Saturday, September 24, 2011

Plutocracy is the problem - Democracy is the solution

Plutocracy is government by and for the wealthy. Plutocracy is the hierarchical social system that capitalism creates.

Capitalism is the organization of society so money makes money. This societally-created profit logic concentrates the power of wealth (because those with almost all the money make almost all the money), creating plutocracy, which is by definition rule by a minority overclass, which is by definition (inherently) anti-democratic.

Capitalism requires the majority of the population be wage slaves and debt serfs – bar-scanned people whose destinies are sliced into tranches and allotted to various profit-centers and accounting gimmicks in the interest of the wealthy's wealth accumulation.

But it doesn't have to be this way! We have, and always have had, the radical power to create democratic societies in which like-minded people come together and take responsibility and use their freedom to construct the best lives they can. The 'money makes money' ponzi scheme that defines capitalism and creates plutocracy will disappear when we enact democratic societies.

The transition to democracy does mean giving up the lazy, flabby, doltified consumerist way of life capitalism has instituted. And, sure, some won't be able to make it – the very core of their lives and identities being tied too tightly into tv shows and "celebrity news," conspicuous consumption, petroleum, and processed food. But the rest of us have to start moving on. The beginning of the path is right here, as it always has been, just out of view, obscured by the flashing lights and anomie created by capitalism. To start moving down the path, it is up to us to blaze the trail – we have to enact democracy!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The problem is the power society grants to money, and the socioeconomic structures that facilitate the concentration of that power in a small minority ruling class. (In other words, the problem is capitalism.) The solution is true democracy throughout society, "economy," and everyday life.

OccupyWallStreet is a continuing success! For a week there has been a Temporary Autonomous Zone of democracy in the heart of America's financial district!
Democracy threatens plutocracy, which means democracy threatens Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is about enacting democracy. Do enough of that and change is inevitable!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our challenge

is to create true democracy in an era of economic collapse and ecological catastrophe.

Communities practicing true democracy will develop their own priorities and practices (that, after all, is the democracy demanded by free people), but one goal they will likely share is to move their lives OFF THE GRID OF CORPORATE-ORCHESTRATED CONSUMER CAPITALISM. Significant steps in this regard include adoption of a PERMACULTURE perspective on living in particular places and the Earth in general, 'POWERING DOWN' from dependence on fossil fuels (reducing energy needs and finding alternative sources for those remaining), connecting to LOCAL FARMERS and growing food at the household and neighborhood levels, and the creative creation of COMMUNITY-BASED LIVELIHOODS.

People can and are doing these things now. (The Transition Town network seems to be actually moving some communities in this direction ( ).) Having a community of people doing it – talking about it, making it a characteristic of their particular 'public' – transforms individual practices into the creation of society. The resulting GREEN TRUE DEMOCRACY 'NEOPUBLICS' will create the best paths through the collapse of modern capitalist society.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Making transition happen, starting now

an edited version of these thoughts appeared in Transition Voice

The Transition Town movement starts from the realization that our modern consumer culture way of life is not sustainable. Put simply, we use too much oil and other fossil fuels -- resources that will not last forever and are being used up fast. Fossil fuels permeate modern life – whether we are at home, at work, at play, or moving in between, we are almost always burning fossil fuel. Our everyday lives are filled with petroleum-based plastic stuff that comes to us from around the world on fossil-fueled networks of production and distribution. The modern world is literally made out of petroleum and relies on fossil fuel the way a body relies on blood.

At the same time, the intensive burning of fossil fuels required to power our way of life is actively damaging ecosystems around the world and provoking devastating climate chaos. And not only that, we are, in the medium-term, running out of cheap, easily-accessible oil. We've already used up more than half of it. Inevitably, the supply of cheap oil will dwindle and the socioeconomic system that relies on cheap oil as lifeblood will expire. So our way of life is damaging the earth, and cannot go on much longer in any case. And yet our "leaders" are almost uniform in their head-in-sand, full-speed-ahead approaches in the face of this crisis. At this point, we no longer have the luxury of waiting to be led; we have to act now. And this is where the idea of transition comes in.

The transition movement looks to be a few steps ahead of the curve of the collapse of oil-dependent societies. Rather than waiting for the crash and hoping for the best, Transition Town groups are plotting controlled descents off their addiction to oil by creating ways of living that are less and less dependent on non-renewable sources of energy. The crucial goals of transition are to power down from fossil fuel dependence and localize our ways of life, seeking to create lives and livelihoods rooted in our communities, rather than in an unsustainable global system of inequality managed by and for a plutocratic ruling class.

Transition envisions a regrouping, a reworking of our lives and communities to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and other unsustainable, ecologically-destructive practices. Such a transition necessarily involves the creation of new forms of society, new ways of organizing ourselves, that enable us to achieve the best lives we can using our freedom and responsibility. Transition in this sense entails a psychosocial migration, a trek off the grid of modern capitalist consumer culture and into a new frontier of human living. As with any long-term human endeavor, things surely won't end up as we imagine it from here – things will go the way people take it, which is how democracy works. But the important point here is: we can start now. We can get going and start making transition happen.

It helps to think of transition as a medium to long term process, albeit an urgent one requiring diligent effort. We don't have to do it all at once, we just have to get going and then keep making progress. It may be baby steps or it may be long strides depending on your situation, but the point is to start down the path. There are three levels at which we can all start doing things more or less right away:
(1) the household;
(2) some grouping of locally-related households, the sizes of which, from Resilience Circles to Transition Towns, will depend on the particulars of our local communities; and
(3) a global community of households creating a broad community of interest and sharing, developing stores of wisdom and experience, and being whatever else we and the heirs of our democracy decide we want to be.

The individual/household level is the one where we have the most control over our lives. Ideally, we would all live on urban, suburban, or rural homesteads where we produce significant amounts of food for ourselves and our friends while living in super-efficient homes using renewable energy. There are people doing this, and we should celebrate and learn from them. But even if that possibility seems a long way off for many of us, we can all find ways to keep moving, bit by bit, off the grid of corporate-orchestrated consumer culture. We can start consciously using less electricity; examine your bill and determine to use fewer kilowatt hours every month. We can reduce our use of gasoline by driving less and walking, biking, and using public transit more. We can seek out local food producers, help foster local economy, and reduce the carbon footprint of our diets. We can resolve to avoid corporate chain stores that suck money from local communities while peddling cheap, throw-away goods made in Third World factories. We can strive to live by the principle "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle – In That Order" as a way to rein in the consumerist tendencies our society fosters. It seems important to acknowledge up front that the individual path to transition will include quite a bit of "inconvenience." That inconvenience is our karmic wage, the withdrawal pain required to kick the modern consumerist habit. Ultimately, powering down our households and localizing our ways of life are not only smart and forward-thinking, but also the right thing to do.

Re-programming our lives at the household level is necessary, but it's not sufficient – we cannot be satisfied with being powered-down hermits. In order to enact the new societies that will make the transition to a post-growth world, we need to move to level 2 and act with others. This means reaching out and finding people in your area who are on the same path and forming a community around the practices of localized, powered-down living. The particular next step available to your household will depend on where you live. Some of us probably live in communities where enough people understand the issues we face and are willing to act so that a Transition Town initiative on the UK model, including the development of a town-wide interest in and effort toward reducing fossil fuel use and relocalizing, can be viable.

Many of us do not live in communities where a large-scale transition initiative has any reasonable chance to effect the necessary changes in the necessary time frame. It may be unfortunate, but we do not have time to wait for the people in our neighborhoods/cities/regions to wake up and take responsibility for working our way out of the petroleum and plutocracy based mess we're in. We have to start now to build life-raft communities in which to float way from the sinking ship of capitalist modernity. And even without a town-wide initiative, we can make things happen. One idea is for members of a household following the post-growth path to find two to four other households doing the same thing, and then do it together – MAKE A TRANSITION COMMUNITY!

Some organizers based at the Institute for Policy Studies in Boston are trying to help people form these kinds of micro-communities aimed at sustainable, resilient living, which they call common security clubs or resilience circles . They have even developed a 7-sessioncurriculum to help circle members develop a group understanding of the issues we are facing, and find the beginning of the path forward to a better, more democratic way of living.

Some people may prefer a less-structured approach. The key is to focus on being people who work together to move down the path to transition. I think it would be good to have regular group dinners to be together, talk about life and what's going on, discuss progress and setbacks in the quest to power down and localize. Members could look for ways to share and work together to create things, get things done, and "make things happen" – creating better, freer lives in the process. And as group members share, provide mutual aid and moral support, and act as well-intentioned interlocutors thinking through the way forward, they will create a new kind of community, a community of people taking responsibility for their lives, a community in transition.

When feasible and desirable, one resilience circle could work with others in the area to make things happen on a larger scale, maybe group currencies and barter fairs, cooperative enterprises and community defense militias. In some cases, linked micro-communities of transition-trekking households might be a firmer foundation for post-growth community creation than a full-scale Transition Town initiative. Since the resilience circle idea starts with finding and recruiting three or four households of like-minded people, rather than creating a community-wide publicity campaign that will inevitably fall flat in some places, resilience circles seem like something most of us could reasonably get started in the near term. (I haven't been part of a circle yet, but have talked to a couple of people about it and hope to help make it happen sooner than later. It seems like the best available way forward in the conservative rural city where I am living.)

Finally, it seems to me that there would be value in moving transition forward on a third level – as a worldwide community of households, connected through the internet, sharing certain basic values and endeavoring to work together to advance the concepts and practices of post growth, post peak oil living. Most obviously, such a community would develop a store of experience and wisdom, a register of trials and errors, that would enable local groups to make faster progress than if they had to run every trial themselves. Beyond the establishment of a community of experience, this third level of transition can help groups make connections for trade and cooperation, and will encourage and facilitate the maintenance of certain kinds of 'translocal' expertise among individuals in far-flung groups (expertise in computers and communications come to mind). As with any community created by people practicing democracy, our third-level, internet community will become whatever we and our ancestors make of it. And in fact it will never stop becoming what we make of it because democracy is not an ideal state to be achieved, but a never-ending process to be involved in; democracy is the freedom and responsibility to continuously create community and society.

Transition is a path. As an individual or a community, we cannot get there all at once. But we can get on the path, as an individual and a community, and keep going. That is what we can do and how we can make things happen. Crises beyond our control may affect the pace of transition in one way or another, for all we know humanity may already be doomed to extinction, but if our concern is to do what we can do, and to keep moving forward, then we are making transition happen, making progress on the trek off the grid of the dying social formation of the modern capitalist West and into a wide-open democratic frontier of freedom and responsibility.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reform or Regroup?

these thoughts originally appeared in Transition Voice -

Few would disagree that the contemporary capitalist societies that define the "Modern Western world" are in crisis. The crisis takes the form of a "syndrome," a condition made up of a variety of "symptoms" that relate to each other in complex ways, including economic collapse, endless wars, climate chaos, and energy depletion. The symptom most likely to affect the lives of significant portions of the population in the near-term is the "economic crisis," "the jobs crisis," or, to put it more specifically, the inability of the financial management authorities to "grow the economy" sufficiently to ensure everyone has access to food, clothing, shelter, and the basic respect required for democracy. As I see it, the "economic crisis" is really a crisis of plutocratic governance and resource depletion – at this point in our history, capital, and the social power defined by capital, have become so concentrated in the hands of a minority, self-interest-driven 'overclass' that a growing percentage of the population is in real danger of falling out the bottom of the mainstream society held together by capital-power.

So what happens from here? It is possible the plutocrats will seek to enact 'reform,' as FDR did in the New Deal, introducing new programs and regulations and laws intended to effect some degree of sharing of the wealth produced by the growth society. This approach starts from the insight that if the money economy does not provide more or less everyone with food and shelter and a bit of free time, people will fall out of the money economy and no longer be integrated into the social system that produces profit for the wealth holders. Ultimately, real "share the wealth" reform would have to be aimed at something like what the corporate pundits derisively call the "European model" in which tax policy is used to ensure the rich don't get too rich and the poor don't get too poor. But even if the plutocracy seeks the path of reform, it seems likely to be much harder to pull off now than in the 1930s, at least in part because of the intensified globalization of wealth accumulation, and in part because capitalism's founding myth of infinite growth is running out of steam.

In the 1930s, the smarter plutocrats understood that keeping everyone on the inside of the system helps ensure the system's continuation, a longer-term goal worth giving up some wealth-power. Of course, even back then there were strident opponents to reform among the economic elites, and today's plutocrats don't seem as smart as their ancestors. It is easy to imagine the plutocrats of the Fox News era rejecting the idea of reform ("socialism!") until it's too late and the whole thing – capitalist modernity as a society and way of life – will burn itself out.

To me, this seems like the more likely scenario, especially considering the largely-ignored, happening-now consequences of climate chaos, caused (it is reasonable to believe) by the very lifeblood of modern capitalist society – the burning of fossil fuels. Throw in the impending crisis of increasing oil scarcity and it appears the whole modern capitalist ponzi scheme – rooted in the delusion of infinite growth – has run its course – the bubble at the bottom of all the other bubbles appears to have burst.

So maybe the plutocrats will attempt reform, or maybe they'll go down like the power-mad captain of a sinking ship. But no matter what, we shouldn't be waiting around to see how they play the collapse. We should be asserting and enacting our basic democratic right to have a say in how our societies and lives are organized. The question for us, it seems to me, is which approach to pursue: REFORM or REGROUP.

Again, reform may not be possible, depending on how the plutocrats proceed. But if possible, some significant democratic reforms could include much more sharing of the wealth of society, the end of corporate personhood, proportional representation, cooperative nonprofit management of vital community resources, and other policies. But can anyone really see this happening? In this society, at this time? My sense is that some significant percentage of the wealthy, their lackeys, and minions would resist this kind of reform to the point of violence, willing to bring down everything rather than share power. Further, even if successful, it has to be noted that the power that would be shared is the power to manage a complex, centralized social system based on materialist consumption and profit, a social system on the brink of collapse. Do we really want to share that power? Or should we do something different? Wouldn't it be a better strategy, for future generations and our own peace of mind, to move past the idea of reform and head straight to REGROUP?

The crisis of capitalist modernity – the sudden shakiness of what had seemed so powerful and secure – provides an opportunity to regroup: to rethink and reorganize the ways we live our lives. Through the cracks of our crumbling society we can glimpse the profound human truth underlying every society: the truth that we, as members of groups, create the reality of our societies and everyday lives. You can think – you can use language to communicate – you can work with others to get things done and make things happen; those capacities, those powers, those freedoms are the root of society and reality – it all comes from there, from us. Taking to heart this profound truth about what it means to be human opens the beginning of a path to creating whole new societies, new voluntarily-associating, self-governing groups – 'neopublics' whose ongoing democratic processes will lead to ideas and practices and ways of living we cannot even imagine from where we are now. In other words, for those of us who would go for regrouping rather than reform, the capitalist crisis presents an opportunity to start down a new, r/evolutionary path of freedom and responsibility – the path of true democracy.

I would almost always support people using opportunities to fight for a more fair share of power, or better working conditions, or any issues involving the advance of democracy over plutocracy. But I would also assert that the better longer term goal is not a fair share of the plutocrat's power, but new ways of doing things, new democratic societies in which the kind of power plutocrats wield (power related to the elite management of a complex, highly-stratified, centralized society) does not exist.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day

a version of these thoughts was published in Transition Voice.

July 4th commemorates Independence Day in the United States, the day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed, calling the United States into existence as a new entity, a separate union of people. Unlike much of the might-makes-right-driven history of the United States, the Declaration of Independence really is something to celebrate. The basic message of the Declaration is that the only legitimate reason to have a government is to secure the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of the people being governed. If the people being governed decide a government is not fulfilling that sole purpose for its existence – if, in the words of the Declaration, "any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." That is our fundamental right and freedom as Americans – the right to govern ourselves in ways that seem to us most likely to ensure our freedom to create the best, happiest lives we can. And that is something to celebrate. And then put into action.

On Independence Day in the year 2011, any clear-thinking, fair-minded assessment of the government we have now, legally authorized by the 1789 Constitution and its subsequent interpretations by the Supreme Court, leads to the conclusion that it has failed in its mandated purpose to secure the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for a democratic majority of the people being governed. America is undeniably a plutocracy, a government and society run by and for the wealthy, a minority ruling class that wields and concentrates power through the workings of money (i.e., capitalism). America is not now and probably never really was the democracy demanded by the Declaration. But we never lost the right to self-governance – it's right there in the Declaration! So let's do it, let's live the Declaration! Let's enact the Declared right of the people to "throw off" the plutocratic government of the 1789 Constitution, and START ANEW! Let's start, as the Declaration wisely suggests, "laying a foundation of principles and organizing ourselves in ways that seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness" and "providing new guards for our future security." And of course the Declaration does not, and indeed could not, put any limitations on our freedom to create new governments, new societies, new ways of life. As the Declaration drafters implicitly understood, our ability to create new ways of life is our fundamental human freedom. Everything else derives from the radical human freedom to create society.

So how should we govern ourselves? What kinds of societies should we create? It seems to me there are two basic approaches to creating a more democratic society and government. One would be "reform" of the current system with a Constitutional Convention aiming to frame a new national government responsive to the needs of the democratic majority, and specifically organized to resist being captured by minority interests or factions (definitely no corporate personhood). One possible way to do this is through multi-party proportional representation. In a law school seminar called The Law of American Democracy, I developed a modest proposal for a reformed, USA-style government that would be more representative and democratic through (among other things) redrawn federal districts electing representatives with cumulative and instant runoff voting.

But to be honest, I think such reform would be too difficult to achieve because it requires taking power from the plutocratic overclass whose control of our society, particularly through the media, makes that virtually impossible. The other, ultimately more promising and more principled alternative is for like-minded people to change paths and start creating their own new societies and systems of governance. This approach accords with the forward-thinking character of the Transition movement. Although we can't know in advance what free people living democratically will come up with, it seems clear that a crucial starting point is establishing democratic ways of life in localized communities that to some significant extent are able to take care of themselves. Like others, I can envision a proliferation of localized, post-nation-state polities of like-minded people existing amid other such groups, as well as the chaotic wreckage of modernity. Some of these will be rural, some urban, some suburban. I would hope and expect that many or some of these localized democratic communities would maintain beneficial relations with others, and that translocal communities of like minded individuals would criss-cross and create interrelations among local communities. These farther-flung communities of interest will probably include groups akin to guilds that will maintain and develop high-technology tools and skills like computers and the internet that will help tie local communities together into larger webs of association.

But importantly, this true democracy alternative of proliferating neopublics is not a 'state' (in the sense of stasis or some particular, ideal form), so it's not particularly helpful to lay out a specific vision of 'how things should be'; rather true democracy is a never-ending process of people taking responsibility for themselves as individuals and communities and using their freedom to create the best societies and lives they can at any given moment. That said, the beginning of the path to true democracy, the basic principles that define freedom and responsibility, have been lying in plain view since the time of cave painters. We just have to start living those principles with others forging the same path. The resulting 'revolution' will be more Mayan (people dispersing into re-localized communities as the centralized infrastructure that allowed a ruling minority to control society fades away) than French (with rebels chopping off the king's head and purporting to more or less replace him with themselves). And this true democracy revolution will be rooted in the fundamental freedom of people to govern themselves inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, which is why the Fourth of July – Independence Day – has become my favorite holiday!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tactical self defense in the psychocultural war for yr mind

Until the not too distant future when more of us will be wielding our power and freedom to live in societies without marketers and profiteers (in other words as long as our daily lives continue to be beset by marketing), people who believe in true democracy should actively resist being subject to any 'techniques' designed to 'sell' or 'position' or construct your reality without your fully-informed consent and co-equal participation. Here's one little but effective thing I do. I would like to get rid of the tv, but my wife watches a few things so we keep it and I inevitably watch some (Colbert Report, etc.). The big problem with tv is you can't talk back to it in any effective way -- it gets to talk and you get to sit there and take it. So when I am watching tv, whenever a commercial catches my eye, makes me notice it with style or originality or whatever, I CHANGE THE CHANNEL and then stay away long enough so that I don't know what the ad that was enchanting me was for. Even though my attention was momentarily captured, I was able to slip away before it was commodified, which is to say made into something that makes someone a profit. If I don't know who the commercial is for, then it doesn't work for them -- they get nothing out of my momentary enchantment by the commercial imagery they paid for -- haha! And sure, they will come up with counter-techniques, new psychotechnologies of mind control for profit. But, as always, we have the ultimate freedom and power to remain vigilant and resist commodification of our lives and selves, and finally, as more of us are jarred awake by the wreckage of capitalist modernity raining down all around us, construct our new societies based on values that disable the kind of non-transparent manipulation of others that serves the needs of the plutocrats and undermines the radical (at the roots) potential for democracy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Benevolent Path

The path leading to the best societies humans can create – the democracy demanded by free people – will not involve coming together as a mass to confront, overcome, and take over the power of the plutocrat overclass. The benevolent path will be the dispersing of nation-states and mega-scale societies into a proliferation of locally-oriented 'neopublics' that will live in accord with their local situation (as in permaculture) and the basic principles of true democracy (as most humans did for thousands of years before the advent of large-scale agriculture and organized religion). In this way the r/evolution will be more social than political, and more like the Mayan evolution (the people letting go, moving on, "localizing," as the centralizing elites fade away) than the French revolution (where the rebels chopped off the king's head and made themselves king).

The global world cast by modern western corporate capitalism is inherently plutocratic and anti-moral -- it can't be made good through policy tinkering or 'reform.' The way forward is along a different path. Hopefully there will be a global coming together as a mass to understand that modernity, as a way of organizing societies, is down the wrong path. And hopefully, building on that understanding, there will be a worldwide migration of people from the wrong path of modernity onto the benevolent path of true democracy. And hopefully as many communities as possible will keep up good, mutually beneficial relations with each other. And hopefully widely-scattered communities of like-minded people will maintain relations that help individuals be the people they want to be. But the path to democracy starts at home, which is to say in the local communities where individuals live their everyday lives. We need to break down and deprogram our reflexive dependence on the far-flung social, economic, and political structures of modernity, which are constructed and managed to maintain and extend an immoral system of power concentration, and re-root our societies with and among people around us on the same path.

People are already starting to do this (in Transition Towns and Common Security Clubs and Resilience Circles) and it is well within the fundamental freedom and power to create society that is our human light. It won't always be easy and it certainly won't be "convenient," but the creation of localized, true democracy communities will be the benevolent path through the crashing-down-around-us wreckage of modern western society.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Modernity as a cultural system

Modernity and capitalism are fundamentally the same thing.

Continuous growth/expansion/colonization are at the root of modernity; capitalism is the engine and the power that makes it go. The attempts to make modernity work without capitalism are doomed to fail as contrary to the nature of modernity. But the 'proper' capitalist form of modernity is doomed as well -- by its own logic. The "growth" upon which it depends is a ponzi scheme – it can't go on forever – finite resources cannot sustain infinite growth – and, like a shark, when capitalist modernity stops moving, it dies.

Capitalism and plutocracy are fundamentally inseparable.
Plutocracy – government by and for the wealthy – is the form of government that goes along with capitalism as a form of social organization. When capitalism 'works,' it produces plutocratic government. Capitalism -- the organization of society so that money makes money -- could not exist in a real democracy because it necessarily concentrates money and power in fewer hands. That's how capitalism works – it concentrates power in the hands of the small percentage of people with the most money. And the fact that capitalism functions in the interest of a non-democratic minority is why it can exist only if the majority of citizens are bought off or stupefied with drugs and flashing lights.

Modernity, capitalism, plutocracy -- it's all of a piece and it's all coming to a dramatic end. Twenty years ago, it might have been accurate to say we were speeding toward a cliff with the accelerator on the floor. At this point, in 2011, all four wheels are over the edge. We're airborne. The question now is how to survive the wreck. And how to make sure the people in charge of causing the wreck are not in a position to wreak more havoc. The plutocrats trashed the globe with their industrial-financial ponzi scheme. As it collapses, they lose their power. The democracy demanded by free people doesn't take power from the plutocrats and does not assume the power the plutocrats lose. Instead, it constructs new, beyond-modern societies in which the kind of power plutocrats wield does not exist – it constructs true democracy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Realism bites

A common response to progressive or utopian ideas is "That's not realistic." Witting or not, the "realism" underlying this perspective is a crucial strategy for protecting the power of the powerful. In our modern capitalist society, realism protects the power of the plutocratic overclass, the small minority of the population that controls a disproportionate amount of the wealth, and thereby comes to dominate and profit from more and more aspects of our society and everyday lives. And if "realism" does THAT, I think people who believe in democracy will agree that realism bites.

The realist, in any given society, is expressing the "common sense" that keeps the powers that be in power. On what authority is there a limit on what humans working together could possibly do? The "authority" is ultimately a restriction of imagination cultivated by the forces of societal inertia and power protection. Restricted imagination is the flip side of an unquestioning faith that the way we are now, or could be with some key reforms, is pretty much all we can be. Together, restricted imagination and naive faith create the delusion that we are not free, that we are pre-limited in what we can possibly do. So it's really perfectly obvious that "realism" functions to protect the authority of the status quo; anything that would challenge the arrangements by which the powerful wield power is to be considered impossible, unimaginable, not "realistic." Realism draws a line in the sand and says we are not free to cross it. That's authoritarianism!

(Another point worth noting about the "that's not realistic" response is that by changing the focus of the issue from 'what would be better' to 'what is possible,' the realist is effectively conceding that the "unrealistic" idea proposed would be an improvement if it was "realistic." Either that or he's obscuring, perhaps unintentionally, a deeper, more profound question of the morality of our politics and society and everyday life. [The question being whether the way we are now is the best way to be, or whether there are other, perhaps radically different ways we could be and survive and have better, more free and responsible lives.])

By purporting to put a boundary at the limits of the possible, "realism" plays a significant role in maintaining our unfree way of life in which a vast majority of the people are trapped as credit-serfs and wage-slaves in a dead-end, materialistic, authoritarian society, ruled by a plutocratic overclass that is trashing the globe and treats the vast majority as resources for wealth extraction and power concentration (rather than as human beings equally deserving of using their freedom and power to think, talk, and work with others to organize their societies and lives as they best see fit in voluntarily-associating groups of like-minded people). (It seems indisputable that the plutocratic overclass doesn't treat the majority of citizens the way the golden rule demands; in other words, the plutocratic overclass does not act in accord with the basic principles of morality and democracy.)

Whatever is defining a boundary of "realism" is exactly what needs to be exorcised, uprooted, critiqued, and rejected in favor of freedom over authority. In a free society, there will be no distinction between realism and idealism, and people will intentionally avoid being tied down by status quo concepts of what is possible.

Once you see that your sense of what is realistic is a product and captive of the powers that be, you are free to move on. And only by freeing your sense of the possible, understanding that our way of life is just one of innumerable possible ways of organizing human life, can you see your way back to the clearing from which all possible paths, including true democracy, start.

[Afterpoint 1: Is there any good reason for people who believe in democracy to fight with the plutocrats and their spitlickles over the boundary of what is "realistic"? Instead, maybe we should accept the boundary they lay down and then move to other side! Leave them behind in the only reality we democracy-believers will define as not possible: the status quo reality where we are serfs and slaves in an authoritarian society run by and for a plutocratic ruling class!]
[Afterpoint 2: Sometimes people appeal to "human nature" as some sort of realism block on the human ability to create better societies. It is important to recognize that appeals to human nature are not really argument – whatever someone means by human nature is only his "faith" that humans are some particular way, beliefs he will assert are "just so" even though he cannot back them up with reasoned argument applied to convincing evidence. The fact is human beings have always been too different, too diverse, both within and across populations, to claim that the kinds of societies we could possibly construct are somehow limited by some underlying, inescapable "nature." Any argument that cites human nature as a limit on the human capacity to create free democratic societies is bogus and a strategy (witting or not) to avoid dealing with the profound moral questions at the root of our way of life.]

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Light, Language, You, and Utopia

1. Most people spend most of their time talking to themselves in their head. Most of the time, that's what "thinking" is – talking to ourselves as we navigate our ways through our daily lives.

2. When you're talking to yourself, there's a you doing the talking, and another you that you're talking to – two yous (and more, actually).

3. The sliver of space and time between the you doing the talking and the yous you're talking to is the point where being human intersects with light, the point where what makes us human makes us human.

4. The human intersection with light (that which makes us human, that which fills the spacetime slivering our yous) is linguistic, language-based, and therefore, by definition, a group activity.

5. By living a language as part of a group, we live light, we construe reality as a spacetime using light and language. There is necessarily a language of light embedded in human ways of life, typically implicit, deep in the background of everyday life and consciousness. But if enough of us determine to accept the responsibility, we have the freedom and power to create new languages of light – new spacetimes, new realities.

6. Particular languages of light and the spacetime realities they construe depend on the group ways of life – the language of living light – of particular groups of people.  Opening up benevolent-path spacetimes depends on the language-practice of people living benevolent-path ways of life.  (Light, language, and way of life are inseparable, inherently inter-constitutive; their necessary link is what makes humans human.) The benevolent-path way of life that will open up benevolent, even utopian, spacetime realities, is what can be called "true democracy," a form of society based on freedom, responsibility, and good will in which any governing is done by and for the people being governed in any particular situation.  It's really a simple, 5-step moral system of freedom and responsibility that opens a path to a utopian way of life:

At birth, every human being is equally deserving of respect and equally deserving of a society where she or he can live a good life.

Good citizens and decent people live by the following principle of morality and freedom: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or your children or mother or whoever you care most about in the world. The golden rule demonstrates that morality ("the way a person should act") is SOCIAL; it's about how you treat other people and the extent to which you consider how your actions will affect other people.

With golden rule-morality as the starting point, the ideal political form is what can be called "true democracy," which is to say that people govern themselves – any governing is by and for the people being governed in any particular situation. Wouldn't you want the opportunity to participate in any decision that affects you? The golden rule demands we extend that right to all. And that is true democracy.

Within the open-honest-thoughtful discussions that make up the political process of true democracy, good citizens and decent people will consider the good of everyone affected by the decision to be made, as called for by the golden rule. If people try to argue for a course of action based on selfish self-interest, good citizens and decent people will recognize and critique such positions as anti-democratic.

Live and let live; look kindly on people, both generally and specifically; feel free to find and create ways to be happy and enjoy life any way you can without hurting or infringing on others.

We have the freedom and the power to create true democracy. We just have to believe in it, and then start finding ways to enact it, especially in cooperation with others who are on the same path. It won't always be easy, but it's the right thing to do. And the resulting societies, as the products of the democracy enacted by free, responsibility-assuming people, will be ongoing utopias – the best societies free people can create at any given moment.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The mirror


there is Being and a mirror of Being.
and the mirror of Being is light.

it is through light that Being becomes aware of itself,
in the particular experiences of particular beings enacting particular interpretations of light.

beings are the intersection of Being and light.

the particular way that beings interact with light
– what they see when they look –
will depend on their localized interpretations and enactments of light,
typically embedded in languages and practices handed down through generations.

by enacting the core relation between light and language in particular ways,
beings open up particular spaces for reality creation –
enact a different language of light, open up a new frontier of spacetime.

if human beings can pull out of the chemically-induced death spiral that will be the heritage of modernity, our next stage of human evolution will be tied to explorations in the human relationship with light through language.

This is the path!
Through light everything possible is possible.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Two kinds of society

At some level of generality, there are these two types of society: those fused by the autonomous intention of their members, which is to say true democracy, and those fused by power relations. And although it would be a bit reckless to assert that it was a "law of social organization," it is a safe assumption that societies characterized by stratification of privilege/power will be fused by power rather than democratic will. But small-scale societies throughout the history of humans have resisted the path of stratification and maintained their native practices of true democracy for hundreds and thousands of years.

Modern people are led to think of small-scale societies as "primitive," somehow left behind by progress and social evolution. This is an ethnocentric delusion. When a particular society would start down the path of hierarchy and centralization, small-scale groups at its edges would often resist incorporation into the "progress," even if it meant moving further into the hinterlands and/or fighting to the death. To those in the centralizing society, those on the outside look poor and backward; but from the outside perspective, the people are struggling to continue their traditions of free, self-governing societies. They weren't left behind by "civilization"; they were fighting it off as long as they could in defense of true democracy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rethinking James Clerk Maxwell ...

... with another approach to and through light ...

Different languages of light open up different spacetimes, different frontiers for reality construction.  The spacetime of the language of light characterizing "Modern Western Civilization" is a dead-end. We need to forge new interpretive paths, construe new languages of light, in order to be the best humans we can be...

Friday, April 22, 2011

The path to true democracy

Buried beneath the company town indentured servitude of modern capitalist life, and its digital and pharmaceutical distractions from the drudgery of wage slavery, is the fundamental, tripartite freedom-power-capacity that defines being human: you can think, you can use language to communicate, and you can work with others, from one other to multitudes, to get things done, make things happen, and create things.

You can think, you can talk, you can work with others. Together these three abilities constitute the fundamental human freedom and power to CREATE REALITY through shared language, values, and practices. And (this is crucial) that freedom-power is always there. It may be obscured and twisted to the ends of those wielding power, but it doesn't go away – it is what it is to be human – and it's radical, "radix," meaning it's all the way down at the roots of society. So in this way, this tripartite freedom/power constitutes the always-there potential for a starting-at-the-roots sociocultural remake that, over time and in cooperation with others, constructs a proliferation of new social realities in which voluntary participants use their freedom and accept their responsibility to work together to create the best possible societies they can at any given point.

So RIGHT NOW, if we choose to, we can use our human freedom and power to start creating new societies right here in the middle of the company town. First we identify shared values about what it means to be a good person and have a good society, and then determine to start trying to live according to those values, including, over time, seeking out others who are on the same path and creating societies with them. Our human freedom-power to create reality lights the path to social revolution – start finding ways to live new values and it is on.

Drawing on the Enlightenment tradition of which we are a part, I propose the following five interrelated social-civic values as good ones upon which to start creating a true democracy revolution:

At birth, every human being is equally deserving of respect and equally deserving of a society where she or he can live a good life.
Good citizens and decent people live by the following principle of morality and freedom: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or your children or mother or whoever you care most about in the world. The golden rule demonstrates that morality ("the way a person should act") is SOCIAL; it's about how you treat other people and the extent to which you consider how your actions will affect other people. *
With golden rule-morality as the starting point, the ideal political form is what can be called "true democracy," which is to say that people govern themselves – any governing is by and for the people being governed in any particular situation. Wouldn't you want the opportunity to participate in any decision that affects you? The golden rule demands we extend that right to all. And that is true democracy. **
Within the open-honest-thoughtful discussions that make up the political process of true democracy, good citizens and decent people will consider the good of everyone affected by the decision to be made, as called for by the golden rule. If people try to argue for a course of action based on selfish self-interest, good citizens and decent people will recognize and critique such positions as anti-democratic.
Live and let live; look kindly on people, both generally and specifically; feel free to find and create ways to be happy and enjoy life any way you can without hurting or infringing on others.

We have the freedom and the power to create true democracy. 'All' we have to do is believe in it (concur with the credo) and then start finding ways to enact it, especially in cooperation with others who are on the same path. It won't always be easy, but it's the right thing to do. And the resulting societies, as the products of the democracy enacted by free, responsibility-assuming people, will be ongoing utopias – the best societies free people can create at any given moment.
* Important aside (1): In other words, morality is not a code laying down specific "don't dos" and "do dos" in order to be a good person. If you personally want to ALSO live by some code of ethics with strict rules of what you can and cannot do, that's your business, you are free to do so as long as it does not interfere with anyone else. We have the right to expect people to act morally, but good citizens and decent people do not try to impose their particular ethical code on anybody else who does not choose to live that way.

** Important aside (2): Fundamental respect for our fellow humans, and the consequent application of the golden rule, means that decisions in true democracy are not determined by 51-to-49 votes; they are decided through open, honest, thoughtful discussions aimed at consensus, and if no consensus can be reached, when about 2/3 of the people agree on a course of action, the other third should accept the democratic decision and go along, or else break away

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Derrida for True Democracy

Among the cultural delusions embedded in modern western thought is that there is some "Order to the Universe" that human beings can potentially discover and "know." A sociocultural-anthropological perspective makes it obvious that the idea of order that modern western humans seek in the universe is fundamentally a modern western human kind of order. There's no reason to assume our concept of order has anything at all to do with the the Universe or Being as a whole. Put another way, there's no reason to believe the universe is ordered or structured in a way that would necessarily fit the modern western human conception of order. Any link between a human idea of order on the one hand, and the nature of Being as a whole on the other, is necessarily a matter of faith, not reason. By proceeding based on that faith, rather than remaining agnostic, we proceed down a particular path, and many many other paths are rendered invisible, beyond the pale of modern western experience.

One cannot prove (using reason) that human knowledge, as powerful as it can be, is capable of discovering or understanding the nature of the universe outside of human experience. The reasonable agnostic position is: there may or may not be something like "order" to Being – we can't tell from here. But even if such order does exist, there is reason to believe humans couldn't access it anyway because we would necessarily have to access it through language, and the idea that such language could objectively represent some Order (that would necessarily encompass human being and language) is necessarily a matter of faith, not reason. Given the inability of discovering order through reason (as opposed to faith), those who believe in true democracy should consider letting go of the question altogether and proceeding agnostically; this new way of thinking will open up new frontiers of being for social reality construction, frontiers of utopian democracy that are not visible from within the order-deluded, modern western human world-view.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Usage of light is the frontier for the construction of true democracy utopias

- the limit evinced in quantum mechanics
- the limit evinced in Godel's theorem
- the limit manifesting as the speed of light
are not limits on human beings;
they are limits of one particular way of being human -- through the western/modern mode of thinking, with its particular mode of coming to and interpreting light -- its particular way of casting a world with language and practices.

If you look at reality THAT WAY, you come upon THOSE LIMITS !
(now it seems obvious, doesn't it?)


Quantum experimental observation tells us that when we look at something we 'pin down' one possible result out of a 'probabilistic' spread of possibilities. The reality we see, the one we pin down, depends on our looking at it.

One way to interpret that: the probabilistic spread is Being -- the pinning down of one possibility out of the realm of Being is a particular usage of light, a particular being in spacetime.

The sense of probability evoked in quantum mechanics is an expression of the fact that we construct our worlds, and the consequent crucial fact that we could do it differently. The realm of other ways we could be constructing our worlds is the realm quantum physicists identify as a sort of smear of probability. But that smear is better understood as a field of possibility, a field that contains the resources for radical reconstructions of self, society, and reality. The unattended-to wave that makes up Being is the universal frontier of reality construction... In order to open up new parts of this frontier, and see and experience new, different aspects of Being, we need to develop a new 'usage of light,' a new language/practice of light.

Monday, February 21, 2011

language * power * freedom

We navigate our everyday lives using language; we narrate, thinking to ourselves more or less constantly, as we experience and enact the sociocultural structures of daily life. This means that at its most basic level, our experience is linguistic, experience is a moment to moment creation of meaning with language that depends on an already-existing world of meaning grafted onto experience such that 'the world' (where the experience occurs) makes sense. And that meaning, that world, that sense, is built on language. Our everyday experience is 'languaging.' And that means our experience of everyday life, our consciousness, is fundamentally, like language, a social construction. Being a social construction means WE DO IT and, further, that we can do it differently.

It turns out to be a very simple concept, really child's play, that has been buried over by the forces of power ever since the development of cultivated agriculture and organized religion.

We're dupes of a delusion that our power to construct reality belongs to other people, or some God or other, or history, or even "society." But WE are the ones who think, use language to communicate with others, and can work with others to make things happen, get things done, create things. That means we are the ones with the freedom and capacity to create reality.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some Common Sense

from Noam Chomsky:

"if we have the choice between trusting in centralised power to make the right decision in that matter, or trusting in free associations of libertarian communities to make that decision, I would rather trust the latter. And the reason is that I think that they can serve to maximise decent human instincts, whereas a system of centralised power will tend in a general way to maximise one of the worst of human instincts, namely the instinct of rapaciousness, of destructiveness, of accumulating power to oneself and destroying others. It's a kind of instinct which does arise and functions in certain historical circumstances, and I think we want to create the kind of society where it is likely to be repressed and replaced by other and more healthy instincts."