Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beyond "No Gods, No Masters"

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

As an atheist and a democrat I won't deny an affinity for the slogan "no gods, no masters," but the pedant and rhetorician in me can't long leave such slogans well enough alone.

As an atheist who is also a democrat, I see no way of abolishing faith without abolishing style (which is not only impossible, but would be terrible were it possible), and so I see the democratic struggle instead as the secular struggle for an ever more perfect separation of church and state from which the faithful and freethinkers benefit alike.

As a person who believes that the guiding democratic aspiration of equity-in-diversity is facilitated by fact-based harm-reduction policy but who is also an anti-incumbent anti-elitist, I see no way to accomplish progressive outcomes without some folks always having to defer, from moment to moment, and in ways that are to them unwanted, to the authority of expertise (expertise in the sense of invoking relevant disciplinary knowledge, expertise in the sense of actually representing stakeholder perspectives, expertise in the sense of functioning as duly constituted agents in legitimate accountable governance, and so on), and so I see the democratic struggle instead as the struggle to widen participation in the constitution of such authorities to all their stakeholders and to deepen accountability over the exercise of such authorities to those who are affected by it.

I don't know how to capture that in a bumper sticker off the top of my head. "No gods, no masters, but yes aesthetics and yes accountable authorities" seems rather a rough draft at best.

Drones and Dirty Hands

If you are an American eligible to vote you are a beneficiary of more than a century of bloody criminal militarism and imperialism, and even if you are appalled by that reality your hands are not clean and they will never be clean. Grasping this fact is key to resisting this ongoing calamity on such terms that are actually available to us in the world.

There are many ways to protest and resist this militarism and conquest and planetary exploitation at the point of a gun, but refusing to vote when you are eligible to vote is not one of those ways, not at all, not even remotely, and to pretend otherwise is worse than wrong: it is likely an effort to engage in delusion the better to indulge in the benefits of the bloodletting all the while wallowing in an appallingly ignorant and inaccurate unearned purity while you are in fact neck deep in gore.

Whether you like it or not there is an Executive Branch in our government, and whether you like it or not the occupant of the Executive Branch has the capacity (among them as Commander in Chief of the largest military apparatus in the world or in world history) to impact billions of human lives for better or worse, and whether you like it or not there are two and only two parties that are in any position to put a President in the White House, and whether you like it or not there are differences that make a difference in the way the Presidents these two parties would put in the White House would behave, and whether you like it or not your vote is one (one among many, but actually materially one) way of making a difference in the process through which one of those two Presidents will be empowered to make those differences in the lives of billions of your fellow human beings.

If you vote for the worst of the only two Presidential candidates on offer you have done a terrible and irresponsible thing, in my view, and if in failing to vote or in voting symbolically for a not actually viable candidate you have enabled the victory of the worst of the only two Presidential candidates on offer you have done virtually the same terrible and irresponsible thing, in my view.

To be an enfranchised citizen in the most resource rich, most empowered, most militarily mighty nation-state on earth burdens one with terrible responsibilities, among them the requirement to vote for the best of only two viable presidential candidates who will in their policies make a difference in the lives not only of one's fellow citizens but all of one's fellow earthlings, even though the best candidate is certainly never good enough and almost certainly won't agree with everything or even necessarily much of anything you do, including things about which you feel personally passionately indeed. There is certainly nothing ethically exemplary or practically useful about the denial of any of this, any more than there is in pouting protests of the facts of gravity or mortality.

I strongly disapprove of President Obama's drone program, and I think that quite apart from its appalling violation of the spirit if not always and in every detail the substance of our commitments to international law, rules of conduct in war and peace, and our support of civil liberties everywhere, it is creating anxiety and discontent in the world that makes everybody less safe and secure all the while being justified on just such grounds. I approve of enough of what Obama is doing to support Obama over the only actual alternative to Obama despite my disapproval of this -- and, actually, many other, Obama policies. I do not think one's support of a President indicates support of everything that President does, or necessarily ANYTHING that President does, except to the extent that it is better than what the actual alternative candidate to that President would do.

But even if my disapproval of Obama's drone program outweighed my approval of his other policies, it is difficult for me to see how that disapproval would somehow recommend support of a Romney presidency, especially when Romney has provided no reason to think his policy would be better, when Romney has surrounded himself with neoconservative hawks that implemented the worst of the civil rights abuses and catastrophic military policies of the Bush administration's first term, and since Romney has explicitly decried and promised to reverse Obama's own repudiation of Bush Administration torture policies -- which I am assuming violates the same civil liberties commitments that would lead one to disapprove of the drone policy and which were justified by the same nonsensical rationale that is offered in support of the drone policy suggesting it would remain in force along with who knows what else.

Neither should one deny the extent to which a generational identification of ruinous Republican bellicosity with "strong national defense" has created the context in which Obama has sought to re-mobilize diplomatic strategies and multilateral foreign policy while performing being "strong" in office on something like the actually available terms on which strength is legible as such, irrational though these terms are, all the while working to render those very terms more capacious, more susceptible to progressive change, nor should one fail to notice that nearly all of the actually elected representative voices and actually respected expert voices that criticize Obama's drone policy and the militarism that underlies it are voices in Obama's own party, voices to which Obama himself, even in his wrongheadedness, is far more beholden than Romney would be.

I can think of no reasonable or responsible way that even the most righteous disapproval of Obama's drone policy provides any rationale for the support of Romney over Obama for president in 2012, including the support provided by a refusal to vote for anybody or the decision to vote for a nonviable third party candidate. I can think of plenty of unreasonable and irresponsible ways, however, the pretense might play out through which such a "principled" refusal of participation might be wrongly imagined to wash one's hands clean of the blood of America's military-industrial complex.

That, however, is a delusion quite as erroneous and ugly on its own, in my view, as the one that leads millions of other fellow citizens of mine to actively support the vile opportunistic plutocrat Romney and the whole white-racist patriarchal greed-head authoritarian-religionist death-cult of Movement Republicanism in the first place.

Change We All Can Believe In... But Apparently Nobody Knows About?

How could I not know about this already?

I am informed by Floyd Norris at the New York Times that
starting in 2013... [m]arried taxpayers with income over $250,000 will pay a 3.8 percent Medicare tax rate on income over that amount, and all income will be covered, including... capital gains... That tax was passed as part of the health care bill enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2010 -– a law known as “Obamacare.”
Not only does this set the scene for what has always seemed to me the obvious eventual reform to save Social Security, to the extent that it needs saving over the long-term -- namely, raising the taxable cap on income paying into the Social Security Trust Fund -- but it also sets the scene for what has seemed to me the indispensable progressive shift more generally of treating capital gains as income to be taxed at the same rate at which we presently tax actual work.

Although I am a reasonably well-informed citizen, I have been proceeding under the assumption that these were mostly future battles, little aware that buried under the acres of pages of the Affordable Care Act -- an Act I have strongly supported even though I have always offered up the inevitable caveat of folks to Obama's left that I was disappointed that it wasn't a Medicare for All single-payer plan -- were provisions that generate enormously significant structural changes to the legal- normative - institutional terrain on which reformers will continue to operate in coming years, changes that are enormously empowering to those of us who would struggle to transform this country in the direction of equity-in-diversity.

Obviously, I should no longer be surprised at this. As Michael Grunwald has exhaustively elaborated in his recent book about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration's stimulus legislation at the beginning of his first term, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, few seem really aware of the epochal shifts that were enabled by the Act, from thousand-fold increases in investment in clean energy technologies, jump-starting whole new industries for a renewable energy future (think of the Hoover Dam, and while we're thinking dams, did you know the Act also funded the demolition of some environmentally pernicious dams?), investing billions bringing broadband to underserved communities (an analogue to FDR's rural electrification), providing billions in seed money for a smart grid (setting the stage for a renewed push in a second term) and opening the door at long last to the sanity of high-speed rail across a continental nation-state suicidally addicted to car culture and air traffic boondoggles, also shoring up crumbling infrastructure in countless places across the country, sometimes only just in the nick of time, after a generation of neglect in the long post-Reagan era of privatizing/ deregulatory eat your civilization and pretend you can have it, too, market fundamentalist ideology. Although the stimulus didn't create splashy new agencies like the New Deal's Federal Writer's and Arts Projects, it did actually fund writing and art projects to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

Part of Grumwald's thesis is to contrast Obama's rather patient and circumspect (a less kind word would be "stealthy") data-driven pragmatism to the splashy, often contradictory, initiatives of FDR's New Deal. Given that the most serious blows to the success of the stimulus initiatives followed from Republican obstruction -- the removal of a project to renewably rebuild and retrofit public schools was eliminated from the stimulus as the price for Republican Susan Collins' necessary vote in support of it, New Jersey Governor Christie refused to build a stimulus-funded tunnel project, the whomping up of the Solyndra scandal, and so on -- this suggests that the administration's low key approach enabled an enormous amount of good work to get done beneath the radar of lazy low-information voters while at once mostly avoiding the scandal-megaphone of the Republican noise machine with its ugly preference for brown-skinned scalps and low-hanging fruit.

This preference for stealth definitely has its dark side(s) as well, when we realize that the stimulus also mobilized Obama's Race to the Top initiatives, introducing enormous changes in public education, following the more questionable advice of experts far too enamored in my view of "charter schools" and fantastically insensitive standardized "performance based measures" that de-emphasize the need to create conditions under which learning can happen for specific students in specific circumstances and hence ends up reinforcing the mostly racist stratification of education and knowledge across our landscape (although Race[/ism] to the Top is far too complex simply to be dismissed in toto on such grounds).

The pattern is being repeated in the step-wise implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as Republican Governors refuse to set up exchanges or accept extra Medicaid money (to the immediate detriment of their most vulnerable constituents and the long-term detriment of giving over control to federal bureaucrats over setting the terms under which the mandated exchanges are indeed eventually set up in their states however much they pout and stamp their feet about it), but also in the way incredibly laudable accomplishments from a progressive perspective seem to be finding their way into implementation while even those who strongly sympathize with these goals and who strive to be informed citizens remain mostly unaware of what is happening. No doubt the incredibly fraught struggles over the ongoing implementation of financial regulation present comparable pitfalls and hidden gems.

I find it enormously striking that the article in which I discovered this extraordinary detail about the Affordable Care Act did not emerge from a policy discussion per se, but as an almost incidental detail enabling a snarky attack on the Republican Presidential candidate, offered up as more or less one more variation on the theme of the "47%" secret video comments that have dominated coverage of the campaign for well over a week now:
Most Americans pay more in payroll taxes –- which finance Social Security and Medicare –- than they do in income taxes. The rich are different. Mitt and Ann Romney paid virtually no payroll taxes in 2011, because nearly all their income came from investments on which payroll tax was not owed. For most taxpayers, the 2.9 percent Medicare tax levied on wage income will be the same next year as it was in 2011... [but i]f their 2013 income were unchanged from this year, their [the Romney's] Medicare tax bill would exceed $500,000. Mr. Romney has pledged to seek repeal of that law.
While all of this is true, and it is hardly insignificant on its own terms, this really does seem something of a snarky tail wagging a flabbergastingly large policy dog in my view. Frankly, even on its own rather appalling campaign as high school homecoming queen contest gossip column terms, this way of framing the policy details manages to bury the lede somewhat, inasmuch as it surely matters less that here is yet another in an endless trail of data points illustrating Romney's out of touch rich white douche bag proclivities than that here we see a real reason beyond opportunistic flip-floppery why Romney might indeed despise the Affordable Care Act while still thinking of its Massachusetts counterpart as an achievement of his, even if the dot-eyed zealots of his Base won't let him say even that much.

It also helps us grasp why asshat neo-feudalists like the Koch Brothers and their bazillionaire ilk are willing to blow hundreds of millions of dollars through the Citizen's United poop-funnel trying to buy this election while screeching about Death Panels and all the rest of that patent nonsense. As it happens, Obamacare will indeed cost these fuckers something, something real, something they will feel, and not in principle, not eventually, but BAM! as of 2013, as of a day soon after Obama wins his second term -- and they don't like it one bit, even if it means their own country and hell their own customers will be incomparably better off for it. For those to whom much is given much is expected, unless you're a Republican for whom those to whom more is given whets the unslakable thirst for still more More MORE MORE! to fill that dead stinking bottomless hole where your heart would be if you were a human person (er, hrm).

Those who marvel at why Wall Street hates Obama even though Obama saved their asses in 2009 and then saved their bacon for the next three years running, so much so that it often seems that those who hate Obama most vociferously are the ones who have benefits most from his policies, stop marveling. Those who are perplexed about the plutocrats whining about the "uncertainties" of a second Obama term, be perplexed no more. What these shits have on their minds are not uncertainties but near-term certainties that go ka-ching in the night. Even if few of us had the time or the expertise (or the money to enable or hire either one) to dig into the details and notice all the little earthquakes in the Affordable Care Act, you can rest assured that the Koch Brothers and the Chamber of Commerce and their fellow Slitherins were well aware of them all years ago and never once have they lost their focus since.

I am very glad to know now as I did not know before this incredibly positive detail about the Affordable Care Act, not only because it is exciting on its own terms but because it improves my grasp of the state of play among larger political actors whose motivations have otherwise seemed to me a bit perplexing. But I am not glad to know that I didn't know before what I know now. The question with which I began this post remains the exasperated question that infuses this entire piece. The knowledge differential between the voting Base and the donor-constituency within our present party system provides the material referent that drove all those sometimes derisive, sometimes hopeful, always uncomfortable eleventh-dimensional chess comments in the first two years of the Obama administration, it seems to me. That material referent remains an enormous problem for democracy, ameliorated but the farthest imaginable thing from solved by the impact on especially the DNC of the p2p-democratization of small-donor aggregation and media-pushback, not to mention general political education and organization both within and against party politics via fledgling direct mass action like Occupy.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

His Words, Our Faces



If you happen not to live in one of the seven selected swing states this is now running in, here's a chance to watch the ad which many are arguing is the most devastating of the campaign. In so saying, by the way, I can't help but wonder if they have already forgotten this extraordinary ad from just a couple months ago? Whoever is doing Obama's tee vee spots has grasped in a frankly unprecedented way the rhetorical force of acoustics to set and materialize and drive home a scene and a message, this time accentuating the tinkle of high-pitched silverware against the fifty thousand dollar plates in the fundraiser at which Romney made his now notorious remarks, now contrasted with the absolute deathly silence of the faces of Americans who have to work for a living and who are being insulted and disregarded and threatened by Romney's words. Masterly.

WTFU

Samuel L. Jackson has a message for any apathetic Americans out there, just in time for poll watchers who may be thinking this thing's already in the bag.

The Voice of America's Still Undecided Voters…

…sounds like the ocean.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Day

Screening "The Forbin Project" (which I adore) in the City today and assigning a cold reading in light of last week's readings on Singularity. We may get to Hayles' "Norbert Wiener and Liberal Subjectivity Imperiled" and Lanier's "Half A Manifesto" today, but I will probably reserve them for next week's lecture on The California Ideology and the Digirati, with which they are an especially congenial fit on the theme of key US class-settings for techno-fetishistic ideology.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Elizabeth Warren Finally Responds Decisively Scott Brown's Race Baiting Attacks



The racism of Scott Brown's campaign -- claiming Warren doesn't "look" like he imagines a native American should and therefore she must be lying about it ("just look at her" he declaimed in their first debate, "clearly she's not"), and also insinuating that the consummately accomplished and acclaimed Warren benefited unfairly through claiming to be native American, thus stoking white racist resentments about how "good" non-whites have it because of affirmative action -- seems to me utterly flabbergasting and a scandal matched only by the fact that so far it hasn't been a scandal.

Romney's Taxes

Non-Violent Politics and the Democratization of the State

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, longtime and stubborn sparring partner "Summerspeaker" asks:
If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent? How is nonviolence a meaningful concept in this context? Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem illegitimate?
I respond:
If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent?
I deny the facile formulation of "support" you are implying. Does one "support" gravity in recognizing it? Does one "support" the murderer who deploys a scalpel in advocating the usefulness of a scalpel in surgery?

When you leap on my apparent concession that "state structures distribute violence" you fail to see that for me the phrase might just as well be that "state structures distribute nonviolence." That the furniture of state has been an instrument of violence is obvious, I have never said otherwise, indeed I say so incessantly. But what matters to me is that this obviousness not be mistaken for a mis-identification of the state WITH violence, since the state is indispensable to nonviolent politics.

EVERY fact, every value, every norm, every custom, every infrastructural affordance is susceptible to violent misuse, is susceptible to futural refiguration as a violence where now it might not seem to be, the furniture of governance included.

Again, it would be nonsensical to deny either the conspicuous history of war, expropriation, enslavement, tyranny organized through the state form, or the permanent susceptibility to violence, corruption, injustice in every facet of governance devoted to the contrary.

But (I say it again and again and again), violence both precedes and exceeds the state, and the state form is indispensable to the struggle to overcome, circumvent and heal violence, even as it is true that historical states have enabled and exacerbated violence, even as the furniture of states are permanently susceptible to violence and violent misuse. My whole point, stated at the outset and repeated over and over and over and over again, is that democratization of the state is the struggle to provide alternatives to violence, to overcome violence, to circumvent violence, to provide recourse for the violated, to facilitate the open negotiation of the terms on which violence is legible as such.

Violence inheres as a permanent susceptibility in the condition of human plurality. Quite apart from the fact that there can be no smashing of "The State" as such, since "The State" has always been a complex, dynamic, multilateral constellation of ritual and artifice, norm and form, it is crucial to grasp that the smashing of a particular state would not be an overcoming of violence even were it to succeed, since it would not be an overcoming of the plurality in which violence and nonviolence inhere in potentia. Nonviolence is a commitment and a struggle, but one cannot ever claim it as a secure accomplishment (although one can still distinguish the comparative violence of an unjust law or a perpetrator as against the comparative nonviolence of resistance to that injustice or a victim in suffering a violation).

You ask in what way am I nonviolent? Well, for one thing I am not in the habit of making immodest declarations of such accomplishments having had ample experience of my proneness to ignorance and error, and so I would prefer to declare myself earnestly committed to nonviolence and strongly opposed to those, especially those who deem themselves democrats, Democrats, or radicals of the left, who are not also so committed to non-violence. Still, I will add that I was literally trained in nonviolent civil disobedience by the King Center in Atlanta when I was a co-ordinator for Queer Nation Atlanta. I regularly teach the theory of nonviolent resistance and revolution, as well as rhetorical strategies for reconciliation, mediation, and peacemaking. And as I have said, I am committed to the ongoing democratization of the state. Part of this requires a commitment as well to arguing with those who would smash the state out of a hasty mis-identification of the state with the violences it has been historically instrumental to and remains structurally permanently susceptible to.

Those who foolishly pine to demolish rather than to democratize it are paranoiacally misapprehending essential, exhaustive, ubiquitous violence in even those comparatively democratic state forms which
1. provide for comparatively peaceful changes in leadership,

2. provide for comparative accountability of governance to the people governed,

3. provide for comparative amelioration of tendencies to corruption, violation, and abuse in the state form through separation, federation, and subsidiarity of their powers,

4. provide for comparative equity in recourse to law and its nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of interpersonal disputes or disputes of citizens with duly constituted authorities,

5. provide for comparative protection of minorities from majorities through the rite of rights culture,

6. provide the general welfare (education, healthcare, income) through which a scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday interpersonal commerce is comparatively secured, a scene of consent the substance of which is paid for by

7. the provisions of a comparatively progressive taxation

a. that circumvents anti-democratizing concentrations of wealth that skew communication of fact and merit and hence corrupt accountability of governance,

b. that yokes the maintenance of government to the people governed through the principle of no taxation without representation,

c. that creates no initial barrier to accomplishment but functions as an a posterior filter ensuring that to those to whom more is given more is required,
8. comparatively accountably administer common and public goods in the public interest and hence circumvents the structural violences involved in the externalization of social costs, the misappropriation of the common inheritance and commonwealth of civilization, the violation of the planetary resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing,

9. and provide comparatively open occasion for the ongoing contestation and collaboration over the terms on which violence is legible as such through the comparative championing of rights to free expression, press, and assembly, comparative generality of the franchise and right to run for elective office, comparative equity of recourse to law, comparative celebration of diversity secured through comparative equity of the scene of consent.
Needless to say, all these "comparatives" name for me sites of ongoing democratizing reform and struggle, while no doubt for others they function as alibis and rationalizations for complacency in the face of ongoing inequities, exploitation, abuses, and parochial privileges.

You ask, "Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem[ed] illegitimate?" Well, depending on what you mean by "deemed" (by whom? as registered how? with what consequences to whom?), I think maybe my answer is "yes," although it seems to me anybody who wants to put "just" before that "mean" there almost certainly is not grasping what I mean at all.

Having argued with you so often, for so long I must confess that I suspect you are looking to dismiss the force of my commitment to nonviolence on these terms the better to engage in a vision of "radical politics" that amounts to a profoundly superficial, irresponsible, self-congratulatory disavowal of the political altogether. Again, I say that because we have been arguing on these topics now for years and there is nothing I say here that I have not said to you before, and often, and painstakingly, and yet it seems as if for you none of these endless careful delineations remain in your memory at all, there is nothing but your eagerness to seize on one word or phrase that gives you the longed-for evidence to expose the secret authoritarian in me and the longed-for permission to get on with the eating of the cake and having it too that is what your dance party anti-politics peddling itself as revolutionary politics finally amounts to. I'm glad to have an occasion to rehearse some basic propositions on democratic governance and democratizating struggle from my perspective as an advocate of nonviolence, but it is getting really hard for me to continue to treat you as a serious good-faith interlocutor or reliable ally in democratization given the eternal recurrence of these facile interventions of yours and airy declarations (both in the Moot and on your blog) of my dastardly deep-seated reactionary authoritarianism and all the rest of that nonsense.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Non-Violence In A Word

I have a Liberal Arts meeting that is taking up my afternoon (yes, on the weekend! and uncompensated, by the way), so in lieu of blogging here is an exchange from the Moot with an "Anonymous" respondent (also, pseudonymously, "i") exploring the topic of democracy and nonviolence I've been talking about so much this week. I thought there was some real substance in the exchange, and also that there were a few new turns in the argument as it played out. First, "i"'s intervention, blockquoted in italics, followed by my response.
I'm hesitant to engage in these debates with much vigor as I question what value will result, but nonetheless I feel compelled to contribute. So, in the tradition of railing against binaries........ I still feel as though these debates are largely predicated upon a very narrow definition of the terms which prohibits us from considering what is actually valuable or productive about these different projects/practices.

For example, I don't see the importance of a claim to 'nonviolence', but rather see the necessity of maintaining a sharp criticality when we do decide to engage in violence, as well as when others do. I believe that you're not a utopian, and I know that you know that systems of governance will also always be in the business of distributing violence in some way. The question, I believe, is doing so in the most transparent and accountable way possible, to ensure that whatever practices of necessary violence that remain are just. In summary, it's never a question of if we are violent or not, but rather how accountable we make ourselves to others in this process and relationship. How is it productive to place an off and on switch on something which is ongoing and is a necessary part of being in the world?

Furthermore, the (false) dichotomy between anarchism and democracy seems even less productive. We can certainly point to many examples of anarchism-in-practice and democracy-in-practice which would be both ideal and indistinguishable. We can also point to abhorrent examples of each which we would not like to associate with. Why appeal to simplistic oppositions when we can instead talk about what each tradition offers us in our own participation and thought. It seems as even if we were to maintain the binary as a foil of sorts, we would still be in a situation where each position doth protest too much about the other. The antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist traditions of anarchism can be quite potent, as can the traditions of transparency, horizontalism and accountability within democracy.

Perhaps this position is the result of my own theoretical biases, but I truly believe we have more to gain from the play and flexibility of these terms than we do in their simple opposition.

P.S. -- it seems a coalitional politics would necessitate an open negotiation, flexibility and criticality when making use of these contested terms. --i
Look, sure, sure, we can concede that all words always only provisionally corral the play of signifiers into contingent salience in the service of certain values -- scientific (prediction and control, say), moral (belonging, say), political (stakeholder reconciliation, say), and so on, just as we can concede that distinctions are always actually a bit ambivalent, some of them plenty ambivalent, and that the pretense otherwise usually polices hierarchies into play that seduce academicians into becoming deconstructionists and so on.

But we are using words on the assumption that something like communication is happening here, and when I am using the word "nonviolence" I am using a word that means something roughly communicable and worthy of attention, and while I am happy to concede a whole lot of wiggle room as to the precise set of actual or logically possible events that I would describe as violent ones as against my hunch about which ones people in general would describe as violent, just as I would concede the same in every instance of language use, and yet I think we can concede this and still agree most of the time such assignments are quite possible and so urgently necessary.

So, I agree with plenty of your nuances, but I am incredibly far from conceding your point "it's never a question of if we are violent or not, but rather how accountable we make ourselves to others in this process and relationship." Never? I don't believe that, and to be honest I don't believe you really believe that either.

Earlier in your response you make this point, that goes more to the substance here (at least I think so): "I know that you know that systems of governance will also always be in the business of distributing violence in some way." Yes, of course. I think this goes without saying but I do repeatedly also say it. But as I also repeatedly say, violence both precedes and exceeds the state. This means that the point that matters to me is that it is far from true that only states are in this business of "distributing violence" as you say, but also that it is for me far from true that this business of "distributing violence" is the most structurally predominate, essential, or exhaustive business of states. To say otherwise -- which anarchisms indeed do, essentially, relentlessly -- is to be importantly wrong, wrong in ways that can generate a prejudicial take and selective focus on governmental administration and election processes and foci of political campaigns and so on that are profoundly skewed, and this does matter to me.

I honestly don't know what you are talking about when you speak of "anarchism-in-practice" that is indistinguishable from "democracy-in-practice" -- an unplanned party among friends? the emergence of mafiya warlords in the streets of a Russian city in the vacuum of the fall of the Soviet government? Occupy's People's Mic? There is debatable substance here, but to review the way I have been talking about these issues hitherto, on the one hand, dance parties are neither sustainable nor scalable enough to justify those who want to smash the state, and on the other hand, I think democracy is just the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them (including sometimes decisions about who are the people, what is the public, what is a decision, and so on) and that there IS no democratic eidos at which we are aiming but an interminable process of democratization in which we struggle to enable ever more people to have ever more of a say in ever more of the public decisions that affect them involving institutional experimentation but also, crucially, heartbreaking compromised struggles for reform in the belly of the beast of the status quo.

"How is it productive to place an off and on switch on something which is ongoing and is a necessary part of being in the world?" Many left anarchists at this very moment think it is better not to vote even though that is one among many real tools at their disposal to yield outcomes closer, in some instances only marginally, to the ones they themselves incessantly claim to cherish, while many right anarchists at this very moment think we would all be better off dismantling government altogether so that spontaneous market orders indistinguishable from a feudal warlordism they denominate liberty will emerge. If your "on and off switch" refers to the usefulness of these words to help grasp the not at all false distinction that yields these structurally complementary idiocies provoked by the facile fantasy of a spontaneous order that trumps the impasses of stakeholder politics, then I disagree with you -- if your "on and off switch" reminds us not to fetishize a distinction as leaky in inopportune moments as most distinctions are, even the useful ones, then I agree with you, but I think the point is something of a tail wagging the dog.

I hope this response justified your effort in proposing your intervention, and that you don't think I am merely being flippant in engaging you.

Re: your PS, definitely yes. See Carl Rogers and the rhetorical model of argumentation model inspired by his mediation strategies called "Rogerian Synthesis" (which I -- alone! -- teach at Cal in the Rhetoric Department as part of my Rhet 10: Rhetoric of Argumentation core course).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Teaching Day

My MA Thesis cohort is workshopping object reading drafts this afternoon and I'm looking them over now. So the facile pop-cult sniping at Robo-RMoney will have to suffice for now in the blogging department for a while.

Leave Mittney Alone!

Ann "It's Our Turn" "We've Given All You People Need to Know" Romney complaining about the Republican critics of her husband's presidential campaign last night:
Stop it! This is hard! You want to try it? Get in the ring. This is hard and, you know, it's an important thing that we're doing right now and it's an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt's qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country.



Also, too:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The WELL of Ownliness

Here's to a WELL of its own!
The WELL is now under the ownership of The Well Group, Inc., a private investment group composed of long-time WELL members. The Well Group, Inc. consists entirely of long-time WELL users with an average tenure exceeding 20 years. The purchase marks the first major online business taken private by users of the business itself. The WELL represents one of the earliest platforms for online dialogue, supporting lively debates and conversations since its founding in 1985.

Nonviolent Statism?

Anarchists recoil in alarm from my proposal that violence both precedes and exceeds the state, and my conclusion from this that the advocate of nonviolence should then be concerned not with smashing but democratizing the state. How they shake their heads at me! As though the very idea of nonviolent governance is inconceivable... despite the fact that in the actual world, all around them, nonviolent governance is happening all the time, nonviolent governance is in fact commonplace, ubiquitous. To amplify a bit:

My point is NOT to deny the specific violences of actual states but to argue that violence does not exhaustively characterize states.

A corollary to this point: contrary portrayals by anarchists are actually paranoid and function to rationalize anti-democratization.

My point IS to deny that violence is either essential or definitive of states. (Yes, I know this view is unorthodox, for more about what I mean and why I mean it read relevant posts archived at the sidebar under the heading Against Anarchy.)

A corollary to this point: contrary portrayals by anarchists render the productivity of power invisible at the cost of productivity and the possibility of civitas invisible to the risk of its possibility.

And For My "Advanced" Readers: Even granting the epistemic violence of the circumscription of possibility and importance through which the maintenance of values, norms, and affordances yields the apparent normality that sustains this palpable ubiquity of nonviolence in democratic governance, it is crucial to grasp that the attempted attribution of specific violences to these operations is no less dependent on alternate circumscriptions and so provides no basis for an objection to my initial point (indeed, the objection seems rather conspicuously a matter of trying to have your cake and eat it, too). This is especially important to the extent that, as I would argue, a feature of democratic governance is the facilitation of an openness to the perpetual re-contestation of the norms through which such epistemic violences play out, which suggests that democratization of the state provides pathways to nonviolence at multiple levels in a virtuous circle, just as the anti-democratizing extremities of totalitarianism and anarchism yield in my view vicious circles of ramifying violence.

Fuck You, You Fucking Fuckers! Or, Sarah Silverman Takes On Republican Voter Suppression

Obama Responds to "the Secret Romney Tape"

You Know, Mitt, Anybody Can Do the Out of Context Nonsense Your Campaign Depends On

It's Still the 1% Versus the 99%, Don't Muddy It With the So-Called "47%"

The phrase "47%" is ramifying like mad in the aftermath of comments caught on "the secret tape" from a Romney fundraiser. It's not yet a big deal, it might not really ever be, but if I may put on my rhetorician's hat for a moment I do think there might be more afoot here than initially meets the ear.

Notice that the unreflective avalanche, the robo-automatic proliferation of this phrase "the 47%" online and in the press is now hard at it, producing a "thing" -- "the 47% -- a thing we think we now "know" about and hence are talking "about." In this, "the 47%" risks consolidating and then lodging in our discourse, rather like comparable non-things that once became "things" people came to "know" and incessantly "talk" about, and very much at the cost of talking about other actually important things: things like "Sam's Club Republicans" rather than plutocrats, things like "Soccer Moms" rather than middle-age white male anti-abortion zealots in Congress.

Again, I do not claim a permanent diversion of attention or lasting damage has taken place, but there is no question that "the 47%" has at any rate momentarily eclipsed the far more threatening and powerful and promising accomplishment of Occupy in bringing the confrontation of "the 1% versus the 99%" into general parlance, which put a generations-unsayable American reality on everybody's lips.

For a couple of days "the 47%" has muddied "the 1% versus the 99%." I should point out that Republicans have sought several times to accomplish precisely this muddying in the year since Occupy began, but in the present context when "the 47%" phrase is circulating in a way that seems injurious to the more conspicuously plutocratic candidacy of Mitt Romney, people are less attentive to the ways in which it muddies the more forceful and indispensable formulation of Occupy, and so many who would otherwise resist its circulation are abetting it instead. Whatever its piquancy at the moment, "the 47%" ultimately plays into tired "evenly divided America" frames that then justify "both sides do it" false equivalency narratives that then retroactively and erroneously explain away gridlock caused in fact by mostly Republican plutocratic corruption yielding a general and unreflective "I wash my hands of all of you" anti-governmentality that actually always benefits the worst actors at the expense of the better ones. That's bad.

One need only grasp how phrases like "Mitt Romney has dismissed half the country as beneath his concern," "Mitt Romney has declared that half the population of the nation he seeks to represent are irresponsible parasites," are easily more evocative than references to the so-called "47%" to realize that the present ubiquity of the latter phrase is doing a different sort of discursive work than simple reportage.

It is also very interesting to note that in this fundraising dinner Mitt Romney was in fact a "1%-er" speaking the cruel and callous language of the "1%" to a room full of other "1%-ers." The attitudes Romney expressed and the policies he advocated (to the extent that Romney ever reveals any of the devastating details of his secretive policy plans) would be deeply injurious not only to 47% of the American people but to nearly everyone who was not a part of the 1%. That is to say, by associating the "secret Romney tape" (that phrase, by the way, was a good call, reeking of the sort of conspiracy to ensure a wide and avid circulation) with the freshly minted phrase "the 47%," already a situation ripe for framing as yet another instance of "the 1% versus the 99%" was cast in different terms, terms that muted the plutocratic substance playing out in that ugly scene.

I think it would be a very good idea for folks to push back a bit, and re-frame the politics of "the secret Romney tape" explicitly in terms of "the 1% versus the 99%" not only to keep that indispensable frame in force, but also as a way of pumping that cruel, corrupt, racist document into center stage in a slightly different light for another news cycle or few.

And, oh yeah, Mitt Romney is also a robot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Behind Closed Doors

Is Romney Falling "Outside the Circle" of American Presidential Acceptability?

Conversations With Anarchists and Democrats

Here are a few exchanges with a couple of folks on my view that democratic politics are properly nonviolent but not anarchic, they are all upgraded and adapted from the Moot or are drawn from related conversations elsewhere. I thought there were some useful ideas and nice turns of phrase among them. My interlocutors are blockquoted and italicized, while the replies are mine.

If it’s [Occupy] middle-class campaign to reclaim the American dream and elect Democrats, I don’t want any part of it. I value Occupy Wall Street to the extent that it furthers local and global struggles against state, capital, and heteropatriarchy. Let’s (un)Occupy and Decolonize. I send so much revolutionary love to my comrades wherever you are. ♥ Embrace your desires, don’t discipline them. Instead of visions of respectability and attracting the mythical mainstream, I imagine intense insurgency, communal criminality, and portentous promiscuity. We’ll dance on the ruins on reformism before this is all over.
The Democratic Party has often been and should much more be an instrument for democratization, social justice, and sustainability, and as such, it should be made better by the existence of movements like feminism, civil rights activism, organized labor, environmentalists, and Occupy inspiring it, provoking it, pushing it from its left. But in the absence of such an instrument none of these movements can accomplish their ends -- and, of course, a third party could function as such an instrument should our institutions be reformed to support viable third parties as at present absolutely they do not, one can even imagine a transformed GOP in the aftermath of the fever-dream of its market-fundamentalist religious-fundamentalist Movement Republican epoch as such an instrument, the Democratic Party is not logically indispensable to such movements though right now it practically is, and denying these realities is not something that impresses me. Definitely jerking off alone in an empty room won’t free a single person from the prison-industrial complex, it won’t end the racist war on drugs, it won’t end war profiteering, it won’t help wanted queer lifeways to legibility and liveability in a world of intolerance. Every actually serious progressive person who says “let’s!” decolonize and “let’s!” make nonviolent revolution knows that what this means on the ground is engaging in the endless heartbreak and frustration of actual stakeholder politics to reform this country's norms and institutions in the direction of such outcomes. You think it is radical to embrace desire while refusing discipline? Are you a child of two? You think it is “ominous” that I want to democratize governance to ensure actually equitable recourse to accountable law, to provide a more substantial welfare to render everyday relations actually nonduressed? Your response is to wave a wand and pretend you can willfully dis-invent stakeholder impasses and inertial incumbency? You seem completely deluded, and proud of it, too, you seem mostly useless, and proud of it, too.
I’m part of the global anarchist movement and far from alone. Living in the Bay Area, you know we exist. A hundred radical queers took the streets and smashed up a Bank of America in Oakland two weeks ago. I was just hanging out with a visiting comrade from NYC the other day, and before that, one from LA and one from Melbourne, Australia. We are everywhere. We don’t agree about everything –- sometimes not even much -– but we share opposition to the electoral politics you advocate. Expect to see more and more of us.
Dance parties are neither sustainable nor scalable, not enough to address our shared problems or reconcile our stakeholder differences. And wishing won’t make it so. And pretending otherwise is just denialism, not radicalism. And this “we are everywhere” “we’re coming to get you” stuff is nice smack talk but I live in the neighborhood, I’ve been doing queer and feminist and antiwar and environmental activism and teaching for years, and I know the hard truth that progressive politics is a long reformist slog in the face of awful resistance and well-meaning ignorance and inertial institutions, and it is compromised and costly and heartbreaking and still well worth it. And yes there is also joy and dancing and discovery, thankfully, but that’s not all there is and if it were we wouldn’t get anywhere. I know you think it is supremely revolutionary to deny that, and declare the sea is made of lemonade when it isn’t, and obviously I am not going to convince you otherwise. But what I say is true nonetheless, and I say it so you will remember it later when you need to. Anarchy is finally for dupes and egomaniacs and fluffers. But you are young and you should have your fun, I suppose, and think you are a titan and all the rest. Do it up.

By the way, it isn’t really that hard to vote (or even phone bank or organize campaigns for congenial legislative outcomes) IN ADDITION to protesting and making art and reading party politics for filth. People died for the right to vote and people whose politics you surely revile are fighting to disenfranchise people from voting right before your eyes, right this very minute. Electoral politics isn’t everything, it isn’t even enough, but it is something and to disdain a tool for nothing is a terrible thing. To disdain the slightly better over the much worse is fine in a philosophical discussion, but since actual lives can be ruined or ended between the slightly better as against the much worse disdaining taking a part in that struggle is a truly ugly thing in my view, scarcely compensated by the beauty of the ideals you may share with your like-minded dance partners.
I have limited objections to participating in the electoral process as long as it’s not exalted or presented as necessary. I’m personally registered with La Raza Unida party, which is a socialist party locally. I’ve traditionally voted in presidential elections but may well not this year. If I do, it sure won’t be for Obama or Romney. People died for all sorts of things, including autonomy from the U.S. nation-state and anarchist communism. Whatever you do, you potentially insult the dead.
I don’t know if you think I am “exalting” voting or not when I point out that disdaining existing tools to help accomplish outcomes one claims to cherish doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense. I don’t happen to think the word “exalt” fits such a situation, but your mileage may vary, as usual. For the rest, my point was not to complain that the dead feel insulted by our disdain since I don’t think they do, my point was that you are missing the point of their sacrifice and that you should know better. Remember that voting even for a President is not voting for a dream date or identifying with a celebrity ideal who completes you, but voting for the best actually viable occupant of the actually-existing actually-influential Executive Branch of your own government, whether you like it or not.
Violence haunts even the most seemingly peaceful state institutions.
If everything is violence nothing is. When you see jackbooted thugs where they aren't, this is not the virtue you seem to think it is. Among other things this self-congratulatory error of yours dulls the force of recognitions where jackbooted thugs actually are.
[this is a different interlocutor] It seems to me that the nonviolent/violent distinction only serves to oversimplify the very complex and overlapping systems of violence within which we all are implicated in very material and social ways, both in struggle and in everyday life.
Certainly this can be true. In other writings of mine on violence I have pointed out that one can describe as an epistemic violence the circumscription through which certain acts can be legible as violence in the first place. This means that democracy and nonviolence co-construct one another in my view, not that one properly assumes or stabilizes the other -- I have already pointed out even in these schematic comments that democracy doesn't only provide alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes -- but that what counts as violence is one of the disputes. I disagree that even canonical Kingian nonviolence is naive or idealist in the way that worries you. I find King and Fanon very closely allied -- even if the postage stamp versions of each treat them as antitheses -- about which I say a little bit more, for example, here.
[another interlocutor] The omnipresent threat of state violence disciplines
As I never tire of repeating, violence both precedes and exceeds the state. If you concede this point but still continue to preface references to violence fixedly to "state" in this way it looks to me like you are indulging in a theoretical fetish that functions to simplify what isn't simple the better to congratulate yourself on a superior radicalism that isn't.
Democracy by itself means little to me. I wouldn't care if a majority of the folks Taos support my friend's incarceration there.
Your friend has a better chance in a more democratic state providing more equitable access to more accountable law and supporting a more free and more independent press, needless to say. Smashing the state won't help, but democratizing it will. That's something that should mean something to you. I have said that democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. There are many actual and possible implementations of this notion. Some involve majority decision making norms but certainly not all of them do. I consider rights that protect minorities FROM majorities an expression of democratization, too, after all. If you say that you don't care about people having a say in the public decisions that affect them, I don't believe you. I just don't.
[another interlocutor] Again, I feel as though we very much agree politically, but have rather large differences semiotically and linguistically. My experience in u.s. social movements over the last decade and a half have largely (and rather unfortunately) been deeply affected by a divisive and foreclosing language of nonviolence which has only served to divide movements into good and bad partitions, into legitimate and illegitimate binaries. For example, one doesn't have to look too far to see how the demonization of anarchists within occupy from portions of the left has created an environment within which repression against them finds justification, and that has largely occurred within the discourse of nonviolence. I want to reiterate that I feel our political views are not so far apart, but I also feel it's important to assert that the language of nonviolence is too often instrumentalized in the interest of dividing movements and it makes me deeply question whether its a useful framework for approaching these important questions.
While of course any radical doctrine or revolutionary tradition can be misrepresented (especially by those who find it threatening) or misapplied, for myself, I find that the more I actually know about the practical and intellectual resources of nonviolent resistance and the politics/ rhetoric of reconciliation, not to mention its accomplishments, the more impressed I am by it. That said, nothing's perfect, and nobody knows enough to know all the answers or even to know if they did. But you know all that already. I hope it goes without saying that my strong disagreement with anarchist positions is not the same thing as demonization of individual anarchists ("Summer" and I have been sparring vociferously for years on these topics, you should know).
[another interlocutor] I can only assume that you consider the violence of state in enforcing social and spatial norms legitimate. Jackbooted thugs or not, the cops practice force against disobedience bodies. In the hegemonic discourse -- which you appear to support -- the government's supposed popular mandate and rationality justify this violence. Regardless of whether it's justified, it sure as hell ain't nonviolent.
Your definition of what constitutes the nonviolent seems to me a vacuity, and amounts to a disavowal of the substance of history and politics altogether. You can try to use it as a cudgel to transform a years-long activist and teacher of democracy, nonviolence, feminism, sustainability, and art into a celebrant of police brutality and plutocratic hegemony but I trust few will find your effort particularly plausible.

Look, people are different from one another: the ineradicable potential for violence inheres in that condition of plurality itself -- as does any possibility for its contingent overcoming and forgiveness/ restitution. Grasping this is a precondition for understanding any democratic politics and it seems to me anarchisms tend to confuse or refuse this point at the cost of their relevance to the outcomes they claim to cherish.

Either we administer our common resources and solve our shared problems and engage in interpersonal commerce and reconcile our differences through sustainable accountable institutions dedicated to equity-in-diversity in a legible scene of consent -- or we fail. It seem to me that in your anarchism you repeatedly opt for pre-emptive failure and then, to add insult to injury, declare this perspective righteous.

States have been instruments of exploitation and violence and states have been instruments of equity-in-diversity and consent. That they can be made more the one than the other drives the struggle of democratization against anti-democratization that always also coincides with the ongoing administration and reconciliation through and in resistance to the state of the state at hand, all of which together IS democratic politics in my view. Again, as I say, a certain amount of walking and chewing gum at the same time is necessary in democratic politics.

It seems to me that like so many anarchist-identified folks, whether right or left or "beyond right and left [which usually means right-wing]," you have found your way to a lame but superficially lovely poem about spontaneous order that sounds good to you, especially when you recite it to yourself in the mirror, and which you think of as politics when it isn't really of any use to anybody or to most of the progressive outcomes you claim to cherish. But I do wish you luck, of course, in your world-shattering crusade against all architecture and a few pronouns while you revile the authoritarianism of efforts at democratizing reform with which I sympathize myself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Teaching Day

It's John Perry Barlow, Vernor Vinge, Eric Hughes, and Marc Stiegler this morning in the City in my Peer-to-Peer Democratization and Anti-Democratization course. Digital-Utopian Immateriality Day, in short.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nonviolent Revolution As the Democratization of the State

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, a reader thinks I am talking nonsense:
Nonviolent statism is a contradiction in terms. Please ditch one or the other.
I disagree with you.

Understand what I am saying: I am very familiar with your objections, of course. I understand where you are coming from. I am very aware that it is commonplace to define the state as that institution that has a monopoly on the "legitimate" use of force and that this is often taken to justify the identification of state with violence (even when it is quite obvious that enormous amounts of what happens through government has nothing at all to do with violence on any plausible description).

I am aware that my viewpoint is a minority viewpoint, in fact I will go so far as to say that I know of no political theorist who characterizes this issue in quite the way I do. (But Hannah Arendt, Claude Lefort, Chantal Mouffe, and a host of scholarship about and experience with radical nonviolent civil rights, queer, feminist, environmentalist activism has contributed to my perspective here.) Nonetheless, I do believe what I do and for reasons I think are good ones. Even if I cannot persuade you of my position, I propose it is one that deserves consideration among the more usual alternatives.

Violence precedes the emergence of the state and violence exceeds the existence of the state. I begin here because this recognition matters enough to be a point of departure for thinking the political. It is an axiom closely connected in my view to Hannah Arendt's starting point: "Plurality is the law of the earth."

I am far from denying the obvious fact that many (even most) states historically do indeed engage in systematic exploitation and offensive war-making. This is why the radical left critique of states that function as nothing but the institutional legitimation of violence for elite-incumbent classes -- or critique states to the extent that they are functioning this way -- is a powerful one with which I strongly agree as it applies to many historical (in a sense of the historical that includes the present) states or episodes or particular tendencies.

But I simply do not agree that states are exhaustively or even essentially characterized by violence or that their abolition would eliminate violence from human affairs. To smash the state is always (whatever else it may be) to smash the space of democratization, and spontaneist fantasies declaring contracts nonviolent by fiat whatever misinformation or duress articulates their terms, or dreaming of a consensus beyond the law arising out of an unrestrained angelic human nature, or promising to unleash a techno-transcendental superabundance that circumvents the impasse of stakeholder politics offer no living, abiding alternatives to the interminable democratizing struggles addressed through or addressed to governments toward sustainable equity-in-diversity.

I think these are profoundly mistaken views, widespread though they are. Of course, self-identified anarchists are comparatively rare, but the advocacy of "smaller government" without a supplementary characterization of good government amounts to anarchism in substance and this political viewpoint is far from rare, as is the cynical belief that there is a necessary tradeoff between order and violence that essentially accepts the premise of anarchism but regards anti-statist activism as unrealistic anyway.

I propose the contrary proposition that democratization is the historical struggle through which states are rendered ever less violent.

Democratization rendering states less violent happens when elections make possible peaceful transitions among leaders. Democratization rendering states less violent happens when civil rights and juries and court appointed defense attorneys provide ever wider more equitable recourse to courts for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes. Democratization rendering states less violent happens when taxation is yoked to representation making government directly accountable to the consent of the governed. Democratization rendering states less violent happens when checks and balances make branches and layers of government compete for positional advantage not through corruption but through the policing of corruption within governance. Democratization rendering states less violent happens when social democratic states provide the security of general welfare, basic income, healthcare, education, access to reliable information all to better ensure that everybody can engage in everyday commerce on legibly informed non-duressed consensual terms. Democratization rendering states less violent happens when public goods and common goods are accountably administered by democratic governance in the name of the common good to circumvent the violence of their exploitation or mismanagement for the parochial benefit of minorities. The examples can be multiplied, but I am illustrating what some fellow radical democrats would seem to regard as an initially or apparently counter-intuitive principle I am advocating.

Abraham Lincoln famously said that "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities." Although this formulation has had a vital life in the history of progressive struggles for equity-in-diversity, my own point is a different one. It is not only through instituted governments that people accomplish goods collectively of which they are incapable or in which they are frustrated individually. Hence it is necessary to make a more specific case for the collective work of good democratic government in particular. In my view, democratic government facilitates the nonviolent adjudication of disputes and enables people to have a say in the public decisions that affect them (including disputes over what constitutes violence, over what constitutes the public, over what constitutes such a say, and over the terms of the administration of government), through periodic election of accountable representatives, through equal recourse to laws, through the maintenance of individual rites/rights cultures and civil protections of the rights of minorities against majorities, through the maintenance of a legible scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce through the provision of general welfare, and through the sustainable, equitable administration of public and common goods otherwise vulnerable to violation and exploitation by incumbent-elites.

As I say, violence both precedes and exceeds "the" state-form. The truth is that no state, even totalitarian ones, has sufficient means of violence to subdue entire populations in every aspect of their lives to the will of their rulers. Violence CANNOT be the essential characteristic of even the most tyrannical states, and countervailing strains of civitas, consensual accountable equitable participatory governance, are always discernible.

Again, my point is not to deny but to decry the violence of undemocratic states. But in my view the democratization of the state is indispensable to nonviolent revolution. Fantasies of smashing the state rely on a mistaken identification of the state form with violence, and always amount to the facilitation of violence on the part of merciless muscled moneyed minorities who will go ahead and legitimize their abuses as the cost of whatever measure of order they maintain. In democratic states order and consent are one and the same (and exceptions threaten the legitimacy of that order) and the permanent vulnerability of the state form to corruption, abuse, violence confronts the vigilence of an empowered population to which that state is beholden for its funding and maintenance at every layer.

I appreciate the politeness with which you to entreat me to renounce either my commitment to good democratic government or my commitment to nonviolent stakeholder politics and change, but I fear I must decline. I am indeed committed to both, I believe that the commitment to each bolsters the commitment to the other, and I believe that it is those who find these commitments incompatible who are wrongheaded and confused.

So On Board! Ultra-Nano-Giga Humanizing iPad Apps to the eXtreme!

Futurologist Thomas Frey explains how an "anticipatory computing" iPad app unlocks the "Ultra-Human" in us all. Very Serious!

Let Romney Be Romney! Just Be Sure There's A Camera Handy

A hidden camera captured Mitt Romney saying the following at a fundraiser:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what...These are people who pay no income tax… My job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."


I suspect that there are some fine ads to be found there for the "freeloading" half of the American population, the "irresponsible" half who think providing general welfare ensures a measure of equity and security for all and is part of what freedom actually means, the half (at least!) of Americans Romney is apparently not running for President to worry about or represent.

A hidden camera also captured Mitt Romney saying the following at a fundraiser:
"My dad, as you probably know... was born in Mexico... and had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."


I suspect that there are some fine ads, some of them Spanish language ads, to be found there for all the people of color and their allies in America who know just how "helpful to be Latino" it is as compared to all the poor rich white people in this country who have such a terrible time of it.

Now that Romney has amply demonstrated that he is the most awkward man in the world (and, possibly, a robot), reticent not only about the taxes he pays and plans to pay but about those he plans to demand the rest of us pay, an anti-immigrant and anti-gay (and gay immigrants, don't get him STARTED!) bigot and bully, eager to reduce women into incubators, dangerously incompetent about foreign policy, this seems a good time to let Romney be Romney and reveal for hidden cameras everywhere just what an evil asshole he is in every other way, too! For the win!

Romney Going Right Means GOP Giving Up on Romney

The Romney campaign is megaphoning a decision to turn right and embrace the crazytown crazy (even more, that is) from now to November because this is going to be a Base election, blah blah blah. Many are scratching their heads at these announcements, given that this strategy is inevitably going to alienate (even more, that is) the majorities Romney would need to have a chance to win this election. Everything becomes clear, however, when you grasp that what is actually happening is that the GOP has completely given up on a Romney victory (just as the GOP crazytown primary itself was an advance symptom of the strong suspicion of the party that nobody was going to beat Obama) and they are diverting funds to activate the Base so that downticket races have a chance to hold the line against a Democratic congressional tidal election abetted by an Obama landslide. What, you expect them actually to admit that Romney can't win? Follow the money, the admission is there.

And Many More! (A Happy Birthday to Occupy As It Is Growing Up)

The Occupy protests have been one of the most vital and heartening phenomena on the American scene in years. In fact, only the Obama campaigns themselves have really rivaled its vitality and hopefulness for me personally.

That's really saying something, because as a queer who played a minor part in Act Up and Queer Nation and in the teaching of queer theory at the height of its exuberance, I can fairly say that I have been lucky enough to have participated in one of the few actually energized, actually accomplished protest and civil rights movements in the post-Reagan epoch of Movement Republican ascendancy. That queer movement has been thrilling, and I am proud of it, and I am a beneficiary of its accomplishments. That is true, by the way, even if it is also true that queerness has always meant something more capacious to me than the rather bland bourgeois bundle now celebrated in its name, even though gay marriage seems to me like conventional marriage to be a vestige of human trafficking and sentimental marketing, even if I am opposed to the prevalence of military institutions subverting our democracy and military actions enforcing our fateful exploitations even after they become more gay-welcoming, even if I think it is a kind of madness to choose to bring babies into a world burdened nearly beyond healing by the weight of extractive-industrial society. Being more radical than the movement I am a part of doesn't blind me to the way countless wanted lifeways are rendered legible and livable on its terms, and how that is a marvelous thing even if it isn't exactly the thing I might have wanted myself, how my own way of life benefits by its accomplishments even on those terms, and how the ongoing struggle to transform those terms is actually facilitated and not frustrated by those accomplishments even if they fail to be equal to my radical vision, even if most seem content to settle for those less capacious terms.

As you might have guessed by now, what might have seemed a long misplaced digression into queer politics in a post about Occupy is actually a first effort to remind us about the relationship in politics between guiding ideals and actual progressive accomplishments, about the need of radicals to know how to walk and chew gum at the same time and not to look gift horses in the mouth. These reminders will come in handy sooner than you think. Let us return to Occupy.

Occupiers know that when conspicuous media narratives endlessly ask the question "Where did Occupy go?" these days this rather joyless ritual of narrative repitition is an expression of a kind of willful blindness, it is a question that functions less to solicit an answer than to efface the obvious answer right in front of the questioner that the Occupiers never left, that the Occupiers are still right there Occupying. The same websites and meeting places still announce, and organize, and then report the aftermath of the efforts and events in which they are still palpably participating. This questioning that is really an ignoring isn't exactly a surprising strategy for Occupiers, of course, but a tired re-run, for where media trolls now ask "Where did Occupy go?" not so very long ago they were asking instead "What is Occupy for?" "What has Occupy accomplished?" and these questions operated in the same way, not to solicit answers but to obliterate the obvious.

Anybody who devoted five minutes' attention to any Occupier knows what Occupy is for, to protest the anti-democratizing concentration of wealth, privatization of commons, and corruption of governance across all of our normative and institutional landscape. Anybody who observes that prevailing public discussions of the national deficit and macro-economically illiterate and cruel recommendations of austerity at a time of a crisis of massive unemployment, underemployment, and precarity became instead at the height of the Occupy movement last year a discussion of economic injustice and the jobs crisis knows very well what Occupy accomplished. The necessity of passing jobs bills for the 99%, as well as the most forthrightly feminist calls in a generation to defend women's health and choices and celebrate queer equality, are themes that now suffuse and invigorate the terms of 2012 election campaigns and the Democratic National Convention. Occupy and the Republican War on Women are the reason these themes have become so central in the public imagination even as they have been crucial for so long however ignored.

I do think, however, that many Occupiers will feel discomfort about the turn this happy birthday message is taking. Even as they ruefully recognize media mischaracterizations of their messages, efforts, and accomplishments, I suspect that many Occupiers will disdain the extent to which the Obama administration suffers the same mischaracterization with precisely the same effects: as when Obama is blamed by the media for failing to raise the tone of public life and change the way politics is done even as he made strenuous efforts to do so and was met with literally unprecedented obstruction and derangement at a time of historical crisis by Republicans who seek to benefit from the failures they themselves ensured ("Where has Hope and Change gone?" "Where did Occupy go?"), as when so many accomplishments of the Obama administration are systematically ignored by many even as they cry out for outcomes that are actually already realized or underway ("What has Obama actually accomplished?" "What did Occupy want? What has it actually accomplished?").

For me, Occupy is a beautiful and necessary and long longed-for mass movement, changing the terms of public discourse to better reflect real and shared problems and possibilities long silenced and deranged by plutocratic broadcast media forms and government by crony credentialism. There is a way in which its provocation to more relevant public discourse on the one hand and its ongoing production of spaces of conviviality, resistance, cross-pollination, testimonial exchange on the streets is an end in itself, democracy realized in the flesh.

But for those Occupiers who fancy that Occupy is instead an embryonic alternative society, it appears that parochialism and selective filtering has mislead yet another cohort of would-be radicals into fancying that the edifications to be found on dance floors and in public festivals can be sustained indefinitely and scaled nationally, even planetarily. Those who seek in Occupy yet another hammer to smash the state, were they to manage to make their facile misconstrual of the phenomenon in which they are caught up the prevalent understanding of it, would only manage to derail the actually indispensable part Occupy is actually playing and can -- and must, in my view -- continue to play in the ongoing democratization of the state. The vital political work of creating and maintaining institutional spaces for the non-violent adjudication of disputes (including disputes about what will count as violence) and for the equitable solution of shared problems (where the diversity of stakeholders to those problems will have actually different ends in mind) still needs doing as ever. Progressive reform and democratic struggle through, and over, the state remains indispensable, and Occupy is most indispensable in my view in its work in that very ongoing democratization of the state.

Occupy has functioned together with the tattered remains of organized labor to push the terms of actually shared concerns into public view and to push the organized partisan left from the left into a greater acknowledgment of these concerns and more organized effort to address them. It is my deepest hope that Occupy will continue to do this work.

People can and absolutely should not only occupy, but vote. People educated and empowered by Occupy can and absolutely should become candidates for public office and will be supported not by plutocrats but by occupiers in their journeys into and through public service (as others can become or become changed as teachers, artists, researchers, professional activists and organizers, policy makers, social workers, volunteers). Occupy can and absolutely should remain more than an exhortation to vote or an organizational tool for party politics, it should remain separate, critical, provocative, radical.

But to the extent that Occupy fancies itself a substitute rather than a supplement to the state it will inevitably be domesticated into harmlessness to the status quo even as it congratulates itself on its autonomy and radical purity.

While radicalism is almost always born in frustration at the inadequate and inequitable terms of the incumbent order, whenever that frustration is not transformed through education, agitation, and -- crucially! -- organization into actual resistance, then it becomes an empty ritual expression of frustration that ultimately testifies not to change but stasis, it remains a narcissistic how of infantile distress the satisfaction of which replaces the fraught and always frustrating effort to address that distress in collective action.

It is not only ignorance or injustice that stands between our ideals and our reality, but an ineradicable measure of the diversity of those with whom we share the world, our histories, our hopes, our problems, our possibilities. (This is a point that should be remembered when people try to pretend that to support Obama to his actually existing alternative is somehow to embrace all of his policies, including for example the many shocking and awful forms his militarism has taken, rather than to recognize the executive branch actually exists whether we disapprove of it or not and that we have a non-negligible measure of power as citizens in the determination of who will fill that branch, for comparatively better or worse, not to mention simply to affirm the reality of accomplishments that really are real and wouldn't have been otherwise just as we protest the reality of injustices that should have been otherwise.)

No one ideal will prevail over the diversity of our peers, nor should we want it to even as they cherish that ideal so bound to fail. Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, and democratization is the struggle through which ever more people have ever more of a say in those decisions (including struggles over what constitutes such a say and such a decision and such a public).

The effort to translate our ideals into more material realities in contestation and collaboration with the diversity of our peers is the substance of the political.

That this contestation and collaboration be democratic, nonviolent, consensual is indispensably indebted to the maintenance of a democratic state as the arena in which ongoing social struggle takes place, an arena funded by progressive taxation to create institutional alternatives for the equitable and nonviolent adjudication of disputes, to maintain a legible scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms on which we engage in general commerce with our peers, and to circumvent the exploitative mismanagement of common and public goods.

Occupy and other nonviolent radical movements for equity-in-diversity (like green, feminist, queer, labor, secular movements) are indispensable to our society on their own terms as well as to the work of spurring progressive partisan reform politics to its greatest possibilities and keeping all of us both inspired and honest.

Speaking of keeping us honest, walking and chewing gum at the same time is politically possible and also necessary. It is in the context of those truisms that I wish Occupy a happy first birthday and hope that there will be many more to come.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Constraints on Conviviality?

Unexpected and unescorted, and without making a sound, a large brown turkey, surrounded by seven smaller but not infantile variations of the same, just promenaded rather magestically if ridiculously past our house along the sidewalk, altogether ignored by neighbors and whizzing traffic to which the turkeys, I grant you, also seemed indifferent. I live in Oakland, mind you, not Nebraska, and though ours is a tolerant multicultural urban neighborhood I wonder if this experiment in conviviality will end well for the turkeys.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Teaching Day

Thesis workshop in the City this afternoon. I'm still getting to know my new cohort and their fledgling MA projects, lots of novelty, excitement, and crazy problems freight the early days of a new term. Blogging low to no till later.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Good News Requested. Good News Received.

Associated Press:
NEW YORK -- A New York federal judge shot down part of a controversial anti-terror law Wednesday that journalists and scholars worry could see them locked up indefinitely for speaking their minds. Judge Katherine Forrest issued a ruling that permanently blocked a section of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Barack Obama at the end of last year authorizing the detention of US citizens accused of supporting terror groups. The suit was brought by activists, including former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges and outspoken academic Noam Chomsky... Forrest said the plaintiffs did "present evidence that First Amendment rights have already been harmed and will be harmed by the prospect of (the law) being enforced. The public has a strong and undoubted interest in the clear preservation of First and Fifth Amendment rights." The court "permanently" halts enforcement of that part of the law after it issued a preliminary injunction against it in May, Forrest said, calling on Congress to reexamine the measure.

I Have Found This To Be A Depressing Day

I don't know about you? Anybody have anything cheerful to report?

"Won't Say"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Today's Random Wilde

I love scandals about other people, but scandals about myself don't interest me. They have not got the charm of novelty.

Teaching Day

Today in the City, in my "Peer to Peer Democratization and Anti-Democratization" course we have Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler, and Michel Bauwens. Then, a haircut, I do believe. Until then, blogging low to no.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Republican Murder Suicide Campaign Pitch

TPM:
Republicans are telegraphing their intent to continue their fight against Obama’s agenda into his second term. Some have brazenly used their own intransigence as an argument for a Mitt Romney presidency: Elect the Republican, or we’ll keep the country ungovernable.
Given the declared McConnell priority of defeating of Obama over actually helping govern the country, the job for which he was elected and is paid, given the bizarre shoot the hostage even though the hostage is us drama of the debt ceiling debacle, can anybody be surprised that this would seem a congenial line to Republicans? As I never tire of repeating: Whenever a right wing politician declares all government wasteful, criminal, and corrupt you should pay close attention, because he is announcing his plans.

The Remarkable Republican War on Recreational Abortions

Chris Hare reports that "in a recently released email blast" South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly
makes the bizarre claim that thanks to Sandra Fluke, the Democratic Party now believes that "abortions and taxpayer-funded birth control are rites of passage for every teenage girl -- sort of like the prom or a first car."
Sort of like the prom? Every teenage girl? Heart or head -- which is made to hurt more reading such appalling hateful nonsense?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

"Dale Carrico's Problems"; Or, We Call It the Techno Aristocrats!

Earlier today a fellow calling himself "Mark Plus" (no doubt to distinguish himself from all the Mark Minuses in the world), decided to post on his blog about Dale Carrico's problems. He apparently has a "Dale Carrico" tag and everything for just such occasions.

"Mark Plus," in his blogger profile, describes his interests as "Cryonics, transhumanism, firearms, inventive problem solving, TRIZ, sexology, philosophy, science fiction." I never heard about this TRIZ business, but I looked it up and discovered it is about "inventive problem solving" which he already listed, so I guess he's just emphasizing the point, but it also seems to be about trends! and innovation! and flow charts including steps like "Abstracticize!" and "Concretize!" in them, so, you know, it's essentially can-do go-getter white guy crapitalism bs.

Anyway, you know as well as I do that the reason yours truly would have come to the unamused attention of one "Mark Plus" likely has more to do with the "cyonics, transhumanism" part of his list anyway (although I really do love that the list includes "firearms" and "sexology" too -- I mean, could it really get better than this?). So, I'm guessing this self-described "Senior Cryonicist" has noticed my recent critiques of cryonics as a pseudo-scientific faith-based initiative for Robot Cultists (scroll down and feast away).

I must say, after such a promising beginning I was looking forward to an argument from Mr. Plus about where I have gone wrong in these critiques. But, lamentably, my interlocutor was unable to get past the motto at the top of my blog "Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All," whereupon he launched instead into a diatribe about how democracy cannot work because the people (from whom he seems to exclude himself) are too stupid to have a say in the public decisions that affect them -- having such a say in which is my definition of democracy, oft repeated here on the blog and also in my teaching. This topic seems to connect somehow to a second claim he makes but doesn't elaborate about the "elevation of female promiscuity to a high value" that manages to be even more creepy and wrong than the other things he says in this curious post, but enough about that. Mr. Plus expresses confidence that The Future will be a neo-feudal aristocracy, but, you know, I suppose with robots. I am including a picture of Mark Plus as a public service so that we can all know what to look for in the way of Aristocrats in The Future after democracy's "pandering to the world's dumbasses" (from whom he seems to exclude himself) inevitably fails to work.

I am hoping that in future installments of "Dale Carrico's Problems" Mr. Plus will manage to delve past my motto into actually elaborated arguments of mine, where, no doubt, my problems, which are legion, will be laid bare in devastating detail.

And, now, for something completely different (or is it?)…

Way of Death?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "JimF" said:
I do not happen to think that cryonics should be **illegal**. I think people should be free to spend their money, and dispose of their corpses, as they see fit (in the latter case, as long as it doesn't create a public health hazard, of course).
Yeah, that's how I feel about it, too. Certainly the official verbiage of the organizations shouldn't be allowed to create the false and fraudulent impression that the current state of scientific knowledge provides any grounds for actual confidence that severed hamburgerized heads will be nanobotically or digirifically resurrected or whatever -- but it seems to me that contra the handwaving of True Believers in faithly settings the organizational discourse covers its ass more or less. Beyond that, so long as you say as there is no hazard to public health, it doesn't seem to me on the face of it that cryonics should be any more illegal than embalming is, or cremation, or shooting corpses into the Sun or what have you.

Myself, I always rather liked the fictional depiction of the Bene Gesserits on Chapterhouse dropping bodies in orchards with a freshly planted tree on top of each departed member of the community. I rather like the idea of a white-petalled dogwood flowering on a hillock where I used to be. I remember driving past woods in Indiana as a kid when dogwoods were blooming among the trees thinking the forest, like the monolith in 2001, was full of stars.

[edited]