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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

“How many times do you have to get hit over the head before you figure out who's hitting you?”

That's Harry Truman slapping his forehead in exasperation upon hearing Obama going out of his way to be gracious to the lying incompetent killer clown war criminal George W. Bush in his already infinitely wearying dreary depressing speech tonight.

"Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinian schoolgirl"

That's the headline. The story won't make you any happier.

Are They All Registered to Vote?

Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.

Castro Admits and Regrets that the Cuban Revolution Persecuted Gay People

I'm glad Castro has finally made this long-denied admission and long-time-coming expression of regret, but he does spoil it a bit when he goes on to say what amounts to "some of my best friends are gay" and "hey, I was too busy fighting capitalism and imperialism to worry about pansies," which I have to say sounds all-too familiar coming from straight white oh-so-lefty guys in my experience, including the ones who would angle for blow jobs after two beers.

Well, That Sure Sucked. Now Let's Do It Again.

A two-term Republican president creates massive deficits which he leaves to a Democratic successor. Conservatives go crazy about the deficit once their guy is no longer in power. A riled-up base elects a bunch of whack-a-doodles to Congress who feel like they are on some kind of messianic mission to tear apart the federal government.

PS: I seem to recall a huge amount of substantial analysis pointing to the differences between 1994 and 2010. Did all of those differences suddenly stop existing, or if they are no longer differences that a make a difference can somebody explain to me just why that is, preferably in a way that marshals relevant facts rather than indulges in what amounts to gossip?

Question: How many different 40 day pre-election prayer vigils does the Religious Right need?

Answer: Apparently at least four

-- via a Pam Spaulding tweet.

I Don't Get It (UPDATED)

Polling is starting to offer up a vision of free fall for Democrats wildly out of proportion to any facts on hand. It is taking on a weirdly hysterical and hyperbolic tinge. Can it really be that Republicans just sound cocky these days and that is enough to get millions of lemmings to leap into GOP Daddy's arms in the midst of distress? Have mainstream media and polling organs fallen into some bizarre attentional well they no longer have the critical resources to contextualize? Is this a massive but actually insubstantial steam-cloud that filled the emptiness of August and will evaporate in the face of DNC ads and ground game in the actual run-up to mid-terms?

UPDATED -- no, please don't "inform" me via e-mail that unemployment is catastrophically high and billionaire bailouts don't make everyday people feel particularly celebratory, and don't forward me Drew Weston's general diagnosis with which I have some quibbles but more or less agree like most every sensible person on earth surely would as a general matter -- isn't he pretty much summarizing the netroots cw that has coalesced over the last seven months or so? I'm a rhetorician by trade, you know, I do get the whole framing thing, and of course I get the obvious general socioeconomic context, but I still don't get the hyperbolic skew in polling this month in particular (prompted by what, the whole not-mosque brutal brou-ha-ha?) nor do I quite see why folks would turn to the GOP when GOP approval is lower than Dem approval and given the fact that attention spans can't really be so short that you would want to reward the rampaging evil idiots who destroyed the world more than the lame wusses who didn't manage to save the world yet. Sorry, it just doesn't make sense to me. Here, Nate Silver surveys the very same scene without the perplexity, so maybe it really is just me.

GOP Crashing the Gate to Smash the State

When the GOP shuts down the government after the mid-terms I am sure we will immediately release all non-violent drug offenders from prisons, immediately stop harassing immigrants, and close down the interstate highways because of the extraordinary expense and waste of these vast authoritarian statist enterprises.

Christian Taliban Crazy Only Hope to Stop the Glenn Beck Crazy?

Steve Benen highlights the apparent squeamishness of Christianist Republican crazytown for Beck's Mormon brand of the religionist Republican crazytrain. To imagine a world in which sensible people work to solve shared problems guided by warranted consensus descriptions of facts and shared democratic values of equity-in-diversity sometimes seems to imagine a world as remote from our reality as the very Heaven the crazies imagine will reward the ferocity of their wholesome hatreds.

Lawrence O'Donnell Was An Asshole Last Night to Ashley Carson

And as David Dayen points out here, O'Donnell was also, of course, dangerously wrong in all his conservadem talking points about a looming social security crisis. I was quite appalled by the exchange between O'Donnell and Carson last night, in which he interrupted her and talked down to her and smirked at her while she patiently tried to talk sense. O'Donnell seemed flabbergastingly oblivious to the context of the segment, namely that another clueless old white guy Alan Simpson attracted a lot of negative attention (but of course paid no real price for it) by denigrating O'Donnell's very guest on the very same topic in the very same sexist way. I found it interesting that in the exchange with Ezra Klein a few minutes later O'Donnell tried the same crap but quieted a little in the face of Klein's push-back, a dick genuflecting as usual to another penis. O'Donnell is about to get a prime-time show of his own on MSNBC. I suggest that he and Chris Matthews be placed in the same dark paneled cigar-smoke filled studio beneath large grim portraits in oils of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Tip O'Neill, and in lieu of doing interviews they could simply swap impressions of Burgess Meredith playing the Penguin while qualified professional women in suits are paraded endlessly before the camera.

Generational Ressentiment

When given a choice, older people prefer to read negative news, rather than positive news, about young adults, a new study suggests. In fact, older readers who chose to read negative stories about young individuals actually get a small boost in their self-esteem, according to the results…. And what about younger people? Well, they just prefer not to read about older people.

I find this deeply weird. It's not that I doubt the results of the study or its methodology or anything, but I have to say that I find negative news about young people almost unutterably depressing and upsetting, meanwhile I invest insane amounts of my hopes on any snips of news I can find in which young people are working together to accomplish things, or questioning authorities and crappy orthodox values, or exhibiting attitudes of fairness and tolerance and civic-mindedness in higher proportions than in generations before them (like mine, for instance). I'm 45 and so a little younger than the plus-fifties surveyed in the study, and as a teacher I am deeply invested in the concerns of young people, and I'm also apparently anomalous because at twenty I was very interested in and even tended to identify with much older people -- especially crusty philosophers and life-long activists, so maybe this is just speaking to something very alien to my experience and way of thinking.

Mandating News Standards?

Would it be possible for the federal government to formulate a set of standards -- like the ones which protect consumers from fraudulent "organic" produce or phony "non-fat" foods -- which should be met for a media program to identify itself as "news," as opposed to entertainment or editorial?

Given the tendency to safe stenography, the preference for photogenic spokesmodels over journalists, the anxious coddling of inside "sources," the fetish for "balance" among claims rather than fact checking, the greater profitability of drama over sense, the inherent sensationalism of the leading question, the splashy headline, the scrolling reductive text, and the straightjacketing of conversation into sound-bites it is probable that even the imposition of real standards could still be easily circumvented by those who sought to peddle or re-package a particular political perspective.

And it pays to remember that for years now among the best informed members of our public have been viewers of news-parody programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which take up the worst of the hyperbolic and mis-informational tropes and forms on offer and yet manage (at their best) to turn them into occasions for education, provocation, and critical thinking.

I suspect that the distinction between description and prescription, between information and mis-information is always sufficiently fraught that any effort forcefully to demarcate them will threaten the collaborative and contestatory substance of the public scene in which the clash of published opinions and presented evidences yields description, information, facts, accounts as such.

Still, the levels of ignorance and flabbergasting falsehood in evidence among so many self-identified Republicans clearly needs to be addressed. I am less confident than I once was that the widespread linking norms typical in online commentary -- discussed very cogently by Yochai Benkler, among others -- are providing a critical check on mass-mediated and p2p-networked subcultural canalizations of rhetoric that cash out in uncritical self-deceptions, widely held conspiracies, destructive bubbles and panics, vulnerabilities to charlatans and cults and marketing frauds, and politics held in the grip of paranoid fever dreams.

Maybe all of this is little more than the legacy of the multi-generational assault of right-wing politics on our public education system. But it is also true that the pace at which good government works differs from the pace at which the sweeps and surges of imagination and passion suffuse media -- and we have to devise ways to insulate legislation and regulation and administration responding to the vicissitudes of these passions rather than to best outcomes defined by the warranted consensus facts of the matter and by the value of equity-in-diversity.

Republican Paranoia on Parade

Sam Stein
A majority of Republicans believe that President Barack Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world," according to a survey released on Monday…. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans…. said they believed the president favored "the interests of Muslims over other groups of Americans"

The survey to which he refers can be seen in its entirely here. Simply put, it is a testament to misinformation bordering on mass-psychosis.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Could Democrats Rally As Many As Beck Managed?

Estimates about the size of the crowd that attended Glenn Beck's atrocious "I Have A Scheme" Rally this weekend are heatedly disputated, as such things usually are. The range from CBS's estimate at just under 100,000 to just over 300,000 by both NBC and DC officials gives a clear indication that the rally was indeed quite a large one.

It is worth noting that even though the actual numbers told a factual story that should hearten them, wingnuts still can't help but lie insanely about the turnout, declaring it to be a half a million, a million, millions I tells ya, all fighting the obamafeminaziblackpanthacornislamofascist menace.

Whatever the numbers, the turnout was more impressive than Tea Partiers have recently managed to swing at their scattered crazytown gatherings, now that most of the Big Pharma and Insurance Company funds dried up when there was no longer any benefit to them in whomping up the appearance of grassroots antipathy to healthcare reform. No doubt their paid sponsorship of Beck's shindig in turn helps account for this latest, er, organic spontaneous groundswell of popular support.

Be all that as it may, given the media narrative endlessly mega-phoning Democratic demoralization and Republican enthusiasm coming into the mid-terms, the Beck rally offers an unwelcome data point for the Bad Guys to cough up into their hairball of conventional wisdom.

By the way, though the generic ballot polling doesn't exactly thrill me any more than anybody else, and I simply don't trust the Administration to do both the right and the sensible thing and come out with a game-changing Democratic Green Jobs Initiative Versus Republican Billionaire Bailouts Plan next month, still, I do want to point out that the correlated anti-incumbency media-narrative hasn't really lived up to the hype in the primaries, and that Democrats are going into the mid-term elections with a long-prepared much ballyhooed ground-game, with better, if dismal, approval than Republicans in spite of everything, as well as with comparatively better money on hand, and that these things aren't exactly chopped liver even if they aren't pixie dust either.

Anyway, I'm hearing lots of grousing about whether Democrats could get crowds comparable to even the lowball figures estimated for Beck's atrocity exhibition for any of our signature political issues (I doubt that the question includes the part where some archipelago of interested mega-corporations would pitch in to organize and promote the affair to the tune of millions of dollars because they care so much about windturbines or publicly financed elections or women's access to safe and legal abortions, but I digress), all as a way of indulging in all liberals's favorite past-time of declaring pre-emptive defeat in the face of the frustrations of reformist stakeholder political processes constrained by the reality of the Senate filibuster, historically unprecedented levels of irresponsible GOP obstructionism, massively funded media misinformation organs, all in the immediate aftermath of flabbergasting fiscal and foreign policy crises.

And yet, to this question of whether we can get 100,000 to the Mall, I have this to say:

Ask me that question again when President Obama is administered the oath of office for his second term and the answer will be cheering back at you from horizon to horizon.

Winning the Culture Wars, Losing the Country?

BooMan directs his readers to this post of mine from yesterday. About it, he writes that "there is some good advice in" it (thanks!) then goes on to disagree, which is much more interesting. He writes
The "idea that we've won the Culture War is premature and inappropriate at the moment."

I have elaborated the chestnut "We Already Won the Culture Wars" many times here and there, most recently here, and I think it is important for the left to grasp what it means that we won the culture wars because too many of us mischaracterize a lot of what is going on across the right because so much of that energy and incoherence responds quite legibly and functionally to their own sense of having lost the culture wars. I think we misdiagnose the weaknesses as well as the strengths and threats of much of what they do because of our mystification on this score.

BooMan writes, "I haven't seen a poll in six months that would indicate that we're winning the Culture War or anything else." But of course he has -- he need only take a look at polls on nationwide and generational attitudes toward gays serving openly in the military or about gay marriage, about inter-racial relationships, about smoking marijuana, about regular church attendance, about our wars, about basic fairness, about whether getting rich is more important than having fulfilling relationships, about pollution...

In a post about the Culture Wars a couple of weeks ago in the midst of the unspeakable idiocy and ugliness (still, of course, ongoing) around the community center at Park51 I wrote:
I think it pays to contemplate the actual ritual work that is being accomplished in these brief brou-ha-has that barnacle non-issues like the “Ground Zero Mosque” that isn’t -- And for whom this work is being done -- And in the context of what larger structural realities this work seems so needful for those few to whom it is filling a need... Look, the pleasures of buttsex are weaving the affection of two gay men into a long-term loving bond in your town right now. A pissed off anti-war activist is seriously contemplating burning a goddamn American flag. Tax paying Americans who happen to be Muslim are praying in a mosque and others are building a new one. A prosperous inter-racial couple are drinking coffee in a sunlit kitchen in a television commercial to the envy of millions of everyday citizens. A young woman is getting an abortion because she wants to have a life. Teenagers in a public bus are laughing about the cluelessness of an obtrusively evangelical classmate and the hypocrisy of his parents... It isn’t going to stop. Ever. No law will be passed to stop it... The Constitution is not going to be amended to re-write America in the image of Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. That train has left the station. It went to Hogwarts. They’re witches, you know... The culture wars happened. We won. They lost... All these crazily expansive fireballs of deranged emotional energy that fill our discursive field for a time and then vanish without a trace when the alcohol has burned away, the flag-burning crisis, the duct-tape craze, the swift-boat liars, the mass hysterical blindness in the face of a Presidential birth certificate, the death-panel conspiracy, and on and on and on, each one gloms on to a non-issue because real issues can be dealt with through deliberation, they attach to a non-problem because real problems are susceptible to collective solutions or resolutions through compromise.

BooMan writes:
He doesn't deny the real civilizational threat we're facing, but he downplays it. We have a two-party system. When one of those parties becomes captured by neo-fascists, you have to take it as seriously as a heart attack.

Obviously, I don't expect BooMan or his commentators to have read my odd little nook in the blogosphere, but had he and they done so they would never think I downplay the threat of Republicanism -- especially in this particularly debased consummation of Movement Republicanism -- or think the lesson of the left's victory in the Culture Wars is a triumphalist complacency of all things.

That we won the Culture Wars shifts the terrain on which both parties go on to frame their place in America and the ways in which they try to educate, agitate, and organize their respective bases and refigure the prevailing debates over issues. The point isn't to declare pre-emptive political victory due to our victory in the Culture Wars but to secure political victories by reading the terrain produced by our victory in the Culture Wars for what it actually is.

Certainly we Democrats can fail to mobilize the strengths of our position as the victors of the Culture Wars. Certainly the right can still turn things around over the longer term to the disastrous cost of all, and win short-term opportunistic skirmishes despite (indeed, often precisely because of anxieties provoked by) the wholesome ongoing demographic browning and multicultural secularization of the country. Certainly political outcomes don't map seamlessly onto culture and so liberalizing attitudes on racial, sexual, gender, freethinking, the importance of fairness, the ugliness of bullying, the silliness of living for money, the appropriateness of harm-reduction as the emphasis of drug or sex education policy, and so on don't inevitably translate to Democratic as against Republican election victories.

For example, moneyed-elites can still fancy themselves defensive embattled minorities fighting to the death for survival in a secular multiculture like ours even if it is completely irrational for them to feel such an existential threat, and liberals in a secular multiculture like ours often can't bring themselves to feel that elections matter as much as they actually do, especially when they want to carp and quibble about specific policies and candidates for whom they feel a personal distaste or even disinterest that seems to outweigh the importance of the threat of out of touch right-wing weirdos, even though objectively speaking Republican policy can impact their lives materially in countless devastating ways in fact.

Winning the Culture Wars has sometimes made the Democratic left complacent and fractious when we shouldn't have been, and losing has given the dread armies of the Republican right the energy and monolithic discipline of the last desperate battle for survival, over and over and over again.

Often the left has failed to fight from the strengths inhering in our position of victory -- perhaps because we still can't entirely believe in the reality of it -- taking the desperate defensiveness of the right's incredibly symptomatic self-denominations as "The Silent Majority," "The Moral Majority," "The Values Voters," "The Real Americans" as if they were literal truths rather than exposures of traumatic wounds, testaments to defeat. The left is the silenced majority, ours are the morals of the majority, our values of equity-in-diversity drive our votes and our country (why else would Bush the Father have peddled his "kinder, gentler" PR and the killer clown administration nominally helmed by his son lie its way close enough to steal the White House promising "Compassionate Conservatism"?), we are the real Americans in the real America -- and the right knows all this perfectly well, even if we seem endlessly incapable of accepting this truth and acting on it.

I do not agree that it is triumphalist to recognize that we won the culture wars (maybe it could be, but that would be a foolish response to this victory in my view, and I hope it is not my own). Rather, this recognition seems to me to be the first step in taking responsibility on realistic terms for this secular multiculture we won and we are. It is also the first step in reading accurately and so responding properly to the noisy non-argumentative utterly non-rational spectacles of the losers in their heartbreak and menace the better to protect ourselves from the damage they are capable of and holding out a helping hand to those for whom it is still not too late to join in the democratic work of progress toward ever greater equity-in-diversity.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Larry Summers? HAMP? Afghanistan? Lack of War Criminal Prosecutions? DOMA?

"I'm making decisions that are not necessarily good for the nightly news and not good for the next election, but for the next generations."

I know what he means, and I'm still behind him, but please don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

Mid-Term Republican Wave Is Presumably To Be Driven By Concerns Over Jobs and Deficits

House Minority Leader John Boehner [accused] in a "major economic address" on Tuesday, [that] President Obama is "doing everything possible to prevent jobs from being created" while refusing to do anything at all "about bringing down the deficits that threaten our economy." Elect Republicans in November, Boehner assured his audience, and we will put an end to this insanity… [but] the things that Republicans have said they want to do won't actually boost employment or reduce deficits. In fact, much the opposite. By combing through a variety of studies and projections from nonpartisan economic sources, we… found that if Republicans were in charge from January 2009 onward -- and if they were now given carte blanche to enact the proposals they want to -- the projected 2010–2020 deficits would be larger than they are under Obama, and fewer people would probably be employed.

Follow the link for patient substantiation of the claim. As Howard Dean once said, in a slogan that every Democrat should repeat into every mic within reach and every ear within earshot until it becomes common wisdom that is true for once, and an anvil hung permanently around the GOP's neck, "Republicans cannot be trusted with your money."

Year of the Woman!

[T]his year's midterms could actually see the number of women serving in Congress drop for the first time since 1978. "If large numbers of Democratic incumbents lose in November, as expected, many women could be replaced by men. Female candidates tend to do better in Democratic years…" What about the Mama Grizzlies? "While political attention has focused this year on Sarah Palin's handpicked candidates…. just four women are among the GOP's 46 'Young Guns,' as the party calls its frontline challengers who are considered future leaders."

Poor Widdle War Profiteer Gonna Take Him's Real-Life Toy Soldiers And Go Far Away Like A Real He-Man Patriot

How About A Nice Refurbishing Break Inside A Prison Cell?
Erik Prince, whose company, Blackwater Worldwide, is for sale and whose former top managers are facing criminal charges, has left the United States and moved to Abu Dhabi, according to court documents…. “He needs a break from America,” said one colleague, speaking only on the condition of anonymity.

Here's Jeremy Scahill's lucid (as usual) reporting on the subject fully two months ago in the The Nation.

Elementary Respect for the Demands of Rational Argument Is Not Snobbery

An even more than usually vomit-inducing Wall Street Journal editorial, Why the Liberal Elite Finds Americans Revolting, dips into the usual dank well of white-racist fundamentalist-authoritarian patriarchal-prick resentments, crying faux-populist crocodile tears about the contempt and viciousness of "liberal elites" directed at Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Partiers presumably because we think that they are overweight or weren't educated in Ivy League Schools.

One quick look at the typical heroes of liberals -- few of whom are paid remotely enough to be described as "elites" -- school teachers and social workers and climate scientists and workplace whistleblowers struggling under the weight of the world without due compensation or praise or even much in the way of attention, or civil rights and organized labor activists still fighting the good fights or even our favorite comedians (some of whom go on to become Senators) instantly and effortlessly dispels the deception getting peddled as always -- and by the white shriveled organ of Wall Street billionaires, no less -- that liberal folks are all elite effete aesthetes.

And that's the point. These charges have little to do with declarations of falsifiable fact or with solicitations for understanding to testimonies of violation. Steve Benen andBooMan (both of whom are becoming indispensable reads to me these days) both get right to the heartless heart of what's really going on here.

Benen writes:
For a year and a half, we've seen rallies and town-hall shouting and attack ads and Fox News special reports. But I still haven't the foggiest idea what these folks actually want, other than to see like-minded Republicans winning elections… This is about "freedom" [they cry] … But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we're told, not that kind of freedom. This is about a fight for American "liberties" [they cry] … Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we're told, not those kinds of liberties. This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities [they cry] … But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can't afford insurance? No, we're told, not those kinds of opportunities. This is about the values of the Founding Fathers [they cry] … [W]ould this include their steadfast commitment to the separation of church and state? No, we're told, not those values. This is about patriotic Americans willing to make sacrifices for the good of their country [they cry] … [D]oes that mean millionaires and billionaires can go back to paying '90s-era tax rates (you know, when the economy was strong)? No, we're told, not those kinds of sacrifices. This is about a public that, at long last, wants to hear the truth from those who speak in their name [they cry] … Maybe that means we can hear the truth about global warming? About the fact that health care reform wasn't a socialized government takeover? About Social Security not going bankrupt? About how every court ruling conservatives don't like doesn't necessarily constitute "liberal judicial activism"? No, we're told, not those truths.

Movements -- real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time -- are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change -- transformational change that sets nations on new courses -- is more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom." Labor unions created a movement. Women's suffrage was a movement. The fight for civil rights is a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for. Their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect. The folks who gathered in D.C. today [for Glenn Beck's "I Have A Scheme" rally] were awfully excited about something… [I]t's not… altogether obvious what that might be….

It is easy to read this as little more than a denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Republican Base at this moment. But it is crucial to grasp the underlying realities testified to in such "hypocrisy."

We must recognize that these are the still-racist still-patriarchal still-theocratic losers of the culture wars railing incoherently in the midst of their losses. Their "hypocrisy" bespeaks the reality that they cannot give clear voice to their distress in its own terms precisely because this is what it means to be a white-racist, a fundamentalist-authoritarian, and/or patriarchal-prick who has lost culture wars that were fought on just these grounds. This is the reality in the face of which they tear out their hair and wail in frustration in the Capitol of an ever more secular multicultural America with a President of color pushing the United States into a diplomatic social democratic sustainable partnership with other planetary powers.

This hypocrisy (scarcely stealthed racism about Obama and anything remotely like a mosque), these denials of facts (climate change, "Death Panels") simply functions to announce membership in a profoundly marginalized full-throated subcultures of white-racist, patriarchal, fundamentalist authoritarianism. It is a terrible mistake to hear in the cries of these people that they "Want Their Country Back" that this is some kind of programmatic utterance, some sort of policy outcome, some kind of eyewitness testimony to fact.

These festivals of hypocrisy and hate are not reports of reproducible results that might stand the test of evidenciary falsification, they are not policy proposals inviting public scrutiny and consider of diverse stakeholder impacts.

These signals of marginal memberships (Confederate flags, Second Amendment slogans) cannot publicly say what it is that they mean even while they take the superficial form of public declarations and proposals, and they distort the field of public discourse and deliberation more generally only if we allow them to do so.

This problem of complicity is especially fraught in a moment when key public institutions (a whole news network, the leaders of one of the two major political parties) are collaborating energetically in this subversion.

The public rituals through which both a consensus as to facts (every one of which is, after all, contingent and defeasible) and as to the line that distinguishes persuasive deliberation from duressed and even violent dispute (that there is no non-violent way to determine with certainty and in advance of every contingency of what exactly violation surely consists creates a host of fraught quandaries for those of us who actually take nonviolence seriously) are maintained are actually always artificial and hence must be both made and maintained in their existence, but they are especially fragile in a moment like this.

It is this fragility that leads to charges about reality having a liberal bias and excoriations of right-wing Know-Nothingism as a general matter.

To dismiss this basic adherence to the performative maintenance of a deliberative space for the falsifiable adjudication of questions of fact and nonviolent adjudication of disputes as such in the usual idiotic terms as an elite liberal fetish for lattes, or the World Cup, or France is to confront the flabbergasting renunciation of good faith and good sense altogether.

Writes BooMan:
[T]he reason that liberals (and not just our elites) are revolted by the Tea Partiers is [that w]hen we try to take their arguments seriously, those arguments vanish into thin air. They have no logical consistency. Once you scratch the surface of their calls for liberty and freedom and following the Founding Fathers, it turns out that there is no 'there' there. Because their policy prescriptions (insofar as they are ever articulated) are either counter-factual or extraordinarily radical, it is impossible to engage Tea Partiers in intellectual debate or enter into any kind of negotiation with them. When your idea of religious freedom is to ban mosques, how can we take you seriously? …

[T]heir entire movement is a nebula of formless angst. What is it that is bringing people out to protest at this particular moment in time? The budget deficit? The budget deficit ballooned under the previous president and these Tea Partiers didn't express any dismay… The reason liberals are quick to throw around accusations of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and xenophobia is because the heart of Republican resistance to Obama has been based in attacks on black institutions like ACORN, on court rulings related to gay marriage, on manufactured outrages like the deceit that PARK51 is being proposed for ground zero, and on Latino immigration. The rest of the Tea Party/conservative opposition lacks credibility because they didn't oppose deficit spending or warrantless surveillance or Medicare Part D or No Child Left Behind when those policies were carried out by a Republican. Big government is therefore not the reason that Tea Partiers have taken to the streets…

[T]he Tea Party doesn't have ideas… they have… outlets for channeling racial, economic, and cultural insecurity into traditional conservative tropes. The anti-intellectualism of Tea Partiers (exemplified by the lazy Sarah Palin) is one of its core features… But just because someone is revolted by anti-intellectualism doesn't make your a liberal. Or, maybe it does. The Republicans seem to have been replaced by the idiocracy.

I think it is crucial to grasp, first, that Republican discourse is suffused with non-argumentative subcultural signaling and, second, that the content of that signaling is mostly a matter of impotent rage and despair for a real reason.

We are wrong to react to non-arguments as though they are arguments, pointing out the foolish ways in which they fail to pass muster as arguments when they are not arguments at all. We should be making our own arguments and filling the empty argumentative space they have evacuated in their rage and despair.

Further, we should hear the rage and despair in their signals. We should grasp as they clearly have done themselves, that they have been defeated. We should stop treating the ferocity of their passion as if it represented an organized opposition. We should be building up multicultures and convivialities in the midst of the wreckage of the Culture Wars that we won and they lost and filling the empty civilizational space they have in evacuated in defeat.

None of this is to deny the real civilizational threats posed by the historically all-too-familiar bad-faith alliance of parochial short-sighted incumbent-elites and the impassioned mob, but it is to demand that we identify their convulsions for what they actually are and respond to what is actually happening here and now.

The Plan: Obama Green Jobs Initiative Versus Republican Billionaire Bailout

NYT Hallucinates That It Is A Plan.
Mr. Obama... needs to inspire Americans who have been ground down by the economic crisis and Washington's small-bore sniping. He needs to rally the nation around a big idea -- a project that is worth sacrificing for, worth paying for, worth working for. One that lets them know that there is more ahead than just a return to a status quo of lopsided growth in which corporate profits surge while jobs and incomes lag.

That mission could be the "21st century infrastructure," that Mr. Obama mentioned on a multi-city trip this month, "not just roads and bridges, but faster Internet access and high-speed rail." It could be energy independence, with high-tech green jobs and a real chance for addressing global warming... [It] would make sense, economically and politically...

Obama['s]... economic team had clearly hoped for an economic rebound in time for the midterm elections. They are not going to get it. The economic damage they inherited was too deep, and the economic stimulus they pushed through Congress, for all of the fight, was too small. Standing back is not doing the country or his party any good... Americans are ready for hard truths and big ideas.

Steve Benen Doubts It Is A Plan.

If the president were to come out tomorrow to announce an ambitious infrastructure/energy/stimulus plan, focused solely on job creation, Republicans would immediately denounce it as fiscally irresponsible... But... recent developments have strengthened... stimulus proponents... a dynamic the Obama White House could take advantage of... [R]ecent polling suggests Americans much prefer investing in job creation to focusing on deficit reduction. I'm suggesting... the president and his party, shortly before the elections, push a popular idea...

[L]iterally every member of the House Republican leadership -- Minority Leader, Minority Whip, and Conference Chairman -- just this month argued publicly that the economy is more important than the deficit... defending tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans... why not call their bluff? If GOP leaders are willing to increase the deficit to improve the economy, the White House can take them up on their offer -- but take every penny Republicans want to devote to tax cuts and invest that money in job creation.

It creates an either/or for the political world and voters to consider. Both sides plan to increase the deficit, so that's no longer the issue. The question is whether it's better to devote the resources to tax cuts for the very wealthy, or use the same resources on infrastructure, energy, and stimulus.

A jobs agenda vs. a Billionaire Bailout.

Atrios Knows It's Too Good To Be True That It Is A Plan, And Declares Pre-Emptive Failure (Betting Under is usually safest, after all, and I don't mean that in a snotty way).

I Say We Push To Make It True. We've Publish the Plan. Now Circulate the Plan. Defend the Plan. Demand the Plan. Write the White House, your Representatives, your Party Chair, the Editorial Page of your Newspaper, a Post a Day on Your Blog. Sign the Petitions Sure to Come in All Their Variations. Donate to Organizations and to Specific Candidates Who Strongly and Repeatedly Demand the Plan and Make It a Part of Their Concrete Agenda. Make It True.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

GOP Salivating At the Prospect of Witch-Hunts and Acrimony to Come

Republicans are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority. Everything from the microscopic -- the New Black Panther party -- to the massive -- think bailouts -- is on the GOP to-do list, according to a half-dozen Republican aides interviewed by POLITICO…. [A]ggressive would-be committee chairmen -- led by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) -- are… gearing up for a… season of subpoenas not seen since the Clinton wars of the late 1990s. Issa would like Obama’s cooperation, says Kurt Bardella, spokesman for the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. But it’s not essential. “How acrimonious things get really depend on how willing the administration is in accepting our findings." … “I actually think it will be even worse than what happened to Bill Clinton because of the animosity they already feel for President Obama,” says Lanny Davis, a deputy White House counsel who lived through Clinton’s trials.

When people who hate the very idea of good government find their way to government it isn't exactly surprising to find that they have nothing better to do than paralyze those who are struggling in government to solve shared problems with endless stalling tactics, procedural quicksand, fishing-expeditions, frivolous lawsuits, acrimonious squabbles.

Through their endless acts of sabotage and bad faith dirty-dealing, Republican succeed in rendering government comparatively non-functional and darken America's civic life with ugly clouds of bad feeling. In this way, the Republicans fabricate the very evidence without which they could not make their case that government of by and for the people is inherently and inevitably ineffective and corrupt and out-of-touch.

Thus they rob us of hope, thus they shackle our collective effort and intelligence, thus they destroy the only place we have to come together as peers and solve our shared problems and ensure that no one is left behind.

Do not be surprised to find that those who hate democracy make our government hateful to our eyes whenever they manage to wrest control of government from democratic hands. This is what they must do, this is what they have promised to do, this is what they are smacking their lips in anticipation of doing, this is what they most certainly will do if we let them.

Flobots Helps Keep Amor Mundi More Positive

This Week's White Guys of "The Future" Report

This morning only a single one of the faces of featured authors at the website of the stealth Robot Cult outfit IEET, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, so-called, is not the face of a white guy.

And, yet, nothing could be more obvious than that only a minority of people in the world are white guys. Only a minority of people with whom tomorrow will be made and shared are white guys. Only a minority of people in the world impacted by technodevelopmental changes are white guys. Only a minority of people in the world who are well informed and have important things to say about matters of technoscience are white guys.

The relentless non-representativeness I have been documenting week after week, month after month over at IEET (the most "academic," "moderate," "respectable" of the membership organizations in the Robot Cult archipelago) is, for me, just one of the more obvious symptoms -- one among many others -- of the utter marginality of the motley techno-utopian futurologists -- transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, greenwashing geo-engineers, and Ayn Raelian "extropians" -- corralled kookily together there, whatever attention they manage to garner in mainstream media outlets or among corporate-militarist funders with their over-dramatic over-simplified over-selling derangements of actually urgent technoscience and global development issues. For analysis of more glaring problems with these White Guys of "The Future" I recommend my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

A Better Re-Mix of King's Dream Than Beck's Scheme

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reich's Rhet 101

Robert Reich proposes that Democrats learn to tell a story that connects the policy dots, assigns a villain, and makes us the hero. It's Rhetoric 101 (a course the equivalent of which I have actually taught at Reich's own UC Berkeley). But continue to the end, and you'll discover why this Rhetoric instructor cannot give Reich the A he so very nearly earned:
The public doesn't understand specific policies but it does understand stories that link them together. The stories give the policies context and meaning, and thereby show where policymakers are taking a nation… Republicans lack specific policies but they have a story. Obama and the Democrats have lots of specific policies but don't have a story…. The economy has stalled. Unemployment is still in the stratosphere and shows no sign of improving. The housing market is worsening….

The Republican story is simple. It's the fault of government. They say Obama's policies have bankrupted the nation and made businesses too uncertain to create jobs. The answer is less government. Cut taxes and spending, privatize, and deregulate. It's not a new story but it's capturing the public's mind because the Democrats offer no story to counter it with. Obama and the Democrats respond by defending their specific policies. The stimulus worked, they say, as did the bailout of Wall Street, because the economy is better today than it would be without them. If anything, we need more stimulus. And healthcare reform will protect tens of millions. A large and growing segment of the public believes none of this. The public doesn't think in terms of specific policies. All it knows is the economy has stalled and there's only one story that explains why and points the way forward -- and that's the Republican's.

What should the Democratic story be? How can they connect the dots? Here's a clue. In times of economic stress, Americans lose faith in the nation's large institutions. They blame either government or its counterpart in the private sector -- big business and Wall Street…. The underlying political debate in America is which of these is most responsible for the mess we're in, and which can be most trusted to get us out of it -- big business and Wall Street, or government.

It wouldn't be hard for Democrats to make the case that big business and Wall Street blew it. The Street's wild speculation took the economy off the cliff, caused the stock market to crash (and millions of 401(k)s along with it), and created a housing bubble whose burst has hurt millions more. Big business has used the Great Recession as an opportunity to slash payrolls and cut wages and is now sitting on a $1.8 trillion mountain of cash it refuses to use to create new jobs. Instead, it's using the cash to build more factories abroad, buy back its own shares of stock, invest in more labor-replacing technologies at home, and do mergers that will lead to even fewer jobs. Meanwhile, a parade of "public-be-damned" actions have threatened small investors (Goldman Sachs's double dealing), individuals trying to buy health insurance (WellPoint's double-digit premium increases), worker safety (the Massey mine disaster), the environment (BP), and even our food (Jack DeCoster's commercial egg operations). And a gusher of corporate and Wall Street money has flooded Washington, exemplified by Big Pharma and the health-insurance lobby fighting heatlhcare reform, and Wall Street's minions fighting off stricter financial reform.

If Obama and the Democrats would connect these dots they'd have a story that would make Americans' hair stand on end. We're in this mess because of big business and Wall Street…. That's why we need an activist government to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and protect the public from their excesses… Big business and Wall Street have used their money and political clout to stop government from doing as much as needs to be done. The story is clear, and it has the virtue of being the truth.

Everything Reich says here -- and he elaborates more, do follow the link for the unexpurgated version -- seems to me to be right, and indeed fairly obvious.

I must say that I regret, however, that the classic Democratic impulse to shoot oneself in the foot is in evidence in Reich's otherwise sensible post, when he fails to end it with the clarity of the statement above, and leaves his readers instead with these two terrible, resolve-weakening rancor-inducing questions:
Why won't Obama and the Democrats tell it ["The Story"]? Is it because big business and Wall Street have the money and political clout even to prevent the story from being told?

These are terrible questions, and the second one is especially terrible not least because Reich has already answered it. That "Big Business and Wall Street have used their money and political clout to stop government from doing as much as needs to be done," is included as part of the story Reich has already proposed we start telling.

By repeating the point again, but this time insinuating that commercial forces are not just getting in the way but preventing us from doing the right thing, this otherwise clear-headed and helpful piece opens the door for a cynical resignation to the impossibility of doing anything in the face of enormous forces arrayed monolithically against us.

Further, given that the whole point of the post is to identify Big Business as the villain of the story, and Republicans as their villainous enablers, why on earth would you want to end instead on the insinuation that it is Obama and the Democrats who are to blame for our distress? Confronted with set-backs Democrats have already demonstrated themselves to be all too happy to wallow in endless self-recrimination rather than actually educating, agitating, and organizing in the service of desired outcomes, come what may.

If Obama won't tell the right story (and I don't actually think it is entirely fair to make this claim in such an unqualified fashion) -- then we must tell it.

This is precisely what Reich has done himself -- right up to the closing stumble of his piece. By ending instead on the charge that Obama and Democrats won't do the right thing, we kick the our own chosen protagonists out of the story we ourselves are presumably telling, and make the story about why we failed rather than why people have a stake in our success because our success is their success, too. Why invite more debate premised on a pre-emptive declaration of defeat, when the point of the piece is to re-direct debate in the service of winning so that we can continue the fight to make things better?


Be wrong, do wrong, fail upward. Be right, do the right thing, get screwed.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mehlman, Mexicans, and Mosques

It is a matter of historical record that the Republican Party exploited white-racism in the South in the aftermath of civil rights legislation to maintain any kind of presence in the post-New Deal Congress.

It pays to remember, the Republicans only managed to control both houses of Congress twice from WWII all the way to the present and both times found themselves kicked out by the voters within two years of the voters seeing what such a state of affairs means.

This exploitation of racism was, of course, their notorious "Southern Strategy."

Now, however, shifting demographics (the welcome ongoing "browning" of America) and changing attitudes (after the left won the Culture Wars), symbolized, whether rightly or wrongly, by the election of President Obama, have rendered this Strategy ineffective at last.

Again, the growing irrelevance of white-racism as a prop to the specifically electoral advantage of Republicans (which, I must quickly add, is far from the claim that white-racism is no longer a structural force in the lives of Americans, when it palpably, ubiquitously, catastrophically still is) needs to be understood in the context of the larger irrelevance of Republicanism in the aftermath of the New Deal, an irrelevance for which the Southern Strategy provided never more than a limited compensation.

The current anti-Muslim hysteria is not just ugly, it is truly weird to contemplate. It seems to take the form of declarations that Muslims have the Constitutional right to exist, but that this right is somehow trumped by an unspecifiable sense that their existence is nonetheless "not the right thing for them to do." This curiously self-consuming having of a right that does not confer a "being-right" seems to follow in most declarations to this strange effect in respect to the extent to which this having-right-not-being-right stands in a zone of narrative-spatial proximity to "Ground Zero."

I think it bears note that this portentous moniker once upon a time used to denote the nuclear flash-point that marked the probable end of the world, and now clearly marks a different sort of end of the world to some people.

I think we need to read this bizarre episode of anti-Muslim hate-speech in the context of my story of the now-failing but long-time politically legitimating work of white-racism for a movement Republicanism whose anti-governmentality hasn't been in touch with the secularizing social democratizing trajectory of America in the entire post-New Deal period. And note, we now begin to realize that this failure signals as well the Reagan era's finally unsuccessful though pointlessly painful and costly generational effort to dismantle the institutions and norms of that New Deal.

As white racism has increasingly failed to provide for Movement Republican's anti-governmentality a real purchase on the institutions of governance the christianist-talibanist Moral Minority sought to replicate the white-racist Southern Strategy (or, more to the point, supplement it as it increasingly failed to work its evil magick) with "God, guns, and gays," with a special emphasis on the gay bashing as a nice analogue to ugly pleasures of racist fulminating. It's not an accident that there are neither any Black people nor openly gay people among any elected Republican Congresspeople or Governors in the whole country.

You have likely already heard that Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager for the 2004 re-election campaign of George W. Bush and chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007 has recently come out as an openly gay man.

That he is gay comes as no surprise, since he has been serially outed by activists for ages. Also beyond question is that his closeted helming of the Republican Party marked him as especially despicable given his role in opportunistically bringing extraordinarily divisive bigoted anti-gay initiatives to the ballots of countless state elections in an effort to get more scared scarred socially conservative voters to the polls to get his candidates elected.

This means that he was a gay man gay-bashing so that anti-gay bigots would put other anti-gay bigots in power because he liked the money they paid him for doing this, not to put too fine a point on it.

I don't find any of that particularly interesting. Also, it makes me want to ralph and I don't like feeling that way.

What I do find enormously interesting, however -- especially in light of the recent very public role of the influential Republican Ted Olson in challenging California's Prop 8, which briefly made it illegal again for gay people to get married in my State -- is that Mehlman came out as a gay man as part of an announcement that he means to champion gay marriage in the months and years ahead himself.

What this signals is that Republicans have lost "the gay" already in the Unforgiveable Spell of "God, guns, and gays" that was to replace the Unforgiveable Spell of the white-racist "Southern Strategy" they have also lost in their effort to keep their heads above water in a secular multicultural America on the road to sustainable social democracy in the aftermath of the New Deal and the Great Society.

Karl Rove, who was never the Brain he got the billing as but merely a person more willing to be unscrupulous and deceptive and disgusting than most people in the pursuit of power and who was rewarded for this willingness with the power he craved (he has also paid for what he has done, as James Baldwin pointed out we all of us pay for what we do, by becoming the person he is and living the life he is living, not to mention being reviled by every decent thoughtful person as well as by the verdict of history, although one still hopes there might also be a jail cell in his future), was nonetheless intelligent enough to grasp that these failures portended catastrophe for a Republican Party that had any ambition to be a going national party rather than, say, a regional neo-confederate marginal rump party.

This is why he sought for a time to woo Latin Americans to Republicanism, to bolster Republican ranks with newcomers rather than merely holding on to dwindling ignorant or bigoted whites panicked at the prospect of the loss of their unearned privileges, such as they are.

That Republicans were unable to set aside their racism and embrace Rove's strategy is well known and the spectacle of that failure is everywhere now to be seen by all.

The present anti-Muslim hysteria is clearly mystifying to most public commentators. Even those who propose to link it to broadly disseminated bigotry or to anxieties occasioned by a person of color in the White House find it a bit puzzling that this level of hate is appearing just now, rather than countless times before now. It is also coming fully a decade after 9-11, raw sensitivity to which presumably justifies it according to its apologists.

I can't resist pointing out, if only quickly and briefly -- given that Muslims were among the victims of 9-11, given that the billion and a half Muslims in the world are not represented by terrorist ideologuies, given that the hijackers actually were Saudis and Saudi Arabia is championed by conservatives as an ally, given that none of those loudly demanding this bigotry-enabling sensitivity at the moment seem to care much about the sensitivities of people who happen not to be bigots and who are assaulted and appalled by this whole crass festival of cynical opportunistic bigotry and hate -- this justification is clearly nonsensical.

Be that as it may, in my view, the community center controversy was the occasion for this hysterical outpouring of hate, not because of its geographical location in respect to the ruin of the World Trade Center. Considering the noncontroversial existence of a Mosque two blocks away from the proposed Cordoba House coupled with consideration of the suddenly enormously controversial proposed location of a Mosque many hundred of miles away in another State, it seems clear that geography here is functioning as a placeholder for something else.

I propose that the community center controversy derives its hurricane gale force, to the contrary, through its temporal location in respect to the collective Movement Republican recognition of the ruin of the Southern Strategy. This recognition exacerbated both by the failure of anti-gay bigotry (announced in the role of Republicans in the fight for gay marriage and the palpable proximity of the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell in the military) as well as by the failure of anti-Latino anti-immigrant bigotry (announced not so much in polling numbers as in the gathering storm of very familiar controversies provoked by the Arizona police-statist anti-immigration stance, and the dangerous stink of crazy beginning to attach in the eyes of Independent voters to candidates who rode this anti-Latino train into candidacy) to supplement the ruin of that Southern Strategy transformed a local issue into a historical symptom.

Movement Republicans are screaming about Mosques, because screaming about Mexicans was a loser and Mehlman's announcement now indicates screaming about "the gay" is a loser too.

In the largest sense, the Movement Republican Base are screaming about Mosques because anti-governmentality failed to kill the New Deal and they are never going to "get their America back" because within the lifetimes of many of them America is going to embrace the secular multiculture it actually is and the sustainable social democracy it has to be if it is to survive let alone flourish as a power in the world.

In the shorter, more proximate sense, that they are shouting about Mosques means that we should stop paying attention to them screaming about Mosques and re-focus the nation's attention on anti-Latin anti-immigration bigotry which was threatening to alienate necessary Independents and re-focus the nation's attention on civil rights accomplishments for gay folks because it will energize our base without exacting the costs it has done in even the recent past.

Mouseketeer Roll Call

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "The Mathmos" wonders:
My interrogation regarding your pragmatic, best-possible, stance, is always the same: at what point is that approach ‘falsifiable’...?

This is an excellent question, and my answer is, I suspect, exactly the one you would expect, and which makes you suspicious (with cause) of my view:

I don't think there is an available criterion on the basis of which we can know. Theory provides us many things, enabling analytic purchase on complexities, enabling narratives out of which to connect histories and hopes, but certainty is not one of them. I think here we are making judgments that have something of the quality of judgments of "taste" about them, in the eighteenth century sense aesthetic philosophers grappled with and which made Arendt turn to Kant's Third Critique in later work.

Spending a day as a fly on the wall at my house you might well be surprised to discover me reacting with rage and disgust to many of the same things you do. But when you say that Democrats as a cohort do not seem to you sufficiently different from Republicans to merit your support in any sense, I have to admit I can't even begin to understand what that kind of judgment must feel like. The first stimulus bootstrapped observable renewable enterprise, health reform will observably save lives, credit card reform will curtail observable abuses of everyday people, and so on -- though every single one of these legislative accomplishments is appallingly far from what is needed, what was promised, and was paid for by awful giveaways to evil corrupt stakeholders with a place at the table. I can find hope in such stuff (not to mention, I can truly dread what would happen if Republicans regained the House at this moment and re-enacted the paralyzing, vitriolic, litigious mischief-making of the Gingrich years, given the precarious state of our economy, climate, global politics, and so on), I can find material out of which to draw a line from here to where I want us to be going as a nation, becoming a social democracy on the way to be a partner in a global democratic federalist polity devoted to sustainability, fair trade, and secular multiculture.

Maybe this is because I am in the Bay Area and Democrats here regularly say things I can kinda sorta approve of in spite of our differences (since my politics are to the left of most every elected, even electable public servant except possibly, only possibly, Bernie Sanders)? Maybe as an inhabitant -- however precarious -- of the academy people seem so much smarter and well-meaning compared to the racist-homophobic-know-nothings who thronged my youth that this is a shot in the arm for me? Maybe this is because I draw on my experience as a teacher in making these assessments and applying them?

I don't agree with a single theorist I teach, for example (although I am indebted to many of them -- Arendt, Butler, Rorty, Haraway, Foucault, Fanon, Keynes, King, Shiva, Harvey, Latour, Gilroy, Jackson more or less in that order), but all the texts inspire in me a great enthusiasm, and I try to use that to connect students to the texts in the hope that they will take up pieces from them and assemble a critical vantage out of that and that all my students will enter into a world ad-vantaged by their contributions to it, a bit more hesitant to be cruel or dismissive or credulous, a bit more demanding of authority, a bit more capable, a bit more generous. I can't know what parts of what texts will get which students where I want to take them, it all plays out in the scene of the clasroom itself. Raised hands, laughter, wrinked brows, boredom, anger flitting across the faces like unpredictable storm fronts.

Practical politics seems a bit like that to me. I don't stop my assessment of some political vicissitude once I determine whether I agree with it or not, or even whether I agree with it more than alternatives on offer, but only when I assess what's next (both in the sense of what's likely and what might be an opportunity to whom) in respect to what it changes, given where we are, given who is where.

If my assessment of candidates, stances, public comments, policy positions and actual outcomes stopped at the first point, I would feel so hopeless and disgusted life would not feel worth living to me.

But more than just needing hope to live, I now know such despair would be factually wrong -- because experience has shown me that there is always more going on than I am aware of, and that there is always more that is possible than I expected.

I enjoyed this exchange, thank you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Exchange With Kevin Carson

An interesting discussion. The whole exchange appears over at the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives.
I thank Kevin Carson for his response. His second objection, that I contend "market libertarianism is primarily a defense of actually existing capitalism using 'free market' language" is exactly right. Market discourse has as its primary life in my view the provision of rationalizations for selective deregulations, selective privatizations, selective subsidizations of military-police functions that amount to stealth centralized economic-planning in the service of corporate-militarist elite-incumbent interests. Just as academic communists properly are expected at any rate to account in some form for the tyrannies that have claimed to govern in their image, market libertarians should take seriously into account the real-world work their rhetoric serves, even if they find these applications compromised or hypocritical.

Contrary to Carson's first claim, I do not disregard the pure market theorists -- I offered criticisms of their ideal formulations in the piece to which he was responding as well as the unquestionably sweeping (and I would add, incomparably devastating) practical applications of market rhetoric over the last half century. Still, for those of us interested in speculating here about the democratizing and consensualizing possibilities opening up or newly threatened by p2p expressive, educational, agitational, organizational, critical, surveillance formations it seems to me that exposing the problems and confusions in ideal market formulations -- setting aside for the moment the wreckage from "vulgar" rhetorical appropriations -- is often the most fruitful line of inquiry.

Throughout this set of exchanges, the point that matters to me the most by far is my insistence that the legitimacy that properly attaches to governance defined by the democratic ideal of equity-in-diversity is different in kind from the efficiency/optimality mechanisms and justifications for non-governmental organizations that often provide the focus of p2p accounts and then -- disastrously in my view -- get misapplied to the normative-institutional state sphere.

Often, I believe prior commitments to anarcho-spontaneist or elite-design ideologies among techno-centric intellectual-workers trained in neoliberal university settings in the promotional-financial epoch of corporate-militarist capitalism provide the basis for this misapplication.

But all that is a discussion for another time (in my view an enormously important one for folks who would be drawn to this site), or I hope so, at least. In conclusion, let me add that I think it is important to complicate some of the interesting assumptions of your final paragraph:

first -- I am not sure that it ever makes sense to speak, as you do, of "The Market" at all -- rather than of historically and socioculturally specific market-places. This is a point Karl Polanyi, for example, already masterfully explored at the exact historical moment when Hayekian/Misean formulations of neoliberal market fundamentalist ideology arrived on the scene.

second -- I also think it is makes less sense still to speak of "natural" markets given the role of laws, norms, conventions, geographical/architectural constraints in articulating what passes for "market transactions," "innovations," "voluntary contracts," and so on from moment to moment and place to place.

Given all this I don't think -- third -- one can coherently assume the analytic vantage from which your final points are imagined to be offered, among the crucial consequences of which is that it is actually a question and not a given just what passes for "consensual, voluntary arrangements" in the first place, and that only in recognizing this do we grasp the stakes of conversations like the one we are having here.

Chewing Gum While Walking From Theory to Practice, From Real to Ideal

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Mathmos" approves of my critique of libertopian spontaneism from a few posts back and then testifies to the "lesson" they take from that critique:
Great response. The logic of which should impel one to seek the destitution of neoliberals in all their manifold political incarnations around the world. Including the Dems, Nobelized war criminals and corporate apologists that they are. Louisiana is paying the high price for the Democratic Party's moral and political bankruptcy in favor of the ruling corporate class... made me sick to my stomach for a whole day. And counting.


If you apply "logic" at a level of abstraction that renders you indifferent to differences that make a difference you are being illogical.

If you grasp the force my critique and then find yourself attacking Democrats either rather than or more than Republicans at this historical moment in consequence, then you aren't much practical use in my view to those who agree with you in approving this critique.

What is needed are more, and better, Democrats, in order to mobilize the forces to reform the world from here where we can the better to implement with endless difficulty and heartbreaking pain and careful thought the vision you presumably approve in approving this critique.

I don't say that because I think all or even enough Democrats are good, but because they are among the best tools actually on offer to do the job at hand (very much including the job of making the tool a still better one, eventually possibly an adequate one).

Both the effort to hold back the literal madness of the Republican Right as well as the effort to empower and push forward the Democratic Party as a sustainable-democratizing force from within their Green-Labor-Feminist ranks require you and people like you to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

By this I mean you have to find a way to articulate best ideals and grasp structural quandaries, on the one hand, as well as to articulate best-possible efforts given actually-existing constraints and the local-current quandaries one takes up opportunistically in connecting the latter to the former, on the other hand. It is this second part that actually costs effort and gets us anywhere worth going.

If you just swallow some political theory-head variation on The Big Picture (including one of mine) and then just leave it there, lolling around feeling marvelously nauseated and universally disgusted and all-knowing and declaring a plague on both your houses, it seems to me you are taking a crucial tool -- since I believe that articulating guiding ideals and structural critique at a higher theoretical level can help keep us from cynically assimilating to the given in the name of pragmatism -- but then use it instead to disdain pragmatism for a false and self-indulgent idealism-qua-narcisssim politics-qua-performance-art that contributes nothing substantial to the realization of its own declared ideals.

And for those of you who are newcomers to Amor Mundi and may think I'm being rather harsh on "Mathmos," you should know that this is the latest in a long series of comments here, many of which have focused their ire preferentially, and to my mind nonsensically, on the obvious deficiencies of the actually-existing center-left in the US to the practical benefit of the flabbergasting insanities of our white-racist war-mongering christianist-talibanist Randroid-Teabag far right, all the while dancing unsightly jigs of useless ideological self-righteousness in the process. Hence my stern little lecture and wagging finger.

"Rational" Sociopaths?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, friend of blog "Jollyspaniard" wrote:
I'm not sure if middle aged to elderly Albertans opposed to a swerving from BAU are necessarily being irrational. They have plenty of water and may not suffer any negative consequences to Global Warming in their lifetime. And it's not clear how global illwill towards their views is really going to effect them. So their stance might be morally repugnant but I'm not sure I'd call it irrational. They don't care about the rest of the world anyways. Factor in that most of these people think the world is 10,000 years old and I wouldn't hold your breath into talking sense into them. Hopefully we can effect change without them.

First of all, surely it is a distortion of meaning to describe sociopathy as rational? (Whatever the natives of Anglo-American economics and political science departments have been trained to say to the contrary.)

But beyond that, I think it is actually delusive to imagine [one] that anyone is immune to the pandemics incubated in slums, [two] that anyone is insulated from the unrest of the precariat, [three] that anyone can count on winning indefinitely in a world of commerce without real rules, and -- you will likely think me naive in saying so -- [four] that anyone can be immersed in increasing networked awareness of the costs and consequences of one's exploitative and unsustainable practices without suffering devastating personal trauma.

Of course, I know and understand what my interlocutor meant to say here, but I do think it is important that we not sell short the ways in which moral propriety and good sense actually regularly align to the benefit of both.

Hole Earth

My friend Michel Bauwens has kindly directed the attention of his readers at the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives to a critique of Stewart Brand I wrote back in January. The piece had long seemed to me unsatisfactory -- I wrote it in a state of extreme annoyance at some glib article I had read, and the writing was more unwieldy and impetuous even than usual -- but I also kept coming back to it myself, thinking that it contained the kernel of a more sustained treatment of what for me is a pretty characteristic theme, namely, the clash between futurological and ecological thinking. I revised the three part piece in something of a panic at the thought of the earlier version being read by lots of people, and the three revised texts are available here:
one -- Stewart Brand, King of Pop Futurology
two -- Surveying Stewart Brand's Greenback-Green Futurological Litany
three -- All Futurisms Tend to be Functionally Retro-Futuristic in Their Political Substance.

I welcome comments and criticisms, especially now. As I have mentioned before, I have reduced my teaching load for the upcoming academic year from four to two courses a term in order to give myself time for serious writing. I have been teaching twelve courses a year (including summer intensives) since I received my PhD, and this has left me little time for serious writing and research, only time for the more impressionistic sort of writing I do here on my blog. I think my first writing project will be to make something out of the ideas in the collection of posts under the heading Futurology Against Ecology (which is where you can also find all the Anti-"Geo-Engineering" posts of the last few weeks), of which the revised "Hole Earth" critique of Brand's futurology is a key part.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Responding to Libertopians...

Here is a response to a couple defenders of market-libertarianism I penned elsewhere on the net. Do please enjoy:
Kevin Carson: The Trouble in Libertopia article had two parts, one a critique of the spontaneism of right-wing libertopianism, the other of left-wing libertopianism, and Michel generously posted excerpts in two separate posts here. So, you may find that the "sizeable community" I seem to have neglected is actually equally a target of my "overbroad assertions" (Goldilocks personally thinks they are not too broad, not too narrow, but just right) after all.

Like corporations, militaries also are, as you say, "creatures of the state," and yet most canonical and popular market libertarian discourse inevitably functionally supports them, too. Whenever libertarians declare the sole proper sphere of government to be police/armies to protect property rights and contracts, for example, this amounts, in the real world in which "defense" and "policing" are vast capital-intensive industrial information-gathering enterprises, to a de facto endorsement of a planned economy and welfare state stealthed as that "Defense," and all to the wildly disproportionate benefit of the already rich and powerful.

No doubt, as you protest, you can direct our attention to a few photogenic theoretically-pure libertopian specimens (there's one, a coddled earnest middle-class white kid in his freshman philosophy class, how cute, he has a copy of Atlas Shrugged in his pocket and he's not yet been kissed, let's check back on him in three years, shall we?) who really would abolish all armies and corporations together with all those detestable welfare entitlements that make life the least bit worth living for the overwhelming majority of people in modern societies and install in its place some purely Somalian hot hell in the name of their pure principle, but the fact remains that market libertarian discourse has as its principle life the endless release into the world of ideological utterances deployed by Republicans to justify deregulation, privatization, militarization, corporate spending sprees in the service of elite-incumbent interests. If it weren't for the hypocritical recourse of Republicans (and corporatist Democrats) to market libertarian/neoliberal pieties they would have no life to speak of at all, at least not in the US (and its European counterparts, especially in the UK).

The guiding assumptions of those few pure anarcho-capitalists out there who do not indulge in such hyprocrisies are perfectly nonsensical in their own right. To institute alternatives for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes demands artifacts the legitimacy of which has a different character than that of conventionally exclusive/competitive instruments (a different character that makes them, it is true, uniquely vulnerable to special abuses whose amelioration must be part of the institutions themselves). This seems to me to be the bare starting point of an actually adult conversation of the governmental aspect of the political. And after a wider reading in the literature of liberalisms and libertarianisms than most its adherents can boast of, I am reluctant to report that this basic understanding is woefully lacking, to be kind, among even the luminaries of neoliberal and anarcho-capitalist discourse, in my opinion.

Now, precisely because, as you say, corporations are indeed chartered by the state, I personally think it would be a fine thing to re-introduce into those charters characteristics all of which have already been part of the institutional identity of limited liability associations at various moments in the long life of that legal/financial instrument, for example, strict definitions of a corporation's purpose which cannot alter without the dissolution of the charter, limits of the term of the association, insistence that since the public takes on certain risks and costs in granting such an association limited liability that it should be required as part of the compact always to act in ways that serve the public interest, and I personally would like to see strict guidelines limiting the income and perqs of the officers at the top of a corporate hierarchy in respect to the income and perqs of workers at the bottom. As I said, all of these elements have been part of the story of the corporation and could be part of the story again.

Of course, one needs a pesky thing called a legible working State to enforce such stipulations, and one needs a democratically-responsive and accountable state at that to have any hope of instituting regulations that would benefit majorities rather than armed minorities like these would do, and as you say I quite agree that corporate power predominates in the world's notional democracies at the moment to the devastation of equity, diversity, consent, sustainability. I believe we must re-mobilize such hard-won still-available legal instruments of our democratic institutions to fight the threats of corporate-militarism, and I believe it is doubly nonsensical to fancy either a blanket dis-invention of the state as such is possible (I personally don't consider such an aspiration even to be conceptually coherent) or would do anything if it were possible to fight corporate-militarism, such as it is, and hence, I must say, I consider such talk a distraction from good work and derangement of good sense. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

As for Marcel, forgive me for being blunt, but you need to demonstrate an understanding of and willingness to actually engage with the arguments of mine to which you are presumably responding before I can believe that this is a good-faith exchange of a kind that justifies the time required to pursue it.

Being Born, Being Bored

It's my birthday. Spending the day in the City scoring writing samples from incoming first years, to determine where they should be located in the composition sequence.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Jerome Said

There are some reasons to be reasonably optimistic, even if you know how utterly fucked up things actually are.
Right now, it may look like if anything, the political framework is still moving in the wrong direction and, worse, if there is any popular backlash, it seems more likely to come in the form of a reactionary populism (ie scapegoating, fearmongering fascism) than the required progressive soak-the-rich kind. But while you can debase a currency and lie to people, you can't cheat with nature. You can't print megawatthours or joules or molecules of helium or rare earth metals. You can't drink poisoned water or non existent water. At some point, the very survival of any form of public authority will be at stake, and politicians will suddenly remember that States have incredible powers, do not actually need to be subversient to short term private oligarchic interests, and will start yielding that power towards strategic objectives. And when the goal is full scale mobilisation towards survival, resources will go where they need to go, not to death-inducing capture by parasites. Of course, this begs the question of what will trigger this survival mechanism. Do we need to get to the brink, and see thing worsen yet again (possibly a lot more) before we get there? I guess this is where my optimism comes in: I think the natural constraints are going to come for a while in the form of steadily increasing constraints (via prices, for instance) rather than outright shortages, and this will trigger enough action to move us on a different path, even if this is not immediately obvious. Oil at $70 per barrel in the midst of a massive recession and demand reduction is an unmistakable sign. Or, in other words, the one hundred billion euros in the stimulus and TARP that went to renewable energy and bailing out GM will matter more, ultimately, than the trillions handed out to banks and bondholders, as one created or saved vital industrial infrastructure while the other just moved some electrons around, with no large scale long term consequences in the real world. And if it takes yet more trillion-scale hand outs of fiat money to the parasites to authorise yet more real investment, this is the sneaky route that our adaptation to reality will take.

I largely agree with all this. And if you follow the link you will discover a richer analysis involving resource-descent in the North Sea Oil fields and in Asian coal reserves, as well as Chinese labor market demographics. However: Keynes said that in the long run we are all dead, which was his way of pointing out that market-based solutions to business cycle crises can take too long to be of use to majorities of actually living people, all of whom, properly speaking, should be of concern to economists, not just the wealthiest most privileged minority of their contemporaries. And so, too, the future of environmental catastrophe has already arrived, it just is not evenly distributed, and human beings who are dying for the lack of clean water, and food, and climate-change exacerbated instability and warlordism in the present day are already past "the brink." That gives special urgency to such longer-term and larger-scale calculations as these (and they do for Jerome, I'm not accusing him of indifference at all, just making a point with which he would surely agree too). Because even if one wants to be disgustingly selfish about it, as certainly none of us should be, one has to wonder just how far our own fellow citizens' apparent indifference to climate catastrophe in the overexploited regions of the world today would cheerfully extend to the mega-rich contemplating our own lot not too far down the road.

Changing the Discourse in the Battle California's Over Prop 23

This fall, California voters will vote on Proposition 23, officially termed a "suspension" of California's global warming law (AB32) "until unemployment reaches 5.5%" and named by its supporters a "jobs initiative." [One would expect t]he battle [to] play out exactly as similar battles over federal climate policies [usually have done]: conservatives claim it'll destroy jobs, raise taxes, and increase family energy costs; environmentalists valiantly-yet-unsuccessfully try to set the record straight, only to be ignored by middle class voters worried about pocketbook issues. But a funny thing is happening. The narrative is shaping up to be quite different. The shadowy interests behind Prop 23 are being exposed to the light. And Prop 23 is being opposed by clean technology investors who see a stark choice: build the future or burn the planet. Consider it evidence of hope.

I will post much more on this Proposition and others in the coming months.

Here in California the Propositions on the 2010 ballot provide occasion either to break at last or else to catastrophically consolidate a generational stranglehold of anti-governmental ideology on California's capacity to govern itself sensibly and equitably. Given the curious state of affairs in which so many California residents are enormously interested and well-informed about national politics while at once indifferent and flabbergastingly uninformed about the politics of their own State, it is well worth recalling that as goes California -- one of the largest economies in the world -- so often, so goes America. Progressive Californians can scarcely do more for American Progress than we can in our unique position as citizens of this State to turn the tide here for good.

BooMan on Transformative Presidencies

This post provides a vitally necessary perspective on the present (especially in light of the upcoming mid-term elections), and not, by the way, in a way that provides alibis for the present Administration's many mistakes and deficiencies for people (like me) to Obama's left:
There are certain instances where a president actually moves the country onto a long-term trajectory in a left or rightward direction. When Franklin Roosevelt created the SEC, FDIC, FHA, the Fair Labor standards, and Social Security, he moved the country decisively (and in some ways, irrevocably) to the left. When Ronald Reagan appointed conservative Supreme Court Justices, fired the Air Traffic controllers, hired conservatives to run his administration, and rewrote the tax code, he started a thirty-year movement to the right…. [S]ince World War Two… only Lyndon Johnson can [also] stake a claim to being a transformative president, and his legacy is ambiguous. Arguably, he built on and entrenched the welfare state at the same time that he split the left and provided the momentum that the conservative movement needed to come into power with Reagan. The rest of the post-war presidents haven't moved things too much in any particular direction, at least not in any enduring way. But Obama is different, and that is what [Movement Republicans are] worrying about… [They are] worried that a successful Obama presidency will wipe away all the progress… that the conservatives have made since Reagan took office. It's not a ridiculous concern. No conservative wants to look around in 2016 and realize that they're back to square one, circa 1980. A lot of confusion has arisen because Obama has by instinct and necessity pursued a fairly traditional center-left course. His health care bill… [and] Wall Street reforms didn't go far enough… His foreign policies have failed to forcefully challenge the Establishment's assumptions. But just the health care bill alone has the power to permanently shift the political landscape in Washington in a way not seen since the enactment of Social Security… [T]he bill is similar to the Heritage Foundation's 1994 counterproposal to HillaryCare… [but] that… counterproposal was offered in bad faith. The goal was to scuttle any health care bill while appearing to be reasonable. Obama established the principle that the federal government is responsible for making sure every U.S. citizen has access to health care. From now on, the debate will focus on how to improve services, not on whether or not they should exist…. The health care bill punched a hole through Reagan's sails, and by the time they get the thing patched up the boat will be headed in a leftward direction. So, yes, the Republicans freak out any time a Democrat is in the White House. But this isn't just the push and pull of politics. And the reaction on the right shows that they know this. That's why we're seeing this unprecedented obstruction and open hallucination [from elected Republicans and their Base]. They may have held the line on Wall Street reform (although that remains to be seen) and they're holding steady (for now) on the Supreme Court, but they'll be damned if they're going to let the president pass immigration reform or cap and trade because they actually have the power to stop that kind of transformation.

Needless to say, if Democrats retain even slim majorities in Congress after the mid-terms, especially if Senators can be compelled by activists like us to reform the filibuster, then Republican power to obstruct this change will be diminished still more in 2011-12, especially given the likely demoralization of the Movement Republican Base that has been whomped up into frenzies to compensate for and distract from the otherwise conspicuous financial geographical and demographic problems with the GOP at this moment. Given the likelihood of a Romney or Huckabee candidacy in 2012, a second Obama term is already steamrolling on the horizon and it makes every kind of sense that Republicans want to fixate on pulling off a last-ditch 2010 parlor trick given the fatal prospect of 2016 if they cannot re-define their mission more in line with the realities of a secular multicultural America immersed in planetary networks and concerned with planetary problems like sustainability and fair trade.


Whenever "consent" arises from misinformation or duress it is in my view vacuous, a rationale for exploitation and abuse. The scene of consent is rendered substantial by formal legal-citizenship-status, equal recourse to the law, access to collective bargaining, access to education and reliable information, access to social services, healthcare, housing, income. Declaring market outcomes "consensual" by fiat, whatever the terms of misinformation and inequity that may duress them in fact, as market libertarians tend to do, scarcely does justice to the notion of consent in my view.

The planetary precariat -- illegal immigrants, temporary and informal workers, insecure indebted citizens in neoliberal post-welfare states, dwellers in peri-urban slums and refugee camps are profoundly limited in their capacity to engage in acts of consent.

The struggles for democratization (ensuring that ever more people have ever more of a say in the public decisions that affect them) and for consensualization (ensuring that the scene of consent is ever more informed and nonduressed) together drive the interminable struggle for equity-in-diversity on which the figure of the peer, the planetary successor to the nation-state's citizen-subject in my view, depends for her legibility and force in the world.

What I am stressing is that the political legitimacy of the democratic state -- that is to say, the normative-institutional order that justifies its existence by reference to the standard of equity-in-diversity, by providing nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes (including, crucially, disputes as to what qualifies as violence in the first place) and by providing for a legible scene of reliably informed, nonduressed consent (by means of a suite of legal and welfare administration) -- derives from a profoundly different set of standards than the ones that are typically discussed by p2p-new media theorists, even the ones who focus on questions of governance and impacts of digital networks on state institutions.

I regard as indispensable, say, Clay Shirky's discussion of the way digital networks have flooded subcultures with suboptimal but satisfactory free content and so undermined the gatekeeper-credentializing role through which capital has rationalized hitherto its role as censor, or his discussion of the way digital networks have flooded organizations with amateur innovation and so undermined the investment in professionalism through which capital has rationalized hitherto its central-hierarchical control of institutions. However, I disapprove the way in which such insights are taken up and glibly misapplied via spontaneist-anarchist-market libertarian figurations to political phenomena.

Take the first insight. Subculture is a moral concept (moral, from mores, yields an identification that depends on dis-identification with a constitutive outside for sense, the "they" excluded from the moral "we"), whereas culture is an ethical concept (ethics, from ethos, yields a formal-universality that solicits identification putatively indifferent to differences, substantiated against the grain of moral intuitions, via strategic recourse to, say, posterity, the good opinion of mankind, government of laws and not men, the principle of nonviolence, universal declarations of human rights, and the like): And hence the emancipatory undermining of gatekeeper-censors standing between people and their subcultural enjoyments and parasitically skimming rents for the privilege is a desirable state of affairs. However, it cannot scale from subculture to culture to provide a route through which to "smash the state" tasked with maintaining a democratically accountable rule of law or administering the services on which a legible scene of consent depends. It is usually only a prior investment in the false and facile figure of spontaneous order that provokes such misreadings in the first place.

Similarly, take the second insight. The maintenance of the legal order and administration of services on which the scene of consent depends in democratically-identified societies is legitimated by recourse to equity-in-diversity and not simply to profitability: And hence the emancipatory undermining of investor-professionals limiting consumers in their affordable enjoyments in order to profitably maintain the unwieldy organizations through which such goods are provided is a desirable state of affairs. However, it cannot extend to those governmental organization tasked with establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for common defense, and promoting general welfare not competitively but for all, not in order to return a profit but by the consent of the governed.

Given the vulnerability to abuse that obviously inheres in the investment of any parochial worldly actors or institutions with ethical mandates, endlessly many institutional experiments have been devised to ameliorate these risks, from horizontal separation of powers and vertical subsidiarity, to jury trials, to declarations of inviolable rights, to extensions of the franchise, to extensions of welfare entitlements, to subsidization of citizen participation in government.

I regard the p2p-democratization of broadcast-media, of political parties and of organized labor as extraordinary and encouraging developments, but it is important not to misread these developments as providing a route through which eventually "to smash the state," rather than as experiments like the preceding, to ameliorate vulnerabilities to worldly corruption and abuse inhering in the formal universality of the State, by further democratizing participation in that State and by rendering the State ever more accountable to the substantial consent of the governed. Like the widening of the franchise, like the expansion of access to reliable knowledge and welfare entitlements to better ensure the scene of consent is more informed and less duressed, like the rendering of organized labor and political parties more responsive to their members, none of these efforts are properly understood as a shrinking or limiting of the state but a strengthening of the democratic state of, by, and for the people. These struggles, and the work of p2p-democratization is of a piece with these, indeed p2p-democratization is indispensable to some of these very struggles themselves, is work to democratize the state, not in the least to smash it.

If the rights of minorities can be denied by the vote of a majority, there are no rights. If individuals can consent to violation or enslavement there is no consent. If functionaries can lie or mislead with impunity there is no possibility of contract, promise, or forgiveness. Equity-in-diversity legitimates governments which derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, whereas profitability under conditions of competition simply yields optimal instrumental outcomes. This is not to denigrate improvements arising from competition but just to insist on the actually substantial difference in kind between ethical categories like justice and legitimacy as against categories like profitability, competitiveness, optimization, to insist on the difference in kind between freedom as against the amplification of instrumental capacitation.

Education, agitation, and organization facilitated by p2p-formations are efforts to reform and better administer the apparatus of the democratic state, not intimations of "spontaneous order" except for those who have a prior investment in such figures.

I propose these formulations to encourage a more useful discussion in this moment, one that does not re-enact the usual joyless ritual of arguments with market libertarians who believe it is wholesome to let "markets decide" outcomes despite the fact that markets are artifacts whose historical forms are determined by human decisions, not trans-historical tidal forces of supply and demand which, alas, radically under-determine the contingent legal structure of commerce and production from polity to polity, from epoch to epoch, nor by primordial predilections for barter elevated to the neglect of no less primordial predilections to mutual-aid, fair-dealing, and sharing.

I propose that finding our way to a better understanding of the civitas without which we cannot find our way to justice nor experience true freedom, as well as the possibilities inhering in emerging p2p-formations for the facilitation and frustration of that civitas is a useful thing for at least some of us to be doing right about now, especially those of us whose temperament and training lends itself to this sort of thing.