Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Coffee Party

it seems there may be some hope for the political process in the USA
in the face of rich people trying to weaken government by tying to get dumb people elected (the Tea Party), some clever people have formed the Coffee Party.
The coffee party supports stong government and civil discussion and engagement.Wake up and smell the coffee.

If Byron is right about the prospect of societal collapse, we are going to have to get a lot better at encouraging discussion if we are to avoid craziness


byron smith said...

Collapse is a technical term for a society moving fairly rapidly (in decades) and irreversibly to a lower level of complexity.

What it doesn't mean (or likely doesn't mean) is Mad Max in a couple of years. More likely is something closer to Children of Men: increasing desperation and despair, economic decline (though still with periods of growth) and increasing geopolitical instability. "Bumpiness" is how I'm now talking about it.

Coffee won't get you through it. Might need something a little stronger...

byron smith said...

NB Not the actual storyline of Children of Men, obviously, but the background mood.

Mike W said...

ok, bumpiness. And yes, the coffee wont be enough. But I still think groundswell movements that encourage patience and discussion and government are better than some other beverage based movements.

Mike W said...

i really didn't like children of men. It felt like a collection of cut scenes from a video game

byron smith said...

The premise of CoM was largely unexplained, the foreground predictable and fairly uninteresting, but the tone of the background was somewhat unusual and so interesting in that they were showing a world that will still functioning (at least in the UK), but with little or no hope. That tone is I think a better illustration of what we may well be heading towards than either Star Trek or Mad Max, which have each taken root in the imagination of various sections of society (or rather, express our dreams and nightmares but which are actually both largely distractions).

byron smith said...

And yes, while I'm all for rationality and moderation, a moderation movement is much harder to get going than one based on fear and visceral anger. It also has the problem of wanting to pay some kind of attention to the truth rather than convenient caricatures.

matt steele said...

I love the idea of the Coffee Party! I feel out of my depth commenting here but am reading Mcfadyen's, The Call to Personhood and have been struck by the way he works out his relational conception of personhood in the political realm. On the back of many important insights into the nature of undistorted relations, he talks about how to test political legitmacy in terms of rule which engages its subjects in genuine (truthful, sincere, aimed at nutual understanding, not manipulative etc) dialogue as subjects of communication. 'Political rule that is faithful to God is to engage the rational participation of persons as communicative subjects.' (208) It seems that the kind of political power you're critiquing is often aimed at shutting down genuine conversation and engagement rather than aiming for a genuine mutuality of understanding. Let's pray the coffee party is able to stimulate a more genuine conversation rather than simply providing a dismissive, self-righteous, divisive voice for those on the Left!
Matt Steele

Mike W said...

@ Matt.
Blimey, if you are reading McFadyen then you are no way out of your depth! (I like your summary too) that is a tough book.

I hope it is a genuine discussion point too. It is interesting that the founder of the movement critiqued people at the first meetings for 'hating republicans'. I think there was even a move by some people to remove her, but she managed to stay on.

@Byron, sorry about the convenient caricatures

byron smith said...

Matt - I second Mike's comment that you are not out of your depth. You might have felt that because I dragged the conversation in a sideways direction based on Mike's final paragraph, which was not the main point of his post (sorry!). That book sounds like a very relevant contribution. Does he make any reference to Habermas? It sounds like he might have some common concerns (though Habermas is a secular thinker trying to articulate the conditions of rational public discourse).

Mike - I didn't mean that you were engaging in convenient caricatures, but that the Tea Party does (Obama is a Nazi and/or socialist; all taxation is theft; climate policy that pays attention to science is a hoax/scam; and so on). Your comment about the founder of the Coffee Party is telling. Hatred and irrationality are not confined to one side of politics (though currently in the US, it is important to note that there is more anti-rational extremism coming from the point where libertarian and conservative overlap at the moment).

matt steele said...

It certainly is a tough book - the kind of thing I could spend a life time coming back to one paragraph at a time. But I can't pretend it's the kind of thing I read for fun - doing an MA at MTC and have to review the book for Theological Anthropology.

@Byron - No, I don't think McFadyen makes mention of Habermas and I'm not familiar with his work so I can't really comment on any similarities.

But can you say a bit more about 'the point where libertarian and conservative overlap'?

@Mike - have just stumbled across your blog recently but am loving it. Keep it up!

Mike W said...

I think McFadyen does use Habermas a bit but starts off from a psychological point.
He makes interesting use of Bonhoeffers 'Christ mediating the other' stuff too.
It is worth reading. I just wish he had a stricter editor.

@matt, good to have you here, though I probably should say gday on Monday ; )

byron smith said...

Well, libertarianism is not the same as conservatism. Both groups generally prefer what is known as small government (at least in theory, though I believe the period during which the US government grew the fastest was under Reagan, whose championing of "small government" still continues to largely define the discourse of the the right in the US, but that's another story).

But they differ considerably on social matters, where libertarians think liberty should rule as much as possible, while conservatives believe that traditional moral codes ought not to be changed lightly or quickly lest we end up with something worse. So, for example, on questions such as pornography, homosexual marriage or illicit drugs, a libertarian would be more likely to support increasing legalisation while a conservative would oppose this.

Libertarianism has rarely gained widespread popular support.

However, the rise of the Tea Party brings together some of the countries leading funders of libertarian causes (the billionaire Koch brothers, for instance) with elements of the traditional conservative populist base, and has generated a new level of visceral hatred in its discourse concerning taxation and anything to do with the government. In effect, libertarian prejudices about the benevolence of business and the nefariousness of government have co-opted the conservative base. While thoughtful conservatives share similar assumptions, they are more willing to evaluate them in the light of possible damage to the social fabric. Or at least, that used to be the case amongst true conservatives, who would be willing to note and oppose the ways that certain excesses of big business undermine aspects of moral society.

So what I think you get in the Tea Party is funding from ideological libertarians for a populist movement that blends libertarian economics with reactionary conservative moralism (and xenophobia).

If I had to sum up this congruence of libertarianism and conservatism in two words, I would say Glenn Beck.

byron smith said...

"Some of the countries" => "Some of the country's"

matt steele said...

@Mike. Thx for the correction re Habermas - I can't believe I didn't pick up on that. I was being lazy skimming through those quotes and not following the footnotes through to the back of the book to see who he was quoting. (ps: I won't be in class today - man cold). @Byron - I was totally wrong - there are 17 mentions of Habermas in the index! So no wonder it sounded similar.

@byron - thx for those insights into libertarianism cf. conservatism.

I find it hard not to be self righteous in response to the American political scene. A friend of mine has just finished at Westminster Theol. Seminary and couldn't believe the heat and fear that Obama's health care reforms produced with regard to increasing state involvement/control.

However, just reading in SMH today that Bob Brown's first priority is to address the Euthanasia legislation (which comes as somewhat of a surprise to me - I imagined he might start with the environment) so I guess we may be facing some interesting political challenges of our own.

Mike Bull said...


"The Obama presidency is both the high watermark, and the beginning of the end, for elite multicultural materialism in America."

Tea Party Has Elites On The Run

Mike Bull said...

I'll try that link again...

Tea Party Has Elites on the Run

byron smith said...

Not sure I buy the claims that the Tea Party doesn't have significant racist elements (vox pops and signs may not always give a representative sample, but they show that such an aspect is far from absent).

Nor that the town hall meetings were merely about citizens demanding answers (people brought rifles to many of the meetings and it has been documented that many of the meetings included significant numbers of paid workers for astroturf organisations with deliberate strategies to disrupt the meetings).

"imaginary right-wing violence" - who is he kidding? How many racist or other hate crimes from right wing extremists were committed over the last few years? Of course they are not the only source of such crimes, but to call them imaginary is simply silly.

I guess the bottom line is: you're aware the author is executive VP of the largest independently owned PR firm in the world? Who has helped tobacco companies fight regulation, worked to help big oil companies greenwash their image, with massive factory farming firms, big pharmacy, and so on? Whose job is to spin for rich and powerful organisations to make their plutocratic power more palatable?

I'm not a huge fan of Obama, but that piece was pure ideology from a paid shill.

Mike Bull said...


I do take his words with a grain of salt, but I also think the media has deliberately misreported the character of 99.9% of the Tea Party.

Yes there are racists on the right. But this pales in comparison to the use of the slur against anyone who dares to criticise the competence of the present administration.

Yes, there is xenophobia on the right, all the while the left deliberately ignores, excuses or misreports Islamic terrorist activity. This is woeful.

Yes, there may have been people from astroturf organisations. But it is actually the left that champions this practice. Big union money bought buses and free lunches to buy votes for Obama. Now it is big unions getting paid back as the country slips into bankruptcy.

It's looking more and more like the elites are the ones with little grip on reality. This November is certainly going to be interesting. The Republicans have their own problems, but at the least I hope it puts the skids on the idiotic policies of the narcissistic, deceitful and condescending 'community organiser.' I've done my homework and I have no respect left for him or his cronies whatsoever.

If anyone else is interested, check out the podcast at Grain of salt. Yes. But only a grain.

Mike Bull said...


Perhaps Bob Brown is currently politically limited concerning the environment.

Or... we are starting to see what his real agenda is: the implementation of the Greens' demonic social policies.

byron smith said...

I have been a repeated and public critic of Obama and his administration. I have never claimed that the left has moral superiority (see here for instance). I was simply pointing out that the article you linked to is one of the least credible sources I can imagine, making claims that are patently false.

But I'd love to know where you gain access to knowledge of the other 99.9% of the tea party.

The political system in the US is, I think, even more sclerotic than in other western democracies.

(PS Perhaps Bob Brown is currently politically limited concerning the environment.
Before he switched to spruiking euthanasia, setting up a new climate change committee was the first thing he got the ALP to agree to as part of the Greens-ALP deal. Also, just in the last couple of weeks, the Gunns pulp mill have also conceded defeat and will not be using old growth forest, thanks partially to pressure from the Greens (as well as various other sources). Brown is certainly no saint, but his record of concern for ecological responsibility is better than anyone else currently in parliament).

byron smith said...

This documentary (by an Australian) investigates the corporate funding of the Tea Party.

byron smith said...

Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about [...]. [...] In the Tea Party narrative, victory at the polls means a new American revolution, one that will "take our country back" from everyone they disapprove of. But what they don't realize is, there's a catch: This is America, and we have an entrenched oligarchical system in place that insulates us all from any meaningful political change. The Tea Party today is being pitched in the media as this great threat to the GOP; in reality, the Tea Party is the GOP." Read the rest

byron smith said...

Obviously, that previous comment should have started with a quotation mark.