04 September 2004


In my last post, I discussed the Kerry campaign, and its satellite the Cobb/Kerry campaign, as gambles. Gamble on Kerry being better than Bush. The possibility remains, I argued, that Kerry could be worse than Bush, attempting to disguise problems which today seem obvious under Bush.

The behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner had some important things to say about gambling. Behavioral experiments upon rats show that reinforcement schedules, where rats are rewarded with food after pressing a bar a certain number of times, can persuade rats to press a bar a whole lot. Skinner theorized that variable reinforcement schedules, where the rats receive a reward food pellet after a random number of bar presses, created rats who were prone to pressing the bar an endless number of times:

Skinner also looked at variable schedules. Variable ratio means you change the “x” each time -- first it takes 3 presses to get a goodie, then 10, then 1, then 7 and so on. Variable interval means you keep changing the time period -- first 20 seconds, then 5, then 35, then 10 and so on.

In both cases, it keeps the rats on their rat toes. With the variable interval schedule, they no longer “pace” themselves, because they no can no longer establish a “rhythm” between behavior and reward. Most importantly, these schedules are very resistant to extinction. It makes sense, if you think about it. If you haven’t gotten a reinforcer for a while, well, it could just be that you are at a particularly “bad” ratio or interval! Just one more bar press, maybe this’ll be the one!

This, according to Skinner, is the mechanism of gambling. You may not win very often, but you never know whether and when you’ll win again. It could be the very next time, and if you don’t roll them dice, or play that hand, or bet on that number this once, you’ll miss on the score of the century!

This simple behavioral explanation accounts for the addictiveness of gambling. I have to wonder if it also might account for the addictiveness of the two major political parties in the United States. As long as the Democrat and Republican politicians dole out some sort of benefit to the public every once in awhile, the parade of financially-wasteful military adventures and bomb-building boondoggles can continue uninterrupted, because we are addicted to gambling upon these parties with our votes. Perhaps Thoreau was right about voting:
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.

It's time for something better than voting, for the sake of democracy.


The political pitch of Greens for Impact is a contradiction in terms. There is really no point for any voter who supports "Kerry in the swing states" to vote for Cobb at all. As long as Kerry's election is in doubt, Kerry supporters will not vote for Cobb regardless of Kerry's poll-showing in their state. A "Kerry in the swing states" position is a Kerry position, period.

It's really amusing, however that a large number of prominent left-wing spotlight-hogs have taken up this "Kerry in the swing states" position. Medea Benjamin? Peter Coyote? Tom Hayden? Daniel Ellsberg? What this is, in my opinion, is a big left-wing show-biz gamble that a Kerry Presidency will somehow be "better" than a Bush Presidency. Cobb is merely a money-chip in the gamble of these high-profile Kerryites.

Now, before you all decide to roll the dice and cast your ballot for Kerry with Benjamin, Coyote, et al., let me suggest the possibility that you will lose:

1) Kerry's most unpardonable sin this year was to silence the antiwar contingent within the Democrats. The war needs serious debate this year; don't expect it to happen under Kerry, and all of the Kerry-gamblers will feel obligated to stay behind the DLC agenda, as they do today, for fear of the Republicans. And expect the Bush police state to become the Kerry police state, as Kerry has endorsed the USA PATRIOT Act.

2) All of Kerry's promises as regards social programs, environmental protections etc. have been weasel-worded so as to make them practically meaningless when it comes to "keeping his promises." Look, for instance, at Kerry's health care plan: "Their plan will lower family premiums by up to $1,000 a year." "Up to" $1,000 a year could mean $1,000 a year, or it could mean nothing. So amidst all the talk on that Greens for Kerry website about things Kerry might do, it doesn't really come down to much as far as the future is concerned, past the promise that "Kerry will actually fund programs which have been mandated."

3) One of the most sinister aspects of the Kerry "promise" as regards social programs, BTW, is his near-total reliance upon the device of "tax breaks" to push corporations to foot the bill for what little support the working class can expect under a Kerry Administration.

4) Even those (weasel-worded) promises are in jeopardy. For the current economic situation is likely to come to a head, with the slow collapse of the dollar appearing to be in process already. Kerry will be pressured to make good on his promises to further buttress the military industrial complex, against his shrinking ability to do so (given the inevitable fall in the value of the dollar that $8 trillion in national debt will engender) and with the connivance of "Kerry's neo-cons," military fantasists with the Kerry Team. Expect the DLC motto of "fiscal prudence" to kick in, as well, to make everything especially painful.

This is what makes Kerry's silencing of the antiwar movement within the Democrats all that more egregious. For any moves a John Kerry might make, to do anything outside of the Republican consensus, will be limited by his need to keep the Democrats down so as to maintain the troops in Iraq. Kerry will be put under immense pressure to maintain his macho posture whilst the dollar crumbles, interest rates go up to contain inflation, and investors run for cover by putting the financial bubbles into raw materials and real estate.

After all, the war, which costs $5 billion a month, won't make much else affordable, especially if there's a drawdown in the dollar. So the anti-war effort is crucial to success with all the other issues. Pro-Kerry liberals like to say that we non-voters-for-Kerry "have a few (petty) issues" with Kerry -- but not all issues are equal. The ones that count are the ones we won't win with Kerry.

So to me this Kerry gamble looks like a whole lot of wasted effort. Would you all rather have a weak Bush or a strong Kerry? Who cares? Fight for your own rights -- not Kerry's.