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Run for office

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In 2015, John ran for the position 8 of the Seattle city council.

Ideologies (RW62)

In RW62, John responded to a listener question with an extensive essay on ideologies and the current movement of anti-intellectualism.

Liberalism (RW53)

In RW53, John explains his view on liberalism as a response to the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Agreeing on standards and international cooperations (RL109)

John had recently bought a new MacBook Air. He then wrote a magazine article on it, saved it, and when the person he wrote it for wanted it, he put it in an email and sent it to him. The person couldn't open it and John said: What do you mean? I bought a brand-new Macintosh computer and wrote the article on it. Later John realized that the computer automatically saves the document in a format that nobody else can read and you can ask it to save it as a Word file, but its native environment is to save it as a .grxy file! It's like a teenage boy: The default mode is to be unreadable by anything else and difficult to work with. So John went on the Internet complaining about why somebody would build a thing these days that isn't readable by anybody and he got a lot of huffy back-pushing from the analogy police, like "why isn't every gun firing the same cartridge". Back-pushing from people who have grown up in a world where 75 different railroad gauges is a normal way of doing business. Microsoft and Google and Apple all have different gauges of railroad. On the other hand: Every time somebody proposes a standard that everybody can read, all it does is add another unreadable standard to the pile (XKCD Comic). This situation only seems right because it is the only world you know! There were 25 different railroad gauges in 1850 (PDF). In 1986 when John went on his first trip to Europe and crossed the border from France to Spain, they would drive the train into a special terminal, lifted the entire train off it's running gear, rolled the wheels out and rolled the new wheels underneath the train while you are still on it. It's like they changed its shoes. There are still systems where every single regional railway is on it's own gauge for example mining communities, the train from Durango, Colorado up to Silverton is a narrow gauge train. But the idea of a standard shouldn't be that crazy!

This is the one thing about the rise of China that amazes John. Because they have a dictatorial system, the Chinese can impose country-wide projects and reforms. Their priorities are all over the map, but for example they are investing in coal sequestration technology and they have a nationwide will to impose it. John is increasingly finding less and less to love about the mess of democracy when you are talk about it in terms of global challenges. Global Warming has become a proxy for the capitalists and the hippies to fight. The capitalists have decided that the mess of democracy works for them in some ways. We built the Interstate Highway System and it did not imperil democracy. It was imposed from above, it was a nationwide program, people made a lot of money off of it, we didn't come out of the program as any more of an oligarchy than we were going in. But now the capitalists are afraid that if we undertake a similar effort to try and make progress on the global warming problem, it will inevitably trend towards a statist over-government because capitalism couldn't possibly survive those big projects! Instead of thinking of democracy as a way to put our smart heads together for the greater good, we are focusing on all those different voices.

It makes Merlin think of places he has worked at. For example if there is a noise ordinance, but we want to keep having parties, and we are young enough to really want a loud party, but also old enough and mature enough to understand that we have to get along with the community, then we have to govern ourself to be able to keep having parties. Maybe we can have a pretty loud party less often? Or do we really want somebody from the community show up with a noise meter every Friday night? It takes a lot of maturity to make such an immature thing as a loud party happen. Some groups when left to their own devices listen to the one voice that gets to kill the whole idea. They dive-bomb in with some kind of "think of the children" or "what about my property values" or whatever it is. Sometimes we got this increasingly melodramatic culture where it is not that difficult for these loud voices to be the ones who define the entire debate. It may have been that way forever and it's just that everybody got a megaphone and a canon now, but as a project manager Merlin would not ask anybody permission for anything, but he would offer an implementation solution that was obviously a good idea. One person who is against it is the one who decides to knock down that entire program. There were always people who stood up yelling at town meetings, there were always people who had tin foil inside their hats, and there were always people who felt that everybody was out to get them. Something has changed really dramatically because we don't gavel those people down anymore. In the 1950s the chairman of the committee rang the gavel down on his table at a certain point and they said "Let's take this to a vote, we have heard all we needed to hear", but now every single person who gets up a town meeting has got some Deely bobbers on his hat left and right. Now we threaten every official that they are going to hear about it at the next election if they adopt this imperial "we just gonna move on" way and that people will speak truth to power.

The whole intellectual left who is willing to burn down the few parts of the system that are working in order to make a point about the part of the system that wasn't working is the left side analog to the tea party. Not very long ago we were opposed to the WTO because it seemed like it was just a Clinton-era money grab, but everybody of our generation has at one time in one way or the other imagined a global economy and a global government. It was Woodrow Wilson's idea. It was the Marshall plan. It was the idea of the United Nations. We clearly need an international tribunal that can settle disputes, we don't want to keep having wars, we have to grow out of war! There have always been Rockefellers and pointy hats who said they were not going to turn over American sovereignty to some United Nations organization that is full of reds and Frenches, but what is the alternative 200 or 500 years from now? Will there still be 200 different countries with different railroad gauges bickering about who is going to get to kill Minke whales and who gets to dump their transmission fluid into the ocean? That is clearly not the future, yet in America we can not even agree between the Left coast of Washington and the right coast of Washington. The people over on the Palouse want to spend our tax money punishing girls who have had sex with their boyfriends and the people on the left coast want to legalize pot and have Granola running through the pipes into our homes. Imagine getting people to cooperate with England, France, Germany, Belgium and Spain on a larger project to cut CO2 emissions not by 10%, but by 90%! Imagine needing to cooperate with China and they want us to make some concessions, too? How would you get the American people to support a thing like that? They will argue that if we let China dictate one thing to us, we are pretty soon all going to eat chicken feet and they are not letting us have as many babies as we want!

How the critics infiltrated the system (RL109)

In John's dreams we clearly need to figure out a way to work as a planet! John hates himself for even saying that, like he is speaking in bumper stickers to Merlin. Did you ever visualize world peace?

Starting with Hegel and Nietzsche there was a splintering of what we understood to be the Western tradition. Foucault introduced the idea that we could get outside of knowledge and power, look down on them to see the relationship between them and decode and apprehend the systems of control by intellectual intervention. According to him we are being controlled by larger language systems. We could get in and tinker with them and every group could recognize the point at which the actual English language was built in such a way that had disempowered them. Our language systems that we always considered being benign or neutral were actually built as control apparatus. We need to disassemble these systems in order to achieve equality. The American project was equality before the law. As long as everybody is equal before the law, that's as good as government can do. At a certain point that wasn't true anymore, because the law was intrinsically unequal because the language it was written in was a colonial language. With the introduction of these ideas there was this splintering that everybody of us could agree on a common truth, because if everybody had their own truth, it would be war of all against all. Ultimately that's where we are. People are bickering over the word of the thing they are talking about. They can't even agree on a principle because they are arguing about what to name one another. We might not follow somebody's fantastic idea because we can't agree on why it is a good idea. Every subsequent problem follows from this shattering of what we held in common: a common understanding of the language.

Foucault, Derrida, Chomsky and others are fascinating critics and John spent many years reading them and getting blown away because he never even thought about it that way. At some point in their 20s, everybody should be lucky enough to be brutally destroyed in an argument by someone who is a really good Derrida-deconstructionist. John had such an experience in his early 20s arguing about abortion with a really informed Catholic. The person had the logic of his position very well understood and John was approaching the argument saying it is clear that the woman has a right to her body, but the other guy followed from the question: Is life sacred or is it garbage? At sometime in the 1980s, those critics stopped being interesting intellectual party favors for John, but the universities made them blueprints for a government system. We are always terrified that the right is infiltrating school boards and infiltrating zoning commissions and putting all their people in there who don't believe in evolution and all of a sudden we can't get any text books in Texas public schools because all these school boards have been colonized by the right. The left was doing exactly that years and years before: They colonized academic institutions and social service institutions. All the government institutions were being infiltrated by people who had read these critics and saw them as a framework for making public policy. As a result it seemed like a no-brainer that every sign that was posted on the wall had to be in 15 different languages. The underlying idea was that you could not effectively translate "Please do not fish off this bridge", but it had to be in all those languages because translating it was an act of oppression. It is a project of governance by comparative literature and Comp Lit is the last department you want running the state. The left introduced those ideas into local government and into congress throughout the 1980:s and 1990:s and the right took the lead: If language has this power and if everybody has a relative truth and each relative truth is of equal standing, then we are going to start using language in this way and we are going to start using our relative truth to enact the programs that we are invested in, and that is where we are right now. In this crazy land where everybody is talking about our rights all the time you can't get 5 people to agree what"right" even means! Which rights exactly? Everybody's got a new bill of rights? Where's my bill of rights?

Social sciences (RL242)

The other day John was reflecting about Noam Chomski and the deep-dive John did on him in his 20:s and his experience was that there was nothing Noam said that you could put your finger on and say: That's wrong. Everything he said conformed to John's own believes and supported his own suspicions and confirmed his vision of the world and he agreed with him all the way down. All of Noam Chomski's proofs were correct, but still from a mile high in the aggregate, he was just wrong. Anarcho-syndicalism is not the solution. In math and science, people will pursue those elegant solutions to problems, but when it turns out in the end that they were wrong, they go back to the drawing board and they are able to examine the thing that is beautiful and if it doesn't work we throw it away despite it's beauty, or we keep certain parts of it, but we acknowledge that it isn't true.

In social sciences and politics however, we can pursue these towering formations of ideas that feel true, but we don't have the technology right now to discern what the actual true answer is. So we follow those elegant solutions and those beautiful sand storms and when we apply them to the world and they don't work and they utterly fail to describe reality, we can't abandon them, because there is no control group large enough or we don't arrive at a point where we can reflect if it is working. Instead we always find excuses like "We haven't applied it enough!" or "We don't have enough funding" or similar. In this world of total subjectivity in politics and culture there is very little incentive to admit that a thing doesn't work. A theory feels so gratifying when explains everything and it is really destabilizing to abandon it.

When we started to call it "the social sciences", we were trying to use the scientific method to investigate those hard-to-proof things, but we kind of abandoned the science side of it and it is now just your conviction against my conviction and any feeling of doubt within your community is shouted down because it undermines our great struggle. We have to test things and if they don't work we have to have the courage to say that they don't work and stop making excuses that it doesn't work because of all these external factors we can't control and if we just keep applying our program that doesn't work long enough it will be shown to work as soon as we have changed every other condition.

John's friend Michael McGinn is running for mayor in Seattle (RL243)

In the 2017 mayoral race in Seattle, Mike McGinn, a good friend who helped John when he was running for city council, is running against his arch nemesis and current mayor Ed Murray, who is currently in the newspapers a lot because he is accused of sexually abusing kids back in the 80:s while he was a community activist.

Ed Murray is gay and when he was in his 30:s, he was a volunteer community activist in Portland back in the 1980:s, working with "at-risk youth". Accusations have dogged him for many years that he in the process of mentoring street kids let a couple of them live in his house and he was sexually abusing them. Back then he wasn't prominent enough to create a whisper in the press and when one of the kids went to the cops, they just brushed it under the table without pursuing it. Now during the election a few of those kids have come forward. They admit that they were hustlers, Ed Murray was acting as a father figure and he was borderline adopting them, one of the kids even took his last name. They say they loved him, but didn't want his penis in them. Those are the accusations and John has no knowledge one way or the other. The people behind this lawsuit belong to a very conservative Christian group pushing a strong agenda from a lot of different ways. One of the guys in the newspaper article had written "Jesus saves" in masking tape on his t-shirt. Ed Murray denies everything, but there are 4 guys all saying the same thing and remembering the same details independently of each other. It is very complicated and you can presume that there is something behind it, because it doesn't seem unlikely.

If you talk to anyone who was a gay teenage in the 1980:s, they will tell you that there was a culture with a very different idea of what the appropriate age of consent was. In Oregon it has been 18 for a long time, but across America it was 12 not long ago, like Ohio. Homosexual was against the law no matter how old you were. So, this idea that 18 or even 16 years old is the age of consent is an idea that has been evolving over time. The streets of Portland, Oregon during the 80:s were a dark and lawless place, the gay communities were not able to be out and proud, they had their own system and laws. If you talk to Dan Savage or to everybody in John's age who were gay in the 80:s, their experiences are incredibly varied. Many of them had mentors who were older men who showed them the way. In a heterosexual context an older man showing a young woman the way is always a little bit creepy. Merlin had several instructors in college who were dating students who were in class with him. John himself was at one time dating his guidance counselor.

Mike McGinn is profoundly against Ed Murry. He would never say it, but he is against his personality and against his policies, has been sitting on the sidelines for the last 4 years and was just jomping at it. He is a player. He wants in. The question of whether or not Mike would run against Ed is always the question of "How vulnerable is Ed?". Ed Murray is a very good politician and has shored up support from a lot of different quadrants, which is very important as John learned while running for office. Even if everybody is halfhearted about a person, if he is their best shot, they will throw everything behind him. There is no half-endorsement in politics, the only people who do that are the stranger who endorsed John's opponent by saying "this guy is kind of a creepy serial killer, but he knows policy. John Roderick is a really fun rakish exciting guy that we like a lot, but he just hasn't been in the game long enough", which is an endorsement that helps nobody. 99% of the people just pull the cheat sheet out and check the box it tells them to check. Now that Ed has to deal with this unfortunate controversy, his vulnerability caused enough of the unions to waver and to be unsure, opening up an opportunity to get in. Mike's justification is that he is going to do a better job at being major for the city than Ed is.

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