The academic footpeople show up

About forty-five years ago a book was published, courtesy of the Trilateral Commission: The Crisis of Democracy. In it, all sorts of pleasing-sounding words were said, especially by the French and Japanese contributors. The American contributor, Samuel P. Huntington (he of the "clash of civilizations"), argued a blunt message: society is too democratic, and so the masses need to chill out while the elites consolidate their rule. Or he said something like that. Well, that was then. The Trilateral Commission was just starting out, having been founded only two years earlier, and so there had to be a volume put out to commemorate the new basis for order (as described in Michael Hudson's Super Imperialism).

Today, you have the elite panic over Bernie Sanders, and so you have Julia Azari, writing in yesterday's Washington Post: It’s time to switch to preference primaries. So this is what the hoped-for commemoration of the new order looks like today.

The point of this article is given at the top:

Julia Azari is an associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. This is the third op-ed in a series about how to improve the presidential nominating process.

So let's ask the academic what to think and do, while she speaks to the Democratic Party about how properly to design the primary process. What does she say? Azari starts by arguing that the process is in some sort of disarray, mentioning a few facts about the current Presidential primary. Then she suggests:

A better primary system would empower elites to bargain and make decisions, instructed by voters.

So is that what elites do? Another perspective is that what elites do is that they get together to discuss things with their own kind, in organizations such as the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the World Economic Forum, the G20, and so on, and then they go off and make decisions, ignoring the popular will entirely. Azari is basically arguing for a return to the smoke-filled rooms in which candidates were selected without reference to the popular will. Maybe she wants a phony democracy added to the smoke-filled room -- but who is going to care?

Azari continues:

One lesson from the 2020 and 2016 election cycles is that a lot of candidates, many of whom are highly qualified and attract substantial followings, will inevitably enter the race.

Really? The lesson of 2016 was that everyone was asked to support Hillary Clinton, and then Bernie Sanders showed up to disrupt that tidy formula. The lesson of 2020 is that a candidate's ability to stay in the race depends upon her or his ability to attract funding from billionaires, unless he or she has a prior mass following (e.g. Bernie Sanders). Azari continues:

A process in which intermediate representatives — elected delegates who understand the priorities of their constituents — can bargain without being bound to specific candidates might actually produce nominees that better reflect what voters want.

Is there some problem finding the will of the majority in the current process? The current process involves lots of elections, some of which could easily be fairer, and lots of polls. The accuracy of these processes is not going to be improved by freeing up the delegates to pick and choose candidates.

At this point in her essay, Azari wants to sketch out the historical context for why she argues as she does. This tactic is fair enough. So we read this:

The reforms that created the modern primary system in the 1970s opened the door to too much uncertainty — and to divisive nominees such as George McGovern in 1972.

What precisely was "divisive" about George McGovern? An alternative opinion is offered in the New Republic: "the Democrats’ fear of McGovernism is misplaced. McGovern didn’t lose because he was too far to the left. He lost because he was facing a popular incumbent presiding over a booming economy." They just like picking on McGovern, in short, because the party invented the system of "superdelegates" after he lost.

Azari then shifts back to a critique of process:

Reforms to the process should try to make that guessing a bit more informed.

Is the problem with the Democratic primaries that they aren't "informed" enough? Or is it that the "information" is bad? The idea of "information" needs to be interrogated. The computer scientists had a slogan back in the day: garbage in, garbage out. Political scientists have a word that reflects what the computer scientists discovered ages ago: ideology. Political processes are informed by ideologies, which reflect the class interests of those in power. Too bad this word "ideology" isn't used in Azari's article.

Azari, of course, can't spell out the ideology she wants, because that would spoil the fun. Instead, fairly enough, she specifies the reforms she wants:

The quality of the system can’t be measured solely in terms of the kinds of nominees it produces. Instead, we should think about how it reflects the preference and values of the different components of the party coalition.

Is THAT why we elect politicians? Silly me. I had thought that we elected politicians to deliver on policies, and that, to do this, we needed a system to reflect the best possible policies, so that we can get those policies. What we have instead is the Coalition of the Billionaires and Their Clients. Does that coalition work? Azari does not want to know. In the end, she suggests that everything be left up to the party elites: "The results would be public but not binding; a way to inform elites about voter preferences." Such a system would allow the elites to be as free as they pleased in winning elections here, losing elections there, and making sure the wills of their billionaire patrons were well-enforced.

I want to conclude with some notes about academia, and especially academia in the social sciences. The point of creating hierarchies of tenured professors has nothing to do with meritocracy; there are plenty of qualified academic scholars who are completely left out of the academy simply because the universities have no jobs to offer them. Rather, the point of creating hierarchies of tenured professors is so that academic reasoning can continue within a series of bubbles, nice well-salaried places where the professors who have risen to the top of the hierarchies can conduct their thought-experiments oblivious to the pressures of the real world. These thought-experiments are written for audiences of elites because that's the way to get ahead under capitalism. These academic people guide real-world policies in ways you can't, and don't want to, imagine.

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dystopian's picture

This is supposed to be the sirens sweetly singing, to lure us away from thinking our vote should count and matter, equally. They do not agree with that concept because they are the special chosen ones. The elite. Who are to ignorant to realize what we have now is a result of that very process. They are still in denial about what they are doing, and have been doing. What would a Bloomberg Trump contest be besides kabuki of the elites?

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We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
both - Albert Einstein

Cassiodorus's picture

@dystopian -- did not fight a war to secede from the UK in order to re-enact the French Estates-General, yet that's what Azari wants for the Democratic Party -- an Estates-General to advise whomever happens to be its king at any point in time.

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Bollox Ref's picture

@Cassiodorus

A "Tennis Court Oath" and national assembly would hopefully be the result.

The Third Estate has just about had it with their 'betters'.

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Gëzuar!!
from a reasonably stable genius.

PriceRip's picture

          As a lifelong academic I find this


The academic footpeople show up

a bit insulting, and thought I should lodge a complaint forthwith. Oh, I almost forgot, I am a member of the cognoscenti (an elitist, if you will), harrumph!

RIP

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"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

Cassiodorus's picture

@PriceRip that the "cognoscenti" is divided into two classes: the employed cognoscenti and the unemployed cognoscenti. Very important distinction -- the second class could vastly outperform the first class were it not starving.

As for living in a bubble, if I recall correctly, in our conversation about Modern Monetary Theory we got stuck on the concept of the "social imaginary." As far as I could tell, you didn't seem to have a place for it in your lexicon, and this led you to believe that we could all just abolish money any time we wanted to do so. I don't know; maybe you conceive of physics in the way in which a believer would subscribe to an ideology, and so the "social imaginary" has no place there. Maybe there's a different cause. There's a history of physicists turning their noses at the social sciences. Dick Feynman drew a blank when it came to understanding the social sciences, though he certainly advanced the cause of quantum physics quite a bit. His chapter on the disciplines in "Six Easy Pieces" stops at psychology, which he regarded as a conundrum.

The "social imaginary" is a good concept to be able to use. The "social imaginary" is that collection of commonly-accepted taken-for-granted beliefs that explain why society behaves the way it does. It's as real as the nose on your face. It goes by several names; so for instance the German philosophers have "Lebenswelt," or "lifeworld." It's called the "social imaginary" because it's that part of society that has to be imagined, but it's really a pre-imaginary, a set of beliefs out of which imagination rises. It's a seedbed, or a substrate, for imagination.

Money, then, can't be abolished any time we want because it's part of the social imaginary. Certainly we could have a society without money, and we would be better off for it, but if the social imaginary is to be changed, it must first be challenged.

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PriceRip's picture

@Cassiodorus

Money, then, can't be abolished any time we want because it's part of the social imaginary.

          I don't remember a conversation about abolishing money, per se. On the other hand, I often talk about Monetary Units being created and annihilated. In fact, in any given transaction the creation / annihilation is not necessarily (in fact often is not) a zero sum process.

          This was one of the first things I learned about economic systems.

RIP

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"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
Robert J. McCloskey, U.S. State Department spokesman. From a press briefing during the Vietnam war.

The Liberal Moonbat's picture

One of the biggest problems I see shaping the world today is the hideous fallacy of choosing between these poseurs and meekly marching in mass mediocrity - those of us who know better need to stop enabling the misuse of the term "elites" and start actually BEING the elites; when the cats are away, the mice will play.

I can hardly recommend this old thing enough (it is noticeably dated, but the true meaning is as relevant and accurate as ever - in fact, now that I look it over again, probably even moreso): http://the1585.com/othernword.htm

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In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is declared insane when he speaks of colors.

Cassiodorus's picture

@The Liberal Moonbat I mean those people who have been selected through the system to play elite roles. Mike Bloomberg is an elite, as the 9th-richest individual on the planet, and moreover he's the sort of elite who thinks so much of himself that he's his own political handmaiden. The elites are the beneficiaries of a system that produces Julia Azari, the author of the article critiqued in this diary.

What you have in mind is something different -- you're thinking of smart people, the product of a robust society. B.F. Skinner understood this when he wrote his utopian novel Walden Two -- though Skinner didn't really know how to write a good novel, which hindered his utopian cause a lot. Still they developed a hippie commune out of it -- Twin Oaks, in Virginia. Those people, which your article describes as "nerds," are not sui generis, regardless of what your author or of what Friedrich Nietzsche might say. They have to live with the same screwed-up society the rest of us have to cope with.

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The Liberal Moonbat's picture

@Cassiodorus Of course we're all stuck in the same screwed-up society; that's sort of the problem. The wrong people are being allowed to decide the fate of the world, and it is in no small part because of what I think Nietzsche was pretty astute (even if his history was sketchy) in identifying as "slave morality", and how it seduces the best and the brightest into biting their own kneecaps off for no good reason and to no good end.

As for who/what is/isn't "elite", fine, but that's just semantics (as is my linked author's characterization of "nerds" - I don't have to agree with the word choice as long as the point is conveyed).

P.S.: Just so I can properly maintain my tracking of who says what around here, are you the same person whose avatar used to be a (different) cartoon girl with ruddy skin and a floppy wool cap, maybe with a tree in the background?

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In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is declared insane when he speaks of colors.

Cassiodorus's picture

@The Liberal Moonbat I'm playing with avatars these days. I wish Daron Nefcy would design another cartoon so I can choose an avatar from it. Until then I am looking for that scene in "Rick and Morty" season 3 episode 1 in which Summer Smith holds the portal gun up to the sky and a big flash of lightning streaks the sky. There might be a backup plan; I'm not finding the picture I want.

The best and the brightest of our society are basically left to rot in the homeless camps of California (and other states) because they wouldn't conform, or maybe they ran off to some state with shrunken cities and bad weather so they could live on cheap real estate, or maybe they made bad choices two decades earlier and ended up fighting in one or another of America's numerous wars, in which they got shot up and developed PTSD. The ones who figured out some sort of conformity long enough to have homes (and those who were born into enough money to have them) are kept busy protecting their right to a home, or maybe they luxuriate in comfort so thoroughly that they've signed up with some sort of bourgeois garbage ideology. In that last group, I hope, you'll find me.

My point is this: hacking reality as individuals occupies way too much of the time of the best and brightest, and it's going to continue along that path until Bernie (or someone like him) is elected to office. Our society is no longer robust. Our elites and their political clients do not care, and so portions of society here and there are pushed into ruin because they are unnecessary to some elite's short-term financial gain.

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The Liberal Moonbat's picture

@Cassiodorus

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In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is declared insane when he speaks of colors.

snoopydawg's picture

A process in which intermediate representatives — elected delegates who understand the priorities of their constituents — can bargain without being bound to specific candidates might actually produce nominees that better reflect what voters want.

The constituents in this case are the elite class that bribe our 'representatives' to do their bidding. It's no wonder Julia thinks that we the little people should be excluded from this voting process. Arrogant elitist woman.

Wikileaks is back in the news today and once again the PTB are pushing Russia interfered with the election with their help and I couldn't understand why this came up now. But then Wikileaks showed the world how Hillary and the DNC rigged the primary against Bernie and they are getting ready to do it again. And if anyone gets caught doing it it's going to be blamed on Russia. Again. Hillary's campaign blaming the leaks on Russia was to keep people from focusing on the content of the emails. And it worked didn't it? People think that is just Bernie supporters making it up. This is considered CT on the orange blob. Even though there is proof in the Wikileaks files.

They really think we are stupid. We are not.

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"I will be the best, the best, you know, you know the thing!”
- Joe Biden

Grope and Hope

janis b's picture

but I thought you might enjoy this academic voice when you have the time.

This New Yorker interview with Judith Butler is very long, but is well worth reading, even if only in parts or a little at a time. She speaks about reshaping rage in non-violent ways, and the advantage of practicing non-violence as an act of generosity to oneself as well as to all. Here are a few excerpts …

I am seeking to shift the question of nonviolence into a question of social obligations but also to suggest that probing social relationality will give us some clues about what a different ethical framework would be. What do we owe those with whom we inhabit the earth? And what do we owe the earth, as well, while we’re at it? And why do we owe people or other living creatures that concern? Why do we owe them regard for life or a commitment to a nonviolent relationship? Our interdependency serves as the basis of our ethical obligations to one another. When we strike at one another, we strike at that very bond.

The physical blow cannot be the only model for thinking about what violence is. Anything that jeopardizes the lives of others through explicit policy or through negligence—and that would include all kinds of public policies or state policies—are practices of institutional or systemic violence. Prisons are the most persistent form of systemic violence regularly accepted as a necessary reality. We can think about contemporary borders and detention centers as clear institutions of violence. These violent institutions claim that they are seeking to make society less violent, or that borders keep violent people out. We have to be careful in thinking about how “violence” is used in these kinds of justifications. Once those targeted with violence are identified with violence, then violent institutions can say, “The violence is over there, not here,” and inflict injury as they wish.

It’s unclear whether Trump is watching Netanyahu and Erdoğan, whether anyone is watching Bolsonaro, whether Bolsonaro is watching Putin, but I think there are some contagious effects. A leader can defy the laws of his own country and test to see how much power he can take. He can imprison dissenters and inflict violence on neighboring regions. He can block migrants from certain countries or religions. He can kill them at a moment’s notice. Many people are excited by this kind of exercise of power, its unchecked quality, and they want in their own lives to free up their aggressive speech and action without any checks: no shame, no legal repercussions. They have this leader who models that freedom. The sadism intensifies and accelerates.

My bold

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Cassiodorus's picture

@janis b @janis b is that she's starting to ask the right questions. Especially:

I’m trying to shift the question to “What kind of world is it that we seek to build together?”

Okay, so nonviolence is fine. Malcolm X said: nonviolence is great if it works (or something like that). But that question above, that's the big one. Let's explore, shall we, the kind of world we seek to build together. Does is really give full expression to our desires for a better world, and to our imagination of what such a world might look like? Or does it offer a pile of sh*t as a consolation prize accompanied by threats of worse sh*t to come?

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janis b's picture

@Cassiodorus

when in my imagination I hear some of the answers, some people give.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@janis b "there is no alternative" to the existing order.

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"Advertising? Wow! So, people need help figuring out what to buy and then y-you help them?" -- Rick J19Zeta7

"Henry Kissinger"? Speaking of academics and their influence on what happens. The rulers have long sought the advice of the learned; the learned the security of serving the rulers. You make a very valuable point about the scary impact of academics (to include think tanks.)
But we could go one further than she has, remembering ancient Rome. Divide the electorate into Classes based on wealth; one class say of multi billionaires, the next of just billionaires, then centi-millionaires, and so on with a few more rich people grades, until we get to oh salary-men and with their own class people who have to have a job, then the poor.
The way it worked in Rome was each person voted within their class and the results decided the one vote the Class would make. "One Class equals one vote." The Optimates voted first, and so it was that by time the top few thousand had voted as Classes, often enough the bottom hundred thousands didn't even need to show up. It could work here.

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k9disc's picture

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

your title The academic footpeople show up. I will use it as a term of derision whenever applicable. Many in the "professional class" have discredited themselves completely. The astonishing corruption along with their arrogant sense of entitlement should make the hoi polloi extremely wary.

One example of this corruption is in the medical community. There are editors of prominent medical journals who have publicly stated that a large percentage of the research is shit. It has been compromised, bought and paid for with the intent of producing a specific outcome.
Don't take my word for it. Many have been speaking out about this. Here is Jason Fung MD on how our research is not reliable:

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lotlizard's picture

The non-populists think we should shut up, bug out of the political process, stick to consuming, and defer to our betters, by which they mean a select class of billionaires and their economic-technocratic, professional-managerial, and academic-feminist (or as right-wingers call it, “cultural Marxist”) intellectual footsoldiers . . .

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