Who Gets Your Vote in 2020?

The Rock, Mark Cuban, or Mark Zuckerberg?

This past weekend, following a vigorous Appalachian Trail jaunt in the vicinity of Mt. Katahdin in Maine, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife (celebrating their 5th anniversary!) met with some hard-working local folk of Millinocket, Maine as part of his ongoing “getting to know America” trail ride. We can leave aside for the moment whether at any other time in his life Mark Zuckerberg has either hiked on a trail or spoken with ordinary folk. These questions don’t matter. Because Mark Zuckerberg is running for President!

Mark Zuckerberg denies his sabbatical from the arduous and physically taxing labor required to run Facebook (which also just celebrated its 5th anniversary as a public company) has anything to do with political aspirations. And of course, he’s still a whelp, just having turned 33 years old. But the magic age to serve as president of the United States is 35, and Mark Zuckerberg will be 36 years old in 2020. So, yeah, he’s running. After all, if mental midget Donald Trump, twice his age and twice his girth but half his IQ (and a rounding error fraction of his wealth), can be president, why shouldn’t Mark Zuckerberg?

Actually, “Sexiest Man Alive” Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson and Dallas Mavericks owner (and genial email replier) Mark (“The Cube”) Cuban are also running for president in 2020. Rock, Zuck, and Cube (Rochambeau anyone?) will likely compete with each other for the Democratic nomination, and … Katie bar the door … I can’t wait!

Seriously. Our current political situation sucks. Majorly. The old smoke-filled room institutions girdling American democracy – corrupt party organizations, corrupt legislatures, corrupt urban machines, corrupt fat-cat industrialists and financiers, corrupt labor unions – have all in various ways ungirdled themselves, and Trump’s amazing reality show leap to the top of the heap has made it clear there is no going back to the old days and the old ways.

Technology, inequality, global climate change, the disintermediation of pretty much every institution previously viewed as prerequisite for a robust and healthy civil society and democratic politics – all of these dynamics make it clear we need to reimagine, pretty much from whole cloth, what kind of politics and leadership will work for the Disunited States of America going forward. So, sure, let’s encourage Zuck, Rock, and Cube to run in 2020. What the hell. Let’s require them to run. And let Kanye jump in, too. If we’re going down, let’s do it in style.

But first, let’s further unspool our imaginations. And what’s kind of interesting is that most of the concerns that might arise with a Zuck/Rock/Cube presidency melt away when we even gently probe their foundations (we can leave Kanye aside for the moment – he probably won’t run anyway). Off the top of my head, nine dimensions of presidential performance would likely fistibitulate our minds, regarding whether any of these guys could succeed as president. Let’s consider each in turn.

  • Electability – This one is easy. Social media dominance. On this basis, either Zuck (with 90 million Facebook followers) or the Rock (with 58 million Facebook followers) would simply crush Cuban (who has only 1.3 million followers on Facebook). Donald Trump (with 23 million followers), who decapitated Hillary Clinton (only 10 million followers) in the Heartland, also would also not fare well against Zuck and the Rock.
  • Experience – Hillary Clinton can tell you that experience – a lengthy resume – these days is a liability. One’s “record” is now a weapon, a list of partisan and personal grievances endlessly nursed, a political suicide note. Also, the organizational collapse of the Democratic party has cut off the supply of young blood needed for generational rejuvenescence. In 2020, Elizabeth Warren will be 71 years old. Hillary Clinton will be 73 years old.  Joe Biden will be 78 years old. Bernie Sanders will be 79 years old! That is too much experience! Zuck (36 in 2020), Rock (48 in 2020), Cube (62 in 2020) will each claim the advantages of inexperience and (relative) youth (not unlike John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama when they ran for president), and benefit, conceptually, from the advantages of backwardness (for those who study their Gershenkron) or from the innovator’s dilemma (for those who study their Christensen).
  • Leadership – We have learned from Trump’s electoral successes that politics going forward may orient itself around leadership styles that derive popular trust and confidence from wealth, swag, sex appeal, and charisma (clearly in varying combinations), all of which impute to a leader the seductive attributes of celebrity, and vest to this person a vast amount of social capital unavailable to any conventional politician.
  • Vision – This is an interesting one. Being dispositionally non-political and non-ideological (and, significantly, non-psychotic), all three of these guys are positioned to present a pragmatic vision – embracing and benefiting society as a whole, and avoiding the toxins of partisan ideology – that could defuse tension, heal divisions, and elevate hope.
  • Policies – It is probably time to rescue “technocratic elites” from their recently perfidious “globalist” associations, and to deploy a “technocratically elitist” approach to legislation and regulation that emphasizes prudent, goal-oriented, evidence-based, and ethically balanced policy outcomes. As the extension of a personal (transcendent, non-partisan) leadership style and a pragmatic (needs-based, unifying) vision, the evidence-based (yep, let’s use that term) policy approach can yield outcomes that can help to leach toxins from political debate and secure at least a thin layer of common purpose for the nation.
  • Administration – Despite concerns about the personal leadership style of a “celebrity” president, we should remember that the president, and even the White House staff, remain the tip of an executive iceberg that is a great source of stability, continuity, institutional memory, and collective expertise for securing the nation’s basic public needs and goods. While Trump (who governs as the most hidebound and hideous version of a tax-hating, government-hating, bureaucrat-hating businessman) seems bent on eviscerating the executive branch of the federal government,  President Zuck/Rock/Cube would presumably be far more likely to appoint and trust authority to a stable of qualified, effective Cabinet and White House officials.
  • Execution – A celebrity President lightly steering a robust, results-oriented executive is positioned to work effectively with Congress, no matter which party controls the House and Senate. indeed, the premise of a celebrity President is that party leaders will be in a position, and perhaps under electoral pressure, to neuter their bases and work more effectively with the president, and together, to accomplish goals that are programmatically reasonable and sustainable.
  • Potential – It is a truism that no one can prepare to be president. The measure of exceptional presidents is consequently their capacity to evolve and mature in office in response to challenges and crises that no one can anticipate. If we can use Lincoln as our template, the impact of presidential experience, in what surely is (and should be) the loneliest office in the land, will be to both enlarge and humble those who inhabit and internalize its crushing mandates. We can deduce that younger and fresher blood of the Zuck/Rock/Cube variety will be more likely to rise and respond to these unique developmental challenges (recall that Lincoln, 51 years old when elected, had but two years of experience as an elected official)
  • Sustainability – President Obama has learned how quickly a presidential legacy can dissolve, absent a robust legislative foundation and absent a deeply rooted and committed party organization. Ironically, our celebrity president, if sufficiently far-sighted, may discover that liberation from existing party shackles (particularly in the case of the woefully inept and fragmented Democratic Party), may create the fresh opportunity to build a revamped political apparatus on freshly cemented foundations.

With no further ado, please cast your vote!

The Salvaging: American Academic Philosophy Implodes

This brushfire engulfing Hypatia (the feminist journal of philosophy) is so intriguing. The article (“In Defense of Transracialism“) itself is fascinating, with its argument for imagining race as flexibly as we have begun to imagine gender. But no more fascinating than the response to the article (let’s call it an article-da-fe), particularly this “open” (although perhaps better viewed as “closed”)  letter to the journal, which urges the Hypatia editors to assume the fetal position, yank the article, and submit to all manner of degrading apologies and corrective re-education steps.

The Article

There is nothing particularly upsetting about the bio/onto/logical premise of the Rebecca Tuvel essay: that the fluidity of gender might apply to race. I’ve puzzled this matter a lot, although more generally with regard to the spectrum of skin tones, body types, hair styles, and facial features that loosely organize themselves around categories of “racial identity.” We discuss and assume the reasonableness of exploding the gender binary, a division between males and females which actually has a genetic, and a procreative, basis. The argument for blowing up the racial duality (or trinity, or quaternity, or what have you) is prima facie even more compelling, precisely because there is no comparably genetic basis for determining race. Honestly, one would have expected a spirited conversation on this irony to have taken root in the academy years ago.

The politics of gender and racial fluidity argue with equally compelling force for accepting this logic. Racial discrimination and gender discrimination both subsist upon what are essentially culturally embedded phylogenetic assumptions. Anyone who accepts the concept of implicit bias (as well as many who don’t) would have to agree that we all live with, encounter, engage, react to, and judge other humans through the use of heuristics that require virtually instantaneous, blunt-force clumping – into static, value-laden groups – of complex, diverse individuals, each of whom possesses their own unique intersectionality (a term that absolutely doesn’t require merely a negative construction, and in the context of the Tuvel transracial argument, assumes an unfortunate dependence on only oppressive and discriminatory experiences of identity that is incredibly self-defeating for whatever goals we might impute to philosophies of feminism, race, and intersectionality).

The Response

The open letter to the Hypatia editors, with signatures from nearly 1,000 academically and independently affiliated scholars (and from quite a few interested bystanders) is both chilling and comical.

Chilling because the letter discloses so clearly the paranoid, oxygen-deprived misery of the academic world. The lack of air for curious, playful inquiry. The absence of humor. And irony. The terminal fear that exists within an environment that is way too cloistered and self-referential and contingent. In which professional and financial security is so tenuous that literally every spoken or written word assumes a life-or-death meaning. In which “harm” and “danger” are omnipresent. In which no speech utterance can be taken on its own terms and allowed to find its way without subjection to the most tedious and depressing inquisitorial prosecution. When I read this letter, why did I keep thinking of The Name of the Rose (or, more poignantly, The Handmaid’s Tale)?

Comical (although sadly so) because the letter instantly memorializes itself as a Chaucer-worthy parody of feminist and intersectional rhetoric and so presents itself to the world as a rite of self-immolation. WHY Why why is this necessary? I now study, virtually full-time, the philosophical and organizational machinations of the white male overlords (among whom I suppose I count myself) who one might reasonably view as the true enemy, and clear target for the wrath, of feminist and intersectionalist scholars and activists. Do the authors and signators of this letter appreciate the catastrophic World Cup dimensions of their rhetorical own goal? Why should Charles Koch and Robert Mercer pour money into the coffers of war-on-women right-wing think tanks and lobbying organizations when incredibly self-centered and self-maligning academics will do their work for them?

The Blind Spot

I acknowledge that my interest in the debate about how we construct and build beliefs and institutions around gender and racial identity is extrinsic. Which probably accounts for my blind spot. I focus on and appreciate the liberating and healthy effects on human society and human existence, as a whole, of release from the influence and effects of rigidly defined identity categories. I love the idea that we are all, as individuals, marvelously intersectional, in a good way. That each one of us is related across uncountable dimensions to others among us in the world, but also absolutely unique and irreplaceable.

My blind spot was my failure to realize the logic of academic discourse in an insecure, unsupportive, fear-driven climate is the logic of defeat, in which one cannot even trust one’s friends and allies (poor Rebecca Tuvel who has been crucified, despite contorting the argument of her transracial defense to anticipate and accommodate the concerns and objections of her colleagues – seriously, we’re really not allowed to remember that for most of her life, Caitlyn Jenner was known as Bruce Jenner?). In this climate, truly exciting ideas about identity fluidity and intersectionality only lead to an endless regress of parcelization and enclosure of what we might ideally view as a cultural commons. We build fences (and fences within the fences) to secure and affirm our identities, only to discover how each fence summons a new set of enemies and a new set of grievances, while the identities we fortify dissolve and recede and slip from our view.

The Creation Project

What is The Creation Project?the-5th-day-of-the-creation

The Creation Project represents an immodest challenge to revealed religion theologies, Thomist natural law and moral philosophies (new and old), derived concepts of individuality and reason embedded in these theologies and philosophies, intellectual foundations of conservative politics in the United States (and pretty much everything else)

Existential Risk Requires Existential Thinking

Here’s the concern. When it comes to anthropogenic climate change, breaching inequality, toxically “illiberal” nationalism, and generational abandonment – we have unhinged ourselves and crossed a globally bro-bauched point of no return that half-measures (and quarter-measures,etc.) cannot address. And here’s the problem. It is tempting – given the scale of the problem and of the potential harm, and the general uncertainty of the causation – to minimize or dismiss these concerns. To wish them away, or to imagine the harm will come to others and not to oneself. But the direction is clear, and the wager is entirely on the order of Pascal’s. For the most part, the scale of our thinking does not even approximately match the scale of our risk.

The Big Think

The Creation Project explores and confronts canonical ideas regarding Thomist natural law and Catholic human dignity theology; Western conceptions of individuality, selfhood, agency, rationality, causation, and morality; and the pretty stunning inadequacies of religious belief founded on revelation. My general assumption is that to one degree or another we accept most of these ideas as “self-evident” (including natural law ideas about “self-evidence” itself), but that they actually are not at all self-evident, and dismantling these ideas is akin to dismantling an atomic bomb, and no less urgent and important. saint-thomas-aquinas-1476In this project, the most pivotal argument will be that peeling back our past tells us that revealed religion – specifically Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is the big obstacle obscuring our ability to grasp basic realities of our existence and blocking our capacity to address challenges to our existence. The foundations of revealed religions tend to be textually arbitrary and fragmented and evanescent, and so in times of strife wholly inadequate as a basis for holding together societies under stress and at risk. But even more damning, these religions promote and require their own form of idolatry, absolute submission to and worship of an inscrutable, capricious, human-seeming Creator – in whose image we are told we have been created – who uncannily reminds us of the sour-tempered, inebriate father from our childhoods, sullenly abusive and quick to unsheath his belt or unspool the flat of his hand. The alternative is simple enough. First, we do not need to worship an arbitrary, entirely preposterous concept of a Creator (who is actually created in our own inadequate human image). We need not base our thoughts and deeds on the flat, toneless, scriptural archaicisms we imagine to be representations of his will. Second, we can and must instead turn our attention to revealed truths that are far more “self-evident” and miraculous, the truths enfolded within the body of the earth, which is the Creation itself.


Part One – Catholic Foundations of Conservative American Thought

Part Two – Natural Law and Western Civilization