(With a long diversion about the idea that some voters are more normal than others and a very silly notion about making the white folks in Alabama feel bad. )
The blogger Mike The Mad Biologist—a biologist and a Marxist—is one of my favorite antagonists. Everyday he posts 4 or 5 great science links, usually at least one I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, along with 10 to 20 non-science links to mostly politics articles from the BernieBro/Marxist/leftists school typified by Jacobin and The Baffler.
Mike’s posts would languish unread in my RSS reader app NewsBlur like Robert Reich’s do if it were just the lefty political links. There are only so many ways you can call Democrats stupid for not embracing a campaign strategy of vocally supporting unions while calling for higher taxes to pay for welfare programs. The repetitiveness is not just boring, it’s tiresome as Democrats are calling for higher taxes to pay for welfare programs and they do vote for legislation to protect and expand unions when they can. But white union members think welfare goes to lazy black people, so it doesn’t really work to loudly support welfare and unions.
What really makes Mike’s blog fascinating to me is my conviction that to understand politics we need to stop listening to Marxists and start listening to biologists. Mike is both! Arguing that he should abandon the contradiction helps me clarify my thoughts.
The other day he posted the following link and parenthetical comment:
The Doug Jones Victory Belongs to the People of Alabama, Not Just African-Americans (bad title, good post)
In a second, I’ll get to the part about how the linked blog post uses Newtonian thinking in trying to understand the Darwinian phenomenon of human political behavior. First, though, is how freaking stupid it is even on its own Newtonian terms.
The post is by Benjamin Studebaker, an American working on a poli sci PhD at Cambridge in England. He argues that it is wrong to say that “Black people saved the day in Alabama by electing Doug Jones to the Senate.”
I agree with this general statement. When a terrible candidate has molested children, voters should reject him. In Alabama, they did. What’s the problem? The problem is that in America, the word “voters” generally means “white voters.” A win that relies on non-white voters is exotic. This is what Bill Clinton meant after Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary:
South Carolina, 2008: Bill Clinton's worst moment on the trail came on January 26, 2008, as South Carolinians headed to the polls for their hotly contested primary. Obama and Hillary Clinton had split the first two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, but polls showed the Palmetto State leaning strongly toward the young Illinois senator.
Asked by a reporter, "What does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?" Clinton, who had been up and down the trail in South Carolina, responded by calling the question "bait," then saying, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."
Many observers believed Clinton meant to suggest that an Obama victory in the state should be dismissed because it was just another black candidate winning with the support of the African-American community. Jackson did it twice, while still failing to win the nomination.
"The only possible reason for invoking Jackson's name was to telegraph the following message: Barack Obama is black, so if a lot of black people decide to vote for him -- doubtless out of racial solidarity -- it doesn't really mean squat," Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote in the aftermath.
Obama won by 28 points in South Carolina, and kept on winning, while Clinton was left trying to explain what he'd meant.
Does Studebaker, like me, disagree with Bill Clinton’s slight of black voters? No, quite the opposite. Studebaker’s is concerned that giving black people credit for turning out in record numbers for Doug Jones will hurt the feelings of the white voters who did the same:
How do we think we make the 30% of white Alabamans who did vote for the Democrat feel when we give all the credit for the Jones victory to African-Americans?
Is Studebaker really that stupid? He removes all doubt when he says on behalf of poor whites in Alabama:
Alabama has gotten a bad deal from our government for a long time. It’s much poorer than rich coastal blue states like New York–its median household income is more than a fifth lower [bar graph showing lower median income in Alabama vs New York].
It’s not just because of Alabama’s large African-American population, either. Both New York and Alabama are more than 70% white, and the difference holds even when we look at white families alone [bar graph showing lower median income among whites in Alabama vs New York].
What the actual fuck? This man is getting a PhD at Cambridge and he’s this fucking ignorant? Our government let Alabama down? Our government? Our government, the Federal Government, taxes Massachusetts and California and ships the money to Alabama. But for our government spending billions and billions of dollars in Huntsville alone, Alabama would be El Salvador! What a fucking moron!
The government that has let down the people of Alabama is the god damn Alabama state government! They don’t tax the rich in the state, they don’t protect workers, they don’t educate their people, they don’t provide for their healthcare and, as a direct result, the people of Alabama are poor.
Back To The Newtonian vs Darwinian Thing
Studebaker’s post contains a good example of what I mean by “using Newtonian metaphors to understand Darwinian reality.” Notice the billiard ball chain of causation here:
We should say it’s because the Democratic Party failed to win them over–it’s the job of campaigns and parties to win votes, not the job of the people to give their votes over on a platter. This is a basic mistake about the relationship between the political class and the people.
Imagine trying to understand an ecosystem using this kind of reasoning:
It is a mistake to say the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone brought back the trees such as cottwoods and willows. Plants are dependent on the sun and the soil. The class of animals is dependent on plants for food, not the other way around.
The truth about wolves and trees is here.