Posts Tagged ‘ negotiation

The Bikecast Episode #5a: State Destruction of Social Organization

My latest ramble, starting on, 4/20 spilled over into two other bikecasts. In the first, I’m attempting to stake out a pattern I’ve been noticing alot lately: reliance on the state is back-firing in numerous ways.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Show notes Episode 5a:
Here are the stories behind my brief “today’s headlines” segment:
More raping catholics. This guy is a real gem:
More thieving liars from the financial sector (I’m not actually sure this is the story that inspired the comment, but close enough):

In Texas, California, and probably 48 other states, money is tight. Everywhere, programs are being defunded and are in danger of vanishing altogether. The people that depend on these services are/will be left in truly dire straights. Yet constant pressure exists for the various levels of government to move additional services out of the community and into the public sector.

When such a move happens, the organic institutions involved with the service vanish and dependence on the state becomes, over time, complete. When the state becomes incapable of continuing the delivery of the service, as we will see increasingly as the economy continues its collapse, the remnant institutions of civil, voluntary society will be hard pressed to resume their previous roles.

Organic societal structures, due to their voluntary nature and respect for the wishes of the people involved, take time and trust to develop and thrive. This gives them tremendous strength and resilience. When they atrophy or are actively dismantled, it takes time for them to develop again.

Parallel to this concern is the nature of state prohibition/permission. Here, the issue is the drain of time and resources involved in moving a political agenda in a given direction. “Winning” a political battle means that the resources of the advocate group will be entirely expended protecting against political reversal. Even then, the decision can always be overturned, returning the advocates to their previous state without the advantages of the voluntary structures that had aided them.

As an example, I talk about a fictionalized* version of the temperance movement. The social issue they sought to impact was alcoholism and the attending blights of spousal and child abuse and abandonment. For many decades, this various components considered part of this movement preached sobriety, made sobriety a pre-condition for mutual aid membership, lobbied schools to include alcohol awareness in the curriculum, and even physically protested the activities of bars by “entering saloons, singing, praying, and urging saloon keepers to stop selling alcohol.”

At some point, various groups began to depart from civil means of dissuading people from drinking and switched instead to the force of law. This activity culminated in the 18th amendment. We know now, of course, that all the millions of hours of lobbying, rallying, begging and pleading for this amendment was undone less than 15 years later.

Imagine if all those resources had been directed at getting to the root of alcoholism, alleviating the conditions that give rise to it and spreading the practice of rewarding sobriety in friendly societies, mutual aid organizations, trade unions other voluntary, community accountable organizations.

Of course, during the 100 years leading to prohibition, people had a very primitive understanding of the mind and the components of and influences upon human nature. It was a far easier task to rally support for the violent smashing of people and businesses trading in booze than it was to seek to understand the behavioral and societal factors involved in creating an alcoholic. Current efforts by whole hosts of advocates for or against this and that demonstrate that people’s understanding remains primitive. Although the science is there and well established to recommend a non-violent course, it remains simplest to advocate force as a means of solving social problems.

Besides the opportunity costs, there are also the side effects of using violence. The most obvious of these is the spawning of more violence in the form of modern crime syndicates. In addition, the victims of the outlawed substance are treated as less than human and become frequent victims of state violence. Federal enforcement techniques such as additon of poison to  commercial ethanol killed around 10,000 people by prohibition’s end.

*I realize my example has more than a few holes in it. For example: it’s not like there aren’t people running around preaching sobriety, maybe more now than ever–I’m not a meticulous fact checker, it ain’t that kind of bikecast. My point is that the resources interested in controlling the public ills related to alcoholism were strong enough to manage a constitutional amendment–I can’t even imagine what topic would garner that kind of support now. It could have been turned to a million different compassionate, human respecting means of providing help and care for alcoholics and their victims.


Common Ground with Violence

As Amanda reminds us here and here, the notion of a reasoned debate, of consensus morality, of civilized human interaction vanishes and is impossible to recover when the “conversation” takes place with a gun in the room.  There are no proponents of state-mandated birth, no matter how deep their armchairs, that can claim a non-violent stand.  Besides whispering a prayer when an honorable and compassionate human being is murdered, they also dedicate their time, money, and social clout to electing anti-choice “conservatives.”

This act is both cowardly and aggressive.  Pro-forced birth proponents may not be willing to kick in a door, interrupt a medical procedure and incarcerate a woman until she gives birth against her will.  They will (or, hopefully, would), however, clap with psychotic glee as the police point guns at women to ‘save unborn lives.’

How can anybody imagine that “common ground” can be found between people seeking the most basic recognition of their humanity and a throng of mystics begging and pleading for the state to enforce their preference that women bear children at all costs and against their will?  Can anyone expect a reasoned debate about the moral nature of anything when one side is willing to detain, imprison or kill the other and those that aid them?

There can’t, of course, and anti-choice’ers take cover behind the illusion of civil discourse in an attempt to hide the barbaric means that they employ.  They are given a pass because they do not pull the trigger themselves but “vote” for others to point the guns.

The spokespeople for the anti-choice movement cannot condemn outright the actions of a lunatic who murders a doctor.  That is exactly the penalty they want imposed if a doctor refuses to obey their preferences.

Authority and Social Organization

Authority is a common thread of many of the topics that I am interested in thinking/blogging about. We on the political fringes have an interesting relationship with the concept of authority and I imagine it (and related concepts that I have in mind to bring up later) will provide a nearly endless resource for examination and introspection.

Authority originally meant the legitimate power to achieve a given end. This brings together the physical dominance to impose one’s will and the assent of the dominated that such dominance was just. Modern conceptions also allow for non-dominance based authority. Someone like the pope, for example, cannot (any longer) marshal armies to impose his (god’s?) will on man. And yet, he can bend outcomes to his desire because he is seen by many as a legitimate director of human affairs.

I have a very ambivalent relationship to authority. This ambivalence plagues the left-half of the political spectrum. The right has no problem legitimizing the unleashing of any amount of violence on anyone who opposes the United States government–an extension of the legitimacy accorded to the unleashing of violence on women who oppose the will of men, children who oppose the will of parents, and other “traditional” relationships based on dominance.

The natural tendency, then, is to eschew authority all-together. This may be the best, albeit utopian, alternative. In a given real-world, situation, however, I am beginning to find authority of the non-violent kind to be constructive and emotionally comforting. The essential requirement for ‘good’ authority, if such a thing exists, is that it must accord with my subjectively experienced self-interest.

The Dinner Party

The other night, 15 or so friends and acquaintances gathered together to make a spectacular dinner. Nobody had access to “old-school” authority–nobody would have stood for someone physically threatening somebody else to perform some task. If this had been a family dinner, the social dynamic may have allowed for such things, but in this setting, it wouldn’t have even entered anyone’s mind to do so.

And yet, authorities emerged. The chefs, whom everyone recognized as the only people who knew how to make the dishes, handed out tasks, gave directions and provided feedback. No one challenged their status as those whose will we collectively sought to realize. The host provided authority over other matters, which tools should be used, where work areas to use, how to deal with waste, and so forth. I “authorized” them to lead me because I knew that their aim was to create food and an enjoyable environment in which to eat. I am especially grateful for their authority in the matter because I have no idea what I’m doing in a kitchen.

Of course, this is exactly the organic, self-organizing and non-violent social structure that like to imagine organizing education, health, security and so forth. But I don’t want to mentally derail the post reader with these thoughts–at least not entirely.

I have had enough experience with dominance-based authority that, at one point, any hint of hierarchy would cause an immediate emotional and physical reaction. By surrounding myself with good people, as much as possible, I am learning about new ways to relate to those who need my help to manifest their will in the world. Even something as simple (actually, it wasn’t that simple) as making dinner allowed me to experience a different emotional and physical circumstance with respect to social organization. I am grateful to my friends for the experience.

Problem Solving: Violence and Non-violence

There are two types of people in the world, those who seek non-violent solutions to a given issue and those who believe that applying violence is the best alternative to enforce their preferrences.  The difference between a couple that compromises and builds consensus versus a batterer and his/her victim is clear enough to most of us.  Likewise, a parent who explains and negotiates situations with a child stands in sharp contrast to one who threatens the child with beatings for questions or disobedience.

We in the non-violent camp understand the advantages of our position.  Negotiated solutions receive “buy-in” from all parties.  Violence breeds resentment, discord and, inevitably, more and increased violence.  Consensus respects the humanity and individuality of each human being.  Coercion creates two classes of humans, the rulers and the ruled–both degraded and incapable of the full expression of their humanity.  When examining the long-term viability of human societies, a voluntary society that works towards consent-based solutions is far more likely to reach stable and sustainable institutions.  This stability and sustainability is the bedrock for peace in human relations.  Peace provides the context for rapid improvement in the quality of life of each individual human being.  In contrast, systems based on the oppression of one class of humans over another cannot be stable.  Injustices breed resentment and a desire for vengeance.  Constantly changing power dynamics ensure that the oppressed will eventually have the physical force required to seize the engines of violence.  In this uncertain environment, long-term investment in well-being is undertaken more rarely and the store of human progress is depleted in short-term consumption.

The paradigm that many of us subscribe to maps the non-violent and the coercive to the two leading political parties.  Republicans, like a violent parent, do not wish to negotiate solutions to differences of preference.  In their opinion, broadly speaking1, “drugs are bad” and they use para-military units and the largest prison system in the history of the world to enforce this preference on their neighbors.  Likewise, they are of the opinion that, “homosexuality is bad,” and use violence to institutionally prevent a voluntary agreement from being declared between gay partners.  Internationally, the republican preference for violent solutions is legendary–this is also the arena in which the negative effects of unilateral solutions are least controversial.

According to this same paradigm, the democrats in our country prefer negotiated, consensus based solutions to problems.  The briefest leap into the position of an objective observer, however, reveals the illusory nature of this position.  We will leave aside, for this post anyway, the huge swaths of policies that the two parties share: the wars on drugs and terrorism, the handing of trillions of dollars to ueber-wealthy corporate allies, the carte blanche granted to the military and police, the imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of non-violent “offenders,” and so forth.  Let’s focus on the first issue that I can think of about which right-wing solutions are less likely to get violent than than left: gun control.

We all have an opinion about who should be armed and how well.  The “moderate” position of allowing registered weapons for hunting purposes stands toward the center of a very long spectrum.  On the one end are those who would prefer that no-one own or carry anything more weapon-like than a pocket-knife.  On the other extreme are the proponents of personal, unregistered nuclear devices–which, admittedly, might come in handy in negotiations with police.  The non-violent approach is, as always, to accord the same respect for others that you wish for yourself.  Concerns for the safety of children in an armed household can be raised and responded to in a reasonable manner.  The non-violent social disapproval that keeps most of us out of our pajamas when we visit downtown can be directed at those who make poor choices (in your opinion) about keeping and bearing arms.  Damage done due to gun negligence could be treated in the same manner as damage done due to negligence in a car.  In any case, everyone should be free to keep whatever weapons they want out of their house as well.  The quantity of solutions and services that freely cooperating individuals can generate to ease their and others’ anxiety is limitless.

In the case of gun control, progressives find themselves adopting the typically conservative stance.  This issue cannot be solved, they claim, by the organic societies of family, friends, neighbors and community.  It requires that the preference of one group be imposed on the rest by, extra-ironically in this case, very heavily armed state officials.
This is not meant to express a position on gun control, or any other issue for that matter.  I am less interested in presenting and defending my opinion about a particular topic and more interested in examining how we as a society make these decisions.  Or, to remove the collectivist lense, how we as individuals don’t make these decisions, but rather do as we’re told by individuals who claim the legitimacy to imprison or kill us.

I have opinions, sometimes strong opinions about how to dress, what to eat, what music to listen to, appropriate sexual partnerships (no invertibrates!), transportation, religion, standards of cleanliness, and what constitutes a good education.  Humanity will take a leap forward once we commit, individually, to expressing our opinions in a context of respectful negotiation.   It will make an incomprehensibly huger leap forward when we find the courage and the camaraderie to denounce as reprehensible the aggressive use of violence against non-violent people in order to enforce personal preferences and opinions.

[1] I will be speaking broadly about democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives throughout this post. Apologies ahead of time to well armed democrats and pacifist republicans.