Archive for August, 2010

The Bikecast Episode #34: Wikileaks revisited; Who Has Blood on Their Hands?

One of my first podcasts was to do with Wikileaks which had, at the time, just released gun camera footage capturing the murder by an apache helicopter of a handful of people standing on a street corner.

More recently, Wikileaks hosted 92,000 confidential communications indicating that, indeed, the ongoing brutalization of Afghanistan is the nightmare that sane people have been saying it is for almost 10 years. In both cases, the reactions of the various state organs are telling.

Update below

Download this episode of the bikecast

Wikileaks and its creator, Julian Assange[1], have been called “infoterrorists.” There have been calls to shut down the physical wikileaks site[2]. Most ludicrous is the claim, made by some dipshit admiral at first, but thereafter picking up meme-steam, that Julian and Wikileaks have “blood on their hands.” If anyone at all in this world has any amount of blood on their hands, then the government of the united states is at the bottom of a mariana trench of blood.

Nobody on this planet is threatening more lives than the government of the united states and nothing is guilty of more destruction, murder, imprisonment, torture, and human misery than the last half-century of US foreign policy[3].

If one’s concern is for human safety and harm minimization, even considering condemnation of wikileaks should be nearly the last item on one’s todo list. Clear -eyed journalists are engaged in detailing the heinous crimes committed against the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, among other places. Meanwhile the mass media, and their toadie bloggers, are opining, or conveying the message that the organization that is bringing these crimes to light is, in fact, the problem component of the story.

In general, this hyper-hypocritical name calling is likely to increase as the situation(s) abroad and at home deteriorate. At the head of the name callers will always be the most-guilty-by-orders-of-magnitude party–the government of the united states. It will be pointing at the nearest innocent bystanders, making accusations, dispensing punishment, and begging the public to allow them greater power to punish increasing numbers of people.

If the past is any indication, the public[4] will oblige. It is, though, another instance in which moral clarity lies very close to the surface and is most easily accessible. It is important to be able to identify these blatant hypocrisies and to call them by their right name. Hopefully, someday, a critical mass of the population will be persuaded and the madness can end.

Update: A concrete example of the hypocrisy I talk about in the podcast: Mike Mullen accuses wikileaks of having “blood on its hands.” He presided, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (not as hip a group as the name implies) over the bombing of a wedding party, the bombing of a funeral, the murder of the entire family of an Afghan artillery officer, the killing of the the family of a spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture, and who knows how many others whose social rank didn’t rise to the level mandated by the American media establishment. So a special “Fuck Off” to Mike Mullen, war criminal and hypocrite.

  1. [1] Sorry for any mispronunciation, Julian!
  2. [2] In the bikecast, I noted the danger to Iceland of a possible US invasion. It turns out Wikileaks is hosted in Sweden, so Iceland, you’re off the hook.
  3. [3] A good argument can be made that the US state has been at the pinnacle of human suffering for even longer, a claim that central americans, native north-americans, enslaved africans and residents of the south pacific would probably support
  4. [4] or, at least a sufficient proportion to provide the shrift of “mandate.”

The Bikecast Episode #33: Ivan Illich, Sustainability, and the War on Subsistence

Any realistic analysis of our economic, environmental, financial or resource situation[1] must conclude that our current social trajectory cannot be sustained. Our way of life in the united states is premised on uninterrupted economic growth, increased resource consumption, ever increasing productivity, non-stop population growth, and other parallel preconditions that are obviously physically impossible. What cannot continue, will not continue and thus this system must be altered one way or another–yet there is no recognition of this in public policy (nor should we expect there to be). The continuance of the wealth and privilege of the ruling class requires a continuance of the socio-economic system as it is today, and thus we can expect the system to right itself only after it’s been driven off a cliff.

Download this episode of the bikecast.

Our unsustainable track makes simpler modes of living more difficult, what Ivan Illich terms a “war on subsistence.” City design is premised on automobile ownership. This, despite the strong possibility that the petroleum economy is unsustainable. With centers of residence, recreation, and commerce miles away from one another, individuals must withdraw resources from food, medical care and recreation–things that make life comfortable–and allocate them to an automobile (and insurance, and gas, and licensing and registration fees, etc.). Thus is a simpler, car free life rendered impossible even as it seems somewhat likely that a car-having existence will, in the future, be impossible.

Ivan Illich proposes the case of “official” language as another attack on subsistence. In 1492, while Columbus is sailing west, a scholar named Elio Antonio de Nebrija is proposing to compile the “queen’s tongue,” her language, into a book of grammer and a dictionary.

Prior to this time, on the Iberian peninsula, countless languages and dialects are spoken. Business can be conducted any time and place where two people can make themselves understood to one another. There was, for most people, no need to learn a language other than those one grew up speaking.

After the empire had compiled and desiminated an official language, however, this changed. Now, in order to conduct business with the state, one must leave the vernacular, native dialects behind and study the official dialect. To become proficient, it was likely necessary to hire a tutor or attend a center of learning. Over time this radiated from the bureaucracy to businesses close to the state and then to businesses removed from the state.

As this process continued, relying on the communication that one “learned for free” disallowed access to many avenues of social life. Comfortably subsisting became that much more difficult as resources had to be stripped away from other uses and put into teaching the state language to one’s children. Without making this sacrifice, one’s family was relegated to the fringes of business and society.

Kevin Carson had a great article a couple months back in which he references Ivan Illich’s notion of a war on subsistence. He’s talking about medicine, but the pattern is the same.

By protecting the patents on easily replicated technology, easily replicated chemical combinations and processes, and monopoly privileges for license holding medical doctors[2], the state has made rudimentary, routine medical services astronomically more expensive. This makes medical care a huge burden that requires massive sacrifice or a job with medical benefits (or both). A commodity that should be within everyone’s price range in a society as affluent as ours is, instead, outside anyone’s ability to pay without assistance from the state insurance racket.

Additionally, medical tasks that could be performed by a trained technician are scoped for licensed, college educated medical professionals. This places a whole set of career tracks further from attainability for a large swath of capable people.

In medicine, transportation, and a whole host of other aspects of society, the ruling class has engineered systems that serve the wealthy very well, the well-off adequately, and the poor not at all. Going forward, as the unsustainable nature of the systems become manifest, an increasingly number of people will become increasingly incumbered by the systemic requirements of subsistence.

In summary, not only are the managers of the state not moving us toward sustainability, they are in fact making sustainability less possible and more painful and fraught with peril.

  1. [1] Understanding that these overlap in complex and significant ways
  2. [2] If you have programmed responses about the cost of R & D or the danger of deregulating medical scopes of practice, I highly recommend (again) the Kevin Carson article.

The Bikecast Episode #32: The Common Denominator Betwixt God and State

Underpinning all arguments for both theism and statism is fear. Most people spend their lives, consciously or unconsciously, afraid of their fellow humans. At the end of the intellectual exercise of dispelling the illusion of deities and of a just and noble state, many people retreat to the unsubstantiated position that a free and clear-eyed humanity is simply too dangerous to be contemplated.

Non-believers tire of the absurd idea that, without the fear of a judgemental god and his/her/their divine and eternal retribution for earthly “sins,” people would kill, rape, and steal with reckless abandon. Similarly, anarchists constantly encounter concerns about how humanity would be “controlled” if it weren’t for the police and prison system forcing people not to fall on each other in endless bloody conflict.

Download this episode of the bikecast

A couple friends and I were discussing statelessness. One admitted that the argument that came to his mind to dispute the possibility of an anarchist society is the same argument that he hates to get when talking about the “danger” of widespread atheism. The argument is that people cannot be trusted unless they are constrained by the state (with the atheist corollary: unless constrained by a belief in god).

The pattern that he noticed is striking and matches what we’ve encountered in a couple of bikecasts thus far. Arguments based on instilling fear are rarely supported by evidence. More specifically, arguments based on fear of humans rely on the fear of some bloodthirsty other that will materialize when a particular criteria is met (lowering “our” national defense [sic], disbelief in god, abolition of slavery, abolition of the state, etc.)

As I’ve noted a number of times, atheism is “running ahead” of anarchism in acceptance by increasingly sane, disillusioned people. Most competent adults[1] understand that god isn’t stopping criminal behavior–not even professed belief in god seems to deter criminal behavior.

In a parallel way, the understanding is slowly growing that the state doesn’t curb crime and in a number of ways, state institutions increase the amount and severity of crime (besides criminalizing victimless activities, making criminals of peaceful people).

If the state security apparatus were all that stood between robbers and possessions, we would quickly be stripped bare. Luckily, most people don’t want to steal or harm people, with or without the existence of god and state.

It makes sense, in fact, that a society premised on the use of force to determine right and wrong would be more prone to acts of violence. It’s also reasonable that in a world in which god’s will trumps human morality, one person could be convinced that god is compelling them to harm or rob another. When the use of violence can be “good” under certain conditions, it opens the door to individual judgements about what violence is appropriate and what remains off limits.

As we’ve talked about before, human beings are naturally disinclined to violence. It requires the will of a god or a state to push most people into immoral courses of action (they often helped early on by brutalizing parents that kill the natural empathy of the child).

Speaking of children, another common feature of theism, statism, and fear of others is that they need to be introduced early in life. Bible stories (or Koran stories, or whatever) don’t make any sense–they’re obviously artifacts of primitive, albeit inventive, cultures filled with great hallucinogens and scribes with plenty of time on their hands.

The great national stories of the world are equally obviously fictitious and collapse under a moments scrutiny. For this reason, both kinds of stories must be introduced and repeated endlessly during the victims’ childhood.

As the child ages into adulthood and begins to question (for those that retain the capacity to question), the stories become more nuanced and less defined where challenged. Should a hypothetical adult, fully formed, be told of either Adam and Eve or of a slave-holding nation “of the people,” he/she would understand it to be pure fiction.

In the end, it’s the fear that keeps the whole bloody hierarchy in place . . . and the police and armies, of course[2]. So strong is the fear of one’s fellow humans and so strong is the lifetime of indoctrination and so ubiquitous is the suspicion and distrust among us that we cling to illusion and violence rather than face the challenge of a humanity free from illusion, coercion and authority.

In the bikecast, I make reference to claims that atheists are no less “moral” than theists:
The Secular Web
has the most comprehensive index of related research and thought that I’ve ever encountered.
The Atheist “about” pages are pretty strong too.

  1. [1] I show my euro-centrist racism on the bikecast by attaching the leading edge of disillusionment to “educated westerners”. It turns out that Japan is the most thoroughly atheist country by many metrics. My bad.
  2. [2] We can see that religion still maintains it’s deathgrip even when it’s not officially allowed to kill disbelievers anymore.

The Bikecast Episode #31: Returning Moral Agency to Soldiers

As difficult and uncomfortable as it is, I believe it important to oppose the idea that the profession of soldiering is something noble and to be honored. Stripped of the narrative of nationality and the misdirection of just war theory, people who accept money for the job of killing strangers without question are, by definition, assassins, hit men (and hit women), and/or mercenaries.
Update below

Download this episode of the bikecast

When a person faces the moral decision whether to kill without question in exchange for money, it is reckless and immoral to tilt the scales with promises of honor, glory, triumphal parades, and absolution of any actions taken while pursuing and killing his/her targets.

Such a decision should be made solemnly, with the full understanding of the task at hand and with absolute moral clarity. This is rendered impossible in our war crazed nation-state. In our society, every media depiction of soldiering, every holiday, and every public event has as a component gratitude to the military, appreciation for the soliders, remembering the fallen, honoring the veterans and other forms of soldier worship.

The first thing we learn about soldiers is that they keep us free, keep us safe, and preserve our liberty.  Even when we disagree with a military decision, we can only do so because they have sacrificed their lives to protect our right to speak.  We hear this message endlessly.  It is a foundational societal meme.

As a result, men and women who otherwise would not enlist are enticed to. We have, as a society, essentially removed the moral agency from the would-be solider by disguising the moral character of the decision he/she is making.

I doubt I can emphasize this enough to quell the most deeply ingrained knee-jerk reactions, but the withholding of misplaced and misleading gratitude is not an attack on an individual. It is unproductive and unjust to categorically condemn soldiers for the choices they made under false pretenses. It is essential, however, to remove the false pretenses so that the individual soldier can properly evaluate his/her decision under conditions of moral clarity.

The most difficult aspect of this problem stems from the magnitude of U.S. war crimes. They are incomprehensibly monstrous, murderous, and destructive. The degree and intensity of the propaganda that is required to cloak these crimes is equally massive. There’s nothing I can think of more sacred to most americans than the current and/or historical american military and nothing more universally believed in than the just and necessary nature of current and/or historical wars.

This is an essential element of national cohesion, and thus, an essential target for those interested in ending the global empire and advancing the cause of human freedom. Ultimately, we do not want future generations of friends and family to take the job of mercenary because they misunderstood it as being something noble and honorable.

Update: Robert Jensen published an article at Common Dreams that takes on this same topic. He leaves room for honorable service in “just wars”, which I reject, but all respect for a public figure taking on such a sensitive and emotionally challenging topic.

The Bikecast Episode #30: Watching the Watchers

Surveillance, usually associated with the state as a tool of oppression, is increasingly being used to remove the veil of legitimacy and even-handedness from brutal state crimes against individuals. Making videos and photographing state agents has had a sufficient impact that it is now being generally criminalized by some states–it’s already specifically criminalized with respect to federal buildings, government infrastructure and military offices. While little can be done to stop the state arresting people for whatever its agents choose, criminalizing the observation of interactions between the powerful and the powerless is indicative of the morally bankrupt nature of state institutions (as though further indications were necessary).

Download this episode of the bikecast

People typically avoid “criminal” behavior when they’re being observed[1]. This instinctual truth first came into my conscious mind around the time of the criminal assault on Rodney King and the secession of Chiapas. The Rodney King beating gave us a video representation of what existed behind newspaper articles about alleged police abuse. Chiapas demonstrated the power that observers (in this case the international press) lend to the oppressed and threatened[2].

The proliferation of recording devices and of outlets for the distribution of photography and video drives the potential for greater protection from arbitrary state violence. This seems to have come to a head in the last several years. There is now a steady stream of media covering police abuses (and occasionally, the abuses of the military).

As a result, the state is “cracking down” on photography, attempting to graft protection and anonymity for their thugs onto national security [sic] legislation. This trend and the resulting activism against and challenges to it are heavily documented (see the references below).

I’m unusually optimistic about the possibility of ever increasing surveillance of the state. Despite the draconian measures it seems they are willing to take, I can’t see how they can keep ahead of the trend towards smaller, more covert, and more widely available cameras. They already lack the ability to stop the viral spread of video and photography of police crimes on social networks and media sharing sites. It feels (to me) like something’s got to give and I don’t think the state can bring enough violence to bear to stop the spread of filming–especially not while they’re being watched.

Nevertheless, officials will take steps in this direction until it becomes absolutely politically untenable–and that means alot of pain and suffering (and jail time) for the innocent while a suitably politically active majority slowly assembles to humbly request reform of the law[3].

Photography is Not a Crime:
Copblock (apologies for getting the website wrong on the podcast):
Blue Must be True:
The Agitator:

In the bikecast I mention that it’s strange that, with all the surveillance that the state has, somehow they rarely catch themselves when they commit criminal acts. The cameras always seem to be off or the tapes accidentally erased. The agitator examines this.

  1. [1] Yes, I realize there are people who intentionally tape the commission of crimes.
  2. [2] I also make mention in the bikecast of the narrative that U.S. news media helped end the Vietnam “conflict” by providing nightly visual representations of events there.
  3. [3] What a patently absurd way for a society to organize.

The Bikecast Episode #29: When the Left outflanks the Right (on the Right)

In the national political narrative, the right wing of the ruling class is the more nationalistic, patriotic,hawkish wing. In reality, if the right wing (or any member thereof) abandons its pro-empire, pro-war, pro-hegemony stance, even for a second, the left will sweep in and fill that position. This serves as yet another indication that the authoritarian left offers no respite from the most brutal aspects and policies of the warfare state. They may even be more dangerous in many regards–they are especially rabid when they get the chance to be so.

Download this episode of the Bikecast

To begin with, I have to retract some of the claims I made in the bikecast. When I recorded this, upwards of a month ago, I didn’t see much mainstream agreement with Michael Steele’s unintentionally spot-on statements on Afghanistan.

Since then, a couple of left’ish bloggers agreed, at least to some degree, with his sentiment. Additionally, there is an “Out of Afghanistan” caucus that also endorsed his “gaffe” .

The crux of the bikecast remains relevant, however. That is that the political left relishes any chance it has to display its pro-american, pro-war side, especially when the display has the secondary effect of shaming an element of the political right who leaves their imperial flank exposed.

The secondary crux also still holds. Leftist authoritarians are compelled, politically, to outflank the right when possible in order to maintain social relevance and power.

The state is a murderous monstrosity that is failing, by every metric, to achieve the goals it claims as its reason for being. Moving forward, those whose remain faithful to the narrative of the nation-state as a social good (or social necessity) will require increasingly muted empathy for humanity. Already this borders on (or crosses into) sociopathy, and this anti-human trait will necessarily become more pronounced as time passes.

Those that remain true to the core values of the left[1]: equality, peace, justice, and the well-being of the human family, will eventually recognize the mismatch between their values and the actions of government. When that occurs, they will see a world of targets: violence to be spotlighted, injustice to be called out, evils of all sorts to be called by their proper name.

These targets are what they currently, perhaps unwittingly, defend and perpetuate–or at best dismiss and ignore.

Continuously pointing out the terrible violence, racism, misogyny and all around anti-human nature of the state will, in the short run, make popular relevance impossible. It enables, however, the much worthier goal of being practically important, practically essential.

Because the state has failed–criminally so–its stated objectives and is radically unsustainable to boot, it must be replaced. Rather than attempting to outflank the right when it lets the truth pass through its lips, the more powerful, liberating, and generally helpful move would be to embrace the truth and expand on it.

The accolades of the future belong to those who recognize the brutality and inhumanity of the current system of social organization and who deign to turn their backs on the cheering throngs and explore, illuminate and embrace alternative means of social organization.

In the bikecast, I refer to this lefty twitterer who took some heat for expressing a sentiment that I feel strongly–all forms of herd-based nationalism give me a sour stomach.

  1. [1] Entirely unofficial, apologies for my arrogance