The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Rule of Alienation and Stability

One of my favourite sights is people complaining that marginalized people don’t understand that their support for Bad Politician-X results in fucking themselves.

“Sure,” runs the line, “their lives suck now. But they’ll suck even worse if this guy gets into power.”

This is often (but not always) true. It is also irrelevant.

The rule is simple: Alienated people are always targets for alternative political movements. Sometimes those movements are good, sometimes bad. But if you don’t want this to happen, your society has to give alienated people genuine expectations of a better future when they play within the system.

When a huge number of people, a plurality, feel that they have little hope for a better future, and a realistic expectation for a worse future, they are willing to roll the dice, even if the odds are bad. After all, they already know that the current world is shitty and the future is worse.

It does not matter if this seems irrational on cost/benefit scales; what matters is the chance, rather than what they see as a certainty.

Now, understand always, that sometimes what is offered IS better. FDR was better. So was Huey Long. Corbyn in Britain will be better than the status quo. (This is why the voting gap for youngsters disappeared for him. Young people vote when they are offered what they need.)

Sometimes it is worse, if not in the short run, then in the long run. Or, if not for you, then for other people in your society (see Hitler and Mussolini for cases of both).

People who love the status quo, who want it to continue, have to make it work for most people. If their policies, no matter how reasonable they seem to the beneficiaries of the current system, whatever it is (Ancien Regime France, for example) plunge a plurality into despair, that plurality will always be ripe for turning on the system.

It really is that simple? Love your system? Okay. Make it work for almost everyone. In excess of 90 percent. Not because you are moral or ethical, most of you probably aren’t, but out of sheer self-interest.

If you don’t, don’t whine when those you left behind decide to take almost any chance to change things.

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Meanwhile in Hungary




  1. S Brennan

    “When a huge number of people, a plurality, feel that they have little hope for a better future, and a realistic expectation for a worse future, they are willing to roll the dice, even if the odds are bad. After all, they already know that the current world is shitty and the future is worse.”

    This is what elected Trump, NOT Russia, NOT racism [sheesh…folks who believe the “Russia/racism ate my homework” line from the Hillary camp are less sentient than lobotomized sheep].

    “don’t whine when those you left behind decide to take almost any chance to change things.”

  2. Tim

    Not exactly an original insight 30+ years into the era of the New Dems, but this is the best summary I have read of what ails that which passes for the left in the US.
    I don’t know that I blame the nihilistic right wing voters less than the smug complacency of the Cinton-Obamaists, but I do know which ones I’m sorely tempted to smack the shit out of.
    My analogy is one party is the wolf at the barn
    door, and the other is the guard dog sleeping in the manger.

  3. bruce wilder

    I have tried to explain something of this dynamic to certain friends, and of the particular relation S. Brennan describes, and I have been met with near incomprehension.

    They simply do not see a connection between the policy choices embedded in the political status quo and the economic conditions for others that lead to despair. These are dots they do not connect.

  4. S Brennan


    You are doing better than me, the “liberals” I grew up with believe, with the utmost fanaticism, the “Russia/racism ate my homework propaganda”. When I show amusement at their gullibility, I am alternately hated for being a racist/ruskie-puppet…because, just as day follows night, if I don’t fanatically believe in Hillary’s warped version of reality, surely ,I must be both a racist and a puppet.

    The “liberals” of my youth would describe themselves as the best & brightest and yet, as you state, they can not, for the life of them, see any other reality outside of what the corporate media feeds them. It’s sad, they heartlessly mock others whose ignorance stems from a life which lacked opportunity but, are inured to their studied, self imposed ignorance.

  5. Herman

    People vote for all sorts of reasons and many people are quite ignorant when it comes to things like politics and policy. I have a friend who voted for Obama twice because he “seemed like a good guy” but sat out the 2016 election because he didn’t like Clinton or Trump. His thinking had more to do with personality than policy.

    You also have people who are single issue voters like many of the Catholics I know who vote Republican based entirely on the abortion issue. They do not care about any other issue. Everything for them comes down to abortion. I suspect there are pro-choice people who operate the same way or pro-gun people who vote straight GOP due to the gun issue or whatever.

    You could say that these people are voting against their best interests but how do we judge the best interests of other people? To go back to the pro-life people I know, many of them are working-class people who would be hurt by GOP policies and would perhaps do slightly better under the Democrats. But even if the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party took over and offered a second New Deal most of the people I am referring to would still vote GOP because in their opinion abortion is the paramount issue. Their interest in seeing an end to legal abortion trumps whatever economic interests they might have in a more left-wing economic program.

    That being said, I do agree that the current populist wave is due to worsening conditions for the majority of people in the West. This is the new element that we are dealing with. People are very angry but our elites are still trying to turn the clock back to the 1990s and the 2000s by focusing on culture war issues, identity politics and foreign policy (Russia, Russia, Russia!) instead of the severe economic and social decline of the broad mass of the population.

  6. Outsiders play by their own rules, and do not subscribe to the customs of our domesticated cousins. Laws tolerable are tolerated, those not are not. Survival is all that matters.

  7. marku52

    If you haven’t seen Branco Milonovic’s “elephant chart” you have’t seen the clearest explanation of Trump, Brexit, and the Yellow Jackets, not to mention Orban. It is quite simple.–all of the economic gains of the last 30 years have come at the expense of middle class workers in the western world. Their lives have gone backwards while everyone else went ahead, and they aren’t taking it any more.

  8. Steve Ruis

    I think it is fair to say that Donald Trump was elected for two reasons. One was that only a binary choice is offered: Tweedledee or Tweedledum and people were fed up with the status quo, in which they are promised things will get better and that just does not happen. All the Democrats offered were buckets and buckets of “more of the same” and hence got beat by the worst candidate in memory (possibly of all time).

  9. anon y'mouse

    if this is just an argument for “the elites need to figure out how to rule us better so that it is more ‘fair’ and there is less disgruntlement below decks”, then i am not for it.

    we need to do away with this Ruler/Ruled hierarchy altogether. if you don’t believe that, then i have no problems calling you an Enemy. and i don’t care if you are my own sainted grandmother, i will do so.

  10. bruce wilder

    . . . we need to do away with this Ruler/Ruled hierarchy altogether.

    oh, gee, why didn’t I think of that? of course, you are absolutely right.

    i will take the Ruler/Ruled hierarchy back to the Sears returns desk for a full refund right after the holidays. Oh wait . . . is there still a Sears?

  11. I sympathize most strongly with anon y’mouse’s position even if I have observed many proposals about how to “get there” come and go.

    Yes, one path by which people come to bad politics is by rolling the dice on their own bad conditions, but it is of course not the only path, and in some places/cases not even the dominant path.

    I’m more interested in how marginalized communities choose between bad radicalism and good radicalism. I was not under the impression that poor blacks vote for the radical right, for example…

  12. Stirling Newberry

    “This is what elected Trump, NOT Russia, NOT racism [sheesh…folks who believe the “Russia/racism ate my homework” line from the Hillary camp are less sentient than lobotomized sheep].”

    Erm – no. It is racism. They are proud that it is. They also, conveniently, do not ask who changes the beds at the nursing home they live in.

    The same is true in other countries – with slightly differing spins.

  13. Herman


    It really depends on the circumstances and which groups we are talking about. African-Americans support the Democrats because they perceive that the Republican Party is the political home of white racists and so the GOP would not enforce anti-discrimination policies with the same zeal that Democrats would or care about issues that disproportionately hurt African-Americans like police brutality and racial profiling. Also, African-Americans likely perceive that Republican economic policy wouldn’t help them.

    I have had discussions with Republicans as to why more African-Americans don’t vote for the GOP since in some respects many African-Americans have the same profile as Republican voters. For example, African-Americans are often very religious and socially conservative which would put them in the Republican camp. But these other issues (anti-discrimination, police brutality, racial profiling and economics just to name a few) trump issues like abortion and gay marriage for most African-Americans.

    This is an area where I disagreed with some of my fellow Bernie Sanders supporters in 2016 when they were frustrated with some black voters for not being enthusiastic about Sanders. African-Americans often support mainstream Democrats because they want someone who can win in the general election. African-Americans might know that this or that Democrat is not all that great but for them the stakes are high because of their status as a minority group that suffered oppression and discrimination for generations.

    It is the same thing with organized labor. I know a lot of people on the left who are frustrated with unions for supporting mainstream Democrats but like African-Americans the unions perceive that they have nowhere else to go because the Republicans are implacably opposed to them and so they have to bet everything on the Democrats in the hope that they will at least protect them somewhat from the Republicans.

    With whites the situation is different because they can plausibly see the radical right as fighting for their interests. If you are not worried about racial discrimination and a host of other issues that impact minorities then it opens up some options when it comes to voting and that includes rolling the dice on the radical right. This doesn’t hold for African-Americans given their minority status and history.

    That being said, things might be changing and in the future we might see right-wing populists building multiracial coalitions. There are signs that many African-Americans, particularly the young, are fed up with the Democrats. So far this has resulted more in low turnout than voting for the GOP but this could change in the future especially if we get more intelligent right-wing populists than Trump in the future.

  14. Hugh

    In the US, both parties represent the status quo, and the status quo is about defending the rich and increasing their gains at the cost of everyone else. So vote against the Democrats or the Republicans, you still end up with more of the same. Trump is depicted as this bull in the china shop, but his one legislative accomplishment was a huge tax cut for the rich and the corporations they own. Meanwhile the Democrats are busily re-installing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, running against Trump while embracing all the mealy-mouthed wishywashery that sent so many voters to Trump in the first place.

    Re Pelosi, I find it really annoying the way Establishment media talking heads rave about what a great money raiser and leader Pelosi has been. But the facts are different. Pelosi has led Democrats in the House since 2003, that is for 15 years. In only 4 of those years did Democrats have a majority with Pelosi occupying the Speakership. These were the last two years of the Bush Administration and the first of the Obama Administration. That is during a period where voters were rejecting the Republican version of the status quo while embracing the Democratic one. It had next to nothing to do with any great political acumen or leadership on her part. A ham sandwich could have done as well as she did and arguably a lot better.

  15. ponderer

    Well said Ian. One thing I would note on the “radical elements” front is that most of the differences between the “choices” provided are minimal, based upon largely fringe issues, identity politics, and gross dramatization. Trump for example, is no where near radical right, though some commentators feel comfortable taking that as a fact. There is no evidence he supports any race over any other race. There is no evidence he seeks to suspend the constitution, enslave some part of the populace, or even start any illegal wars at this point. Bernie Sanders is no radical leftist either. He’s not for eliminating the 1%, he just advocates some, rather benign really, redistribution. Medical for all is about his most radical policy proposal and compared to other industrialized nations its not extreme at all. Our “choices” are very bland and even those are only allowed once TPTB decide they can be marginalized. No one thought Trump could win the nomination, much less the general. The fix was in on Bernie. The mistake the mainstream made was showing their disdain for Trump. If your life is going to be shit, at least you can make it just as shitty for some assholes. It was obvious the talking heads didn’t want Trump in there so of course the unwashed masses were going to protest vote. TPTB should have tried a little tact but their success has made them lazy.

    Meanwhile Gallop says that 81% of (self identified) Democrats think the US should be dictating to other countries how they should run themselves. They’ve bought into our ME adventures and decided they want more of that. It’s not just our right, its our responsibility! So we can pretty much bank on Hillary 2020, and a 2nd Trump term. Even the MIC has deluded itself into thinking that Sanders is a socialist so I don’t hold out much hope for him. They hate Trump but they Fear socialism. I’m afraid the stage is set for a another major World War. God help us.

  16. Billikin

    The powers that be often play alienated groups off against each other, thus keeping them from combining against their oppressors. Racial/ethnic animosity provides an easy way to do this. Religious prejudice provides another. Then people of the same religion or race as the elites can be counted on to support them and “vote against their best interest.”

  17. Billikin

    As for Trump, it is true that he is not a rightist. Like Mussolini, he has no particular ideology. He likes to say what he thinks his audience of the moment wants to hear. But Trump has a long history of racism and sexism, along with a willingness to make exceptions for people he perceives as “winners”.

  18. Billikin

    Oh, yes. Trump certainly wants to do away with any Constitutional limits against him. He is often criticized for being anti-democratic, but he is also anti-republican. He is a dictator wannabe. He has little taste for governing. He wants to reign, not rule. He is willing to let loyal underlings do the work.

  19. Charlie

    “Sure,” runs the line, “their lives suck now. But they’ll suck even worse if this guy gets into power.”

    The problem with this line of reasoning is marginalized lives don’t suck worse with different people leading the charge, they just continue to suck. The rate of downward motion is irrelevant when the bottom is painful, nonetheless.

    The path out MUST be a true alternative and MUST be made with the marginalized in mind. That means no catering to the pretty princes and princesses of the comfortable classes

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