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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Indulgence Is Not Idealism

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Summerspeaker" declares:
I want a world without hierarchy and inequality. Basic income isn't enough; everyone must have equal access to consumption. The gender distinction itself functions as a form of oppression and needs to go. There's nothing inherently wrong with wish-fulfillment fantasies; if you don't know what you seek you'll never find it.

The great demand the democratic left must strive to be equal to in my view is our ongoing negotiation of the paradoxical dynamic of our valuing both equity and diversity, a dynamism I prefer to denote as a kind of circuit, equity-in-diversity, to emphasize their difficult inter-implication. Your declaration that basic income is "not enough" followed by your wholesale rejection of any distinction articulated by what might pass for a performance of "gender" both suggest to me that you value equity to the cost of diversity, to the eventual assurance of tyranny.

Basic guaranteed income is for me one leg of a tripod also including basic healthcare and lifelong access to education, training, and reliable information (these are ideal outcomes for which the heartbreaking ongoing convulsive compromised struggle for welfare, healthcare, education, media, and regulatory reforms provide ever ongoing emancipatory accomplishments) together with actually democratically accountable constituted authorities (enshrining no taxation without representation, elimination of permanent informal status, strengthening separation of powers, subsidiarity and federalism as checks on corruption and abuse, democratization of contemporary corporate-militarist global governing bodies, authorizing planetary oversight of environmental, health, education, labor conditions provide the diplomatic and activist agenda for struggle here) better ensures that people can actually consent in an informed, nonduressed way to the terms of their cultural/prosthetic self- and lifeway-determination, peer to peer, and that there are ongoing checks on the vulnerability to abuses inherent in any institution of alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes arising inevitably out of plurality and facilitation of collaborative problem solving and creative expressivity.

In my view:
[one] to pine for the dis-invention rather than the democratization of the state seems to me a recipe for chaos and tyranny masquerading as concern for injustice, usually arising out of wish-fulfillment fantasies of spontaneous order either based in parochialism or denialism about the ineradicability and demands of human plurality;

[two] to pine for the dis-invention of sex-gender altogether rather than for its more capacious re-elaboration through the creative and subversive citations of its norms seems to me an evasion of the problem of patriarchy masquerading as an intervention in it, usually arising out of wish-fulfillment fantasies that one might simply will oneself into genderlessness or post-gender, as though gender were a suit of clothes donned or doffed from a hanger, when will itself is not so much willed as enabled through the ongoing elaboration of norms, among them, yes, sex-gender norms;

[three] to pine for techno-transcendence -- superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance as deranging hyperbolizations of security, healthcare, sustainability -- rather than for democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle to ensure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change are equitably distributed to the diversity of their stakeholders seems to me to indulge in wish-fulfillment fantasies masquerading as consensus science and serious science policy, usually in the service of incumbents fraudulently seeking outcomes that amplify their interests or from the vantage of marginal defensive faith-based subcultures suffused with irrational fears of impotence and dreams of omnipotence among True Believers and would-be gurus.

There is nothing wrong with animating ideals (mine are democratization, equity-in-diversity, consensualization, and nonviolence) but there is everything wrong with wish-fulfillment fantasies that arise from confusions and sow confusions.

Any greedy asshole or squalling infant can howl that they want! more! now! Any charlatan or crank can peddle an anti-aging skin cream or sex-rejuvinating elixir or perpetual motion machine. There's nothing new or radical or revolutionary in giving vent to such desires or giving in to such temptations.

That the struggle for justice and sense seems heartbreaking in the belly of the beast is no justification for indulging in deception or self-deception just because you are scared of death, or fear the contingency of history, or hanker after comfort and ease, or dream of the perfect control of circumstances, or despise the demands of reconciling your differences with the peers with whom you share the world.

You really can be a dreamer and still be a grown-up.

Or maybe that's my own wish-fulfillment fantasy?


Martin said...

What do proponents of a basic income guarantee say about Greece's catastrophic policies, which created large deficits in order to finance public sector jobs, pensions, and other social benefits?

Dale Carrico said...

I have a feeling your question is being asked here.

My answer, of course, is soak the rich.

Athena Andreadis said...

Greece's "catastrophic policies" are the same across the EU. The deficit of the UK is very close as percent of GDP to that of Greece (so is that of the US, by the way, with far fewer social services; Greeks live longer and healthier lives than Americans and their kids don't need remedial reading in college).

The major difference was that Greece had been forced to borrow at significantly higher interest rates than its EU "partners" -- and because Chancellor Merkel wanted to win a regional election in the Rhineland, she let speculators run wild before making it known that Germany would support Greece.

Dale Carrico said...

And so blaming the Greek victims of usury and speculation from their EU "partners" becomes the inevitable preface to punishing the victims as the Hayekian/Friedmanian would-be disinventors of Keynesian macroeconomics (who, it turns out, have spent three decades providing us a test case for the disaster of "teaching the controversy" as a way to dismantle such science as is inconvenient to incumbents) demand austerity for all but the fraud-fat rich beneficiaries of their market fundamentalist pseudo-science, howling from their pulpits that we will contract our way to expansion, that manna will trickle down from our worthy elites, and, in the meantime, "burn them all -- the predator gods of the marketplace will know their own."

Martin said...

Athena: Greece's "catastrophic policies" are the same across the EU.

Really? Other EU nations provide 13th and 14th month salaries?

The deficit of the UK is very close as percent of GDP to that of Greece

Indeed, but 12 and 13% deficits are not healthy for any country. This is not an argument in favor of Greece, but against the UK.

The major difference was that Greece had been forced to borrow at significantly higher interest rates than its EU "partners"

It also -- crucially -- lied about its economic statistics for years, so when the true size of its debt was revealed, its credit rating plummeted. They paid Goldman Sachs (of all companies) hundreds of millions of dollars to hide some of their borrowing.

Summerspeaker said...

You really can be a dreamer and still be a grown-up.

Like any proper firestonista, I wish to abolish the age hierarchy. As great as being adult, male, white, rich, and straight may be, these privileges have got to go. If my revolutionary dreaming compels you to denigrate me via identification with an oppressed class, feel free.

Dale Carrico said...

Yeah, I'm all about celebrating ageism, sexism, racism, classism, and heterosexism here on Amor Mundi.

Athena Andreadis said...

You know, Martin, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The previous neocon government lied about the deficit, not "Greece". The current government disclosed the facts fully as soon as it took a look at the books.

The two "extra salaries" are actually Christmas and Easter bonuses, and do not correspond to full monthly amounts. Even with the two "extra salaries" taken into account, the average gross (not net) monthly Greek income is 800 euros, whereas the average EU equivalent is 1300 euros, and wages have stagnated since the eighties. Ditto for pensions, which are even lower than wages when compared to the rest of the EU.

Greeks have fewer holidays and work longer hours than most Europeans. Many items (including imported food and medicine) are more expensive in Greece than in any EU country, sometimes 50% more. Many Greeks work two jobs, even if they're ostensibly middle-class, to make ends meet.

As in all countries, so also in Greece there are rich people and people who evade paying taxes. But Greece tried to cushion its people from abject misery, not its banks, and in that it behaved far better than the US.

Summerspeaker said...

You do seem stuck on invoking ageism against opponents. Being compared to infants will surely shame those transhumanists into growing up.

Dale Carrico said...

Are you seriously declaring a charge of infantilism amounts to ageism? Are you drunk or something? Get a grip.

Martin said...

Even with the two "extra salaries" taken into account, the average gross (not net) monthly Greek income is 800 euros, whereas the average EU equivalent is 1300 euros

You can't compare raw numbers like that, just because two countries are geographically close. Government employees in the US may make 10 times what they make in Mexico, but is that irrational given the economic differences? You have to consider things like per capita GDP ($44,000 in the UK compared to $32,000 in Greece), tax rates, and the percentage of the population employed in the public sector.

The point here is that Greece couldn't afford to pay what they were paying, which is why they are in massive debt.

Impertinent Weasel said...

While workers can and should unite to bargain collectively for better wages, fairer benefits, and better working conditions, I don't know that I can say the same for public employees.

As I understand the situation in Greece, the organized resistance to austerity is led by the public employee unions. The noble struggle of workers against their corporate oppressors seems something quite different to me than the struggle of public employees against the taxpaying public. That is, every Euro in benefits to public employees comes from the pocket of a taxpayer or is borrowed from someone else and repaid (with interest) from the pocket of a taxpayer. In a democracy, public employees work for the people. Is it wrong to think of public employee unions as having unionized against the people?

Athena Andreadis said...

Unlike the US and Mexico, Greece and the UK are fellow members of the EU. Not so incidentally, the US government routinely does not include the cost of its wars in its budget. Their inclusion would make its deficit in terms of the GDP far worse than that of Greece. And its treatment of its citizens is far less humane. Which is one of my points.

Dale Carrico said...

Public employees are not part of the taxpaying public?

Their struggle for equity and a say in the public decisions that affect is not a noble struggle?

People who administer the provision of general welfare under the auspices of the state should not be able to organize for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions?


Martin said...

Dale, the point was that if twice as many people work in the public sector (as a percentage of the population), the government has to dole out twice as much money in payroll checks, all else (like wages) being equal. So, in terms of whether Greece could afford its policies, that was a relevant factor, and in fact there was an expansion of public sector jobs, which strained their finances.

Dale Carrico said...

Why was what you take to be the point in the post by our "Impertinent Weasel" not mentioned in the actual post in which it was the point?

Athena Andreadis said...

Most comments on the state of Greece I've seen here rely on rehashings from journalistic soundbites (rather than real numbers) and/or stem from a desire to prove libertarian points already disproved by the events in the US economy.

The percentage of Greeks employed by the public sector is less than the equivalent in many EU countries, including France and The Netherlands.

The definition of "public sector" is wider in Europe. It includes such professions as doctors, engineers, university professors -- to name but a few that have been privatized (at their cost) in the US. So they work for the public but they also are the public, and they pay taxes like everyone else.

Greek public sector employees are resisting because the austerity measures hit them almost exclusively: 1) the measures don't apply to the private sector; 2) unlike the private sector, the public wages are set by the government and are hence far less negotiable; 3) the salaries are transparent, again unlike the private sector that can "disappear" large sums by sleight-of-accounting.

Another little-known fact is that France and Germany kept pushing obsolete planes and submarines onto Greece that it did not want. They asked the Greek governments to buy them as "a gesture of partnership". Except they didn't say that this was unidirectional.

On a larger note, austerity does not kickstart economies -- a point that the US government made and has explicitly followed since 2009. Instead, such measures disempower and shrink the middle class and in extreme cases deliver the country to the sole organizations geared to deal with such circumstances -- namely, organized crime (prime example: Russia, after the disastrous interference of Larry Summers and his ilk).

The metric of social success is not profit; it is to enable as many people as possible to lead decent, hopeful lives. And if the Greeks, unlike their US counterparts, don't go gently like cattle to the slaughter, so much the better for them.

Martin said...

So let's talk about something more central to your post. You describe a tripod of social policies that includes BIG, healthcare, and education. These are all noble goals, and I agree that it would be wonderful if we could construct a society where everybody has universal access to all three. The problem is that even the most well-intentioned policies may lead to the opposite effect: a decrease in human flourishing rather than an increase. You can't ideologically demand some set of policies for all societies. The degree to which society can implement one or another set of policies depends, among other things, on its economic structure.

Perhaps you've heard of Nobel Laureate economist Josphe Stiglitz, who has written at length about globalization, and particularly the IMF and World Bank. He is a major critic of their policies of rapid economic liberalization of developing countries. You see, that is also an ideology that the IMF tries to implement across the board, without considering individual economic stuctures. Stiglitz admits that those policies have been successful for some countries, but destructive for others. Because of the structure of some economies, liberalization requires a certain order and pace. The auto industry depends on the metal and ore industry, for example. You can't liberalize the auto industry before the metal industry.

Some countries can support social policies that we favor better than others. Canada can afford its social policies because, among other things, it has a huge trade surplus. It is a major exporter of oil and timber. It generates its own wealth, so that it can afford the social policies that it has. Norway is the same way. But as you are well aware, the United States has a huge trade deficit. Relatively speaking, it doesn't generate a lot of wealth for itself, and that's a problem (yes, I know the standard of living is high, which would imply a lot of wealth, but we are in a lot of debt for our lifestyles). What maintains this situation is, among other things, that China is purposefully devaluing its currency against the dollar, to artificially keep the trade imbalance afloat.

So, the issue is not one of merely demanding we implement the policies of your tripod, even if they are morally imperative. We have to consider, based on our economic structure and other factors, whether and when and to what extent we can implement them. It's very easy to say these policies must be implemented; it's another to do so successfully.

Dale Carrico said...

Immediately after describing my Tripod (very War of the Worlds) I offered this parenthetic caveat: these are ideal outcomes for which the heartbreaking ongoing convulsive compromised struggle for welfare, healthcare, education, media, and regulatory reforms provide ever ongoing emancipatory accomplishments.

Now, I was demonstrating my awareness of the difficulty of implementing these outcomes here in the US, let alone in the overexploited regions of the world sometimes smugly described by the post-colonial neoliberal North Atlantic as "underdeveloped."

Believe me, I get it that what the good ol' Trotskyites used to describe as uneven and combined development enormously complicates the planetary provision of The Tripod -- how to calculate basic income across different economies, for example? Nobody wants a repeat of Speenhamland.

So, I do not deny that rapid liberalization can be disastrous -- although I do think it pays to recall just how often what is meant lately by "rapid liberalization" has amounted to criminally brutal Friedmanian "shock therapy" which is the farthest imaginable thing from the provision of welfare, healthcare and education and so probably shouldn't be offered as evidence of how providing these is such a disastrous idea. (I've read a couple of books by Stieglitz -- and found plenty to like.)

I agree with you that there is a real moral imperative driving the provision of The Tripod -- indeed it seems to me that many who seem to think societies providing basic income, healthcare, education, equal recourse to the law, and access to reliable information would not "work" have a fucked up idea of what a "working" society looks look when they seem to have fewer objections to such comparatively "working" societies as our own in which the threat of penury, disease, death pressures the most vulnerable into taking up hideous but necessary occupations at low wages so that lucky rich people can joylessly waste fortunes.

I must say, this neoliberal slaughterhouse sure as hell isn't "working" for me!

Dale Carrico said...

Let me add that being accused of wild-eyed revolutionary fervor at one and the same time as being accused of mild-eyed reactionary complacency is enormously edifying.

Summerspeaker said...

Are you seriously declaring a charge of infantilism amounts to ageism?

I am. Look at the narrative you're invoking. It codes the state of being grown-up as positive and the state of being a child as negative. Without backing it would have no rhetorical power.

Dale Carrico said...

All the world's gurgling babies gratefully acknowledge your efforts on their behalf against the devastating, tyrannical, and apparently "anti-child" premise I invoked.

You will be unsurprised to hear, knowing after all what a reactionary totalitarian bigot I am as compared to radical keyboard kommandos and Robot Cultists like you, I remain convinced that with the experience that properly freights the arrival of adulthood worthy human beings become more reasonable and responsible partners in the work of civilization.

I believe, further, that this maturation requires painful reckonings: with the inevitability of finding compromises among the diverse stakeholders with whom we share the world but differ in our aspirations and assumption, with the awareness that we must regularly disdain present comforts for longer-terms flourishing, that we must relinquish comfortable moralisms to find our way to the precarious universalities of ethics and law, and so on.

A psychoanalytically-informed formulation of the premise would describe the confrontation of the Pleasure Principle (the infant's plentitude at the Mother's literal or figurative breast) with the Reality Principle (the youth's coming into awareness that her homely authorities are not, nor could they be, fully equal to their trust, that the customs, norms, and expectations familiar to her are neither universal nor yet justified, that all humans, as is she herself, are finite, error-prone, susceptible to disease and unease, and sure of death).

You can deny all this or disdain its salience or disapprove the form in which I have tries to phrase these insights if you like. But you'll forgive me if I admit you seem simply to reveal yet again the emptiness of the "radicalism" you trumpet as the superior of my own effort, and, I'm sorry to say, your ultimate unseriousness as a would-be interlocutor.