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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Crazytown Stops When Teabaggers Get Voted Out of Office and Not Before

That simply won't happen so long as the Noise across the spectrum is always playing everybody's favorite game, Blame Obama First. Is Obama perfect, is Obama supra-constitutional dictator, is Obama Super Dad? Nope and nope and nope. Is Obama even worse than he promised he would be in his campaign. A wee bit worse, yes, I must say. But anti-government anti-tax anti-oversight anti-democracy anti-woman anti-healthcare anti-macroeconomics anti-Darwin anti-climate GOP Crazytown is the mustache twirling villain here, Crazytown must be stopped, Crazytown is on a tear, Crazytown is coming to get you, people. Blame Obama First is a stoopid game, frankly an embarrassing game, not to mention just a way of shooting ourselves in the foot to boot. Stop Crazytown! Bring back America, The Lame! You know, for the children.

"The Future" on the Planet of the Apes

George Dvorsky, one of the White Guys of The Future over at the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET has written a piece explaining why "we" (a pronoun he calls into question but uses uncritically anyway) have an "obligation" to forcibly re-write the brains and bodies of nonhuman animals in forms more congenial to us. This notion is floated over in the futurological transhumanoid-singularitarian online precincts fairly regularly -- they have a pet term for it, "animal uplift," a phrase with all sorts of perfectly appropriate paternalistic and colonial associations in tow -- and I have written an extensive response to a similar proposal offered up at IEET last year by James Hughes.

The online futurological sects of transhumanism-singularitarianism-technoimmortalism-nanocornucopism function more or less as subcultural sf-fandoms do, with the difference that their devotion is to that form of corporate-military marketing discourse called futurology rather than sf proper, and like futurology itself their enthusiasm for this rather inept sf-subgenre (inept because it amounts to science fiction without the demands of plausible plots, engaging characters, subtle interplays of setting and theme and so on) depends on the deliberate confusion of science fiction either with science proper or science/development public policy.

Very much true to form, then, you will observe that Dvorsky has been moved to speculate on "animal uplift" right now, not because there is any actual breakthrough in biology or medicine or cognitive interface technology or even in the politics of animal rights activists striving to protect chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans from abuse at the hands of their human cousins (campaigns like the Great Ape Project with which Dvorsky absolutely inappropriately, indeed grotesquely, identifies his own fancifully intolerant project). No, George Dvorsky is writing about "uplifting" apes because a re-make of a Planet of the Apes movie is being widely advertized prior to its release, and transhumanists find it more difficult than other people to distinguish the circulation of hype about Hollywood action pictures from serious deliberation of technoscience policy questions. (To emphasize the point, Dvorsky's article is illustrated with a still from the upcoming film.)

It is important to point out that although Dvorsky sprinkles his article with the usual futurological handwaving -- "humans are poised to discard their often fragile and susceptible biological forms," he writes (oh, poised are we? but beyond the poses of Robot Cultists how is the science looking on the immortality pill and soul-uploading business, George? yeah, exactly like it always does) -- the fact is that there is exactly zero chance that any of the sooper-immortalizing sooper-geniusizing sooper-strongifying sooper-humanizing soup futurological sub(cult)ures pine for are in the pipeline. As always, the reason one takes superlative futurological discourses and sub(cult)ures seriously is because they symptomize in particularly clarifying and extreme forms the problems and pathologies in more prevalent mainstream forms of technoscience and developmental policy discourse, advertizing imagery and popular culture.

Dvorsky's article contains sweeping rather wikipediesque general surveys of the animal rights movement in a Peter Singer-centric frame and social contract theory in a John Rawlsian sort of way. The result, as is usual in this sort of discourse, I'm afraid, is rather a lot of loose talk and very little engaged understanding. My own reading of Dvorsky will be a closer one. The first note I would direct your attention to is the recurrence throughout his article of phrases like "Humanity’s relationship with animals" … "our relationship with animals is still changing" …and so on. What I want to point out is the obvious fact that human beings are also animals and hence that our relations with other humans are already relations of animals with animals. This matters, because we are so attentive to differences that make a difference among human animals that we take great care (or should) in generalizing about how we should behave in respect to one another.

The fact is that there are endlessly many differences that make a difference among the varieties of nonhuman animals, not only differences of species but among individual members of species (go ahead, think of all the endlessly many ways the cats in your life have differed from one another, I'll wait here for you). To begin a piece about "humans" as "us" intervening profoundly in the lives of "animals" -- in a way both denying the continuity of that "human us" with the nonhuman animals it targets for transformation but also lumping all animals other than the human ones into an undifferentiated mass of raw material available for transformation -- is a profoundly prejudicial opening conceptual gambit.

This denial of an already existing continuity of human with nonhuman animals prepares the ground for Dvorsky's proposal that a society of sentient beings must be engineering by futurological sooper-science while disavowing the endlessly many ways in which that society already profoundly exists, the ways in which our human lives are already made more meaningful through our connection with nonhuman animals (and I certainly do not mean only the ways in which we brutalize and exploit nonhuman animals, though those stories are also enormously complicated ones as well).

"Enhancement biotechnologies will profoundly impact on the nature of this co-existence" between humans and animals [sic], writes Dvorsky. Try to set aside the perfectly ridiculous but absolutely typical overconfidence of Dvorsky's use of "will" here, as if all the usual robo-magicks futurologists interminably handwave about were bulldozing down the hill toward us in plain sight, what matters here is the conceptual sleight of hand afoot:
Today, efforts are placed on simply protecting animals. Tomorrow, humanity will likely strive to take this further -- to endow nonhuman animals with the requisite faculties that will enable individual and group self-determination, and more broadly, to give them the cognitive and social skills that will allow them to participate in the larger social politic that includes all sentient life.
I would say that many nonhuman animals are already endowed with faculties that enable individual and, in a certain sense, group determination. Certainly, many nonhuman animals already have "cognitive and social skills" and already "participate in the larger social politic that includes all sentient life."

It seems to me that vegetarian and animal rights activists are better regarded not as proposing that we "gift" nonhuman animals, as it were in indiscriminate bulk, with sociality but as insisting to their fellow human animals that we are brutalized ourselves in the greedy insensitive parochialism of our denial of the sociality of so many nonhuman animals with whom we share the world and the ongoing making of the public world already.

From such a perspective it becomes clear that Dvorsky's proposal we shift from paternalistic protection of nonhuman animals to the cognitive imperialism of rewriting their capacities in the image of our desires is indeed a matter of "tak[ing]… further" an existing project, amplifying its terms, exposing its underlying assumptions through their reduction to absurdity.

Dvorsky's flabbergasting chauvinism is palpable when he simply assumes the outcome of deliberation in that fantastical fetal theatricum philosophicum of the Rawlsian Original Position that no sentient in its right mind would prefer to be incarnated as a dolphin or a Great Ape (though I must say that dolphins and Great Apes seem to me often to be having a high time, so long as human animals aren't behaving too badly in their near vicinity):
The prospect of coming into the world as a great ape, elephant or dolphin in the midst of an advanced human civilization can be reasonably construed as a worst outcome. Therefore, humanity can assume that it has the consent of sapient nonhumans to biologically uplift.
Of course, his "therefore" is a foregone conclusion, since it is already preceded by the declaration that entertaining any other possibility than that being a dolphin or an elephant is a "worst outcome" is "unreasonable." Hell, George, if it's really so bad to be an ape or elephant why doesn't your "ethics" require they be genocidally put out of their misery here and now? For my part, so long as I can evade their fishing nets and petting zoos, I daresay it might be quite a bit more fun to frolic in the seas as a promiscuous dolphin than to live as a human in a world run by Republicans, at any rate far from the "worst case" I can imagine entertaining from the Original Position.

Dvorsky's initial insensitivity to the richness of lives different from his own has mobilized his perfectly typical techno-utopian fantasy to impose a radical homogeneity upon the planetary commonwealth of sentients. Near the end of his piece, Dvorsky fancies that a "future world in which humans co-exist with uplifted whales, elephants and apes certainly sounds bizarre." I must say, that I honestly think such a world would be considerably less bizarre, less profuse, less provocative, less promising than the one in which we already live, the one Dvorsky disdains in the usual futurological manner for the amplified parochialism of "The Future" he pines for.

There is, after all, no more typical futurological gesture than for some futurological guru to handwave some mega-engineering day-dream or sooper-capacited body which essentially offers up a fun-house mirror of the present, in which all our present wishes as shaped by our present problems and wants are fulfilled a thousandfold, and then declares this utterly impoverished closure of the open-future for an amplified present satisfaction as some kind of wild and cra-a-a-a-azy imaginative exercise.

Just as futurologists like to cheerlead the profound instability and insecurity of neoliberal networked financialization of the global economy as "an acceleration of acceleration" when it really is nothing but planet-scaled fraud and exploitation, so too they love to peddle corporate-military triumphalist scenarios in which elite incumbents have nothing to fear but the endless upward-rocketing of their profits as if these dreary visions were the most fabulous utopianism. As I have put the point elsewhere: To speak of "The Future" is always to indulge in reaction. All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms.

"Ultimately, the goal of uplift is to foster better lives," writes Dvorsky.
By increasing the rational faculties of animals, and by giving them the tools to better manage themselves and their environment, they stand to gain everything that we have come to value as a species.
What should go without saying here is that there are profound differences of opinion and value as to what actually constitutes "better lives" among the members of the human "species" for whom Dvorsky feels so eminently capable of speaking as "our" spokesman -- by the way, thanks, but no thanks, George!

It is only by assuming that his own parochial values are neutral when they are in fact conspicuously under contest that Dvorsky can make the flabbergasting declaration that re-writing nonhuman intelligence in the image of human intelligence is always only a matter of "increasing the[ir] rational faculties."

One can only respond with morbid mirth to the proposal that making nonhuman animals more like human ones would "give them the tools to better manage… their environment" when it is only human animals and human intelligence and human culture that has managed to bring the biosphere to the brink of destruction, while whales, dolphins, apes, and pigs make their way in the world quite sustainably and contentedly as far as I can tell, at any rate so long as human beings aren't making their lives a misery.

"[I]t would be unethical, negligent and even hypocritical of humans to enhance only themselves and ignore the larger community of sapient nonhuman animals," wrties Dvorsky.
The idea of humanity entering into an advanced state of biological and/or postbiological existence while the rest of nature is left behind to fend for itself is distasteful.
Again, there is of course zero chance that the Robot God is going to arrive any time soon to end history in a Singularity whereupon she/it/they will minister to the faithful post-parentally, allowing them to wallow in shiny immortal robot bodies in nanobotic treasure caves amongst the sexbots or to "upload" into cyberspatial heaven virtualities and so on and so forth.

What is interesting in Dvorsky's delusion is the confidence of his attachment to it of the innocuous adjective "advanced." What would be lost were humanity to gain what the Robot Cultists are hyperventilating about? How much of the context in which meaning, significance, value, intelligibility presently emerges can be transformed before it becomes problematic to speak of meaning, significance, value, intelligibility attaching to some profoundly altered state?

Enhancement is a word that actually indispensably always implies "enhancement" according to whom? "enhancement" in the service of what end at the cost of what other ends?

I actually need not indulge the transhumanoids in a debate about their parochial preferences in matters of brains might be more edifying arranged in the abstract, any more than I need indulge monastics in a debate about the number of angels that can dance on a pin-head, since I can simply point out that there are contentious debates afoot concerning the capacities and values about which they fancy their own judgments are neutrally denotative of "increase" "advance" and "enhancement."

To use these terms as Dvorsky and the transhumanoids do, is simply to reveal one is unwilling to participate in the relevant discussion, not to offer up a position in it (the attitude is a familiar one among the energetically faithful, with whom, after all, Robot Cultists have more than their fair share in common, upsetting though it usually is to them to point out the fact).

What actually substantially matters in Dvorsky's parochialism is how it is of a piece with already prevailing bioethical discourses, which shape the present contours of our catastrophically failed racist War on (some) Drugs, for example, encouraging the early release and public marketing of unsafe drugs that presumably make people more "functional" consumers and workers while prohibiting drugs that provide harmless pleasures or unconventional states of consciousness, discourses that encourage the therapization of neuro-atypical or simply demanding children into obedient conformity with their classmates, discourses that justify surgeries to police intersex morphologies into apparent conformity to the normative sexual-dimorphism in the name of "well-being" of the child, discourses that stigmatize deaf parents who would select for deaf offspring to celebrate a community of the differently-sentient as though they were child abusers, and so on. As happens so often in futurological discourses that pretend to engage in a policy-discourse of foresight in a developmental frame, what tends to matter in the futurological is the way it symptomizes and illuminates present prejudices and pathologies.

Paul Raven has already responded to Dvorsky's piece, a marvelously acerbic bit of which I cannot resist quoting:
To assume that we know what is good for an ape better than an ape itself is an act of spectacular arrogance, and no amount of dressing it up in noble colonial bullshit about civilising the natives will conceal that arrogance. Furthermore, that said dressing-up can be done by people who frequently wring their hands over the ethical implications of the marginal possibility of sentient artificial intelligences getting upset about how they came to be made doesn’t go a long way toward defending the accusations of myopic technofetish, body-loathing and silicon-cultism that transhumanism’s more vocal detractors are fond of using.
It is probably too much to hope that the writer of this eminently sensible and properly aggravated response actually literally had me in mind when he refers to "vocal detractors" making accusations of "myopic technofetish[ism], body-loathing, and silicon-cultism," but one will indeed find all these and many more accusations of that kind made by me, among other places collected here. Be that as it may, I cheerfully endorse Raven's critique here.

In a fit of pique, Dvorsky responded to Raven thusly:
I'm going to issue a challenge to the opponents of animal uplift: Go back and live in the forest. I mean it. Reject all the technological gadgetry in your possession and all the institutions and specialists you've come to depend on. Throw away your phones, your shoes, your glasses and your watches. Denounce your education.
Inasmuch as vanishingly few of the people who make gedgets, phones, shoes, glasses, and watches are now or ever were self-identified members of Dvorsky's little Robot Cult or have explicitly espoused Dvorsky's highly idiosyncratic viewpoint on the non-issue of "animal uplift" I do hope if Dvorsky will forgive my refusal for now of his very generous offer of standing as the Official Representative of artifactual civilization.

As someone who earns his daily bread in the profession of education -- among other things I teach courses on science and technology, not to mention, occasionally, vegetarian and animal rights theory, to university students at Berkeley and art students at the San Francisco Art Institute -- I really must protest that disagreement with Dvorsky's rather odd views hardly demands that I renounce my education, quite the contrary in fact.

To the extent that our attire, our language, our posture, our affect is constituted socioculturally I would gently suggest to Dvorsky that his wished for expulsion of non-believers from the technological Eden of which he fancies himself uniquely representative (without ever doing much in the way of actually making or maintaining it, I really must add) involves the imagination of a primordial original "State of Nature" that really no more exists than "The Future" does, or more precisely, both exert their substantial justificatory force in the present in the political positioning they organize and rationalize.

As Raven suggests, I would propose that Dvorsky's "futurological" framing here on questions of the worldly relations of human and nonhuman animals plays out in the service of mostly reactionary political positions. In this, I would say that Dvorsky's article is fairly typically futurological.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

You probably aren't depressed at all, but just fucked over. If there's a pill for that it's not on sale, and chances are there's a War On It.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Today's Random Wilde

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Once and Future Speaker Pelosi: "You Are A Perfect Absurdity... I Will Not Yield to You!"



Speaker Boehner Chose to Go to the Dark Side!

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Modern advertising began a century ago by deceiving us that there were substantial differences between mass-produced consumer goods according to the brands they bear, and modern advertising has succeeded by now, a century later, in deceiving us that there are substantial differences between mass-produced consumers according to the brands we buy.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Today's Random Wilde

Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.

Friday, July 29, 2011

More Anarchy from the Moot

A regular reader asks:
How can there be such a thing as a "left anarchist"? Isn't anarchy just extreme libertarianism? I've never been able to figure them out. Just what exactly is it that they want? And why do they always appear at ANY progressive protest & behave like meth-crazed agent provocateurs? Their over-the-top violence ALWAYS ends up undermining & discrediting these protests. It's a mystery why they get so much sympathy from the left. I find them to be a pointless nuisance, and I just wish they would just fuck off for good.
Definitely anarchism has a richer pedigree on the left than the right, though perhaps not a longer one. Actually, the right-wing libertopians are (depending on your perspective on them) either exposing a deep problem always already inhering in any left-anarchic positioning or are simply misreading and distorting the left-anarchic ethos in their rather facile fashion. I'd say there was some truth in both of those perspectives, actually, but I incline to the second. (I'm giving you a little latitude in your declaration about anarchists always being disruptive and extreme -- I know where you are coming from, since this whole discussion arises from exchanges some of which are of the kind you are responding to, still I don't doubt you know that your statement is an overgeneralization, and that the many sympathetic anarchists in your company at demonstrations and discussions who are not disruptive have likely not attracted your notice precisely because they have not behaved the way you disapprove.)

You know, one of the pre-eminent figures of left-anarchy in the world today is the great Noam Chomsky, and he has said:
[I]t only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life and to challenge them. Unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate and should be dismantled to increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power, ownership, management, relations among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations... I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism[,] the conviction that the burden of proof has to be on authority and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.
I find it very easy to affirm all of this, but since I think many who would not think of themselves as anarchists at all (and with good reasons) but as liberals, democrats, peace workers, and so on would affirm what Chomsky is saying here as much as I would, I can't say that I see why approval of Chomsky's attitude here, then, makes me someone who wants to "Smash The State" in the least, rather than, say, to liberalize it, or to democratize it, or to deploy it in the service of non-violence (through the institutionalization of successions of leadership via regular election, through the maintenance of alternatives for the non-violent adjudication of disputes like courts, through the re-distribution of plutocratic concentrations of wealth via progressive taxation, through the amelioration of susceptibilities to corruption and abuse via separation of powers, subsidiarity of federalization, accountability to a free press, enumerated rights, elections and juries, through the maintenance of a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent via the provision of general welfare, public education, basic healthcare, basic income guarantees -- at the very least minimum wage guarantees -- paid for by means of taxes and fees, through the circumvention of abusive and fraudulent externalization of costs and risks inhering in mass-industrial production via socialization of commons and public goods, and so on).

It is all very well to say assertions of authority bear a burden of proof -- but what standards define that burden? who agrees to them? what about those who do not? just what is the scene in which this justification is offered up and adjudicated? Surely far too many of the questions that would presumably distinguish the anarchist-left from much of the rest of the left (plenty of it quite as radical as the anarchists are) are circumvented rather than addressed in Chomsky's enormously attractive declaration of anti-authoritarian principle.

Given this, how useful is Chomsky's formulation as a specifically anarchist proposal after all? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is not very helpful finally at all. And, given this, is it typical in this weakness of other efforts at general anarchist formulations in this vein? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is indeed rather typical of the problem (and, frankly, Chomsky's formulation is among the clearer ones available). Still, I'm far from denying my sympathy with what Chomsky says -- I daresay I am closely allied to Chomsky in this as in many other political positions -- hence the title of the post (Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist -- Or Am I? Part One and Part Two) and the reflections that accompany it.

Suicide Watch in Crazytown

Steve Benen endorses Kevin Drum's very sensible observation and recommendation about the GOP's entirely self-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis,
tea partiers just aren’t willing to deal, period. They want to burn the house down... So walk away from the tea partiers. Instead, strike a deal that a hundred non-insane House Republicans and 20 or 30 non-insane Senate Republicans can support. Add that to a majority of the Democratic caucus and you’re done. You’ve saved the country.
But then Benen asks the obvious and chilling question:
Kevin envisions 100 or so non-insane House Republicans joining a similar number of House Democrats to save the country. Sounds good. But are there 100 sane House Republicans? I honestly have no idea. Is there a reliable count of such things?
Quite apart from the math here, it is likely that saving the country is now antithetical to saving Boehner's Speakership (a "political" consideration which is just a matter of looking at the Crazytown math from a slightly different angle). Anyway, this is what it has come to. Thanks, again, dumb disgruntled mid-term voters and dumb disgruntled non-voters!

That's Funny, I Don't Find It Hard to Imagine in the Least

PolicalWire's Quote of the Day:
"It's hard to imagine the Senate Republicans would actually filibuster the nation into default." -- Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer

The President Should Direct the Treasury to Mint Three Trillion Dollar Coins

And then put them in a strong box under the mattress in the Lincoln bedroom or something. Problem solved. A generation from now the coins can be housed at the Smithsonian next to the Hope Diamond for people to snicker at (assuming the Smithsonian isn't an irradiated bombed out shell or submerged under a slick Greenhouse swamp by then).

UPDATE: Apparently Slate has in its own exasperation been pondering comparable absurdities in this vein.

Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist (Or Am I?) -- Continued

These reflections continue on from another post from a couple of days ago, and I would recommend you read that one too. I doubt it matters all that much which order you read them in, though.

I have sometimes thought that my "political orientation" would be better captured with the neologism consensualist, given the centrality of the provision of a substantial scene of consent to my understanding of a democratic and non-violent politics. In our historical moment, however, philosophical neologisms like that render one all too susceptible to the distortions of marketing and self-promotional discourse (advertizing, with all its devastating deception and hyperbole, has come quite close to colonizing public deliberation entirely by now, to the ruin of all), recasting one as another wannabe guru circus-barker with a movement and a manifesto soliciting tax-deductible contributions in exchange for promises of offering a meaning of life package re-conceived as something like the promise of more regular bowel movements and a whiter smile.

Since it is not a substance but a scene, not a faculty but a ritual, there will always be concerns about the profound gameability of consent. The libertopian anarcho-capitalist's whole schtick essentially derives from his pretense that transactions are perfectly consensual and social orders sublimely peaceable even when they are stratified by unequal knowledge and misinformation and driven by what amount in the context of informal and precarious labor to permanent threats of force.

In the typical neoliberal instance, then, I would declare the scene of consent largely vacuous as often as not. But of course there are vulnerabilities on the flip-side as well. I describe a legible scene of consent as one that is both informed and non-duressed, but since "informed" can never arrive at omniscience and since "non-duressed" can never arrive at omnipotence, there will always be a slippage between actual scenes of consent and the ideals at which they might be said logically to aspire, the legibility of the scene will always be a comparative matter. Part of that legibility would have to derive from the susceptibility of the scene of consent itself to interminable re-elaboration by critique. Part of what might be named by "anarchism" is this interminable constitutive dimension of critique to the scene of legible consent, it seems to me.

To the extent that democracy is less an eidos to approximate in our institutions (culminating, presumably, in The Ideal of "direct" democracy, "perfect" consensus, or what have you) than it is an ideal that might wholesomely articulate endlessly many different institutions in endlessly many variations and measures (the notion that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, as I would put it, probably does not have one best institutional materialization, given the many contexts in which it might make public life better), then another part of what is named by "anarchism" might be this interminable experimentation with and proliferation of institutionalizations of the democratic notion.

Inasmuch as I believe the key values of democracy are equity and diversity, and these values both depend on one another but are in tension with one another (I refer to equity-in-diversity as a single value, but the hyphens denote a dynamism not a stability), their institutionalization again looks to demand an endless re-elaboration through critique, and again "anarchism" seems to me a good name for this interminable constitutive dimension of critique.

Part of the trouble with a commitment to non-violence is that there is always some measure of dispute as to what violence consists of in the first place, and to circumscribe this dispute is itself to do violence. So, too, the constitution of a vocabulary in which it becomes possible legibly to testify to a violence will often (perhaps always) render testimony to another violence illegible. Brecht's question and quip, which violence is worse, to rob a bank or to found one? is provocative not only because one can easily assume a perspective from which either violence can seem worse, but because there is something about assuming the perspective from which either violence becomes clear that renders the other nearly invisible. Again, "anarchism" might name the interminable critique that permits a traffic among perspectives rendering testimonies to violation provisionally legible (even at the cost of rendering others provisionally illegible) to resist a stabilization that amounts to a violent circumscription of the discourse enabling attention and testament to and hence the institutional address of violences in the first place.

Part of what I would insist on, however, is that whether order names the provisional universalization of equity-in-diversity, whether it names the comparative accomplishment of the scene of informed nonduressed consent, whether it names the provision of ever more people with ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect, whether it names the commitment to nonviolence, this order is always institutionalized, and the work of critique is to expose the measure of slippage between the actual and the aspirational not to rationalize renunciation of the institution but to enable its interminable re-elaboration.

There is a tendency and possibly a permanent temptation in the anarchic imaginary that indulges an exposure that yields so all embracing a transparency it amounts finally to indifference rather than insight, that indulges a rebellion that yields so all embracing a rejection it amounts finally to resignation rather than to resistance. It goes without saying that any more pragmatic commitment to resistance, re-elaboration, and reform is no less prone to complacency, parochialism, exhaustion -- and the restlessness and rigor that might be named by "anarchism" can provide an indispensable re-invigoration to those of us whose pragmatism is directed to the service of the ethics of consent, democracy, non-violence, equity-in-diversity. Any anarchist who helps democratize the institutional terrain that besets us is a friend to me. To me, that comrade is democratizing the state, not smashing it -- but I am content to keep quiet on that quibble if that is all that stands in the way of our mutual education, agitation, and organization to materialize liberty and justice for all.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Could there actually be more suburban housewives on television than there are in the suburbs?

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Today's Random Wilde

All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Pundits, it might be worthwhile occasionally to point out that Nixon's "Silent Majority" was a minority, that Reagan's "Moral Majority" was a minority, that Bush's "Values Voters" were a minority voting for a minority of the values people vote for, that Red State "Real Americans" are a minority of real Americans, that only a minority of "Independent Voters" have ever had an independent thought let alone voted on the basis of one, and that a majority of those who call themselves "pro-life" also happen to support civilian casualties in wars of choice, lethal back-alley abortions, poisonous material environments, accidental executions of the wrongly convicted, ever more guns and bullets in the streets, and billions of people dying unnecessarily of starvation, from unclean water and treatable diseases around the world so that a miniscule minority can roll in dough for life.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist (Or Am I?)

Another post upgraded and adapted from the Moot. Upon discovering that I am trained in nonviolence and teach courses at Cal on violence and nonviolence, libertopian Kent has declared me possibly "halfway to libertarianism" because of my commitment to the "non-initiation of force" which he presumes he shares with me and which he fancies is somehow expressed in his own devotion to the exploitation, violence, fraud, and environmental destruction of "free market" orders.

This is what I had to say to him about that:

If by "libertarian," Kent, you mean "anarcho-capitalist," you couldn't be more wrong. If you mean by it something more like Ian -- who raised the first objections in this thread -- you probably wouldn't be too far wrong.

I'm a sort of democratic socialist, I guess.

The fact is I have no problem with private ownership or well-regulated market exchange, especially the more this ownership and enterprise occurs [1] in the context of equitable access to institutions for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes, [2] in the context of a scene of consent rendered legible by general welfare affording actually informed actually non-duressed consent, and [3] in the context of the socialization of commons and public goods to ameliorate tendencies to the externalization of cost and risk arising from industrial modes of production. Given all that, frankly, it seems to me I might rightly be called an advocate of a democratic organization of capitalist economy, an advocate of a capitalism made to express the non-violence libertopians incredibly claim to discern in it already in its present plutocratic vestigially feudal form.

Be that as it may, I have no doubt my advocacy of single payer healthcare, public education, and basic income in the service of the scene of consent and socialization of key modes of production prone to externalization amounts to democratic socialism in most construals of it, which is also perfectly fine with me.

I do think radical forms of commitments to democracy and non-violence (and I hold both of these myself) end up meaning something close to what many self-identified anarchists mean by "anarchism." Sometimes the words really do seem to get in the way. Given the plasticity of these terms I can easily think of people who would properly see their own politics in mine but think of themselves as the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, or as radical democrats, or social democrats, democratic socialists, secular democrats, pluralists, multiculturalists, anti-militarists, non-violent activists for social justice, market socialists, environmental justice advocates, Greens, queers, punks, civil libertarians, or, yes, sure, anarchists, too.

And yet I really do think there are problems with too many anarchisms -- and your own, Kent, most of all. Market fundamentalists, market libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, neoliberals too readily disavow the artifice of the so-called natural market as well as the duress, fraud and exploitation that stratifies market transactions you are apt to declare "non-initiation of force" through the facile expedient of pretending "initiation" begins several steps beyond when much of the nasty action actually is taking place.

More generally, I think much that gets declaimed about under the heading of anarchic state-smashing would much better be articulated in more specific and situated ways that end up sounding more like resistance to violence and inequity and unaccountability in existing institutions and practices, and so look to me more as efforts at tinkering, reform, democratization of governance than, you know, Smashing The State.

To be honest, I suspect that in the monolithic characterization conjured up by that very term -- The State -- it may be there is no The State to exist for us to smash any more than there is The God to exist for us to kill. Given regular elections, general enfranchisement, and wide eligibility for office-holding, the separation of powers, the subsidiarity of the federalization of governance, the shifting, competing, co-operating patchwork of jurisdictions, the interplay of private/public/social/cultural/media apparatuses subsumed under and against that heading in any case, it seems a bit of a mystification to pretend a singular concentrated overbearing substance is in play, one to which a monopoly on violence is attributed, a violence that is presumably unaccountable however answerable it actually may turn out to be, however convoluted and ramifying its pathways, a violence which is taken exhaustively to characterize it even if its edicts are backed only in the last instance by such force, and even then hardly always efficaciously and usually only accountably.

If I might be a bit more theoretical about it, I would say, more or less with Arendt, that politics (the encounter with difference) is prior to sociality (sustained association in difference), and that the plurality out of which the political arises is as much about the ineradicable problems of disputation and structural violence as about the real promises of mutual aid and voluntary co-operation, and that this takes us to concerns with the institutionalizations of order before it takes us to the wholesome democratization of government.

And so, all in all, even if it offends my left-anarchist friends sometimes, I still must insist that I do not want to smash the state, but to democratize it.

Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist (Or Am I?) -- Continued

I am not appending to this post, a copy of a second one from a couple days later consisting of reflections continuing on from the first.

I have sometimes thought that my "political orientation" would be better captured with the neologism consensualist, given the centrality of the provision of a substantial scene of consent to my understanding of a democratic and non-violent politics. In our historical moment, however, philosophical neologisms like that render one all too susceptible to the distortions of marketing and self-promotional discourse (advertizing, with all its devastating deception and hyperbole, has come quite close to colonizing public deliberation entirely by now, to the ruin of all), recasting one as another wannabe guru circus-barker with a movement and a manifesto soliciting tax-deductible contributions in exchange for promises of offering a meaning of life package re-conceived as something like the promise of more regular bowel movements and a whiter smile.

Since it is not a substance but a scene, not a faculty but a ritual, there will always be concerns about the profound gameability of consent. The libertopian anarcho-capitalist's whole schtick essentially derives from his pretense that transactions are perfectly consensual and social orders sublimely peaceable even when they are stratified by unequal knowledge and misinformation and driven by what amount in the context of informal and precarious labor to permanent threats of force.

In the typical neoliberal instance, then, I would declare the scene of consent largely vacuous as often as not. But of course there are vulnerabilities on the flip-side as well. I describe a legible scene of consent as one that is both informed and non-duressed, but since "informed" can never arrive at omniscience and since "non-duressed" can never arrive at omnipotence, there will always be a slippage between actual scenes of consent and the ideals at which they might be said logically to aspire, the legibility of the scene will always be a comparative matter. Part of that legibility would have to derive from the susceptibility of the scene of consent itself to interminable re-elaboration by critique. Part of what might be named by "anarchism" is this interminable constitutive dimension of critique to the scene of legible consent, it seems to me.

To the extent that democracy is less an eidos to approximate in our institutions (culminating, presumably, in The Ideal of "direct" democracy, "perfect" consensus, or what have you) than it is an ideal that might wholesomely articulate endlessly many different institutions in endlessly many variations and measures (the notion that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, as I would put it, probably does not have one best institutional materialization, given the many contexts in which it might make public life better), then another part of what is named by "anarchism" might be this interminable experimentation with and proliferation of institutionalizations of the democratic notion.

Inasmuch as I believe the key values of democracy are equity and diversity, and these values both depend on one another but are in tension with one another (I refer to equity-in-diversity as a single value, but the hyphens denote a dynamism not a stability), their institutionalization again looks to demand an endless re-elaboration through critique, and again "anarchism" seems to me a good name for this interminable constitutive dimension of critique.

Part of the trouble with a commitment to non-violence is that there is always some measure of dispute as to what violence consists of in the first place, and to circumscribe this dispute is itself to do violence. So, too, the constitution of a vocabulary in which it becomes possible legibly to testify to a violence will often (perhaps always) render testimony to another violence illegible. Brecht's question and quip, which violence is worse, to rob a bank or to found one? is provocative not only because one can easily assume a perspective from which either violence can seem worse, but because there is something about assuming the perspective from which either violence becomes clear that renders the other nearly invisible. Again, "anarchism" might name the interminable critique that permits a traffic among perspectives rendering testimonies to violation provisionally legible (even at the cost of rendering others provisionally illegible) to resist a stabilization that amounts to a violent circumscription of the discourse enabling attention and testament to and hence the institutional address of violences in the first place.

Part of what I would insist on, however, is that whether order names the provisional universalization of equity-in-diversity, whether it names the comparative accomplishment of the scene of informed nonduressed consent, whether it names the provision of ever more people with ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect, whether it names the commitment to nonviolence, this order is always institutionalized, and the work of critique is to expose the measure of slippage between the actual and the aspirational not to rationalize renunciation of the institution but to enable its interminable re-elaboration.

There is a tendency and possibly a permanent temptation in the anarchic imaginary that indulges an exposure that yields so all embracing a transparency it amounts finally to indifference rather than insight, that indulges a rebellion that yields so all embracing a rejection it amounts finally to resignation rather than to resistance. It goes without saying that any more pragmatic commitment to resistance, re-elaboration, and reform is no less prone to complacency, parochialism, exhaustion -- and the restlessness and rigor that might be named by "anarchism" can provide an indispensable re-invigoration to those of us whose pragmatism is directed to the service of the ethics of consent, democracy, non-violence, equity-in-diversity. Any anarchist who helps democratize the institutional terrain that besets us is a friend to me. To me, that comrade is democratizing the state, not smashing it -- but I am content to keep quiet on that quibble if that is all that stands in the way of our mutual education, agitation, and organization to materialize liberty and justice for all.

Postscript: More Anarchy from the Moot

Another amendment arising from the conversation occasioned by the first two.

A regular reader asks:
How can there be such a thing as a "left anarchist"? Isn't anarchy just extreme libertarianism? I've never been able to figure them out. Just what exactly is it that they want? And why do they always appear at ANY progressive protest & behave like meth-crazed agent provocateurs? Their over-the-top violence ALWAYS ends up undermining & discrediting these protests. It's a mystery why they get so much sympathy from the left. I find them to be a pointless nuisance, and I just wish they would just fuck off for good.
Definitely anarchism has a richer pedigree on the left than the right, though perhaps not a longer one. Actually, the right-wing libertopians are (depending on your perspective on them) either exposing a deep problem always already inhering in any left-anarchic positioning or are simply misreading and distorting the left-anarchic ethos in their rather facile fashion. I'd say there was some truth in both of those perspectives, actually, but I incline to the second. (I'm giving you a little latitude in your declaration about anarchists always being disruptive and extreme -- I know where you are coming from, since this whole discussion arises from exchanges some of which are of the kind you are responding to, still I don't doubt you know that your statement is an overgeneralization, and that the many sympathetic anarchists in your company at demonstrations and discussions who are not disruptive have likely not attracted your notice precisely because they have not behaved the way you disapprove.)

You know, one of the pre-eminent figures of left-anarchy in the world today is the great Noam Chomsky, and he has said:
[I]t only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life and to challenge them. Unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate and should be dismantled to increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power, ownership, management, relations among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations... I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism[,] the conviction that the burden of proof has to be on authority and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met.
I find it very easy to affirm all of this, but since I think many who would not think of themselves as anarchists at all (and with good reasons) but as liberals, democrats, peace workers, and so on would affirm what Chomsky is saying here as much as I would, I can't say that I see why approval of Chomsky's attitude here, then, makes me someone who wants to "Smash The State" in the least, rather than, say, to liberalize it, or to democratize it, or to deploy it in the service of non-violence (through the institutionalization of successions of leadership via regular election, through the maintenance of alternatives for the non-violent adjudication of disputes like courts, through the re-distribution of plutocratic concentrations of wealth via progressive taxation, through the amelioration of susceptibilities to corruption and abuse via separation of powers, subsidiarity of federalization, accountability to a free press, enumerated rights, elections and juries, through the maintenance of a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent via the provision of general welfare, public education, basic healthcare, basic income guarantees -- at the very least minimum wage guarantees -- paid for by means of taxes and fees, through the circumvention of abusive and fraudulent externalization of costs and risks inhering in mass-industrial production via socialization of commons and public goods, and so on).

It is all very well to say assertions of authority bear a burden of proof -- but what standards define that burden? who agrees to them? what about those who do not? just what is the scene in which this justification is offered up and adjudicated? Surely far too many of the questions that would presumably distinguish the anarchist-left from much of the rest of the left (plenty of it quite as radical as the anarchists are) are circumvented rather than addressed in Chomsky's enormously attractive declaration of anti-authoritarian principle.

Given this, how useful is Chomsky's formulation as a specifically anarchist proposal after all? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is not very helpful finally at all. And, given this, is it typical in this weakness of other efforts at general anarchist formulations in this vein? -- I'm afraid I must say I think it is indeed rather typical of the problem (and, frankly, Chomsky's formulation is among the clearer ones available). Still, I'm far from denying my sympathy with what Chomsky says -- I daresay I am closely allied to Chomsky in this as in many other political positions -- hence the title of the post (Why I Am Still Not An Anarchist -- Or Am I? Part One and Part Two) and the reflections that accompany it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Death-Dealin' Gun-Totin' Muscular Baby Jesus Inspires "America's Pastor" to Fuck the Poor

Rick Warren Screenshot:
HALF of America pays NO taxes. Zero. So they're happy for tax rates to be raised on the other half that DOES pay any taxes.
I can't say that I am particularly perplexed to find that a man who believes in a God that doesn't exist would also not believe in regressive sales and payroll taxes that do exist. That particular irrationality seems rather reassuringly consistent to me, actually.

That this man claims to espouse the Christianity of the champion of the poor while celebrating the rich and denouncing the poor is a bit more perplexing to me, but one grows used to this sort of ugly evil mean-spirited hypocrisy from Christians, after all. (If your own Christianity is better than that, don't whine about me telling ugly truths you know to be true, struggle in your own lives to make a better truth true.)

I do want to send a shout out to President Obama, though, yet again, for inviting this horrid anti-gay bigot and plutocratic cocksucker to deliver the Invocation to his Inaugural. (This last comment, by the way, is not an invitation for a chorus of bullshit GOP-Dem equivalency theses, Rahmsputin conspiracy theories, or Obama is an eeeevil secret Republican/ Muslim/ Randroid/ Socialist screeds stinking up my Moot, thank you very much.)

UPDATE: Atrios shows us some more lovely blossoms in Rick Warren's fragrant garden.

Libertopians Keep Trying to Define Reality Out of Existence

The rhetorician in me is moved once again to provide some minimal instruction in the aftermath of libertopian Kent's latest absolutely typical argumentative transgressions in the Moot, from which this post is upgraded and adapted. Again, this is not for Kent, Kent is a clown, Kent is unreachable, Kent is far too deep down the Randroidal rabbit hole to be saved except by a miracle of a kind that only he could provide himself by now...

Quoth Kent:

[one]

Against my accusation that Movement Republicanism is as close as his market fundamentalism will ever get to real influence in the real world, Kent huffs: "Hardly. They are not pro-liberty any more than you are." Kent keeps making the mistake of thinking I confuse his particular market fundamentalist catechism for the variations the GOP (not to mention plenty of corporatist neoliberals) like to spout on about.

Of course, it's not that I don't see the doctrinal differences between Kent's versus Paul Ryan's sects of market fundamentalism. My point is to be discerned in what I am actually literally saying over and over: the GOP spouts many of the same Hayekian- Misean- Hazlittian- Friedmanian- (pere et fils) Randian- Rothbardian- Heinleinian- anti-government anti-tax anti-civilization slogans, and those slogans have and have had many real world impacts (almost always utterly catastrophic, mind you) involving the looting and then crumbling of infrastructure, the cronyism and then corrupt dysfunction of contracting out public services, the deregulation and then ruinous mischief-making and fraud of utilities and financial enterprise, the endless "Starve The Beast" de-funding and then dismantling of civilization and the resulting anti-democratizing concentration of wealth.

It's not that I don't know that many of the assholes who mouth Kent's own pet libertopian pieties often also mouth other slogans with which he disagrees, espousing theocracy or empire or surveillance in forms he may disapprove of (though I don't think you can ever really count on people of the right to mean what they say when they say these things, especially given how parochially profitable war-making and smashing civil liberties ultimately can be if you're on the "winning" team of thugs) and so on, it's that I completely disagree with Kent that these differences matter in the way he thinks they do.

Kent -- and so many libertopians like him -- seems to think his occasional doctrinal differences with the GOP mouthpiece du jour or disapproval with right-wing think-tank hacks on separable matters means these Republicans have nothing at all to do with Kent. But my own point is that these Republican jerks, whatever their differences with libertopian jerks, are nonetheless as close as the libertopians will ever get to seeing any materialization of any of their world view in actual reality, come what may. To put the point with more elegant concision: Just because GOP assholes differ from your own libertopian assholery in certain respects doesn't get you off the hook for the parts of their bullshit they owe to you.

It's as if Kent wants to pretend that all these political debates are some sort of abstract exercise playing out among angels on pinheads, when it is playing out in fact in the real world where real people can hear the actual arguments and frames used to justify real right-wing errors and crimes and lies. These suffering people will have no difficulty discerning the libertopian strain in GOP policy and rhetoric that has yielded its measure of disaster, especially if those of us who know better see to it that the truth is known.

Kent and his ilk may strive to define all their troubles away all they like, but these are real lives being smashed up by facile self-serving libertopian slogans, not high school debating club points being scored.

[two]

Kent: "Those who produce are not parasites."

By definition, of course. This is the very same sort of gesture that libertopians use to declare market outcomes "non-coercive" by fiat, from which stipulation they go on to trot out all their usual cocksure entailments in perfect obliviousness to the empirical failures of their prescriptions ever to measure up to real world complexities. Notice, a pattern is emerging here (see title of post).

And so, by definition, those denominated "producers" according to Kent's parochial preferences in the matter are by definition "not parasites" and so there is no need to inquire further into the conditions under which their production occurs or is enabled in actual history in actual reality. One needs merely to get the Big Bad State and the icky moochers out of the way for the super-producers to do their stuff.

Unfortunately, Kent's magic words do not cause actual reality to conform to his libertopian fantasy. The actual process of production is collaboratory/contestatory and happens in the context of institutions and commons as well as historical archives and struggles.

Just because market fundamentalists are too stupid to grasp these things, and just because they can peddle and promote their wrong but attractively simple alternative viewpoint to other stupid people in their pocket-universe (as well as to the many more who find in such views congenial or uncritical rationalizations for their own complacency and waste because they are pampered and have remained, hitherto at any rate, mostly insulated from the cruel and unsustainable consequences of their irresponsible conduct as thoughtless consumers and apathetic renunciation of responsible citizenship) doesn't make it so.

[three]

Kent, debauching a quotation by King he does not understand, "mutuality does not require coercion or theft. It does not EVER require a State"

Gosh, he sure seems supremely confident making claims about an orderly law-abiding and yet anarchic state of affairs with nothing in reality or history to actually back it up, now, doesn't he? Of course, Kent is defining as "coercion" and "theft" here plenty that does not deserve the designation by a long shot in my view. Paying one's dues to participate in a civilization far greater than yourself from which you benefit incomparably more than it costs you is hardly "theft" to anyone with an actually working brain or conscience. But, look, I think we need to go here to some deeper places Kent is likely altogether incapable of delving into; that is to say, into the constitutive terms out of which the political, properly so-called, arises, and out of which come the fundamental experiences and problems to which terms like liberty, coercion, production, and so on actually correspond in the first place.

People who share the world are actually different from one another, they have different capacities and different aspirations. There are ineradicable disputes among stakeholders sharing the aftermath of struggles and accomplishments past, sharing the present world opening onto tomorrow. Violence and the threat of violence pre-exist states, and "state-like" institutionalizations of order are responses to the permanent possibility of violence inhering in human plurality itself.

Violence is not created by the state and would obviously persist in a world in which everything "statelike" were smashed. And so, elections provide a mechanism for the comparatively nonviolent succession of ruling organizations, law courts provide comparatively nonviolent alternates for the resolution of disputes, general welfare provide a comparatively legible scene of consent to the terms of private enterprise in complex divisions of labor after the withering away of sacral social orders, public and common goods ameliorate the novel harms arising from externalization of cost and risk in industrial-scaled intervention into ecosystems and mass population, and so on.

To celebrate or rail against "The State" is probably, ultimately, more trouble than it is worth when what is wanted is to grasp and to struggle in the service of democratization and equity-in-diversity through the reform of and resistance to exploitation playing out across the actually-existing institutional terrain in which we actually find ourselves, coming out of a complex history of struggle and suffering and creation and emerging onto a shared prospect no less promising and yet stratified by quandary and trouble.

You can of course declare, stipulate by definition, that there simply are no rational conflicts among people, you can declare there simply are no problems of harm arising from complex modalities of association, you can declare violence unnecessary and so negligible in principle (as if there were not disputes even as to what should count as violence to which institutions must respond), and so on in the usual facile libertopian fashion.

From anarcho-capitalists to Randroids to libertopians to neocons to chamber of commerce free enterprisers to prosperity gospel muscular baby jesus freaks to neoliberals to corporatist Dems -- free marketeers of whatever stripe can obviously sell these comforting daydreams for parochial short-term profit and an easy feeling of mastery over complexities that exceed their ken.

But they do so to the ruin of the world.

And this is because the world is not like your favorite Ayn Rand novel, and the problems and promises of human plurality and social struggle and stakeholder politics and public goods are all real whether you understand them or not, whether you ignore them or not, whether you lie to yourself or others about them or not.

From the Folks Who Brought You the Summer of Tea and Death Panels, Here Comes Impeachment Season!

Apparently, over in the Fox Hole and across the right wing noise machine, Republican Crazytown is now declaring it a somehow make-believe impeachable offense for the President not to give in to their hostage drama and dismantle civilization in exchange for them not trashing the world economy by not raising the debt ceiling in one hour and in one page as they easily can and regularly historically have done... And now that Boehner has joined his trembling orange hand with Cantor's spider-hand since last night's loony litany of lies they are both genuflecting with whole heart to their End-Times Base... So, well, I guess Obama might as well just go to the so-called Constitutional Option and let them impeach him over that instead. Of course the Supreme Court is approximately as bonkers as the House at this point, given the Republican appointments of Federalist Society wingnuts to the High Court... The long term prospects look a bit dire on that, but it would at any rate defer the entirely unnecessary fiscal disaster (I mean, yet another one), bring the impeachment circus back to town, ensure their freak show congress is do-nothing (much better than anything they would do if they were a do-something congress: death penalty by stoning for women who use birth control pills? forced de-gayification camps presided over by Michelle Bachmann's husband? selling off the federal highways to Haliburton?), and we can just stew in helpless frantic misery until 2012 provides an opportunity to correct the madness of the mid-term election of these killer clowns or, who knows, make everything incomparably worse by electing even more of them... in which case, what can I say, give up and get out if you can while you can?

Today's Random Wilde

When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Sorry, but your crappy kitchen isn't Tuscany.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Little Perplexed

I'm not quite getting why Obama devoted a speech to selling the so-called "balanced approach" of cuts and revenues after endorsing in the speech and even before the speech the Reid plan that is all cuts and no revenues. No doubt these gambits and positionings and so on will be clarified by their sequelae in due course...? I was frankly hoping Obama would just demand a clean bill and stealth an appeal to Wall Street to bring out the long knives for Crazytown, but found the whole prime time address weird and kinda sorta superfluous. This impression of weirdness was not exactly helped along by its Boehner coda, by the way, in which a dead-eyed dullard with a too-thick tongue told scary lies while playing at being Mirror-Universe President or something, hunched over a podium in his paneled office. I was, like, why is Boehner contemplating destroying the economy for no reason while telling us about having two daughters -- I mean, Obama has two daughters, too, what's your point, dude, are you drunk?

Every Libertopian Mistakes Being Born On Third Base As Hitting A Triple

Upgraded and Adapted from the Moot:

Notice that Kent indulges, by the way, in the usual projection...

The self-nominated "producers" appropriate the historical archive, the commons, their indebtedness to their fellows (usually derided as "parasites," as gentle Kent would have it) and then pretend they create these goods as rugged individuals, as it were ab initio. To an important extent Kent is able to decry the redistribution of wealth via progressive taxation as "looting" only because he denies first of all the extent to which the initial distribution of wealth itself testifies non-negligibly to something like looting. (To say "initial distribution" rather than "production" is to register the collaborative/contestatory dimension of all production, and is not a confusion so much as a conspicuous compensation for the hyper-individualist terms through which we have come "commonsensically" to misconstrue production.)

In King's terms, "We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." This is not to deny altogether the justice of an unequal distribution of result given the unequal distribution of effort, luck, talent, desire, and so on that shapes that result. Democracy values equity-in-diversity, not homogeneity, and not all fortunes are inevitably unjust by any means (nor is the lack of conventional wealth the measure of misfortune for all of us).

The progressive taxation of those who benefit most from the physical infrastructure and ecosystemic services (public goods and services and commons whose private provision or allocation involve the violent externalization of social costs and risks) as well as those who benefit most from the maintenance and improvement of the ritual infrastructure of laws, norms, codes, and the atmosphere of trust (institutions for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes which must be equitably accessible to function legitimately) on which all private flourishing and for-profit enterprise depend, after all, makes perfect sense.

However, there is no perfect "planned" allocation of a more just distribution (market sensitive socialists took up Mises on this point generations ago, Keynesians never had to, they were already on it). There are and always will be ineradicable and legitimate differences as to what should be valued in respect to what else. This is a dimension of the diversity democracy cherishes after all.

Therefore, the sensible progressive taxation of those who benefit most from society (and among whom concentrations of wealth can imperil the proper function of that society to the longer-term ruin of all) should fund those general welfare programs which function to ensure that the scene of consent to enterprise be as genuinely informed and nonduressed as may be. This outcome is simply defined away by libertopians by fiat -- hence their faith in the "non-initiation of force" usually functions as a rationale for enforced exploitation disavowing the fraud, misinformation, and threat of violence on which it depends to maintain its hierarchy.

Just as libertopians pretend that the market is a spontaneous upwelling of tidal forces of supply and demand rather than a historically contingent tissue of treaties, customs, infrastructural articulations, and police forces, so too they assume initial and ongoing exploitation as "natural" or "merited" and then decry as looting, theft, or force any resistance to the violence of the status quo in the service of equity-in-diversity.

I do not provide these formulations for Kent -- Kent is a clown, Kent is not available to this sort of re-thinking of his reassuring pieties. I provide this for those who read his little snit, take in the slogans (familiar through incessant repetition across the spectrum from libertarians, conservatives, to neoliberals), and are lulled by their familiar cadences into the usual uncritical suicidal haze.

Art and Radical Politics

Revolutionaries should remember that as a transformative force art can never be counted on but neither can it ever be counted out. On a related note, radical political theorists should remember that theory always has something artistic about it but never is reducible to its artistry.

Today's Random Wilde

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Can somebody please tell me what the fuck Julia Roberts is cackling about all the time?

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Living in Libertopia: Debt Ceiling Edition

These are the first three (of what have by now expanded to over sixty) of my Dispatches from Libertopia. It seemed a good time to re-run them.
I. Wherever government is meant to be of by and for the people, to be anti-government always means to be against the people.

II. Whenever a right wing politician declares all government wasteful, criminal, and corrupt you should pay close attention, because he is announcing his plans.

III. Anti-tax zealots are the ones who think that civilization is the only free lunch.
We're down to nine days left, and yet another breakdown of talks, and apparently the Republicans still can't decide whether or not they want completely voluntarily to destroy their own economy and magnify the misery of this recession for millions upon millions of their own citizens if they don't get more tax cuts for the rich paid for by the further dismantlement of the welfare state.

Today's Random Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

It bears remembering that none of the actually safe, actually effective, actually best prescription medicines are advertized on television because they don't have to be.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Norway's Terrorist Was A White-Racist Christian Fundamentalist

No wonder all the wall to wall terror-porn hyperventilation clammed up so suddenly…

More on the evil asshole here.

Debt Ceiling Fundamentals and Fulminations

It's been pretty clear from the beginning that the Republicans in the House couldn't muster the numbers for any Big Deal that wasn't insane and that the Democrats couldn't muster the numbers for any Big Deal even remotely insane enough to satisfy them and that Wall Street wouldn't let any form of insanity impacting their bottom line (like not raising the debt ceiling) happen. And so, the debt-ceiling crisis has always really been the crisis of the insanity of the Republican's unmanageably crazy and ignorant caucus. All the trial balloons and public signals and unattributed quotes and close readings of press events that have been exercising the attention of Villagers and bloggers have mostly been hysterical spastic and yet also herdlike behavior, probably functioning most of all to provide cover for something like McConnell's effort to work out some kind of escape clause via abdication of congressional responsibility at a time when congress is full of Republican crazytown stoopid. As usual, the President's efforts to work his way to the best political position for 2012 managed to convince the idiots of the left that he is secretly eeeevil without dislodging the article of faith among the idiots of the right that he is secretly eeeevil as well, and yet he still managed pretty close to the best case given how idiotic everybody is. The level of GOP crazy and stoopid suffusing congress since the mid-terms really is so high (I warned you) that getting the numbers for even the most modest face-saving minimally sane solution through (we haven't even gotten to filibusters yet, mind you) is far from an easy thing, but I have every confidence the least possible but adequate substance coupled to the highest possible but disgusting hysteria will indeed pass just in time to keep the ugly robotic deadly minuet cranking along.

Pretty Awesome

Village Voice:
Kitty Lambert and her fiancé Cheryle Rudd will be the first same-sex couple to wed in New York State. The grandmothers of 12 will tie the knot before a crowd of thousands, in front of the specially rainbow lit Niagara Falls. Kitty is also the President of OUTspoken for Equality, an organization that takes credit for pulling Buffallo area Republican State Senator Mark Gristanti into the marriage equality camp.

"Kabuki"

I wonder how many people using that word online and on air grasped the extent to which, in doing so, they were playing their assigned role within it…

Weekend Queergeek Eye Candy Blogging




The one, the only, Clash of the Titans

Today's Random Wilde

Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

Watching cooking competitions on television you're given the impression that no woman has a place in the kitchen, while watching the commercials during cooking competitions you're given the impression that women have no place except in the kitchen.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Still More Graeber: Debt, Money, History

David Graeber:
As long as there has been money, there’s been debt… For one thing, what we now call “virtual money” is nothing new. In fact it’s the original form of money. Credit systems predate coinage by at least two thousand years. Human history has alternated back and forth between eras of virtual credit money, and eras dominated by gold and silver -- which have also, invariably, been times of great empire, standing armies (coins were invented to pay soldiers), and slavery. [A]rguments over credit, debt, virtual and physical money have [always] been at the very center of political life… [W]hen money is imagined as gold… simply one commodity among others, attitudes toward debt tend… to harden, often creating dramatic social unrest (pretty much every popular insurrection in the ancient world was over issues of debt). In periods dominated by credit money, such as the Middle Ages, money was seen essentially as an IOU, a social arrangement. The result was, almost invariably, the creation of some sort of great institution designed to protect debtors, so as to ensure the system didn’t fly completely out of hand: periodic clean slates in the ancient Near East, bans on the charging of interest and debt peonage in Medieval Christianity and Islam, and so on… We already learned in 2008 that debts -- even trillions in debts -- can be made to go away if the debtor is sufficiently rich and influential. It is only a matter of time before people draw the obvious conclusions: that if money is just a social arrangement, so many IOUs that can be renegotiated by mutual agreement, then if democracy is to mean anything, that has to be true for everyone, not just the few. And the implications of that, could be epochal.
Marvelous stuff, definitely I will have to read Graeber's book now. The identification of money with debt has, of course, an enormous pedigree, but Ellen Hodgson Brown has been attracting a lot of populist attention lately flogging the point, I know.

The deeper point about money as a social compact rather than as a commodity -- the point which yields the "epochal implications" concerning democracy of his conclusion -- reminds me of the great Karl Polanyi's insistence in The Great Transformation (the first, immediate, and still best repudiation of Hayekian neoliberalism) that money -- like labor and land -- cannot properly be regarded as commodities.

Polanyi's point about labor is actually at the root of my own insistence on the maintenance of a scene of legible informed nonduressed consent, his point about land -- where "land" has the same sort of resonance it does in Leopold's "land ethic" -- is also at the root of my insistence on the socialization of public and common goods -- both of which I elaborated in a companion post occasioned by Graeber's editorial today.

More Graeber: Debt and Magical Thinking

David Graeber:
The peculiar willingness of American families to accept, at a time of 9.2 percent unemployment, that our real problem is the need to cut government spending to balance the budget can only be explained as a classic example of magical thinking (I’m an anthropologist, I know magical thinking when I see it): perhaps if we can balance our collective budget, I will be able balance my family’s budget too.
Obviously this is enormously relevant at the present time, given the facile rhetoric circulating especially among the anti-tax anti-government ante-constitutional Movement Republicans to justify their eagerness to crash the economy (you know, for kids!), endlessly analogizing budgetary decisions families make with those governments make -- even though family budgets are minute pieces of national budgets and not vice versa, although governments have tools available to them that no family has at its disposal, thus rendering the analogy instantly, obviously, utterly false.

It is interesting that Graeber is making the same sort of point from a different angle of view: Rather than imposing an inapt domestic set of budgetary standards on a national budget in an understandable effort to make comprehensible something unfathomably enormous through something modestly quotidian, something altogether alien through something more familiar, Graeber is proposing that another part of what might be afoot here is the desire to exert control on what seems volatile at the local level by uncritically demanding the control of the wider context in which that local threat is lodged, a desperate desire to wrangle the wider world into stability on familiar terms in the hope that one's own pocket of the world will thereby resume its own stability.

Indebtedness As A Lifelong Condition of Existential Precarity

David Graeber:
It is simply assumed, nowadays, that we will be born to indebted, mortgage-paying parents, go deep into debt for our educations, and never, quite, completely, get out -- and, therefore, that we will both live our lives with a constant feeling of at least slight attendant fear and humiliation, and that a significant portion of our life income will end up being paid out in interest and financial service payments.
It is enormously interesting to contrast the anxious relation of subjects to owner-elites sustained throughout life by means of ongoing indebtedness, to the empowering relation of citizen-peers to one another through their collaboration and contestation by means of the democratic state.

It is also interesting to ponder the different work of a massive state indebtedness shoring up owner-elites through the maintenance of the tyrannical state qua war machine (whether directing its energies toward foreign foes in wars of conquest of toward domestic foes in class warfare) as against the deployment of the democratic state qua investment engine to provide institutions for the nonviolent adjudicate of disputes, for the provision of general welfare to maintain the scene of informed nonduressed consent on which nonviolent enterprise depends, and to socialize public and common goods whose production otherwise demands the violent externalization of costs and risks or the violent expropriation of the common heritage of humanity.

I find myself thinking of Foucault's Discipline and Punish in which he proposes that the permanent failure of modern prisons to function as institutions of rehabilitation may suggest that their function instead is to create a permanent population of delinquent subjects at once susceptible to exploitation and conspicuous abuse in ways that are indispensable to the privileged but would otherwise undermine the self-image of polities defined by ideals of general welfare and legal equity, while at once bearing permanently in their bodies the conspicuous stigma and in their lives the costly marginality of illegality not so subtly warning majorities always to behave even if they are "free" not so to do.

Foucault's point is not, by the way, to propose that the production of delinquency is a secret or conspiratorial project undertaken under cover of rehabilitation but that the disciplinary assumptions and supervisory mechanisms through which normal(izing) rehabilitation is undertaken are functionally indistinguishable from the production of delinquency as such, with the implication that prisons are a representative disciplinary institution rather than an exceptional one, just one islet in what he describes as a "carceral archipelago" which includes armies, broadcast media, companies, courts, factories, and schools producing "capable selves" rationalized in reference to the normalizing administration of general welfare.

What is especially provocative about Discipline and Punish, of course, is its exposure and critique of what might be described as anti-democratizing forces at the very heart of the democratic ethos, arising out of democratizing assumptions and ends themselves, and while this can be useful it can also be rather demoralizing (as it was not for Foucault himself, who was devoted to all sorts of liberal and radical political campaigns in his public life of precisely the sort some might think he had fatally problematized).

Recalling that pieties about rehabilitation are infrequent compared to the discourse in which prisoners are said to be "paying their debt to society" I find myself wondering if Graeber's discussion of indebtedness as a generalizing existential condition reminiscent to me of Foucault's delinquency might provide an analytic tool helping those of us Marxists/Postmarxists who have made the biopolitical turn (usually via Arendt, Fanon, Foucault) and who would still make distinctions between democratizing universalisms and anti-democratizing neoliberal/neoconservative universalisms that are often intertwined historically, discursively (through the language of humanism, rights, nonviolence, consent, markets, and, yes, democracy itself).

Making this move through the figure of debt is especially attractive given the ongoing neoliberal(/neoconservative) "progressive" developmentalism that polices planetary hierarchy, installing a planetary precariat (the rewriting of the vast majority of humanity in the image of informal insecure radically precarious labor, the postmarxist proletariat) especially in the context of global digitizing-financialization-logoization and international debt through "structural adjustment protocols."

Strife and Debt

It is in this context that I think it is interesting to read this comment on the ways contemporary society compels young people into comparative acquiescence by Bruce Levine. (The excerpt is about student loan debt, but I also agree with him about the impacts of mind-numbing superficiality of "participation" in now ubiquitous social media formations and the pharmacological-therapeutic imposition of mediocrity-conformity among school age students, follow the link to read more):
Large debt -- and the fear it creates -- is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A. and even a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt. While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world. The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.

Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt. During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt. In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.
More Graeber: Debt and Magical Thinking

David Graeber:
The peculiar willingness of American families to accept, at a time of 9.2 percent unemployment, that our real problem is the need to cut government spending to balance the budget can only be explained as a classic example of magical thinking (I’m an anthropologist, I know magical thinking when I see it): perhaps if we can balance our collective budget, I will be able balance my family’s budget too.
Obviously this is enormously relevant at the present time, given the facile rhetoric circulating especially among the anti-tax anti-government ante-constitutional Movement Republicans to justify their eagerness to crash the economy (you know, for kids!), endlessly analogizing budgetary decisions families make with those governments make -- even though family budgets are minute pieces of national budgets and not vice versa, although governments have tools available to them that no family has at its disposal, thus rendering the analogy instantly, obviously, utterly false.

It is interesting that Graeber is making the same sort of point from a different angle of view: Rather than imposing an inapt domestic set of budgetary standards on a national budget in an understandable effort to make comprehensible something unfathomably enormous through something modestly quotidian, something altogether alien through something more familiar, Graeber is proposing that another part of what might be afoot here is the desire to exert control on what seems volatile at the local level by uncritically demanding the control of the wider context in which that local threat is lodged, a desperate desire to wrangle the wider world into stability on familiar terms in the hope that one's own pocket of the world will thereby resume its own stability.

Still More Graeber: Debt, Money, History

David Graeber:
As long as there has been money, there’s been debt… For one thing, what we now call “virtual money” is nothing new. In fact it’s the original form of money. Credit systems predate coinage by at least two thousand years. Human history has alternated back and forth between eras of virtual credit money, and eras dominated by gold and silver -- which have also, invariably, been times of great empire, standing armies (coins were invented to pay soldiers), and slavery. [A]rguments over credit, debt, virtual and physical money have [always] been at the very center of political life… [W]hen money is imagined as gold… simply one commodity among others, attitudes toward debt tend… to harden, often creating dramatic social unrest (pretty much every popular insurrection in the ancient world was over issues of debt). In periods dominated by credit money, such as the Middle Ages, money was seen essentially as an IOU, a social arrangement. The result was, almost invariably, the creation of some sort of great institution designed to protect debtors, so as to ensure the system didn’t fly completely out of hand: periodic clean slates in the ancient Near East, bans on the charging of interest and debt peonage in Medieval Christianity and Islam, and so on… We already learned in 2008 that debts -- even trillions in debts -- can be made to go away if the debtor is sufficiently rich and influential. It is only a matter of time before people draw the obvious conclusions: that if money is just a social arrangement, so many IOUs that can be renegotiated by mutual agreement, then if democracy is to mean anything, that has to be true for everyone, not just the few. And the implications of that, could be epochal.
Marvelous stuff, definitely I will have to read Graeber's book now. The identification of money with debt has, of course, an enormous pedigree, but Ellen Hodgson Brown has been attracting a lot of populist attention lately flogging the point, I know.

The deeper point about money as a social compact rather than as a commodity -- the point which yields the "epochal implications" concerning democracy of his conclusion -- reminds me of the great Karl Polanyi's insistence in The Great Transformation (the first, immediate, and still best repudiation of Hayekian neoliberalism) that money -- like labor and land -- cannot properly be regarded as commodities.

Polanyi's point about labor is actually at the root of my own insistence on the maintenance of a scene of legible informed nonduressed consent, his point about land -- where "land" has the same sort of resonance it does in Leopold's "land ethic" -- is also at the root of my insistence on the socialization of public and common goods -- both of which I elaborated in a companion post occasioned by Graeber's editorial today.

Today's Random Wilde

It is always the unreadable that occurs.

Today's Fool Me Tee Vee

It really is too bad John Lennon didn't live long enough to see the fulfillment of his dream that one day his music would be used to sell breakfast cereal and long-distance phone service.

More Fool Me Tee Vee here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Republicans Are the Primary Problem, People

Amanda Marcotte is talking sense:
So, I posted earlier today about what jackass crazy fuckwits run the Republican party and that's why we're in this current crisis, I suppose the inevitable thing happened in comments: I got scolded about my priorities. Apparently, I'm supposed to be focusing like a laser on how Obama is actually a double agent for the GOP and this was his evil plan all along to gut important social programs. Okay. I can actually sympathize with that point of view, since I remember being a newly minted lefist in college and feeling the allure of "rah rah Nader, Bush and Gore are no different". It was a fairly useless point of view, but it made me feel self-righteous, and at 21, that felt really fucking good…. I reject the notion that the complete batshit craziness of the Republicans is merely a distraction from the Real Problem that our who-knew dictator Obama isn't so benevolent… [W]hether Obama is a secret Republican or whether he's a well-meaning Democrat who is simply being blackmailed is irrelevant. The problem, either way, is Republicans… [W]hat we do know for a fact is that no matter what lurks in Obama's hearts, none of this would be happening if Republicans didn't win the House. So I think that my priorities are just fine, thank you very much. And because I'm going to be accused of being a partisan shill for Obama, I just want to say that I'm really not… I do think he's failed repeatedly to present his best game in negotiations with Republicans. But at the end of the day, I'm unconvinced that the greatest negotiator on the planet could beat people who are willing to pull the trigger on the entire world economy.

Like It Or Not, In the US the Two Political Parties Are Indispensable Vehicles for Change

David Atkins is talking sense:
If even 1/10 of the progressives writing online would become... involved and demand that the institutions of the Democratic Party be accountable to the progressive base and the well-polled progressive preferences of the majority of Americans, it would be a boon to our political system. This is why Howard Dean asked us to do it… [O]n one side, we have a Republican Party that has descended into sheer, outright nihilist lunacy… And on the other side, of course, we have a very flawed Democratic Party, far too beholden to the interests of Wall St. and wealthy donors, far too fractured in its coalition, far too fearful of offending hopeless voters who will never see reason, and far too willing to seek "compromise" with the nihilists on the other side of the political chasm… For various reasons locked into the nature of our winner-take-all Constitution, we have a two-party system, not a parliamentary one. That is very unlikely to change... Which means that for better or for worse, the Democratic Party is what we have to work with… As with so many other things in life, it just means doing the best with what you have to work with, making the best possible choices from a poor lot, and setting oneself up to have better choices in the future.
There is certainly nothing wrong with focusing on direct action or community organizing or single-issue campaigning if one finds the compromises of partisan stakeholder politics too aggravating or the pace of reform through governance too demoralizing. But too many seem to devote the whole of their political effort to the disdain of partisan politics and legislative reform without doing anything of substance in other forms, usually in ways that have little impact at all except to divide and demoralize the more progressive party and its efforts at progressive reform to the direct benefit of the more reactionary party and its efforts. It is one thing to oppose a presidential policy and propose a better one, ideally in a way that proposes an actual path to its realization given the current composition of government, but quite another to condemn the president in a sweeping way that discounts differences that make a difference between him and actual alternatives or amounts to a disdaining of the executive branch as a vector of change altogether.