Personality, Perception, and Political Prognosis

I’ve been re-reading Trotsky’s three volume History of the Russian Revolution. In chapter IV and chapter VI he gets into the personality of the Czar and the Czarina in a discussion of how much of the personality of a leader is accidental, and how much is determined by circumstances: in particular, the circumstances of the leader of a class doomed to extinction. In this context, he makes some comparisons of the traits of Czar Nicholas II, Louis XVI, and Charles I, as well as of their respective wives. The similarities are striking.

No doubt, those who consider personality to be supra-historical will conclude that it was exactly these “accidental” characteristics that caused the fall of the monarchy in each case; I’ll leave that for the discussion, or for someone else. What I want to mention are some of the specifics.

In brief: A complete disconnection from their subjects, a general apathy, a tendency to surround themselves by mediocirty combined with a contempt for anyone competent. In all three cases, there are reports of light-mindedness, and indecision; of being easily swayed by those mediocrates (I just made that word up) with whom they associated. “Tranquility and ‘gaiety’ in difficult moments…deprived of imagination and creative force…envious hostility toward everything gifted and significant…lacking firmness of character…a passive, patient, but vindictive treachery…” And in the case of all three wives, an even deeper isolation from the masses, and a love of the trappings of power. “…scorned the people, could not endure the thought of concessions…”

Okay, so, here’s the thing: We aren’t going to know until the exposes begin to appear after his presidency is over, but insofar as we can know, do these things strike anyone as familiar? No, Bush’s wife never said, “Let them eat cake,”* but his mother made an awfully similar sounding comment about the Louisiana refugees in Texas after Katrina. Look at some of the hints of Bush’s personality that leak out occasionally, and tell me if they don’t seem terribly familiar.

*Yes, I know Marie Antoinette never actually said that. The point is, the story spread because in every-one’s perception at the time, saying that was exactly in character for her.

Prejudice, thy name is Steve

He was big, looked to be between 45-50, had a typical Texas drawl and a rodeo belt buckle.  He was in Reesa’s store buying a tatoo for his wife, and I was hanging around and keeping Reesa company.  He looked at me as I walked in and said, “Do I know you from somewhere?”  “Can’t think where,” I said.  “You look familiar.  Are you an actor?”  “No, but I’m told I look a bit like Alan Rickman.”  “Maybe that’s it.”  He didn’t seem convinced.

I didn’t ask if he read sf, or read at all.  He just wasn’t the type.

After about half an hour, I got really disgusted with myself for believing there was a “type” who read, and thinking that a Texas drawl and a rodeo belt buckle meant he didn’t read.  I went back out.  “Uh, do you read?”  “All the time.”  “Science fiction and fantasy?”  “Mostly science fiction.  I thrive on it.”  “Oh.  Uh, I’m sorry.  You may have been me on the back cover a book.”  “Oh yeah?  What have you written.”  “Jhereg?”  “No.”  “To Reign in Hell?”  “No.”  “Dzur?”  “Damn!  You wrote Dzur?  I’ve got that!  It’s on my stack…”

So, yeah, anyway, I apologized for prejudging him, and he was very gracious about it, and we talked about favorite writers for a while.  Cool guy, Texas drawl and rodeo belt buckle and all.

Let this be a lesson to me.

Question for Libertarians

Note the capital “L.” I mean those who support the Libertarian Party, or Randites, or “Rational Anarchists” ala Heinlein, or, as Patrick says, those who want to sell the streets and privatize meat inspection.

This isn’t an effort at argument (though no doubt one will ensue), but a request for information. I’m wondering what the canonical answer is to the charge that without state control, nothing would prevent child labor, and similar abuses. It’s an obvious enough question that I’m sure it’s come up. If someone could run it down for me I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Obama's Mistake

There is an episode of “The West Wing,” I think from season 3, where there’s an exchange something like this: “Why is this such a big deal?” “Because it’s the classic Washington mistake: he accidentally told the truth.”

No, I am certainly no supporter of Obama. But I think the WSWS analysis that I linked to on the sidebar is spot on–he’s in trouble because a little piece of truth accidentally slipped out. This does nothing to raise my opinion of him, but the flap created by it is certainly another confirmation of what we all knew about US politics.

There are probably more conclusions one could draw from this. Call this thread an invitation for anyone who feels like drawing conclusions.