Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Politics

The Immense Political Insight of The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving

Were you fortunate enough to see The Land Before Time III? The direct-to-video sequel to the original Land Before Time came out on VHS in late 1995. I re-watched it recently, and I think it has better political commentary than most of what I’ve read over the past couple months. Here’s why.

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A Left Critique of the Current Protests

There are a number of problems with the strategy of the current protest movement. No one seems to be writing about these problems. This is not to say that no one can see them. Many folks have reservations, but stay silent in the hope that the protests will succeed. Others see the problems but fear that pointing them out will attract hostility from fanatics on the internet. The problem is that the strategy is not just sub-optimal–it is counterproductive. It is going to blow up in our faces, and the sooner we face up to that, the better. Here’s why.

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Coronavirus, Rioting, and the Privatization of Morality

A short while ago, we were making political demands on our states, of various kinds. Some of us wanted our governments to do more to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Some of us wanted our governments to provide more aid, more economic stimulus. But over the last few weeks, we stopped making political demands. We started looking at each other. As governments began re-opening their economies, they tried to make it our responsibility to stop the virus. You are supposed to social distance. You are supposed to wear a mask. In most places, none of this is required by law. In those jurisdictions where the advice has been incorporated into the law, it’s only nominally enforced. But you’re supposed to feel a moral obligation to do these things, and if you don’t do them people will shame you. They’ll yell at you, and maybe they’ll try to use social media to get you fired from your job. The guidelines aren’t enforced by the state–they’re enforced by the people around you. The state doesn’t take responsibility for this informal interpersonal coercion, but it tacitly encourages it. When we’re fighting with each other about whether we should wear masks, we aren’t making demands on the state. If we’re all too busy playing police officer with each other, we won’t have the bandwidth to hold the government to account.

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The Quarantine is Failing because Our Institutions Weren’t Built For It

All around us, the quarantine is beginning to die. In the United States, the Southern states are slowly abandoning it and many Midwestern states are planning to follow. But it’s not just Republicans. The European states are bailing too. If you ask Democrats why states are beginning to defect, they will tell you it comes down to greed and stupidity. They’ll tell you the rich Republicans are greedy and the poor Republicans are stupid. But this policy was never a good fit for either the American or European political systems. To work, it needed a lot of economic support from regional authorities, and it never got that support.

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The Left Must Stop Helping the Right Racialize the Concept of Citizenship

There are many lovely political concepts that have been distorted by the right. “Citizenship” is one such concept. Increasingly, the right hides behind it. Accuse the right of caring only about people of one ethnicity, race, religion, or culture, and the right will answer that it’s interested in protecting citizens, regardless of background. Of course, if you ask the right what makes someone deserving of citizenship, the right will often argue for jus sanguinis, the idea that citizenship is a matter of blood heritage. When citizenship is about blood, it becomes a thin cover for ethnic nationalism.

Unfortunately, the left has largely responded to this by simply dismissing all appeals to citizenship as ethno-nationalist, racist, or white supremacist. Instead of fighting to stop the right from appropriating the concept, the left has simply conceded it to them. This means that whenever right wing politicians argue about the importance of defending American citizens, all the left can do is shout “racism!” at them. Increasingly, the left calls for “open borders”, arguing that citizenship doesn’t matter at all. This concedes far too much to the right. The right is advancing a very poor conception of citizenship, and we are able to offer something much more compelling, if we merely try. Here, let me show you.

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