Saturday, November 04, 2017

at the Atlantic, Alexi Madrigal points out that in the wake of concerns about the exploitation of social media by foreign interests American companies say they're American companies ... loyal to their own policies


https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/11/are-facebook-twitter-and-google-american-companies/544670/
 
In response to a tough line of questions from Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, gave two conflicting answers within a couple of minutes. Cotton pressed Edgett on Twitter’s decision to cut off the CIA’s access to the Twitter-data fire hose, which is provided through the subsidiary Dataminr, while the company reportedly still allowed the Russian media outlet RT to continue using the service for some time.

“Do you see an equivalency between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Russian intelligence services?,” Cotton asked.
 
“We’re not offering our service for surveillance to any government,” Edgett responded.
 
“So you will apply the same policy to our intelligence community that you’d apply to an adversary’s intelligence services?,” Cotton asked again.
 
“As a global company, we have to apply our policies consistently,” Edgett replied.

Cotton then turned to WikiLeaks, which the Intelligence Committee has designated as a nonstate hostile intelligence agency, asking why it had been operating “uninhibited” on Twitter.
 
“Is it bias to side with America over our adversaries?,” Cotton demanded.
 
“We’re trying to be unbiased around the world,” Edgett said. “We’re obviously an American company and care deeply about the issues we’re talking about today, but as it relates to WikiLeaks or other accounts like it, we make sure they are in compliance with our policies just like every other account.”

I’ve added the emphases within Edgett’s foregoing responses because they highlight the contradiction at the heart of these global communication services, which happen to be headquartered in the state of California. Twitter is both a global company and an American company, and the way it has resolved this contradiction is to declare its allegiance to ... its own policies. [italics original, bold emphasis added]

Madrigal articulates a concern that global communication services companies seem to be loyal first and foremost to themselves and that when it suits them they think of themselves as American or global firms or both depending on what seems best on a case by case basis.  If admidst previously noted concern that the two party system is as gangrenous as it seems to be what we have elsewhere in society is a vaguely global/American set of global communication service provider companies deciding that they're really global and/or American as situations require within their self-understanding of policies then those companies wield a distributional power that could be vulnerable.  Whether the Russians hacked the 2016 election cycle as much as some Democrats believe should still be on the table but "if" the primary concern of that is confined merely to being upset that Clinton didn't get the power she was seen as deserving because she's Hillary Clinton rather than being concerned that ... let me back up a bit.

I wrote a while back that what made 9/11/2001 scary was that it was not a conventional act of war.  What happened was that someone figured out a way to weaponize our civilian transit infrastructure against us and that it would be foolish to presume that this would be how our civilian/commercial infrastructure would be weaponized against us again. 

Now if the concerns about Russian hacking of elections are as legitimate as Democratic sympathizers believe them to be the problem may be that they are not going far enough in their concerns.  The more data-integrated and platform-dependent our infrastructure is the more vulnerable we're going to become.  A national security based reason to be skeptical of a single-payer health care system could be a simple one, that once everyone's on a single-payer government-based platform that system would be a primary target for cyber-warfare.  If people are already wondering whether the Russians have hacked our democratic process itself what could they do to a computerized health-care system, assuming the Russians have, in fact, hacked an election.  It's possible that those who wanted HRC in office have vastly over-estimated what Russian hacking has been able to accomplish.  And the other problem is that mainstream liberalism seems eager to impute the blame to white racism, misogyny and other variables that, while no doing being variables, can still be construed as blame-shifting or a false zero-sum game.  We don't have to be committed to the idea that the only reasons HRC lost the electoral vote was because Republicans are evil, Democrats can be evil, too.  Both parties are, quite possibly, equally evil really, but when you've committed to the ideological stances of one platform or the other it's easier to excuse your team's evil while not doing so for the other.  The disastrous campaign in Vietnam took both parties to be the disaster it was but there's nothing like red and blue clich├ęs to insist that "they" are more responsible for those atrocities than "we" are. 

So even if the DNC and RNC have their respective issues, there's no need to think of the mix of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon as somehow being a conglomerate scapegoat for the disasters we perceive in the direction of democracy.  If our entire civilization is in some kind of informational death spiral blaming any one set of companies or parties won't suffice for a compelling or accurate explanation.  But we seem to live in an era where it has never been more appealing for partisans to scapegoat one group or entity for a cultural malaise that is manifesting in every organ of society. 

over at The National Review, Jonah Goldberg proposes that political dysfunction is not a zero-sum game and that maybe BOTH the DNC and RNC are in shambles and bereft of anything other than an "at least we're not THEM" quips while displaying similar internal collapse

A little surprised that a piece like this would appear at The National Review but it appeared at The National Review so ...


...
 
Donna Brazile, the longtime high-ranking Democratic functionary, was made interim chair of the party shortly before the 2016 election in the wake of revelations that the previous chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, seemed to be playing favorites in the primaries, tilting the scales toward Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders. In an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Hacks, Brazile reports that Wasserman Schultz wasn’t simply partial toward Clinton. She was in fact Clinton’s vassal.
 
 
It’s widely known that Barack Obama left the Democratic party in shambles. On his watch, the party lost more than 1,000 elective offices at the federal, state, and local levels. One underreported reason for this is that Obama opted to create a parallel institution out of his 2012 campaign outfit, Organizing for America. The renamed Organizing for Action siphoned money and the president’s energies from the DNC.
 
 
Brazile reports that the party was so hollowed out with debt that Hillary Clinton essentially scooped it up in a distress sale. Wasserman Schultz cut a deal with the Clinton campaign in which Clinton would raise millions ostensibly for the party, particularly at the state level. But those funds were sluiced back into the Clinton campaign coffers in Brooklyn, and the campaign extracted de facto control of the party’s messaging and hiring. Team Clinton mocked Sanders as a paranoid dotard for claiming that the Democratic primary system was rigged against him. As it happens, his paranoia didn’t go far enough.
 
 
It seems axiomatic that any party weak enough to be taken over by Hillary Clinton is not in good health.
 
 
Today, the Democratic party’s sole unifying principle is opposition to Donald Trump. Given Trump’s standing in the polls, that may be good enough for the 2018 midterm elections. But when it comes to ideas about governing, all of the passion is reserved for two things.
 
 
First, there is Sanders’ idea of “socialism,” which is really an unworkable stew of banalities and nostrums stemming from a nostalgic idea of a “Scandinavian model” that no longer exists (if it ever did). It’s as if Fabian socialists created an Epcot Center exhibit of Sweden in the 1950s, and irascible tour guide Bernie rides by in a trolley, shouting: “This could be us!”
 
 
The second source of passion is the angry, sanctimony-besotted identity politics popular on college campuses and a handful of left-wing websites. The DNC’s data-services manager recently sent out an email soliciting applications for new hires in the IT department. She cautioned that she wasn’t looking for any “cisgender straight white males.”
 
 
If you want to know how Trump was elected, ask yourself how a laid-off, cisgender, straight, white, male coal miner who went back to community college to learn computers might react to that.
 
 
Again, you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking the GOP is like a runaway fire at a soiled-diaper-reclamation center. And I’m sure I’ll have opportunities in the near future to expand on that.
 
 
But the important point is that dysfunction isn’t zero-sum. Right now, the best argument Republicans have is “we’re not Democrats,” and the best argument Democrats have is “we’re not Republicans.” Like two punch-drunk pugilists leaning on each other in the twelfth round, if one falls, the other may well fall too.
 
 
Everywhere else in America today, disrupters — Uber, Amazon, etc. — are dismantling established institutions. Perhaps both political parties are the next institutions to crumble under creative destruction. Or maybe not. But if it happens, no one can say they didn’t have it coming.

I don't think the differences between the RNC and DNC are as big as partisans for either one of them may insist on believing those differences to be.  It's not just about platforms on paper but about internal dynamics.  Just because the RNC has been in some sense hijacked by loyalists to an entitled American aristocratic clan full of scabrous people doesn't mean the DNC hasn't had the same problem.  Whether the clan is called Bush or Trump or Clinton or Kennedy or Reagan having a set of de facto lords running a house of government doesn't seem like the most encouraging thing to observe about the United States.  At least the house of lords has been official somewhere else. 

A year ago there were authors at Slate so certain that it was impossible for Trump to actually win they took pains to write about how creepy it would be should Trump ever actually win.  We had a comedian or two confident that Trump just could not possibly win.

But the best the two parties have managed to say about each other is "have you seen them!?"  That's not really good enough.  "I'm with her" was not good enough.  "Make America Great Again" isn't good enough, either.  Who says America is going to be great again?  Who says America already is great?  The sorts of people for whom it's already great and who can command gigantic speaking fees to share how it's already great in America.  If the best the big two parties can do is to complain about the graft and intellectual dishonesty of the other set of plutocrats both parties are sick, potentially beyond cure.

We couldn't have gotten to the point where Trump has the executive branch if there hadn't been a serious collapse of cohesion and vision in both of the parties.  At this point it seems improbable that, any slogans chanted withstanding, that anybody in the plutocratic ranks will actually get locked up.  We're in an era in which tech and aggregating media giants can basically say for the record their loyalty is to their own internal policies first and foremost but that might be best designated as a separate post

 

a very belated riff on Kyle Borg's "The Monster We Created" blogpost about councils, brands, names and celebrities in American Christian scenes

A bit more than a year ago I saw this blog post linked to at Phoenix Preacher.  Earlier this year the former public relations person for what used to be Mars Hill Church published a book about how public relations matters and how your church needs to get engaged with public relations if it's going to survive and/or thrive in today's technologically savvy scene.  Still mulling over whether or not to actually review that book. 

I've tried to make a point of at least reading post-MH published books that discuss the church because, as I noted with the Dale Soden book, it's disappointing to see academic publications so far toe a fairly pedestrian line about Mars Hill as a whole was the religious right striking back.  I can attest that I met some people in my time at Mars Hill who were staunch Democrats, some people who think that Abraham Lincoln is a war criminal, neo-conservatives, Rand fans, and people who advocated for progressive/socialist policies, all people who believed in Jesus Christ risen from the dead.  I loved that about the Mars Hill scene.  I loved that real, sometimes even combative difference in political views could be retained by a core Christian profession.  But as the brand solidified within Mars Hill as a culture that brand solidified around the personality of one guy, a guy who reportedly said "I am the brand". 

Now as potentially a trickle of academic publications may emerge that deal with Mars Hill there's another sort of publication, courtesy of Justin Dean, about how your church needs PR to make it in today's world and he seems to believe that Mars Hill wasn't able to take all the hits they got from liberal and secular media.  Last I checked Janet Mefferd wasn't secular or liberal when she confronted Mark Driscoll on the air about A Call to Resurgence being full of what she regarded as plagiarism.  What Driscoll called a call to resurgence ended up being a focal point in a controversy surrounding the intellectual integrity of his published work.  At this point I've heard a couple of interviews Justin Dean has given in podcasts about the decline of Mars Hill and hostility from secular/liberal media.  That was not what damaged the reputation of Mars Hill so badly.  When the Andrew Lamb disciplinary situation became a national headline Justin Dean clarified that it wasn't the intent to harm Andrew but that due to unclear communication something that was only supposed to be circulated among a small group of people became known campus-wide.

Even in Ruth Graham's 2012 Slate article she could note that fellow evangelicals were expressing concern about Mars Hill's disciplinary culture and the nature of Driscoll's leadership in it.
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/02/mars_hill_pastor_mark_driscoll_faces_backlash_over_church_discipline_case_.single.html

So if an author at Slate could recognize that serious criticism of the Mars Hill culture was an intra-evangelical concern then Justin Dean's belief that the struggle Mars Hill faced was from secular and liberal media is a vision of Mars Hill history that is, while understandably partisan, all the more blinkered if that's the narrative he's committed to.  Longtime readers of this blog might even remember that when the Andrew Lamb disciplinary case came up in coverage I wrote that I found it hard to feel sorry for a guy who said he regarded the membership covenant of Mars Hill like an end user licensing agreement on iTunes that he just signed without really thinking about it.

But then there was Justin Dean's response:
...
Before now, Mars Hill’s only response has been posting an excerpt on church discipline from Driscoll’s 2009 book Vintage Church on its website and an opaque tweet from Driscoll. But Justin Dean, the church’s PR and marketing manager, agreed to answer my questions by email to tell the church’s side of the story.
One key element that was not clear in Andrew’s original account, Dean told me, was that the letter was intended to be read aloud, not posted online, and only to a “handful” of people. Instead, the group leader received unclear instructions and posted the letter online, a move Dean insists was not meant to hurt Andrew. [emphasis added]
Furthermore, says Dean, only the approximately 15 members of Andrew’s small group, who met regularly and knew one another well, had access to the letter on the City. (Though Andrew was blocked from accessing the City, he says the letter was available to a slightly wider circle, including his fellow security volunteers.) “His case was not shared with the full church and had, until he posted it publicly online, only been known by a handful of people who were involved in his life and cared deeply about him,” Dean said. (Confusing social-media privacy settings strike again!) He added that Driscoll was not involved in the case at all. Mars Hill currently has 5,417 members and just nine ongoing church discipline cases.

As I've written before, the explanation that something ended up on The City where the content was supposed to only be read aloud to a small group, a process that led to apparently a whole Mars Hill campus worth of members to know about the situation, came across for the public record like Justin Dean's best defense of how things went down from the perspective of Mars Hill leadership was to plead simple communicative incompetence.

Even if we were to all take at face value an assertion that Mars Hill leadership didn't know how to cope with hostile coverage from secular and liberal media (which we shouldn't, since everything from Mark Driscoll's 1998 Mother Jones interview up through 2011 articles featuring Mars Hill leadership in any and all mass media suggest that the church had a meteoric rise in the preceding decade by actively courting mass media) if we could identify any single incident that began to distill and embody public controversy surrounding Mars Hill in a way that could be said to catalyze its downward spiral in public reputation, how Justin Dean handled the public relations crisis of a single church discipline case might very well be the "pivot" to study. 

One of the things that Justin Dean will want to keep thinking about is the nature of a church culture in which a disgraced former member could decide that the best thing to do would be to take something that was disclosed on The City, which was Mars Hill's online member social network at the time, and disclose that to a journalist outside of Mars Hill.  Let's try to put this another way, Dean had to have realized at some level that a church culture as technologically dependent upon and savvy in social and mass media use would have to consider that if any members or leaders or volunteers did have a falling out with the central leadership culture that these would be people primed for using the technology the church had used to bolster its brand to weaken its brand.  That's not to say that the goal was to weaken the brand, any number of former members and leaders who chose to speak out saw themselves as dedicated Christians who were concerned that the brand Mars Hill had become was prone to insularity, injustice and a betrayal of the path of following Christ with a leadership culture of mass media propagandists rather than shepherds.  That's my take, in case you hadn't inferred this already. 

In many respects it's better to be back in arts blogging and discussing animation and classical guitar and chamber music and things like that.  This blog has probably one tenth the readership it had back in 2014 when the blog was temporarily dedicated to steady journalistic blogging about the life and times of Mars Hill.  But just as this has never been a dedicated watchdog blog it has also never had a moment where there was some "I'm done" or "I moved on" announcement or manifesto.  The negative impact of the culture of Mars Hill has been too pervasive and too readily misrepresented by the cliches of red and blue state  pseudo-Christian concerns for me to believe that there shouldn't be people willing to keep discussing Mars Hill and its history.  There are cases in which a genuinely ecumenical and scholarly discussion of what happened should continue and I think that the history of what used to be Mars Hill is one of those cases.  I've "moved on" in the sense that I've gotten back to blogging about music, composition, animation and other topics I love to write about but I haven't "moved on" in the advisory sense that former Mars Hill pastors and staff might have used, which means never writing about Mars Hill and treating the whole thing as in the past and we're here and now and let's just push forward because there's no benefit in looking back on the fiasco of what was.

Well if the authors of biblical books took that approach we wouldn't have gotten the Book of Judges in the Bible, would we?  So clearly authors of Scripture, guided and prompted by the Holy Spirit,  were inspired to document the atrocities and injustices perpetrated by God's people for our edification.  Yes, edification.  One of the most necessarily edifying things we can do in our study of Scripture is to be everywhere from it reminded of the atrocities and evils those of us who call ourselves God's people have perpetrated either in His name or, far more often, for the sake of our glory while pretending to do so for His name. 

Now a guy like Mark Driscoll could decide to tweet that nobody ever made a monument to a critic ...
https://twitter.com/PastorMark/statuses/164432787133317121

and yet here we are at the quincentennial of Martin Luther having decided to publicly criticize what he regarded as corruption within the Roman Catholic church.

We're also here in a world where a mere five years ago there was still a Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll's reputation was at its peak.  And now it's all gone like the Joker's pencil in The Dark Knight.

So here we are in 2017 and Justin Dean's got a book out called PR Matters.  It's inspired me to belatedly return to soemthing somebody blogged last year. 

http://gentlereformation.com/2016/09/12/the-monster-we-created-councils-brand-names-and-celebrities/

...

This monster of brand names and platforms, flourishes in an environment that encourages consumerism. What is often being promoted seems, at least to me, to be a small step above a marketing scheme, showbiz, or a strange form of entertainment. After all, to get headlines you only need the right key-note speaker; or pick the right target audience; or include the right adjectives–scandalous, inexhaustible, radical, extravagant; or affix the right logo; or define the right narrative and wrap it all up in terms of the gospel and you’ve got a recipe for success that’s too big to fail. The result is that the ordinary means-Word, sacrament, and prayer-are replaced by an extra-ordinary method of advertising. [emphasis added] That begins to look a lot like the self-ambition that, though it may have the right goal, is borne out of what should be an intolerable greed. Jesus is not a means to the end of promoting a brand name or platform, he is the end itself. That’s the monster we’ve created.

This monster of celebri-fying pastors flourishes in an environment that cultivates spiritual dangers for these men. We have watched and read with sadness the moral failures and downfall of those we have happily heaped demands, pressures, publicity, exposure, expectations, and contracts upon. Their failures have been many, and their failures–failures like adultery, cult-like leadership styles, domineering personalities, scandalous coverups, egoism, unentreatability, lack of self-control, manipulation, spiritual abuse, abandonment of community, family strife, doctrinal error, etc–have all been seen by the public eye to the shame of the church and the dishonor of Jesus. While they bear the responsibility for their sin it must be asked if the culture that has been created fosters conceit, yields double-standards, feeds pride, and sets mere men on high places and slippery slopes from which they are prone to fall for lack of footing. That’s the monster we’ve created.

...

I two-thirds agree.  I would suggest that in the sense that the consumption gets done by masses of people we play a substantial role but the apparatus of formulating and disseminating brands would be the work of propagandists, to keep getting back to the writings of Jacques Ellul on propaganda I've been blogging about this year.  Ellul's proposal that the new aristocracy that has placed itself above any meaningful democratic discourse would be propagandists could have some merit.  Conservatives will say that it's the media and that would be right in the sense of the medium but progressives have been complaining about how conservative the financial owners of media production are and they are, in a different way, equally right. 

Christian circles that have adopted the brand as equivalent to substance can make this mistake to the left or to the right in the United States. 

A super-majority of what's written here about megachurch pastors will generally not apply to actual local church pastors who love and serve in their local church and serve their local community.

If Justin Dean actually believes that your church or anybody's church in the United States somehow can't thrive without public relations I just disagree.  He's got to know that plenty of Christian communities have gone some distance without public relations.   If, and this is a very, very big "if" leaning toward "no" for me, we're even going to grant that a contemporary American church "needs" someone handling public relations the last person who should be handling that would seem to be the shepherd.  Driscoll stopped being a shepherd a long time ago in the Mars Hill scene, and may have forgotten what actually being a shepherd entails if he ever knew to begin with. 

I've increasingly come to the conviction that the problem with American Christianity in its entirety is that we have duped ourselves into thinking that the role of pastor is better conceived of in post-Billy Graham terms as a thought-leader or a public figure or as part of the propagandist caste.  Shepherds had to be out where the sheep were and they stunk of that work and were considered lowly and disreputable in all sorts of ways.  Who would hold it against sheep that they are sheep?  On the other hand, shepherds didn't have the best street cred among those who herded livestock animals.  Years and years ago a former Mars Hill co-founding pastor, Mike Gunn, preached a sermon where he mentioned the low reputation shepherds had and mentioned, if memory serves, how a bad or incompetent shepherd might keep sheep grazing in one area so long the animals stripped the land of the ability to grow much greenery and that sheep needed to be kept moving.

For all the chorus among Driscoll's advocates and advocates for a positive legacy for Mars Hill saying that so many lives were touched; that so many baptisms happened; even in the peak Mars Hill period of 2012 Driscoll himself felt obliged to say of Mars Hill growth that it was not all transfer growth.  Nobody makes that kind of apologetic case if they don't think there's a case to be made that most of the Mars Hill growth in 2010-2012 hadn't been precisely that, transfer growth of people switching brands rather than people experiencing observable conversions. 

What Mark Driscoll may have left in his wake could be likened to the creation of an even-more-Burned-Over district.  It's not that nobody came to Christ but that's not the point because we could simply propose that a real monergist would say the Holy Spirit deserves all the ultimate credit for conversions anyway.  Mars Hill dudes can't deserve any credit for the Holy Spirit convicting people of sin.  They can, however, deserve all the blame for creating a culture in which the role of the Christian shepherd was transformed in the Seattle region in a particular church context into the role of being a media-savvy propagandist more fixated on the quality of the Mars Hill brand than the state of the souls who were part of the Mars Hill community.

Which is not at all saying this was necessarily the case at the campus level.  In fact I could name a few names at the campus level where there were men and women of good faith and integrity doing what they could in a church they felt was where the Lord wanted them to be.

Refusing to demonize anyone for loyalty to Mars Hill as a community of believers was probably no small part of why sources trusted me with sensitive information, but I've written about that in the past already.

If the masses entreated Aaron to make a god for them and Aaron complied the masses bear their guilt, just as Aaron was guilty of fashioning the golden calf.  It is absolutely good and necessary to remember that as idol factories go the crafters of the idols are always, as a saying goes, providing a supply for an existing demand.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Atlantic contributor discusses how neuro-imaging research has to overcome it's bias toward white, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic college student sampling base to be more reliable

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/how-a-focus-on-rich-educated-people-skews-brain-studies/544499/

In 1986, the social psychologist David Sears warned his colleagues that their habit of almost exclusively studying college students was producing a strange and skewed portrait of human nature. He was neither the first to make that critique, nor the last: Decades later, other psychologists noted that social sciences tended to focus on people from WEIRD societies—that is, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. The results of such studies are often taken to represent humanity at large, even though their participants are drawn from a “particularly thin and rather unusual slice” of it.

The same concerns have been raised in virtually every area of science that involves people. Geneticists have learned more about the DNA of people in Europe and North America than those in the rest of the world, where the greatest genetic diversity exists. The so-called Human Microbiome Project was really the Urban-American Microbiome Project, given that its participants were almost entirely from St. Louis and Houston.

Neuroscience faces the same problems. When scientists use medical scanners to repeatedly peer at the shapes and activities of the human brain, those brains tend to belong to wealthy and well-educated people. And unless researchers take steps to correct for that bias, what we get is an understanding of the brain that’s incomplete, skewed, and,  well, a little weird.
...

Also known as white, educated, industrial, rich and democratic if memory serves, in Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.  What seems like the normal base line for intellectual and ethical thought to white liberal college students can turn out to have very little correspondence with the thoughts and ethics of people from other parts of the world. 

Another way to put this general observation is to suggest that American college students and researchers alike may not understand that what they consider to be the findings of science may be the findings of unexamined and unrecognized modes of cultural imperialism.  :) 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Derek Thompson at the Atlantic writes about the trio of ingredients in the doom spiral of liberalism: low birth rates, anti-immigration sentiment, and the fragility of the welfare state

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/immigration-modern-liberalism/543744/

Here are three trends that are often discussed in isolation:
  1. The low birth rates of advanced economies
  2. The rise of a xenophobic anti-immigration politics
  3. The fragility of the welfare state
While these subjects might seem to have nothing to do with each other, in fact they crash into each other like dominos. As rich countries have fewer babies, they need immigration to grow their prime-age workforces. But as the foreign-born share of the population rises, xenophobia often festers and threatens egalitarian policymaking.
 
There is no reason to think that this cause-and-effect is inevitable, but the trend is clear enough that liberal policymakers need to think hard about this doom loop and how to break it. Let’s spell it out in greater detail.
 
First, babies. American demographers are “freaking out as each year brings a new record low in the number of women giving birth. There are several ways to cut the fertility data—including annual births per population, or total lifetime births per woman. But every statistic tells the same story: Americans are having fewer babies than they were 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago. Japan and many European countries are dealing with their own “perfect demographic storms.”

...

or as some of my older friends have put it, the demographic decline in citizens giving birth means that we're reaching the point where the number of old people who will be expecting to draw from Social Security is larger than the number of under-retirement age employed people who are actually able to pay into the system and that would be now, let alone in the future.   Now there are a handful of self-identified conservatives I know who say the smartest response to this should be the most lenient and generous immigration policies we can provide because it's not the native-born American citizens who are necessarily willing to do the jobs that immigrants are often doing now.  Give all those immigrants full citizenship and the rights thereof and they can pay taxes. 

But, as Thompson notes, anti-immigration sentiments can be widespread in first-world nations and not just the United States.

A baby shortage sounds like an adorable misfortune of middling significance. Actually, it’s a critical problem. To expand their economies, countries need to expand their populations, particularly at a time of low productivity growth. Rich countries also need a larger and richer workforce to pay for government services to the sick, poor, and elderly. In the long term, with automation, these countries may run out of jobs. But in the short term, they are running out of people. In fact, the number of Americans between 25 and 54 years old has not grown in more than a decade.
 
That brings us to the second story: immigrants. As the birth rate has declined in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, and Japan, the immigrant share of their populations has increased. This is a perfectly natural and good development. These countries have high median incomes, which are attractive to international migrants, plus their economies need new humans to sustain both GDP growth and government services.
 
This might sound counterintuitive to some people who’d assume that a large influx of low-skilled immigrants would be a huge drag on federal resources. In the short term, they might be. But as the children of immigrants find jobs and pay taxes, immigrant families wind up being a net contributor to the government over many decades, according to a 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences. Beyond this economic accounting, there is a strong moral case to allow families from low-income countries move to a richer country, where they can improve their lot by an order of magnitude.

Something I've discussed with a progressive friend over the years is that the last thing the United States needs is free college for everybody.  Longtime readers know I'm not against education and I'm slogging through Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and Gadamer's Truth and Method right now, so it's not like I'm against ideas and stuff. 

That said, there are enough legitimate concerns as to why college is or should be necessary for employment on the one hand and on the other hand enough legitimate concern as to whether or not the entire educational system has inequality cooked into it that education beyond high school doesn't seem to be what we need.  What we need is a more robust "unskilled labor market".  The extent to which people tout college as an answer for adding job skills is the extent to which I suspect these people have had the luxury of getting decent-paying jobs not long after they got out of college.  Some people get degrees and end up in scut jobs the rest of their lives. 

Which, in a way gets to the tension between immigration and resentment of immigration in relationship to the welfare state.  For anti-immigration sorts the illegal immigrants are the socio-economic vampires who suck up all the resources that, so the belief seems to go, would be going to real American citizens. 

...

This is where the story finally connects with welfare and the future of liberalism. Rich countries tend to redistribute wealth from the rich few to the less-rich multitude. But when that multitude suddenly includes minorities who are seen as outsiders, the white majority can turn resentful and take back their egalitarian promises. Take, for example, the Twin Cities of Minnesota. They were once revered for their liberal local policies—like corporate-tax redistribution from rich areas to poor neighborhoods and low-income housing construction near business districts. But since the 1980s, as the metro area attracted more nonwhite immigrants, the metro has become deeply segregated by income and race and affordable-housing construction has backtracked. Or take Finland, that renowned “Santa Claus State” of cradle-to-grave social services, where the welfare state is being “systematically dismantled.” The far right has emerged in the last few decades, just as foreign-born population has suddenly grown.


But as Charles Mudede wrote at The Stranger, racism against minorities has taken the form of despots in African nations blaming whites for economic troubles in African nations.  It can be so axiomatic in American journalism that far right=white racism against non-whites that we can forget that this isn't the only variant of institutional racism that's possible the world over, even if it's most certainly the dominant one in institutional terms in the United States.

Still ... take note of Finland, or any of its neighbors.  Americans with blue or left leanings have in the last decade floated the idea that we could try to retool our economy and social structure to be more like one of the Nordic countries.  That's a wildly improbable idea and even if it could be implemented, nations like Norway, Sweden and Finland are more culturally and ethnically monolithic overall than the United States can, should or even has been in its history.  It's not like xenophobia and wildly stringent immigration policies can't happen in the Nordic realm. 

Years ago there was a guy I knew who intended to expatriate to Finland or one of those countries and he discovered there was no way they would ever grant him citizenship for reasons that don't need to be enumerated in much detail.  A short version is there was a psych screen and an assessment of what could be regarded as criminal record issues and the answer was a pre-emptive and permanent "no". 

What some discovered here in the United States when considering heading north into Canada in the wake of Trump's election is that a nation that can be more generous in terms of social and healthcare issues at a number of levels is more stringent across the board about customs and immigration. You can't just head up to Canada these days, apparently.  As Fredrik DeBoer was noting a while back, even the Scandaniavian healthcare utopias touted by American leftists don't exist so much any more as the governments have shifted toward privatizing elements of care. 

Being the sort of pessimist that I am I would suggest that communism failed and capitalism fails and that nothing like socialism, if by socialism we mean that the workers as a whole actually own the means of production, will ever happen in the history of the human race.  It's easier to believe Jesus rose from the dead and will return to rule and reign with a new heaven and earth than to believe that the socialist future predicted in Marxist thought will ever happen in this world. 

The only sure thing is that humans will keep commodifying and exploiting themselves regardless of what formal ideologies are used to do so; it can be done with Marxism and capitalism in equal measure as even the most cursory survey of global history in the last two centuries can more or less generally establish.  Are there exceptions?  Maybe, but do those exceptions apply at the level of global powers?  Not so far as I've been able to see, and the colonialist empires of Europe are in demographic decline and maybe deserve to be.  America didn't get its globalist colonialist tendencies out of the blue, we inherited that sense of cultural entitlement from European forebears. 

It's not always clear to me these days that if Western civilization as we know it dies the world will really be worse off.  In global ecological terms the complete collapse of Western civilization might be a net benefit.  If the empires of the future are China and Japan, so be it.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/10/24/china_and_japan_both_have_their_most_powerful_and_secure_leaders_in_decades.html

This is a topic where writers and editors at The New Republic shouldn't act as though it's even a bad thing that Trump could lead the world to regard China rather than the United States as the up and coming global superpower.

https://newrepublic.com/article/140081/trump-paving-way-china-rule-world
...
China is now closer to the international norm than the U.S. on such key issues as trade, climate change, and Israel-Palestine. Is America at risk of abdicating its international leadership role to China, just as the British Empire did in 1945?

Why not regard the United States as culturally and economically being a spent force, bankrupt to the point where there's no point in attempting to salvage it? 

Maybe the British could be philosophical about the sun setting on their empire because through those upstart Americans their capacity to shape the entire fate of the planet was, however indirect, still in some sense assured.  So British fantasy and sci-fi could afford James Bond and Doctor Who during the period in which we were running with Star Trek and the Planet of the Apes.  Americans could imagine re-making or completely breaking the world while the Brits could imagine helping out a little here and there for the sake of a proper cause.

What if the "advanced economies" all deserve to collapse?  It's something I've been thinking about as I've read progressive and conservative polemics about the ways to best preserve or redistribute resources.  Redistribution only makes sense if we can safely assume that what is being redistributed is legitimate wealth with no ethical reservations to possibly be had about it.  But what if our entire system of fractionally reserved fiat currency is a sham?  Then envying the upper one percent because they are part of an information manipulation scheme seems crazy.  That's not wealth in the way of land or food or natural resources or human labor, that's just manipulated data points.  If our economics of fossil fuels is as perilous to the future of the global ecosphere as conservationists and environmentalists think it is then wouldn't the entire film industry that isn't strictly digital film be a count against the art form of film as an ecological disaster?   Sometimes it seems as if there's a weird irony in the entertainment industries being concerned about anthropogenic climate change because I can't help see a trailer for a film like GeoStorm and wonder whether the cumulative carbon footprint of such a film is justified by the warning the film might purport to provide about global warming. 

Which in a way gets to something I've been thinking about from my college days.  I knew a Lutheran who said the Puritans were emphatically anti-arts.  I wondered about that since Puritans wrote like they literally had nothing else to do!  They couldn't have been anti-literature as a whole.  But what if we thought of the Puritan skepticism about opera and theater as being based on what they regarded as the profligate and predatory nature of its participants?  I.e. what if they saw in theater the Harvey Weinsteins of their time and regarded these mean as contemptible and said so?  Arts professors might like to remember the Bard and remember how fantastic all the art was that the Puritans had skepticism about.  It's possible for the art to be beautiful but to still reflect a level of corruption and decadence that I nitself is not necessarily so praiseworthy.

To piggyback on an old ribbon farm essay, it seems American culture prizes people seeking to be bards rather than chimney sweeps when what the health of a society may ultimately require is more people being willing to be chimney sweeps rather than bards. granting a sketchy part of the analogy in the sense that around Puget Sound people would advise we get rid of the fossil fuel energy grid altogether.  We can do that ... but I don't know if they've thought through all the social and demographic implications of a bunch of old people whose continuing survival hinges on plastic parts.