Friday, November 18, 2016

Trump is the Apotheosis of White Demographic Decline Derangement Syndrome

White Demographic Decline Derangement Syndrome has its roots in three phenomena: (1) the plutocrat class's neoliberal restructuring of the economy to enrich themselves and let the American working/rural middle class fall into poverty and despair; (2) the civil rights movements that required positions of economic and social privilege previously reserved largely for white men be opened up for equal access by women and people of color; and (3) demographic shifts that will make "non-Hispanic white" people less than 50% of the population in two or three decades.

Predictably, "conservative" con men like Rush Limbaugh conflated these historical trends and led many white "conservatives" to the dumbed-down belief that the downward trajectory of their lives was attributable to (2) and (3) rather than (1). Thus, for "conservative" white Americans, the rigging of the economy in favor of concentrated wealth is not the problem, the problem is fairness and equality for women and minorities. That "problem" was manifest in particular by the election of a half-black, half-liberal Democrat from the alien state of Hawaii. In response to Obama's election, "conservatives" – brainwashed into buzzword thinking by decades in the truthiness bubbles of AM hate radio and the Fox News cult, and misled by anti-democracy officials in the Republican Party – demanded "their" country back.

Now, in the wake of Republican-crafted voter suppression in several key states, a minority of mostly white voters has elected a reality TV bully-clown who promises to fix their problems. Establishment media types are urging us to "understand" Trump voters and exhibit "compassion." I'm sure many will disagree with this, but: Fuck that. All you have to do is listen to what Trump has actually been saying for the last year to know that a vote for Trump is a vote for deranged, fact-free us-versus-them hate – based on what he says. Pick any Trump rally from the last six months, listen to the whole thing, and decide whether voting for this erratic elitist lying bully is anything other than a despicable, hate-filled act of bad citizenship. (People are free to cast a blank ballot if they can't vote for the other candidates.) This is a key question: what kind of people rally around and empower a bully? Supporting a bully is beyond deplorable, it is morally bankrupt. Bullying violates the Golden Rule. It seems pretty straightforward to me: If you are or support a bully, you're not a good person. I don't need to "understand" such people any better to know that I would prefer not to be members of the same community with them. (And, based on where I live, it's why I have a shotgun.)

I am not implying America under a Clinton presidency would have been some land of milk and honey. She is part of the neoliberal Establishment that helped produce this mess. And four more years of partisan obstruction, witch-hunt investigations, and red versus blue media bubbles would have been miserable. But unless your goal is to bring on America's collapse (as was surely Julian Assange's), it is deranged to give power to an angry narcissistic reality TV clown. At least worst (assuming his erratic, egomaniacal Orange Julius Caesar instincts are reined in), Trump will be a frontman for the total control of government by a ruthless, billionaire-funded minority party looking to wipe out Medicare and Social Security and worker rights and any aspect of government that moves wealth toward the vast majority of people rather than allowing it to concentrate at the very top as "the market" desires and from where the "right people" can control how much trickles down. I hope I'm wrong (and crazy things will surely start happening soon), but I'm seeing this dark future as the apotheosis of White Demographic Decline Derangement Syndrome -- Trump is "conservative" white America's last stand and like a lot of last stands, it is a murder-suicide mission.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

It's all in the grip

there is an unseeable vital force in the universe.
the unseeable can be experienced, but it cannot be known;  
the unseeable cannot be known, but it can be grasped
    (in all kinds of different ways, most of which we can't imagine from here,
    with the language-practice we have here now, with its particular blind zones).
In being grasped in particular ways, the unseeable vital force can potentially be tapped –
     depending on the grasp, energies can be conjured and put to use.
But there's no one right or ultimate 'grasp'.
There's just grasps of different sorts, yielding different results in practice.
(How one feels about the results will presumably determine whether you think some grasps are 'better' than others or not.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

The thugs are us, America. Why can't you see that?

When a society marginalizes and demonizes a segment of its population, and basically leaves it to rot at the bottom of the heap, is it any surprise that once in while, some of those people will respond by saying, "Fuck you!" and grabbing some lawless profit, some loot, in a carnival of violent redistribution? I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. People are making a big deal of the characterization of the Baltimore rioters and looters as "thugs." But being that we're talking about inner city Baltimore, and assuming inner city Baltimore is akin to the inner city Southern California I'm familiar with, some percentage of the rioters and looters surely were "thugs" in the sense of inner city gang member type "criminal toughs," people willing to use force or the threat of force to their advantage. Some of the rioters and looters might proudly identify as thugs – some gang members do. Anyway, rather than talk about the word I want to talk about the people. Inner city gang members and "thugs" are a half-rung above prisoners in the social hierarchy. Apart from going to prison, they have nothing to lose. Why wouldn't they take advantage of a period of lawlessness to grab some loot? They're not claiming to be churchboys. (And of course there are "churchboys" and others growing up in the same neighborhoods who won't grab an opportunity to riot and loot.) But the point is that even if they are thugs, it doesn't justify the ugly us-versus-them attitude expressed by public officials and all the "respectable" media blatherers.

Gang members and thugs in black and Hispanic inner city neighborhoods aren't THE problem, they're OUR problem. THEY'RE US, AMERICA!

We're talking about people who are the current inheritors of our society's continuing legacy of hundreds of years of marginalization and demonization and worse. Think about this: almost every white person in America, if one of us is walking down the street and we see two young black men coming down the sidewalk from the other direction, toward us, we are instinctively 'alerted' to the possibility of a bad experience – it's a tense moment, we are afraid something might happen. (Some would feel apprehension if it was two young white men approaching, but less than if they were black.) Many of us white people feel terrible that we have these 'alerts,' but it is built into us by the society we grew up in; it's programming. And just to be clear, that programming, that 'alert' is a negative, race-based stereotype built into and perpetuated by our society. In other words, it's racism built into and perpetuated by our society. And it's racism built into and perpetuated by our selves. Which is not necessarily an easy thing to confront head-on. 

Now if society is doing that to us (the non-black people), try to think about what it's doing to the people being demonized. Some of them, not surprisingly, lash out in violence once in a while. And some of them use violence more often and in pursuit of lawless profit, figuring that when you have nothing else, why not use your unasked-for ability to instill fear in people to your advantage? And of course most crime victimizes the people around them (the other black people in their neighborhoods), but whenever a single black guy uses the fear-instilling stereotype to intimidate or victimize a white person, that white person, having been raised with the built-in fears of this 'type' of person will instinctively attribute the person's acting in accord with the stereotype not to the actual individual who chose to act that way, but to the 'type' – scary black man – that society tells the white person to fear. Unintentional racism is lived through the past and into the future.

To recognize the facts about racism throughout the history of our society, right up to the present, is not a justification or excuse for rioting and looting, but recognizing these facts is necessary to understand what's going on in a deeper way than most white Americans have been willing or able to do up to now. White America needs a kind of deprogramming that includes acknowledging the many moral wrongs of our past and the ways in which those wrongs of the past have persisted through time into now. Meaning now is the time to do something about the many moral wrongs of America's past. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Self-righteous fear is a dangerous thing.

It's interesting that one of the main torture defenders' "arguments" is that it was done after the 2001 terrorist attacks and everyone was fearful of a "follow up" attack. So in other words, it's okay to torture because we're the good guys and we were AFRAID.

Which is a direct link to America's killer cop syndrome. Police are trained to put their safety first -- they're the good guys fighting the bad guys -- so if something happens and they are afraid of great bodily injury, it's a license to kill. And of course, like most Americans, most police are more afraid of brown and black men than anyone else. And if a cop is afraid and kills, the District Attorneys' office -- which is the leader of law enforcement team, "the good guys," for which the cop works -- will make sure the grand jury understands how the fear the cop felt was "reasonable" -- 'he was confronting what looked like a demon!' -- so there's no case under the law -- if his fear of great bodily injury or death was "reasonable," the cop is free to kill.

Watch out for people who think of themselves as the "good guys" and who carry guns.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Django Unchained? How About Us Unchained?

Imagine a white guy in the American South, say Alabama, in 1850. He's not rich, but he saves up enough money to buy a slave. Now if the guy is "smart" – if he has "merit" and potential for "success" – he will figure out how much having the slave costs in terms of housing, food, and "security," and then endeavor to use the slave in ways that make more money than those costs. That's the whole point of having a slave – to make more money than s/he costs. It's capitalism pure and simple! Slavery was capitalism pure and simple! Back then, with a frontier, a slave could theoretically run away and find some alternative way to survive, so the owners needed to use chains and mounted posses to keep people at work, to keep their people profitable. Nowadays, the frontier is gone; there's nowhere to escape the global plutocratic management of population for profit. The owners don't have to officially enslave people who have nowhere else to go (or who think they have nowhere else to go). It's a captive population. That's the reality of modern life – unless you have a big chunk of money to live off of, you have to work for money to survive. That's modern life and it's not in any meaningful way a "choice." We never get to vote on it. So: modern capitalist life was built on slavery and in real and significant ways it continues to depend on relations organized for profit that are practically identical to slavery. It's a dreary situation. But we can create benevolent paths away from where we are – one of the first steps is acknowledging the fundamental theoretical, practical, and moral problems that infect capitalist modernity as a way of organizing society and everyday life.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Finding Like-Minded People p.1


Morality – the question of what it means to be a good person – is a *social* issue – it's about how you treat other people, how you consider the effects of your actions on others. Proposed value: good citizens and decent people strive to live by the following principle: do unto others as you would have them do unto you (or whoever you care most about in the world). In other words, a person acts morally when she treats others with the same respect and consideration with which she would want her loved ones to be treated. This 'golden rule' demonstrates that morality ("the way a person should act") is about relations with other people; it's *social*. Morality is not a code laying down specific "don't dos" and "do dos" in order to be a good person. If someone personally or as part of a voluntary group wants to ALSO live by some code of ethics with strict rules of what you can and cannot do, that's their business and they are free to do so as long as it does not interfere with anyone else. As a community, we have the right to expect people to act morally, i.e., in accord with the golden rule, 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.

Proposed value: 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. This radical (at the roots) human equality plus the golden rule means a good society should not allow power to form in ways that would enable any one person or class of people to lord it over any other – from the perspective of society and power, all people are equal and should be treated equally. That doesn't mean that everyone is equally smart or talented or whatever, just that society should not provide ways to use those smarts or talents to gain power over others.

(Of course, some people do not value equality and they should not be forced to live in communities of people who do. We should use this value as a crucial distinction determining general groups of like-minded people. [People who don't agree that equality is an important value to build into our communities must want to use smarts and talents to gain power over others. The not-explicitly-elitist arguments against equality as a social value mostly seem to come down to economistic propaganda about "innovation" and "growth" that just puts a pretty face on the materialism and greed at the core of the totalizing capitalist consumer society we are currently laboring through. But in any event those who don't value equality should be free and encouraged to have their separate communities of people who don't value equality].)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cultural anthropology's place on the map to democracy

Cultural anthropology in a nutshell: Human life occurs in group realities, lived systems of concepts and practices, meanings and activities, that lay out the structures and contents of worlds of experience. The worlds of experience built out of meanings and practices that we occupy and enact include forms of agency and personhood, general structures of intention and desire, general conceptions of self and others, and the social and physical terrain of everyday life. We are socialized into group realities, with their particular systems of concepts and practices, which we then produce and reproduce as we enact ourselves and live our everyday lives using the available symbolic and material resources. Sociocultural realities (group enactments of worlds of experience and practice) are potentially (and usually) constituted with various forms of inequality and domination built in. Building inequality into daily life generally benefits the privileged by making it hard to see from the inside, where the inequality may appear "natural." Thus, people can enact inequality, as either privileged or subordinated, as they enact everyday life, without being fully aware of what they are doing.

Anthropology thus raises (but tends to avoid addressing too clearly) the question of what we can do about the realities we live in. Does having a good higher-order theory of human reality, language, and power enable us to develop a better 'language-practice' that could facilitate the construction of better realities, based not on power concentration but on democracy, freedom, time, love, or whatever other values groups of like-minded people decide are best for them at any given moment? I don't see any good reason not to be optimistic, to believe (even as faith if necessary, as it probably is) that groups of humans acting in good will have the capacity – the freedom and the ability – to create much much better ways of living than we've got going now.

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.

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.]