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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Avant Pride

Just a taste, just a touch, just a modest derangement, don't miss the funnel cakes down by the pee-raid now, tho'.

Pride Guilty Pleasures

An Amor Mundi Pride Day tradition... Leaven your Pride with some sweet li'l Shame!

Is this a dream?

I've been angry and sad about things that you do.

Life without life has no reason or rhyme left.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Queer Isn't Swallowing Your Pride This Year Either

Truly happy you're happy, but not getting married, not shooting a gun, not having a baby, and not going shopping this weekend.

No Nukes Twitterscrum

I think I've gotten this right. This exchange involved multiple participants over several days, and for that matter may resume again any time, so please do not assume errors or exclusions in its reconstruction indicate bad faith. By all means bring errors in sequence or additional responses to my attention.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

That Mitch McConnell... So Two-Faced

Image seen on Gawker.

Proceed, Republicans: GOP Reacts to SCOTUS Ruling on Marriage Equality

Raw Story:
Democrats have a new strategy to use against their Republicans opponents: Just let them speak... Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, the “DemRapidResponse” channel simply uploaded a more than 20 minute long Republican press conference. The video wasn’t even edited, with the exception of a five second introduction that flashed, “Grand Old Party, Same Old Party on marriage equality” across the screen.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Delicious Tears of the Killer Clowns

Joe. My. God. has been posting press releases and tweets from the various Christianist hate groups and spokes-haters as they reel over the prospect of a little more harmless happiness for a few more of their fellow earthlings and I expect these tirades will continue on through the day. I'll be teaching all day -- the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, who was a teacher of the acerbic Juvenal who would probably be among today's haters, I'm afraid, given his extreme upset over eunuch marriage in the Satires. I envy you all the sweet pleasure of observing these vile shits as they shatter in real time.

H8 Going Down -- Time for Uprising

A new framework for lgbtq equality activism has emerged this morning, since nearly a third of the nation's population will soon live in states that recognize gay marriage and since DOMA has been deemed illegitimate. Court cases will surely extend marriage protections to queer couples in recalcitrant states via the full faith and credit clause and citing the SCOTUS language that restriction of marriage to heterosexual couples serves "no legitimate purpose."

I must admit I am glad that the court didn't just end the issue by sweepingly endorsing gay marriage everywhere. Not that anybody really expected such a thing anyway, but were that to have happened I daresay too many queer folks would have deemed the battle over and picked up their toys and gone home. By providing equality activists with new momentum and new tools, this decision sets the scene for energetic efforts to implement ENDA, which is connected with and will provide a boost for a host of other labor politics issues around raising the minimum wage and re-instating workplace protections that were once again brutally assaulted by SCOTUS this session.

Given the prominence of privileged white gay men in queer activism, I fear too sweeping a win this morning would have undermined the Democratic and progressive electoral coalition that is absolutely necessary to overcome voter disenfranchisement of people of color already taking place in bigot-ruled Red State politics across the country in the aftermath of the vile and spineless gutting of the Voting Rights Act by SCOTUS yesterday, a devastating decision in the service of reaction at least the equal of today's progressive decision in terms of historical significance.

Let us hope that the activism around immigration, women's health, voting equity, and continued queer struggle can energize a Democratic mid-term electorate that usually stays home, win Congressional majorities that will work with the Obama administration to implement his climate change agenda through the EPA, save and even expand the Voting Rights Act by extending pre-clearance to every jurisdiction in the entire country, provide a path to citizenship for a new generation of invigorating diversifying immigration, introduce common sense gun safety regulations, press forward the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and extend access to safe affordable abortion and birth control and women's health services everywhere in the US and introduce a public option through the healthcare exchanges, pass the Jobs Act and end the unnecessary austerian unemployment crisis, turn the tide of anti-union plutocracy with Card Check and another raising of the minimum wage finally indexed to inflation, end job discrimination against queer folks -- not to mention, one hopes, provide us more sane and sensible Democrats to work both with and against the Obama administration to revoke the 2002 War Resolution and limit the Patriot Act provisions that have empowered the global war on terror, drone policies, Guantanamo and comparable facilities, surveillance profiteering, and a Unitary Executive dangerously expanding to fill the governmental spaces opened up by Republican-exacerbated dysfunction in the other branches.

That's not a wish list, by the way, but a list of policies in the pipeline I think two more years of Democratic House control under Nancy Pelosi could reasonably accomplish with filibuster reform in the Senate. If I were writing a wish list, baby, there would be single payer healthcare, free universal public education from pre-K through community college, a living wage and truly generous work-leave and unemployment benefits tantamount to a universal basic income guarantee and universal strike fund, continental high-speed rail and a smart grid fueled by a two-hundred fifty million solar rooftops and wind farms all paid for by progressive income, property, and financial transaction taxes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MundiMuster! Support A Constitutional Amendment That Guarantees the Freedom to Vote for All

"Now that the Supreme Court has struck down key protections of the Voting Rights Act, we must amend the constitution to protect our freedom to vote. A constitutional amendment would allow the federal government to set national minimum election standards to ensure free, fair and accessible elections for all." Get educated, get agitated, get organized.


The printed book will dance on the futurologists' graves wearing a red dress.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Grading Song -- Still Creeping Along --

Fly me to the zoo, and let me gaze behind the bars,
Keep me from the aviary, all the birds have SARS,
In other words, I'm so bored, in other words, someone shoot me.

Vacuous Consent

Until unemployment no longer holds out the prospect of death or dishonor every employment contract is made under duress.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.



Nine Papers To Go

Stopping for the night, resuming grading tomorrow. Blogging low to no the whole weekend through, I realize, and teaching itself resumes Tuesday, but that's summer intensives for you.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tropic of Canker

Being literally misanthropic is terribly drear, but being figuratively misantropic is contrarily dear.

Thinking "Technology" Wrong

If you think about "technology" as singular not plural, as noun not verb, as destiny not history, as it not us, you're doing it wrong.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Another Day Grading Papers

Still slowly working my way through the pile.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dispatches from Libertopia

Corporatists are forever confusing profiteerism with patriotism, just as militarists are forever confusing patriotism with prosperity.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

You Know, I Switched from Reading TPM Daily to Reading Gawker Daily

...and it was win win. Comparable coverage, comparatively better politics, incomparably funnier.

Grading Papers All Day Today

Dead to the world.

What Anarchism Is For

Doctrinal "anarchism" seems to exist primarily to provide Republicans with endless rationalizations for irrepressible greed and to provide Democrats with endless rationalizations for irresponsibly not voting in mid-term elections.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Really, Yahoo!News? Really?

Via dKos:

Dumb Dvorsky Uses Science Fiction Cliches As Illustrations of the "Totally Unexpected"

I haven't picked on poor Dumb Dvorsky recently (scroll down to his personal entry in the Superlative Summary for hours of fun), but a reader nudged a recent bit of his futurological fluff to my attention that was worth a chuckle.

"By definition," writes George Dvorsky, "the Technological Singularity is a blind spot in our predictive thinking." Of course, Dvorsky is quite wrong in saying this, since usually "the technological singularity" is defined by its adherents more substantially (in an insubstantial kinda sorta way) as what happens when the arrival twenty-years-from-now of greater-than-human artificial intelligence or greater-than-human machine-augmented intelligence presumably ends history by solving all of our problems for us (or possibly creates a Robot God that ends history by treating the planet and everybody living on it as computronium feedstock).

This futurological "end of history" thesis tends to provoke a lot of anxious and/or ecstatic handwaving about the unknowability of the future, but of course the future, being the future, was already plenty unknowable on its own without bringing all this futurological nonsense about smart machines and accelerating acceleration of accelerating acceleration into the picture. Otherwise unemployable pseudo-intellectual hucksters saying blandly obvious things about the contingency of history but, you know, to the Ex-TREME! via such singularitarian accelerationalizing neologizing seems to help skim and scam artists who run tech companies or dream of running tech companies feel that they are the true protagonists of history, and it would seem that some are willing to pay pretty good money or at any rate pay pretty good attention to keep the whole tired futurological farce running.

Of course, none of this utterly undergraduate whoa, dood speculation over unknowable futurity keeps any of these same futurologists from treating the singularitarian Black Hole of Unknowing at one and the same time as the singularitarian Black Box of Wish Fulfillment they can stuff all of their most fervent fantasies and technicolor nightmares in -- to wit, is reality really just a virtual cyber-dream, man? is capitalist nano-digi-robo-sexi-gizmo paradise just around the corner if we just keep buying the latest iMe? will evil geniuses unleash Robot Satan before sooper-geniuses from the USA unleash Robot Santa? will I finally be so sooper-smart in the sooper-future that everybody will recognize on their hands and knees how sooper-smart I am? will all the sexy big-boobied sexy multicolor sexy techno-diversity of The Future destroy the scary uppity negro strong women and uncloseted homo human-diversity I hate and fear in the present? will I have a bigger digi-willie techno-boner and be a Real Man at last irresistible to dreamy digi-babes in Holodeck Heaven after the Singularity?

Even setting all the endless inevitable reactionary misogynist corporatist imperialist idiocies aside, I should add that I for one have never found any of this patent foolishness compelling, of course, since I know that the people who confidently declare even common or garden variety artificial intelligence to be on the way any moment now -- let alone artificial intelligence of the history shattering Robot Kind kind -- have always been wrong, and show no signs of being right any time soon, indeed show few signs of being able to account for human intelligence even in its actually everyday bodily-incarnated historically-situated richness. (Read that again, cultist, before you smugly pretend this is all ad hominem luddite envy hate speech against your angelic eugenic transhumanoid sooper-race, and then read this:) As Lanier's Law firmly rebuffs Moore's Moonshine: "As processors become faster and memory becomes cheaper, software becomes correspondingly slower and more bloated, using up all available resources."

Be all that as it may, as a primary discursive site in which mostly privileged North Atlantic white guys indulge in hilariously senseless and symptomatic techno-fetishism, "The Technological Singularity" is indeed something of a futurological "blind spot," but not quite in the way Dumb Dvorsky seems to mean.

Dvorsky trudges intrepidly on: "Futurists have a hard time imagining what life will be like after we create greater-than-human artificial intelligences. Here are seven outcomes of the Singularity that nobody thinks about."

You may think that the joke here is that Dvorsky has obviously disproved the claim that nobody has thought about these outcomes by listed them himself, you may think that the joke here is that it can't really be that hard for futurists to think about such outcomes when somebody like him is thinking of them, but the real joke is not only that somebody has thought about what nobody is thinking about, not only that what Dvorsky is thinking is hardly hard to think about at all, but that each of the seven outcomes "which could leave us completely blindsided" in Dvorsk's phrase, is actually a completely hackneyed science fiction plot convention that has been repeated to death and for each one of which Dvorsky is able to provide an immediately recognizable illustration -- I mean here, quite literally, an illustrative stock photographic image from some blockbuster or bestselling beach-read -- from the archive of popular science fiction (among them many I have enormously enjoyed myself, by the way -- as a science fiction fan).

I leave to the side the usual utterly embarrassing futurological ineptitute of mischaracterizing a literary genre as prophetic utterances or a kind of instruction manual rather than critical commentary on or symptomatic engagement with present perplexities, we all know by now that Very Serious futurologists are incapable of distinguishing science fiction from science practice and poetry from policy.

But I must say it is hard not to laugh at a futurologist crowing about what a superior guide he is along the "Totally Unexpected" trail blazed decades before by Hollywood mogul imagineers.

Vote Vote Vote Vote Vote

Not voting for the lesser evil is voting for the greater evil. There's much more to progressive politics than voting, but there isn't much progressive politics without voting.

2013 San Francisco Art Institute MA Symposium Presentations Available Online

Browse here.

Republican Racist Cruelty Trumps Republican Austerian Cruelty

Concentration camp fencing across the southern border? Republicans finally find some infrastructure spending they can approve of! Thousands of racist storm troopers guarding the Confederacy? Republicans finally find some public employees they can approve of! The even more rancid ridiculous racists in the Republican House probably won't vote for it anyway. (Thanks, Obama!)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

This Doesn't Even Rise to the Level of "Nuanced," This Is Ground-Level Obviousness

And yet, let me say it again: Liking something the President did is not the same as endorsing everything the President does, just as recognizing one political party is incomparably better than another in more ways than you can count is not the same as saying that political party does everything right or represents your ideals or is even particularly good, really. Logically speaking, one determines a public good and weighs evidence to recommend the policy which accomplishes that good in the best most sustainable way for the greatest number at the least cost, but politically speaking one accomplishes policy outcomes in a scrum of diverse stakeholders with unequal interest, knowledge, and influence through only notionally functional and accountable civic institutions. Ethically speaking, the lesser of two evils is still evil, but when the difference between them makes a difference it is that difference that matters politically speaking. Voter enthusiasm among Democrats and "Independents" (mostly the voting is a lot like belching set) is plummeting at an ominous but all too familiar pace approaching the mid-term elections when Republicans threaten to gain the Senate (I still think they won't manage the feat, but the threat is very real and would probably yield a genuine Constitutional crisis) and consolidate their position in the House (which means nothing but anti-abortion and racism and gun-love and Obamacare repeals and witch trials and ruinous austerity measures till the next Presidential election). If you don't care about those outcomes then your politics completely suck and so do you, even if I agree with you about ideal policy outcomes on the merits. It doesn't matter that you are smart on the merits if you are stupid about the politics -- unless, perhaps, you happen to be an enormously influential intellectual who can compensate short-term uselessness with longer-term benefits. Just to be clear, that's not you (and certainly it's not me).

Today's Teaching

Last day this week, we turn to Quintus Tullius Cicero, younger brother of the Cicero to which the last two days were devoted, and his Commentariolum Petitionis, dozens of caustically realistic pieces of advice as his famous brother runs for the consulship -- most of them as relevant to office-seeking in our own corrupt plutocratic would-be reprublic as in theirs. Also we are reading Terence's most famous comedy, Eunuchus, a play in which there is a castrated slave, but in which nearly every other character is threatened with servility or castration (or both) as well. Hilarity ensues of a uniquely Roman sort, as when, for example, the "happy ending" involves a woman who was stolen from her family and sold into slavery and then freed only to be married without consultation to the man who raped her that very day. Pomposity is also relentlessly skewered and bilked throughout, which is a compensation. Unfortunately, the weekend will provide little compensation for the week's intensity this time around, because a stack of mid-term papers needs grading and in summer these things have to get done fast. 


Democrats are the ones who want to get together through their government to help people, Republicans are the ones who want to get together through their government to harass people.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All Cicero All the Time

Easy to lose oneself in the suave, assured, peerless De Oratore. My summer intensive feeling rather intense at the moment.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Teaching Cicero

Today we read orations against Verres, Cataline, and Antonius, rhetorical interventions that mark three key moments in Cicero's public career. In each, Cicero is quite enjoyably hyperbolic and demonstrably self-serving, but at once he is taking real risks (for the last one of which he paid with his life) in the service of principle. While this might seem a paradoxical observation, it actually takes us to the heart of the Roman idea of the res publica, the "public thing," the substance of a happy freedom not only enjoyed but brought into existence and maintained as such, that is to say substantiated, only through and during public contention with ones peers over matters of concern. Cicero, the New Man defending old virtues, and especially the virtue of revealing himself virtuosic, revealed as well the possibility for a transubstantiation of the Homeric hero into the one who distinguished himself not through his valor in war, and in council figured as war, but through contention within and for the sake of a set of civic institutions devoted to peaceful prosperity (not that the peace was ever much in evidence or the prosperity ever widely shared). Tomorrow we turn to his famous treatise on rhetoric (actually more than one of these survive, but this is the most influential one), De Oratore.

Republican Anti-Abortion Zealot Wants Somebody To Please Think of the Masturbating Pre-Children

I want to thank Republican Representative Michael Burgess of the great and batshit crazy State of Texas for managing to actually surprise me. Republicans say evil, greedy, ugly, racist, sexist, destructive, idiotic things on a fairly regular basis, but it's been quite a while since one actually successfully surprised me. Burgess' suggestion that he has he has personally witnessed male fetuses with their hands “between their legs” pleasuring themselves at 15 weeks, and that therefore painful abortion procedures should be banned at twenty weeks. of course, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists holds that there is no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain. A 2011 study in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics found no evidence that fetuses feel pain or are viable at 20 weeks, and a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fetuses are likely incapable of feeling pain until the third trimester. I suppose that part of the reason the hairball of anti-woman anti-science anti-health invective Burgess coughed up managed to surprise me because of the unexpected spectacle of gestational self-abuse it conjured. I suppose I maintained an outdated fancy that conservatives would hush such a sordid business aside, or if anything threaten the masturbating child with the prospect of abortion -- spare the rod assumes stunning new possibilities -- rather than venerating such antics as sacramental (although I note that masturbating girl fetuses didn't find their way into the Congressman's imaginary fetal orgy pit, perhaps little fetal chastity belts might be the order the day), but it later occured to me that of course the opportunistic celebration of fetal masturbation as justification for the enforced-pregnancy enslavement of adult women citizens need not suggest that Republicans would continue to approve of masturbation or otherwise perfectly normal healthy sexual behavior in actually-born children, any more than their feverishly declared love of the fetus yields in many Republicans the least concern with the hunger pangs of a starving child, the wrenching coughs of a child with a treatable but neglected health condition, the desperation of the hopeless or ill-educated child, or the shattering derangement of pain as a child's body is riddled with bullets from one of the guns these lovers of "life" cherish above all else but the almighty dollar.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teaching Prep

Mid-term of my first intensive has passed, we've moved from the Greeks to the Romans, I'm re-reading Cicero by the pound, prepping six hours of lecture, steeling myself for the deposit of a stack of mid-term papers to be graded... somehow in the midst of everything else. Blogging is going to be a sometime thing for the next few days...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Iain Banks on Immortality: "How Californian"

Via Pharyngula, h/t -- JimF, some especially apt words on people who pine after perpetual life from the last interview of the mainly marvelous, much mourned, only a moment ago mortified Iain Banks:
I can understand that people want to feel special and important and so on, but that self-obsession seems a bit pathetic somehow. Not being able to accept that you’re just this collection of cells, intelligent to whatever degree, capable of feeling emotion to whatever degree, for a limited amount of time and so on, on this tiny little rock orbiting this not particularly important sun in one of just 400m galaxies, and whatever other levels of reality there might be via something like brane-theory [of multiple dimensions] … really, it’s not about you. It’s what religion does with this drive for acknowledgement of self-importance that really gets up my nose. ‘Yeah, yeah, your individual consciousness is so important to the universe that it must be preserved at all costs’ -– oh, please. Do try to get a grip of something other than your self-obsession. How Californian. The idea that at all costs, no matter what, it always has to be all about you. Well, I think not.
Speaking of How Californian, specifically in the California Ideology sense of Californian, remember that techno-transcendentalists of the techno-immortalizing sort pining after sooper-human post-human robot bodies and nanobotically-bolstered bodies and uploaded digi-angelicized cyber-bodies in Holodeck Heaven are very much of a piece with the pathologizing religiosities Banks is properly pooh-poohing here, with the difference that many of these latter are among his most ardent, if misguided, fans.

The "Mixed Economy" Isn't A Mix, It Is "Ideal" Capitalism and Socialism That Are Mixed Up

The metaphor of the "mixed economy" is absolutely mystifying.

The idea of sustainable, consensual equity-in-diversity, of democratic commonwealth, is not a "mix" but a coherent political vantage, a political being democratic processes experimentally implement and a political becoming at which democratic struggles aim.

What tend to be called "capitalism" and "socialism" are, it seems to me, very much to the contrary, historically unrealized and logically unrealizable derangements of either the diversity dimension or of the equity dimension of the democratic value of equity-in-diversity. That is to say, it is the prior conceptions of "capitalism" and "socialism" that seem to me to be mixed, if anything, historical and practical misapprehensions and dodgy implementations of consensual multiculture, democratized association, sustainable commonwealth. 

And hence, the contractual arrangements to which moral cases for capitalism are devoted will always depend for their actual legibility as consent on a substantial provision of general welfare and socialization of common and public goods typically denominated socialism from those argumentative vantages, just as anti-authoritarian cases for (eg, democratic) socialism will inevitably allow for differences of preference and outcome typically denominated capitalism from those argumentative vantages. This is not because modern societies have been mixes of socialism and capitalism historically, I think, but because the democratizing struggle for sustainable equity-in-diversity is the political substance from which capitalist and socialist abstractions are strained and deranged in the first place.

Again, I think it is what passes for capitalism and socialism in thought that is mixed up, the "mixed economy" in practice is not a mixture of these two derangements from good sense. 

Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them -- and that includes having a say in matters such as who are these people? what constitutes a proper say? of what does the public actually consist? and just who is affected by what that demands an accounting? There is no single regulative or ideal democratic form, but only endless efforts at implementing and struggling over the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. And the politics that matter most are the politics of anti-democratization against the politics of democratization, where anti-democratization seeks to restrict the people who have a say and the force of what they say to the benefit of incumbent-elites and where democratization is simply the struggle to enable ever more people to have ever more of a say in what affects them.

It has now become a commonplace for apologists for incumbent interests to respond to questions of public policy -- such as whether this dangerous practice should be regulated or whether that publicly useful infrastructure project should be funded -- by replying that we "should let the market decide" the matter. Such responses are predicated on ignorance -- more actively, on ignoring -- the fact that there is no such thing as "the market," really, that what passes for "the market" from epoch to epoch is an ever changing constellation of laws, norms, contingencies of geography and history, infrastructural affordances, and systems of signification. To an important extent "the market" derives from decisions we make, and to endow this result of our decisions with the power to make decisions for us, tends to amount to a relinquishment of decision to those who are already beneficiaries of the status quo naturalized as what passes for the moment as the dictates of "the market."

All of this is just to point out, that quite a lot of what we take for granted, treat as tidal forces supply and demand outside ourselves with which we struggle to cope and accommodate and exploit, are in fact public decisions that affect us about which democratic politics may demand we should have a say. When basic definitions of capitalism we find in elementary textbooks and basic dictionaries declare capitalism a system in which the means of production are privately owned and investments result from private decisions, the collective normative infrastructure on which such claims of ownership and the selective public allocation on which the legibility of such decisional authorities depend are disavowed.

Democratizing politics seek to secure equitable lawful recourse for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what properly constitutes violence and equity and democracy); work to facilitate nonviolent transitions in authority through periodic elections, universal enfranchisement and office-holding and freedom of assembly and expression; have long struggled to provide a scene of informed, non-duressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce through the provision of generous welfare (universal basic income -- possibly via piecemeal provision of social security, long-term unemployment insurance, a living wage, public grants for IP commons, compensation for public exposure to environmental/medical risks -- healthcare -- possibly via piecemeal provision of veterans healthcare benefits, medicare, subsidized insurance, medicaid expansion, medicare for all -- education, civil rights) all paid for by progressive income, property, and transaction taxes, counter-cyclical deficit spending, and bond issues; and would eliminate the violation of common and public goods through their accountable administration in the service of commonwealth. The ongoing generational churn of the plurality of stakeholders who make up the present world ensures that the ongoing accomplishment of equity-in-diversity is endlessly renegotiated, re-enacted, re-figured. (For more on why taxes are not theft see this; for more on basic income see this; for another formulation of left versus right basics see this.)

All of these ideas have been implemented in comparatively democratic welfare states -- many of them have been implemented less well lately due to the influence of facile, falsifying capitalist and socialist ideologies, and most of them could be implemented incomparably better simply if the process and spirit of stakeholder compromise were to prevail (which you might say is another "mix" that isn't actually a mixture at all, but the substantial if interminable accomplishment of reconciliation of which the political actually, essentially, consists).

But while I have focused most of my disdain here on political systems that call themselves "capitalist" -- though there have been and are many quite importantly different capitalisms historically and presently, colonial, industrial, financial, and so on -- this is mostly just because my own country thinks of itself as such a system, and the crimes of perils of that system appall and implicate me in ways that demand response. But, once again, I do not think there is a pure "socialism" with which capitalism is being mixed and ameliorated in the better welfare states. The socialization of public and common goods facilitates their accountable administration and provides for a legible scene of consent to the terms of everyday commerce. The democratization of economic and ecologic life better describes what remains alive in the fraught history of socialist struggle and aspiration to me. Socialization is not an end in itself but a means to the end of Democratization. That socialism worth fighting for is democratic socialism, and it is its democracy that makes it so. 

"Snakes In Suits"

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:
You talk about "snakes in suits" in government -- there is no doubt that most governments are bought and paid for by plutocrats, full of cronyism, corruption, incompetence, disdainful of facts and outcomes that are equitable-in-diversity. It seems to me most "snakes in suits" are in what passes for "business" or are beholden to "business interests" so called -- the "business" to which you otherwise ascribe genial "productivity" and "innovation" and all the rest. Your plutocratic vision -- all plutocrats fancy themselves meritocrats, you know, "nature's" aristocrats, you aren't the first to find such facile formulas appealing -- is far too close to the status quo to justify your apparent disdain for the status quo. I will say again, much that passes for "business" today should be hampered by regulation or rendered too unprofitable to proceed (war profiteering, for instance), quite a lot of advertizing is misinformation and fraud, some of it verges on harassment, quite a lot of financial "services" amount to fraud and theft, quite a lot of fees for services are extortionate, exploitation of common and public goods amounts to theft and corruption verging on treason, externalization of costs for parochial profit-taking is theft at best and might be better construed as violent assault.

Plutocrats Always Fancy Themselves Meritocrats (Also, a Brief Digression on IQ As Rationalization for Plutocracy)

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, from an ongoing exchange with a self-declared champion of aristocracy:

It is true that important knowledge can be counterintuitive -- the sun doesn't travel around the earth (even though it really does look that way), governments should borrow more to stimulate the economy in recessions especially when interest rates are at the zero lower-bound (even though proper intuitions from household economics suggest the reverse), micro human actions can catastrophically impact macro global climate systems (it hardly seems possible, people being so small, the world being so big, and yet it is true), one can lower aggregate healthcare costs by providing them universally (everybody benefits from distributing social costs across a whole population across generations, not just THEM), social policy works much better when it focuses on harm-reduction rather than on punishment (even tho' it sure feels nice to punish with the law, it can't be wrong when it feels so right, eh?), and so on. Education is necessary for an informed citizenry as well as for competent administration of public affairs, these things are not automatic.

To declare as you do that people should be assigned to government at random -- apart from freeing you from having any skin in the game when it comes to making actually existing governance actually better since such thought-experiments without any constituencies will never even remotely happen to produce results to hold you accountable -- also demonstrates a mistaken disdain for the work of administration and legislation fairly typical of right-wing ideology. The same goes for your reduction of governance to "services" paid for by fees, as if commonwealth is a commodity which it very much is not. My point is not to deny that there are some things that are commodities, nor to denigrate ownership of or trade in them or fairly widespread microeconomic models for talking about such trade. But there really is a difference that makes a difference between private goods (and also that obscure uncle, the "club good") as against public and common goods. Reductions of the second pair to the first -- or the other way around I just as cheerfully concede -- yield injurious confusions and catastrophic policies.

The availability of non-violent arenas for the adjudication of disputes -- including over the determination of what counts as violence -- is not a commodity, equity in access to law and in the accountability of law-making to all is not a commodity, the maintenance of a scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday concerns is not a commodity, a community of healthy, well-educated, non-precarious potential collaborators confident in the laws, norms, infrastructural affordances of their society is not a commodity, a sustainable planetary ecosystem of the sort humans evolved to flourish in is not a commodity -- these are all goods, but not private goods, they are public and common goods. You declare me "illogical" in making such distinctions and proceeding in my arguments and formulations in ways that take these distinctions into account. There is no nice way to point out that you are saying this because you simply have a profoundly mistaken and impoverished understanding of politics.

I do not doubt you are educable, but as of now you certainly don't strike me as particularly superior in the way of intellect -- quite apart from the question of your morals, which look to be conspicuously inferior, given the ugly inequities and violent evils you seem willing to countenance in support of your errors. You speak endlessly of the "better" people, the "smarter" people who should run things, and the "dumb" people and "inept" people who muck everything up. All this idiotic business of yours over IQ tests is the worst in this line of BS that has you ensorcelled, it's truly embarrassing, I'm not even going to dignify that stuff with comment, but it is really just the awful extreme edge of your general self-congratulatory elitism. You know, privileged people always think they have it better because they are better -- this doesn't mean they are all bad but they are usually mostly wrong. The conception of intelligence in plutocratic bioreductionist IQ discussions is always radically impoverished, usually implicitly self-congratulatory, often demonstrably racist. You don't have to take my word for it, and this is the sort of thing I won't spend too much of my time arguing about because it is even more unutterably depressing than the other topics I take up here. Look, there's good and bad in everyone. In general, people seem to me to be capable of good and bad things.

Life Isn't Fair

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

I think all kids should be educated to be competent citizens, all people should have access to reliable information to make informed decisions, all troubled people should have access to therapy, all trouble-making people should have access to therapy, support, and marginalized and rehabilitated if they are violent or fraudulent about it, all people who get sick, or make a mistake, or lose everything, or get into trouble should have enough support to get back on their feet, try again, find another way to participate in the world.

Who should pay for all this? We all already pay for these things whether we respond to them helpfully and supportively or we ignore them or just warehouse the "losers" in warrens. Even if taxing the rich more than the poor didn't pay for the provision of welfare to ensure equitable access to law and the maintenance of a scene of informed, nonduressed consent to protect the poor from the rich it would still be necessary to society simply to resist wealth concentration and the regression, brittleness, and authoritarianism that tend to accrue from such concentration.

People who make more and benefit more from their societies should pay more to maintain them -- including paying to help some fellow citizens who aren't yet contributing as much as they could to become people who can. From those to whom much is given, much is required. Some resentment of that state of affairs is to be expected, but it is not reasonable and it certainly is not admirable. Nobody is sole author of either their fortune or misfortune and so there is to be no talk of unfairness or theft here. Being born without as many chances or prey to more problems doesn't seem fair to those who experience that any more than having to pay more taxes that deprive you of a photogenic servant or gold-plated yacht doesn't seem fair to those who experience that.

Life isn't fair. Even the collective work of making life more fair won't always seem quite fair to all those collaborating in that outcome. Truth often looks more like a paradox than like a mathematical equation. I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Superman, Immigrant

Talking Sense to Would Be Aristocrats Pining for Aristocracy

The exchange I reported in my last post has actually continued a bit, and is rather illuminating. My Very Serious interlocutor has revealed himself to be a conservative monarchist or would-be aristo of some kind in his politics. Quite a righteous vantage from which to lob his criticisms of Nancy Pelosi's supposed incumbent-elitism, I must say. Obviously, now, this sort of intellectual (to be generous) position is even less relevant to actually lived politics than the anarchists of the right (or who fancy themselves on the left) who also make more noise in my Moot than they will ever manage in the world. Of course, I spar with them as well on occasion, if only through such sparring to try to elaborate democratic principles and pragmatically progressive realities for my general readers -- the anarchists themselves rarely being available for instruction themselves. But I have noticed that several transhumanoids seem to be taking up this line lately, however, like poor Michael Anissimov (who, when he realized after a decade of self-abnegating labor and PR-fluffing he wasn't going to be a big fish in the already small pond of Robot Cultism, opted for the even smaller pond of a self-declared reactionary aristocratic futurism, as opposed to the more usual stealthful reactionary plutocratic futurism) or that weird white-racist gun-nut "Mark Plus" who occasionally pukes in the Moot. And so, in something of the spirit of my exemplary exchanges with foolish anarchists I have attempted much the same here with a foolish monarchist (or something). His comments are italicized and indented, and my responses are interspersed.
I would prefer to live in a non-murderous democracy where franchise would be limited to rational, productive members of society who are not getting any subsidies or welfare (except maybe retirement benefits). Or an orderly, efficient non-democratic society.
Who determines the limits of the franchise? Who determines who the "rational" "productive" members of society are? I certainly know a lot of people who fancy themselves consummately "rational" who are the most ignorant wish-fulfillment fantasists imaginable, as I also certainly know a lot of people who fancy themselves uniquely "productive" while disavowing their dependence on the efforts of historical and now living laboring, communicating, participating multitudes they nonetheless disdain as "non-productive" in comparison with themselves. Why do anti-democratic assholes always assume that they would be the ones running things, they would be regarded as the rational ones, they would manage to do everything better than the people they look down on without knowing them or really knowing themselves? It is interesting that my interlocutor does not seem to conceive of the benefits of a stable legal system and efficient administration of common and public goods from which he would benefit in this non-democratic polity as in any sense general welfare entitlements disqualifying him from having a say in the public decisions that affect him -- only money "stolen" from the "good" people to bolster the "bad" people counts as welfare, right?
Such societies are more likely to make people invest in what they prefer less, than let them squander their resources on short-term luxuries, such as bigger housing, cars, as Americans are wont to do..
That's rich, you glibly refer to "Such societies" as if any actually exist -- or can you possibly be pining for historically actual examples of monarchical or plutocratic tyrannies?
From my own experience, and from what I have seen in others, I am convinced that people mostly do not have a clue about what is good for them, and often only get it after a failure of some kind.
You are definitely demonstrating the truth of that insight. Funny that you seem to believe that some people should tell others what is good for them whatever their preferences in the matter even though the ones doing so are just as prone to wrongheadedness as the ones they dictate to.
This egalitarian notion that people are in any way equal is just ridiculous. They are not.
What you describe as "this egalitarian notion" is a straw man. The aspiration toward equity is not an aspiration toward homogeneity. I regularly refer to the value of equity-in-diversity precisely to circumvent such confusions (to treat you generously here).

Equitable recourse to law is indispensable to the sustainability of a stable trustworthy legal system in a complex functional division of labor with even a notionally mobile, meritocratic rather than inherited selection of roles in the labor force.

The universal provision of basic education, healthcare, and income (at any rate a living wage coupled with a comparable unemployment benefit) are indispensable to the maintenance of a scene of actually informed, actually non-duressed consent to the terms of commerce if that system is to benefit from market efficiencies and innovations (such as they are) without endorsing forms of fraud, exploitation, and slavery it presumably disapproves.

While it is true that some people are stronger than others, and some people do exhibit different forms and measures of intelligence, of course it is also true that co-ordinated collective inquiry and effort are incomparably more accomplished than any individual efforts could ever manage to be, and hence such individual differences in strength and knowledge are always rendered socially negligible (though they remain personally important) when people act in concert.

Social justice is mostly impossible, simply because some people are more able, or more motivated than others. Equality of outcome is a complete crock of..
Apart from your repetition of the facile confusion of equity with homogeneity here, what you really mean to say is that your vision of social justice is different from mine. That is obvious from the arguing happening here.

I believe that societies where elections, sloganeering and propaganda stunts such as Apollo program would be less important could take a longer view where infrastructure, basic research and such are concerned.
Because non-democratic societies built such better infrastructure -- pyramids, possibly? Because non-democratic societies facilitated such wide-ranging exemplary research programs -- Lysenko, possibly? There is at least a loose correlation of comparatively more mobile and responsive governments investing in public goods with periods of greater experimentation and discovery, presumably because they must respond to a wider range of real stakeholder experience and draw from a wider pool of potentially capable collaborators.
There is also the notion that Europe was at the pinnacle of it's power and success in an age when franchise was limited to wealthy individuals..
Not to mention when it was gorging itself on the wealth and effort of non-European societies -- do you pine for slaves and imperial conquest too or are we pretending not to know about all that bloody business?
Of course, there is little hope of bringing about such change, short of armed revolt, or some sort of elite coup.
Dizzy daydreams, eh?
Which of course would be unlikely to result in what Id like, since the present elites do not care about the greater good, but are rather selfish. Maybe if some real trouble happens in EU. Even then, we would probably just get fascism like so many predict.
Yes, armed revolt would be ugly -- not because the wrong elites would be in charge instead of the right elites you would prefer -- but because armed revolt is ugly, and elites are almost never elite in the sense you mean anyway (which is why your politics are so foolish).
On the other hand, fractional improvements to the abysmal representative democracy can be envisioned.
I agree. Ever increased and improved provision of education, healthcare, support paid for by steeply progressive income, property, and transaction taxes eventually coupled with more and more public funded elections and wider and wider enfranchisement of consenting adults would in my view yield an ever more competent, accountable government in an ever more sustainable, equitable, consensual, diverse society.
Imagine letting people have a say in legislation, in a process where lawmakers would have to explain, and have each part of new law approved by (literate and intelligent) citizens - who could be selected via some sort of open-source complex IQ and grammar test.
IQ tests? Really? Testing for what? And just who decides who isn't intelligent enough or intelligent in the right way to deserve to have a say in the public decisions that affect them? Somebody a lot like you, right?
Business is greatly hampered by suddenly changing laws, and there is little evidence the frenetic pace is necessary.
No small amount of what passes for "business" should be hampered.
This kind of improvement.. I believe is doable. No doubt has been suggested..
Well, we agree that reform is possible. Otherwise, I think your politics are profoundly misguided and your anti-democratic assumptions mostly based on self-congratulatory fictions.

Retreats Into Fantasy Are Not Demonstrations of Seriousness

A few days ago I posted what seemed to me an innocuously cute picture of a very young Nancy Pelosi with President Kennedy. This was on the occasion of Pelosi's (hopeless) effort to break Republican obstruction of a pay equity act for women in today's congress, fifty years after Kennedy signed an act that represented a precedent for this latest one. I should have thought the specificity of that context justification enough for what was mostly a throwaway post stating the obvious, but one of my readers took passionate exception to it, declaiming in the Moot:
Two extra-strong douchebags together. Kennedy, he of the stupid and wasteful Apollo programme, the guy who cracked in face of Soviet pressure but lied about it publicly so the Missile crisis resolution would look like a win for the US. Political classes everywhere are the same. Liars, thieves, narcissists, high-born morons. But hey, at least in democracies they can theoretically be chucked out after elections. Funny how you Muricans never manage to throw them out.
Now, this is clearly a rather scattershot bit of invective, and I don't always feel compelled to respond to these sorts of things, but there were a few bits of reasonable critique in there, and I certainly didn't want to be misconstrued as endorsing these politicians in an uncritical or universal way simply because of the endorsement of the particular policy of the particular moment actually indicated in the post, so I responded:
Plenty to criticize in both of these politicians, of course, but plenty to praise in both as well, far more than most. If you simply hate all elected officials one wonders why these two especially inspired your ire. I personally think Apollo was a stunning accomplishment, and I'm not sure we would be alive if Kennedy hadn't "cracked" as you call it. Who knows what you specifically have against Pelosi. On this blog you will find fairly exhaustive critiques of what passes for US democracy and proposals for what I take to be achievable improvements.
I would have expected this to end the exchange, honestly, but it did not. My interlocutor replied at length:
Actually, right around the time of the Cuban crisis, the balance of forces was such that if USSR fired first, US would still win, probably with 30-50 million dead, tops, depending on the breaks. (I can't help quoting media I like. Sorry) In case of first US strike, US could destroy all Soviet ICBMs (there were few - all slow to fuel, could not be stored ready to launch etc). First minutemen missiles came online just during the crisis. First comparable Soviet missiles appeared years later.

I am not sure what to praise in Kennedy? Vietnam escalation? He did have a decent economic and human rights policy... that is true. As far as elected representatives are concerned... I would say Mencken is right. In big democracies, decent and able men get to the top only by accident. And lately, US is a sham democracy. The media manipulation and campaigns ensure that whoever is elected is going to have strongly pro-business elite policies. And screw the rest. See how US productivity and incomes have de-coupled since you lot elected that two-bit actor from California? Good and hard..

Apollo program seems stunning, if you have no knowledge of Project Orion. It was brief, just perfect for a country that cannot maintain national attention longer than two electoral cycles.. Apollo brought US the moon. It was nothing more than a bigger version of Von Brauns Amerika rocket. No imagination at all: launching rockets from a Maglev can massively improve efficiency. Would it have been so difficult to build a hundred mile long massive maglev track somewhere in the Rockies, and launch thousand ton rockets at slightly below the speed of sound? No. NASA never attempted that.. A later, successful project Orion would have brought humanity the whole planetary system. The designs were easily capable of travelling to Saturn and back on one fuel load inside half a year .. and could have brought a way more reliable nuclear deterrent system. It was a very ambitious project, but if the physicists who were on it thought it tough but feasible, it probably was .. Submarines can launch surprise strikes .. flight times of three-five minutes, or even less, and are relatively easy to destroy. Nuclear-armed spaceships lurking somewhere beyond moon orbit .. those could only launch retaliatory strikes, never surprise one. It would take hours to days for the missiles to get back to Earth. Furthermore, Orion spacecraft would highly unstealthy, due to the propulsion system. So performing a sneak attack would be highly difficult. Developing such deterrent would also make further space exploration cheaper. It'd also massively lower cost of orbital structures. Kennedy signed the atmospheric test ban treaty. Pity no one thought later (1970s) about sharing all the data with the Soviets, who by then had enough nukes so they would not really benefit from the data. A joint space project..

[W]hat [do I] specifically have against Pelosi[?] Her husbands business deal. Seems to profit quite handsomely from her political position. Also, she was one of the proponents of the fairly idiotic assault weapon ban.. which banned guns depending on mostly cosmetic features. Which also ignores the point that murder rate does not really depend on gun availability (that only really influences the percentage of murders commited with guns). Homicide rate is mostly determind by social variables. If you would like to dispute this, first look it up. Even tribal medieval mudholes like Yemen, where almost every adult man has an AK are less violent than mostly disarmed US cities, especially those with big disadvantaged populations.. Furthermore, all such hasty legislation following statistically insignificant atrocities like Sandy Hook is odious to me. It usually aims to confiscate or outlaw billions worth of property from law-abiding citizens.. for what? There would be no reduction in death rate, since various US nuts have proven that deer rifles (Charles Whitman) or just handguns (such as can be easily stolen by clubbing a cop from behind and taking it from his holster) would still be available to various narcissistic assholes ... Failing that, they'd have to stick to trucks, truck bombs, swords and such, which, well...cannot be really banned. Everyone ignores the 5000-7000 victims of black-on-black gang violence. That is about eighty to hundred times worse when it comes to loss of life than spree killings, even in the worst years. Of course, no is willing to admit that they do not care about dead blacks in inner cities. A problem which is not really solvable with gun bans, since confiscating all the guns from Americans is practically and politically impossible. And why should they? Implicit association tests have shown that most Americans subconsciously hate or fear black Americans. ( Drug legalisation would greatly diminish the violence very quickly, just like scrapping the similarily moronic Volstead act ended the prohibition gang wars..
Whew! Quite a lot there, some bits a bit more sensible than other bits, clearly. Again, I don't necessarily think a reply to this screed is warranted or even welcomed here, but there was a larger issue in there that comes up quite regularly in the Moot among those who seem to think there is something naive or hypocritical in the way I endorse compromised processes and outcomes in the debased scrum of partisan electoral politics and convulsive reform that fail to measure up to the radical outcomes I also advocate as urgently necessary if the world is not to perish from catastrophic climate change exacerbated by wealth concentration and immiserating general precarity in the context of weapons proliferation. And so, perhaps rather ruefully, I replied again:
Needless to say, your alternative history didn't happen and had any episode of history unfolded a bit more like you seem to think it should have it too would have turned out differently than you seem to think it would have, and in ways you would denounce just as ferociously as measured against the slightly different alternative history you would have crafted in consequence instead.

Actual politics is a series of compromises between stakeholders mediated by conspicuously inadequately accountable institutions maintained by mostly scared scarred parochial error-prone people. As a general matter all this is made worse by the comparative geographical historical resource-rich insulation of America's highly privileged population from the consequences of their wasteful, violent, polluting conduct, as well as by the fact that our notionally democratic governance is stratified by plutocracy and both legacies and realities of white-racism.

Nonetheless, one can engage in efforts of education, agitation, organization, and electoral participation to reform the status quo in the direction of a more sustainable accountable equitable consensual polyculture. Party politics are inadequate but nonetheless indispensable to these efforts.

I disagree with you that the ready availability of military weapons has nothing to do with the catastrophe of gun violence in this country, as do the facts, but I agree with you that the racist war on (some) drugs has been a catastrophe that should end -- I advocate legalization, safety regulation, and taxation supporting rehabilitation programs for those who need or desire them. I won't even get into what seems to me to be the madness of your contemplation of "better" or "worse" nuclear wars -- nuclear war is always only an absolutely unfathomable catastrophe. <-- period.

But whatever our agreements or disagreements about ideal outcomes, there remain the whole range of judgements connected with the effort to arrive from where we are toward where we want to be in the actually-existing world of actually-existing institutions and actually-existing diverse stakeholders using actually-available means. Too many of your glib denunciations seem to me to amount to the self-satisfied refusal of available means to achieve ends closer to the ones you claim to care about all the while pretending you care about these ends more purely or clearly precisely because you refuse to endorse or engage the processes that might painfully bring something like them about.

For what it's worth I profoundly DO care about dead black people in cities (that association test notwithstanding -- a test which also suggests those who suffer from racism have inculcated such racist prejudices, so presumably they don't care about their own deaths or those of their families? -- not to mention that is isn't ought so a test demonstrating the obvious legacy of the irrational rationality of racism among Americans hardly endorses that racism as you seem to with your "should") and millions of others do as well -- I daresay Nancy Pelosi is one of them. Who knows if that makes her more odious or less to you.

And by the way, Apollo still seems stunning to me even knowing all there is to know about Orion -- and also knowing Orion did not nor would have actually happened (feeling rather differently about nukes than you seem to do, nor do I think it really should have happened). You are right when you point out that Apollo was a glorified conventional rocket -- the lander was the real engineering standout in the project in my estimation -- but to me this doesn't make coulda woulda shoulda any more compelling than reality, though it does suggest why a real Mars program implemented by an international consortium of real governmental space agencies (none of this for-profit McVegas smoke and mirrors crap) would contribute so much more substantial civilizational progress than Apollo did.

I honestly don't see why your point about the shortness of the American attention span and the evident unwillingness of most people to invest in long-term outcomes from which they would obviously benefit themselves without palpable in the shorter-term as well seems not to represent a fact altering your sense of pragmatic possibility and realistic reform strategy but one recommending instead the superiority of escapes into wish-fulfillment fantasizing as if that demonstrates greater integrity rather than folly conjoined to mild cowardice.
Not voting for Reagan (that two-bit actor from California) would almost surely have been better for America than voting for him was, even though it would hardly have been entirely good for America or the world any more than voting for Reagan was all rather than just mostly bad for America and the world, especially since Carter's Fed Chair was a key agent implementing the neoliberal phase of global capitalism and Carter himself invigorated socioculturally reactionary christianist politics in the US. The better of two evils is still evil ethically, but politically the better of two evils can be the difference that makes the difference facilitating better outcomes still, eventually outcomes that actually count as goods. I said it before and I say it again, electoral politics are inadequate for the achievement of the necessary outcome of sustainable accountable equitable consensual planetary polyculture but are nonetheless indispensable to that achievement. That is not a particularly comfortable reality, nor does it lend itself to concise assessments of what is happening and can happen in the world. But that is the way of the world. For now I'm treating this person as a good-faith interlocutor and not a troll. Perhaps the saga will continue, with more light than heat one can only wonder.