Posts Tagged ‘ political solutions

More Encryption Is Not the Solution

I’m always pleased to see the recognition that, ultimately, politics is just people with lots of weapons doing what they want. In this instance, Poul-Henning Kamp, highlights the fact with respect to encryption as a “solution” to revelations about “government” spying.


Nation-states have police forces with guns. Cryptographers and the IETF Internet Engineering Task Force do not.

Several nation-states, most notably the United Kingdom, have enacted laws that allow the police to jail suspects until they reveal the cryptographic keys to unlock their computers. Such laws open a host of due process and civil rights issues that we do not need to dwell on here. For now it is enough to note that such laws can be enacted and enforced.
. . .
Any person can have the right to privacy removed through whatever passes for judicial oversight in their country of residence, so that authorities can confirm or deny a suspicion of illegal activities.
. . .
if a nation-state decides that somebody should not have privacy, then it will use whatever means available to prevent that privacy.

via More Encryption Is Not the Solution – ACM Queue.

The article is short and worth reading. The author is clearly not an economist, “In the past quarter century, international trade agreements have been the big thing: free movement of goods across borders and oceans, to the mutual benefit of all parties. I guess we all assumed that information and privacy rights would receive the same mutual respect as property rights did in these agreements, but we were wrong.”

He also has an unhealthy optimism that the guys with the guns can be persuaded to dismantle the spy agencies (who, I’m sure, have lots of dirt on the guys with the guns); all -in-all the conclusion section is the weakest part of the paper.

Overall, his point is important: as long as institutions exist that are overwhelmingly recognized to have the right to do whatever they please up to and including caging and killing anyone who doesn’t obey, encryption will, at best, protect small handfuls of people. For people generally, a general solution is necessary, which is a delegitimization of the use of force by “government.”

Do Not Call the Police

I know I sound like a broken record on this and many other issues, but unless you want someone beaten, killed or thrown into a cage–and you don’t get to choose which–do not call the police.

For example, if you wake up in the night and you house is being robbed by an axe wielding man, calling the police might be appropriate. If the assailant doesn’t leave in the next hour, there is a non-zero chance that the police will arrive to kill or capture him–assuming they don’t show up at the wrong house and kill your neighbor or mistake you or your loved ones for the home invader and kill you. If all goes well in the case of the axe wielding home invader, it’s not impossible that calling the police is the best option–assuming you’re unarmed.

As a counter-example, if a nice, young special needs gentleman won’t leave a movie theater when asked, you should probably call his parents, find some other non-homicidal adult to persuade him or, if all else fails, let him watch the damn movie again. The absolute wrong move in this case is to call in the brute squad to try out their pain holds and torture techniques on him. They’re most likely not going to care if they “accidentally” kill him, but assuming you’re not completely evil, it might bother you for the rest of your life.

A nice man that was killed by police.
This young man was killed by police.

It is a testament to the power of state schooling and corporate media that anyone, anywhere, ever considers calling the police to resolve a situation that is not already life-threatening. The police are simply thugs with one prerogative, to compel obedience. If they can’t achieve submission of their victim, they will kill the victim. This is completely unrelated to context and they have no need to account for their actions after the fact.

In this case, there are even reports that the police were off-duty and serving as private security. Their status as cops seems to have kept them from prosecution thus far.

More Things We Should Know By Now

In a post from last month (probably the post from last month), I was thinking about ignorance as an excuse for poor and/or immoral choices. There’s a category of ills (racism, homophobia, misogyny) that have become decreasingly acceptable by society at large. While we might excuse the racist ramblings of great-aunt Edna, a member of our peer group with the same beliefs is willfully ignoring the evidence against 19th century theories of racial hierarchy; or is aware of them but wants to be a racist anyway.

The main thrust of the previous post: only a willing dupe still believes in government as a force of positive social change. Given a goal, no matter how universally laudable, writing it down on paper and handing it to a pack of unaccountable and heavily armed goons to carry out will never go well. It will rarely turn out otherwise than awful.

The same principle applies to police, military, and other members of the enforcement arm of the United States government. I’m not sure if it was ever the case that people trusted in the police or if Mayberry and Officer Friendly are just straight-up 1950s post-war propaganda. In any case, nobody in their right mind trusts in the police now.

This has several important ramifications (that we should all know by now):

1. Unless you want someone shot or in jail, do not call the police. Since we live in a largely disarmed and submissive society, there are many time and places where a person’s only recourse against violations of person or property is a government thug. In those instances, by all means, engage the police.

Necessary or not, it’s often a terrible and lifechanging ordeal. If you’re lucky, the casualty will be a family pet–either yours or one belonging to a neighbor. Otherwise, you may have unintentionally called in a hit on someone–maybe a member of your own family.

To reiterate, I’m not passing judgement on anyone who calls the police in self-defense. It should be an absolute last resort and you shouldn’t be surprised to find yourself, a loved one, or a neighbor shot or put in a cage. That’s what police do. Everyone should understand this by now.

2. If someone signs up to be an enforcer today without the full understanding that they’re accepting money to obey orders, no matter how immoral; they can’t reasonably claim to care about the possibility of having to murder, torture, or imprison innocent human beings. That’s what the job of law enforcement *is*.

If you sign up to “enforce the law”, you are not a hero. People don’t respect you, they are afraid of you. If you find yourself in harms way, it’s probably because you’re employed to be a thug who orders people around at gunpoint–or would if they didn’t comply with your barked orders. Some people don’t have the right psychological makeup to debase themselves and submit when bullied[1].

The time has past when anyone who wants to be police can be considered anything other than a brute. If you really want to help or protect people, there are a million other avenues that will fulfill those needs. The only reason anyone is police today is that they are willing to do anything to anyone in order to get a paycheck. Most probably, they enjoy doing it–the pay isn’t *that* great if you have any marketable skills at all.

3. The same thing goes for “our troops.” Soldiers are mercenaries who will kill anybody they’re ordered to regardless of context. Sadly, for those who acting out of financial necessity, enough people still exist who blindly “honor the troops,” to provide a shadow of moral sanction. Countless souls on the margin have been tipped to the side of obeying evil for pay by the omnipresent message that their “fellow citizens” will “honor their sacrifice”.

The true nature of the United States military is willfully ignored by a huge number of Americans. As with all of our above examples as well as the the effects of smoking and the theory of evolution, the evidence is ample, universal, and unequivocal. 40 years of incontrovertible evidence plus an additional 180 years of less mainstream history indicates that the purpose of the military is to kill for the advantage of bankers, plantation owners, mineral extractors, and weapons manufacturers.

It’s time we stopped pretending that there’s anything positive about being a gang enforcer. Even if the gang is the biggest one on the planet.

  1. [1] For the record, I totally do. Don’t shoot me.

Stop Calling These Consequences “Unforeseeable”

I tend to err on the side of believing those who claim ignorance. We live in a world chock-full of narratives. It’s possible, in some cases, to go through a large part of one’s life without hearing a particular counter-narrative to a given belief–even if the counter-narrative cleaves more closely to reality. As humanity advances, and reality wins through, claims of ignorance become less believable. At some point, we have to accept it as evident that someone is either willfully ignoring a fact, or that they do not feel compelled to act on it.

As an easy opening example, take the practice of hitting (a.k.a. spanking) children as a “teaching” tool. This was a universal practice for . . . well, ever–”spare the rod, spoil the child” is 2500+ years old. Fast forward to the enlightenment and you get the first people hypothesizing that it might not be a great idea, based on the premise that children are humans and stuff. Fast forward to the mid-late 20th century, and observational evidence begins to accumulate that the best outcomes are associated with peaceful parenting. In the current day, the evidence appears overwhelming. The only remaining advocates of hitting children “for their own good” cite the Bible as their principal authority.

Whereas the parents of the 60s and 70s could perhaps claim never to have heard the position against hitting their children, today’s parents can’t say the same. A parent who hits a child today can’t reasonably claim to be doing so in the child’s interests. He or she wants to inflict abuse[1]

There’s a similar lesson that should have been learned, amply, in 10+ years of public access to full-spectrum information: when you send agencies whose existence depends on violence to carry out your social agenda, awful things will happen. In political and economic science, these were once called “unforeseen consequences,” but given the premise of this article, we should change that to “entirely foreseeable consequences.”

In 2008, the EU decided “to obtain 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020.” I assume in pursuit of the laudable goal of taking some heat off the environment (pun intended)–something we can all get behind. According to the Guardian, “the total land area required to grow industrial biofuels . . . has been estimated as 17.5m hectares . . . more than ½ the size of Italy.”

In a world of equals, should the EU be serious about meeting this goal, there would need to be a lot of exploration in pursuit of uninhabited regions suitable for growing biofuel crops. In light of the scarcity of such land, there would probably also be alot of “wheeling and dealing,” trying to make it worth the while for the world’s farmers to grow biofuels and/or offering them buy-out levels of wealth in exchange for their land.

Luckily for the EU and their corporate creatures, no such equality exists. The lands were simply seized from their rightful, mostly indigenous, owners by the various puppet states around the world, and handed to the corporations seeking legistlated profits susidized and protected by the western armed militaries of the 3rd world.

A parallel land grab is on to depopulate indigenous farmland to grow forests for carbon credits, which, apparently will be worth alot in the future.
The Guardian continues, “The latest data suggests that up to 203 million hectares of land has been acquired by companies in land deals and two-thirds of that is for biofuels.” By my math, that’s just short of 4 Italies’ worth of arable land moving out of the hands of its actual owners, those who live on and work it and into the hands of multi-national corporations.

This is the result of demanding that government, “do something,” about a problem. It is an inevitable result and it has countless parallels in the modern world as well as throughout history. This does not mean, by any stretch, that there aren’t myriad social problems that must be addressed; anybody who votes to hand them over to the corporate-state, or worse yet, collections of multi-national-corporate-states, is either wilfully blind, or evil.

  1. [1] with the possible exception of a few religious folk who really can hit their children thinking that they’re carrying out God’s plan.

The Straw Man of Collective Guilt

In response to a previous post:

“Women are oppressed by men” is so large and grandiose and vague as to be useless.

That may be true, but then so are: “taxation is theft,” “The police have always been thugs who protect the moneyed,” or “Any unarmed people are slaves, or are subject to slavery at any given moment.”

Most taxpayers self-report as willing; most police want to serve the public and very few unarmed people (in the United States) feel like slaves. To note the abstract relationship isn’t to express a universal as expressed by each and every individual, it’s to highlight the fundamental dynamic. The core truth of taxation is that, if one were to resist it, one would find oneself mugged. Any policeman who wants to be a thug won’t likely be stopped and anyone who attacks the infrastructure of wealth will find themselves fighting police. Unarmed people every day find themselves fighting heavily armed state agents and are forced into an obedient role (or find themselves dead).

Most men don’t rape women, many men may not ever use their physical presence to dominate a woman. The fundamental reality of sex, however, is that almost any man can physically overwhelm almost any woman at any time. Importantly to the day-to-day reality of women, that worst-case scenario plays out more frequently than the federal take-down of tax resisters, instances of police brutality, or the rounding up of disarmed civilians.

Show indicia of THIS MAN oppressing THAT WOMAN and you begin to show clarity.
I’m not shouldering blame for what some other man did to a woman I don’t know.

Indicia? You have furthered my education with your comment, sir! This is, I think, the crux of the issue. The conversation about the realities of existing power dynamics does not damn or entitle any individual. We’ve been conditioned to believe:

Wherever human beings engage in direct discourse with one another about their mutual rights and responsibilities, there is a politics. I mean politics in the sense of the public sphere in which discourse over rights and responsibilities is carried on, much in the way Hannah Arendt discusses it. …. The force of public opinion, like that of markets, is not best conceived as a concentrated will representing the public, but as the distributed influence of political discourses throughout society.
Johnson and Long, Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

That refusal doesn’t make me a co-oppressor.
It merely makes me someone who will accept blame when it is accurately placed


Certainly no one should be blamed for the actions of a third party and refusing to “shoulder the blame for what some man did to a woman I don’t know” is absurd. In discussions about the crimes of government, kindergarten teachers aren’t widely considered to be co-oppressors. The state can be the object of critique without everyone who is in some way connected to state power feeling the need to come screaming in to stop the discussion. The same should be true of critiques of other power disparities.

At issue is not the need for collective guilt, but rather to honor the subjective experience of people giving their account of oppression. To return to the parallel, anarchists bristle when their subjective accounts of state oppression are dismissed and when they are chided to remain within the cultural confines of “their place in society” in order to remain unmolested by state agents. We, of all people, should stand in solidarity with others whose experiences are similarly dismissed–those who are told to fit sex, gender, and any other social norm in order to remain unmolested by whoever claims the authority to trespass against them. That solidarity should be extended no matter who the claimed oppressor is, even if it’s not the state.

On Killing Geese (of the Golden Egg Laying Variety)

Under conditions of freedom, human communities do amazing things. In the Western nation-states, two countervailing trends have affected these conditions. Firstly, as superstition and custom are slowly shed in favor of enlightenment and empathy, social strictures and their legal counterparts have fallen away.

Thus, non-anglo-saxon europeans, then africans, then women, then asians, and now children moved with painful slowness into the category of “human” from that of “other.” As collective consciousness about their humanity struggled out of the mire of custom and into the light of reality, the related laws were also forced to change. The privileged classes had to begrudgingly free these categories of people from being the property of others, then allow them to own property, and finally had to allow them free self-expression, travel, and the other unalienable rights of human beings.

The increase in the number and variety of freed–or at least less categorically enslaved–people resulted in the phenomena we’ve witnessed in art, technology, entertainment and the like over the last hundred or so years in the west. Humans, allowed the native freedom to follow their consciences and express their personhood, have fashioned truly spectacular worlds to enhabit.

The reactionary instinct that expressed itself in the upholding of tradition in keeping large swaths of human beings under the control of their “betters,” had to change its skin. It’s moved from superstitious custom into “scientific social management.” Blacks aren’t slaves and aren’t segregated because of their biblically ordained inferiority–that would be silly. Instead, they are jailed for trading in forbidden items. Businesses on the margin are harassed, closed or seized for lack of appropriate paper-work or inability to comply with city codes. Art installations, work shops, light industry, and all the interesting diversity and creativity of organic society are threatened by ever increasing and militarized policing.

This has been the norm in most American cities for quite some time, though most places have pockets of creative and industrious people who manage–at least for awhile–to live their lives and create their worlds without being harassed to the point of extinction.

Example: Code Compliance in Austin, TX

Austin, TX is, or was, a rare example of an entire city where each individual was largely allowed to create, trade, share, live and love as he or she saw fit. For that reason, Austin at the end of the 20th century was an amazing amalgam of human creativity and productivity. Besides the live music that makes the city famous worldwide, places like the Enchanted Forest, the Cathedral of Junk, the Rhizome collective, yards turned into wildlife habitats, ubiquitous food trailers, entire districts of light industry turned into art studios, and clever ventures like the Electric Cabs of Austin really make Austin a stand-out metropolitan area in an increasingly grey and homogeneous America.

The list of such spectacles could, and probably does, fill a book; I mention them because they’ve all been shut down, or are facing constant threats of being so by an ever-increasing tide of city “management”.

In these cases, specifically, the reactionary branch of government is Austin’s Code Compliance Department. This department didn’t exist in the year 2000, hence the freedom that lead to Austin’s reputation as a haven for creators, eccentrics, artists and musicians–oh, and prosperity.

Following a well understood pattern, as prosperity increases, those that make a living by stealing (what they prefer to call “taxing”) from the productive find themselves awash with money to spend. In a bid, I suppose, to garner votes from the 10%
or so
of residents who are willing to use force to instantiate their visions of an ideal society, Austin government used the extra money to build and empower a Code Compliance Department.

In doing so they are making a bid to kill the golden goose. In a city that recently laid off hundreds of school teachers due to budget shortfalls, Austin City Council still sees fit to spend 10 million dollars a year destroying the peaceful and beautiful fabric of the creative community. The anonymous reporting system used by the department has also turned neighbor against neighbor as petty feuds blow up into neighborhood-wide “floods of calls,” ultimately resulting, in the case of one South Austin neighborhood, in

violation notices to 76 homeowners in the neighborhood, telling them they must apply for permits for improvements such as garage conversions and carports.
Those who fail to correct the problem could be criminally charged and fined up to $2,000 per day or have their utilities disconnected, according to recent letters sent to homeowners that gave them a March 26 deadline to comply.

The situation is heartbreaking. For all the victims of Austin Code Compliance Department and all the additional victims of the general increase in policing of victimless crimes by the numerous, ever replicating, expanding, and tremendously expensive city bureaucracies, the situation is intolerable.

And make no mistake, all of Austin, at least those that constitute that which deserves to be called Austin, are collateral damage of these fights. We’re the ones who remember what Austin once was, and who must watch, powerless, as our money goes to the greying of this vibrant city, as our neighborhoods are homogenized, our neighbors fined, jailed, and brought into “compliance,” and our artists, inventors, and creators are driven out of their homes, studios, and communities, some never to return.

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.

The Bikecast Episode #51: American Exceptionalism

“American Exceptionalism” undergirds nearly every channel of information and every aspect of political discourse in the United States. It is, at its core, the belief that the unbending laws of nature and the consistent historical forces that have affected every institution throughout human history are not and will not be factors in the history and future of the American people.

Download this episode of the Bikecast

One aspect of this delusional concept comes immediately to mind and wouldn’t be disputed by readers of this blog, though it would be by most Americans. American Exceptionalism is used to recast the aggression of our rulers against foreign peoples as wars of liberation, humanitarian interventions, peace keeping, police actions and the like.

Every ruling class in recorded history initiated wars to accrue control over additional resources, territory, slaves, and tax base to themselves. This expansion of power always takes place at the expense of the subjects who produced and had expropriated the materiel for war and who are called on to fill the ranks of the army. Nobody seriously disagrees with this most basic, obvious, and repeatedly demonstrated fact of human history.

The popular narrative, however, exempts the United States from this ironclad historical pattern. Illumination collapses the dichotomy and returns us to the reality in which the aggression of our current rulers and the sacrifices of the workers parallel those of rulers and subjects throughout history.

The domestic facet of American Exceptionalism is even more widespread and is more immediately dangerous to those of us living here. Behold the remarkably clear analysis of one Anne Applebaum:

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.

-Anne Applebaum

As IOZ points out, and let me state again that each and every one of you should read IOZ every day and send him threatening letters on days that he doesn’t post (don’t really do that last part). Anyway, as IOZ points out, “with a few tweeked adjectives,” the above critique fits the United States to a T. He also observes that she, and I will add most Americans, would dismiss such a claim as absurd.

We’ve recently seen European social programs stripped down and eliminated, food and energy prices increasing and the rising up of people against their governments. Many Americans are already facing the challenges of getting by without regular work while prices increase and state assistance becomes increasingly scarce. Somehow, the idea that a confrontation is coming between the state and the people remains popularly inconceivable.

Even when the world is watching the rulers of a country shut down the country’s communication infrastructure, systematically imprison popular leaders, and send para-military “security forces” out to do battle with those demanding very basic institutional reform, the myth of American Exceptionalism keeps most people from seeing the connection to domestic events.

The myth is pervasive and deeply ingrained. Anyone who even suggests that “national security” policies (for example, the internet kill switch, massive increases in security infrastructure/personel/armament, the elimination of habeus corpus and basic legal principles) aren’t intended to protect us from terrorists, but rather to protect the ruling class from future domestic dissent is immediately labelled paranoid, a wingnut, a conspiracy theorist.

We who live on the North American landmass are not immune from any of the historical forces that govern the dynamics of human interaction and have special predictive powers around human systems premised on violence. We are not protected by the rulers. The “defensive” apparati that we are taxed to build are intended to protect the rulers from expressions of our discontent.

The ruling class has disassembled and replaced voluntary social networks with compulsory institutions that they control. They’ve syphoned off so much wealth and warped the economy to such a degree that they can no longer afford to stuff their pockets with gold while maintaining payments to those that have come to depend on them. Thus, the payments will dwindle or cease (what? you thought that they’d stop stuffing their pockets?) and, out of desperation, people will take to the streets, demanding a restructuring of the social order.

They will be met with the tear gas, batons and bullets that they’ve spent their life funding. They’ll be tossed into the prisons they’d imagined were meant for drug dealers. Their communications will be disrupted by technologies sold as protections against terrorism. This is a historical inevitability. This is the ironclad dynamic of societies whose “order” is premised on violent domination of one group by another. America is no exception.

The Unprincipled Nature of Political Violence

A few thoughts on the attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords.

Firstly, I want to express massive sympathy to the friends and families of the victims. The lack of empathy towards those who have had loved ones irrevocably ripped from their lives by human violence is a foundational reason that we live on a planet overflowing with needless sorrow.

That said, everyone in the political class is projecting their world view onto this event with almost no sign of even basic circumspection. This event didn’t take place in a vaccuum, and the angry political speech that is, in some circles, being blamed as the cause didn’t spring from nowhere, and the notion that the solution to a problem is to kill it wasn’t invented by Jerrod Loughner.

We are surrounded by a society steeped in violent domination of the weak by the strong. The foundational premise of human political institutions is that one group should use weapons, cages and confiscation to impose it’s will on another group. The foundational premise of our nation is that the non-ruling group can justly kill and replace the ruling group if, for example, taxes get too high, or the court system is deemed unjust.

The entire structure of our ruling institutions comes down to us from a barbaric and superstitious past. In this one unique thread of human endeavor, no hint of modernity has been allowed to permeate for 2,500 years.

The gun is always on the table in politics. Nearly every American supports both the use of state violence against undesirable people *and* the use of anti-state violence against oppressive government[1]

The credibility of the grievances varies (surely the weakest claim of oppression was that of the colonial americans in the 18th century), but there’s no political principle about when anti-state violence is good and when it’s bad–it’s entirely subjective[2]

There’s also no principle governing the appropriate use of state violence. Some people prefer guns be waved at those who farm certain plants or cross invisible lines. Others want to threaten those that have sex with forbidden persons (or in forbidden ways) or drop trash on unowned land.

This lack of principle, the lack of any basis for rational discourse, is precisely what leads to angry screechy shouting, jumping up and down, waving of arms, gnashing of teeth, and when those impressive displays repeatedly fail to convince: the threat of and use of violence.

We live in a domination system, a patriarchy, a rape culture in which the predominant belief is that physical control of one group of humans by another is necessary for our continued existence. As long as this is the case, violence will be used by individuals who feel that it’s a reasonable way to solve a particular problem. Most of the time, the victims will be the poor and politically powerless, but on occasion, the victim of violence will be a member of the ruling class or their enforcers.

The only way to avoid violence against the ruling class is to refuse to legitimize violence as a means of human interaction. Of course, it’s the ruling class that monopolizes the institutional use of violence against the rest of humanity, so to some degree the ball is in their court.

I imagine that we’ll know that we’ve reached the dawning of a new day when every murder around this planet is treated with equal horror. Since this killing is the first of the thousand-or-so politically related murders of the last year that has made the news in anything but a passing manner, I know that dawn is not yet come.

Update: The always amazing IOZ hits my note (but funnier) in paragraph 4.

Update: See for yourself has a nice round-up of other quality online publications that are presenting what I believe to be largely the same sentiment in a number of ways. Here’s a nice summary sourced by one of the linked posts:

Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
— Derrick Jesen, Endgame vol. 1

  1. [1] The right-wing rhetoric that’s got everybody in a tizzy currently was used by the left in the 1960s. It was used by third world nationalists in the 40s and 50s and by anti-colonialists for 100 years before that. It was considered a sign of hope in post-soviet eastern europe and still is in the nuclear boogieman-of-the-day, Iran.
  2. [2] If one concedes the use of revolutionary violence, it certainly seems most appropriate against the regime that holds 1/4 of the worlds prisoners, that is fighting a whole host of wars that are illegal by any international agreement or treaty regarding national conflict back to 1648, that is responsible for 10s of millions of deaths in the third world since the mid 20th century, that claims the right to detain or assassinate anyone on the planet–including its own “citizens” without any process other than a go-ahead from the supreme leader.

The Bikecast Episode #40: Giving Up on Politics

Another element of Getting from Here to There is giving up on politics. The theatrics and drama of politics, along with the ever appealing us vs. them dynamic involved, freezes people for years and decades in the mistaken belief that the state can effect a reversal of social ills. Endless energy and resources are expended in the pursuit of political solutions and are thereby diverted from alternative efforts. This starving of effective, decentralized, and sustainable non-governmental approaches to social problems insulates and protects the existing power structures from the threat of any substantive change.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Case in Point, Ralph Nader

I recently watched a documentary on Ralph Nader titled, An Unreasonable Man. Nader is the platonic ideal of a citizen in a democracy. His roots are in small town New England where the image is of political activities occuring with every town person present and having a say in the decisions affecting the community[1].

Tangential note: this direct democracy is the model that the populist-statist mind attempts to wrap around 300 million people. The idea that everyone is participating and has a say and is therefore justly bound to the decisions arrived at by the political process.

Unsurprisingly, Nader has a number of tremendous successes finding corruption and inefficiencies in the ballooning federal state of the 1950s and 1960s. The legislative process still had enough remnants of openness that he was able to blindside the corporate-political partnerships of the time and force politicians to make at least a show of protecting their constituents.

Another tangential Note: Something I might talk about some other time was Nader’s role in drawing the revolutionary margins, especially the academic margins away from anti-state/anti-authoritarian activities and into the political arena. Ron Paul is the conservative equivalent in this respect.

In the bikecast, I focus on Nader’s persistence in the face of ongoing disillusionment. If we accept the documentary’s narrative, having reached his political apex in the 70’s, he is betrayed by Carter and then has the state agencies he worked so hard to create dismantled or perverted under 12 years of republican executives. Next comes Clinton and the vitual 4 and 5 term of republican rule (here’s a good summary of Nader’s views on Clinton’s presidency)

Finally, he decides to run for office in 1996, 2000, and 2004[2]. The viciousness and venom towards him since 2000 highlights the mental instability of a people looking for something, anything, to blame for their own weakness and cowardice–their own inability to admit to the systemic flaws that preclude anything but human suffering to come from the state.

The corrupt and despicable system that Nader believed in and that he encouraged so many others to believe in had at last destroyed him.

Nader supporters claim that the united states would be much worse off today without his legislative victories, even though most of them have been rendered impotent by subsequent legislation or turned, in some cases, into tools of corporate plunder.

I like to imagine what the world would be like if the Ralph Naders turned their attention away from the state and started solving problems on the community level via organic institutions akin to the townhall meetings of his youth. Continue to point out the injustices, yes, but stop asking the source of the injustices to increase its size and power in the vain hope that it will fight those injustices.

Unshakable Faith and my Own Dumb Story

Nader is also the ideal citizen insofar as his faith cannot (apparently) be shaken that the state can be made to serve the citizen, despite all of his experience to the contrary.

Luckily for the human race, not everyone has Nader’s loyalty. As the world burns and the nation plunges into financial ruin, the bar for loyalty rises. It used to be that several administrations had to pass before the astute would notice the pattern of state power.

I became politically aware in the early 90s and was completely convinced that, once a democrat took power, the globe spanning military would bases would be disbanded and the resources spent on war would be turned to education and social programs.

Disillusionment happened in a stair-step series of stages. After watching Nader get torched and then villified in 2000 and after the US invaded all points east despite the largest global protest in the history of the world (and with near full support of the opposition democrats, I finally accepted that these institutions of governance were irredeemably flawed. Eventually, I came to accept that governance itself, based on violence, was fundamentally unsustainable.

Establishment politics had me entranced for around 10 years. People younger than myself, who don’t remember the pre-Clinton political scene were alot more likely to get excited about Barack Obama, I think. Many of them won’t be fooled the next time around. The same is true, I think, for conservatives, and I imagine the inevitable collapse and/or co-opting of the Tea Party will send the more alert off the edge of establishment politics.

Another point tied to my 10 year arch from a believer in politics to near anarchist: I don’t think it takes nearly that long anymore. It may be a cliche that “information moves faster now,” and it’s probably the case that a number of my peers in highschool had already learned from their elders that politics is a racket.

I still think an 18 year old me in 2010 would be able to reason through to statelessness in a year or two–if I was even still a statist given 6 or 8 years of casual access to the sum total of all human knowledge. The possibility of being shielded the war pre-internet youth were from streams of information unfiltered by authority figures is much greater, in any case.

In Summary . . .

In the time before each disillusionment, though, think of the time, energy and resources squandered in the political process. Collectively hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of productive hours spent campaigning, arguing, worrying, cajoling, researching, defending, and attacking. All for nothing. Worse yet, all to create a façade of participation and legitimacy that provides an air of legitimacy to the crimes of the state.

The historical record is completely clear on this: democrats start wars, republicans grow government spending, democrats neuter social programs, republicans regulate small business to death. Of course both parties do all these things, but the tiny amount of influence that the whole weight of opposition public opinion can sometimes check the most egregious moves by the party in power. Any move in the direction of opposition finds no resistance at all.

Although this is obvious and the evidence is piled a mile high, most people will continue to support their chosen party. Most of those who leave one party will join the other. Most that leave both will attach to a third party. A small but growing super-minority is accumulating that have been sloughed off the ends of the political spectrum. The elements of this group may disagree on some issues, but each carry a piece (or two, or seven) of the airtight case against the state: practical, moral, around economic issues and issues of justice, racial, spiritual, sexual, statistical, philosophical, ethical, mathematical, you name it.

The future is unwritten and anything can happen, but I have high hopes that the accumulation of people opposed to imposing political solutions on their neighbors and on strangers will outpace the growth of people brainwashed into supporting the political establishment. I hope that the simple truth is eventually accepted by a critical mass of people: The historical struggle isn’t between left and right, it’s between the rulers and the ruled.

I’ve got a couple more “Giving Up on Politics” podcasts in the pipeline. Let me know if you dig them or if there’s something in particular you’d like to hear about.

  1. [1] Which doesn’t change the underlying immorality of imposing the majority’s will on the minority, of course.
  2. [2] He was actually a write in candidate in 1992. He ran as “None of the Above.” I had forgotten (or never knew) this