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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Libertopian Exchange

Upgraded from Comments, an interesting exchange with a reader, "G." G's contributions are italicized.

There is nothing at all utopian about free-market philosophies or libertarianism. Indeed, the free market by definition…

Do you guys even hear yourselves? Stipulate away, but "free market ideology" yields an ugly slaughterhouse in practice. That's what I mean by "utopian."

States are force…

This is a fundamental libertarian mistake:

Force inheres in the facts that (a) humans are different, (b) humans are ineradicably prone to dispute, (c) humans are interdependent, and (d) humans are capable of retroactively rationalizing much of the conduct from which they benefit even when it contradicts their express convictions.

"Force" is politically prior to the state, and so dreams of "smashing the state" (in whatever variation) will never be adequate the problem of force. Read that again.

States, it is true, have traditionally functioned to impose the will of established minorities on oppressed or otherwise exploited majorities (libertarians, liberals, anarchists, democrats in their many permutations all grasp this in their respective fashions), but those who would seek to democratize rather than to smash the state do so to yoke the "legitimacy" of state violence to the project of creating and maintaining nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes and to protect the scene of informed, nonduressed consent for all citizens. Market libertarians, again, by stipulating "market outcomes" (whatever their context or concrete characterizations) as noncoercive by fiat, simply handwave the problem away. Both market and socialist libertarians alike often seem to share the faith that order is or at any rate can be "spontaneous" and hence that governance invested with legitimate recourse to force always-only impedes this order rather than facilitating it.

Given (a) through (d) above, you will guess that I consider this libertopian faith extraordinarily misplaced. I perfectly understand the appeal of the various libertopian faiths (in younger days I briefly held a version of one of them myself), but the facts don't look to me to support the faith and so I choose to cope instead with the facts.

I'd rather not have mob rule either.

To identify democracy with mob rule is as ridiculous as claiming to be able to square the circle. This is a tired slogan, and beloved of plutocrats. Don't be that guy.

Aristrocrats have the force of law behind them, businessmen do not; that is quite a difference.

What world do you live in? We live in a corporate-militarist plutocracy with vestigial institutional traces of relatively representative governance struggling desperately to protect us all from straightforward tyranny mouthing Christian fundamentalist pieties one minute and market fundamentalist pieties the next minute.

Businesspeople are functionally aristocratic (and having no taste, no manners, and no nobility to speak of they even look and act like traditional aristocrats), and, of course, they do have the force of law behind them.

Neoliberal ("free market") policy from Volcker-Reagan- [not to mention Deng Xiouping- Pinochet-Thatcher-] Bush-Greenspan-Clinton-Rubin-Bush II… [and on and on] has been a three decade planetary drumbeat for deregulation and privatization without end, for corporate-military secrecies (proprietary secrets, Defense secrets) over accountability, and all exactly coinciding with falling standards of living on nearly every metric for all but a diminishing few of the rich.

Neoliberal ("free market") globalization has imposed austerity regimes on developing countries while endlessly subsidizing North Atlantic defense contractors and consolidating corporatist intellectual property regimes, literally displacing a billion human beings into vast dangerous dense unregulated, unsupported megaslums ("free market" paradises, all -- just ask free marketeer Hernando de Soto) where they die, as surely as they would by direct genocidal design, of water-borne diseases cheaply treatable for over a century, unregulated toxic wastes, environmental disasters.

And all the while the businesspeople libertopians champion (sometimes, some of them, to be sure, a bit ambivalently) "restructure" the countryside via agribusiness model incentives to overurbanization and turn a blind eye to complementary warlord/druglord "incentives" to mass migration and complacently retreat instead to the "luxury" -- the gold plated toilet seats, the refried bean franchises, the botox injections, and palmfrond-shaped artificial islands stuffed with cheap pastel-hued McMansions -- of their gated private cities, a global archipelago of shitty Las Vegas clones for the brainless soulless profiteering pigs of the New World Order.

But, but, but the "free market" by definition…! Give me a break.

To suggest that society can eliminate powerful people (economically, socially, or otherwise) sounds a bit absurd to me.

Of course, what democrats say is: YOU have the power. Everybody has the power. Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, and then seeks to implement that idea. It isn't an effort to eliminate power, eliminate diversity, eliminate enterprise, or anything of the kind. But, scratch a libertarian, find an authoritarian, I always say. Warlords are still warlords, even when they wear a suit. I think democracies can and should protect people from warlords.

But if we want it to protect the poor from the rich as well, a more limited form of government is nearly required.

What is wanted is good government. "Limited" tells me nothing. Everything is limited in a finite universe. What are the criteria on the basis of which one presumably determines when government is "limited" enough? Libertopians always only say "more!" "Limited" government usually ends up meaning "none." (Or, more concretely, it ends up meaning "make money by any means necessary -- including making endless recourse to exploitable opportunities for personal profit from the constituted governments one doctrinally despises -- and screw everybody else.") Why not admit it?

[T]he world is far better off than its ever been, with the exception of our current Commander-in-Chief. People live longer, and are freer all around the world. I would say the internet is one of mankind's greatest inventions, and it is spreading rapidly.

I share your enthusiasm for the democratizing potential of online education, agitation, organizing, collaboration, and communication. The fact that incumbent interests (Establishment partisan machineries, Big Media, etc.) are struggling to stifle these democratizing energies has a lesson in it for you if you care to pay attention to it.

As for your claim that the world is better off, I would be flabbergasted by it if I didn't hear the same dangerous delusions from bright earnest well-meaning people literally every day.

I'm sorry to say that your confidence here, attractive though it is, is an expression of privilege rather than perception.

Read Mike Davis's Planet of Slums and David Harvey's Neoliberalism: A Brief History, from cover to cover, and then get back to me. Your convictions should be strong enough surely to cope with a little intelligent opposition.

Ron Paul is the only person, with a record to prove it, who might do something about it.

Ron Paul is yesterday's news, and even for that one brief shining moment when he was news -- due to the otherwise so palpably catastrophic awfulness of the Republican Presidential field for 2008 -- he was always just utterly wrong for America in more ways than I can count. There's no reason to rehearse these again -- scout through the archives for more if you like. When it comes to Ron Paul, the immortal words of Homer Simpson more than suffice at this point: "Welcome to Dumpsville. Population: You."

1 comment:

n8o said...

There is no such thing as mob rule; only mob //rulers//.