracy, where the sovereigns, the people, have no clue as to the nature of the most pressing issues of the day, yet choose those who will shape the country's policies that address them.

At the very least, this documented example of cynical political speech should be examined, not to castigate the individual Scott Peters, but as an object lesson for those who revere this noble, but fragile,  experiment in Constitutional democracy.

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Full copy of Scott Peter's campaign page. 

“If Congress can’t balance the budget, they don’t get a paycheck.”

San Diego – In a new 30-second television advertisement launched today, congressional candidate Scott Peters says he supports the concept of ‘No Budget, No Pay’ as a way to hold representatives accountable for doing their jobs, which includes working together to pass a federal budget.

“Congress’s inability to reach agreement on a federal budget caused America’s credit rating to be downgraded for the first time in our history. It led us to this fiscal cliff that threatens jobs, our economy and even national security,” said Peters.

“Yet Congressman Bilbray counts the draconian cuts forced by sequestration as a hallmark example of bipartisan work,” he added. “I think it’s a disaster; I say members of Congress shouldn’t get paid if they don’t do their jobs.”

In the ad, Peters says, “It’s time Congress worked for us. I say – no budget, no pay. If Congress doesn’t do their job and balance the budget – they don’t get a paycheck.”

The process known as sequestration resulted from the inability of Congress to compromise and reach agreement on a federal spending plan. The draconian across-the-board cuts, supported by Brian Bilbray, could mean the loss of 30,000 defense-related jobs in San Diego County alone, as well as the loss of billions of dollars of investment in science and research. These together could cripple San Diego’s economy.

“Congress is broken. To change it, we need to change the people we send there, and we need to hold our representatives accountable,” he said.
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Link to post election N.Y. Times article  that describes Internet data mining, such as part of the decision making resulting in what is described here,  in making manipulations such memes more effective





 

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"Arbeit Macht Frei" Thinking about Capital Punishment

November 4, 2012

I wrote the essay below based on the dark side of Proposal 34 to abolish capital punishment.  They are legitimate concerns, a reaction to the illusion that it will be an unalloyed advance for society.  Yet, the proposal is a referendum on reality, the dysfunctional operation of California's penal system's treatment of condemned prisoners.  It could be that their death penalty gives them a more full existence during the interminable delays compared to those who were spared, and only received life without parole.

I'll include in the addendum, the words of  L.A. Times Columnist, George Skelton, who in spite of being in favor of the death penalty in principle, nevertheless is voting for this bill to abolish it.

October 1, 2012

"Arbeit Macht Frei",  meaning "Work makes Free", the sign that greeted those condemned people entering Auschwitz during WWII, was brought to my mind by the California proposition 34 in this 2012 election.  This bill is a political document, as such its elements can be thought of as "memes," which are the values encompassed in the slogans that we all internalize in thinking about public issues.

Capital punishment is one of those issues central to the cultural divide that separate Americans, largely, defined by the two parties.  Liberals consider themselves more thoughtful, and as such less willing to take strong action, something ridiculed by the other party as weakness or political correctness.  So, ending the death penalty is generally supported by Democrats over Republicans by two to one.

Because this bill (an alternate term for the proposed law) must get bipartisan support, it is crafted with some unusual elements that make it more palatable to the compassionate liberals as well as hard nosed conservatives.  As such, in my view, the outcome is both a moral and pragmatic abomination.

There is a central assumption that must be questioned before proceeding, which is that the alternative to execution, life without parole, is the more benign punishment.  There are several ways of getting at the subjective experience of the two sentences, one being the number of suicides among those with no possibility of ever leaving prison.  Each attempted suicide is a vote for the premise that death under these circumstances is their wish, being less onerous than life in prison.  This puts a different slant on this bill, not that it is more humane but actually more cruel to those who must endure it.   This article in The Economist illustrates this:

The chance that a given prisoner will end his or her life in prison is not unusually high.  It is for lifers. At 8% of the prison population, and less than 1% of receptions, they account for 21% of suicides. Murderers and men who expect to die in jail are particularly likely to perish at their own hand.

California executes only the "worst of the worst," as determined by a mandated second punishment trial by the jury, and publicly funded automatic appeals.  Only these determined to have more aggravating than mitigating circumstances are sentenced to death, with very few actually executed  These few represent that wrath of society as expressed by jurors; and then receive the  most expansive protection of the judicial system to ensure that there are no errors of evidence, prosecution or process.

Let me stop to make one thing clear, that I happen to believe that miscarriages of justice including in murder trials do happen, and worse, that they fall disproportionately to the impoverished and to racial minorities.  What I am suggesting, is the attempt to deal with this by the current proposition is based on unfounded, even if widely held, beliefs that have unexamined adverse consequences.

Our highest courts have determined that execution is the single punishment that requires a review of every aspect of the trial, allowing the convicted individual a taxpayer funded appeal to a higher court.  Since this is not mandated for a prison term, it is the cost of this that makes capital punishment more expensive than life in prison.

The most frequently relied upon forensic evidence is now being demonstrated to be far from the valid science that the public, and jurors, have been led to believe. The savings of money that this bill describes will be from eliminating the valuable effect of scrutiny by appeals courts, and the public focus on such cases, that have shown the limits of forensic science that have convicted uncountable innocent defendants.  If the death penalty is to be abolished, it must not mean the end of focusing, by the court and the public, on the many deep injustices that define our criminal justice system.  Appeals courts must continue to monitor convictions of what had been capital crimes,  treating life without parole as they now treat executions,  not based on ability to pay but randomly selected.  If we remove the universality of appeals oversight, we are left with such review only being for those with wealth, missing the demographic most likely to suffer from systemic lack of fair representation due to limits of funding for public defenders.

This proposition should raise some profound issues that should be part of the public conversation.   The first is on the concept of punishment itself, something that has only been accepted in recent decades in this country and not an overriding purpose in others.  In Mexico, not only is there no capital punishment, but there is no life without parole. In fact,  Mexico will not extradite to the U.S. anyone who faces, not only the death penalty, but even life in prison.  While the conditions of their prisons make a mockery of this formal legal proscription, nevertheless it exists in principle.

While the penological principle of redemption in practice in Scandinavian countries such as Norway is rooted in theological and enlightenment era values, current neuroscience (article here, my comment 8th down) has provided some increasing new insights into causation that question the very concept of free will, the absence of which makes punishment itself a non sequitur.

But, most of civilization is stuck with a model of punishment for that which society condemns, that which we label "crimes." This is reinforced by the illusion enshrined in the final affirmation of our national pledge of our being a nation of, "....justice for all."   The only requirement is that such imposed suffering of the perpetrator is proportionate to the suffering he or she inflicted on the victim and the broader community.

Now we get to another central element of proposition 34 from the official summary:

"This measure specifies that every person found guilty of murder must work while in state prison and have their pay deducted for any debts they owe to victims of crime, subject to state regulations."

This is what brought to mind the sign over Auschwitz as well as the chain gangs that could be seen along the side of southern roads decades ago.  Or is it to be something completely different;  actually providing the satisfaction that work is meant to bring to people.  Will the workers eventually be allowed to unionize to ensure decent conditions-as the product of their labor will be in competition with that of other citizens; or will it go the other way, and become the worst expression of slave labor, with productivity being enforced by the threat of.....what is the threat to one who has already been sentenced to life without parole?  Is it  to be put in solitary, which would mean he wouldn't have to work at all, or is in the "hole,"  a dark cramped place with nothing to occupy his mind except recurring visions of a nightmare life.  Perhaps during this period, when the full extent of his miserable existence becomes inescapable, perhaps with memories of his childhood, probably surrounded by the most brutal violence by those who were to care for him, perhaps he will long for release, for ending the suffering.

But it will not be possible.  He will be allowed no implements of self destruction, which means that the pain shall have no relief, that he will endure the suffering until a natural death, fed, housed and perpetuated under the edicts of the law that citizens of this state shall decide on within the next few weeks.

This bill is carefully crafted to have something for everyone.  If you want to see those killers suffer even more, this is the ticket, as they will rot in jail for the rest of their lives.  "So what if a few may not have actually committed the actual crime they are convicted of, they probably have done worse, so no big deal;  and this will make it easier to send a lot of "them" away, with no intrusive appeals courts second guessing the juries."

And those who think this as humane, the elimination of a civilized society taking the life of a human being, so ending the possibility of killing an innocent person, you have the same bill to get this done.  All it takes is ignoring the adverse consequences described here:

This bill would impose what for many is a harsher punishment than execution.

The details of the work requirement are not defined, so they will either soften or exacerbate the punishment.

It eliminates the universal appeals process that results in fairer trials.

It removes the public abhorrence of false guilty decision when the result is execution, thus possibly increasing such errors.

We should not imbue the act of execution, of taking a life by due process of law, with all of life's injustices, whether forensic, juridical or existential.  Many of the  protections against failures of our legal system only apply to capital punishment, so the elimination of the punishment will also eliminate these protections, such as automatic appeals for the indigent.  The abolitionist impulse must be directed to the deeper causes that are much more entrenched, to grave injustices that will only become more routine, less disturbing with the abolition of the most shocking manifestation of these harsh realities.
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On October 23, the L.A. Times printed my letter: Death row vs. solitary, that made several points in this essay.  The letter expanded on this article in Mother Jones Magazine describing Solitary Confinement in California Prisons.

The politically motivated massacre of 90 campers in Norway, threw in sharp relief the contrast between that country's redemption oriented penology, where the killer will serve a maximum of 21 years in a comfortable setting to our own system, with a meaningful commentary in this N.Y. Times OpEd,  Justice? Vengeance? You Need Both  The contrast between the two countries is explored in this article, In Sentencing Criminals, Is Norway Too Soft...
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George Skelton's views from the LA Times of Nov. 4

•Prop. 34 would abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. But, in essence, California's death penalty was eliminated long ago. We're paying for it, just not getting it.

There have been only 13 executions in the last 34 years and none since 2006. There are 729 killers housed on San Quentin's death row, living in single-bunk cells with TVs and extensive yard privileges.

The question is not whether we should have capital punishment. We should. But we're apparently incapable. So give up the costly charade. Double-bunk the murderers with other inmates, make them work and save $130 million a year. Stop dumping tax money down a rat hole.





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Abortion, Execution and California Prop 34

Sometimes diving into a heated issue, in this case opposing the California Proposition 34 to end the death penalty, can be a surprising source of insight.  It was not to come in response to my arguments, addressed specifically to those who are referred to as being "socially liberal" as there was a willful avoidance of addressing them.  That is until it was picked up in a letter printed in the L.A. Times, that rather than a point by point rebuttal, the response was outrage that I supported this "barbaric" punishment.

Realizing that appeals to reason to the defense appellate lawyer who excoriated me was useless,  I started thinking more about the intensity of her reaction.  In an instant, the appearance of my letter had turned me into the enemy, one who deserved the full hatred directed to those apostates of all stripes who abandon the fold.  While civilized people, like us --perhaps, do not really stone to death those who abandon our deeply held beliefs,  we do maintain the precursors to such violence.  They are nurtured, not in the mosque or midnight torch-lit rallies, but in a visceral contempt for those "unfaithfuls."

Taking of another human life elicits powerful conflicting emotions.  The first is inhibitory, a constraint against acting on impulses that could destroy the cohesion of the group.  The paradox is that this inherent inhibition to kill is poised against the equally essential imperative to commit the same violence to defend the group. This killing of enemy outsiders or internal traitors is mandated at every scale, from street gang to nation.  The unleashed anger over the death penalty issue, solves a puzzle for me, connecting the individual with the political, organism to super-organism.

It becomes clear there is common element of the two most divisive issues of our cultural divide, capital punishment and abortion-one that may not be evident, or even comprehensible to those who are most passionate about them.  In both cases a human life is being ended, either it being one in utero-- or an adult convicted of a breach of the most central tenet of the group, which we define as murder.

Human cognition is not a linear algorithm, rather it evolved from our phylogenic ancestors who had to deal with lethal competitors with a brain of far less processing capacity than has eventually evolved.  It does not work by first assessing all the variables, and then calculating the most viable course of action, as by the time we had done that our pre-human precursors would have been dead.  Rather they formed an instant picture, what is now called a "gestalt" that identified, categorized and triggered an energizing reaction that played itself out, either by escape, or by vanquishing the threatening individual.

As tribes evolved into larger groups, human culture was largely the process of defining individuals into friends or foes, those who we may kill and those whom we must protect from death.  Such labeling, whether by the tattoos of street gangs or the epithets cast at political opponents are only thinly disguised representations of such primal instincts.

And so the social-liberal recognizes no contradiction in dehumanization of the organism who has yet to emerge from the womb, while identifying with the humanity of one who has violated the central core value of his society.  The semantic trick of objectifying such fetuses works because it seems to obviate the contradiction.   So liberals always use the sterile word "fetus" and conservatives depict those to be killed as "monsters."

This paradox certainly extends to the generic social conservative, who has conceptually banished such murderers from the fold,  his execution being the natural culmination of his inhumanity.  Yet, for this conservative in spite of the fetus having none of the cultural cognitive attributes of personhood, he is viewed as a member of society to be protected from harm.

There is one more aspect of this analysis, which is that culture, its use of language to evoke primal emotions,  has the capacity to become a force unto itself even in the absence of the dangers that formed the primitive responses.  In the United States, to be a conservative or a liberal is to espouse its core values, which define perceptions that override the weak effect of reason on human affairs.

As such, today's conservative incorporates an identifying article of faith that opposes killing a fetus, even though it was universally accepted in the English speaking world before the first trimester until the mid 19th century.  And certainly capital punishment was equally accepted at that time, as among our founders there was no opposition to referencing it specifically in the Constitution.  These were a group of men who internalized the enlightenment values of their era who never entertained the conceit that a world without those who deserved to die for their crimes would ever exist.

What these writers of our Constitution did understand to a person, was the dangers of what they called factions and what we now refer to as political parties.  These men, some from slave holding states and others who abhored the institution, some from agricultural areas and others commercial, some Christians and others agnostics, still were able to forge a uniting document.

They so feared factions that they tried to make their formation structurally impossible, assuming or hoping, that the person who came in second in the election for president would would share enough values to become the vice president.  They must have understood that factions not only reflect differences, but that they thrive on them and must create them when they do not exist.  Their fears have been shown to be correct.

My carefully crafted essay pointing out un-noted adverse consequences of the proposed law that would end the death penalty was never to be evaluated on its merits, but like all things in the ever increasing domain of partisan politics became an identifier of my substance, whether I was a friend or a foe, with the emotional reaction that has little to do with the actual points that I made.

I will try not be affected by the antipathy of those who feel that I am no longer a member of their club, any more than I welcome the affiliation of those who see the sharing of rejection of this particular proposal as making me one of them.  I embrace anyone who addresses my observations, who then refines them by either support or refutation.   If I identify with anyone, it is with those who are attempting to find a way out of our descent into an ever more hateful politics of personal destruction..

Benjamin Franklin, when asked about the nature of the constitution he had just helped craft, famously described it as, "A Republic, if you can keep it."  It was a cryptic comment that many have thought and written about.  For the first time, I think I know what he may have meant.













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