Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #2: toward socialism in one sector?

TIMN is not a theory that favors socialism. But it has positive implications for people who do advocate socialism.

For years Bernie Sanders, and lately Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have advocated socialism, giving it new standing in our political milieu. Ocasio-Cortez has even joined the Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.). Yet, what the two mean by socialism is fairly mild, far more à la Franklin Delano Roosevelt than Karl Marx. The social policies they tout — e.g., Medicare for all, free college tuition — are controversial but not at all unusual. The same goes for their economic proposals to benefit working-class families (e.g., raise minimum wages, regulate Wall Street).

Thus their approach to socialism is reformist, not revolutionary. Yet they, like other Americans who favor more socialism, still view it in fairly traditional ideological terms: as a government-led system that would span all sectors of society, emphasizing public-sector solutions to policy problems, while curtailing capitalism and its emphasis on private-sector solutions, all in order to reduce America’s mounting class disparities and inequities.

The prospect that Americans would shift from believing in capitalism to believing in socialism disorients most Democrats and alarms all Republicans. But that’s because all these proponents and opponents of socialist ideas are reacting in old triformist (T+I+M) terms, where policy solutions must fall to either the public or the private sector, or get tossed down to burden families and communities. Capitalism and socialism are seen as contradictory, incompatible. That’s the entrenched triformist way. It doesn’t leave much room for maneuver and choice in a society so advanced and complicated as America’s.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Quadriformism (T+I+M+N) points to a new way. TIMN’s view of social evolution foresees a new/next sector emerging: a +N sector. It will take form alongside the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors. It will function to address and solve problems that the triform system has created but is no longer suited to fixing well. And it will bring a coming-together of its own distinctive activities and actors. That’s what occurred when tribes (T) gave way to states (+I), and then states had to allow room for markets and market actors (+M). Each new combination became progressively more efficient and effective than the old. The same strategic dynamics, spread over centuries, will now reoccur with the rise and maturation of the network form (+N) in the decades ahead.

Right now, this new sector remains inchoate, barely noticeable, rather in keeping with William Gibson’s saying that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Best I can tell, it will be a “commons sector” (or “social sector”) that assembles together a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find new ways to address and resolve America’s most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. If so, these activities will eventually migrate (and be migrated) out of the public and private sectors and coalesce into a networked (+N) commons sector, It will operate differently from the other sectors, probably as a set of non-profits, cooperatives, trusts, platforms, and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with existing familial (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new sector will be about the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people.

Such an evolution could be viewed as spelling socialism in one sector, the +N sector. It would not mean socialism across all sectors, nor for a society in its entirety. And it would not be the kind of anti-capitalist economy-centered socialism that Marxists have traditionally sought. But it would still amount to a strong dose of a kind of socialism in one sector.

This may well pose jarring ideological challenges for both the Left and the Right, at least at first. Politicians and others on the Right may react that such a pro-socialist outcome would jeopardize America’s traditions of capitalism and individualism. What they may not see is that creating a quadriform system should lead to healthier families and communities, a smaller, less burdened government, and a freer, more efficient market system — key goals of most conservatives.

At the same time, politicians and others of the Left may object that this outcome would leave capitalism relatively intact, since the market system and private sector would still exist. They may also have to undertake a theoretical rethinking, for this outcome would not be consistent with standard Marxist concepts for analyzing the present and pondering the future — concepts that are mostly economic, relying on language about capital, labor, class struggle, etc. What they may not initially grasp is that the presence of a strong commons sector would benefit working-class families above all, while also generating pressures to condense and clean up the old public and private sectors.

Advocacy of a quadriform system with a commons (or other kind of +N) sector would pose ideological challenges for theorists on both the Right and the Left in yet another sense. From what I’ve seen, hard-core ideologues on both sides tend to call for one TIMN form or another to dominate much of policymaking if not the whole of society. This is contrary to TIMN theory.

Examples on the Right include anarcho-capitalists and libertarians who want the market form to prevail and government to shrink. Also apropos are religious extremists who want Biblical prophecy and doctrine to dominate in ways that may lead to theocratic tribalism. Many may also prefer plutocracy over democracy, another distortion contrary to TIMN’s best principles. The Right has much farther to travel than the Left before grasping the potential benefits of quadriformism.

On the Left, there are still some doctrinaire beliefs that capitalism should be eliminated, the state should wither, and people should return to a neo-tribal condition — all contrary to TIMN. More pertinent and realistic are progressive efforts to theorize what reforms America needs, what it’s next system(s) should look like. But most of these efforts keep dwelling on how to alter if not replace capitalism — very few sense the prospects for a commons sector. The ones that do — notably the pro-commons P2P movement — have many parallels to TIMN. But they have much grander expectations about who and what may belong in a commons sector, and how far society as a whole should be dominated by commons principles. The idea of “socialism in one sector” — or, “commonism in one sector” (yes, commonism, not communism) — would not fully saisfy their theoretical stance(s), as I presently understand them.

In contrast, TIMN theory illuminates that societies work best when each form functions within its limits, and all forms are kept in balance vis à vis each other, their bright sides dominating their dark sides, with no single form dominating the others. All four forms are crucial. TIMN is thus essentially about limits and balances, about the combination of forms. It thus depends on leaders who can articulate the importance of those limits and balances, the importance of proper combinations. The rise of leaders who call for any single TIMN form to prevail over the others is an ominous sign — utopian monoformism of a tribal, institutional, market, or even new network variety is often a sign of decay that leads to disarray, not to mention dictatorship.

In sum, for all the foregoing reasons, politicians who advocate a turn to socialism, such as Sanders and Ocasio-Perez, would be well advised to cease calling for socialism in society-wide terms, and instead call for socialism in one sector — a sector whose emergence they could assist, and whose design should ultimately appeal to conservatives as well as progressives.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Readings in overcoming political tribalism — #3: David Brooks on” Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

In this sterling op-ed, David Brooks reminds us of the historical roots of conservatism and the values that traditionally animate it: seeking too build a social order, indeed a “sacred space”, that nurtures individualism along with community, mostly for the sake of freedom, while protecting it over the centuries first from abstract ideologies, then from industrialization, and lately from big government. But in America as well as England, such endeavors “have fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.” Brooks deems market fundamentalism “an inhumane philosophy” that leads to excessive individualism and social atomization, thereby next inducing a turn to tribalism.

Accordingly, “Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.” Problem is, says Brooks, it’s not the kind of belonging that conservatives traditionally value — instead, “His tribalism is the evil twin of community.”

Thus, “In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism. The threat comes from those two main currents of the national Republican Party. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.

“Today you can be a conservative or a Republican, but you can’t be both.”

Brooks concludes his excellent analysis by placing his hope not in the GOP but in “beautiful communities” where he sees “good citizens and healthy attachments” being nurtured anew.

We need more of this kind of thinking on both the Right and the Left. Otherwise, I fear, we are being headed ever farther toward plutocracy for the rich and fascism for the poor, not tto mention illusions of democracy for the rest of us.

To read for yourself, go here: