Thursday, June 16, 2016

What To Read, 6/16/16: Hillary Clinton And Sexism, Donald Trump And The Authoritarian Personality, Whole Foods And Wholeness

Today's date is neat!  6/16/16

This post is in lieu of* a proper (exciting, creative and short!) piece because of my writer's block.  It's about two longer articles, both well worth reading, and about one shorter economics piece, just to make this post into a list.

1.  First, Michael Arnovitz at the Medium gives us his thoughts about the possible role of sexism in the low approval ratings of Hillary Clinton over the ages.

As you may remember, I've asked if an otherwise identical but male clone of Hillary Clinton, with the exact same history, the same policies and the same statements, would have met with exactly the same public treatment and the same approval rates.  For the want of that guy clone we cannot tell.

But Arnovitz tries, by posting the above graph of Hillary's approval and disapproval ratings over time and by arguing that the graph shows this:

So what do we see in this data? What I see is that the public view of Hillary Clinton does not seem to be correlated to “scandals” or issues of character or whether she murdered Vince Foster. No, the one thing that seems to most negatively and consistently affect public perception of Hillary is any attempt by her to seek power. Once she actually has that power her polls go up again. But whenever she asks for it her numbers drop like a manhole cover.

What do you think about that theory?  I find it interesting.  Some years in those trend lines seem to support it, such as her improving ratings when her role was pretty much the oddly traditional one of being the long-enduring woman with the philandering husband or when she quit her presidential race against Barack Obama, thus accepting defeat.

But the earlier reaction to her announcement to run for president in 2008 appears too anemic if the public is reacting to inappropriate power grab attempts by a woman.  That, after all, is the really big attempt to seek power.

In any case, the piece is well worth reading for the historical background it offers.

2.  A second piece with a lot of historical background  is Peter Gordon's investigation of Adorno's authoritarian personality and how it might tie to the Donald Trump phenomenon.  A very short (and biased) summary of Gordon's arguments might be that the appeal of Trump-type candidates is greater for those with authoritarian personalities, but that authoritarian personalities themselves might be the creation of the societies which produce them, that the authoritarians who root for Trump might be the forerunners of the kind of people we are all turning into.

 I struggled with large chunks of that article, partly, because I'm an ignorant goddess in the intellectual fields Gordon employs, partly, because I don't believe in psychoanalysis, but also partly, because the overall thesis looks to me like a balloon that has come untethered and is slowly floating higher and higher**, until it is out of our reach for the work of explaining current events or predicting future events.

The reason why I recommend it (for anyone with slight masochistic tendencies, at least) is that it's an enjoyable intellectual read, like doing pushups with your eyeballs and that Gordon's description of how Trump does it rings true to me***.  I also agree with what Gordon says about our political debates on the Internet and on television, though with a few reservations about the range of these phenomena:

The new media forms have devolved into entertainment, and instead of critical discourse we see the spectacle of a commentariat, across the ideological spectrum, that prefers outrage over complexity and dismisses dialectical uncertainty for the narcissistic affirmation of self-consistent ideologies each of which is parceled out to its own private cable network.  Expression is displacing critique.  It should astonish us more than it does that so many people now confess to learning about the news through comedy shows, where audiences can experience their convictions only with the an ironist’s laughter. A strange phenomenon of half-belief has seized consciousness, as if ignorance were tinged with the knowingness and shame that ideology enables not actual criticism but mere thoughtlessness.  A critical public sphere would involve argument rather than irony.  But publicity today has shattered into a series of niche markets within which one swoons to ones preferred slogan and one already knows what one knows.  Name just about any political position and what sociologists call “pillarization”—or what the Frankfurt School called “ticket” thinking—will predict almost without fail a full suite of opinions. This is as true for enthusiasts in the Democratic Party as it is for the zealots who support Trump.

3.  Finally, and to round off this post, the grocery store chain Whole Foods (sometimes called the Whole Paycheck because of its steep prices) has recently been in the news for all sorts of bad business practices.

Last summer the chain in New York was accused of exaggerating the weights in some of its packaged goods, and now the Whole Foods Massachusetts plant where ready-to-eat meals are prepared for the Northeastern market was found to have bad hygienic practices.   

Given that the Whole Foods brand is all about organic and healthy and ecologically responsible foods and given that its market consists of affluent customers who are willing to pay more to get what they believe are unadulterated and safe products these revelations sound incomprehensible to the economist in me:  Like sawing off your nose to spite your face, or like trying to save pennies while millions drain down the sewer.

I can imagine no easier way to drive that whole chain to bankruptcy than to suggest that its products might not only cost most of your paycheck but also give you listeria.  


* Archaic use!  That would be my style, alas and alack.

**  Because it doesn't explain why society might be changing towards the inauthentic and authoritarian forms.  Something tied to resources, technology and/or economics seems to be necessary for the tethering of the explanations, or at least a model of the simultaneous determination of psychological personality types and societies.

***  From the article:

This, I think, is why the phenomenon of Trumpism remains so difficult to comprehend.  As Adorno recognized long ago, there is a kind of artifice to this rebellion that belongs less to what we used to call political reality than it does reality television.  It is true that Trump says outrageous things and that (as his champions might say) “he tells it like it is.”  But the strange aspect to this candor is that one cannot get over the impression that he hardly means what he says.  He is as likely to reverse his opinion the next moment and deny what he has just said.  Even those who support him will say that one shouldn’t take offense because this is just Trump being Trump.  When he “tells it like it is” the authenticity of his performance is precisely the performance of authenticity, rather than the candor of somebody who is announcing without embarrassment what everyone already thinks.  With the casual bluster of a talk-radio host, attitude displaces meaning, and the telling displaces what is told.