« Living in the Material World | Main | From the Mailbag »

February 16, 2012



The blogger doth protest too much, methinks. I get everything you are saying, but still, you cared enough to somehow know about all this crap, and you cared enough to write this post about how much you don't care; and I, who don't care either, cared enough to read it and respond. We're caught in the drain, too, and they've got our brain by the balls, to mix metaphors. I say this in a friendly, dispirited way.


Not to say, I'll add, that resistance isn't worth the effort. Once more unto the Rilke, etc., etc..


Funny that you rip Stewart, for he is a practitioner in the same satirical arts in which you are yourself dabbling in (see your above blog, for instance).

That being said, you comment on "deep states" is an interesting one -- but you've quoted it.. I am wondering, where is this source from? -- Yes, the name of the game is utilizing as many proxies as possible; I mean, look at the proxy pop shots going on over in Iran and Israel and such. Non-state sponsors keep the hands nice and clean.


Aren't you a Canadian citizen now?

John N

Another version of the "deep state" idea can be found in Jonathan Rauch's Government's End: Why Government Stopped Working (1999). He argues that entrenched interest group support for nearly every government program makes it very hard to eliminate or change any of them very substantially. Among other things, he has an intriguing discussion of how the destruction of Germany's government in WWII paved the way for its future economic successes by wiping the slate clean of interest groups.


Why not write a piece about the deep state then, and how (if at all) you think it can be changed?

More wanky musings on Rilke are, as far as their impact or import goes, no different to cracking open a family-size bag of potato chips, a case of 'lite' beer and hunkering down with a blu-ray box set of Jersey Shore.

Rory Graham

I agree with almost everything you say and share your melancholy outlook, but still, you may as well turn up and vote for Obama. Things may never get better, but they can easily get worse. Witness, the Bush Administration.

Jameson Quinn

The possible doesn't include the necessary, and nothing you vote nationally is likely to change that one whit, even if by some crazy circumstance your one ballot were pivotal. So go ahead, do whatever you want there. But changes in the game – election system reform, constitutional amendments, and in fact even most of the important day-to-day decisions – start and end at the state level. So yes, do vote for your state senator or state representative or whatever you have in your state. That part matters.


Rilke? Come on -- how old are you -- 18? Pampered pseudo-intellectuals can afford not to vote -- lack of access to abortion or food stamps or civil rights not an issue for these very special high-brows. The fact that people fought for years for the right to vote, oh, just another yawn. Lets cozy up with our Rilke, and contemplate how beautiful we are, and our nice nihilism and sneer at Jon Stewart, a far far less sanctimonious boob than the writer of this prissy little diatribe.

Justin Smith

Zoradrac: You don't like Rilke? Anyhow I didn't say I wasn't going to vote. I said I wasn't going to vote for any of the candidates discussed in the post.

Sara: I am now a citizen of both the US and Canada, and have the right to vote in both.


Everybody loves Rilke. And there's no denying his brilliance. But there is also something a little fraudulent about him. He writes for the beautiful soul while living off various women. As Auden said, Rilke taught him how to be "schöngeistig, to write poetry with a capital p." Which is why he appeals to teenagers, and to people who think that there would be no difference between a George Bush presidency and an Al Gore presidency.

Jonathan H

I'm curious, where do you stand with regard to Weber's distinction between an Ethic of Responsibility and an Ethic of Ultimate Ends in politics? This post jogged a memory of an old discussion here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/02/27/17655/-The-Ethic-of-(Ir)Responsibility

My own voting behavior since Bush the younger's election has been guided by an ethic of responsibility, which I have interpreted to require, or recommend, voting for the viable candidate who is the least bad, at least at the presidential level.

(And in "voting for" I include also publicly advocating and financially supporting, which are together often more consequential than one's own vote.)

I am assuming that there is a meaningful difference between the viable candidates, and that the "deep state" leaves some important policy decisions undecided.

Voting for an obscure third party candidate is then acting from an ethic of ultimate ends, unless you have a plausible story to tell about how your action will actually lead to a better governance outcome in the reasonably near future.

Max Grotius

Gosh - and without meaning to be overly scathing - what unbelievably pious crap. so - the system is poor and so caring about Rilke is preferable to the choice between whoever and Obama, because (from the perspective of pious Rilke fixation) they're indistinuishable ... except that they're not.

As others have said, just because Obama does not uphold all liberal and democratic values does not mean that there are not rights in the balance. We have, thanks to Obama, seen Sotomayor appointed instead of another Alito/etc clone. We have seen some genuine effort to ameliorate the constitutional, foreign policy and fiscal inanities of the previous term. We have seen a serious, if imperfect, move away from the abomination of a modern state without health care for all.

This evidently is not enough for you, which is fine - but this kind of petulant nihilism will simply lead to the loss of all these (small) steps and a host of others, too.


Dear Justin,
I have come across the same none-of-the-above argument from many others this year although not all of them put it as nicely as you have. My response to them echoes the sentiments of most of your readers here, again not as well articulated as theirs.

Given the state of the world and the Republican slate of candidates, petulance is a dangerous attitude in 2012.

Tyler Merbler

Ron Paul VS The Deep State

Who will win?

Mr. Smith doesn't care. He just wants to feel superior to the whole process. He believes he is being the "true revolutionary" through his "novel" idea of not voting. He is the prisoner who has finally come to love his prison bars.

NEWS FLASH: A U.S. President remains the most powerful person in (at the very least) the Western Hemisphere. If Ron Paul is elected, he will fight to end the 3 Wars that the Deep State so desperately depends on: The War on Drugs, Terror, & Privacy.

And when Dr. Paul and the LIBERTY MOVEMENT is finally victorious in restoring America's freedoms, we all know who not to thank.

Justin Smith

So many odd presuppositions on display here.

First, look, every minute spent reading poetry is a minute not directly devoted to making the world a better place. I just take it as obvious, though, that the consequences of suspending this sort of activity until the world in fact becomes a better place would be disastrous, enough in fact to make life not worth living.

Now about this whole ad hominem fixation on academics: Jesus Christ, let that drop. We all have to make a living somehow, and I think I've found a fairly benign way. It's always astounding to me what people are prepared to suppose about the lives of academics. How do you know safe and legal abortions don't make my life better, Zoradrac? Do you think academics do not have sex? How do you know the civil rights movement doesn't affect my life in a deep, personal way? You might have found a photograph of me online and felt confident in determining my 'race' on the basis of that, but how do you know the identities of my loved ones?

Jonathan and Ruchira: What you say is fairly compelling to me, but I wonder if you are not being too conservative in your understanding of what sort of behavior can have a positive impact on a country's political culture. Jonathan mentions that voting behavior includes agitation and activism. Well then, why not count this little blog post, in which I declare that I am exasperated by the options represented by mainstream candidates, as itself a little 'vote'? You can say, well, because it makes only an infinitesimal impact, but then that would seem the appropriate point at which to respond: well, the same can be said of voting in the narrow sense.

Tyler: You are a fine representative of the Ron Paul movement. This comes through particularly in your utter inability to hear what other people are saying. Again, again, I did not say I am not going to vote. I said I am not going to vote for any of the people I discuss in the post. Do you understand the difference? Would you prefer an even more remedial explanation?

Justin Smith

I should have made it clearer that I do not include Jonathan and Ruchira's comments under the heading of 'odd presuppositions'.


If keeping abortion legal matters to you should consider that there is a difference between Obaman and Santorum or Romney. If you care about civil rights you should consider that there is a difference between Obama and Santorum or Romney. If you have sex? Did I say anything about you not having sex? Most people do -- I don't remember suggesting that you don't. And how do you know I'm not myself an academic?

Clearly, from the reactions of others, this is not your most intelligently thought-out piece of writing. You're sounding closer to your Ron Paul relatives' roots, than I suspect you are aware of. If you don't care about presidential politics, perhaps you should stick to writing about mushrooms, where, in my humble opinion, you do a much better job.


I should add that I didn't assume (that was your assumption about me) that you were uninterested in civil rights and human rights and so on, but that most people in the white middle class have a cushion that the poor and minorities don't have. For you, having either Obama and Romney as president may not make much difference -- you seem to say it won't -- with money people can still buy abortions or travel to where they can be obtained, they don't rely on food stamps, their basic civil rights are not as endangered, as say, are those of a black man. What you say, i.e. the president is just an empty suit and doesn't have any influence over the slant of politics in this country -- does not take into account that even a minimal attempt to stem of the tide against the aggressive erosion of our system of social services, human rights, welfare and so on, will affect millions with less access to care than most moderately well off white folks have. To be indifferent, or to cast a meaningless vote, when for many the vote is not meaningless, is a position which far too many intelligent people in this country hold, but one that this country cannot well afford.
And, BTW, I do think you are a good writer. And I think you will be even better in about 10 years.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)