Frank Zappa Debates Whether the Government Should Censor Music in a Heated Episode of Crossfire: Why Are People Afraid of Words? (1986)

“The biggest threat to America today is not communism. It's moving America toward a fascist theocracy, and everything that's happened during the Reagan administration is steering us right down that pipe.”

That’s Frank Zappa, a self-declared “conservative” battling a theocrat and two establishment pundits on this clip from a 1986 episode of political debate show Crossfire. It was one of many TV interviews Zappa did during the mid-‘80s when the “Parent Music Resource Center” headed by what he called “Washington Wives” got themselves overly concerned about rock music lyrics and, as usual, thought of the children. (One of those Wives was Tipper Gore, then-wife of Al Gore). There were congressional hearings, one of the only times Zappa was on the same team as Twisted Sister’s Dee Snyder and soft-folkie John Denver).

The whole kerfuffle was one and a piece with the rise of the Religious Right under Reagan’s administration, and eventually boiled down to a “Parental Advisory” sticker slapped on LP and CD covers. Zappa saw the move as a cynical ploy to introduce moralistic censorship to the arts while burnishing the careers of up-and-coming senators like Al Gore (and that certainly worked out for him).

The 20 minute clip is notable for the differences compared to the present. Watching this contentious debate between four men all sitting very close to each other is rare nowadays—the closest we get is on Bill Maher’s weekly show, whereas the rest of cable news is a collection of talking heads beaming in from separate studios. The mendacity and vitriol directed towards Zappa is also surprising, especially as Zappa’s own lyrics weren’t the ones being attacked—those of Madonna and Prince were instead. The hotheaded blather out of religious zealot John Lofton is a wonder to behold, a man so theocratic he later railed against Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin for leaving the kitchen and getting into politics. “I love it when you froth” quips Zappa, although even his stoicism is undone at one point. “Tell you what—kiss my ass!” Zappa blurts out after Lofton calls him an idiot.

Both Tom Braden and Robert Novak are stodgy beltway brothers, ostensibly on the left and right, and can’t help crack up a bit when Zappa points out Lofton’s lunacy. Nobody wins the debate; America and your own brain cells lose.

Zappa would later dedicate several songs and a whole album (Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention) to the charade. The music industry acquiesced and required warning labels that probably had zero percent effectiveness apart from uglying up album artwork, and a decade later mp3s would implode the industry.

Nobody frets about lyrics any more—how quaint!—but fear mongering and moral panic continue, including the recent non-starter issue over video game violence. Words are just words, Zappa says. That battle now appears to be taking place on Twitter instead between the left and the right, and Republicans have dropped all pretenses over foul language having nominated Trump. (Even the evangelicals seem to be okay with it.)

And then there’s this brief moment from the clip, which feels like part of a radio signal beaming into the present:

“What I tell kids, and I’ve been telling kids for quite some time,” says Zappa, “is first, register to vote, and second, as soon as you’re old enough, run for something.”

If that doesn’t sound like 2018 to you, I’ve got a W.A.S.P. CD to sell you.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

The Political Thought of Confucius, Plato, John Locke & Adam Smith Introduced in Animations Narrated by Aidan Turner

Here in the 21st century, now that we've determined the ideal form of human society and implemented it stably all across the world — and of course, you're already laughing. Well over 5,000 years into the history of civilization, we somehow find ourselves less sure of the answers to some of the most basic questions about how to organize ourselves. It couldn't hurt, then, to take six or so minutes to reflect on some of history's most enduring ideas about how we should live together, the subject of this quartet of animated videos from BBC Radio 4 and The Open University's History of Ideas series.

The first two segments illustrate the ideas of two ancient thinkers whose names still come up often today: Confucius from China and Plato from Greece. "The heart of Confucian philosophy is that you understand your place in the universe," says narrator Aidan Turner, best known as Kíli the dwarf in The Hobbit films.

"Ideally, it is within the family that individuals learn how to live well and become good members of the wider community." A series of respect-intensive, obligation-driven, family-like hierarchical relationships structure everything in the Confucian conception of society, quite unlike the one proposed by Plato and explained just above. The author of the Republic, who like Confucius didn't endorse democracy as we think of it today, thought that voters "don't realize that ruling is a skill, just like navigation.

Plato envisioned at the helm of the ship of state "specially trained philosophers: philosopher-kings or philosopher-queens chosen because they were incorruptible and had a deeper knowledge of reality than other people, an idea that only a philosopher could have come up with." But what would a different kind of philosopher — an Enlightenment philosopher such as John Locke, for instance — come up with? Locke, who lived in 17th-century England, proposed a concept called toleration, especially in the religious sense: "He pointed out that those who forced others to recant their beliefs by threatening them with red pokers and thumbscrews could hardly be said to be acting out of Christian charity." And even if the majority succeeds in forcing a member of the minority to change their beliefs, how would they know that individual's beliefs have actually changed?

To the invisible deities of any and all faiths, the Scottish economist-philosopher Adam Smith much preferred what he metaphorically termed the "invisible hand," the mechanism by which "individuals making self-interested decisions can collectively and unwittingly engineer an effective economic system that is in the public interest." Though his and all these previous ideas for the organization of society work perfectly in theory, they work rather less perfectly in practice. Real societies throughout history have muddled through using these and other conceptions of the ideal state in varying combinations, just as our real societies continue to do today. But that doesn't mean we all can't muddle a little better together into the future by attaining a clearer understanding of the political philosophers of the past.

For a deeper look at these questions, we'd recommend watching the 24 lectures in Yale's free course, Introduction to Political Philosophy. It's part of our larger list, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Aldous Huxley Tells Mike Wallace What Will Destroy Democracy: Overpopulation, Drugs & Insidious Technology (1958)

Overpopulation, manipulative politics, imbalances of societal power, addictive drugs, even more addictive technologies: these and other developments have pushed not just democracy but civilization itself to the brink. Or at least author Aldous Huxley saw it that way, and he told America so when he appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview in 1958. (You can also read a transcript here.) "There are a number of impersonal forces which are pushing in the direction of less and less freedom," he told the newly famous news anchor, "and I also think that there are a number of technological devices which anybody who wishes to use can use to accelerate this process of going away from freedom, of imposing control."

Huxley's best-known novel Brave New World has remained relevant since its first publication in 1932. He appeared on Wallace's show to promote Brave New World Revisited (first published as Enemies of Freedom), a collection of essays on how much more rapidly than expected the real world had come to resemble the dystopia he'd imagined a quarter-century earlier.

Some of the reasons behind his grim predictions now seem overstated — he points out that "in the underdeveloped countries actually the standard of living is at present falling," though the reverse has now been true for quite some time — but others, from the vantage of the 21st century, sound almost too mild.

"We mustn't be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology," Huxley says in that time before smartphones, before the internet, before personal computers, before even cable television. We also mustn't be caught by surprise by those who seek indefinite power over us: to do that requires "consent of the ruled," something acquirable by addictive substances — both pharmacological and technological — as well as "new techniques of propaganda." All of this has the effect of "bypassing the sort of rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious and his deeper emotions, and his physiology even, and so, making him actually love his slavery."

Wallace's questions bring Huxley to a question of his own: "What does a democracy depend on? A democracy depends on the individual voter making an intelligent and rational choice for what he regards as his enlightened self-interest, in any given circumstance." But democracy-debilitating commercial and political propaganda appeals "directly to these unconscious forces below the surfaces so that you are, in a way, making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure, which is based on conscious choice on rational ground." Hence the importance of teaching people "to be on their guard against the sort of verbal booby traps into which they are always being led." The skill has arguably only grown in importance since, as has his final thought in the broadcast: "I still believe in democracy, if we can make the best of the creative activities of the people on top plus those of the people on the bottom, so much the better."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Martin Scorsese Create a List of 38 Essential Films About American Democracy

Image by "Siebbi," Wikimedia Commons

So many of us, throughout so much of the 20th century, saw the nature of American-style democracy as more or less etched in stone. But the events of recent years, certainly on the national level but also on the global one, have thrown our assumptions about a political system that once looked destined for universality — indeed, the much-discussed "end" toward which history itself has been working — into question. Whatever our personal views, we've all had to remember that the United States, approaching a quarter-millennium of history, remains an experimental country, one more subject to re-evaluation and revision than we might have thought.

The same holds true for the art form that has done more than any other to spread visions of America: the movies. Martin Scorsese surely knows this, just as deeply as he knows that a full understanding of any society demands immersion into that society's dreams of itself. The fact that so many of America's dreams have taken cinematic form makes Scorsese well-placed to approach the subject, given that he's dreamed a fair few of them himself. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New YorkThe Wolf of Wall Street: most of his best-known films tell thoroughly American stories, rooted in not just his country's distinctive history but the equally distinctive politics, society, and culture that have resulted from it.

Now, along with his nonprofit The Film Foundation, Scorsese passes his understanding of America along to all of us with their curriculum, “Portraits of America: Democracy on Film.” It comes as part of their larger project "The Story of Film," described by its official site as "an interdisciplinary curriculum introducing students to classic cinema and the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of film." Scorsese and The Film Foundation offer its materials free to schools, but students of all ages and nationalities can learn a great deal about American democracy from the pictures it includes, the sequence of which runs as follows:

Module 1: The Immigrant Experience
Introductory Lesson: From Penny Claptrap to Movie Palaces—the First Three Decades
Chapter 1: “The Immigrant” (1917, d. Charlie Chaplin)
Chapter 2: “The Godfather, Part II” (1974, d. Francis Ford Coppola)
Chapter 3: “America, America” (1963, d. Elia Kazan)
Chapter 4: “El Norte” (1983, d. Gregory Nava)
Chapter 5: “The Namesake” (2006, d. Mira Nair)

Module 2: The American Laborer
Introductory Lesson: The Common Good
Chapter 1: “Black Fury” (1935, d. Michael Curtiz)
Chapter 2: “Harlan County U.S.A.” (1976, d. Barbara Kopple)
Chapter 3: “At the River I Stand” (1993, d. David Appleby, Allison Graham and Steven Ross)
Chapter 4: “Salt of the Earth” (1954, d. Herbert J. Biberman)
Chapter 5: “Norma Rae” (1979, d. Martin Ritt)

Module 3: Civil Rights
Introductory Lesson: The Camera as Witness
Chapter 1: King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970, conceived & created by
Ely Landau; guest appearances filmed by Sidney Lumet and Joseph L.
Chapter 2: “Intruder in the Dust” (1949, d. Clarence Brown)
Chapter 3: “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984, d. Robert Epstein)
Chapter 4: “Smoke Signals” (1998, d. Chris Eyre)

Module 4: The American Woman
Introductory Lesson: Ways of Seeing Women
Chapter 1: Through a Woman’s Lens: Directors Lois Weber (focusing on “Suspense,” 1913 and
“Where Are My Children,” 1916) and Dorothy Arzner (“Dance, Girl, Dance,” 1940)
Chapter 2: “Imitation of Life” (1934, d. John M. Stahl)
Chapter 3: “Woman of the Year” (1942, d. George Stevens)
Chapter 4: “Alien” (1979, d. Ridley Scott)
Chapter 5: “The Age of Innocence” (1993, d. Martin Scorsese)

Module 5: Politicians and Demagogues
Introductory Lesson: Checks and Balances
Chapter 1: “Gabriel Over the White House” (1933, d. Gregory La Cava)
Chapter 2: “A Lion is in the Streets” (1953, d. Raoul Walsh)
Chapter 3: “Advise and Consent” (1962, d. Otto Preminger)
Chapter 4: “A Face in the Crowd” (1957, d. Elia Kazan)

Module 6: Soldiers and Patriots
Introductory Lesson: Movies and Homefront Morale
Chapter 1: “Sergeant York (1941, d. Howard Hawks)
Chapter 2: Private Snafu’s Private War—three Snafu Shorts from WWII
Chapter 3: “Three Came Home” (1950, d. Jean Negulesco)
Chapter 4: “Glory” (1989, Edward Zwick)
Chapter 5: “Saving Private Ryan” (1998, d. Steven Spielberg)

Module 7: The Press
Introductory Lesson: Degrees of Truth
Chapter 1: “Meet John Doe” (1941, d. Frank Capra)
Chapter 2: “All the President’s Men” (1976, d. Alan J. Pakula)
Chapter 3: “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005, d. George Clooney)
Chapter 4: “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006, d. Davis Guggenheim)
Chapter 5: “Ace in the Hole” (1951, d. Billy Wilder)

Module 8: The Auteurs
Introductory Lesson: Film as an Art Form
Chapter 1: “Modern Times” (1936, Charlie Chaplin)
Chapter 2: “The Grapes of Wrath”(1940, d. John Ford)
Chapter 3: “Citizen Kane” (1941, d. Orson Welles)
Chapter 4: “An American in Paris” (1951, d. Vincente Minnelli)
Chapter 5: “The Aviator” (2004, d. Martin Scorsese)

"Division, conflict and anger seem to be defining this moment in culture," says Scorsese, quoted in Film Journal International article about the curriculum. "I learned a lot about citizenship and American ideals from the movies I saw. Movies that look squarely at the struggles, violent disagreements and the tragedies in history, not to mention hypocrisies, false promises. But they also embody the best in America, our great hopes and ideals." Few could watch all 38 of the films on his curriculum without feeling that the experiments of democracy and cinema are still on to something – and hold out the promise of more possibilities than we'd imagined before.

via Indiewire

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”: A Toolkit That Can Help You Scientifically Separate Sense from Nonsense

It's probably no stretch to say that mass disinformation campaigns and rampant anti-intellectualism will constitute an increasing amount of our political reality both today and in the future. As Hannah Arendt wrote, the political lie has always been with us. But its global reach, particular vehemence, and blatant contempt for verifiable reality seem like innovations of the present.

Given the embarrassing wealth of access to information and educational tools, maybe it’s fair to say that the first and last line of defense should be our own critical reasoning. When we fail to verify news—using resources we all have in hand (I assume, since you’re reading this), the fault for believing bad information may lie with us.

But we so often don't know what it is that we don’t know. Individuals can't be blamed for an inadequate educational system, and one should not underestimate the near-impossibility of conducting time-consuming inquiries into the truth of every single claim that comes our way, like trying to identify individual droplets while getting hit in the face with a pressurized blast of targeted, contradictory info, sometimes coming from shadowy, unreliable sources.

Carl Sagan understood the difficulty, and he also understood that a lack of critical thinking did not make people totally irrational and deserving of contempt. “It’s not hard to understand," for example, why people would think their relatives are still alive in some other form after death. As he writes of this common phenomenon in “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection," most supernatural beliefs are just “humans being human.”

In the essay, a chapter from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan proposes a rigorous but comprehensible “baloney detection kit” to separate sense from nonsense.

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  • If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations.
  • If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  • Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified…. You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

Calling his recommendations “tools for skeptical thinking,” he lays out a means of compensating for the strong emotional pulls that “promise something like old-time religion" and recognizing "a fallacious or fraudulent argument.” At the top of the post, in a video produced by Big Think, you can hear science writer and educator Michael Shermer explain the “baloney detection kit” that he himself adapted from Sagan, and just above, read Sagan’s own version, abridged into a short list (read it in full at Brain Pickings).

Like many a science communicator after him, Sagan was very much concerned with the influence of superstitious religious beliefs. He also foresaw a time in the near future much like our own. Elsewhere in The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan writes of “America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time…. when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few.” The loss of control over media and education renders people “unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true.”

This state involves, he says a “slide… back into superstition” of the religious variety and also a general "celebration of ignorance," such that well-supported scientific theories carry the same weight or less than explanations made up on the spot by authorities whom people have lost the ability to “knowledgeably question.” It’s a scary scenario that may not have completely come to pass... just yet, but Sagan knew as well or better than anyone of his time how to address such a potential social epidemic.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Large Archive of Hannah Arendt’s Papers Digitized by the Library of Congress: Read Her Lectures, Drafts of Articles, Notes & Correspondence

Many people read the German-Jewish political philosopher and journalist Hannah Arendt as something of an oracle, a secular prophet whose most famous works—her essay on the trial of Adolf Eichmann and her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism—contain secrets about our own times of high nationalist fervor. And indeed they may, but we should also keep in mind that Arendt’s insights into the horrors of Nazism did not emerge until after the war.

Arendt did not identify as Jewish during the Nazi's rise to power, but as a fully assimilated German; she had a romantic relationship with her professor Martin Heidegger, who became a doctrinaire Nazi, and she seemed to have little understanding of German antisemitism during the thirties and forties. Arendt, many have alleged, sometimes seemed too close to her subject.

In such times as hers, to use the words of Wallace Stevens—a writer with his own complicated relationship to fascism—the “difficult rigor” of observing the moment means that “we reason of these things with later reason.” Arendt’s observations of Europe in the 1950s were reckonings with the recent past—she drew together strains of experience that could not always be connected during what Stevens calls the “irrational moment.” So too, intellectual observers of our own “irrational moment” may only truly understand it “with later reason.”

But if Americans wish to learn about their country’s longstanding political tendencies from Arendt’s work, it is perhaps not to her writing on Germany or the U.S.S.R. that we should turn, but to her work on the U.S., much of which is reflected in typed drafts of essays and lectures, correspondence, and notes contained at the Library of Congress’s Hannah Arendt Papers collection. All of the collection has been digitized, and some of those scans are online. Finding out which documents have been uploaded and which only remain viewable onsite takes a little digging around in the catalog, but it is work that pays off for those with a genuine interest in the fascinating turns of Arendt’s thought.

We may turn to essays such as 1971’s “Lying in Politics,” written after the release of the Pentagon Papers, notes Brain Pickings, and “included in Crises of the Republic—a collection of Arendt’s timelessly insightful and increasingly timely essays on politics [and] civil disobedience.” As Arendt writes in an earlier lecture that preceded “Lying in Politics”—with the earlier title “The Role of the Lie in Politics” (top)—“Truthfulness has never been counted as among the political virtues.” You can view and download high-quality images of that typed lecture here, and see her revise her ideas in corrections and marginal notes.

The political lie, she writes wearily, “has existed since the beginning of recorded history.” And yet, there is something unique about its use in U.S. politics, in which “the only person likely to be an ideal victim of complete manipulation is the President of the United States.” Despite her dispassionate philosophical view, Arendt found the lies of the Vietnam War-era particularly disturbing. In the typescript page at the top, you can see a proposed subtitle penciled in at the top left corner: “How Could They? What Went Wrong in America.”

In the typed lecture above, “Action and the Pursuit of Happiness,” from 1960, Arendt remarks on the “amazing discovery” by the country’s naturalized “new citizens” that the “pursuit of happiness” remains a “more than meaningless phrase and an empty word in the public and private life of the American Republic.” This “most elusive of all human rights,” she continues, “apparently entitles men, in the words of Howard Mumford Jones, to ‘the ghastly privilege of pursuing a phantom and embracing a delusion.'”

Arendt’s 1968 New York Times editorial “Is America By Nature a Violent Society,” whose typescript you can see in part above, opens with a number of assumptions about the country’s “national character,” beginning with the comment that the country’s “multitude of ethnic groups… for better or worse have never melted together into a nation.” Perhaps this is too broad a characterization. Or perhaps the U.S. as a nation is no more “artificial ‘by nature,’” in its composition than many other, much older, nations.

Arendt’s observations on her adopted land weren’t always so astute, but she did have enough critical distance from the country to closely observe it during times of crisis and see clearly what others could or would not. You’ll find many more of Arendt’s keen observations—typed in drafts and notes, scribbled in margins, and written in letters—at the Library of Congress’ Hannah Arendt Papers collection, (partly) online.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What the Map of the United States Would Look Like If All 50 States Had Equal Populations

In the U.S., recent electoral events with which we’re all quite familiar have prompted one particular radical re-evaluation of the political system, among many others: we find everyone from high-profile Constitutional scholars to anonymous commenters engaged in debates about the necessity, or democratic legitimacy, of the Electoral College. While the debate may not be new, it has reached an urgent intensity, and happens to occur at a time when everything seems up for grabs. When Neil Freeman proposed redrawing state borders on his presciently-named design site Fake is the New Real back in 2012, he created the map above (view it in a larger format here) to evenly distribute the country’s population. He did so with the disclaimer, “this is an art project, not a serious proposal.”

The idea might get a more serious reception these days. Nonetheless, the inertia of tradition hasn't lessened any. Not only is it totally unlikely that states would ever be redrawn and renamed, but the Electoral College is also a founding institution, emerging at the first Constitutional Convention when James Madison first proposed it in 1787. Since then, PBS’s Kamala Kelkar wrote on November 6th, 2016, “the Electoral College system has cost four candidates the race after they received the popular vote.” Two days later that number went up to five.

Still, whether one deems it necessary, superfluous, or deeply pernicious, it's hardly controversial to note that this electing body comes from an era so unlike our own as to be unrecognizable. A time when, as some founders argued, writes Akhil Reed Amar at Time, “ordinary Americans across a vast continent [lacked] sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates.” This might still be the case for various reasons. But putting aside manufactured filter bubbles and vast disinformation campaigns, most Americans now have instant access, if they want it, to more information than they know what to do with.

When we look at the primary sources, we find the actual reason for the Electoral College: slavery. Madison, notes Kelkar, “now known as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’” was a slaveholding Virginian who worried vocally that Northern states would have a decided advantage, since upwards of 40% of the population in Southern states consisted of enslaved people, who, of course, would not be casting votes. Madison’s proposition included the infamous and dehumanizing “three-fifths compromise,” which historian Paul Finkelman argues enabled Thomas Jefferson to win over John Adams in 1800.

Despite this history, most people are taught that the system arose solely to “balance the interests,” Amar writes, “of high-population and low-population states.” This sounds like a politically neutral intention. But Freeman doesn’t question the legitimacy of the Electoral College, calling it “a time-honored, logical system” that he thinks should be preserved. And yet, he writes, “it’s obvious that reforms are needed.”

“The fundamental problem of the electoral college,” Freeman writes, “is that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence. The largest state is 66 times as populous as the smallest and has 18 times as many electoral votes. This increases the chance for Electoral College results that don't match the popular vote.” This is hardly the only issue. But is Freeman’s proposal a more stable solution to major flaws in U.S. national elections than simply scrapping the Electoral College altogether? He makes the following argument, in a series of bullet-pointed advantages. His map:

  • Preserves the historic structure and function of the Electoral College.
  • Ends the over-representation of small states and under-representation of large states in presidential voting and in the US Senate by eliminating small and large states.
  • Political boundaries more closely follow economic patterns, since many states are more centered on one or two metro areas.
  • Ends varying representation in the House. Currently, the population of House districts ranges from 528,000 to 924,000. After this reform, every House seat would represent districts of the same size. (Since the current size of the House isn't divisible by 50, the numbers of seats should be increased to 450 or 500.)
  • States could be redistricted after each census - just like House seats are distributed now.

Freeman based the map--featuring new states like "Mesabi," "Ogallala," "Big Thicket," "Chinati," and "King"--on data from the 2010 Census, which, incidentally, actually did change the distribution of electors in 2012. The Census "records a population of 308,745,538 for the United States," he notes, "which this map divides into 50 states, each with a population of about 6,175,000."

He does seem to downplay the disadvantages, listing only two concerns about duplicated county names and a “shift in state laws and procedures.” Freeman doesn’t mention the high likelihood of civil war or widespread social unrest if such a massive redistribution of the country’s state populations were ever attempted. Given the examples of pitched legal battle fought daily over congressional redistricting of gerrymandered states, it’s also probable nothing like this plan would ever make it through the courts. Considered as an “art project” or thought experiment in civics, however, who knows? It just might work….

via Mental Floss

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Why Socrates Hated Democracies: An Animated Case for Why Self-Government Requires Wisdom & Education

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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