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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Parade Passes By

As readers of Amor Mundi know, my partner and I have been together for over thirteen years now. But we aren't gay married because we disapprove of marriage as a vestige of human trafficking and as an irrational acquiescence to damaging Hallmark card fantasies of romantic completion. And yet we both fought for marriage equality and are cheered by its successes because our exclusion from the institution damages the lives of queer folks who feel differently than we do (even if for bullshitty reasons), and because that exclusion remains an injustice supporting other worse injustices, and also simply because it seems more forceful politically to oppose norms from which you are not already excluded and the refusal of which costs you something.

Appalled by the deathly demoralizing anti-democratizing energies of corporate-militarism as I am, I grasped nonetheless the indispensability of ending the Clintonian gargoyle "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the ban of queer folks from serving openly in the military for reasons similar to those that make marriage equality victories good -- but, again, I cannot say the jingoist cadences inevitably framing the victory felt particularly enlivening to me personally. Ending employment discrimination against queer folks seems to me a more substantial goal that will help many truly precarious people in this country while imposing a constraint on many truly pernicious people in this country -- and hence I cannot say that I am surprised to find it the assimilationist goal that still most stubbornly resists accomplishment. I don't like kids enough to wallow in gay adoption victories, and while I am all for Families We Choose, I wonder why the Chosen Families we celebrate must always be so drearily conventional.

But even if, as I say, I fully recognize the indispensability of demanding the availability of legibility on conventional institutional terms, lest illegibility marginalize so many of us in ways that literally ruin and end lives, I personally believe that a life more fully lived demands selves made of both prose and poetry, freedom requires both answerability before the eyes of power as well as the questionableness out of which different worlds are made.

Yes, I am one of those grumps you hear about who think that having too much Pride in assimilation to the institutional norms of reprosexual corporate-militarism is more than a little fucked up. While Pride originated in the righteous impulse to defy the hurtful shame imposed on wanted queer lifeways by mean, fearful, ignorant majorities, I think there is plenty to be ashamed of in the complacency, conformism, and consumerism Pride celebrates.

Especially now that I'm pushing fifty I more or less want Pride to get off my lawn. It is like a crowd of vacant consumers and squalling kids hard to distinguish from a food court in a Tornado Alley suburban mall even with the interchangeable shirtless guys and sequins shorn of their magic by too much sunlight. I do know that there are plenty of older folks who draw a real measure of strength and support from Pride, and yet I do think Pride is something youthful at heart, and in a way that registers both the fabulousness and foibles that can characterize youth in dumb overgeneralized stereotypical ways I won't make many friends getting into in any depth. But the hazy ambivalent fondness I still feel for Pride, while feeling at once quite contented that Pride is no longer the thing for me, is something like the hazy ambivalent fondness I feel for my own time of youthful adventuring.

I marched with my friends in Queer Nation in the Pride Parade in Atlanta half a dozen times at least, in the early nineties, and that really felt like something. Perhaps it was because we didn't seem quite as respectable as the Pride tag insisted we should be aspiring to be, for one thing. I marched in San Francisco's Parade just once, the summer after I moved here, in 1996, and it already felt terribly belated and pro forma. I wasn't really part of any movement anymore, and that left me feeling like I was at a County Fair cruising a loud crowd for dick and funnel cakes. That's been nearly twenty years ago now. I must say I felt quite a lot of sympathy for the Occupride moment in 2012 -- but I heard about it on the news after the fact. There was some political alchemical spark there, some joyful noisy resistance, some futural opening onto elsewhere that felt truly queer. To connect with that kind of queer futurity, I might even drag my tired old unrepentant queer ass onto the street again one day.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some Guilty Pride Pleasures

Something I have been doing at Amor Mundi for several years now...

"Is This A Dream?"



"I've Been Angry And Sad About Things That You Do"


"Blood. And Brains. And Buzzazz."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Janelle Monae's Hell You Talmbout



An extra track on a limited edition of Electric Lady, too easy to miss but too fabulous to skip.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Queering Buffer Zones

Maybe if we queers made a habit of making out in front of clinics the christianist forced pregnancy zealots would be too freaked out to intimidate so many of the women seeking legal and indispensable healthcare in them? Eric says this tactic worked reasonably well in his queer youth activism days back in Portland.

No A For Effort

In this era of grade inflation I will occasionally assign a student an E for Effort, bearing in mind it is, after all, the letter that comes between D and F.

More Faulty Ivory Towers here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Heavy Whether

Those reassured by the anomalous heavy weather explanation for the readjusted winter quarter's 2.9% economic contraction should note heavy weather is becoming typical. Anthropogenic climate change is going to bedevil conventional economic assumptions -- and this in a political epoch in which one of the only two viable national parties refuses either to concede the reality of climate change in the first place or the soundness of conventional Keynes-Hicks macroeconomic assumptions anyway. We are far from living in anything remotely like the classic Galbraithian construal of American Capitalism (in which rights culture and organized labor function as countervailing powers to corporate and military competitiveness), but even that classic vision would not cut it in the storm churn of a Greenhouse Present. As I have said before, I am hoping the inevitable ongoing and amplifying commercial disruption and infrastructure destruction of climate change will function as analogues to what Piketty has called the "shocks of war" in his famous book, to create conditions in which state interventions into otherwise naturalized insular plutocratic forces become possible for a change, this time prompting a quite radical legal, normative, sociocultural shift re-internalizing public risks and costs in the name of a planetary sustainability that would also be more equitable-in-diversity simply by virtue of the diversity of stakeholders who would have to be taken seriously for the state to take sustainability seriously in that way.

Today's Random Wilde

The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

It is very vulgar to speak like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. It produces a false impression.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Is Feckless When You're Reckless

As the last known stockpiles of Syrian chemical weapons are removed from that country to be destroyed by the United States, think how the so-called "feckless" Obama foreign policy last year not only meant no US bombing of Syrian civilians even though everybody seemed to believe such an outcome was inevitable at the time, but also means now that the horrific images we are seeing and stories we are hearing do not include images and stories of civilians choking to death in clouds of weaponized poison gas in Iraq.

As ISIL victories cause the Iraq/Syria border to melt away, take a moment to think how much worse the already terrible stories we are hearing now in the chaotic aftermath of our immoral criminal catastrophic war and occupation there could have been had John McCain and the rest of his belligerent crew gotten their way and showered his random pet Syrian rebel forces with sophisticated heavy American arms. It is easy to know what to say and how to say it forcefully when your answer is always "arm the rebels" and "bomb from the air" -- even if the consistent application of that principle would mean the US budget would be devoted entirely to bombing half the countries on earth while arming all the factions fighting on all sides of all conflicts on earth at the same time.

There has been plenty of media exposure lately of the hypocrisy of the killer clown neocon architects of the bloodcurdling criminal fiasco of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's foreign policy re-appearing in the midst of the ruins of their idiotic vision to advocate more of the same aggressive insensitive military madness (it should be noted, however, that all that exposure of hypocrisy has not actually resulted in anybody refusing to give these sociopathic losers a free megaphone to funnel their so-called expertise), but it is interesting that there still has been little to no complementary concession that the obverse of the neoconmen represented by Obama foreign policy in the years since have actually accomplished some extraordinary successes on their own terms.

The extrajudicial killings by drone and domestic spying overreach and failure to close Guantanamo have been too important to activists on the left -- and obviously with good reason -- to leave much space there for recognition of the successes of the multilateral foreign policy of the Obama epoch. So too the explicit decision of the GOP to couple unprecedentedly monolithic obstruction of and insistent public delegitimization of the Obama Presidency (a central tenet of which involves insinuations of either his foreignness or sympathy with foreign enemies) leaves even less room for such recognitions on the right. Meanwhile, the lazy acquiescence to outdated narratives on the part of mainstream media outlets leaves them "balancing" declarations that Obama's attentive and flexible opportunism represents a "lack of focus" with reports of success framed in mostly conservative terms, usually involving photogenic murders or moments in speeches that sound "tough" in the usual way.

I am far from proposing that the Obama foreign policy has been an unqualified success, nor do I believe that anybody in the Obama administration can possibly feel very good about the way global conflicts in the world have played out. But it is unquestionably true that many things could have been quite a bit worse (recall the first couple paragraphs of this post and think how rarely that is a perspective one hears), and also that many things could also have been quite a bit better had the President had a reasonable press to illuminate the actual issues at hand and the levels of support across the aisle that Presidents have rightly expected hitherto (Guantanamo would have been closed for years had it not been for cowardly and hypocritical Congressional obstruction, and it is crucial to grasp the extent to which the drone program and Special Forces ops seems far more attractive than they might otherwise do as comparatively low-cost and considerably executive-controlled modes of foreign intervention when one cannot trust the discretion and support of the Congressional branch).

Upward Fail Technoboostery

Techno-utopians like AI-deadenders and missiledefense-deadenders truly seem to love crowing over test results that reveal nothing but their serial failures.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Open Terror

Open Carry aspires to be the twenty-first century lynch mob of the reactionary right, terrorism in defense of white supremacy and patriarchy.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Internet Doesn't Do Weekends Well

Just puttin it out there.

So High So Low So Many Things To Blow

Corporate-military futurologists deploy hyperbolic marketing deceptions to rationalize mass exploitation and death, while popular futurists are mostly just hustling consumer fandoms and indulging in soft-core titillation with borrowed techno-triumphalist themes. But across the futurological spectrum, the coloration is religious and the consequences are deadly.

Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains.

You Need A Singularity Like You Need A Black Hole In Your Head

Singularitarians have a black hole where their brains should be.

More Futurological Brickbats here. There are a number of critiques of the notion of "The Singularity" collected in The Superlative Summary, among them this early one, "The Singularity Won't Save Your Ass."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Phanwanking, Phanwankery

Phanwanking, phanwankery, n. -- related to fanboy fanwanking/fanwankery, a form of ludicrously elaborate rationalization to which futurologists are prone, but involving speculative pseudo-science rather than speculative science-fiction.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Googolectics: Navel Gazing... Without Limits!

Very Serious futurological thought-salad by Hugo de Garis, published in humanity+ (the Robot Cult rag it would be "humanity-minus" to disapprove):
I [have] conceived the idea of X-Techs, i.e. technologies at the “X scale”, where X could be femto, atto, zepto, etc... This line of thinking led me to the notion of SIPI (Search for Infra Particle Intelligence) rather than the usual SETI... which strikes me as being rather provincial minded... The next logical step, it seems to me, is to speculate on what hyper intelligent synthetic creatures (artilects), which are x-tech based, might have done with themselves over billions of years, given that our sun, our star, is billions of years younger than most stars in the observable universe. This is a fascinating question, which this essay attempts to address. How does one begin on such a speculation, given that these hyper intelligences would have performance levels trillions of trillions... of times above the human level, and have had billions of years in which to evolve and complexify, before our sun was even born? ... If one takes googolects seriously, then... it seems reasonable to suggest that they could manipulate the properties of strings and related M-theory objects into structures of vast complexity, i.e. these structures would have a complexity level googol times greater than today’s artificial brains. These googolects would be “thinking” (signaling) 1027 times faster than our current nanoelectonic circuits, since they are 1027 times smaller (assuming the speed of light remains a barrier.) If these googolects can manipulate M-theory objects as they choose, then at larger scales, e.g. at our own human scale, we would not be able to distinguish between properties of the higher scales as “givens” (as is the case in physics today) rather than as “engineered”. Thus, it is possible that a real paradigm shift becomes quasi inevitable... Before I start speculating on other things these googolects might do, this is probably a good moment to coin a label for a new research area that does just that, i.e. speculates on what googolects might do. I suggest “googolectics.” ... Another of my research interests, is something I call “I.T.” i.e. intelligence theory, that doesn’t exist yet. This would be a branch of mathematics... Once I.T. can tell us what intelligence is, so that we can have a whole mathematical theory about it, then we will be able to create more intelligent creatures (artilects)... One obvious point to make that seems virtually certain, is that googolects would be utterly incomprehensible to humans. We would be way too stupid to understand their godlike capabilities... My main two areas of intellectual interest are pure math and math physics. Let us assume that pure math has no conceptual limits...
No, you are not mistaken, Femto, Atto, and Zepto were not another trio of Marx Brothers you forgot. I am tempted just to leave these comedy stylings as they are, to invite you to enjoy this techno-transcendental hoo-hah without comment, or by all means to click the link where there is oh so much more where that came from. But I will make the obvious comment or two. You know, I have no problem with some people treating this sort of thing as a consoling form of prayer. I'm an atheist myself, but I'm all for letting a bazillion flowers bloom in the faith department so long as your particular religious bliss doesn't moralize violence or rationalize tyranny or pretend to be science -- well, oops! on that score Mr. de Garis, but, well, you know what I mean. Similarly, I have no problem with some people treating this sort of thing as a form of experimental poetry of some kind. It's certainly not to my taste, since I have taste, but there's no accounting for taste, so, well, again, you know.

But I do have a problem with anybody who thinks this is sound argumentation... A welter of stipulations yielding "next logical steps," pushing equivocations of terms like "intelligence" beyond the breaking point, pretending it makes sense to put words like "possible quasi inevitable" together in the name of rigor, speaking of "givens" after indulging in pages of handwaving about non-givens, inventing non-disciplines about non-events involving non-phenomena and calling this "research," pretending that this sort of glossolalia yields "obvious points" or that nonsensicality is the sign of "purity," and so on! This is not argument or even speculation but free association. And I have a greater problem still with anybody who thinks this is serious science ("intelligence theory... a branch of mathematics [!]... can tell us what intelligence is, so that... then we will be able to create more intelligence creatures (artilects)"), let alone "pure math" or "pure physics," or remotely legitimate philosophizing. Even thought experiments require some thought to be happening in their general vicinity. No, this nonsense is neither serious nor sound in any way, nor is anybody serious or sound for whom this sounds serious (except maybe serious as a heart attack).

These problems aside, I cannot help but observe that guru-wannabes in robocultic precincts do often seem to lose themselves in this sort of phanwanking (it's like common or garden variety fanboy fanwanking, but involving speculative pseudo-science rather than speculative science-fiction), so I suppose this nonsense may nonetheless be, you know, The Future. The singularity, doncha know, is a black hole.--h/t to the indispensable indefatigable JimF.

An Effusive Crackpot: Robot Cultist Martine Rothblatt Is the Highest Paid Woman in Corporate America

Friend of blog "JimF" directed my attention to an article published in the New York Times a few days ago, An Elusive Jackpot: Riches Come to Women as C.E.O.s, but Few Get There:
On our annual list of the 200 highest-paid chief executives in the United States, there were just 11 women. That’s 5.5 percent of the total, and similar to the 4.9 percent representation of female chief executives at the 1,000 biggest companies... [The list] raises questions about whether executive compensation is out of hand and whether it is to blame for national economic inequality. But the numbers also reflect another imbalance -- the lack of women at the pinnacle of corporate America.
While I do not doubt at all that the small proportion of overall executive compensation going to women is a symptom of sexism, I cannot say that I have any interest in a feminism that focuses on this symptom over so many more that impact so many more people so very much more catastrophically. The article refers briefly to the questions whether unprecedented levels of executive compensation today are themselves impossible to justify and possibly injurious to a sustainable economy, whether or not that compensation is finding its way into the pockets of more men than anybody else -- but once the point is made the article casts it aside and dives deep instead into the exciting lives of rich ladies.

Skip to the paragraph right before the end to understand why this post has the title it does, if you like, but first, for me, just to be clear, I can't help but say that I think there is no question the spiral in executive and managerial compensation while the buying power accorded the overabundant majority of people who work for living has been cratering for generations has been a complete catastrophe for this society. It has rendered the lives of most people more precarious and provoked a spiritual crisis of general anxiety and despair. It has undermined accountability in ways that have lowered the quality of the goods and services available to us all and limited the substantial innovation we are always told all this wealth concentration is actually good for. It has suffused our political system with unprecedented amounts of unaccountable cash and corruption and rendered it hopelessly dysfunctional and ever less democratic.

There should be new, steeply more progressive tax brackets to rein in these million and multimillion dollar executive pay packages. In my opinion there should be provisions constraining the difference between the lowest and highest rates of monetary and perquisite compensation to no more than six times more for lordly officers than for lowly staff as a condition for incorporation in every charter recognized by the United States -- and I think those charters should also always contain a provision requiring them never to act in ways that knowingly violate the common good as well as demand at least half of the positions on corporate boards be filled by people who do the actual work of the corporation.

Needless to say, I consider the compensation received by the women highlighted in the piece to be obscenely high and clearly dangerous to the hopes for a more sustainable, equitable, diverse, democratic society -- and the fact that far more men receive far more obscene and dangerous compensation seems to me obviously wrong but that anybody does at all seems to me obviously worse and obviously the problem demanding our attention.

Anyway, the reason "JimF" pointed me to the piece is not to provoke me into a jeremiad over unacceptable unchecked unscrupulous executive pay, but to reveal that, according to the article, the highest paid executive on the list is none other than Martine Rothblatt, who was paid thirty-eight million dollars last year, much of it as stock options. Yes, that's right, Martine Rothblatt Robot Cult muckety-muck, guru-wannabe of the transhumaoid techno-immortalist cyberangels-in-Holodeck-Heaven sect Terasem (see my What's Wrong With Terasem? for the fairly flabbergasting details), is the tenth highest paid corporate executive in America. In The "Imagination" of a Robot Cultist, a piece from 2009, I took Rothblatt to task for pretending coders are creating intelligent software when they obviously are not, especially to the extent that she seems to want to fight for the "rights" of such intelligent beings that are not in ways that misdirect attention and energy from the struggle for the rights of actually intelligent humans in the world, and for pretending that these frankly stupid and reactionary proposals make her the transhumanoid equivalent of Robert Kennedy and John Lennon. And in Martine Rothblatt's Artificial Imbecillence, a piece from 2010, I took Rothblatt to task for pretending that aggregated data-profiles of people are the same thing as people when obviously they are not, and for pretending even more insanely that such aggregations might amount somehow to the resurrection and immortalization of the real people they are profiles of. Rothblatt calls these immortal uploaded post-humans that don't exist "Mindclones" and, unsurprisingly given the above, she suggests that her devotion to "their" "rights" makes her an "activist" that calls to mind "a Frederick Douglass, a Cesar Chavez, a Susan B. Anthony and a Harvey Milk," you know, real people who really helped really real people who really needed it. 38 million dollars, people. The word you are looking for is "meritocracy."

So, I dunno, whatever. Setting aside the sexism symptomized in the comparative lack of women executives, I must say that it seemed to me the women who were represented in the list exhibited not very nice self-congratulatory upward fail in something like precisely the proportions one has come to expect from America's elite one-percenters. The special pathologies of the always irrationally exuberant tech sector seem scarcely meliorated by their titanic female sooper-geniuses -- Rothblatt aside, that the article hyperventilated about "superstars" Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg was hardly encouraging on this score.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Amor Mundi Is Over Ten Years Old

I was too distracted with teaching and that burst of union organizing to notice back in May that the ten-year anniversary of this blog had come and gone. The first post, May 9, 2004 was this little number. A bit awkwardly written, not so very original, but I still agree with it -- and clearly irritation has been my bloggity muse from the start. I can't say that I imagined at the beginning I would sustain this level of writing here and for so long -- I wonder what I have foregone and what I have foregrounded with this habit. The blog has been an outlet, but I don't know if it has kept me engaged more than it has displaced engagements otherwise. I'm pretty sure that neither the anti-futurological critique nor the sustained elaboration of democratizing rather than smashing the state archived at the sidebar would have been so substantial without the blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trying To Accomplish Campaign Finance Reform Through the IRS

The executive branch continues to try to accomplish progressive reforms circumventing the hopelessly Republican-obstructed legislative branch. Via the Center for Public Integrity:
The Internal Revenue Service will propose new and specific rules defining how much money “social welfare” nonprofits may spend on political campaigns, Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday... Such rules could curb the influence of “dark money” nonprofits engaging in overt political activity that proliferated after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010. The new rules would seek to define what constitutes political activity... “There are three issues: What should be the definition, to whom should it apply and how much ... can you do before you jeopardize your exemption?” said Koskinen, the IRS' top official who took office in December... “The next resolution will differ from the first draft because it will deal with all three questions,” he said... Such definitions, Koskinen said, wouldn’t just benefit the IRS but “people running 501(c)(4)s in terms of knowing what they can do and can’t do, what the rules are." Nonprofit leaders, he added, shouldn't get "surprised or concerned that when they undertake more of an activity that after the fact somebody is going to say, ’You’ve now jeopardized your exemption.’”
It would be sweet indeed if the Republican's whomped up faux "IRS scandal" provided the pretext for clearer definitions that amounted to the beginning of the rollback of the disastrous Citizens United decision.

Legion of Doom

The latest GOP noise advocating yet another government shutdown strategy, this time over President Obama's new EPA regulations, amounts to a threat to destroy our own government in order to destroy our only world.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bipolarization

From the Moot:
"Right wing extremism" is a much better term for right wing extremism than "polarization."

Never Enough Puff

Jezebel:
Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup -- the sisters/science experiments that make up the the superhero, crime fighting trio known as the Powerpuff Girls -- will be swooping back into the television lineup in 2016. "We are calling these girls back into action based upon an overwhelming demand for sugar, spice and Chemical X," announced Cartoon Network's chief content officer Rob Sorcher on Monday.
Buttercup is my spirit animal.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Polarization Bowdlerization

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange in the Moot:
I think the current punditocratic vogue of "polarization" narratives and theses conceal at least as much as they reveal.

The Democratic and Republican parties have gone through a Great Sort since the Southern Strategy (actually beginning with periodic betrayals by the "Solid South" during the Second New Deal), in which complex coalitions containing both liberals and conservatives instead came to map more directly onto the duopoly. Much of what now passes for "polarization" was already there but obscured from our vantage by the divergence of party-ID and ideological orientation. The prevalence of white supremacy and its simultaneous amelioration (and also, for the white racist stragglers, exacerbation) by the welcome and healthy demographic diversification, secularization, and planetization of the population is another force that is accounting for much that is being grotesquely oversimplified as "polarization" in these accounts.

The relentlessly cited Pew poll clearly shows more conservatives think liberals represent a threat to America than liberals think conservatives do (heck I'm a liberal -- well, you know, a vegetarian democratic socialist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist atheist queer aesthete -- who thinks current obstructionist macroeconomically-illiterate neo-confederate climate-denialist white-racist jebusfreak gun-nutty forced-pregnancy zealot conservatives represent an objective threat to America not to mention the planet), but to what extent does this formulation conceal the crucial differences between a confident and motivated young diverse emerging secular democratic majority as opposed to a desperate defensive minority of old white straight dudes freaking out as they are dying out about jezebels and queers and all the skeery brown people?

I think "polarization" is just the latest form the punditocracy's inane mythic "independent voter" "moderate middle" and "false equivalency" fetish thesis is taking. Majorities still support progressive policy prescriptions, after all, but can be actively mislead or misdirected from voting in ways that reflect these beliefs by unscrupulous reactionaries on the right who are reconciled to the Noble Lie simply in taking up the politics of a plutocratic minority in a representative system that must somehow enlist support of majorities against their actual interests.

The anti-science views of the GOP which attract so much attention are connected to these foundational, enabling, systematic deceptions in my view. (I still prefer my engineers conservative, my politics democratic, my artists revolutionary, by the way.) To speak of "polarization" is to appear to observe and analyze real phenomena but in a way that disdains the real substance of the actual views and practices and consequences that are presumably "polarized." There has always been a kind of "polarization" between ignorant people and people who know things, I guess. You can say that the assertions of a liar or a charlatan as against the assertions of an honest witness or sound scientist are "polarized" -- but to put the difference that way is to miss the difference that makes a difference. Which, I daresay is the point.

Bare Sane Majority

I wish it was hard to believe four Supreme Court Justices think it's okay for a third party to lie their way into buying someone else a gun.

There Oughta Be A L.... Hallmark Card

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bodyguard Blanket: Duck and Cover for the School Shooting Epoch

America cannot implement the most obvious most sweepingly popular gun safety regulations, but, fear not! Con artists seeking profits with idiotic technofixes and vacuous security theater are on the job! Yay, Murca! The following video is not a parody, as neither were the original Duck and Cover spots in a different epoch of American insanity:


I'm rather disappointed I couldn't find a clip I overheard in a news story on this topic in which champions of the Bodyguard Blanket in a full froth of 300 fanboy enthusiasm started handwaving about how the kiddies can use the unwieldy bright orange shells to crawl into invulnerable "phalanx formations."

Smash the state, anarcho-freedumb is on the march! A Good Guy cyborg vigilante with a big gun and a Bodyguard Blanket cyborg shell for every innocent child is all the law white supremacy needs!

A Very Unserious Question

How can spending money blowing up stuff always be so possible while spending money building stuff seems never to be possible?

Entrepreneurial Technoscience Is A Bust

Contrary to the still prevailing theological hyperventilations of the pop tech venture capitalist informercial press, entrepreneurial technoscience is a big bad bloated bust.

So many "tech" companies fail to find ways to translate real basic research accomplishemts into profitable products, and even companies that manage to do this enormously profitably for a while find all too often that they cannot sustain their success for long in the face on ongoing technodevelopmental churn. This remains true even when research commitments in venerated commercial institutions like Sun and HP are substantial and their practices sound. Meanwhile, many more "tech" companies -- indeed, the majority of the concerns that peddle themselves as such -- fail to be more than promotional marketing funnels for hyped unoriginal never particularly useful repackaged crap, when they manage to be more than self-promotional vehicles for wannabe celebrity CEO wannabe soopergenius wannabe tech guru techbros in the first place.

Taken together, these two all too typical failures suggest to me the preferability in general of a public grant model for research and development, in which public investment yields non-proprietary and non-secretive knowledge for the public good and accessible to the inquiring and critical public. Further, ideally, this would occur in the context of universal basic healthcare and free lifelong education and a universal basic income guarantee to secure the conditions of possibility for lifelong dedicated work in basic research without risk to working scientists, scholars, and artists in the service of actually sustainable technoscience and polycultural progress.

The benefits of such a model are all the more obvious when we recall that "progress" isn't, after all, some indifferent accumulation of blandly decontextualized data points or brutally amplifying technical capacities, but a matter of the most equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technodevelopmental change to the actual diversity of the stakeholders to that change by their lights. Researchers and investors are rarely the stakeholders most impacted by the real world consequences of research and development, but are usually the ones who reap the benefits while externalizing costs and bemoaning risks while failing ever upward. This is an inherently anti-democratizing distribution of authority over technoscientific change that conduces to real progress only accidentally and incidentally.

Amor Mundi's Annual Father's Day Celebration

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Wrench Isn't A Robot

Remote control is still hand-holding, not the appearance of an alter-autonomy. Most loose tech-talk otherwise is the usual futurological denigration of the actually intelligent in the service of the usual  futurological marketing of crap for profit.

Cantor Was Part of a Problem With Many Parts

The Republicans may indeed get worse after booting Cantor but that is far from implying that things would have gotten better if they hadn't. Cantor was never going to be part of a Washington capable of solving shared problems and it is good that he is gone. Many more like him, including his likely replacement, will have to go as well for things to get better.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Watch Presentations of My SFAI MA Thesis Cohort at This Year's Symposium Online

As always, this spring's Symposium provided a great glimpse into all the work my wonderful MA students at the San Francisco Art Institute have been doing over a long year of research and writing and provocative discussion together. Since far fewer people attended the event in the City than would be interested in it, I recommend folks click this link and then scroll through the various titles and pick and choose among those pieces that most intrigue you. There are performance pieces, exhibition readings, analyses of urban policy, and plenty of museum critiques and activist interventions to choose from this year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Personally I Judge Each Argument On Its Merits"

The point is always well taken. But it is worth noting, strictly speaking, that nobody judges each argument on its merits in some splendid isolation -- since to recognize an argument as such already depends on contextualization and comparison. This matters especially to the extent that "each argument on its merits" injunctions seek to police contextualization and comparisons that are deemed injurious to the argument prompting the declaration. As they so very often do.This post is upgraded and adapted from a comment of mine in the Moot.

Who Puts the Bro in Libertechbrotarian?

Adapted and upgraded from the Moot, I have been asked whether it is possible for the ladies to be libertechbrotarians in my estimation, and I fear I may risk being collared for political correctness forthwith if I do not clear up the matter swiftly. And so:

Obviously there are plenty of women who espouse neoliberal and market libertarian follies as there are also plenty of privileged women who are shaped by their privilege in ways that make them insensitive and self-aggrandizing and clueless in ways that differ from some of the prototypical behavior of the techbro cohort to the thinness of a dime. Needless to say (if it seems to you needful, read Athena Andreadis until you're better), sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, rape culture norms catastrophically suffuse the inter-implicated popular "tech" "futurist" "sf" "evopsycho" "VC" sub/cultures -- although the important exceptions are important and all. As an informally ethnographic characterization of a subcultural phenomenon, I must say the techbros and their libertechbrotarian kin do seem overwhelmingly to be, er, bros.

I guess the question is akin to whether or not it is possible to accuse a woman of indulging in "mansplaining." My inclination would be to suppose that such women, if there are any, are likely to be found in megachurches and Philosophy departments, but I cannot say for sure if I have glimpsed any personally. Maybe Mrs. Betty Bowers counts, at any rate parodically?

On the very off possibility that the question amounts to the clever assertion that noticing sexism is the real sexism, rather in the way that it is sometimes cleverly asserted that noticing racism is the real racism, I must say that isn't a road going anywhere anybody wants to go.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Two And A Half AIs: Ashton Kutcher Joins the Futurological Brain Trust

James Fehlinger directs my attention to this gem (Jim gave me the spunky title for this post, too):
[The] AI startup, Vicarious... recently received $40m in funding from Mark Zuckerberg, space pioneer Elon Musk, and actor-turned-VC Ashton Kutcher.
I'll bet Ashton like totally wants to hang with Eugene Goostman, dood. Cue the laugh track. That the Turing Test really tests for artificial imbecillence in humans is proved again and again and again. In any case, those who click the link and actually read the grandiose claims of the latest man coding the sooper-brain that will change everything but will not be permitted to "consume" him have further delights in store.

On Solar Street

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Lying for Robot Jesus Ltd," a handle that seems rather crafted to please, directed my attention to a debunking video of the technofix superstars in a day -- and probably for a day -- Julie and Scott Brusaw, of "Solar Roadways" fame(-for now). The Brusaws have made a few viral promotional videos and a few million in a minute on indigogo and have gotten a usually breathless, usually content-less paragraph of cheerleading on each of the tech-talk outlets in consequence.

Long time readers of futurology will recall that the genre devoted more than a generation to the proposals either that the roads would roll or that they would be eschewed altogether for personal aircraft (whether ruggedly individualistic jet-packs or souped-up heli-jets for the low-T set), but know the loose talk turned to solar roads when futurology took its irrationally exuberant neoliberal turn to the Long Boom (Bust). I do believe none other than Eric Drexler promised diamondoidal solar-paneling for our dumb-paved surfaces along with his crystalline engines and desktop topsoil into chocolate sundaes nanofactories way back in Engines of Creation. Although the Brusaws are not claiming their solar soaking roadways will self-repair by recourse to perfectly-controlled all-temperature self-replicating programmable nanofoglets, it is worth noting that their notion has a long futurological pedigree.

About the half-hour debunking vid, "Lying for Robot Jesus Ltd," summarizes and crows: "Another libertechbrotarian dream destroyed by a blaspheming Luddite. Long but entertaining: link."

Are they libertechbrotarians? I haven't found any anti-gov/gimme-gov agitprop among the promotional materials, nor do the Brusaws come off as entitled assholes, particularly, though I will grant I haven't dug deep into their history or associations. If anything, they seem a bit crunchy and wacky. I quite agree that the hype has gotten well out ahead of any actual, er, deliverables here, but quite a lot of the debunking video seems to me to be mistaking snark for science as loosely as the Brusaws' amateur theatricals presently seem to be mistaking science for sales pitching. I can't say that the trying-too-hard John Oliver-mode Britishisms-are-always-witticisms-amiright narration made a friend of me, either. (Reader "Esebian" subsequently directed my attention to another of this fellow's oh so delightful debunkings entitled, "Why Feminism Poisons Everything" -- how very charming!)

I find more amusing and more specifically futurological the herdlike technofix consumer fandom machineries of the gee-whiz pop-tech press in response to this as-yet more-vaporware-than-not proposal, but the project itself feels rather more like loopy garage-inventor Americana to me. I don't doubt pale male techcrunchers and disruptors and meme-hustlers would just lurve to profitably and effortlessly leapfrog eco-catastrophe with a techno-fix that also keeps car culture and saucer-eyed consumerism and celebrity-CEO media-fluffing perfectly intact, but I'm afraid tackling climate catastrophe will actually require grown ups actually paying for things and behaving responsibly -- oh noes! I'm not entirely sure I think the Solar Roadways proposal as of now is fraudulent rather than simply facile, nor do I think the concept at any rate has nowhere at all to go. Certainly the Brusaws' sales pitch is rhetorically handwavy but it is hardly transhumanoid or superlative (in the senses I critique) in its contours.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Skip Skynet

There are real unethical robots in the military to worry about and they are all Brass.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

A Plea from the Peanut Gallery

Quite often I get questions online (usually, actually, they take the form of accusations) from strangers asking me how I can support the President given his role in this or that terrible policy which I tend to agree with the questioner or accuser is a terrible policy. I used to answer these on the blog with lots of fanfare, but for the last few years I've usually just responded to these interventions one on one. Lately, my head has been so lost in Periclean Athens as I teach my summer intensive on Greek and Roman rhetoric at Berkeley I haven't been blogging very much and so I figured I might as well use the occasion of one of these familiar queries to post something a little more timely to the blog, even if these are things I've said a million times by now. I'm leaving out names, so my questioner doesn't feel called out in public or anything:
Your blog is interesting to read concerning enviro issues, transhumanism and futurology but I wish that you would spend some time on what you really think of [President] B[arack ]O[bama]. I voted for him twice and I no longer believe in him or his minions. Below is an interesting article by Noam which I agree. [The subject of the article is the Snowden revelations and the danger of the surveillance state.] Your take on BO these days would be a most interesting read on your blog.
President Obama hasn't done a lot that has surprised me over the course of his two terms so far. I listened to his statements on the campaign trail and examined his published policy positions quite closely before voting for him twice (like you) and arguing in public for his election and writing in defense of some of his policy choices and so on. If anything, I have been pleasantly surprised more often than unpleasantly so -- which is far from saying I enthusiastically endorse what he does. I have said in the past that Barack Obama is the most progressive American President since FDR and I still think this is true, and even obviously true. To say this is not to declare Obama consistently or even particularly progressive, by my lights, but to deny it is to reveal profound ignorance of presidential history (read up on FDR himself, and on the collaboration of the New Deal in the preservation of Jim Crow, for example).

I don't support Obama because I am unaware of these obvious critiques you are earnestly bringing to my attention, nor because I need a hero and think he is that hero. I think it is infantile to formulate one's support of a President as the best candidate on offer in an election or support of an administrative policy among others as a matter of "believing in" that President, as you say. Presidents are not replacement parents or matinee idols to sigh over, however our mass mediated and networked organizational forms seek to invest us in our representatives.

I wrote my dissertation on digital surveillance questions, and I must say WikiLeaks and the Snowden revelations were hardly shocking to me. (For more on my positions on these questions I recommend interested readers scroll down to the "Surveillance" sub-heading in the Superlative Summary.) I strongly disapprove of the ongoing elaboration of the aspiration of the unitary executive and of total information awareness that has continually consolidated over the course of this generation, and popular resistance and congressional legislation will have to be the sites turning these tides in my view. Needless to say, I have written on these topics repeatedly and for years.

But you have framed your query specifically in terms of the present President (who is one player in one moment of a longer and more complex historical struggle over surveillance after all) and for clarity's sake, let's step back and get at the more basic issues that really seem to be on your mind for which surveillance questions provide the occasion: I should think it goes without saying that for the likes of me there is no perfectly or even mostly acceptable and yet also electable President given my political orientation as an absolute foe of white racist patriarchal extractive-industrial corporate-militarism. A vote for an unelectable President actually as green and democratic and socialist as I am would be an entirely symbolic gesture that I suppose would make me feel better for a split second but would also be tantamount to a non-vote and hence a vote enabling the worst actually electable candidate on offer. I would consider such a voting practice profoundly narcissistic and irresponsible.

The US executive branch exists, it has real powers that have real impacts, and if you are an eligible voter in the US you can vote for the best available candidate or not, but if you don't you are complicit in the election of the worst candidate on offer should they win. There is much more to politics than voting, but voting remains an indispensable part of politics, as does critique of politicians to push them to conduct themselves more equitably and democratically. Pragmatism and idealism are both necessary and maintaining the balance in the belly of the beast of ongoing violence, exploitation, and climate catastrophe is and will always remain fraught and never easy.

But when critique is premised on fantasies of ideal candidates or seeks to castigate or demoralize voters from supporting best available non-ideal candidates I regard that as plainly reactionary political behavior. To anticipate a familiar objection to this line, I do not agree that the kind of pragmatism I am insisting on necessarily interferes with clarity of critique or righteousness of vision or impedes other forms of education, agitation, organization. It is always necessary to judge policies and also politicians against ideal outcomes by your lights, both according to your sense of the facts and your values, but it is no less necessary to judge policies as situated negotiations among actually diverse stakeholders and politicians against actually available alternatives and their policy advocacy against their record and their record as a totality of policies some of which will be better and some which will be worse.

Given the rancid white racism sexism heterosexism cissexism anti-science neo-confederate secessionist anti-tax pro-pollution gun-nuttified death cultism of the present Republican party, I fear Democrats with all their flaws will tend to be who we must vote for as advocates of sustainable equity-in-diversity -- at least, until the lesson of repeated losses compels Republicanism to change for the better or election reforms like instant runoff voting or fusion tickets render it possible for parties with smaller more specialized constituencies (like Greens or Democratic Socialists) outside the current established party duopoly to function otherwise than as spoilers enabling the most reactionary forces to prevail.

I hope you read my tone as expressing the forcefulness of conviction and not as an effort to insult or patronize you, because that is not my intention. My best to you, keep asking questions of constituted authorities and engaging every way you can in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity, Dale

Exhibit A

To read Arendt without Fanon is inevitably to misread her, and the way Arendt misreads Fanon is Exhibit A.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Progressive Politics of Climate Change Will Remain Impossible Right Up To The Moment When They Become Possible

Ezra Klein attracted quite a lot of attention this week with his enormously well-substantiated empirical survey 7 Reasons America Will Fail On Climate Change. Actually, nothing in his piece should be the least bit surprising to those who have any awareness of anthropogenic climate change or the last few generations of American climate politics: The overwhelming consensus of the relevant scientists is not reflected in media coverage of the issues and denial of the consensus by politicians is overwhelming (in fact one of our only two viable, as it were, parties seems to define itself through its denial of the consensus on these unprecedentedly urgent questions). Our emissions have already roared past the point at which catastrophic consequences follow and our course looks like it is anything but reversing itself. Those counting on resource descent, like Peak Oil, to take away our dangerous toys since we seem incapable of mustering the political will to respond to our shared problems fail to grasp that while fossil fuels are indeed finite there remain plenty for us to burn the earth to a cinder, not to mention that fact that the reality of resource descent in freshwater and topsoil raise the specter of disastrous resource wars that are more likely to destroy renewable infrastructure or displace investment in such problem-solving before it even gets destroyed. Projected climate catastrophes are likely to decimate populations in the same over-exploited nations of the world that are already bearing the brunt here and now of anthropogenic climate change (falsely figured as a problem of "the future") and heavy weather damage in urban centers of the over-exploiting nations of the world are sure to get most of the attention and support while the avoidable suffering and instability and death of planetary majorities is ignored. And so on. Klein's piece is fairly representative, really, as you can see reading Bill McKibben's piece in Rolling Stone two years' back, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math."

Every other year or so I teach a course for undergraduates on environmental politics, and even dedicated, well-informed students tend to leave the term saucer-eyed in fear at the scale of the ongoing and upcoming planetary crisis and the flabbergasting failure of our institutions in the face of that crisis. I assigned that McKibben piece, for example, for the second week of the course when I last taught it just this past Spring. (Here's the Syllabus for the course, if you are interested.) I agree, nevertheless, with the reaction of Michael Mann who responded to Klein's piece, declaring: "Defeatist framing is not helpful and threatens serving as self-fulfilling prophecy... The only real obstacle to averting dangerous climate change is lack of willpower and imagination. We must avoid messaging that seems to condone that, as the title of the Vox piece unfortunately does." Al Gore famously complained that too many people seem to go from denial to despair when confronted with planetary problems, it is really does seem too often that when it comes to the urgent environmental demands on our politics knowledge is disempowerment, that is to say, too often an increase of knowledge about climate catastrophe doesn't so much organize us into needed action but rationalize the inaction and acquiescence that already followed from our earlier ignorance.

Joe Romm, a long-time ClimateProgress blogger over at ThinkProgress, has replied to Ezra Klein's piece with a comparably empirical point-by-point rebuttal of his contentions, 7 Reasons America Should Succeed on Climate Change -- citing flattening cost-curves for renewable energy technologies, pointing to the huge improvements that can still be had simply through recourse to available efficiency measures, pointing to major stakeholders like the Defense Department and the insurance industry that are already and are ever-more insistent drivers of renewable infrastructure investment and halting carbon emissions, pointing to the signs of a backlash provoked by Republican insanity on these questions and so on. Romm's piece is where I found the quotation from Michael Mann which I cited a moment ago, and it provides the frame for Romm's case.

I must say that find it especially encouraging that Romm and Klein both conclude their pieces with a shared repudiation of futurological geo-engineering proposals that profitable mega-scale corporate-military engineering interventions into ecosystemic dyanamics we do not adequately understand will reverse the environmental disasters caused by profitable corporate-military engineering interventions into ecosystemic dynamics we do not adequately understand. That Romm's piece is a point-by-point rebuttal of Klein's piece except for its agreement on that concluding point makes their agreement on the folly of futurological greenwashing of "geo-engineering" con-artistry all the more stunning. But I actually consider Klein's and Romm's pieces complementary more generally, even if they seem only to agree on the last point. The facts they mobilize in making their different cases are both quite true, and while I strongly agree with Mann and Romm that Klein's defeatist framing of climate catastrophe is at best useless since political organizing remains indispensable to any human address equal to the climate catastrophe we face, I do think Klein's piece provides a clearer testament to the scale and stakes of our planetary problems.

Although neither falls for facile futurological techno-boosterism, I do know that too many pieces that seek to remind us that environmental problems really can be addressed by shared education, organization, legislation, and public investment, yield -- often despite the best intentions of their authors -- yet another kind of complacency, a no less futurologically-inflected daydream that the necessary transition to sustainable energy and transportation and agriculture, once underway, will demand few changes in the American lifestyle, that windfarms and solar rooftops will spring up among sunflowers and our wasteful, miserable, parochial consumerism and car culture and suburban sprawl and industrial agriculture will proceed unchanged. One need only recall the New Deal/WW2 epoch to grasp how sweeping and intensive political energies can be released in utterly transformational ways -- even after years and years of intractable paralysis and hopelessness: the political address of vast problems can be utterly impossible right up to the moment when it becomes entirely possible, quiescent institutions and constituencies are suddenly mobilized and problem-solving begins to change the world. Climate catastrophe is political and so will our response be when it comes -- as is our failure now to respond even remotely adequately. That we may mobilize too late to save ourselves, that even should we change in time billions will suffer and die who need not have done are truths that must invigorate our political resolve rather than rationalize complacency, acquiescence, or despair.

Many of my own arguments against geo-engineering and other futurological forms of greenwashing are archived here: Futurology Against Ecology.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Dear Wayne

It's beginning to look like the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good woman without one.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Springtime for Ayn Rand

Frank Pasquale directed me to this review of a new musical in which Ayn Rand and the Village People promisingly collide:
Once in a blue moon comes a show so laughably bad, it’s almost enjoyable -- almost... Loosely based on Ayn Rand’s 1938 sci-fi novella “Anthem,” this inept musical stars Randy Jones (the original cowboy from Village People) and has been staged like... “Starlight Express...” Set in a totalitarian future that looks just like a 1980s music video, the show follows the political awakening of hunky Prometheus (Jason Gotay) as he rejects a society that proclaims “the folly of independent thought” -- a typical Randian line woodenly delivered by Jones’ cartoonish Tiberius, in full silent-movie-villain mode... but director Rachel Klein and her team... have no satirical edge, and the message appears to be taken seriously. Or as seriously as it can be in a show loaded with silver lamé. Laughs abound, but they’re unintentional. A muscular Executioner in leather hot pants (Jamyl Dobson) emotes “The Palace of Mating” with a porny wacka-wacka guitar riff in the background. In their inadvertently hilarious duet, Prometheus and feisty rebel Athena (Ashley Kate Adams) warble “On the precipice of danger/I stand before a stranger/And I feel born anew/Stimulated past all rationality/How can I face reality.” And so it goes for almost 2½ punishing hours...
God, I'm so turned on right now. In the spirit of, now tell us what you really feel about the incomparable La Rand you may enjoy Behind the Music: Atlas Shrugged and Implausible Character, Vacuous Foundations.

"When is the initiation of physical force justified?"

I received this question from a reader, and this is my response to him. I am also elaborating the response a bit to provide more context for general readers most of whom will not be asking the question from the vantage I took him to be asking it from:
Before I can answer your question it is crucial first to recognize that "justification" is an act arising from a situation and offered up to an audience. Political discussions with market libertarians often seem to proceed as if political assessments are a matter of offering up logical justifications to a universe of "neutral rationality" amounting to agreement in advance on a host of market libertarian assumptions about what physical force is, what it means to be an owner of property, what it means to be a responsible subject, and so on. This matters, because all of these questions are actually under contestation, indeed they are often the very questions at hand in debates with market libertarians in the first place.

So, when you ask "when is the initiation of physical force justified?" my first question is: To whom is the justification in your question presumably offered? The answer whether an act of force is justified (let alone whether it was an act of force at all, or the true initiation of the force in question rather than a response to some prior force) will no doubt differ if it is the perpetrator, the victim, a judge, a jury, some measure of popular opinion, or a community offering up the justification or hearing it.

One of the great quandaries of political theory and institutional practice seeking to provide some measure of legible and hence sustainable justice and order to the diversity of stakeholders to a polity is, after all, finding ways of ensuring that minorities are heard and protected in majoritarian orders, or that the losing parties in court decisions and election contests will remain invested in the ongoing life of the system of judgment and representation which has failed to go their way in a particular instance. Periodic elections with the widest possible franchise (circumscribed by the no taxation without representation principle for one thing), and the widest possible eligibility for office, jury trials, court appeals, impeachment provisions, popular referenda, universal rights resistant to majority opinions (especially rights to public assembly and critical expression), and civil disobedience premised on breaking laws and then suffering their penalties to call attention to their injustice as a spur to changing them are all indispensable institutions and practices that have been hacked over many centuries in the fraught circuitous heartbreaking process of the ongoing democratization of the state to which I and so many others are still devoted.

(As I never tire of insisting to anarchists and others: I want to democratize the state, not to smash it.)

"Justification" is a discourse, it consists of a host of practices, each with a history, norms, problems, ritual and infrastructural affordances. To keep this is mind is to be thinking about justifications politically, rather than deploying a term as if it were neutral in the service of a stealthy political agenda, whether one is conscious of this or not: Remember, there is nothing more natural than to accept some or many of the norms and forms of the status quo unconsciously or uncritically, even when one is in the process of intervening in the status quo elsewhere, indeed, the great political advantage of authority is that it tends to operate unconsciously and with an incredible resilience such that resistance to its terms requires intense and ongoing vigilance.

And so, to return to your specific question, "when is the initiation of physical force justified?" I will answer with a question: And who decides at what point "the" force is really initiated? "The initiation of force" is of course, again, a phrase familiar especially in market libertarian political theory (such as it is). When, as in so many market libertarian formulations, say, a contract is figured as the quintessential voluntary transaction -- and the one into which initiations of force are usually imagined to interfere, usually by caricatures of government agents or criminal thugs -- to what extent does it matter whether a contract is articulated by misinformation, unequal access to knowledge, duress, the threat of poverty? In any society that makes no universal provision for basic healthcare, education, income, retirement will not every transaction be stratified by structural inequities, unconscious biases, threatening precarities, unreliable information exchange that render the initiation of violence not only in the violation but in the constitution of the contractarian scene itself? Brecht famously joked, which is the bigger crime, robbing a bank or founding one? The force of his point does not depend on our inability confidently to answer his question.

Here the market ideologues merely provide extreme illustrations of a more general dilemma: How does the legibility of violence itself require a circumscription of possibility that is a violence? Is there an initiation of violence prior to the perception of an initiation of violence enabling its perception as such? I can only guess that upon hearing me insist that the scene of a legible consenting to the terms of everyday commerce and contract requires first the universal provision of equitable recourse to law, basic healthcare, lifelong education, secure retirement, and a basic guaranteed income to ensure those everyday commercial and contractarian transaction are not duressed by inequity, misinformation, bias, fraud, and threat to livelihood (and hence actually consensual, meaningfully voluntary), every self-respecting conservative and market libertarian will protest forthwith: And just who will be paying for all this welfare, all this healthcare, all this education, all this legal apparatus, and the money to support all this idleness and what amounts to a permanent strike fund for workers to hold over employers heads? You speak of volunteerism and consent, but are the talented, hard-working, meritorious few (just for fun we'll pretend for a moment this sort of phrase doesn't always end up meaning "white dudes") from whom the money for this public largess will no doubt be taxed at rates incomparably more steeply progressive than they are today imagined to be volunteering and consenting to this state of affairs? Aren't you hoping to exploit the few in order to, as you would put it, protect the many from being exploited by the few?

Again, what matters in this formulation is that it naturalizes the status quo when those are the very terms that are under contestion. The simplest answer to the question, Who is supposed to pay to prop up the many as you would do? is exactly the same people who at present pay to prop up the few, that is to say: We the People.

To put it simply, the wealth of the few is a collective accomplishment of the many from which the few preferentially benefit. Inherent in the protest that the wealth of the rich few is appropriated unjustly to make greater provision for the welfare of the many is the pretense that the wealth of the rich few was earned entirely by the rich few only to be vulnerable to expropriation by the many through the agency of majoritarian government. But it would be far more correct to say that the wealth of the rich few is produced through the collaboration of the many and enabled through the agency of government laws and investments and affordances, and then appropriated disproportionately to the rich few through effort, indeed, but also through corruption, deception, mystification, privilege, inertia, cronyism, fraud, and dumb luck.

It is presently We the People who contribute our labor and sustain the too corrupt, captured regulatory and representative apparatuses of government to maintain the fortunes of the rich few. To educate, agitate, organize, and legislate in ways that shifts We the People from our present collaboration in the terms of our own exploitation to the more democratic provision of a consensual scene to sustainable equity-in-diversity is mostly a matter of getting majorities to act in their best interests to solve shared problems and maintain political forms capable of such shared problem-solving. Such a shift only looks like the many stealing from the few if one has decided in advance that the few who presently have and keep the most have and keep it because they really are incomparably more talented and worthy than the many, and really earned and keep it in isolation from their fellows and without the support of the social world. Of course, such claims are patently absurd. It is only the prior naturalization of the terms of the status quo that insulate them from the consideration in the face of which their absurdity becomes instantly manifest. And to return to the initial question again, to ask the question "when is the initiation of physical force justified" is usually asked from a vantage into which a host of assumptions about who has earned what without a question of force entering into that consideration but which is then simply naturally neutrally "there" "available" to be stolen from by the initiation only then and there of the force of the taxman or the idle or the mob, hence the answer is usually available in the asking of the question, and the answer is usually one that will ultimately conduce to the interest of incumbency.

By way of conclusion, let me broaden the terms of the discussion a bit more: It is a commonplace in both everyday and philosophical parlance to declare persuasion, the space of discourse, the outside of violence, but since arguments so easily do or threaten violences the truth of that insight is tricky to say the least. As a teacher of rhetoric, I happen to think an attention to the traffic between literality and figurality, between the truths that arise from following but also from breaking the rules of language, provides a beginning of an answer to these quandaries. That is a very long discussion. Let me recommend a few of my prior posts to provide a sense of the way that discussion would go:
1. Left and Right, Back to Basics
2. Eight Propositions on Taxes
3. Nonviolent Revolution As the Democratization of the State
4. Arendt, Fanon, King on Violence
5. Rhetoric and Nonviolence
6. The "Mixed Economy" Isn't A Mix, It Is "Ideal" Capitalism and Socialism That Are Mixed Up