Sunday, June 17, 2012

Let's find ways past corporate AND CONSUMER personhood

Corporate personhood is part of the problem, part of the way plutocracy unjustly dominates society in the interest of the few. Another big part of the problem is CONSUMER PERSONHOOD. Corporations got personhood and then proceeded to transform human persons (that is, PEOPLE) into "consumers." Consumers are persons whose needs, desires, everyday lives, and self-identities are constructed to produce profit within the money-makes-money, power-concentrating logic of capital accumulation. In other words, our "personhood" is commodified in the interest of plutocracy, an overclass-run system of concentrating power and increasing inequality.

Notably, like a shark, capitalism needs to keep moving (growing, producing profit) to survive -- keeping the system going depends on constant expansion, the continuous creation and colonization of new psychosocial territory.  Back in the 1980s, some media professor type noted that the product of television is viewers. Think about that -- networks make money by producing viewers that companies can buy access to.  That is a commodification of a person's time and consciousness.  The time and consciousness of viewers are captured by tv and then sold to high bidders. Now, ten plus years past the millenium, 51% of the US population is on Facebook. Facebook has been a wildly successful colonizer of American personhood for the plutocracy.  If the product of tv is viewers, the product of Facebook is "users." The point of Facebook -- the reason for its existence in the form it exists -- is to commodify people's identities and relationships -- to mine people's lives for keywords and interests and then sell targeted access to particular "consumers" based on the desired characteristics. Facebook exists to make yr identity and relationships make money for Facebook.

Here is an ongoing attempt to create a non-commodified on-line social sphere -> Diaspora. We need a whole alternative, open-source internet and -- hopefully, over time -- a related translocal community with region-oriented economic ties. One project that seems to be moving in the right direction is the Global Village Construction Set. We need more and more paths of living that are more and more off the grid of corporate consumer culture. The plutocrats and their toadies will try to distract and scare us from heading off on our own without them. But doing so -- embarking on a grand sociocultural migration, a trek into a future of true democracy where the kind of power plutocrats wield does not exist -- is our most fundamental right as Americans (see the first part Declaration of Independence).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Private property" is inseparable from plutocracy

Here's something to think about: pretty much every human ever in the history of humans has had personal belongings, things that belonged to that person and/or their immediate family – cooking utensils, gardening tools, weapons, clothing, jewelry – the stuff of everyday life. And here's what the plutocrats can't comprehend – people generally don't need a concept of "private property" to have some basic respect for other people's personal effects. Just being a member of a community of people who know each other is good enough almost all the time!

But when you hear plutocrats and their toadies talk sanctimoniously about "private property," they are not really talking about things like your phone, or your car, or the stuff in your house, or even your house. They are talking about private ownership of things out in public – public things – things like oil under the ocean, forests in the mountains, the radio spectrum, money (which is public debt and public power). That's the "private property" they're worried about protecting from democracy – the private ownership of public things – not Joe Citizen's bigscreen tv. 

The modern Enlightenment concept of "private property" was only required when people started claiming things that weren't their personal belongings – like vast countrysides, ports, forests, resources buried underground – and asserting the dual right to exclude others and to use the "property" in their own, individually-determined self-interest. Only when people start claiming dominion over public things do the grabbers have to come up with rationalizations, learned assertions (backed by the force and law of the Nation-State) that this idea of "private property" (enabling the private to control the public) is some kind of "natural law" that the public has no choice but to bow down to. Obviously, the elites have no moral authority to deny that the basic right of democracy includes the right to abolish the current regime and institute new ways of organizing life that would not have to include the capitalist plutocracy concept of "private property." Of course, if you have the force and law of the Nation-State on your side, you don't necessarily need moral authority to impose your will on the public. But no matter how powerful the controlling elites become, the public, the people – the human beings who make up a society – always have the ultimate right and ability to demand and enact democracy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Democracy People ...

... the five-step path:

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-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.

* 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. (See Step 5.) 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 particular way.

** 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 on what is in the group interest, 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. (See Step 5.)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Tribute to the Haymarket Martyrs

Haymarket Memorial, DesPlaines Street, Chicago

May 4, 2015, marks the 129th anniversary of the Chicago's Haymarket "riot," a police-provoked disturbance at a workers rally for which four innocent men were hung. Two of these four did nothing more than express unpopular political views in public. The other two had no demonstrated connection to provoking the riot leading to the deaths of 7 police officers and at least 3 civilians (probably more). Two of the Haymarket martyrs, Albert Parsons and August Spies, were particularly admirable leaders of the Chicago labor/anarchist movement in the 1870s and 1880s. That movement had as its first priority an 8-hour workday (over 30 years before national implementation of the limited work day with overtime requiring heightened compensation), and as its long range vision a society in which members of "self-governing communities and workplaces would determine their own rights and responsibilities democratically, without the domination of a powerful national state with its judges and laws, its police forces and armies." (J. Green, DEATH IN THE MAYMARKET p. 129.)

The event known as the Haymarket riot occurred at a May 4 workers rally, called by local anarchist union leaders in the midst of a series of industry-wide strikes for the 8-hour day and better wages. The featured speaker was Albert Parsons, a confederate officer as a teenager who became a defender of former slaves in Reconstruction Texas. He was driven north to Chicago by the retrenching racist elite who could tolerate neither his pro-black political stances nor his marriage to the mixed race Lucy Parsons. In Chicago, Parsons was confronted by the evils of capital's extremist domination and suppression of working people and quickly became a leader of the idealistic movement to organize workers to demand better hours, wages, and, ultimately, a more humanely organized society. For this, Albert Parsons was made a martyr to American evil and became a model of American righteousness.

The day before the Haymarket rally, company thugs had provoked violence among striking workers at the giant McCormick Reaper Works and police then gunned down several strikers. The May 4 rally was called in part to refute bogus police allegations that the workers, and particularly German-language anarchist newspaper publisher August Spies, had provoked the violence. Spies spoke at the Haymarket rally and urged calm in the face of police confrontation. The crowd that night grew as large as 3000. The mayor of Chicago watched the rally for a while from the back of his horse, and then went to a nearby police station where police Inspector Bonfield had amassed a force of officers to counter any violence at the rally. Mayor Harrison told Bonfield that the rally was breaking up and that there was no need to worry about any violence. By this time, as it had started to rain, several of the speakers and organizers, including Parsons (with his wife and two young children), had walked to a tavern a block to the north where they were having a beer and talking about the day's events. Shortly after the mayor rode off toward home, a police agent erroneously told Bonfield that the last speaker, Samuel Fielden, was urging violent action. The trigger happy Inspector ordered the massed force into formation and down the street to the Haymarket, where they came to face the remaining few hundred workers. A police captain called for the rally to disperse peacefully. The speaker Fielden said they were being peaceful. The captain repeated his order to disperse. Fielden said "All right, we will go," and moved to climb down from the speaker's wagon. At that point, someone (probably a lone anarchist worker, but possibly a police agent provocateur) threw a small bomb into the mass of police officers, many of whom immediately began shooting the handguns they had recently begun carrying. Eventually, seven police officers died, one or two from the bomb blast, the rest from bullets fired by other police. (No non-police witnesses saw any of the workers with guns.) The establishment and the "respectable" middle class was of course outraged and terrified; the Haymarket became a symbol of the tenuous control the Establishment classes had over the workers who were suddenly susceptible to utopian visions of a radically different society. This, the establishment could not stand; someone had to pay the price to erase the power of the symbol and the potential power of the democratic majority of worker-citizens.

Despite the acknowledged lack of evidence any of the four martyrs threw the bomb or were involved in any planning for violence or had any advance knowledge of the bomb, they were convicted of conspiracy. The case against Spies and Parsons was basically that they had publicly said the time was coming when striking workers would use force to protect themselves against the increasingly violent attacks by police forces and company hired thugs. Spies and others had romanticized dynamite as a great social leveler, potentially enabling workers to contend with the violence of the bosses and their public and private armies. But there was no substantial evidence Spies ever possessed dynamite or encouraged others to use it. He and Parsons engaged in idealistic, prophetic rhetoric about what would happen if the bosses continued to violently suppress workers organizing and striking to gain better working conditions and wages. For talking about dynamite as a way to resist police suppression, Parsons and Spies were sentenced to die by hanging. Partially in response to an international uproar of the unfairness of the convictions and sentences, the governor indicated he was willing to commute their death sentences to life in prison. But the rules of commutation required the prisoners acknowledge some guilt and plead for mercy and neither Parsons nor Spies was willing to do that. On November 11, 1887, Parsons and Spies were executed, killed, hung from the neck by officials of the State of Illinois.

As a tribute to the memory of the martyrdom of the Chicago anarchists, I post the following passage from the book where I learned all this stuff, DEATH IN THE HAYMARKET (Pantheon 2006) by labor historian James Green.  The point of posting this passage is not to 'nostalgize' about some past idyll that of course never existed, but to evoke the conceptual freedom from a time when workers could envision taking society in a different direction than the one being orchestrated by the big money capitalist overclass. This was the real reason the anarchists had to be killed off: they insisted there was a non-capitalist and better way to organize society, a better way to live life cooperatively, a way that would not enable or allow the kind of super stratified wealth and power a capitalist society requires.

Green writes that in the mid 19th century, white American and European craftsmen "expressed 'a defiant sense of egalitarianism' toward other men who acted as their superiors. Their code was based on a sense of self-worth gained through long apprenticeship and mature workmanship in an honorable trade. They believed their work was noble, even holy, and that they should be regarded romantically as 'knights of labor.' Thus, manly workers refused to be put upon by their bosses or to accept any affront to their dignity. They also opposed efforts to pit themselves against one another. An honorable, respectable working man did not steal from his fellows or seek to undermine their customs and standards by rushing to please the boss or simply to make more money. . . . The habits that craftsmen cultivated were first expressed in the early benevolent societies based on the principle of mutual aid and then in the first craft unions their members called 'brotherhoods.' These 'rituals of mutuality' fused readily with the practices of democratic citizenship that evolved during the nineteenth century among white mechanics and workingmen who came to see themselves as the backbone of the republic.

"Being a skilled tradesman, a competent craftsman and an intelligent citizen required, above all, enlightenment through self-edification. Many craftsmen took pride in the breadth and depth of their reading, and appreciated what they learned from each other on the job. Cigar rollers sometimes asked a literate among them to read a book or newspaper aloud to them while they worked. . . .

"Manufacturers exerted little control over the cigar makers, who worked by the piece, and some producers complained that many of their men would come into the shop in the morning, roll a few stogies and then go to a beer saloon and play cards for a few hours, willfully cutting they day's production and voluntarily limiting their own earnings. These irregular work habits appeared in other trades as well, for instance, among German brewers, who clung to their Old World privilege of drinking free beer while they worked in the breweries. Coopers would appear at work on Saturday morning, like all wage earners did in those years, and then, in some places, they would pool their pay and buy a 'Goose Egg,' a half barrel of beer. 'Little groups of jolly fellows would often sit around upturned barrels playing poker . . .,' wrote a historian of cooperage, 'until they received their pay and the 'Goose Egg' was dry.' After a night out on Saturday and an afternoon of drinking on Sunday, the coopers were not in the best condition to settle down to a regular day's work. They would spend a 'blue Monday' sharpening tools, bringing in supplies and discussing the news of the day.

"Into this world, with its honored traditions, its irregular work habits and its rituals of mutuality came the machine. It rattled on relentlessly 'never tiring, never resting,' . . . dragging the worker along with it. And behind the machine stood a man, an owner or a foreman, who regarded the craftsmen's stubborn old habits and craft union rules as nothing more than ancient customs, relics of medieval times in a modern world governed by the need for industrial efficiency and the unforgiving laws of political economy."


"I am doomed by you to suffer an ignominious death because I am an outspoken enemy of coercion, of privilege, or force, of authority. Think you, the people are blind, are asleep, are indifferent? You deceive yourselves. I tell you as a man of the people, and I speak for them, that your every word and act are recorded. You are being weighed in the balance. The people are conscious of your power – your stolen power. I, as a working man, stand here and to your face, in your stronghold of oppression, denounce your crimes against humanity. It is for this I die, but my death will not have been in vain."
  – Albert Parsons at his sentencing hearing, October 9, 1886.

We can pay appropriate tribute to Parsons, Spies, and the other worker-visionaries of the nineteenth century by keeping alive an American moral imagination – a vision and eventually practice of a more humane, cooperative society driven not by the plutocratic imperatives of wealth and social stratification, but by the quest for good, meaningful lives for all.