an obession with first principles

Reasons I am not a Statist

Posted: Thursday Apr 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising, Politics, Power | View Comments

First, It can never be called justice when a person makes a decision that affects hundreds, thousands, or millions of other people. If a person is to actually be free, they must be directly involved in the process which governs their lives and are free to agree, disagree, and affect that process. Voting based representative democracy as practiced here in the United States fails to meet this basic qualification. Not to mention the world-wide ability the United States has to affect the life and death of an individual halfway around the world that is never allowed to be involved in the process which may at any moment determine their death.

The simplest argument I can make for this that a “liberal” or “progressive” (as opposed to a leftist) will understand is around women’s reproductive rights/abortion/feminism. The paramount defense is always put forth in the form of “this is my body, not yours”. This form of argumentation is fundamentally correct — yet needs to be established for a whole host of other issues. No person can make decisions for others and do justice. If we cannot make decisions for ourselves we do not retain our autonomy.

The decisions made by such an individual may be prudent, or efficient. They may result in a better situation that without the decision being made. They could easily result in terrible conditions or be called tyranny. But in no circumstances can these decisions be called just.

Second, It can never be called justice when agents of the state force you to do something or accommodate the state with something you find morally reprehensible. It can never be called justice when agents of the state are allowed and encouraged to lie and manipulate you for their own ends. The monopoly of force the state enjoys is the most basic form of non-freedom. It crosses over into fascism when the state enforces morals decisions with force, and those moral decisions become intwined with allegiance/dissent to the state. These actions come into play when the state denies you the ability to help those in need, or takes your home from you through either gentrification, redistricting, rezoning, or imminent domain. It also comes into play when the state uses the resources you provide against your wishes.

If people are not treated as equals then there is no freedom. Once a party is immune from the repercussions of their own actions, once they cease to be responsible, justice has been given away. The monopoly of force is the underlying problem here. When one side, agents of the state, have this monopoly people are no longer equal. Agents assume their actions are correct because of their immunity.

Third, it can never be called justice when a majority oppresses and silences a minority. Nor is it justice when a minority is able to prevent the justice desired by the majority. John Adams admitted in Federalist No 10 that the design of the United States Constitution was to enable the rich minority to prevent the just cancellation of debt and redistribution of land by the majority who were poor and at the mercy of the landed gentry.

All forms of representative government: Constitutional Monarchy, Parliamentary Democracy, a Democratic Republic, Democratic Socialism, and even Communism all fail each of these three fundamental principles of justice. This leaves me with Anarchism as a principled choice of order. Anarchism is not without order, but it is without hierarchy. It is not without governance, it relies on mutual agreement of true equals. Anarchism is not a singular arrangement, rather it is the process by which order and governance is agreed upon without the reliance on force, without agents of the state. There is no state.

Life, Death, and Punishment

Posted: Friday Apr 10th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Philosophising | View Comments

If you’ve seen any headlines lately you’ve seen that here in Boston the Tsarnaev trial has gone to sentencing. Unsurprisingly, he’s been found guilty of all 30 charges. This is what everyone expected.

I’ve shared a small bit of my own feeling about this whole experience. It touched my life indirectly. The morning of the marathon I biked, with my girlfriend at the time and six friends, the marathon route. We started in Boston and went out to the starting line and back in to the finishing line. We arrived according to our plan at the finish line just before the wheelchair race started. We took a group photo, all our bikes lined up in front of the finish, and we posted it with joy. We rode off to breakfast with two of our friends. Ate, went home. Showered, and went back down to the marathon to watch and support some of the runners. Since we were up at 4AM for our ride, we got tired pretty quick. We went back to Cambridge and took a nap

The constant buzzing of our phones woke us up. People were trying to get in touch with us because they saw our photo at the finish line. We were shocked at the news. I jumped on twitter to learn what I could quickly. We assured everyone we were safe. That was the extent of my personal involvement. But my girlfriend at the time was not so lucky. She lived in Watertown, two streets over from the boat in which Tsarnaev was found. That night she was woken up by gunfire, terrified, and texted me. Again I jumped on twitter to gather as much as I could as fast as I could. I relayed all the info she was able to tell me about what was happening back into twitter. Eventually her and all her roommates were removed by SWAT police from their apartment for over fifteen hours. The travel-ban was lifted, but they had not yet gone back to their apartment.

So many people throughout Boston, and beyond, have been personally touched by the events of that week. And now the city is at the end of it. But, of course, we’re witnessing the vulgar underbelly within peoples hearts and minds about what happened. And many of these people aren’t even in the city proper. The city of Boston is specifically against the death penalty in this case. Only 27% support the death penalty. But throughout twitter and facebook I see the emotion and desire from people to see Jahar killed. I want to examine this thinking specifically.

I think there is a powerful argument to be made that killing Jahar is precisely the same logic that vindicates his and Tamerlan’s actions. It was widely reported that the instigating thoughts and feelings behind Jahar and Tamerlan (whoever took the lead, or followed, is irrelevant in this case) actions were reactionary. Their actions were a response to US led aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be sure, many operations outside US borders were conducted within international norms for military operations. However, very many were not. Countless non-combatants, men, women, and children, were killed both at the hands of US troops and drones. And I do say countless because the Department of Defense conflates the numbers in order to hide the deaths of innocents.

So let us recount that in detail. In their eyes Jahar and Tamerlan witnessed the killing of innocents in countries and lands they felt a solidarity with. And their response was to kill. They killed those in solidarity with the perpetrators. They didn’t need to kill the exact solders or remote drone pilots to get their point across.

Now let us look at those calling for the death of Jahar. Some want him to be sentenced to death by a court. Others literally want him dropped off in Dorchester to be killed (we’ll ignore the inherent racism in that comment by Massachusetts residents). Notably, Massachusetts has no death penalty. Which is largely (in my opinion) why this course went Federal. None of the crimes crossed borders, everything took place within Massachusetts. Someone wanted blood. That is to say, people saw Jahar and Tamerlan killing innocents they felt a solidarity with. And their response was to kill. They have in custody the perpetrators and they want to kill them.

Is this not the exact same logic that motivated Jarar and Tamerlan? Are we at all different from them when we call for their heads? I submit we are not.

There are many Americans who call into question the drone programs and the death they deal. At every turn these Americans are called un-patriotic. But the very same “patriotism” that “real Americans” evidence to defend these drone programs is the same emotion and feeling the resulted in two actual American citizens — let it never be questioned that both Jahar and Tamerlan are real US citizens, who participated fully in our country and the state of Massachusetts — killing other citizens who triumphed in the death of people they felt solidarity with?

As Americans are we fully incapable of believing that our borders truly are porous? That people who live here have ties to many other places around the world? And that even as Americans we are inevitably tied up integrally with the rest of the world through politics and economics — despite the fact that some of us, like myself, have never even left our shores? The fact I’ve never been out of the country is irrelevant. We are all tied up together. And to imagine that we live in some kind of pre-WWI isolationism is a sick joke.

Do we realize that the exact forces that are compelling us to kill Jahar are the exact forces that compelled Jahar and Tamerlan to kill people?

If we realize that then there are some repercussions. To me it means that we are not ruled by law. And as I observe all the facets of American life this is unsurprising. There are so many elements of American life that refuse to be ruled by law — the execution of black Americans by police is the first, but no where near the last. I don’t honestly believe that we really believe we are ruled by law. The notion that we are a nation ruled by laws is a fanciful tale we believe and reify consistently while actively denying through our lives. If we believed we were ruled by law we’d know how many laws we could be arrested for just living our daily life. But we don’t — until police feel like imposing those laws on us. And then we react “Wait, there is a law against that?!”. If we really believed that we were ruled by laws why would we continually see the same reaction by the media when massive corporations are brought up on charges, whether financial corruption, environmental disaster, or otherwise. And we react with “Well that company will never be found guilty”, while the CEOs and managers remain in power to continue their corruption. Blue laws are still on the books from the 19th century that we routinely break every weekend — but they’re still laws. NYPD tried bringing up a 19th century law against masks as a reason to arrest protestors. We all sit idly by. We know with such accuracy that the laws do not matter — the only thing that matters is the monopoly of violence the state has to enforce whatever it wants. You can be arrested for only resisting arrest, without any other charges. You didn’t break the law to be arrested, but you were arrested for not being arrested. This is clearly unlawful. We put up with it. We instinctively understand “This really means that the police didn’t like you, so they arrested you.” This is not law. We know this. We refuse to change it.

I only wish we would tell the truth. If we are not a nation of laws. And we operate on the same logic of death as the people we want to kill — then let us all admit this is about the efficacy and efficiency of our killing apparatus. And we should continue with the fact that our “defense” spending is greater than the next eight countries combined, seven of which are our allies. If we kill them faster we win, otherwise we lose. Let us all admit that is the logic we are operating by. Then let us ask “who is us”? Because I’m not sure we’re all on the same page there. Because I have many friends living abroad. And many friends have family living abroad. And one of these days we’re all going to be touched by the death of someone we’re connected to at the hands of the US death apparatus. While the recent “House of Cards” seasons 3 tried to give a narrative to this by bringing the victim of a US drone into the White House, few Americans are currently dealing with this, and many will. After all, US citizens have already been killed abroad by drones. Which, I shouldn’t have to tell to you, required State Department attention, when black American citizens are killed every day within our borders without being recognized by our government.

I don’t for a minute think this is about punishing Jahar for his actions in the bombing and after the bombing. This is not about punishment. This is not about law. This reaction to Jahar is in the same identical spirit as his actions. Americans are no different than him. After all — he is an American. He went to Rindge and Latin here in Cambridge. He is slightly younger than me and he consumed every song, news and TV show that I ever have. He obviously learned this lawlessness from somewhere. And in my estimation he learned it from us. Because we exhibit this lawlessness every single day. Now we’re doing it again in calling for the death of Jahar. It just reifies and defends his own actions. His actions had nothing to do with law. Our drone killing program has nothing to do with law. We kill civilians every day abroad. Police kill unarmed people in our country every single day. All of this is unlawful. We recognize the monopoly of violence, but we refuse to be honest about it.

Anti-blackness and Ideology

Posted: Thursday Apr 9th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising | View Comments

Zizek happens to be writing in a far different context from the context the United States has experienced, and is experiencing. He was born and raised in Slovenia in eastern Europe, which, prior to his life was annexed under fascist rule by Nazi Germany and Italy, and then during his life was under Communist rule. This has forged for him the major points of reference and critique for his work.

It is with that understanding that I want to explore this passage. It is focused on the concept of ideology. Though it uses examples consistent with his frames: anti-Semitism and Nazi Germany. Upon reading this passage it was immediately apparent to me that anti-blackness operates on the exact same ideological logic. Of course, my frame is within the United States, so I cannot speak for specific examples of anti-blackness in the regions of the Middle East, and South Africa, though it is a well-documented phenomenon there as well

Here is the passage:

Let us suppose, for example, that an objective look would confirm – why not? – that Jews really do financially exploit the rest of the population, that they do sometimes seduce our young daughters, that some of them do not wash regularly. It is not clear that this has nothing to do with the real roots of anti-Semitism? Here we have only to remember the Lacanian proposition concerning the pathologically jealous husband: even if all the facts he quotes in support of his jealousy are true, even if his wife really is sleeping around with other men, this does not change one bit the fact that his jealousy is a pathological paranoid construction.

Let us ask ourselves a simple question: in the Germany of the late 1930s what would be the result of such a non-ideological, objective approach? Probably something like: “The Nazis are condemning the Jews too hastily, without proper argument, so let us take a cool, sober look and see if they are really guilty or not; let us see if there is some truth in the accusations against them.” Is it really necessary to add that such an approach would merely confirm our so-called “unconscious prejudices” with additional rationalizations? The proper answer to anti-Semitism is therefore not “Jews are really not like that” but “the anti-Semitic idea of Jew has nothing to do with Jews: the ideological figure of a Jews is a way to stitch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system.”

That is why we are also unable to shake so-called ideological prejudices by taking into account the pre-ideological level of everyday experience. The basis of this argument is that the ideological contrsuction always finds its limits in the field of everyday experience – that it is unable to reduce, to contain, to absorb and annihilate this level. Let us again take a typical individual in Germany in the late 1930s. He is bombarded by anti-Semite propaganda depicting a Jew as a mostrous incarnation of Evil, the great wire-puller, and so on. But when he returns home he encounters Mr. Stern, his neighbour, a good man to chat with in the evenings, whose children play with his. Does not this everyday experience offer an irreducible resistance to the ideological construction?

The answer is of course, no. If everyday experience offers such a resistance then the anti-Semite ideology has not yet really grasped us. An ideology is really “holding us” only when we do not feel any opposition between it and reality – this is, when the ideology succeeds in determining the mode of our everyday experience of reality itself. How then would our poor German, if he were a good anti-Semite, react to this gap between the ideological figure of the Jew (schemer, wire-puller, exploiting our brave men and so on) and the common every day experience of his good neighbour, Mr. Stern? His answer would be to turn this gap, this discrepancy itself into an argument for anti-Semitism: “You see how dangerous they really are? It is difficult to recognize their real nature. They hide it behind the mask of everyday appearance – and it is exactly this hiding of one’s real nature, this duplicity, that is a basic feature of the Jewish nature.” An ideology really succeeds when even the facts which at first sight contradict it start to function as arguments in its favor.

The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek, pg 49-50, emphasis mine

The ideology of anti-blackness so permeates our consciousness that white people really do believe they are in fear of their life when the actual reality of the situation dictates that the black man is fleeing in fear. Reality is entirely covered over with the interpretation provided by the ideology.

A (Condensed) History of Race

Posted: Wednesday Dec 3rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Historical Method, Sociology, Uncategorized | View Comments

The non-objectivity of Science

Posted: Sunday Jul 20th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising, Power | View Comments

One of the more commonplace and prevalent misunderstandings of the nature of scientific activity, [Thomas] Kuhn thinks, is the Baconian notion of a random collecting of facts in a theory-free and “unprejudiced” manner, from which a theory slowly emerges. But that sort of fact gathering is most likely to produce a morass, not to move science forward. Fact gathering proceeds in the most efficient and productive manner when it is guided beforehand by a theory, by a certain conception of the way things are. Theory leads science to generate facts of which is had not the slightest suspicion and which, outside the theory, appear to be of no significance whatever. Facts are arti-facts. They become facts only within the “network of theory” to which they belong, as when Heidegger says that, because an entity is what it is only within the horizon of the understanding of Being within which it is understood, there can be no “bare facts”. It is interesting that, while the Anglo-American world had to suffer through a dark ages of positivism before reaching this realization, the interpreted character of perception has been a basic staple of continental through since Husserl’s Logical Investigations
Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics pg 215-216

Do What You Love

Posted: Wednesday Jan 22nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics, Power | View Comments

There has been an article running around lately called In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers. I was of two minds when it initially hit everyone in the social world. The article is both very correct, and very, very wrong. And I want to put down my reasoning on the article. I happen to think that “Do What You Love” is the very way out of our labor situation. Everyone ought to be able to do what they love. And the problem is that they cannot. The writer’s problem is that he has swallowed whole the moorings of capitalism and unable to see the system is the very problem, rather than one class of worker causing the plight of another class of worker. They are both workers and subject to the capitalists.

The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work…

I vehemently disagree with this statement. I think we’ve misunderstood what “work” is, and what “bullshit work” is. When speaking the service class, or, “jobs no one wants”, we should all be doing them in our spaces. Why punish someone into doing what we refuse to do?

“…and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers”

I agree with this entirely, but i don’t believe this statement follows from the first

“But why should our pleasure be for profit?”…”labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love”

Hear, hear!

“If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient”

This is the first time we see the writer has swallowed the notion that “the market is always right”. Obviously, if you can’t make it doing what you love you’re not trying hard enough, not doing it right, and are rather forced to do something you don’t love to make money.

I happen to think the Steve Job’s quote is spot on. But to suggest that Apple’s exploitation of the international labor market is the only way that Steve Jobs can do what he loves is entirely fallacious. I don’t see how the Jobs quote and the Thoreau quote are at ends. Thoreau would lead me to hire Jobs to solve certain problems.

“Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce”

This is entirely true, except the last clause. It isn’t a small minority, its a minority, but not small.
The problem with the writers’ point of view, in my opinion, is that he agrees with the basic assumptions of capitalism (market forces, labor and wage theory) and then is pitting one class of worker against another. The writer is doing the work of capitalists by getting those in service positions angry at “creative”/white-collar workers. Those who do “unloved work” in his terms, need just as much rescue from capitalism as do those who are doing “work” that they love. Both workers need to band together and overthrow the capitalists. “Do What You Love” can be the most pro-labor argument around — once you critique the system within which it operates: capitalism.

The writer is taking an incidental relationship; those from another class were able to do what they love within capitalism, while those from a lower class were not, and make it a causal relationship; only because the lower class can the higher class, without ever mentioning the true causal relationship — those with capital are exploiting all workers.

“If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

Hear, hear! This is precisely the argument we should be making. But not against workers who are able to do what they find existentially fulfilling — against the capitalists that exploit the labor of those who work doing what they hate, and exploit the labor and profit of those doing what they love

“Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.”

This is the critique he never makes in the whole article, and should have been making all along Do What You Love is the way out — but the article makes the wrong enemy, other laborers, rather than the capitalists

On Cops

Posted: Thursday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Power | View Comments

“Cops don’t beat up burglars”, he observed. If you want to cause a policeman to be violent, the surest way is to challenge their right to define the situation. This is not something a burglar is likely to do.36 This of course makes perfect sense if we remember that police are, essentially, bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucratic procedures are all about questions of definition. Or, to be more precise, they are about the imposition of a narrow range of pre-established schema to a social reality that is, usually, infinitely more complex: a crowd can be either orderly or disorderly; a citizen can be white, black, Hispanic, or an Asian/ Pacific Islander; a petitioner is or is not in possession of a valid photo ID. Such simplistic rubrics can only be maintained in the absence of dialogue; hence, the quintessential form of bureaucratic violence is the wielding of the truncheon when somebody “talks back”. David Graeber

broken windows, imaginary jars of urine, and the
cosmological role of the police in American culture

An Actual Conversation on Anarchism

Posted: Friday Sep 7th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Uncategorized | View Comments

I don’t really have too much to comment on this one, I feel it is pretty straight forward

A Catholic Interaction

Posted: Wednesday Aug 15th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

I actually support the ad in question. It paints the picture of the world that Romney has created in the past, and would create as President — a world where the middle and low class has no access to healthcare. And then of course there is the feigned “impartiality” that he would also call out Romney for their lies. His campaign (not even Super PAC ads like the one in question) have created ads that are blatant lies that people have called them out on. Not a budge.

It is also telling that he doesn’t think Romney has abandoned his signature Massachusetts legislation. I’ve seen interviews where he does exactly that, he runs away from it. As a person who is personally benefitting from the legislation I can only imagine how many other small businesses (like the one I work for) could be created if people knew they could have affordable access to healthcare even when they’ve left the company they work for.

Fun With Columbia Economist

Posted: Friday Jul 13th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Politics | View Comments

First, I want to explain my (unclear) usage of “public investment”. I used it to indicate corporate “investment in the public good.” I did misunderstand where Sachs was going. But it only exacerbates my point — the 2008 crisis (from a finance POV) was one of zero private (company) investment. So in the face of an immediate crisis short-term gov’t spending plans overtook long-term gov’t spending plans. Who is surprised by that reaction? But the fact that its being held up as a crisis of leadership is silly. Imagine the actual crisis of leadership it would have been to have no reaction to a short-term crisis.

Upon reflection I think the most shocking thing, about both Sachs’s article that started this whole thing and the ensuing discussion, was the misguided rhetoric. It followed the traditional two-sided news story: side-a vs side-b. Keynesian vs. Supply-Side. Part of the failure of the American intellectual and news media (not to confuse you that they are even close to one and the same) is whitewashing arguments and refusing nuance based on data.

In many ways Keynesian thought and Supply-Side are opposed. But it is a mistake to suggest that Keynes ever put forward a system. He put forward observations that resulted in tools. One of these tools is short-term stimulus spending. Since Day One Krugman (the quintessential Keynesian) has argued that the stimulus was not big enough. And that there are structural problems in the economy. And that we need big infrastructure spending on all sorts of upgrades. As we all know from the scant repair crews we do see, infrastructure upgrades take forever. None of these specific points are what make Krugman a Keynesian. But all of these points are ones that Sachs’s himself suggests. So I don’t know why he is whitewashing Krugman as part of the Keynesian problem. The other hilarious part is that the GOP, while heavily indoctrinated by Supply-side thought, become Keynesians when it suits their agenda. The fact that all this is lost in translation is patently sad.

I also checked in on the “no leadership” on large infrastructure projects claim he made. Two bills, S.1769 and S.1660, were filibustered by the GOP after being introduced by Democrats. Both bills took up the idea of AIFA from a previous bill introduced to committee. This AIFA was a $10billion fund for a bi-partisan group of 7 congressman to spend on infrastructure. And then the next year it would be $20billion. And $50billion the year after that. Sounds pretty intense and long-term to me.