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

The worst thing you can say to American left wingers

is that people in democratic countries have some responsibility for what their countries do.


The Death Bet


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  1. markfromireland

    And when you say it you can expect to be excoriated for it.


  2. Bruce Wilder

    Oh, come on. What else could they do? What’s your alternative? [comment to be read satirically]

  3. Hvd

    Although I agree basically with the premise that citizens of a democracy have “some” responsibility for what their governments do, I think that the difficulty lies in that word “some.” Does that responsibility reach so far as to justify military action directed at killing those “responsible” if you believe, for instance, that the u.s. is guilty of war crimes or for whatever reason is your enemy? Why is this limited to citizens of “democracies”? What constitutes a democracy such that some responsibility attaches? Is the u.s. actually a democracy?

  4. DrunkenMonkey

    Phew… it’s a good thing the US isn’t a democracy. Otherwise we’d have to hang all 350 million of us for war crimes.

  5. Michael Berger

    Oh my goodness. Bravo Ian!

    That is the funniest thing I’ve read in… at least several weeks.

    Sadly very true, but also – of course – very funny.

  6. S Brennan

    2008 revolt was far and wide…had people been paying attention in the previous 8 years, [which is their duty] Obama wouldn’t have passed the laugh test. My fellow citizens…change that…my friends, don’t pay attention [as is their duty] so they are easily conned.

  7. Short of filling the streets and effecting a blood-letting revolution, where did this bit of outrage towards the entire left come from?

  8. Celsius 233

    That cracks me up, very funny. And very true.
    I have been pilloried for exactly that statement.
    The denial is tragic…

  9. guest

    January 8, 2014
    Short of filling the streets and effecting a blood-letting revolution, where did this bit of outrage towards the entire left come from?
    Who are you responding to Larry? Not IW, I hope. All he said was that “people” bear “some” responsibility. And apparently you are reacting true to form by taking this as some sort of outrageous insult to the entire left.

    I personally don’t feel a huge burden of guilt or responsibility for all the dumbasses I grew up with and continue to be surrounded by, or for whom they vote for (many policies following from those votes which have directly and unfairly disadvantaged me personally at various times). I certainly don’t advocate or condone the military or terrorist reprisals Hvd seems to imply Ian’s statement might justify. On the other hand, when shit happens to America and Americans by those who feel wronged by this country, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. As a country the US (and England and France and Germany and Russia Japan, China, etc) has acted 100 times more vindictively, destructively and unjustly to real or perceived insults or threats. If I was from Yemen or Pakistan or where ever, I wouldn’t feel too concerned about the welfare of the people of America or other (more or less) democratic countries, either on the left or right, who might be victims of such blowback.

    We, collectively, have done a whole lot of nasty things that we collectively have some responsibility for having let happen. That’s all Ian was saying. He didn’t say that every one of us deserves a share of punishment for that. What goes around comes around, so just don’t wet your pants and act like the first person who ever suffered if and when it comes around again.

  10. Hvd

    Guest, I agree with you entirely. I’m just trying to parse Ian’s statement.

    I don’t really understand its context. Unless of course it only is directed at u.s. liberals abject inability to own up to their part in obamas actions re drone missions, NSA, economics, etc.

    If that is all it is meant to reference I apologize for taking it too far above.

  11. Liberals here have a bunch of stock excuses for “voting for the Democrat” — lesser of two evils, the Republicans are worse, and so on. They could all vote for, and participate in, the Green Party, of course, but that would “split the vote” — that’s their stock excuse. Otherwise, you are told, the Republicans would win. Since American liberals have no concept of the future beyond that of the next election, allowing a Republican victory is regarded as being responsible for the end of the world. Vote for Obama because omigod Romney, never mind that the outcome would be about the same either way.

    For American liberals proclaiming oneself to be in favor of good things (like, peace, and maybe a decent economy or something like that) is enough, because being-in-the-world, for them, is the equivalent of polishing one’s self-image. And it’s very important for American liberals to have nice, shiny self-images.

  12. Celsius 233

    @ Cassiodorus PERMALINK
    January 9, 2014
    I think the gist of your comment is okay.
    But don’t get too carried away with the name calling/pigeon holing; the entire country (all political factions) have been compromised. There is no unity to be found; by design.
    Liberal, conservative, tea party, progressive no longer have any significant meaning, by design/intent.
    One must understand how magicians ply their craft; pure deception; you look over there, but here is where the trick is performed.
    I particularly like the line from Little Buddha (the movie); Siddhartha escapes his father’s palace one night, because a strange mist has descended upon the realm (all the people in the palace are asleep) and he says to his companion; “Look, the whole world is dreaming.”
    That describes us to a tee. We are all dreaming…

  13. someofparts

    Here’s one for you good folks in Canada –

  14. someofparts

    btw – I didn’t just post that to be all neener neener about it

    was planning to email you the link anyway and realized it would fit well into comments on this thread

    and you know, even though I’m millions of years old and certain to win the death bet, I still keep hoping to find some survival niches in this stampede to dystopia

  15. Celsius 233

    ^ And finally they rob the archives of knowledge/history.
    Damn sure works in a fascist government except for one thing; our collective memory.
    It must be secret, private and it’s source, guarded from strangers.
    But disseminated generously and often.

  16. markfromireland

    @ Celsius 233 January 9, 2014

    Several years ago Gregorian organised an advisory seminar on American politics the purpose of which was to explore whether there was any effective difference between the American ‘left’ and the American ‘right’. I was invited to take part on the side of those contending that other than differences at the margin and differences in their increasingly hollow rhetoric there was no effective difference between the American ‘left’ and the American ‘right’.

    During the course of my lecture which dealt with American foreign policy and the subsequent Q&A I offended the American contingent by pointing out that the willful and abject refusal to even attempt to grasp that there is a difference between responsibility and culpability was part and parcel of the American ‘left’s’ tacit connivance with the American ruling class.

    They were outraged when I went on to suggest that this syndrome be given the name ‘Selfserfice’ to denote that by refusing to even contemplate their responsibility to resist the emerging tyranny of the corporate technocratic and rentier classes by engaging in effective political opposition the American ‘left’ were willingly accepting the status of serf.

    Selfserfice by irresponsibility it’s the new American way.


  17. par4

    DrunkenMonkey nailed it. We live in a republic. As for the left in this country it’s virtually nonexistent. Except for Bernie Sanders (socialist maybe?) only the right is represented in this country by capitalist swine lib/pwogs and conservatives.

  18. Victoria

    We can’t even seem to determine or agree upon what constitutes “effective political opposition”, much less engage in it.

  19. markfromireland

    @ Victoria January 9, 2014

    That’s one of the standard excuses and it’s a very poor one.


  20. This “left” of which you speak… the United States of America has not had a functioning political left — in any rational sense — for decades, generations.

    It may never have one again.

  21. Victoria


    I would agree it’s an excuse if one refused to engage. Otherwise it seems to me an observation.

  22. zot23

    The punchline to the joke is that you can insert “American right wingers” and it works just as well, you just shift the political territory under discussion.

  23. markfromireland

    @ Victoria January 9, 2014

    Except Victoria as you perfectly well know the overwhelming majority of the American ‘left’ use it an excuse.

    I am a conservative European Catholic, I am heavily involved in European Conservative Catholic politics and I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to the left of the overwhelming majority of American so-called ‘left wingers’. Another key difference is that being American their default is authoritarianism something to which I am implacably hostile. Most importantly of all Victoria the reason why I and people like me are far more politically successful than the overwhelming majority of American ‘left-wingers’ is because unlike them I and people like me are prepared to take responsibility for what our society is and to work hard to achieve our political goals. American ‘left-wingers’ not so much … not at all in my experience, and that’s even before we get into discussing why any sentence that contains the words ‘American’ in combination with ‘socialist’, ‘left-winger’, ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ also contains an oxymoron.


  24. markfromireland

    @ zot23 January 9, 2014

    No you can’t because the American right-wing has trounced the American ‘left’ for a long time and continues to set the agenda. They’ve been successful you* haven’t.


    *That’s assuming you’d classify yourself as being somewhere on the ‘left’.

  25. Celsius 233

    @ markfromireland
    January 9, 2014
    @ Celsius 233 January 9, 2014
    As one who fled the insanity, 0f March 19, 2003 (and much previous), because of the insanity of said same date; I find your observations and experiences enlightening and affirming.
    I wish I could find succor to argue against your assaults; but alas I can find none.
    You, as is your wont, continue to speak truth to power.
    May you continue to do so.
    May the new year find you safe and sane.

  26. someofparts

    from the Archdruid website this morning –

    The Boomers were among the most idealistic generations in US history, but they were also far and away the most privileged, and the conflict between those two influences has defined much of their trajectory through time. Starting when the Sixties youth culture crashed and burned, the Boomers have repeatedly faced forced choices between their ideals and their privileges. Each time, the majority of Boomers—there have always been noble exceptions—chose to cling to their privileges, and then spent the next decade or so insisting at the top of their lungs that their ideals hadn’t been compromised by that choice.

    Thus the early 1970s were enlivened by the loud insistence of former hippies, as they cut their hair and donned office clothing to take up the corporate jobs they’d vowed never to accept, that they were going to change the system from within. (Even at the time, that was generally recognized as a copout, but it was a convenient one and saw plenty of use.) By the 1980s, many of these same former hippies were quietly voting for Ronald Reagan and his allies because the financial benefits of Reagan’s borrow-and-spend policies were just too tempting to pass up, though they insisted all the while that they would put part of the windfall into worthy causes. Rinse and repeat, and today you’ve got people who used to be in the environmental movement pimping for nuclear power and GMOs, because the conserver lifestyles they were praising to the skies forty years ago have become unthinkable for them today.

    One consequence of these repeated evasions has been an ongoing drumbeat of books and other media proclaiming as loudly as possible that that the Baby Boom generation would change the world just by existing, without having to accept the hard work and sacrifices that changing the world actually entails. From 1972’s The Greening of America right on down to the present, this sort of literature has been lucrative and lavishly praised, but the great change never quite got around to happening and, as the Boomers head step by step toward history’s exit door, there’s no reason to think it ever will.

    Perhaps the saddest of all these works came from the once-fiery pen of the late Theodore Roszak, whose 1969 book The Making of a Counter Culture played a significant role in shaping the Boomer generation’s self-image. His last book, The Making of an Elder Culture, expressed a wistful hope that once the Boomers retired, they would finally get around to fulfilling the expectations he’d loaded on them all those years ago. Of course they haven’t, and they won’t, because doing so would put their pensions and comfortable retirements at risk. Mutatis mutandis, that’s why the Age of Aquarius turned out to be a flash in the pan: “Let’s change the system, but keep the privileges we get from it” reliably works out in practice to “Let’s not change the system.”

  27. Celsius 233, only American “liberals” make a virtue of political dishonesty in deed. Here is the form this dishonesty takes: “We believe in peace, sustainability, racial equality, health, prosperity, and so on, and toward that end we are going to work and vote for the Democrats, who will in fact give us none of those things.” Every other stripe of American has a dishonest philosophy — which is to say that they believe in a line of crap — but the other stripes of American philosophy will follow through on what they say they want. Only the liberals argue that electing conservatives like Barack Obama will bring them their liberal paradise.

    Here’s an example of how it works in practice. As the American hard right says it wants to privatize the public school system, so the American hard right works toward this aim, with policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind. The liberals, however, will tell you they want all sorts of beautiful educational ideals — “closing the achievement gap” is the big one they usually proclaim — but they, too, are working toward the same policy destinations as the American hard right.

  28. someofparts, the Boomers believed in a lot of nice things, which Roszak dutifully wrote down in his books. But they believed in those nice things because their ultimate goal was collective image-polishing, not saving the world.

    IBM, for instance, believes in building a smarter planet, on a planet stupid enough to continue with capitalism until it destroys itself through catastrophic climate change.

  29. willf

    I’ll take the opposing side in this argument.

    I’ve heard “American left wingers” (whatever that term means today) use this idea that “we all bear some responsibility” as a way to dilute their own accountability.

    After all, if we all bear some responsibility then it distracts from the few with real power who bear most of the responsibility.

    And if we can focus on a few people at a time, or even one person, say an elected official at the federal level, or a CEO, we can name and shame them, subject them to protests, negative p.r. and the like.

    What’s the action plan to confront “all of us who bear some responsibility”?

    I’ve heard the “all are guilty” trope from Obambots as a way to dilute their own bad feelings at their own lack of action. I find this trope dispiriting, and will push back against it.

    This is not to say that I bear no responsibility for the awful state that my country is in. Just a realization that focusing the blame on powerless multitudes may not be the best way to get people to act in their own interests to make the country better.

    If the powerless multitudes (and I include a lot of duped and well-propagandized democrats in this set) bear some of the blame, how much more should the powerful few get?

  30. markfromireland, the American default may be authoritarianism, but not in the sense in which authoritarianism is pursued in other countries. Here, authoritarianism means you are technically “free” to do all sorts of things — you will often, however, be deprived of the means by which you would otherwise be able to do them. You will be free, in America, to pursue a career — but unless you have well-off parents you won’t be able to afford any of the things you will need (a Bachelor’s degree, for instance, or a home-life in a neighborhood with decent schools) to pursue that career.

  31. willf, you’ve pointed here to the outer limits of the rhetoric of “responsibility” and “accountability” in getting other people to do what you want them to do. At this point we can talk all we want about “responsibility” and “accountability” without really changing anything at all.

    Frankly, I think that the multitudes here in America need a plan for improving world-society that doesn’t involve mere image-polishing and which actually does improve world-society. We need to cut through the phoniness.

  32. S Brennan


    Let’s not conflate “conservative” with “right wing”, or more properly labeled fascist.

    “I am a conservative European Catholic, I am heavily involved in European Conservative Catholic politics and I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to the left of the overwhelming majority of American so-called ‘left wingers’.”

    Not directed at MFI:

    What’s more, people can and SHOULD be both “liberal” and “conservative” at the same time. Back in the day, when friends & family wanted to tear down the FDR construct and replace it with 19th century economics [sans mercantilism] because they had just watched Milton Friedman buff that turd on TV, I was a “conservative” because I wanted to preserve what had worked.

    The 70’s sucked, but a rational assessment was that bills from Viet Nam, Oil Price Shock and a massive influx of labor from the baby boom, plus the liberalization of immigration in ’65 caused this misery, not FDR’s policies I argued to no avail. Baby with the bathwater and here we are.

    Wanting to preserve that which is good is being a “conservative”, a willingness to try new ideas until something works well is being “liberal”. It’s important to be both.

  33. Dan Lynch

    Where is there a democracy, other than Switzerland, Uruguay, and Venezuela?

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