Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Individualism and Solidarity: US Democratic Politics and Teh Blogs

This is a bit of a fly-by-night piece, so I won’t frontpage, and apologies if I don’t follow up with profound comments. I love the polite friendly atmosphere of the Moose, but that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about difficult subjects. Indeed, I have to write something, in my usual British contentious unphlegmatic way, about the Moose/Elephant in the room – the sudden welcome influx of New Moozog (the plural of Mooz).

But first some ground rules. This is not about anybody on any other blog, nor indeed a specific kind of administration, or to relitigate any Obamarox/Obamasux wars on any other site, but to explore the problem of defining loyalty versus individuality, collective strength versus personal conscience.

I think if we stick to these rules of discussing those principles of political pragmatism versus moral purity, we can make sure this isn’t a comment on any other blog or commentator. Just to remind you – most of us cross post at a number of other blogs, and long may that remain.  

But let me port over a comment I’ve just made on Daily Kos (with typos corrected and some site specific phrases AMENDED IN CAPS).

Just to reiterate, this is one dumb Brit commenting on the basis of his limited outsider experience of US politics over a couple of decades. In a way US political blogs are a microcosm of the wider conflict in US society, so when I use the example of ‘moderation’ below, what I mean is how to resolve conflicts.

A technolibertarian solution to moderation presupposes individual responsibility. Individual conflicts will arise but will be sorted out by the amalgam of individuals: I.e. community moderation

But SOME SITES ARE so big THEY DON’T work like that. There are several different communities. So the worst excesses erive from a form of communalism.

As an individual I might rate you, but thre are ‘sides’. A one to one conflict is inflamed by upraters and bystanders who are (and we’re all guilty of this) defending ‘friends’. The communal conflict periodically sorts itself out by which group is more numerous at any moment.

But the battle is never completed because, following the principle if American individualism, any communal victory is quickly decried as ‘groupthink’. The marginalised groups are defended. And the cycle of strife continues

And this is all very dynamic, because there is no equilibrium that can ever be achieved. Indeed it’s one of the motors of American dynamism, and part of me would never want to change it

But it’s very damaging for the left, which has always relied not on money power, but the ability to form coalitions transcending individual interest through collectivity, solidarity and loyalt cohesion

THOSE with a Civil Rights background understand this, but the majority still cling to an individualised form of liberty which makes every compromise a betrayal. And every coalition a circular firing squad

Of course, this contrast mainly derives from my experience of the British Labour Party which, vitiated almost to extinction in the 1980s, relearned the values of cohesion and loyalty to win three elections, two with landslides.

Some may say that loyalty came at the expense of principle, and the electoral success was misused. But having had experience of three years of Tory rule, not many on the left now believe that ‘Tony Blair was as bad as any Tory’.

Please use the comment threads to blow me out of the water.

UPDATE: oh, and I meant to use this diary to say HELLO to all the new Mooq I haven’t personally greeted yet. This is very much a collective site,  established by a charter group, so no top down command and control here. You’re all in charge. And you’re paying the bar bill!


  1. SallyCat

    oriented voter and activist. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and all that whatever.  Some of the best activists of my early political involvement were old time republicans. Some progressives I agree with, but I am fiscally conservative (as an accountant I bleed black ink!), and socially I totally fight for the underdog and those needing a safety net.

    All that being said, I am fighting tooth and nail against anything that undermines the bit of progress we have made at stopping the rampant tea party insanity gripping politics these days. If it means temporarily supporting 85% voting Dems instead of 100%, so be it. Back to fighting to keep austerity and corporatism, the real enemy, from total control in the US.

  2. princesspat

    I’m looking forward to feeling free to engage in intelligent, nuanced political discussions….along with some good fun of course. I can’t promise to be among the intelligent commentators, but I can assure you I am rarely contentious.

    Your tags are a succinct reminder of what’s important to me….and what to avoid! Thanks again.

  3. left rev

    But the battle is never completed because, following the principle if American individualism, any communal victory is quickly decried as ‘groupthink’. The marginalised groups are defended. And the cycle of strife continues

    I get the whole idea of “groupthink” and the use of the term as an invective. I’m not sure what role the “marginalized groups” are playing, particularly when it comes to cohesion or coalitions.

    “cycle of strife” is an interesting turn of phrase. Peter, can you, or anyone else whose got the knowing, speak to how this plays out in the ever shifting dynamics of parliamentary government with multiple parties? From a two party system, I cannot envision any way in which the “cycle of strife” does not continue.

    Thank you 🙂

  4. mahakali overdrive

    to see it expanded into a full diary.

    I see this as a basic schism between Libertarianism and Socialism, at its root. To me, this binary is less apparent to many Americans, who haven’t seen a full exposition of these political systems, as say, Democratic and Republican or Pragmatic and Progressive. I would even say that the Libertarian, individualist strain of thinking vs. the Socialist, collectivist model is a far greater and less bridge-able schism than the others since Dem/Rep is a matter of parties and Prag/Prog is a matter of methods; Lib/Soc is a matter of ideology outright.

    Within the Democratic sphere as well as within the Progressive sphere, I see a Libertarian/Socialist splitting all the time which values either a more collective enterprise and which includes matters of social justice OR it values a more individualistic mode. I see some Populists misidentify themselves as Progressives because of this when they are probably more like Left Libertarians.

    I’m moving afield of my response, sorry.

    What you’re talking about here is the kind of logic which literally deconstructs itself. On the one hand, it says, “To be effective, you must build coalitions,” and then with the other hand, it proceeds to start a circular firing squad, shouting, “To be effective, you must not allow factions to form!” That creates a situation of endless inefficacy and instability as well, plus a kind of avalanching tumult. And it’s very, very American at its core because it’s more invisibly divided with less noticeable Libertarian-Socialist-driven division within the ranks, so to speak. That’s of ANY Party, moreover.

    I think this goes back to around the time of the Federalist Papers in terms of the weirdness of this paradox. A paradox which really seems to be particularly American. I wish we could decide if we’re fighting for freedom or just fighting because it’s become habit. I wish we could decide if we believed ultimately in the greater collective good, and an orderly good at that, or whether we just all said “Yeehaw! Let me get my freedoms on here, you authoritarian fucks!”

    Fascism can happen on the Left as readily as on the Right. Solidarity is an antidote to that.

    Sorry to be disjointed.  

  5. Sylv

    I do agree with your observations regarding community moderation, but can’t think of more to say while staying away from mentioning specific sites so I’ll just say, “Hi.” I’ve been looking around at this site and like what I’ve seen so far.

  6. bubbanomics

    Everyone who compares the President to a gamer (Checkers, chess, even poker) has a couple of big gaps in the analogy. One is that the game of governing never ends.  Achievements (not wins) are always subject to revisit. Another is that the game’s objective is at best poorly defined.  There is a mathematical theory of “hypergames,” in which players are actually playing different games with incomplete information about not only the opponents’ potential moves but also about what the opponents define as winning.

    Here’s an example.  A guy walking down the road comes across a lady with a trunk full of iPod boxes.  The lady offers to sell the guy an ipod for $50, saying that she bought them from a small business owner in desperate need of cash.  The guy is thinking “on the plus side, I get a cheap ipod.  on the minus side, it may be stolen.”  He decides after some agonizing to pony up the Grant and walks away.  Opening the box, he discovers it is empty.  The lady was playing a different game…

    relative to individualism and groups, you raise some interesting ideas.  I’ve long droned on (yikes) about the individualist vs. group divide of the rural vs. urban interpretation of red v. blue in this country.  Coalitions are another animal all together.  to watch coalitions form and dissolve in parliamentary gov’ts is fascinating to me, as our coalitions have ossified into the current two party situation, with no hope, since at least the ’94 GOP revolution, of movement.  At the local level, it can often be a different matter, but national politics are in bad shape.

  7. princesspat

    ‘Bipartisan’ state Senate means rejecting voters’ own values

    Republicans in the state Senate dropped a political bomb last month when they announced that they were seizing control of the majority with the help of two renegade Democrats. Calling themselves a philosophical majority, Republicans detailed their proposal for what they say is a power-sharing arrangement, and talked about bipartisanship, centrism and “putting the people of Washington first.”

    As a member of the deposed majority, I would be lying if I said this didn’t initially feel like a hijacking. But wounded pride aside, this is politics, and as a member of the new minority, I would be foolish if I didn’t take the Republicans up on their invitation to move toward a more collaborative way of governing when the 2013 Legislature reconvenes on Jan. 14. Cooperation, moderation, policy over politics – these are good things.


    What initially felt like a hijacking to me has turned out to be a hijacking after all. Senate Republicans have hijacked the legislative process under a cloak of bipartisanship, in order to block critical legislation supporting women’s rights, social programs, education and the environment. This does not reflect the values of our great state. These policies were thoroughly rejected at the ballot box in November, and will make harmful, polarizing public policy or, worse, stop positive policies from advancing or even seeing the light of day.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out….and it is certainly going to require a focused response from the Dems in supposedly safely blue Wa State. Working for a bigger and more honest Democratic electoral majority seems to me of utmost importance!

  8. edwardssl

    is what I used to see … elsewhere.

    Debate the policy, debate the philosophy, not the personality.

    You guys get it.

    But it’s very damaging for the left, which has always relied not on money power, but the ability to form coalitions transcending individual interest through collectivity, solidarity and loyalt cohesion

    THOSE with a Civil Rights background understand this, but the majority still cling to an individualised form of liberty which makes every compromise a betrayal. And every coalition a circular firing squad.

    This observation has so much truth.  And explains much about what’s going on (or down) … elsewhere.

    The diary and comments are worth a re-read for further digestion.

  9. DeniseVelez


    And yes – most of us who were formed during the Civil Rights Movement (though we had a spectrum within) had to have  solidarity – blackness in the face of unrelenting racism in the States tends to enforce that.

    Oh there are a few mouthpieces who have opted for the adulation of the white left and gone their own way but they are the exception rather than the rule. And are ignored, by and large by the masses of black folks who are just trying to struggle on each day with surviving.

    It also plays a part in why there is such rock solid support for Democrats (these days) in the black community who line up behind the POTUS, even if there are individual issues that folks have critiques of.  The minute a whiff of racism and/or privilege crops up from our white leftist friends we lock arms.

    We know what we have to lose. Have fought too damn hard to claw to where we are today.

    Hell – the Wilmington 10 just got “pardons” after 40 damn years.

    This is one of the reasons we are able to have genuine camaraderie on the front porches and stoops of our communities.

    When you can never forget you are black and hated by a very large segment of your fellow citizens it is sobering (to say the least) and creates bonds that are bone deep.

  10. left rev

    individualism and communalism, and in particular, its uniquely American flavor. And it occurred to me that my life revolves around yet another example, both in contrast and American flavor, and that is American Protestantism, particularly as manifest in the Evangelical style that is so bemusing to Christians of the European variety.

    Church (ecclesia-which referred to community), is by its nature a communal beast, a union or organization with specific goals in mind and a tendency to come together around those goals. However, there is also a VERY strong whiff of individualism in the emphasis that has grown, particularly since the First Great Awakening (thanks EVER so much Jonathon Edwards), of the importnace of church as being simply the context in which the individual “get’s their Jesus on,” so to speak. I can see this particularly in the rise of the “mega church,” “nondenominational church,” or “unaffiliated church,” which eschews denominational ties or identification. Not uncoincidentally, there is more than a touch of radical Calvinism and prosperity gospel to many of them, and even those that downplay these aspects with an emphasis on grace, seem to revolve still around a cult of an individual leader and the breaking into cliques.

    This tension between the individual and the community, has manifest in various ways in American Protestantism, which, in spite of the increasing acknowledged secularism, maintains an outsized power and influence that does itself, and the nation, nothing but harm. In some ways, I see this tension within the lives of the faithful as a significant part of the motor driving the paradigm being discussed in your post, Peter.

    And I’m also beginning to speculate that, as far as America is concerned at any rate, this tension is our default state. I won’t go into the concept of “original sin” here, as this rambling comment has already monopolized too many bytes. 🙂

  11. fcvaguy

    that you’ve obviously put alot of thought into.

    But, its possible the problem could is much simpler.  in all my time at a certain blog, it became obvious to me that much of the angst derived from inequality in the treatment of different segments of the community; an inequality that the powers-that-be tried very hard to deny it even existed. The denial was often masked in dismissive adages like “Both sides do it”, “Roxxers and Suxxers”, while figuratively throwing their arms into the air feigning helplessness. The cure? “arbitrary and capricious bannings”. Unfortunately, the random and arbitrary bannings were clearly one-sided, one side clearly favored, while the other side harshly treated. In my experience, these rifts amongst the community are a reflection of rifts amongst the PTB. Some of the PTB fully dedicated to a mission of electing more and better Democrats, while others amongst the PTB more interested in the politics of the far left and not necessarily Democratic politics, while defending some of the most aggregious offenders on that blog. In fact, some of the more vocal of the far left are not even Democrats, despise Democrats, and either voted Third Party or not at all in the last election. Yet, they are coddled. Until a true unity of purpose exists on that blog, the problems will persist. IMO, this dystopia is a result of and a reflection of the imbalances most of the regular users see but don’t discuss and the failure of leadership to address it in an honest way.

    I’ve probably broken one rule or other by posting this. If so, feel free to delete it. I won’t be offended and I’ll refrain from this type of commentary in the future. I only posted it because your thoughtful diary sort of made me think about all this.

  12. ChurchofBruce

    that arises, er, elsewhere 🙂 is kind of a tangent from what you said. Those that distrust any sort of communal action tend to paint people that do trust it in the broadest brush possible.

    I am a pragmatist. To me, that means I live in the real world, and I try to understand the world around me. To me, that means I have internalized, as a core part of my philosophy, the title of the Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” except I’ve changed always to often. Or sometimes ever. To me, this is, above everything else, pessimism. I’m a pessimist extraordinaire.

    What being a pragmatist does NOT mean is that I’m a “centrist”, a “right-wing troll”, a “DINO”, or anything else. I would love to be able to vote for somebody for president whose even to the left of Bernie Sanders, and have 300 in Congress and 60 in the Senate just like him.

    Not. Gonna. Happen. Ever.

    That is why I’m a pragmatist. And some people will never understand that. The world is not ideology. I can’t wave my Harry Potter Wand and make this country what I want it to be.

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