Wednesday, October 14, 2015

We Get It, You Like The Nordic Social Model

One of the things that came up during the Democratic debate on Tuesday was an exchange over the Nordic social model after Bernie Sanders praised Denmark and Hillary announced that “We are not Denmark."

This provoke yet another round of the “why-I-love-the-Nordic-social-model” from a chorus from a number of left-wing/progressive types.  See Matt Bruenig for a classic example, he has some charts (some of which are pretty dubious) for the definitive case on why Denmark is better than America

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be emulated about the high taxes/high benefits model that a handful of Scandinavian countries embrace, but it’s pretty annoying to have to listen to these sorts of takes over and over again without any reference to why American (or most of the EU) doesn’t have these model and won’t anytime soon.

The US has a complex federal system, which diffuses power through different levels. This is something Denmark doesn’t have. The US has a very different political spectrum than Denmark as well. That is to say the main struggle in domestic politics is over whether we should dismantle our smaller welfare state (that’s what Republicans want to do) or keep it (like what Hillary wants to do). Moreover larger welfare states correlate pretty strongly with more ethnically and racially homogenous developed societies, something the United States has never been. And yes the US’s socialist movement, which Bruenig is a member, is both incredibly small and hopelessly bad at politics.

In other words Hillary is right “we aren’t Denmark.” And Ireland, Italy, and Bulgaria have different models too.

I guess there should be some room for bringing in ideas with little relevance to actual American politics, but writing yet another article about why the Nordic social model is so great while ignoring the very real reasons why we don’t have it makes nonsense of the actual reasons for what’s actually going on. In other words Bill Clinton signed welfare reform (after vetoing two Republican bills first) because it was supper popular and was passed with big majorities in Congress. Not because of “neoliberalism.”

We get it, you love the Nordic social model. Now how about you move on to what could in actuality changed about American social policy to make the country better. Or run away and hide in academia and talk about how great the Nordic model is in various seminars. Just don't pretend that pining away for some Nordic prince to come and rescue you is a substitute for real political, or policy, analysis. Especially when it's what you do over, over, and over again.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Inside The Mind Of A Mass Murderer

I want to address nagging question of what's going on in the heads of the (largely) angry young men who go out and commit these mass shootings that seem to happen every few months or so. Personally I've seen a lot of hot takes from various left-wing types trying to tie these events to the author's pre-existing arguments about American society. Lots of writing about about race and gender based in critical studies using the terms like "privilege" a lot,. That sort of thing.

Is there any truth to those takes? Well there might be, but I'm deeply skeptical of explanations for individual behavior based on what Noah Smith likes to call "cultural essentialism." After all there's no way to prove arguments that "culture" causes these things to happen wrong. Does the changing racial makeup of American society "cause" young white men to go on rampages? Did Andrew Cunanan's sexuality contribute to his killing spree? These are not the sort of questions you can ever really answer.

Meanwhile things like the large scale available to high powered weaponry and the media's treatment of mass murders as anti-heroes of a sort are things that can be tested and linked to the prevalence of mass shootings. Especially when we compared the US's record on these sorts of thing with other anglo-phone countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Anyway, I don't really have anything to prove this, but I still think the best explanation of what it's like to be inside the mind of angry young man about to go on a rampage that I've ever read comes from cult horror writer Thomas Ligotti's short story "The Nightmare Network." Like most of Ligotti's work is absolutely amazing and totally bizarre. In essence it's a series of found documents and movie script note, detailing the struggle between a Kafkaesque corporation known as Oneiricon and another group call The Nightmare Network. Oneiricon's goal is to own all that ever was, is, and will ever be. They have the following mission statement:


While the Nightmare Networks goals are harder to explain to outsiders. Here's their mission statement:
Our names are unknown and our faces are shadows drifting across an infite blackness. Our voices have been stifled to a soft murmur in a madman's ear. We are the proud failures with only a single joy left -- to inflict rampant damage on those who have fed themselves on our dreams and to choke ourselves on our own nightmares. In sum, we are expediters of the apocalypse. There is nothing left to save, if there ever was anything...if there ever could be. All we desire (in all our bitterness) is to go to our ruin in our own way -- with a little style and a lot of noise.
Does that make any sense to you at all? Probably not, but I think I sort of know what it means, sort of. But that's the whole point, you'll probably never really know what goes inside the head of a rampage killer. So focus instead on the policies that affect the possibility that allow things like this to happen, not on inner lives of madmen.

Or not, I just really doubt this has much to do with "privilege" or anything like that.