"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are We Really A Polarized Nation?

From my ‘progressive’ friends I always get the same off-kilter liberal screeds with links to MoveOn.org and other bleeding heart sites.  They love Rachel Madow, hate Rush Limbaugh, fawn over Bill Moyers and have their own pantheon of media heroes.  My conservative friends are no different, and prefer Fox News and the many websites which preach the coming apocalypse and the Obama Armageddon.  People have settled in to comfortable political niches, and while they are always irritable, irate, and incessantly hectoring about states rights or abortion rights, gun ownership or violence against women, they are not about to change their opinions.

Most people made up their minds about the Presidential election long before the first debate; few cared, finally, about Romney or Obama but about the political agenda that each proposed.  Few voters had the patience or ability to carefully analyze the candidates’ speeches, writings, and intellectual and political history to be able to verify their public statements and to predict what they would actually do once the dust from the campaign had settled.

Most voters spent the campaign confirming what they already believed.  Romney was the lackey of big banks, fat capitalists, monarchists, and captains of industry; the enemy of women, gays, the poor, and ‘people of color’.  Obama was a Socialist who was out to dismantle free enterprise, trample on individual rights and liberties, deprive hardworking Americans of their jobs, their guns, and their dogs. Rush Limbaugh knew that if any liberals were listening to him it was because they wanted an adrenaline rush to get the hatred levels back up to where they were – not to learn anything about conservative politics.  Bill Maher knew that he could toss red meat to his liberal audience by savaging the conservative guests who ventured on the show.  In other words, no one wanted or intended to learn anything new, just to consolidate what they already felt and if anything, to get reenergized for the long haul of the campaign.

It is not surprising that there were few swing voters in the election; nor that there were hardened positions on the Left and the Right.  Nor were there any surprises in the outcome if one only paid attention to Nate Silver and the data.

In an article by Molly Ball in The Atlantic (2.28.13) reviewing a recent article by Morris Fiorina, a political scientist, she dismisses the idea of polarity, partisanship, political divisions, and feels that the pundits were wrong to focus on divisiveness.  We are not so much of a divided nation, she claims.  Only the ‘experts’ think so.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As Fiorina points out, the percentage of Americans who call themselves "moderate" is the same as it was in the 1970s (the American National Election Studies survey has put it at between 20 and 30 percent since 1972). Nor are we more divided when it comes to issues. In the words of a 2012 Pew study, "The way that the public thinks about poverty, opportunity, business, unions, religion, civic duty, foreign affairs, and many other subjects is, to a large extent, the same today as in 1987. The values that unified Americans 25 years ago remain areas of consensus today, while the values that evenly divide the nation remain split." The commonplace idea that Americans today are irrevocably divided into politically extreme camps just isn't the case.

The focus on ‘moderates’ is disingenuous.  It doesn’t matter that the percentage of this group has not changed in forty years.  What matters is that those in Left or Right camps have become more hardened, inflexible, insistent, and impervious to opposing arguments.  What Americans thought about religion in 1970 is most definitely not what we think about today after four decades of the rise of fundamentalism and the Religious Right, the blurring of lines between Church and State and politics and religion.  Nearly half the country espouses fundamental beliefs which govern the way they look at women’s rights, a liberal issue but one dominated by the fight over abortion; family values, a conservative issue about the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of the nuclear family, but dominated by gay rights; and individual liberties, an issue with a profoundly religious center dating from the Enlightenment views of the Founding Fathers. 

Attitudes towards business have hardened as well as income inequality has increased since 1970; and since the regulatory environment on Wall Street and corporate America was drastically altered in the Reagan years of the 80s.  ‘Common values’ which might have had promise for uniting America forty years ago – community, faith, family, enterprise – have become politicized.  The role of the community is cast within the framework of individual responsibility, entitlement, and government interventionist programs. While America is one of the most religious countries on earth, there is little that unifies our faith, and the divide between fundamentalists and ‘progressive’ Unitarians or Episcopalians is vast. 

We have ‘sorted’ ourselves says Ball.  We are not so much partisan as logical organizers.  The Republican and Democratic party are now monolithic, and there are few if any Southern Democrats and or liberal Republicans, so our choices are clear but not polarized.  If only this were true.  One only needs to look at the Tea Party firebrands of the Republican Party and the never-say-die liberals of the Democrats to see that the increasingly polarized views represented in Washington mirror those in the hinterlands.  We and our representatives are on the same page.  We hate with the same intensity.

As a corollary, Ball says that we wouldn’t be so sorted or polarized if we had more choice, and she points to Ross Perot and how he attracted so many disaffected Americans.  No doubt, for as the Republican primaries showed, a lot of Americans wanted some of the most outrageously incendiary and far-out candidates the country could unearth.  If we had a parliamentary system like Italy, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have a Beppe Grillo, except that instead of being funny, he would be a demonic half-preacher, half snake-oil salesman. What’s the point? The two party system has a lot to say for itself given Italian gridlock, or Bangladeshi gridlock for that matter, and we are unlikely to change it.

Ball then turns to Independents, and suggests that there are really such people; and if there are, it proves that we are really not so partisan as others have suggested.  I don’t know any real Independents, and I suspect that they have affixed this wishy-washy label to their political shirts because of some intellectual pretense.  There is such a dramatic, profound, and fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, that it is just about impossible to view a campaign with open eyes, ears, and mind. 

Ball concludes that ‘division’ is overstated and suggests that given the nearly equal distribution of Republican and Democratic votes in the election (47 to 51), most people aren’t too particular:

Many people (as many as ever) are not strongly partisan, and might like both candidates almost equally, but in the voting booth, they have only two choices, and will choose the one they prefer, however slightly

I think this is far from the truth.  I think that voting in the booth was determined long before November 6th.  Most people went behind the curtain, checked the box, yanked the lever, got an ‘I Voted’ sticker and went to the office.  What data support this last minute, “Well, they’re both really OK guys” indecision?

America is very definitely partisan, and you only have to live in an extremely partisan part of the country (the Deep South in my case) for a short time to see how reasonable, dispassionate, patient, and tolerant political dialogue is about as common as a bull with teats.  Time to get out of Washington, Ms. Ball.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Southern Hatred For The Federal Government–History, Religion, and Social Conservatism

I am staying in a part of the country which is very suspicious of the Federal Government.  The Deep South in many ways is still living the legacy of the loss of the Confederacy, the rigors of Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era.  Most Northerners impatiently say ‘Get over it’. Slavery and Southern rebellion caused the War; Federal dominion over a defeated land was necessary to consolidate victory, to reconfigure regional society and politics and to assure that the South would indeed never rise again; and the National Guard was necessary to force integration on a bitterly racist and persistently rebellious region.

From the South’s perspective, what they saw as their legitimate claims to states’ rights were abridged or nullified (even Lincoln was aware that he was on shaky Constitutional grounds), Reconstruction was a corrupt land-grab by carpetbaggers and an ignorant rush to Negro sovereignty.  It is understandable that a white backlash occurred, that the Ku Klux Klan rose to prominence, and that a burning hostility towards the North and its federal government was rekindled in the 1960s.  Once again, Southerners say, the Federal Government of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson – no different from that of Lincoln – used military force to resolve serious regional issues.  We have reason to suspect the Federal Government, many Southerners say. They can never be trusted.

Federal reforms, however, were never enough to change 200 years of Southern history and tradition.  The South was still deeply rural in its outlook, still far more socially stratified than the North, and deeply, profoundly racist.  Tenant farming replaced slavery, and although blacks had more rights than they did before the War, the relationship between plantation owner and laborer remained very much the same.  White aristocratic society reconstituted itself, and a concerted social and political effort was made to rebuild the South as the unique alternative to Northern industrialism.  For a hundred years until 1965 the South remained the Old South minus slavery; and only with the passage of the first Civil Rights Act did a real Federal challenge come.

The period from 1965 to the present was one of slow growth and social progress.  Mississippi and Alabama have been two of the poorest states in the Union with the worst social indicators.  De facto segregation and racism persist, and if anything, the hostility towards ‘Washington’ has gotten worse.  It has been hard for many in the South to accept that a black man is President of the United States, and this has undoubtedly been a principal reason for the increasingly virulent hatred of the Federal Government.  Conspiracy theories abound here and many focus on the illegitimacy of Obama, his supposed African, Socialist roots, and his defiance of true American values.

Mississippi and Alabama are two of the most politically conservative states in the Union, one of the most socially and religiously conservative, and one of the most fundamentalist.  A staggering number of residents (far more than the already high national average) reject evolution, adopt a strict Constructionist view of the Bible, and believe in the coming of Christ within their generation.  Taken together, Southern history and Southern profound social, political, and religious conservatism make a heady anti-federal brew – and a totally illogical one.

There were many analyses of the American electorate after the Presidential election last year, and most concluded that the country was more divided than it ever had been.  We were divided politically – red and blue states were deep in hue and unlikely to moderate or change.  We were divided by urban-rural geography, income, race, and ethnicity.  What was never mentioned was the fundamental divide in America today – that between logic and illogic – or put another way, between rational analysis and belief. As many as sixty percent of Christians in America consider themselves fundamentalists, thus giving the Bible and religious teaching primacy and priority over logical exegesis. “How do I know?”, says the famous country song, “The Bible tells me so”; and intellectual inquiry stops there.

If over 50 percent of Americans reject Evolution and espouse Creationism – that is to willfully ignore a fossil record – is it so surprising that an untold number of conspiracy theories abound? How hard is it for an economically and socially marginalized white Southerner, still bitter and angry about Southern defeats, discouraged about Southern poverty, and hyper-sensitive to persistent Northern stereotypes of ‘cracker’, ‘redneck’, and ‘poor white trash’ to turn his suspicions to Washington and their malevolent schemes?  Not hard at all.

In fact, it is easier for a disaffected Southerner to turn his anger towards a target – Obama – than to logically consider the facts.  Why not assume that the failed states of the South and their stagnant socio-economic systems are the result of ‘Government’ now headed by a Black Nationalist, Socialist traitor?  It is simpler to lay blame elsewhere than to look inward and address the many problems that have held states, counties, and municipalities in a state of perpetual stagnation.

Perhaps the most surprising phenomenon at all is the hatred for the federal government by those who benefit from it and in fact rely on it.  While it is certainly true that the rich have perhaps benefitted more than the poor from government subsidies, programs, and supports, low-income earners are living on the margins and could not survive without government safety nets.  I have met many enterprising, defiantly independent Southerners who are one pitfall away from falling off their precarious tightrope. One illness, one accident, one Act of God, and their carefully but fragilely-constructed life will be finished. 

However, the classic and often reviled social programs like Medicaid and Public Assistance (Welfare, ADC, Food Stamps) are a drop in the bucket compared to the vast array of federal investments in transportation, energy, housing, mining, and agriculture which directly and indirectly benefit most Americans.  Most programs are so taken for granted that they are forgotten.  FDIC, for example, insures savings deposits so that families cannot be wiped out in the case of bank failure.  Although the institution was established in response to The Great Depression, events of the past five years have been a pungent reminder of how relevant the FDIC is today.  The FDA provides the American consumer with the certainty that pharmaceuticals are produced according to high standards, are safe and unadulterated; and that claims are legitimate.  The CDC tracks disease and epidemics and provides assistance in the detection, prevention, and treatment of disease.

Mortgage interest payments are deductible expenses on federal income tax.  Federal block grants to states allow them to make necessary investments in infrastructure and public services for which they do not have the revenues.  The list is endless.

So why is it that so many Southerners vilify the federal government and see it as evil and out to destroy the country? Can the region’s painful history, its fundamentalism, poor education, and insularity be the only reasons?  Something is missing when so many people willingly suspend rational judgment, and fall into a miasma of irrationality and emotional conviction.

I have written extensively on conspiracy theories (http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/10/conspiracy-theories.html) and have summarized the various schools of thought which seek to explain them.  Some observers have concluded that it is a result of psychopathology:

The paranoid style, Hofstadter argued, was a result of ‘uncommonly angry minds’, whose judgment was somehow ‘distorted’. Following this vein, some scholars came to view conspiracy theories as a product of psychopathology, such as extreme paranoia, delusional ideation or narcissism… In this view, the delusional aspect of conspiratorial beliefs was thought to result in an incapacity for social or political action.

Others have felt they were more a result of social pathology:

A belief in conspiracy theories is more likely to emerge among those who feel powerless, disadvantaged or voiceless, especially in the face of catastrophe. To use a contemporary example, believing that the 7/7 London bombings were perpetrated by the British or Israeli governments may be a means of making sense of turbulent social or political phenomena.

At the very least and most benign is the possibility that conspiracy theories are the result of inadequate information, insufficient education to search for and discover rational answers, and social insularity.  If one lives in a small Southern town or rural area, contact with homosexuals, feminists, atheists, Pro-Choice adherents, or far left political progressives will be limited. Distortions will therefore be the norm.  Gays are out to corrupt and convert the young; feminists dedicated to destroying the traditional American family; progressives (i.e. Socialists and Communists) are out to dismantle the capitalist, democratic system.

The scariest part of all, however, is that once one subscribes to one illogical conspiracy theory, it becomes easier to believe others.  Once you believe that Obama is not an American but an African, then it is not hard to believe that he was influenced by Nyerere socialism; and if you believe that, the jump to believing he is a Black Nationalist sympathizer is easy.

I was not prepared for the fiery, irrational hatred of anything even slightly left of center in the South; and have never got used to hearing such an impassioned, militant hatred of Washington.  There is much to dislike about the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the press corps; but they are acting according to predictable human and political nature and necessity.  There is nothing manipulatively evil about the men and women in power.  If anything they are overly greedy, venal, and ignorant; and not even capable of putting together an international conspiracy.

I think I have understood why people feel as strongly as they do, and why they subscribe to such outlandish political, social, and economic theories; but I think I have had enough.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Conspiracy Theories - Little Green Men

I am friends with the former police chief of a small town in Alabama who told me that the strangest case he ever encountered was the one he named ‘The Conspiracy Theorist’.  Denzel Mackey ran Bride & Groom, a specialty shop catering to the across-the-tracks trade, and stocking clothing not much different from any of the thrift stores in town.  A lot more white lace and shiny tuxedos, but the cheap crinoline and cardboard-stiff formal jackets were not far from the quality of the ten dollar three-piece suits and faded housedresses on the racks at Lorman Home’s outlet. 

Denzel had owned and operated the store for twenty years and had bought it when the town had been prosperous – not exactly booming, but doing well enough with the paper mill, community college, and state police training center.  In those days all the retail spaces were filled with gift shops, restaurants, stationery stores, barbers, and law offices, people still preferred to shop downtown than in the soulless malls on 50 out towards the airport.  There was no longer a butcher, grocer, or florist in town – these had long ago had ceded ground to the supermarkets and chains along the highway; but when Mackey decided to invest in the downtown location, things looked pretty good.

He, like the remaining downtown proprietors, was not so sure any more.  The theory was that the renovated apartments above the retail would generate the commercial demand that would lead to a revitalized economic center, but judging by the low-end spenders who frequented the shops on Main Street, the end of downtown was coming soon.

No one really knows how conspiracy theories or who starts them.  There are hundreds if not thousands of such theories out there, many of which are reasonable enough to attract otherwise normal citizens who are simply disaffected with Washington, the powers that be, corporations, the environmental lobby, gay rights activists, or politically correct educators.  These loyal but angry Americans have not gone off the deep end, still have their marbles, but believe passionately that they have been betrayed, left behind, and marginalized.

My cousin’s husband started in on illegal Mexicans a few years back.  In his opinion they were not just a drain on public resources – which they were -  but were a pestilential virus that was oozing, creeping, crawling, across the border and would soon take over California, the United States, and our way of life.  His premise was sound – that illegal immigration strained public resources and that the current stop-and-deport program was not working – but the extension of that initial reasoning into the netherworld of illogical hysteria was not.  These wetbacks, greasers, and spics were responsible for the degradation of American (white, Protestant) values, depreciated American culture (English), sucked tax dollars out of hardworking native-born Americans, and were all in all a blight on society and a pernicious, insidious force of destruction. 

When he got started on illegal Mexicans he went apoplectic – he spat, foamed at the mouth, went alternatively red and blanched white, got a crazed look on his face, a demented about-to-go-postal manic ferocity which lasted until his rage was spent.

I call him part of the illogical center, and nowhere near the fringes of conspiracy theorists.  At least he started from a reasonable point of view which was quickly distorted by his rage and antipathy.  The conspiracy theorists, however, are very calm, collected, and organized in the exposition of their ideas.  For example, I met a man in Mississippi who told me that he was a writer, and that his current project was to investigate the side effects of fluoridation.  I immediately engaged him, saying that my hometown in Connecticut had been one of the first to fluoridate their water, and if there were any slow maturing negative side effects I wanted to know about them. Was I at greater risk from cancer? Would I go progressively blind? Would my grandchildren be born with genetic defects?

No, he said, nothing like that.  “But you are a liberal, aren’t you?”  I didn’t put two and two together and replied that at least compared to Mississippi I definitely was.  “It is because of the water”, he said and explained that the Soviets had learned from the Nazis that fluoride was a potent chemical that could addle the brain in one particular way – it made you more susceptible to Communist propaganda.  It was no surprise that I was liberal, he said, because my water had been fluoridated in the 50s.  It was surprising, however, that I appeared so moderate in my views, nothing like Obama and his claque of ‘progressive’ sycophants who were out to destroy the country.

Now, according to my friend, the police chief, this was still within the realm of the sane.  There had always been questions about the possible side effects of fluoridation on bone density, kidney function, and a number of other physiological aspects of the human body, so it was not illogical to expand the inquiry to other areas, such as mental function and psychology.  Add to that already potent cocktail the invasive power of government which, after all, engineered the whole fluoridation effort, and you have a conspiracy theory.

“I don’t have a problem with these wackos”, said the police chief.  “Nor with the millions of people who believe that Obama is a black nationalist, African socialist, traitorous usurper, and Destroyer of Democracy.”

I added that I was getting a bit worried with the rise of wackos who believe that homosexuals have banded together with environmentalists and United Nations operatives who, using subterfuge, foreign operatives, disaffected ex-mujahidin, Jews, and the Rockefeller banks are setting up a gay caliphate as autocratic as any Islamic republic.  Once the gays come to power, they will enforce buggery, ban heterosexual marriage, dismantle the private sector, and force everyone to learn the Bible from a Sapphic and Lambda Rising perspective.

“That ain’t nothing” growled the police chief,  “Wait ‘till you get a load of this”.  He went on to tell how the mild-mannered Denzel Mackey went off the rails.  He started with the Obama birther thing, moved on to the Washington socialist conspiracy, branched out to include the Trilateral Commission and the international Jewish conspiracy, internationalist plotters, and Norwegian Socialists.  “That still was OK”, said the chief, “But when he went extra-terrestrial, I began to worry”.

Apparently Mackey had fallen under the influence of the Roswell 500. These conspiracy theorists were not content to ascribe the progressive deterioration of American values to human beings – the political, economic, and social holocaust that was in the making was far beyond anything that ordinary people could engineer, so there had to be a higher power responsible.  They told about the super-sized figure drawings in Nazca, Peru which could only be recognized as human representations if seen from on high, for example, from an airplane. That is, there had to be some extra-terrestrial civilization which had come to Earth, sent us a signal, and were now finally acting on it.  The Nazca figures were a warning which we never heeded, and now was the time to pay for our ignorance.

Once again, the police chief gave a tolerant nod of understanding to the process of the addling of poor Denzel’s mind.  In his view, the jump from human depredation and subterfuge to the intervention of an alien power was not illogical.  If one thought that what was happening was cataclysmic and apocalyptic, there was every reason to believe that it was caused by higher, more powerful forces.

“Remember the original movie War of the Worlds where the aliens came down to earth in spider-like pods that spewed fire and destruction?  This is what Denzel began to worry about.”

It didn’t end here, however.  The Obama Administration and its socialist, gay lackeys had concluded a deal with the aliens to scorch the earth and rid it of all conservative, God-fearing, Bible-believing, patriotic Americans. What would be left would be a grand Universal Socialism, a neo-Marxist idyll that would include all beings known and yet-to-be discovered. 

“Have you seen Arnold in the Terminator movies?  OK, then you get an idea of what Denzel Mackey was thinking about when he started to stockpile AK-47s, grenade launchers, Glocks, Uzis, and bazookas.  He would be John Connor and he would fight the alien invader and save the world.

“Believe it or not”, added the chief, “In his mind the aliens were actually large green lizards, not too different from the ‘gators down here.  They controlled the death rays in the pods through thought control, and when the killing was over, they would slither down inflatable slides and feast on the charred remains of the human race.”

Here the police chief stopped his story and started laughing.  “If his arsenal wasn’t so fucking military”, he growled; “And if he wasn’t so fucking scary, the made-for-television movie would have played to millions of households all over the South”.

“How did you catch him?”, I  asked.

“He gave himself away by putting up ten huge satellite dishes on his roof. They were so heavy that the top of his shithole cracker rambler started to cave in.  He installed prison-quality lights on a high chain-link fence around his property, and bought five mature Dobermans to police the perimeter.  We put together a SWAT team, bust in on him at 3am, and found enough weapons to arm the Contras.

“His house was typical wacko, unhinged muthafucka. He had just about every right-wing, Tea Party, extremist screed that ever appeared on the Internet pasted on the wall.  His desk was piled high with posters, CDs, and pamphlets all warning about the coming Alien/Socialist invasion.  Each pile was topped with 16-round assault rifle magazines, 12-gauge shotgun shells, pistols, revolvers, and shillelaghs to keep the papers in place in case he opened a window and the wind blew in.

“Over the entranceway was a huge picture of a 20ft ‘gator, mouth open ready to snap shut on its prey.  It was big, real, and scary.  This is what that motherfucker dreamt about”

I know the world is going to end sometime, and I have to rely on science fiction and American conspiracy theorists to suggest to me how.  I guess being incinerated then eaten by 20ft. green lizards that look like our swamp ‘gators is as good a way as any.

Don’t Settle For Less

Robert Goodin published On Settling, a book about the natural human tendency to settle for position, money, acquisitions rather than strive for higher attainment or achievement.  Cass Sunstein has written a review in The Atlantic (2.25.13) commenting on this tendency, and its many personal, social, and economic aspects. Sunstein is particularly exercised by the now-popular phrase, “It is what it is” – in his mind a smug but defeatist sentiment that diminishes human enterprise and ambition.  He goes on to summarize Goodin’s discussion of the many aspects of settling, both good and bad, but comes down resolutely on the side of doing something; and in that he is archetypically American:
By moving on to other concerns [other than settling], we make striving possible. Goodin rightly says that settling is not always resignation, but he does not deny what is obviously true, which is that it is often exactly that. True, no human life can do without resignation. We have to resign ourselves to that fact. But there’s a matter of when, and how, and with what attitude. Goodin’s wise book doesn’t embrace the awful phrase, but I think that it would have been even better if it had devoted more space to exploring what is dark and dreary, and not on the side of life, about the very idea of settling.
However much Sunstein finds something depressing, dark, and dreary about the whole notion of settling, it has very noble roots.  Both Buddhism and Hinduism are based on the principle of acceptance – there is no point in striving, for the world itself is illusion, and one will only be deceived and ultimately dissatisfied by the vain, hopeless, and unnecessarily fatiguing struggle for progress, gain, and achievement.  The only way to attain enlightenment is through an understanding that the wheel of life turns perpetually through the mud of miseries, false promises, and deceptions of the world, and that man’s only real purpose is to get off.

Image result for images buddha

Indians have often been criticized by Westerners, especially striving Americans, for their a priori acceptance of things the way they are.  Indians, we say, accept the undemocratic consignment of individuals to the prison of caste, and ignore poverty, inequality and misery because they are are personal affairs, reflecting individual karma.  They are therefore settlers of the worst kind. 

Image result for images dancing shiva statue

From an Indian perspective, this is far from the truth and a distortion and misinterpretation of Hinduism.  For Hindus, since the world is only illusion, and since striving within it is meaningless, the rigid structure and social and personal discipline prescribed in the Upanishads are ways of eliminating the noise of a spiritually polluted environment, allowing the individual to focus on progressive personal enlightenment. The goal of life is spiritual, not material as it is for Americans.
Stoicism, although a secular philosophy, was very similar in its understanding of the world and the universe:
The Stoic ethic espouses a deterministic perspective; in regard to those who lack Stoic virtue, Cleanthes once opined that the wicked man is "like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes." A Stoic of virtue, by contrast, would amend his will to suit the world and remain, in the words of Epictetus, "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy," thus positing a "completely autonomous" individual will, and at the same time a universe that is "a rigidly deterministic single whole." (Wikipedia)
 Image result for images epictetus

This ‘settling’ for a universe which is ‘a rigidly deterministic single whole’, enables the individual to control his passions and emotions, for there is no point in struggling against this powerful and unstoppable tide:
Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (logos). A primary aspect of Stoicism involves improving the individual's ethical and moral well-being: "Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with Nature."This principle also applies to the realm of interpersonal relationships; "to be free from anger, envy, and jealousy” (Wikipedia)
Islam is a ‘settling’ religion for its principal tenet is submission to God. Some Christian sects like our very own Calvinists believed in predestination, and that one had to settle for the cards that God dealt.  Other sects were far more individualistic and robust in their thinking about the relationship between Man and God, but all followed the edict, “It is God’s will”.  These religions teach that only God knows all, determines all, and is responsible for all; and that we must follow His way – all others are illusory and ultimately unrewarding. Even the treacly aphorism stuck on a million refrigerator doors -  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” – encapsulates in popular wisdom the preeminence of God and the acknowledgment that “It is the way it is”.

Image result for images john calvin

No one lives only in a philosophical universe, and except for a few sadhus high in the Himalayas who have renounced the material world, most of us have chosen to live a life of contradictions.  As much as we believe that the world is illusory, meaningless, and perpetual; we must make real-life decisions which require action. Which kind of bread should I buy? Is it time to trade in the clunker? Should I finally tell her I love her?  And once we start down that slippery slope, striving is not far ahead.  It is not enough to choose between Wonder bread and Pepperidge Farm; we must have the finest, stone-ground, organic, locally produced and baked bread; and such purchases take money for which we have to set goals, work hard, employ all our intellectual social talents, and earn a lot.  And when we strive and are disappointed, we realize that we should have been more stoic or Hindu.

There is a great Don Williams country song which expresses our very American desire for the best:
I've been loved by the best
I can't settle now for less,
Why bother with the rest
Baby, I've been to the top, I guess,
With you I have been blessed
I won't take nothin' less,
I've been loved by the best.
 Image result for images don williams singer

In the world of business as well in that of love, we should strive for the very best and never settle for less.

Goodin’s book – or at least Sunstein’s accounting of it gets very boring, very predictable, very quickly:
Goodin contends that settling, understood in terms of fixity, has a number of virtues. First, it helps to promote planning and agency. One advantage of a proper settlement is that it produces not merely an end but also a secure one. If we are in the midst of a fight, we might well hope to settle, because fights are ugly and potentially dangerous. Being “unsettled” is “worse than merely being “uncertain”—it is a sort of stultifying uncertainty,” one that “stymies your planning.”
Nothing much new here. Settling is as much a part of human activity as any other guiding principle.  Man is an economic animal, said Marx, and all human contracts are governed by the principles of supply and demand.  Whether legal contracts or marital tiffs about household chores, parties constantly jockey for position and if not dominance, then parity.  Settling, or better put, negotiation, is part of the transaction.  If you cannot get your way, which is always first and foremost, then, despite the words of wisdom from Don Williams, you settle for less.

Image result for images karl marx

There is even less new in the observation that we all like to be settled or settled down.  If we were always in a maelstrom of striving, change, and uncertainty, we all would be driven mad in a very short time indeed.  Although we do not all want a little English garden, tea in the afternoon, and a brisk, rainy walk in the downs; most of us want something familiar, some comfort food, and a loving touch.

Goodin goes on to talk about the relationship between settling and trust – a settled life allows us to take the measure of someone before we trust him; and then to talk of the organizational power of settling.  We need to have our life organized and settled so that we can move on to bigger and better things than deciding on brands of bread. There is a scene in the remake of the movie The Fly with Jeff Goldblum.  When his girlfriend chides him for never changing his clothes, he is surprised, and says he changes them every day. “But you wear the same thing every day”, his girlfriend replies. At this point Goldblum throws open his wardrobe to show a rack of neatly arranged identical jackets and pants.  Very Hindu.

Image result for images jeff goldblum the fly

A bit more interesting is Goodin’s consideration of economics and how settling can be the smartest market choice; but as one can see from the following, his observations are mundane and unsurprising:
To decide whether to settle, people should assess the potential outcomes and their various probabilities. If you have an excellent chance of doing a lot better, you probably ought not to settle. And in making these judgments, you will be alert not only to the matter at hand, but to the range of decisions that you are facing, and hence to whether a decision to settle will make it easier to focus on more pressing matters.
“Search theory” and “Option value”, and the “Precautionary principle” add only a bit of spice and rigor to an otherwise prosaic treatment of the economic aspects of negotiated risk.

From Sunstein’s review, it seems hard to believe that anyone would spend the $24.95 to discover what most of us already know.  Perhaps Goodin does discuss religion and philosophy somewhere in the book, but Sunstein does not refer to them.  I would far rather read about Epictetus, the Vedanta, and especially Nietzsche who had some might impressive things to say about the settling herd.  Perhaps in another book.