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December 31, 2004


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His transparent society rests on the assumption that knowledge and rapid flows of information equate to power. Once can have tons of valuable information without having a clue as how to use any and no way to implement whatever sound policies arise from their study.

Anthropogenic drastic climate change has been acknowledged as real and threatening for many years. The signal to noise ratio from lying pundits and the cowardice of the "government we own" has kept solutions off the table. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 elicited some very bizarre responses that we noticed by people other than the wild eyed conspiracy theorists he sets up and demolishes. Half the country still thinks Saddam Hussein played a role.

This is not the empowerment of amateurs. Most cell phone conversations merit summary capital punishment and are in no way like the serious attention of investigative journalists. The disaster footage was primped and poked into a narrative that turned a life long loser into resolute leader.

Brin's condescending admonitions to egalitarianism ring hollow inside the walls of Abu Ghraib, the cages in Guantanamo Bay and the freedom pens outside the conventions.


Yeah, but in the context of Lenore's list, a source of hope. If you start not with theory, or the big picture, but a given citizen or donor or volunteer, someone with a "gift to give," of whatever sort, can we make this dark world a bit better by looking past difference long enough to make common cause, to encourage one another, under the jury rigged "big stories" of the media? Same idea as Emergent Democracy, and maybe almost a naive, but it is a hopeful naivete. You see it in Toqueville's account of the American character, and in Richard Cornuelle's vision of an active third sector between government and business, our sector, you might say, for citizens per se.

For Lenore, for me, and for others this is a hard balancing act. How can one be a passionate advocate of a given perspective and honor those who are equally passionate in their advocacy of what appears to be the direct opposite, or at least a conspicuously counter narrative? But that is precisely the ballancing act of democracy itself. "Disagree with what you say, defend to your death the right to say it." And it is also how we learn, and how we get past the stereotypes that the big narratives impose (progressivism as authoritarian, business as wealth bondage, Homeland Security as Gestapo in the making, souther conservatives as Snopses or knuckle-dragging zealots; liberals as patronizing, and on and on). Maybe it is my grounding in lit crit, or maybe self interest given my trade, but I find it fatally easy to get interested in other people's philanthropic initiatives, even if I don't share their commitments. For them it is an act of self-discovery, self-actualization, an adventure - Quixotic perhaps - to change the world. I enjoy each of those stories and enjoy being a part of a few. I don't necessarily think any one with have a vastly positive effect, and some will cancel each other out, but I love the welter of conflicting viewpoints, and the hurly burly of it all. Out of that conflict of ideals - this is I think central to democracy - comes something better than if any one of us wins.

None of this gainsays your critique, or overrides it. But I applaud Lenore for trying to create a safe space for disageement about giving among well considered viewpoints, some machiavellian, others (like mine) clownish. We need such spaces. It is too easy to preach always and only to those who are our preconceptions.

The public square, what is left of it, is where the Freedom Penns are erected. Celebrating the public square in a multipartisan way may be the best way to defend it, and the best way to say what needs to be said from outside the razor wire.

Lenore is taking a chance too. Rather nice to think that we can still talk and that loyalty oaths are not required to this or that prefabbed position. Let's keep it that way. And may those who think otherwise openly defend their viewpoint.


What traps people obliged to stay within the discourse of the (for lack of a better word) Establishment is the gap between what they advocate and who they support for office. Progressivism easily becomes authoritarian if you vote for Bill Clinton or John Kerry. They make cynical use of the word, much to the fury of Greens and the little "p" progressives.

Discussion of policies on their merit becomes impossible when Clinton claims the Effective Death Penalty Act is there to keep us safe from evildoers and then his successor does the same with Patriot. Their arguments in defense are specious and can only spring from the mouths of pathological liars or people incapable of critical thinking.

Left libertarian discussions of ending cycles of dependency borrow from many of the same influences that intrigue right libertarians. A cross talk always breaks down when one side opts for Bush and the other for Kerry. It's not possible to view for each to view the other as sincere under those conditions.

As it happens, I agree with the right libertarians that public schools are a mess, social welfare should be community based and eminent domain is theft; that collectivism becomes a cult crusade against individuals. In principle, a discussion of how to combat the woes and ensure the good is productive. In practice, implementation will be turned over to cretins.

Neither of the two meta tribes can back down because it creates an opening for opportunistic betrayal. A Democrat will pounce on Republican -- and vice versa -- using demagogues' tricks. Those of us who have rejected any head of the hydra are derided as loons and become whipping boys for either neoliberals or neocons, depending on the agenda of the moment.

Freedom pens are approved by Democrats and Republicans alike. Neither Bush nor Kerry will call for their abolition.


We have two levels of conversation, one public, which is not a conversation at all, but dueling talking points, and another entirely off stage in which the real decision makers create policies and delegate the propaganda of the appropriate minions. The minions gin up market-tested nonsense that answers to result and polls rather than reason, much less to the underlying political deal-making. When we all get together to debate in public all we do is hurl the minion-generated narratives at one another. Of course we cannot agree, we are using points created precisely to enclose us within a "camp" warring with another. We are citizens in name only, all sides, and the media are happiest when we are in the mall shopping or working away in our cubicles. We are voters, sheep, and consumers.

When it comes to effective citizenship what we do on our own or with our fellows in the third sector seems the most real to me. Refuting propaganda is a fool's game. When, on the other hand, you work with other people on civic projects, or volunteer together, or help them with their charitable dream, differences of politics tend to fall by the wayside.

You find yourself saying, "Well, what the heck, this is a good thing you want to do, let's get on with it." Out of that comes civic friendships, access to new conversations, maybe some new syntheses.

Freedom Pens have their place, to prevent disruption and dissonance within the pageant of democracy. We can't let spectators at a play stand up and talk back to the actors. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of fiction.

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