Sunday, May 26, 2013

portrait of anarchist blogging

The sound of bullets swept through the room, then faded just as quickly, as a wiry man, breathing heavily, slammed the door behind him.

"Still bad out there?," a voice inquired.

"Same as ever," the wiry man responded.

"Still losing?," asked another.

"What do you think?"

"Speaking of which, Jesse over there is really onto something," said another, pointing to a long-haired, Jesus-looking dude furiously painting the tanks, state mercenaries, and trampled babies just outside the door.  "He seems to get it slightly better than the rest of us."

"So when are we going out there? What's the plan?," implored another, clearly a newcomer.

[Laughter. End scene.]

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Homophobia is easily dismissed by homophobes with "I'm not afraid of gay people," where "afraid" is assumed to entail running the other way for reasons of physical or emotional safety. "I talk to gay people" and "I've never run away from a gay person" are often considered thorough falsification, as if white 19th century southerners could have proven their non-racism by talking to or not fleeing from black southerners. Think about that.

Homophobia is not the fear of being dominated by "a homosexual." Homophobia is the fear of being gay, which wouldn't be a problem, if not for the fact that being gay means being a woman, which again, wouldn't be a problem, if not for the buried-to-most assumption that women are the lowest form of anything.

Insinuate that a macho man is a girl and see how he reacts. "If you're not afraid of being a girl, put on this dress. Then let us talk about you the way that we talk about women. No, this is not a game of pretend. You are a woman. Are you OK with that?"

Homophobes are afraid of being women, who are worthless (in the fantasy!), which is why young men throw themselves on grenades. To be not worthless. Is there anything more masculine than throwing oneself on a grenade?

Women are considered worthless because the rejected son is worthless, and the son seeks to control women so as never to be rejected again. She who is worthless cannot reject him (even though she actually can, since it's a fantasy he doesn't quite believe) because her opinion is worthless. Thus men who spend their lives victimizing are reenacting a victimization. You reject me? You bitch! I will destroy you, or me.      

Reasons boys feel rejected by mothers and act out with machismo may include the difficulties of parenting generally, the convenience of the less powerful mother as a rage target, the greater presence of the mother as opposed to the father (making her a greater focus of rage), the possible fragility of boy brains as opposed to girl brains, and the general systemic benefits available to boys (unavailable to girls) for acting like macho asshats.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

go to school or die, you fucking kid

"...[W]hile we cannot actually change anybody’s behavior, we can influence behavior, and there are two primary ways to do that— through persuasion, and through leverage. And what I try to point out is that while leverage is the most widely used— in the form of rules and consequences, punishments and rewards--and while those things have a place, I think we need to get better at learning how to persuade people that what we’re trying to get them to do, vis-à-vis being successful in school, is really in their interest, that it’s to their benefit to behave and to do what it is that we’re asking. Unless there’s a realization that you help somebody see how their life is going to improve by doing something that’s foreign to them, something that you’re going to require of them, unless they’re convinced of the benefit to them, they’re not going to do it. It’s going to be too foreign to them."  
 --- first useable Allen Mendler quote I could find on the internet (emphasis in original)
Some of my students are teachers and one of them has a book by the above Mendler called "Motivating Students Who Don't Care." As you might guess from the title, the point of the book is to provide teachers with techniques to get people to do what they don't want to do. Oh whoops, I put a period there. Let me finish...for their own good. The title could also be rephrased: "how pretending to care about students' interests, acting like their friend, and treating them with 'respect' makes them more likely to do what you want them to do while at the same time and, in fact, by way of, maintaining the lie for you and them that you're genuinely interested in their perspective, needs, goals, etc."

If you actually cared, you wouldn't need a book. You'd just fucking care. Which is easier than it sounds. Or if you're the sort of person who cares, maybe it doesn't sound so hard in the first place.

But, sadly, it is in the best interests of students, sort of, to do what the teacher wants them to do. Because if they don't, they will die, thanks in part to teachers.

At the bottom of all this is the same dilemma we see in progressive politics generally -- how to reconcile the desire to be a progressive force involved in creating a world where people get along and are nice to each other and in which everyone is mostly equal with the death threat that underpins the entire system you actively maintain.

Most dissidents are well aware of what happens if you don't pay your taxes. There's a series of steps the state will take to get the money out of you. If you don't resist, no problem. They'll take your money and you'll tell yourself that you wanted to give it to them and that you'll get lots of benefits from it like roads and videos of Mars and safety from powerless Middle Easterners and that you live in a democracy where you have a voice, dammit. If you resist a little, they might give you a warning and if you still refuse to pay, you'll end up in jail. If you resist arrest, they'll take you to jail anyway. They'll use handcuffs, fists, tasers, any means necessary. Which means they reserve the right to kill you.

Similarly, students who resist teachers' demands are first told to cooperate, then given detention, then sent home for a little while, then for a long while, then...then what happens? Loving acceptance, because we care about kids' feelings and respect their right to choose their own course? No, the end of the line is unemployment, misery and, without help, death, because without credentials, you can't get money to buy necessities from the people who control the money and the things it represents thanks to the state, which rests on a foundation of violence. If there were a commons, if there were reasonable odds at making a living without credentials, it might not amount to a death threat. If the school system did not exist to funnel human capital toward the people who uphold it, it might not amount to a death threat. If a typical, unconnected-to-wealth child could forego school with reasonable chances of survival, it might not amount to a death threat. But it does. Go to school, or die. As soon as you sign on to be a teacher, this is what you're a part of. (I'm an ex-public high school teacher, not that it matters. But this is just analysis, and only finger-pointing where warranted. It's true whether you like it or not. Descriptive, not normative.)

Mendler's approach to corralling non-compliant students, in this post-just-hit-them-until-they-obey age, and in the face of the painful self-image problems caused by acknowledging that your job is to get students to do what your bosses want you to get them to do, no matter what that is, by any means necessary, is to create the illusion that your job is not that at all. Mendler pretty clearly believes his own, if I might use a technical term, humanshit, and expects other teachers to, as well.

The way to create the illusion of non-authoritarianism, so important for most progressives, is to give students a little slack before ultimately making exactly the same demand -- obey or else. Give them a questionnaire asking them how they like your teaching. Write them a note. Make them feel important. Throw them a bone. Give them a New Deal to get them off the streets. Get them to settle down, stop being mad, resistant, in order to improve the odds of compliance. They'll feel like they're driving their own ship. And if they don't, you gave them a chance. You listened. You cared. You sentenced them to a life of misery and possibly death.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

the subject is a vampire

In response to this Levi Bryant post, I wrote:
Sounds like you’re placing the subject outside existence. There’s the universe and, then, outside this, there’s meaning. That doesn’t sound like flat ontology. If world is all there is, and there is meaning, then meaning is world, so doesn’t it make more sense to say that meaning is something that happens in that bit of world we call human? Meaning is a local thing.
He was kind enough to repost the above comment from an email I sent (Wordpress and I don't get along) and respond:
There are a few things that need to be distinguished here. On the one hand, it’s necessary to distinguish between substances and qualities. A substance is an entity that can exist on its own, while a quality always exists either in a substance or occurs between substances. A color like red, for example, is a quality. It requires a substance in which to exist and cannot exist apart from that substance. Pointing out that qualities like red can only exist in substances doesn’t negate their reality, only their independence. My contention is that meaning is a quality, not a substance.
Second, it’s necessary to distinguish between substances and the point of view substances have on the world around them. A substance’s point of view is how it grasps other substances and qualities. My claim is that meaning arises from a substances point of view, it’s not something that inheres in the things grasped, themselves. Meaning is the way entities such as ourselves, cats, super-complex computers, government agencies, etc., grasp other things in the world around them. This doesn’t place these entities outside of existence, but is merely the recognition that these entities grasp the world in a particular way. It’s no different than recognizing that bats grasp the world through sonar while cats grasp it through vision, smell, and sound, and that sonar is in the bat, not the thing detected (the thing detected is nothing like a sonar blip).
All of this is important because we need to recognize the variability of meaning across species, people, cultures, and entities. A few years ago I was hosting some dear friends for dinner, and I was talking about how I was thinking about renting a truck to so I could rent a tiller to turn over the soil in my garden. My friend, a Chinese woman, got very excited and declared “that would be great! then you could haul some trees for us and help us plant them!” At the time I was very offended. I thought, what nerve this woman has thinking I’m going to do all this labor for them. I attributed a particular meaning to her proposal. Later I realized that she had given me a hugecomplement (her meaning). In asking to do this favor for her, she was proposing that our families become more tightly bound to one another, that we form obligations to one another. She was saying she wanted our families to be closer. If we treat meaning as a property of the things themselves we can’t get at this sort of variability of meaning.
Bryant doesn't dispute my claim, as far as I can tell. He thinks his view is consistent with mine. Maybe it is, mostly, but he's still placing the subject outside world, which creates problems. That last sentence, for example. Meaning is not a property of the things themselves? Buddy, humans are things! You agreed. Meaning is a property of humans, which are things (though I use that term with reservations explained elsewhere on this blog).

The subject/object dualism is alive and well in Bryant's "flat ontology," which makes it a not-so-flat ontology. Bryant thinks he has solved the problem of subject/object dualism by placing both inside Being, at least rhetorically, but if you can't describe subjects in the same terms you'd describe anything else, you don't have a flat ontology. He's saying they're inside Being but continuing to use schemes that, in effect, place the subject outside Being. If the subject needs a completely different category outside everything else, it's transcendent, not immanent. The best answer, at this point is, arguably, that the subject is merely a thing that acts funny. I am worlding. You are worlding. That's all. Not that it's a very satisfying answer.

Bryant seems to be using "subject" to indicate "non-object" but also, when pressed, as object.

building blocks of consciousness

(Note: I think this is pretty much in line with what R. Scott Bakker is saying at his excellent blog Three Pound Brain, not that he'd sign off on it. What I'm saying below may well be either obvious or wrong. It feels to me, though, like a pretty extreme form of speculation and possibly a decent heuristic.)

Definitions work by exclusion. You draw the line around the category with what it isn't.

Imagine a scene, any scene. There's a zoom-in mode where you look specifically at a thing and everything else gets blurry and there's a zoom-out mode where you see everything, you think. But it looks to me like the zoom-out mode came very late in the evolutionary game. The ability to have two modes certainly did. Is the zoom-out built from the zoom-in? If so, it seems unlikely that the zoom-out would escape the structure of the zoom-in.

Zoom-out mode makes it look like everything fits together seamlessly. The frame is a nothingness on the periphery you only consider for thought experiments. (The evolution of vision was not driven by awareness of a periphery.) But when you're looking, you're just a complete picture.

What if the building blocks of consciousness are the organization of world configurations by what they're not? Dog and not-dog, tree and not-tree. You need to leverage each "object" against everything else. But it's not even an object, it's a non-object through and through, built up from other non-objects. What you get is not a picture of reality; it seems a stretch to even call it an approximation. What you get is functional (you can find food) but it's also a picture that has no direct connection to what we imagine it to depict. If the foundation is layers upon layers of not-thats, it starts to make sense why the world we perceive is so dreamlike and nutty, why it's so unreal.

Could this be mainly a visual process that other senses don't use? Is consciousness as we know it the capture of most or all sensory information by vision-based processes?

Monday, May 13, 2013

the walls move

The ability to focus by exclusion, dividing the world into "cheetah" and "not-cheetah," evolved in the context of finding and (not) being food. To identify a moving object, especially, you need to imagine a fixed background. The focused upon object is the inside, everything else is the indeterminate outside.

Humans use this sort of framing to understand politics. The inside of a house has animate objects like people and cats and videos on computers and it has a frame, the parts that remain still while the action happens. Acceptable political discourse is, at best, about where we should put the couch. It's never about whether we should move the walls around or knock them down.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

dogs and humans

Doggish things recognize housish things. Dog brains interact, make connections. Dogs act towards houses in ways they don't act towards squirrels.

What happens in human brains is a more intense version of the same process. A solid, perfect line is drawn around the house dividing the world into houses and non-houses. All houses are identical. You can add them as 1 + 1 + 1... All non-houses are identical. But you can't add them because they're an indeterminate not-1. Dogs, trees and whatnot are nothing other than non-house.

The same process is used to create dogs, trees, and such. Dogs and non-dogs. Trees and non-trees. Every category is based on the same process. Then we work our way up to more and more inclusive categories, each refuting all the others (non-dog = non-house?), until we get to Being, which needs an outside, so we call that non-Being, thus revealing a new dimension of the absurdity of human consciousness. Non-Being? What?!

There are doggish and housish things, sure, but, outside human-type consciousness, there are no lines around them. And outside consciousness, there is no difference.

The existence of alpha dogs and pecking orders alone is enough to suggest something similar in other conscious things. Not quite a line, not quite symbolic, but control of interacted-with elements and increased repetition (survival) odds by way of isolation by exclusion. Something like focus.

Friday, May 10, 2013

retaliation is not punishment

Justin Raimondo says collective punishment is always wrong. He's worried about the good Israelis. He explains the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction view:
The peace camp isn’t “sizeable” enough for the BDS’ers, so it’s okay to write it off. In short, there are no innocent Israelis, they’re all somehow beneficiaries of an oppressive system – and, therefore, they must be punished, every single last one of them. That is the de facto BDS view, and it couldn’t be more wrong. 
That's a decent summary (though with a misguided concluding statement), but "punishment" is what the oppressor does to the oppressed. Raimondo's use of the term displays his misunderstanding of systemic oppression.
The Israelis do not benefit from the occupation: quite the opposite. The occupied territories are a millstone hung around their necks, and their possession will soon make it impossible for Israel to continue as a state which is both Jewish and democratic. Demography and time, not boycotts, are the ultra-Zionists’ worst enemies.
This is true but irrelevant to the question at hand. Misogyny makes boys miserable, turns them into self-hating homophobes. It doesn't mean they don't also benefit from misogyny by, in effect, pushing others still lower. And of course it's true that Israelis materially benefit from the occupation, even as it destroys them.
The BDS movement has written off an entire people, and in doing so closed the door to the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: changing the tribalist politics that dominate both camps.
When someone's got their boot on your neck, and you say, "ahem, would you kindly get your boot off my neck?" (assuming you're too nice) and they say "no" and you say "I meant get your fucking boot off my neck, you dick" and they say "well, I don't think that's a very appropriate thing to say because of blah and blah," you might notice that the complaint about civility is just one more weapon among many used to keep you down. He who oppresses also wants to dictate the terms, because there's advantage in this. And he generally can because he has the advantage to begin with. He has the nerve to tell you what is and is not an acceptable way to file a complaint.

The idea of concerning oneself with the suffering of Israelis, in comparison to the plight of people Israel has forced into poverty, is fucking laughable, akin to making a moral plea to slaves not to be too angry at their slavers. It's an argument in support of slavery. Insofaras there's anti-oppression, it's a consequence that flows from the oppressor.  The people of what is decreasingly called "Palestine" did not turn this into an either/or, Israel did.

Any Israeli who is not a part of the problem takes a distance from that terrorist government, tries to become less complicit, and understands that there will be blowback.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

what would good people do with the innocents they've kidnapped and are currently imprisoning and torturing?

A: I've got this ethical dilemma, a real head scratcher of a hypothetical. If a group of armed men kidnap a number of other men who have committed no crimes against them, or as far as anyone knows, against anyone, and take them to an island and torture them for years on end, what should the first group do?

P: That's not an ethical dilemma. The kidnappers should stop torturing them, obviously, and then take them wherever they want to go, as soon as possible.

A: Whoops. I forgot to explain that the kidnappees might want revenge.

P: Well, first of all, you said they're not criminals, but that's not even the issue. You're asking this as an ethical question, right? Not as a question about how a group of kidnappers/torturers should go about covering their asses?

A: Maybe? I mean you can't just expect a bunch of kidnapper/torturers to let people go who might want to come back and kill them.

P: That's not the question you asked. You asked what they should do.

A: They should risk their lives?

P: Again, you haven't established that their lives are at risk. And it sounds to me like the dangerous people are the ones who are currently imprisoning and torturing innocents. They've done this for years, right, and are still doing it? It sounds like you think the defining issue should be concern about what the victims do with their time, once free, like you think that more weight should be given to the unfounded concerns of actual, proven criminals than to their victims' concerns about being imprisoned and tortured by a bunch of proven criminals.

A: Silly me, I should have mentioned that the kidnappees are Schmuzlims. Some of them do terrible things to ordinary people.

P: Like kidnap them from their homes, take them to an island and torture them?

A: Not that I know of, but they kill civilians to advance political ends.

P: Well, I'm glad you're against that. And I don't know much about Schmuzlims, but your claims are sketchy, to say the least. I mean, is there a good reason to think Schmuzlims are uniquely violent? But I'm letting you get me off track again. It seems to me that members of a group that has members some of whom are violent are statistically less likely to be violent than members of a group that consists of 100% established violent criminals, like the kidnappers, imprisoners and torturers in question. No, that's still off track. The torturers are the fucking criminals, obviously, and anyone who speaks on their behalf or worrries about their fate should stop pretending they're concerned about questions of principle or the avoidance of unnecessary human suffering.

Monday, May 6, 2013

why are you so angry?

The dissident's best response to the "you're angry" defense, it seems to me, is any variant of "calmer than you are." Because if I say that the U.S. government is a terrorist organization, for example, and offense is taken, all negative connotations of the word "terrorist" are clearly supplied by the apologist. It matters little if I speak softly and professorily or if I shout like a madman. "U.S. = terrorist" is the problem. I haven't even mentioned, in that statement, if I like or dislike terrorists. Maybe I'm fine with frightening populations with mass murder into granting demands. I'm not, of course, but "the U.S. is a terrorist organization" is a descriptive statement. I'm simply using the definition correctly. The one who has a problem with that statement loves "America" but, just as clearly, hates "terrorists." It's hatred of "terrorists" that's responsible for the angry reaction. "You're calling me a terrorist? Terrorists are bad! I'm not bad! Only bad people call me bad! You're bad! All the good people agree with me!" The entire reaction -- and why else would the apologist even be upset? -- is driven by a hatred of "terrorists." Who the apologist wants to murder or torture without, we're to believe, an ounce of hatred in his heart.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

U.S. imperialism IFAQs

InFrequently Asked Question: If the U.S. acts only on imperial self-interest, why does it frequently give aid to poor countries?

A: What money the U.S. gives is a pittance compared to the devastation wrought by its aggressive wars and economic policies (such as extortive IMF practices, heavy-handed "free trade" agreements, and sanctions). It's like burning down someone's house, giving them a ham sandwich, and then going on the news to talk about how great you are for giving a ham sandwich to some poor bastard who just lost his house for reasons no one quite understands but which are vaguely his own stupid fault.

More straightforwardly, the U.S. gives aid because the PR benefits are worth it. Aid is part of the world do-gooder narrative that keeps people like you, and often them, in the dark.

IFAQ: What about the Marshall Plan?
A: Among other reasons, Europe was leaning towards socialism at the time. U.S. leaders feared (in their own words) that a socialist Europe would ally itself with the Soviet Union. U.S. aid undercut homesprung European socialist movements, by design. How was the post-Marshall Plan U.S. economy? Pretty good, yes?

IFAQ: What about Iraq? Why did the U.S. spend precious lives and resources to help those people?

A: Iraqis did not ask for U.S. invasion. Iraqis did not ask for the U.S. to support Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Iraqis did not ask to have their country destroyed or to have their authoritarian government replaced by a more-pliable-to-U.S.-demands authoritarian government.

The notion that democracy (or anti-tyranny) drives U.S. foreign policy has no empirical support. The U.S. supports some dictators and overthrows others. The U.S. supports some democracies and overthrows others.

IFAQ: But surely the U.S. has good reasons?

A: The reasons seem good to them, yes. Like Walter White and Dexter Morgan, they act on good intentions. With regard to state actors, the self-perceived and reported goodness or badness of intentions, at this point, reveals nothing of scientific value.

The thesis that anti-tyranny drives U.S. foreign policy, on the other hand, relies, at least, on a correlation between regimes' level of tyranny and U.S. support of or opposition to them. There is such a correlation, but not the one you think. More on this in a bit.

The thesis that U.S. policy is driven by imperial interests (most importantly resource control) predicts that the U.S. will support regimes that advance its interests and oppose those that don't. This thesis holds true all the way down and explains every major aspect of U.S. foreign policy since the country's founding.

And because local populations tend to oppose foreign powers profiting from local  resources at their expense, and possibly other reasons, governments that cooperate with the U.S. tend to be more authoritarian. The current regime in Saudi Arabia, for example, combines one of the worst human rights records in the world (worse than Iran), massive oil reserves, strong local opposition to the U.S., and full U.S. support. So, getting back to the above, there is a positive correlation between U.S. regime support and tyranny.

IFAQ: How about World War II? At least that was a good, just war, right?

A: Well, clearly, Hitler. Yes, a bad guy. But the idea that the U.S. joined WWII because it opposed aggressive war, in principle, or the killing of innocent civilians, in principle, is easily disproven, among many other examples, by the U.S. assault on the civilians of Southeast Asia that was led by the same people who brought the U.S. into WWII.

IFAQ: Do you mean the Vietnam war? That was to fight communism, right?

A: The notion that the U.S. slaughtered millions of civilians in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in order to help them, or their survivors, to live better lives, is fundamentally incoherent.

As is the notion that the U.S. carpet, then atomic, bombed Japanese civilians because Japan was an imperialist menace. It's true that Japanese imperialism was a scourge on the people of Southeast Asia. Presumably, then, the U.S. bombed Japan to get that country to stop oppressing the people of Southeast Asia. Because they cared deeply about the people of Southeast Asia. Who they proceeded to kill by the millions.

IFAQ: OK, you win for now, but there's little chance I'm going to let this information actually stop me from believing what I believed at the start of this conversation. Your arguments are merely a splinter that my brain will repel and recover from in due time.

A: That's the most likely result, yes. My mental health deserves scrutiny.

IFAQ: Oh, one more question. If you're right, why are you the only one who thinks this way?

A: I'm not. There's considerable consensus on much of the above among people who study these matters seriously. I may have gotten some minor details wrong or left something out. Please let me know. But the basic framework is the most accurate and explanatorily powerful available by a long shot.

Or if you mean, "why do most people think like me?," you're in a decent position to answer that. I tried to find your reasons and it turned out they didn't hold up. I could have the same conversation with any high-ranking U.S. official and their arguments will fare no better than yours. Why do you maintain beliefs you have no support for?

catherine wheel healing

It's how high you are and the time it takes to heal
I can climb a tree and push up through the leaves
Cause only when I try am I happier to see
My head's in some kind of space
Where boyhood, boyhood used to be
It's how high you are and the time it takes to heal
But it's all a lie and I've never felt so sad
There's a streak of melancholy
It's running down my back
And there's a great mistrust
That borders round the man
I call it strange from a boy who's never left his head
It's how high you are and the time it takes to heal
Yeah, yeah
Oh yeah, yeah
And everyone needs someone to live by
Everyone needs someone to live by
But it's all a lie, it's a lie to make you beg
For somethin' more
For somethin' better than you've had
And I wish I knew
Oh, I wish I knew how to change

response to charges of bleak utopianism

I self-quote, smugly:

"Heliocentrism was bleak to the geocentrist, Darwinism was bleak to the Adam+Eve-ist, anti-fantasy is bleak to the fantasist. Bleakness is built into the critic-critiqued relation. I too am a fantasist in many regards and when those are exposed, I hope I don't fight it too hard or further entrench myself in fantasy.

As for utopianism, both impossibility and happiness are included in the word. The former is a cleverly hidden blanket charge that needs to be proven, the latter a goal we share. All I'm doing is analyzing the current suffering, trying to identify its causes, and recommending that they be removed to whatever extent possible by whoever is moved by my words."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

conformity is selfish

In the face of relentless social pressure, young humans become more selfish, not less. In order to adapt their behavior to meet strict group demands, they learn to see themselves through the eyes of the group and suppress any threatened behaviors because group exlusion is abandonment/death. Group complaints and compliments both reveal expectations. The obsessive, heightened self-watching that results is heightened selfishness. Conformist behavior can be summarized as "self-preservation by self-obsession." The demand for selflessness reveals the selfishness of the demander, who will mask the parochial selfishness of his demands with appeals to universal truth.

In the face of adult expectations, the young have two basic reponses available to them, resistance or submission. To submit is to join the ranks of the selfish. To resist is to make oneself a punching bag. Simply not understanding is a third possibility, I guess, but it hasn't worked out well for bison and whales and apes. In other words, if you can't serve, the humans will likely try to destroy you.

the meaning of democracy

Democracy, as the term is used on Sunday morning talk shows and in casual political conversations, is, first and foremost, the inside (good side) of a value judgment set up in opposition to dictatorships (and, in academic contexts, oligarchies as well). It primarily serves as a tool for the content-free assignation of good guy and bad guy roles, a way to let people know who to cheer for. The terms are so embedded in western political discourse that any actual dictator who said "I am a dictator" would simply be taken as meaning "I'm bad," as opposed to making a claim about the structure of the government he plays a part in.

U.S.-allied dictators like the Royal Sauds and 1980s Hussein and Pinochet are assigned the good-guy-compatible term "strong men sometimes prone to excesses" while authoritarian governments, like the world's drone leader, that abuse domestic populations while setting up polling places where the abused can go now and then to symbolically pledge their obedience, call themselves democracies.