Archive for September, 2011

Keeping the Lights on

I was listening to the Rachel Maddow podcast. I like listening to her because I want what little political news I consume to be delivered with some snark and from the left.

It’s also a good reminder that there are no political solutions. I have a real-time filter for mainstream lefty discourse that keeps that point in the foreground. Tonight, it occurred to me to share it with you.

The political right has no illusion about government. They want foreigners, non-christians and other Others put in prison. They want to cage the hooligans and bomb the foreigners. They are on board with government’s mission. Tragically, this ends when their drooling toadying selves are inconvenient or unprofitable and they find themselves on the the business end of the police state they voted to errect.

The political left, though, has this bizarre fairly-tale that the government is like your dear old grandad, keeping the lights on for you when you’re out late, changing your oil, cooking you up an extra couple strips of bacon for breakfast.

So you’ve got to translate this stuff into reality-speak to understand what is being said. Here’s an example from the latest (as of Sept. 27. 2011) Rachel Maddow podcast where the topic is the latest instance of potential “government shutdown”:

The current government shutdown fight is over a continuing
resolution which is just a funding bill to keep the lights on, to keep the
government running. . . . under John Boehner, it looks
like they may just not be technically capable of doing the basic things
that need to be done to keep the lights on even when they want to.
They can`t keep the lights on. Almost literally. They do not seem
capable of doing just the basic things that need to be done to keep
government going and the electricity bill paid.

We all understand that “keeping the electricity bill paid” is a metaphor of course. But a metaphor for what? What is the primary “bill” that dear old grandad has to pay?

It’s the cost of running prisons, firing rockets from drones into crowds of people, and torturing peasants. But when you drop the metaphor, suddenly it becomes clear that the government should be fucking well be shut down:

The current government shutdown fight is over a continuing
resolution which is just a funding bill to keep dropping bombs. It looks
like they may just not be technically capable of doing the basic things
that need to be done to keep the killing foreigners when they want to.
They can`t keep imprisoning poor people. They do not seem
capable of doing just the basic things that need to be done to keep
government going and the war machine running.

Far less of a tragedy, when you put it that way.

But, dear reader, there’s another level of illumination here. That is this: if the government did shut down–which I don’t imagine it will, at least not on some media determined schedule–much of the forecast hardships would come to pass. Social security checks might not go out, national parks would close, the passport office would get backed up, Medicare reimbursements and federal disaster relief would stall. Federal aid to schools would cease, and all manner of licenses, permits, waivers and variances would be impossible to get . . .

But guess what, not one single goddamn bomb would go undropped. Not one less border patrol unit would be deployed. Not one prisoner would be set free. Not one IRS agent would be let go. Security theater would probably double. Foreign dictators would still receive armaments and their secret police, the latest torture training. Every aspect of enforcement and revenue collection would proceed unchecked, in many cases, in spite of the fact that bureaucracy required to comply with “the law” will be shut down.

The 90% of state activity that falls into the category of universally acknowledged disgusting, atrocious shit will stay right on track. The small fraction that provides some benefit to human beings in need of . . . benefits, will evaporate.

And that’s the point that any remaining true believers really need to focus on: each and every politician and each and every member of their staffs (staves?) and all the millions of people in all the agencies will agree to, or at least go along with, the cutting off of resources to people in need; rather than restrict, even a little bit, the waterfall of money going to defense contractors, bankers, financiers, foreign puppet states, the prison-industrial complex, and the countless other concentrations of capital that patronize the ruling class.

So anytime you’re listening media talk about “the basic things that keep government going,” “keeping the lights on,” “paying the bills,” or whatever the euphemism, translate it into the immutable and never ceasing functions of government: caging humans, killing foreigners, and handing over buckets of cash to the already filthy rich. Remember that these are not on the chopping block like social security, medicare, and the bureaucracies that provide the means for the non-ruling class to function without the threat of incarceration inevitably are.

It’s Not a Fact Just Because You Want It To Be

Frequently discussion/arguments between theist and atheists begin with the theist counting off all the things that science doesn’t have a explanation for (What came before the big bang? What causes gravity? How did life begin?). After much circling and probably a fair amount of misdirection, one of two outcomes are reached, a) the theist concludes by saying that both he and the atheist have equally indefensible positions or b) he will simply demand the acceptance of his belief system regardless of its absurdity. God does exist because he has to exist–it’s so obvious only a crazy person could argue against it.
Arguing with a statist, someone who believes that violence is the only possible answer to all manner of social conflict, has much the same feel. The opening position is a list of all the problems that they can’t imagine being solved without a violent hierarchy (road construction, education of children, national defense, more road construction) and the conclusion is either a) “generously” that the arguments are symmetrical and that nobody can be demonstrably correct or b) the statist shouldn’t even have to make the case for government, because it’s so obviously good and necessary!

A case in point, That we need government is just fact, by Amanda Marcotte [1].

It [an article praising the state for not stealing and reselling all of North America to developers] also caused me to want to ball up on the floor and cry. Not because it’s bad; it’s great. But because it had to be written in the first place. That’s how stupid our political discourse has gotten, that people are actually defending the existence of the government. It’s like having a debate about whether or not water is good for you.

It would be like arguing whether or not water is good for you if water had bombed, shot, tortured and imprisoned some millions of people in the last year–and every year since the beginning of time. Generally water doesn’t do that. It’s really only dangerous in huge quantities–especially when driven by wind.

Amanda continues:

In a sense, I feel like defending the existence of government is wasting your breath. If people who are just generally “against” government can’t see how their day to day life is affected by—usually for the better—the existence of government, I don’t know that rational arguments pointing it out are going to make much difference. They clearly live in a fantasy world. Rationality has no influence on them.

Of course, the principled anarchist makes the same argument in return. These may be seen as symmetrical positions, much as the theist’s and atheist’s above. In a context free from reason and evidence, and with a healthy dose of cultural indoctrination, one may be able to squint and say, “yep, there’s no way to decide whether or not God exists.” Of course, if you just fucking look around, maybe read a book or two, and think about it for a bit, it’s pretty evident that there’s no supernatural power that exists outside of material reality and is intervening in earthly events.

It’s equally evident that government is a construct dedicated to the preservation of existing power and privilege, that it is the last remaining “acceptable” perpetrator of violence, and that it always and everywhere grows, heaping increasing misery on the poor until it collapses in ruin; leaving the powerful and privileged to start a new government. Sure, this is a simplified description of a very complex process. The theory of evolution is a simplification of a complex process. You can pick nits around the boundaries of either, but if you don’t accept the reality of the processes described, you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Next comes a challenge from Amanda to the reader:

Seriously, just grab a notebook and put in a hashmark for every time you do something that you couldn’t do if it weren’t for government regulation, funding, and organizing. You’ll find you fill a page up before lunch with hashmarks. I’ve been up for an hour now, and I’ve made coffee(1,2,3), eaten breakfast (4,5), had a glass of water (6), used the toilet (7,8) . . . [the numbers relate to a list included below]

That’s nothing. If you’re one of the 2.5+ million prisoners in the country, you’ll have that notebook filled up by 9am. Oh, except you might not have anything to write with–hey, that’s a hashmark too: seizure of contraband! Let’s say you just counted off in your head. Government provides your wake up call. Government opens the door for you. Government provided you with the door, the bed, the floor. Government arranged for your roommate. Government day planning–what a full calendar! Amanda’s premise is that none of these things would happen, or not nearly as well, if the government didn’t exist. Her evidence is that it just wouldn’t and only a moron can’t understand that.

We all understand, though, that even without a government provided loudspeaker outside you cell, somebody has managed to provide you a means of getting up in the morning; even without a government provided yard to walk around in circles, somebody has figured out a way (probably lots of ways) to help you get your exercise and social interaction. The fact that the government has a monopoly on these services in prison doesn’t mean that a free human being is deprived of them.

The same is true for the items on Amanda’s list. Even without marines enforcing U.S. corporation’s claims on vast swaths of S. America and even without death squads preventing peasant labor from leaving, somebody would grow and sell coffee beans to American consumers. Even without eminent domain being used to throw people from their homes so giant asphalt monstrosities can be built and the surrounding land sold off to politically connected developers, somebody would provide means (again, probably lots of them) for moving goods and people between places.

The same goes for all the items on her list (1-8 corresponding to the above quotation, see her article if you care for more).

1. Clean water.
2. International trade agreements getting the coffee to the U.S.
3. Roads to ship it to the store.
4. Clean water.
5. Roads!
6. Water!
7. Seriously, water.
8. Regulations governing size and other aspects of the toilet.

The idea that toilets wouldn’t exist except that someone will fine you for toilets of the wrong size is kind of weird. The idea that a trade agreement (i.e., not arresting people and stealing their good for crossing a border) is somehow fostering trade as opposed to simply ceasing to stop it is also pretty inexplicable.

The roads are another issue that I’ve touched on here and way back here. But the drum beat for infrastructure from the left has become pretty monotonous lately–I guess due to the “Rebuilding ‘merica” bill. Ivan Illich and I might have to drop another post or two about it.

Anyhoo, to sum up, the existence of god and the need for government are not “just facts” because somebody really, really, REALLY believes they are and wants them to be. God and government are both frauds intended to bully the weak and indoctrinated for the benefit of folks who a) would rather get paid for pretending to solve problems with imaginary solutions than exchange value for value in the real world (or would rather receive huge amounts of money from those people in exchange for patronage) and b) don’t give a shit about shafting other human beings (I’d put this group around 80%), or are honestly so broken that they really think the fantasy to be real (probably mostly on the religious side, but that’s just a guess).

  1. [1] I know Amanda in real life and she is a fantastic human being. I end up responding to a fair amount of what she posts because I try to read everything she writes. I agree with her 100% on all things patriarchal, on everything to do with women’s health, republicans, justice, sex, god(s), the police state, and most things food, drink, music and culture related. Her political writing is instructive because she fully inhabits and owns the role of the unflinching political apologist. She expresses the viewpoint of the very last folks (on the left anyway) trying to keep belief in “the system” alive. I think that position is quietly clung to by a large number of smart and well meaning people. It’s also a fairly flimsy position, and it’sthe last refuge before giving up on violence and allowing oneself to imagine and participate in alternatives. This is why I respond to it, directly or indirectly, somewhat frequently. That said, I can’t recommend her website enough. Skip the political articles if you need to, the rest is gold.

What About the Quick Win?

This is the sort of news item that doesn’t get much play in the prog-o-sphere: Report: U.S. spending billions of dollars to subsidize junk food.

The story is about subsidies for the “corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils” industries. As most people are aware, these unholy products are roundly blamed for whole categories of health problems in the United States. Industrial monoculture corn farming, which is also a response to the product subsidies as well as direct subsidization, depletes the soil and requires massive inputs of pesticides and fertilizer[1].

Playing inside the political box, i.e. imagining for the moment that some astute use of violence can improve society at large, something like health care reform is tricky. Providing health care resources is expensive, and prioritizing the individual medical needs for hundreds of millions of people among all the varied professional medical opinions inevitably leads to widespread dissatisfaction.

All of the proposed legislative “solutions” around preserving and improving health are complicated webs of winners and losers. Each proposal is further complicated by the extraordinary costs of implementation. Nothing is simple, and everything has a downside.

By contrast, there is no inside-the-box downside to eliminating the subsidies of unhealthy corn biproducts. The immediate effect would be to raise the prices of unhealthy food while freeing up 16 billion dollars of scarce federal funding.

Jumping out of the box, it’s immediately clear why this most obvious benefit to the economy and the health of American citizens will never take place. It would remove 16 billion dollars from mega-corporations like Archer Daniels Midland and drive down profitability of Coke, PepsiCo Frito Lay and other manufacturers who rely on cheap, unhealthy sugar substitutes for their products.

And so, something as obvious as eliminating this terrible subsidy will never happen. Similar patterns abound, most notably around energy. The common wisdom is that our petroleum based economy is doomed for a number of reasons, yet subsidies to oil companies are never mentioned in “serious” political circles. 41 billion dollars a year
goes to an industry already dripping with monopoly profits.

As I noted a few weeks back:

voters have zero influence or control over the course of events via their engagement with the political system. They are either aligned with the preexisting desires of capital, in which case, they will see “their side” winning; or they are opposed, and will see their policy desires warped and twisted if not ignored outright.

The same is true for political activists and pundits. To be seen as effective or prescient they must advocate for increases in government power and spending, not decreases. Thus, junk food can be more heavily regulated or maybe even taxed, but the subsidies that are the foundation of the problem will not be threatened. Energy taxes or carbon “markets” can be proposed, or subsidies to “green” energy put in place, but the 41 billion in oil and gas subsidies go unquestioned.

A really good metaphor came from a commenter on the post cited above:

I remember going to the arcade as a boy and, lacking the funds to play, I’d work the controls as the computer ran through its scenes, imagining I was in control. If you push up, every once in a while the character goes up and you’ve confirmed that you’re at least having some effect, so you have a reason to keep playing.

As a bored youngster, I used to do this very thing at the neighborhood Pizza Hut Pacman table. The key to feeling like you’re in control is to adjust your actions to match the pre-determined outcome. This is the MO of the political class and their mouthpieces and adherents.

The evidence of their impotence lies in the countless social improvements that could be made by decreasing the flow of money to malignant corporations. Nothing that reduces the pillaging of the working class and the economic and environmental ecosystems for the benefit of concentrated capital can be advocated; such actions are political impossibilities; the abject failure that would result from their pursuit would lay bare the lie of “American democracy.”

  1. [1] For more on the evils of subsidized corn, check out anything by Michael Pollan on the subject. The documentary King Corn is also an entertaining and illuminating reference.

On the Murder of Troy Davis

As you’ve probably heard, the institution of government claimed its umpteen-millionth-and-first victim on September 21, 2011. Thugs in Georgia took Troy Davis from the cage where they’d kept him for twenty years, strapped him to a chair and injected a lethal dose of animal tranquilizer into his blood. This, despite the fact that 7 of the 9 witnesses to the case, in which there was no material evidence at all, later recanted–one of the two that didn’t was also a suspect in the crime.

Though very tragic, this is hardly surprising “justice” in a system that is built on violence and with no mechanism for accountability.

The entire notion of human equality is a reaction to historical conditions under which one small group of people could torture, imprison, kill and expropriate anybody they wanted for any reason they wanted[1]. The reverse, of course, was not true; hence the inequality.

The myth is that by modifying the historical conditions–by replacing kings, dukes, and knights with presidents, senators, and police–the state of human inequality was magically rectified. Under casual scrutiny, this illusion vanishes. Luckily for the rulers, casual scrutiny is spared them by the sycophants who cling to one of two aspects of the ruling class; trumpeting their so-called accomplishments, and desperately trying to draw attention away from the piles of corpses and the rows of caged humans all around us.

The truth is, despite the braying of political hacks, no mandate for the brutal actions of government exist. In the case of Troy Davis and other death row murder victims as well as in the case of murder victims abroad–far more numerous and even less reported on–a large and growing number of people are refusing to support murder.

As noted above, this doesn’t mean that the killers will be brought to justice, at least not anytime soon. We live in a world, still, of unaccountable rulers. Nevertheless, the absurdity of the claim that we are being protected and/or served by the ruling class is becoming increasingly obvious.

It’s too late for Troy Davis and the countless victims of state violence whose number increases each day, and it is the nature of the ruling class to be armed against all combination of direct antagonists. The one thing it can’t survive is a loss of legitimacy. As a french fellow once wrote, near 500 years back:

Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.
Étienne de La Boétie[2]

The colossal error of institutionalized inequality cannot be stormed or blown to pieces, nor can it be voted away in a system premised on inequality. We are each required only to remove our support. The shouting carnival barkers tell us that the system is working, that it is necessary, that–if they’re feeling generous–the Troy Davises are victims of tiny misinterpreted subclauses of law that legal experts can modify if only, if only we all continue to support the system.

This is a lie. It is the Big Lie. The only way to end the violence is to withdraw your support from the system based on violence.

  1. [1] Speaking broadly, of course, there is always the ultimate check of revolution, which usually reorders the hierarchy to a (very) small degree.
  2. [2] from The Politics of Obedience: Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, pp. 50-53

A Note to Fellow Travelers (and Myself) on 9/11

The loss of 3,000 innocent lives at the hands of other humans is always and everywhere atrocious. The last 10 years have been riddled with atrocities as religious and political leaders have sent the broken to kill the innocent in countless locations around the globe. Listening to/reading the media portrayal of 9/11 leading up to the 10th anniversary has been maddening. Accepting the media perspective as representative of the people of the United States might lead one to conclude that the tragedies of the last 10 years are the fault of ignorant, small minded “sheeple” who have lent their support to a terrifying global empire.

This is not the case. The majority of Americans do not support U.S. foreign policy in Iraq or Afghanistan. The majority do not believe that further occupation of those countries is useful. The majority do not believe that domestic security should outweigh civil liberties.

The majority of Americans either believe that (43%) or don’t know if (13%) U.S wrongdoing might have motivated the attacks of 9/11. That in spite of the fact that:

the notion that American “wrongdoing” is a cause of anti-U.S. Terrorism is one of the most rigidly enforced taboos. Nothing provokes allegations of “unpatrotism” or “anti-Americanism” — or intellectually dishonest claims that one is “justifying” Terrorism — more than pointing out this obvious causation. Despite that, and despite the natural jingoistic bias of believing that one’s own country does not engage in truly bad acts (certainly not sufficiently bad to provoke Terrorism), a very sizable portion of the citizenry has come to that conclusion on its own.
Glenn Greenwald

The political hacks often talk about how their candidate/party has only limited control over a given political outcome. I have to remember, during propaganda saturated moments such as these that the citizens have nothing to do with a given political outcome. The majority dislike the same sickening results that we apolitical folks oppose, but their opinions don’t count any more than ours do.

What has been and will be broadcast from the Federal Communication Commission’s licensed stations is pure propaganda. The saccharine melodrama will resonate, to some degree, with most of us, but the collected content reflects the beliefs (or is reflected in the beliefs) of a tiny minority of people.

The anti-state message to the wider population is to be on guard for misinformation from “the mainstream media”, that it doesn’t reflect reality. The message to the enemies of empire who may tend toward bitterness toward during the all encompassing media blitz on a week like this is that the propaganda doesn’t reflect the beliefs of the majority of our fellow subjects.

Update: Another article on how Americans believe that the Government “Overreacted, Overspent and Weakened Ourselves Through the War on Terror”

Local Thugs Enforce Transportation Monopoly

A buddy of mine recently pointed me at an interesting story. A local business, Electric Cabs of Austin, shuttles people around downtown Austin in electric carts at no charge.

“We actually got the idea from the city of Austin, who was operating golf carts in the downtown area. And we decided to take it one step further,” said Nielsen [the owner]
He bought five electric, golf-style cars and hired friends to drive them around the city. Just like the pedicabs, they ask for tips only.

They make their money from selling advertising space on the carts themselves.

This is the sort of spontaneous activity that adds to the deep reservoir of color and charm in what would otherwise be just mid-size city in Texas.

The Austin municipal government, like all governments, tries to remain relevant by jumping on various bandwagons that emerge organically from the wider community. To demonstrate its commitment to a cleaner, greener city, Austin government has installed a hundred or so electric car charging stations in anticipation of emissions free[1] transportation. You would imagine that the city council would be all in favor of an electric cab company, right?

OK, I sort of cheated on that last question, because I forgot to mention that the gas powered cab companies that currently hold all the licenses to give rides to people have paid the mayor and the city council tens of thousands of dollars towards their campaign funds.

For unrelated reasons, I’m sure, the city council has been unable to figure out a way to license Electric Cabs of Austin for . . . wait for it . . . 3 years.

My more advanced readers will already skip to the part where it’s criminal to interpose oneself between someone who wants a ride and someone who is willing to give them a ride. Nielson, the owner of the Electric Cab Company, though, is more of a business person than an agorist martyr; he’d rather just get the permission slip from the nut-jobs at city hall than rot in prison on principle. I’m sympathetic. Apparently, he’s trying to run the cab service despite the legal hangups and has wracked up 200+ tickets and arrests among his driving staff. So maybe he’s part agorist martyr.

A twist on the story, and this is also a staple of government, is that nobody is really clear on exactly what law is being violated. City Council candidate Kris Bailey, who has no chance of ever being elected because he is relatively sane (Green party, pro-marijuana legalization, etc.) tried to find out on what grounds the city police have issued 200+ tickets and made arrests of the electric cab drivers:

There is no law actually prohibiting him from operating this business, it is true but, the enforcement side of the city (the police) have taken this lack of a law regulating the business as operating in violation of a law. He [Nielson, the owner] is violating a law that does not exist. . .
I met with multiple council members and made several phone calls, wrote emails, etc…. I realized that he was right, he is being ignored, and the City of Austin does not wish this business to exist. [Here’s the whole post for people who have Bookface accounts]

Baily, as part of his City Council campaign, I presume, took one of the cabs for a spin one evening:

I gave 2 rides on Friday night. The first ride was to a couple of women who when dropped off handed me a few dollars and thanked me. I did not charge them. They voluntarily handed me the money. At this point, 3 APD [Austin Police] officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “no chauffers license.” I tried to explain the permit and license do not exist, they did not care. I asked if they had read the ordinances I was supposedly violating, I asked multiple times and the officers refused to quote the law I was breaking. They told me if they saw me operating again, they would arrest me.

I decided that the Austin Police Department does not have the right, nor the authority to shut down a business on a whim. I picked up another person, and gave him a ride. I dropped him off where he asked to go. The police officers saw him hand me $4 (again, I did not charge him) and immediately came to me and put me in handcuffs. I was arrested without discussion or hesitation and taken directly to jail.

Baily is very generous to the folk who caged him that night, but he’s a politician and has to go easy on “law enforcement.” Essentially, the police are hired thugs for the other cab companies in Austin. As Kevin Carson notes in a recent essay,

the true nature of regulation as a naked power grab by incumbent businesses is nowhere more apparent than at the local level. At the lower levels of government, conventional, brick-and-mortar business establishments are heavily involved in using regulatory enforcement to shut down low-cost competition.

Brick and mortar doesn’t apply directly here; I’ve also noted this trend, locally, in a piece on food trucks–another wonderful feature of Austin–and their creeping strangulation at the hands of larger contributors to political campaigns. The point stands though, where the interests driving national political policy have a 24 hour PR outfit in the mainstream media to provide a sheen of legitimacy to wars and regulations, the “naked power” serving concentrations of capital is far easier to see on the local level.

A last note along these lines. The United States is experiencing unemployment around 22%.
Nothing outside of murder or theft should be illegal for a small business owner. The idea that people are being fined, jailed, and otherwise disallowed a living for giving somebody a ride, cooking somebody a meal, cutting hair, painting nails, or selling something some sunday school teacher doesn’t approve of is atrocious; over 20+% unemployment, it’s ridiculous.

OK, two last notes along these lines: this is not some crazy aberration. Protecting established wealth against emerging ingenuity (usually among the poor) is the very and sole purpose of government; read Kevin Carson, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Gabriel Kolko–I know I repeat myself, but seriously, read that shit. It’s time to trust in our fellow humans and allow them to arrange their lives according to their own choosing and not some lunatic who’s trying to micro-manage the lives of hundreds of thousands of strangers.

  1. [1] At least in the city itself, the poor bastards by the power plant still get the emissions

Limiting the Scope of Violence: Complex Production and “The Roads” in a Consensual Society

I don’t often delve into the more technical details of a what a stateless legal structure would look like because I figure it’s a bridge we can burn when we come to it. Several other niggling details need to be worked out first, like obtaining a critical mass of people who see something wrong with firebombing peasant villages, using torture in the pursuit of justice, caging poor people for smoking vegetation, etc.

I do have some thoughts in the area of material progress, though, and how to “grow” a sustainable social order/infrastructure that can support the billions of folks alive today and the billions that are on their way. I’ll introduce my thoughts by responding to an “classic” anarcho-debate between the the anarcho-capitalists (hereafter referred to as the right) and anarcho-everybody-else (the left).

In a well structured essay, Anarcho-Syndicalism: A Recipe for Ruin,
Daniel Sanchez, coming from the right, outlines this point of contention quite nicely:

According to prominent mutualist [left] Kevin Carson, mutualists “believe in private property, so long as it is based on personal occupancy and use.”[1]
For convenience and for lack of a better term, . . . workers would own all the capital goods they work with. There could therefore be no “absentee” ownership and no wage labor. A capitalist could not hand capital goods over to hired workers without thereby losing title.

To clarify, “private property” in this context is that which one can legitimately defend with the use of force. Uncontroversially, despite the statutes of nation-states, this category includes one’s self and the products of one’s labor. The difficulty comes, when we fast forward in complexity to the kinds of structures of capital that are required to meet the consumption needs of billions of people.

Daniel Sanchez holds that private property, and the legitimacy of violent defense must extend beyond the individual and what she can occupy, produce, and use to include anything for which she can contract:

Say there is an entrepreneur who would have been able to make a profit by allocating a huge inventory of capital goods to be operated by hired workers in a really long, but hugely productive production process. However, he cannot because his capital goods would have been lost to him as soon as he handed them over to anybody. That would be a huge loss to all the many consumers (the majority of whom are also workers, by the way) who would have enjoyed the later, but greater, comforts and security that the foregone highly productive process would have provided.

We must, therefore, include things owned “remotely” in the sacred circle of private property or we will be unable to meet the needs of a global population.

A shorter version of the claim might be, we must expand the scope of violence a little bit beyond self-defense, because of the societal necessity of the results obtained. Organic/peaceful human organization cannot address this problem any other way.

The Roads

A parallel discussion that leads to my also illustrates my yet-unmade point involves The Roads. For all of human history, the value of The Roads has lead to a general acceptance of the need for slave labor, seizure of property, and massive theft in order to build reliable infrastructure connecting population centers.

To mirror D. Sanchez’s argument above (though I’m not claiming he would make this argument), the inability of the builders of infrastructure to use violence to overcome the obstacles inherent in large infrastructure projects would be a huge loss to all the many people who would have enjoyed/benefited from the end result.

But while The Roads are of obvious value to concentrations of capital, it is less clear that they are of value to everyone else. A road rapidly and drastically alters market conditions allowing for more ready exploitation of rural areas by urban, of urban areas by capital cities, of local business by regional or global corporations. The creation of a road changes the relative costs of labor, material and transport, usually out from under those who are far from political power and usually with the foreknowledge of (and hence a great benefit to) the politically connected.

In the modern west, The Roads have brought urban sprawl, racial re-segregation, drastic increases in carbon emission, huge commutes, and have put a multi-thousand dollar entrance fee for employment.
The creation of roads inevitably involves the seizure of land as well from people who’d rather live where they’ve always lived, but are forced to move in the name of “progress”.

I am not anti-road. With all that connecting two (or more) populations of people entails, however, I believe it should be done in a consensual manner. How would a road be build in a free economy?

The first hurdle is a surplus of capital in a given region. A sufficient number of individuals in a community would need to have satisfied all their more pressing needs. They would have to see sufficient long-term benefit in investing in construction of a given road. Under these conditions, money could be voluntarily allocated to the task[1].

But before construction begins, everyone directly affected needs to be satisfied with the conditions of construction. The notable newcomers to this group will be those whose land is needed for the project. Each one will need to be compensated adequately to get their participation. The road’s layout will depend on who is willing to sacrifice their land and for what price. Of course, some people will be eager to have increased traffic by space they can use/sell/rent for commerce–some might even subsidize the project. Whatever the case, the process is negotiated, not mandated.

The length of time that such an undertaking necessarily requires and the public nature of the process allows everyone to adjust to the coming reality of a more densely connected region. The shock is thereby lessened and both the positive and negative effects are more equally and equitably distributed.

Aaand Back to Production

In much the same way, the structures for maintaining just ownership of resources throughout a complex production process should be negotiated, flexible, and sustainable. Including these means of production in the same category as self and products of labor–i.e. legitimizing the use of violence in their defense–is a quick way to get complex manufacturing underway; much as eminent domain is a quick way to get infrastructure development underway.

Rather than give into this cheat, and build remote ownership on the threat of force, why not build it on a series of negotiated agreements between equal participants in production? This doesn’t mean that division of labor and even unequal division of products are disallowed, it simply means that everyone is satisfied with their cost/benefit ratio with regards to the production process in the absence of violence.

How is it that a possessor of capital finds it impossible to entrust the means and materials of production to the workers hired to craft some product? If, as D Sanchez imagines, worker-run enterprises suffer with relation to those where planning and labor are separate tasks, then there are greater potential benefits for the workers who take part in a greater division of labor.

Would machinists “take over” a factory that was run efficiently and from whose profitability they directly benefit? It seems unlikely that all but a few would forgo a pay cut and increased responsibility of management given the chance. The inclusion of means of production in the category of private property serves to deny workers the ultimate sanction against a bungling, inefficient, or unjust management.

Negotiating working relationships that protect against the defection of workers, management, or the providers of capital will, of course, slow down the formation of complex production processes. Like creation of infrastructure, manufacturing processes and ownership agreements in a stateless world will require wider reaching consensus than they currently do. Increasing size and scope will depend on improving on templates for contracts and arbitration allowing longer production processes become possible and decreasingly risky.

My Point

When re-imagining the provision of societal needs currently underwritten by force, it behooves us to resist the easy, traditional solutions and imagine non-violent alternatives. Not only does this provide a stronger moral foundation for our imagined social institutions to rest on, but it also allows the creative capacity of billions of people to devise, test, and revise approaches and solutions to the problem. It allows healthy, sustainable relationships between the human participants in manufacturing to be discovered and improved on, and allows the greatest degree of human activity to remain outside the realm of coercion.

  1. [1] I imagine that riskier roads would be built by greater concentrations of capital who would see larger benefits therefrom. More obvious connections between wealthier communities might be financed, and the dividends shared by a larger range of economic actors.

On the Non-Existence of the Lesser Evil

The winds of the blogodrome are converging, as they must in the year-and-a-half before a presidential election, on the question of why anyone should bother voting at all. For the next 15 months, expect the party hacks to be shrieking nonsensically about how you must vote and for one of the two major parties (depending on the hack).

The majority of people will ignore them because 1. it’s illegal for them to vote or 2. they understand that their vote doesn’t matter.

Glenn Greenwald has noticed that presidential candidates typically end up substantially identical.

The reality is that both parties’ voters, early on in the process, like to flirt with candidates who present themselves as ideologues, but ultimately choose establishment-approved, establishment-serving functionaries . . . The two-party system and these presidential campaigns are virtually guaranteed — by design — to produce palatable faces who perpetuate the status quo, placate the citizenry, and dutifully serve the nation’s most powerful factions.

He’s in some kind of back-and-forth with a party hack who is upset that Glenn won’t admit that Obama is, at least, much better than whatever the republican alternative was/will be. For the details, I commend you to the much more erudite and pants-pissingly hilarious IOZ.

This excellent article tracks the essential continuity of policy and details a number of the personnel choices that have stripped out the moderate elements of the current regime and replaced/supplemented them with legacy right-wing advisers and staff.

The view, in spite of the evidence, that one’s party’s candidate is at least better than the opposition party’s candidate is entirely illusory. As a non-partisan (in the sense that I was first a green, then apolitical, and now anti-political), I have watched the actions of government without elation or disappointment based on my investment in the parties. The first president of my majority, Bill Clinton, stripped down social programs, starved 500,000 Iraqi children–with his secretary of state chiming in that is was worth itwantonly bombed civilian populations in the Balkans, and deregulated global capital.

These were the actions required by the system that created and promoted Bill Clinton. If Bob Dole had been president, the prerogatives would have been the same. Anything these men couldn’t do that needed doing would be done over their objection or by their successor. It’s the bias built into ego-identification with a political party that leads to the belief that Clinton was a peace loving socialist and Bob Dole would have been a financially frugal hawk.

The George W. Bush regime were a pack of especially detestable war criminals. Why though, does anyone imagine that President Al Gore would have been able to do anything differently than Bush? We see that the Bush policies are favored by existing concentrations of capital–they been continued and expanded by a democrat’s administration. How would Al Gore have denied global capital their garrisons in the Middle East; their contracts for arms, logistics, security and infrastructure; and their ability to create sink-holes for wealth that the United States government have been trying to fill for 10 years?

I posit it could well have been far worse, in fact, had Al Gore been president on 9/11. At least there were somevoices of dissent when already achitected global war and domestic surveillance was being executed. Who would have been marching in opposition to Al Gore’s “defense” of the United States? Judging by the anti-war movement under Obama, very few. And when those few were disappeared, who would track them down? Would the ACLU even have received enough funding to continue its existence?

Only Nixon could go to China, as they say. Only Nixon could start the EPA, OSHA, the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Products Safety Board. It takes Clinton and now Obama to impose “austerity measures” and dismantle the social safety net. Republicans grow government and raise taxes, Democrats start wars and build prisons.

This is a caricature of the parties, of course. There are numerous exceptions, which is ultimately the point. The actions taken by these two parties only appear different when viewed through the American Political Narrative. When viewed as though a single party with a single purpose had a monopoly of power, one four year span is indistinguishable from another.

I know I’m way past being a broken record this point: the narrative of political back and forth in this country is purposeful. It’s supposed to be impossible to argue that a democrat is more of a warmonger than a republican, or that a republican is less tough on crime than a democrat. There are always alot of ins, outs, and what-have-yous that allow wonkish weaseling to bullshit its way around the obvious contradictions in the two-party narrative.

We have been trained from early childhood to believe that the choices we make in the voting booth drive the direction of our society. We interpret events, with the assistance of everyone around us and the mainstream media, to assign substantive political differences to individual politicians that simply do not exist. The voters have zero influence or control over the course of events via their engagement with the political system. They are either aligned with the preexisting desires of capital, in which case, they will see “their side” winning; or they are opposed, and will see their policy desires warped and twisted if not ignored outright.