I'm tired of these posers!

There's been a lot of talk about Republicans and infidelity lately, like John Ensign and Mark Sanford invented the horny conservative genre.


I do respect the Silver Fox's attempt to take the crown from California's reigning champ, Gavin Newsom. There are few things scumbaggier than gettin' it on with your friend's wife. Such drama, however, is so pedestrian it's featured in Greek plays. Way to be original, Senator.

And as for poor Governor Sanford, I think he's just livin' his life like its a Barry White song. It's going to be a long time before another pol of either party brings that kind of sexuality and emotion to a press conference. He may yet send Danielle Steel into early retirement, but he is not big pimpin'.

The most gangsta Republican of our generation remains the one-of-a-kind Nevadan, Jim "LuvGuv" Gibbons (with a big thank you to Dullard Mush for the tip):
Anyway, a friend of ours was recently at a new south Reno Mexican restaurant when Governor Jim Gibbons and an entourage arrived. The bartender there apparently was quite familiar with Nevada's Guv as she ran up and gave him a big 'ol lusty hug. Not only did Gibbons heartily return the favor, but his paws quickly headed south -- the deep south. So while my friend was getting an eyeful, our Governor was getting a handful. It obviously wasn't the first time, and probably not the last either.

Well, at least this tail-grabbing incident was consensual.

That's how it's done.

Special Note to AnonGuy: I understand your hesitation to dogpile on the Party, but don't think of it as a cheap shot against the GOP. Think of it as doing a solid for Mike Montandon. (Whose logo makes excellent bling, btw.)

I hope RedState didn't notice this

I think I just saw the Human Rights Campaign logo in an Orbitz commercial.

Four guys are are golfing and the refund guy shows up in his hovercraft. It looks like the logo at right is embroidered on one of the guys' polo shirts.

Any confirmation?

Update: Holy smokes, I was right!


I have very few personal views on the California budget crisis. I'm bad with numbers. But I couldn't resist writing about the online slapfight between David Dayen of Calitics and Phil and Jerry at Calbuzz.

It all started when the Commission on the 21st Century Economy (a.k.a. the Parsky Commission) started putting forward some proposals that would include a flat(ish) tax and replace the corporate tax with a net revenues tax. Calbuzz provided an analysis that pointed out the difficulty of getting consensus on such thorny issues.

Calitics, however, called the proposals crazy right-wing insanity,
the real shock doctrine is happening behind the curtain, with a proposal engineered with bipartisan support, that will really permanently turn the state into an experiment in Chicago Boys free-market fundamentalism, not unlike the conservative "paradises" created in developing nations, all of which are crashing, by the way.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is NOT Pinochet, but I get the Chicago Boys metaphor nonetheless. Taking advantage of political expediency, he is importing minions to enact extreme economic experiments that could overthrow the established liberal order.

But they raised Calbuzz's ire by calling them "useful idiots" who enable such extremism by advocating the moderate path.

Calbuzz responded by lampooning Calitics' hyperbole with some of their own,
As regular readers of Calitics, we admire your passion, if not your common sense. But let’s be clear that our mission at Calbuzz is quite different than the ideological ranting that is your stock in trade: it’s called “journalism.”

Let’s be blunt: You knew bupkus about the maneuvering and politics unfolding behind-the-scenes at the tax commission until we started covering it. To attack us for digging out the story is to mistake the map for the territory, using the same kind of tiresome, rigid, WATB ideological projections as you decry in the Yacht Party.

I don't think Calitics was behaving like a "whiney ass titty-baby," but they were certainly reacting from one end of the political spectrum. It could've stopped there, with Calbuzz claiming the moderate position against Calitics' unapologetic progressivism. But it didn't. Calitics re-reacted to Calbuzz's critique-of-their-critique with a classic ad hominem attack,
Unlike you, I don't pretend to hide my opinions on the very clear economic and tax policy implications of the Commission's report behind some false veil of objectivity. Most of my comments were directed at the report itself, and the way in which a flat tax would quite obviously shift the burden of taxation to the middle class and the poor; but I couldn't help but notice clear language like...
the impending bankruptcy of state government should be sufficient to show players at every point of the political spectrum not only that sweeping change is needed, but also that everyone will have to compromise to keep California from sinking into the 9th Circle of Hell

...which certainly allows people, in my view, a window into how you determine the best policy, defined as the midpoint between whatever pleases those hateful hippies and the ranters on the right. That may be a nice and quick methodology, but it's anything but rigorous, and I'm pretty sure it's an apt description. After all, wasn't one of you the communications director for Gray Davis, who was not above bold expressions of centrism and a fear of the spectre of "The Left"?

(How did pumping out that daily message for ol' Gray turn out, by the way? What did that guy do after his two successful terms were up? Just curious.)

Wow. David Dayen does not like Gray Davis, I guess.

This exchange highlights the upcoming war within the Democratic establishment over how to respond to the voters' rejection of the budget compromise. Moderates will argue that the disaster at the ballot box shows Democrats need to be open to a fundamental change in California's revenue system. Progressives will argue that the result shows Californians are fed up with revenue neutral solutions and they want a real change.

To put this simply, California is majority Democratic, but not majority liberal. While some well-meaning activists on the left see this as an opportunity to install a social democratic economic system in the biggest state in the U.S., there remains an aggressive and electorally viable plurality that does not believe the conservative revolution is over yet.

There are technocratic debates that need to be had, of course, but they won't happen here (or on any other blog). Rather than seeing progressive Democrats and moderate Democrats go at one another's throats, I would like to see them rally behind what I believe is their unifying value which generates California's Democratic majority.

Namely, the political system should put the preferences of the welfare state before the preferences of the tax structure. What I mean is, the purpose of democracy should be to measure the types and levels of government service demanded by the people, then it is the responsibility of elected officials to extract the revenue necessary to meet those demands. To reverse that model as conservatives do - measure the people's tax preferences then design the government structure that is affordable under that preference - devalues democratic government.

Government of the people is more than a cost-benefit analysis or a necessary evil, it is an open-source forum, the first, final, and only arena where the differences among individuals and communities can be resolved through passionate discourse instead of political violence.* It is the closest we have to a society-wide family, and like your family it is more than the sum of its economic parts.

*The space between those two is often narrow but it always exists, it must exist.


I wasn't planning on writing this post, but the window of opportunity to do so is closing fast.

You already know the details: Senator Ensign admitted to having an affair with a staffer while separated from his wife, who worked for Ensign's campaign and the NRSC and whose husband was a close adviser. As Washington sex scandals go, this one rates a *yawn*.

I am confused by the presidential talk, though. I've never heard it mentioned as anything more than cocktail party speculation. The evidence for such a scenario is
  1. Ensign gave a speech in Iowa.
  2. Ensign's been burnishing his conservative credentials.
  3. This confession will clear the air for 2012.

The day after the revelation, Ensign resigned his leadership posts. Maybe that gives him more latitude to position himself - it's hard running for President when you've got leadership responsibilities. But my theory was that he was working his way up Senate leadership, not a presidential run.

There may be more to come from this story but this is pure speculation on my part. I don't want to add any more salaciousness to the already oversexed Series of Tubes.

For Nevada, nothing really has changed. Ensign is not the new LuvGuv. In the Governor's case, his escapades are a metaphor for more serious bipartisan frustration with his performance. I don't think that is the case with Ensign.

Perhaps this opens up the possibility for a more serious primary challenge, and I would watch the GOP gubernatorial primary in case it provides strong 'leftover' candidates who need another white whale to hunt. But if the Reid re-election and the Governor's race don't bring out the hungry young lions of the GOP, I don't know what will.

I'm sure that Dina Titus, however, is watching this all unfold with interest.

Europe won't stop being socially progressive

I don't want it to sound like I think I'm smarter than Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect but in his column on Huffington Post today Kuttner makes many of the same damn errors in analyzing European political trends that so many in this country make. Primarily, he's trying to make Europe be a prop for the American left.

Here's the gist of his argument: the European left co-opted the market liberalizations of the last 25 years and have thus lost their ability to serve as a viable opposition to nationalist and conservative parties, thus endangering Europe's sweet sweet welfare state.

In Kuttner's own words,
For a generation, the European center-left has embraced essentially the same version of global laissez-faire and liberated finance as the center-right parties, tempered by only a marginally better version of the welfare state. The common formula is: liberalized capital markets; freer global trade; reduced protections for workers; flatter taxes. The very phrase, "center-left" is an emblem of the capitulation to global finance. Thus, leading moderately left parties have scant alternatives to offer voters at a time when free market capitalism has thoroughly disgraced itself.

First, free market capitalism hasn't throughly disgraced itself, unregulated speculative financial schemes have disgraced themselves, as they do from time to time.

Otherwise, Kuttner's got it about right, with a few caveats. The liberalization of capital markets, at least within Europe, has been an offshoot of the Eurozone and is an expression of Europe's greater social unity, not a corruption of it. Similarly, Europe's position supports free movement of goods but, because it is the largest trading entity in the world, the rules of trade are often set by Europe, so again this isn't tearing Europe apart, it's building it up. Although corporate taxes in post-war Europe have dropped a lot, income taxes remain highly progressive, and labor reforms, like Germany's Hartz IV, remain the toughest political knots to cut. Although it's not classical socialism, it's also not the 1960's anymore. The goal is solidarity now, and Europe's doing quite well at that.

Kuttner's concern for Europe's degrading social systems is unfounded. He further demonstrates unfamiliarity with Europe's political structures when he says,
The EU, once a possible instrument of social democracy on one continent, itself has become something of a Trojan Horse. Its basic document, the Maastricht Treaty, makes free movement of capital, goods, services, and persons a core constitutional doctrine. Social protections are secondary.

Again, fundamental error: the Maastricht Treaty is not the EU's basic document, although it is the document containing several of the institutions we associate with Europe, such as the Euro currency and the European Parlament. Social protections were certainly left out of Maastricht, largely at the insistence of the United Kingdom, to ensure that members at the periphery would not be weighed down by the heavy social systems of the 'engine' of Europe's economy, Germany.

The reason this was acceptable, and preferable to many members in retrospect, is because the social contract of every European country is radically different from America's in one important aspect. The European central state is obligated to maintain the welfare of the citizen. The level of welfare and the means of maintenance vary from one state to the next, but the equation is homogeneous. The state keeps people out of abject poverty and the people stop overthrowing the state. To protect that way of life, Europe has focused on establishing solidarity among the Members, keeping each from meddling in or undermining the others' welfare arrangements.

Kuttner should be thrilled that, in the face of globalization, Europe has found a way to nurture the cherished welfare states of its Members. Instead, he wrings his hands over the left's shoddy performance at the polls. It is true that the right has gained considerable control of the EP and that center-right parties have been successful across the continent. But here again he is conflating European political behavior with America's. Like in the U.S., there are numerous local representative bodies and one central body. They remain independent and assume different responsibilities. In Europe, however, the roles are reversed, with the central body representing local interests.

Case in point, Strasbourg has been the scene of a new strain of European politics, euroskepticism, representing voters' dissatisfaction with Europe's highhanded attempts to co-opt the prerogatives of their countries. Initially it may seem ironic, like sending a states-rightist to Congress, but where else would you want your anti-centralization representative to be? Indeed, the Council and the Commission have been the strongest proponents for greater harmonization among the Members, even in social matters, regardless of whether the constituents of the Council are largely from the right. It's only natural that opposition to this process would find refuge in the Parliament.

Another phenomenon Kuttner doesn't pick up on is the sad state of European liberalism, or what we in the U.S. call libertarianism. The liberals, such as Germany's FDP, were the kingmakers of Europe's post-war political systems. They kept governments of the left from sliding into socialist inefficiency and they kept governments of the right socially conscientious. While the liberal parties are not dead, they've lost much of their ability to influence government, so their ideas have been sold off like outdated furniture at a flea market. The remnants of liberalism have not been fully absorbed into the other party institutions, or they were co-opted by the 'wrong' half, leading to socially liberal nationalists like the Jacques Chirac and free marketeer socialists like Gerhard Schröder.

Other, weirder combinations are possible and likely in the future. Europe's political dynamics have undergone tectonic changes since the fall of the Wall, with longstanding constellations evolving, radically changing their character, or disappearing altogether. The EP's conservative trend is part of this continent-wide process. It's difficult to predict where it will end up or even if the change is going to stop; change could be the new European constant. In the short run, it's a safe guess that euroskepticism (encompassing whatever that signifies) will play a dominate role in European politics, but the end of the contitent's unrivaled social systems is definitely not nigh.


Crossposted @ DailyKos

Spoke too soon.

Jackie Conaway has declared for CA-25 again. She is focusing on Veterans issues, which is good. But, when asked to explain why she's running,
“There’s a lot of reasons,” she said. “Between the gas and the food and the health care, there’s a lot of people that just aren’t taken care of.”
Well, okay. Besides the use of unnecessary definite articles, I'll let you judge that statement for yourself.

Jeff, at SCVTalk, tho is more candid,
In 2008 she ran just about the least impressive campaign I can think of. She raised about $10,000 in her effort to defeat McKeon (compare that to the plucky 2006 Dem challenger Robert Rodriguez, who raised about $207,000 before losing to McKeon).I only saw her once, during the 4th of July parade, and come November 4th, I was so unimpressed even I voted for McKeon.

Shameless Self-promotion

A hearty thanks to the blogs that promoted my corner of the Internet recently. Give 'em a look!

Brian Dennert at the Ventura County Star keeps a close watch on the area's politics and he's been encouraging Gallegly's constituents to inquire about the Congressman's in-district schedule, so that they can ask him questions. I think, of course, that this is a capital idea!

Eric over at PulPit Bulls also kindly gave me a shout out. His writing is tight and clean, something I admire in writers, and which makes for an enjoyable read.

Auf Deutsch

Capitol Alert: Think about it: Vierundzwanzig Milliarden US-Dollar
Posted using ShareThis

Just wanted to share this one. A reporter in San Diego asked Gov. Schwarzenegger if he thinks in German or English. Schwarzenegger said he does math in his head in German, but everything else he does in English.

I don't know why, but doing math in a non-native language seems tough. Ironically, one of the lessons of the study of language is that, to truly begin mastering one, you must think in it. You can't effectively communicate when 'translating' everything in your head on the go. The first time a dreamed in German was really cool.

But numbers are tricky. For example, trying doing algebra in Roman numerals. Can anyone offer an explanation why this is so?

On another note, kudos to Capitol Alert for using correct German!

Gotta do this before I forget

FiveThirtyEight is one of my favorite blogs. It is, in my opinion, one of the few online spaces where political moderation and pragmatism get top billing. Also, they're supersmart. They explain polls and statistical analysis in a way that even I can access. Usually, they say exactly what I want to say here, only better.

So I was thrilled that they dedicated a whole post to the Obama Eight. They look at it a little differently than me, tho:
Looking at the split-ticket voting effects here, there are essentially four subgroups of two districts each. You have districts where:

(a) despite Obama's slight margin and presumed coattails, the Republican incumbent is pretty safe anyway (Gallegly, Bono);
(b) Obama's margin and presumed coattails likely brought an otherwise safe winner into some electoral jeopardy (Dreier, Bilbray);
(c) Obama and McCain basically split the district, but the Republican outperformed McCain anyway (McKeon, Campbell); and
(d) Obama and McCain basically split the district, and the Republican House candidate barely got to 50 percent (Lungren, Calvert).

Because the first two groups could not be taken down even with a strong Obama coattail, and in the third the GOP incumbent outperformed McCain despite Obama's strength in the district, the last group offers the most logical targets for 2010.

In other words, they have Bono Mack as one of the safest and Calvert as one of the most vulnerable, while I have it the other way round. Although we differ, I think this analysis does a better job than mine at teasing out Obama's coattails.

DistrictIncumbentFlipabilityDTS RegistrationDem RegistrationGOP Registration2008 Presidential
26thDreier420%35%41%51% Obama 41% McCain
45thBono Mack116%38%42%52% Obama 47% McCain
25thMcKeon018%38%39%49% Obama 48% McCain
3rdLungren-218%38%40%49% Obama 49% McCain
24thGallegly-318%36%42%51% Obama 48% McCain
50thBilbray-524%31%40%51% Obama 47% McCain
44thCalvert-618%35%42%51% Obama 47% McCain
48thCampbell-1622%29%45%49% Obama 49% McCain

I'm skeptical about the idea of coattails, generally, and in this case, I believe they were all but non-existent. Dissatisfied Republicans and Republican-sympathetic DTSers were only willing to cross the line once on the ballot: they took a shot on Obama or their local Democratic candidate for Congress, but not both.

Group B is the most interesting to me, where it looks like coattails actually did exist and almost yanked voters out from under the incumbents. We'll take a closer look at that soon.

The Obama Eight: CA-25

Cross posted @ DailyKos.
Updated: July 14

Moving along...

GOP incumbent: Buck McKeon

Dem : 38%
GOP : 39%
DTS : 18%

Obama's performance (margin / vote):
+1.1% / 49.5%

2008 results
Jackie Conaway : 42.2%
McKeon : 57.8%

The Congressman:
I can't really freak out about Buck McKeon. He doesn't jump to mind when I think of GOP Congressmen who give me the willies. Nonetheless, he is staunchly conservative. He's a member of the Republican Study Committee, he's LDS, and he stands by the obnoxious drilling-for-more-oil-is-an-alternative energy policy. That last one's especially curious since the district he represents has some of the country's best solar and wind resources, but zero oil and natural gas.

Oh well. I'm sure he has his reasons.

CA-25 is one of California's big weird districts where a conservative suburban area is attached to a vast rural region. Rural voters are all conservative, right? Whatever, I'm not driving all the way to Bridgeport to find out. But for CA-25 that grueling six hour excursion could make the difference.

View Larger Map

Unlike the other Obama Eight districts, CA-25 is not a red district. The registration margin has halved since just last November (Swing State Project has the raw numbers). The GOP's advantage is now only a little more than one percent, so let me repeat myself:

CA-25 is not a red district.

In CA-25, the northernmost edge of the SoCal megalopolis is combined with its winter hinterland, Mammoth Lakes. Obama's mediocre showing and McKeon's strong win make this look like a safe seat. Obama did okay in the Santa Clarita Valley, or SCV, and only narrowly lost in the High Desert, but he took a 10 pt. thumping in Inyo County, pulling down his margin. When the Dem registration actually catches up next summer, however, that will be the local meme. Every time Buck McKeon or his prospective challengers get mentioned in the news, it will be along side some boilerplate about how the district recently became purple.

The Dems:

This is where it gets heavy. Bob and Jackie Conaway are a husband and wife team from Barstow who have been going after Buck McKeon for over a decade. In 2008, it was Jackie's turn to take a shot and she raised $5,800 for her campaign. The online record of her effort is basically non-existent. At this time no one, not even the Conaways, have declared for 2010.

The bright spot is that there seems to be a good base of Democratic organization all across the district. That organization was working hard to get Obama elected and I suppose they deserve credit for making CA-25 one of the Obama Eight. There are several groups in the SCV and CSU Northridge is in the next district over. The Mojave Desert Dems in Barstow have recently gotten onto Facebook – good for them.

And up Highway 395 is the Owens River Democratic Club. They are a consolidation of the Inyo and Mono Counties' Dem communities, and their website is well put together. I recommend their blog, which will give you a good sense of the rebellious temperament of liberal mountain folk. For example, there's this prescient post from way back in October:
Dems Badly Misreading Public Mood on Bailout

The Democratic leadership, Obama, Reid, and Pelosi, are badly misreading the public mood on the bailout. Never have I seen the American people so united in outrage over a proposal. This is sadly reminiscent of the vote on the Iraq war and Kerry's spineless defense that he would have done "everything differently".

This is a phenomenal opportunity to show real leadership, limit the power of investment banks and put forward a real progressive agenda. Obama is playing not to lose and has left a huge opening for the republicans to put forward a populist bill.

Those who love wildlife will note that the Full-Throated Eastern Sierra Democrat shares its territory with the bighorn sheep, and like the bighorn, it is a stubborn, unique specimen.

The Outlook:
The situation in CA-25 is curious and frustrating. It's only 2,000 Democrats away from being a purple, 36% Hispanic district represented by an arch-conservative. How is that not a recipe for victory? I'm tempted to berate the Dems of L.A. County and for not sending assistance up I-5, but in this case, the locals need to do it themselves. It seems that they know each other and they hold regular meetings but they need to move on from the Obamamania. Coordination across such a vast district is tough so candidate recruitment is likely tepid if it exists at all. A smart web presence can fix that. Still, from the outside looking in, it's hard to determine what's going on.

Oh, and $5,800 dollars is barely more than two max donations for a Congressional campaign. Just two! That is not acceptable.

Some mix of Dem registration drives, party apparatus development, and improved performance in the suburban areas could put a candidate over the top. David Dayen sums up the challenge:
There is certainly a profile of a Democratic candidate that could attract serious votes out here. But that person does not yet exist.

Remember, this is an on-going project, so leave a comment or email with any suggestions or tips!

I don't want to harp on the earmarks thing but, like Gallegly, Buck McKeon is a conservative Republican who ♥ earmarks. Why isn't this being used more? This is the perfect wedge issue; they made it. It's like a murder mystery where the victim is a swordsmith killed by his own masterpiece.

"Eastern California is too Republican."

I'd like to draw you a picture.

Sometimes in California, everything beyond the fog is written off as "too Republican" to be contested by Dems. I would like to refute this. Certainly, Republicans do well in the Sierra, where they enjoy a large registration advantage, but the real picture is more complex. There are opportunities in them thar hills.

As you can see, eastern California is not a crimson wasteland. Obama did well for himself across the region (and, just across the border, he won Reno, too). In CA-4, Charlie Brown did even better!

Placer County is a great example: in a county that is 50% Republican, Obama did quite well from Auburn up. That pattern repeats itself elsewhere in the Sierra, creating 'pockets' of Dem sympathy in otherwise hostile territory.

I wanted to create this map before getting to the CA-3 and CA-25 posts for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, this is not an incontestable region. Second, I believe a sense of momentum is necessary to have any success in these and other Obama Eight districts. Building momentum requires starting from a base and working outward, and even in unfriendly terrain there are places from which momentum can be built.

Unfortunately, the Sierra is just the low-population rural area attached to several districts. 80% of CA-3's voters are in Sacramento County and most of the voters of CA-25 are all the way down in L.A. County. In close elections, though, marginal areas can't be neglected. Certainly not those that show promise...

The Quest for Individualism

A blogger named arvan has written an interesting outline, promoted on DailyKos, of the ever-perilous society vs. individual debate within the context of gender and sexuality identity.

You may not agree with everything written there – I know I don't – but please do go read the full post. (Read 'thru' or 'over' the obvious vitriol, if you can.) There's a lot to process here, but we'll divide it into its two constituent debates:
  1. the role of social constructs in demarcating identity
  2. the emergence of individualism under liberal democracy

Sex, Gender, Sexuality: The Snipe Hunt of Identity

This post is on a website, sexgenderbody, dedicated to sexual identity, so it should be excused for its narrow focus. We, however, should not be. Sex, gender, and sexuality are profoundly important frames we use to categorize different identities, but they are not the only ones and, dependent on circumstances, not the most important. Ethnicity, race, age, nationality, and class are all frequently used. Ideologies, whether political, theological, ethical, or economic in nature, can also be used.

One aspect of identity that greatly intrigues me is the problem of geographic identity and its apparent scaleability. For example, when asked, "Where are you from?" my answer changes dependent on my current geographic location and my perception of the interlocutor's own geographic identity. For example, in Europe I might answer "the United States," but in California I might answer, "Sacramento." And if the answer elicits a knowing response, like widened eyes, I might follow up with, "Are you from NorCal?" If the interlocutor is, I might scale my answer down even further and answer, "I'm from Elk Grove." I predict that this dynamic is universal among humans but very unique between them. No two people have exactly the same geographic identity.

Do any of those other forms of identity cited above also exhibit such scaleability? That we cannot answer here yet, but I wanted to demonstrate the vast, almost incomprehensible complexity of identity problems, and sex, gender, and sexuality identity problems are especially vexing.

For something that seems so fundamental to ourselves and the societies we inhabit, it's actually a very young area of study. Sex, or the biologically motivated identity, is of course the earliest identified. The oldest known piece of artwork is a venus, a representation of the female form, provocatively simple in design. But our biology is determined by our genes, hormones, and proteins, chemical components we've only been scientifically aware of for a century. Our understanding of how they work is incomplete.

Gender, meanwhile, is a newer concept that engages the social and psychological parameters where sex leaves off. Transsexuality, when a person's gender and sex expressions don't match, is a common topic, but fashion and costume are really where it's at. In most cultures, including our own, we express our gender largely through our clothing. Our gender may, in turn, be influenced by clothing in a sort of chicken-and-egg dilemma (i.e. Which came first, the tomboy or the clothes she wears?).

And, of course, sexuality is the most talked about identity today, particularly among liberal and progressive audiences. While our sex and gender may have some interaction with other people, sexuality is actually determined by our relations to (or with?) other people. Being gay, straight, or bi all require someone else, who comes with their own sex and gender identity dynamics, exponentially complicating the mechanism described above. Asexuality, abstinence, and virginity are determined oppositionally to those other identities by the absence of another person. They are often left out of identity discussions. (Note that the site's poll, which asks visitors to describe their current relationship, features the option "Other," but not 'None.')

Here's the thrust of arvan's thesis regarding such matters,
Most of us employ a mixture of group identity terms as self identity. We use language, which we did not invent, to describe who we are. Often, we did not even choose the words we use (i.e. fat, skinny, smart, gay, man, woman, tall...and so on). Labels, judgments, names, terms - all consisting of language.

It is society, in this model, that decides how 'best' or fully to recognize someone and define them.

And I find this model to be accurate and compelling. I agree that we, as self-actualized independent persons, primarily build our identities using ready-made building blocks provided by society. All the better to fit in. arvan, however, goes a little further,
The words we speak and print are substitutes for things that we use to communicate. The words 'gay' or 'straight' are not people. Each of us is our own self, made up of different atomic mass, independently operating, existing and thinking. We don't even look or sound the same from one person to the next, based on differing values and sensory perceptions. 'Gay' or 'straight' mean different things to different people and they mean different things simply if the label is applied after or before two people meet for the first time.

Okay, I'm not going wade into a Derridean debate about the obfuscatory nature of language. I will, however, offer this point of contention: if the socially constructed labels people use to create their own identities are "substitutes," then there is no such thing as individuality, at least not after the act of identification. That is, individuality is an inexpressible paradox.

Enlightened Individuals and Benighted Asses: Democracy Leading to Self-determination

Here's where arvan lets loose with the political invectives, peppering the conversation with "bush/cheney," "swelling the ranks of poverty," and a helpful headshot of that lovable Nazi doofus, Sgt. Schultz,
The dynamic between self identity and group identity is mirrored in the competition between self-determination and herd/mob behavior. This struggle has been in the mainstrstream conversation for over 200 years, because it played out in the struggle for democracy and liberty in the United States.
A bit U.S.-centric perhaps, but not necessarily incorrect. arvan continues,
For [their] time, the [Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights] were revolutionary. Everyone's frame of mind was in the collective...parish, village, family, clan, tribe, kingdom and so on. They took group definitions 'out onto the skinny branches' where they were dangerously close to being more about the individual than the group - by asserting that in some ways the group must recognize the individual.

As arvan showed above, group-created factors permit individuals to self-identify, and they then do so with gusto. In this case, society wrote documents permitting the process to begin. arvan wants this to continue and apparently for good reason,
The hive-mind or herd-mind can be inefficient, dishonest and manipulative. The herd-mind behavior is assumed to be a coordinate effort by many to achieve a common goal. Even if the coordination is merely a reliance on tradition and allegedly proven ways of success and the common good. The messaging of herd-mind labels and definitions of who people are and what they should be doing, comes from religion, government, advertising, entertainment and corporate culture settings. Dress this way, speak this way, think this way...and so on.


The model of an individual naming one's own self in one's own terms is not a common one - until now. What has been needed is for individuals to stop defining themselves on the group's terms.
(Emphasis is mine.)

To be fair to arvan, I am making the argument seem more extreme than it is. In truth arvan's calling for dialogue and moderation between society and the individual. I can't ignore, however, that the argument requires a rather rude juxtaposition. The danger of socially motivated action is described as the "herd-mind" or the "hive-mind," terms equating the behavior to that of beasts, and lowly beasts at that like wildebeest and bumblebees. The behavior is also described as a mob mentality, aligning it with the self-evident evil of the Bush Administration, the indeterminate crises of "Somalia, Ethiopia, India, Burma, China, Darfur" (One of those is not a sovereign nation-state!), and the absurd stupidity of the aforementioned comedic foil from Hogan's Heroes.

arvan tho sees hope on the horizon,
Social media is a playground for creating new identities on the fly. People are practicing the craft, the thought process, the experience, the creativity and the rewards of creating themselves in their own image - for their own reasons. Web presences in various formats abound with new ones being created daily, from pictures, email addresses, names, avatars, moving characters, sounds and operational / functional creations each serving as a new identity.
Bonus points to the first reader who correctly guesses the origin of my blogging alias, Packherd!

Now, arvan's got a point. Online activity has indeed given us a lot of leeway in our self-identification, although that freedom of movement is a bit illusory. It mostly comes about due to perceived anonymity, and when that anonymity is violated or limited, the self-identification goes with it. The Internet White Knight, for example, is a phenomenon of one anonymous person coming to the defense of other anonymous persons being antagonized in an online forum, like the commenter who chastises other commenters for being too harsh. The moniker implies that the person could or would never be so brazen or chauvanistic IRL. Besides, the Internet White Knight may be of no-account anyway: can a person be attacked or injured when they're anonymous?

Conclusion: the Resiliency of Groups

The question remains: what are the consequences for our democratic society? The authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were all male, all White, all educated, and mostly slaveholding. As individuals, they shared little in common with us today. Their handiwork was nonetheless engrossed under the pretense of comprehensive, democratic legitimacy. (The signers of the Declaration were duly appointed by their colonies' constituent assemblies; the Bill of Rights were amended to the Constitution by the States' legislatures.) They were creationed by society, not a gathering of individuals.

That society has been having this debate since before it declared its independence. (And the current 'independence' of the United States predates the current 'self-identity' of the United States by more than a century.) In fact, the original debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists had nothing to do with individuality. They were debating the proper size of the society; its propriety was not questioned.

Nevertheless, the inherent equality of men, rather than nations, is affirmed in the Declaration, and the Bill of Rights enumerates mostly individual rights. American federalism has never been a hierarchical debate only about the relative strengths of the central and state governments. It is a duel between the Federal and State authorities over which has precedence in securing the liberty of individuals. Consider the Civil Rights movement which set the Federal government's task of protecting the liberty of minorities against the Southern States' resistance against their counterparts' interference in local matters.

Still, its all groups against groups.

arvan's ultimate synthesis of the two debates about identity and self-determination is wobbly:
Neither a society of only individuals or only the group can be viable. There needs to exist a middle ground, where the health of the group and the individual are both supported. Throughout history, the balance of power was tilted toward the group.


Sex-positive groups, blogs and other social meeting points are a place for individuals to practice this new craft of individuals existing in their own terms as a healthy group that can sustain itself and its members. It is a very exciting time that we live in. We are watching the birth of a society built upon the strength of individual identity.

That such institutions will provide the "balance of power" arvan seeks is doubtful. Considering the fragility and complexities of self-identification it is unlikely that it could become so effective as to alter democracy's agenda of social defense. Even the venerable clause "all men are created equal" is a universalization of the colonists' collective thirst for liberty, subsuming the individual into the biggest group of all: Everybody.