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Join the conversation! There are now 17 comments on this chapter's page 63. Leaders: Dignity, Virtue, Reverence. What are your thoughts?
  1. Perhaps “gravitas” instead of “dignity”?

    There really are two distinct concepts: the kind of “dignity” and “respect” that we (should?) get automatically just by being sentient, sapient, or human (rights?), and the kind of “dignity” and “respect” that we earn by being virtuous and meritorious (privileges?). Using the same word for both concepts leads to people talking past each other (e.g. panel 9 above).

    So, a one-to-one correspondence between “virtue” and “influence”? In the Senate? The United States Senate? in 2020? Seriously?

    I will repeat my objection yet again: this is a nice Just-So Story, but is it true? Or is this just the evo-psych process of retrojecting your personal preferences on history to give them unearned legitimacy?

    • As for this all being a Kiplingesque “Just So” story, it would have been a lot shorter and easier if I’d gone that route! But as I’ve said before, this is all coming from the latest research I can get my hands on. You’re absolutely going to get original ideas, maybe even cockamamie ideas, from me as we near the end of this history of government. But until then all I’m doing is summarizing the work of many people far smarter than me. (Hopefully, when I do present my own ideas, readers will by then see that they’re at least based on real science and history, and I’m not just pulling them out of various parts of my anatomy.)

      As for whether anything is true? Heck if I know. All I can say is, these seem to be the explanations best supported by the evidence we have thus far. Some of what we’ll be covering has been well-settled since perhaps the mid-19th Century, and some of it has been discovered in the past few years. But all of it — the anthropology, neuroscience, genetic analysis, even the history and government theory — are all fields of active research, and I read about new discoveries every week, sometimes daily. I’d like nothing better than to learn I need to revise something!

      As for the virtue and influence, yes, your cynicism is noted. That was my reaction, too. And yet, the data seem to support it. And the more I think about it, about them being equals who do need the support of their peers, the more the findings sound about right. Even senators are people, after all. Some are nasty, but most aren’t.

      As for gravitas, I did consider using that word, but it’s got heavy historical connotations I think I’ll be needing on an upcoming page. And dignity does seem to encompass more of the virtues we’re discussing, so it strikes me as more accurate. Any wordsmiths out there have a suggestion?

      I agree that there is a problem with people talking past each other. That’s one of the reasons why I take my time to approach topics with baby steps when that’s a risk. At least we’ll have a common starting point so we can disagree with clarity.

      But I also would (well, I do) suggest that the concepts of dignity and respect associated with human rights are a very recent invention. I want to make it clear that such concepts did not exist in the neolithic world, which (along with the bronze age and iron age and even the classical period) are utterly alien worlds to us now. I want it to be jarring, to make readers sit up and say “that can’t be right. That’s not my experience!”

      • But as I’ve said before, this is all coming from the latest research I can get my hands on.

        You know I’m an academic. You’ve chosen not to supply citations, but when I don’t see citations, I remain skeptical. I tend to look at every paper I read as a brief from opposing counsel. Nothing personal, but my first tendency is to try and poke holes in the story. Hard to do without citations.

      • But I also would (well, I do) suggest that the concepts of dignity and respect associated with human rights are a very recent invention. I want to make it clear that such concepts did not exist in the neolithic world, which (along with the bronze age and iron age and even the classical period) are utterly alien worlds to us now. I want it to be jarring, to make readers sit up and say “that can’t be right. That’s not my experience!”

        Stipulated. But you are communicating with 21st century WEIRDos. We read “dignity” and “respect” as being, at least in some sense, associated with human rights. When I’m trying to communicate to my students economic concepts that intersect and subvert social norms, I go out of my way to define and use jargon. I despise the trend in economics to embed normative conclusions in descriptive (and sometimes speculative) theories.

        • So you would prefer a running caveat that the people in the time being discussed might not have the same concept of dignity, respect, or other opinions of folks that 21st century people have?

        • Charisma is a big deal, but we’re going to have to wait for society to get a little more complex before any narcissists can survive long enough to make a difference. But boy howdy, once that happens…

          I’m getting ahead of myself.

      • This is interesting. I know that there isn’t a long jump (on a Stone Age time scale) from the development of farming to the point where someone invents the social technology of using force to compel cooperation with the dominant group. AKA the birth of State and her big freaking hammer. But apparently this part still comes first!

      • We know from the theory of relativity that there is no objective past, present, or future, only earlier than, during, or later than. So the argument fails because it implicitly assumes that past, present, and future are real. Even if they were real, the conclusion doesn’t actually follow from the premise. Its true that all your sensations are in your brain. But your memories are also in your brain. So if you want to argue that the past is inaccessible to us, then you need to explain what privileges sensations over memories epistemically.

      • The U.S. Senate is not a representative sample of the United States population. So there is no guarantee that findings about them can be generalized to the rest of country, let alone the rest of the human race.

    • Are you saying that they were virtuous people who couldn’t get people to support their bills, or that they were assholes who nevertheless had lots of cosponsors to their bills?

      Either way, outliers don’t debunk the data. And I think my other observations explain much of what might otherwise be considered an exception.

      Look at Hillary Clinton, for example. She was widely considered, on both sides of the aisle, to be a scheming manipulative opportunist whose only principle was getting power, keeping it, and wielding it against anyone who stood in her way. She exhibited none of the virtues that attract co-sponsors, and most of the vices that drive them away. Yet, on the 363 bills she sponsored, she managed to get rack up 1,559 cosponsors, 276 (17.7%) of which were Republicans.

      Clinton herself says it was because she was great at getting along with both sides of the aisle. “I think you can go back and look at the record that I compiled by working with practically every Republican I served with.”

      One may be tempted to think there was a mix of opportunism and fear of retaliation at work here. After all, the media “played nice” with her and she could command $200,000 a pop in speaking fees, so long as she was a viable source of “access” to power; all of which dried up practically overnight after she lost to Trump, of all people. Politicians are no less motivated by such access. And there are oh so many rumors of her utter vindictiveness when someone got in her way (perhaps a few may even have a grain of truth, who knows?).

      But if you look at the data, her cosponsor figures look less and less impressive.

      Of the 363 bills she sponsored, a whopping 3 got enacted. One made Kate Mullaney’s home in Troy, NY a National Historic Site (she led the first women’s labor union). One renamed a post office on state route 43 in Averill Park, NY as the “Major George Quamo Post Office Building.” The third renamed a section of Rte 20A passing through Orchard Park, NY as the “Timothy J. Russert Highway.” These were not exactly accomplishments requiring a lot of effort to get buy-in.

      When it comes to crossing the aisle, she only got a Republican co-sponsor on 93 of her bills. That’s only about 1/4 of them. Most of those were the same guy. She only got 2 or more Republican co-sponsors 44 times (12%). 5 or more 15 times (4%, barely even statistically significant). And 10 or more Republican co-sponsors only 6 times (1.6%, utterly negligible). It’s hard to say from these numbers that she was any good at “working with” the other side. Instead, the numbers show that Republicans were almost never inclined to put their name on something she proposed. And a lot of those bills were fairly innocuous—it wasn’t that they opposed the ideas so much as they opposed her.

      But maybe that’s just our polarizing partisan politics at play there. Surely her fellow Democrats were far more willing to put their name next to hers.

      Of her 363 bills, she couldn’t get a single senator—from either side—to co-sponsor 105 of them. That’s almost 30%. She couldn’t get buy-in even from the other New York senator, which is generally supposed to be a given. She only got one co-sponsor 74 times—and many times it was that one Republican, not even a Democrat, backing her up. She only got 10 or more Democrats to co-sponsor a bill 34 times. That’s not even 10% of the time.

      Surely her fellow Democrats weren’t snubbing her because of partisan politics. And surely few of them were ideologically opposed to her proposals. But she could barely get Democrats to support her.

      In other words, even her ostensibly impressive numbers actually fall right in line with the researchers’ findings: the more a senator is perceived to be virtuous, the more senators of either party will line up to support her; while the more vice-ous one seems, the less support even from one’s own party.

      One last thing: I didn’t know Teddy Kennedy personally, but I’m close to people who did from the 1980s on, and from all I hear he was a real mensch. I’ll leave the data mining for him and for Jesse Helms as an extra-credit exercise for the class.

        • Oh be quiet, Dan. If I took the time to crunch all those numbers and gather all that data to support my argument, and the response I got back was “You’re still generalizing; give me harder data”, I don’t think I could help feeling at least a little bit offended.

          It makes me wonder exactly how much of this chapter of the comic was part of the original plan, and how much of it was in response to the audience’s criticism. The internet is an amazing place, and thanks to Mr. Burney and everyone else who contributes to its awesome wonder. But it’s quite a new paradigm we live in, where ongoing digital feedback compels creators to make changes and adjustments on the fly as content is being created. (Quintessential example: the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie.) Perhaps if it weren’t for the ongoing commentary inspiring further reviews, additions, and adjustments from Mr. Burney, this section on Constitutional Law would already be finished.

  2. I’m reminded of a John Kenneth Galbraith quote;

    “… the deep desire of politicians, Democrats in particular, for respectability—their need to show that they are individuals of sound confidence-inspiring judgment. And what is the test of respectability? It is, broadly whether speech and action are consistent with the comfort and well-being of the people of property and position. A radical is anyone who causes discomfort or otherwise offends such interests. Thus, in our politics, we test even liberals by their conservatism.”

    I think it’s important to remember that the politicians often consider themselves equal amongst themselves, and not amongst the people they lead. And a lot of the politicians that do genuinely want what’s best for most people exhibit qualities that make them ‘lesser’ in that context – sanctiomonious, moralizing, utopian, naive and uncompromising.

    Principles can be as much of an antisocial quality as anything else listed here.

    This is more of a political journalism and science bent, but I think you’d really appreciate;

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