an obession with first principles

Making A Murderer

Posted: Sunday Jan 3rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

My lady has been binging it this weekend, and I’ve dropped in on some of the episodes. It’s very well done, and I’ve been hearing lots of people raving about it and being entirely addicted. But I have a problem with it.

Lots of people are being opened up to the possibility that police, courts, and prosecutions are continually and repeatedly fraudulent. This is openly accepted while binging on Netflix watching the life and trial of a man from Wisconsin. However, lots and lots of people repeatedly and continually refuse to accept that police, courts, and prosecutions act in precisely these, and much worse, ways in the lives of Black and Brown Americans every day. I can only imagine that very many of the people watching this and drinking it in are the very same people denying that it happens to black and brown people in America.

In my view these two problems are not only correlative, but very nearly causative. Take, for example Goldie Taylor’s highlight:

“Prosecutors alleged Daniel Holtzclaw preyed on poor, black women while on duty because no one would believe their claims in court. He was wrong.”White Cop Convicted of Serial Rape of Black Women

Because white people refuse to believe that black people are truthfully telling their lived experience in America black people will continue to suffer. Why? Because of white supremacy – that is to say, that white people have created all the institutions in this country in their image, to uphold their image, and their general welfare.

In general, to be “normal” is to be white. To be beautiful is to be white. To be powerful is to be white. Which is why whenever a black man is perceived as powerful, whether they are The President Barack Obama or a football player like Richard Sherman, they are routinely attacked based on their race with clear dog whistles. The argument is never that they are wrong in estimating their power, but rather that their power is rooted, evilly, in their race, which is abnormal, other, and therefore wrong and out of place. Whenever a black woman is seen to be a paragon of beauty, generally a singer or actress like Beyonce, they are again denounced on the basis of their race as other. Whether it be the style of hair or dress, or their attitude or even the manner in which they are entertaining. And then the moment a white woman does precisely this same action they are hailed as innovative and vaulted as an example of how to be.

Even this basic accounting of white supremacy (which I admit I am not sourcing right now, but could source both generally and incredibly specifically from black authors going back several decades) is denied by the majority of white people in America.

Why are police, courts, and prosecutions – that is The State – able to repeatedly and continually abuse its own citizens? Because White America refuses to believe the testimony of Black Americans. This is why White America is policed differently than Black America, why Baltimore gets the National Guard called because of protests, and why white Ranchers in Nevada and Oregon can point weapons at law enforcement without any repercussions. It is this very basic fact that sustains the entire institution of policing and law enforcement in this country.

So when Hillary Clinton meets with Black Lives Matter protesters in a closed door meeting and is reported to have said “You don’t change hearts, change policy” you better believe there is a serious problem at hand. We can change whatever law and policy around policing you want. Nothing is going to change unless White America starts believing the stories that Black America tells about their own lived experiences in this country. The issue is *not* that police are behaving lawfully and the law is wrong, or they are following policy and policy is wrong. The issue is they can willingly ignore the law and policy and White America believes they ought to have because Black America is deserving of it. Because they refuse to believe anything Black America says.

How do I know that white people don’t listen to black people? How do I know the issue is the black messenger? Because white people will listen to other white people talking about black people.

This is why #BLM operates the way it does. This is why protests are focused on shutting the normal operation of things down. Why they aren’t holding “get out the vote” drives for the DNC candidate. Yes, they did actually hold voter registration drives in Baltimore. However, they know better than to place their hope in any candidate – black or white. This is an issue for the next generations of white people to fix. Black America can’t fix the ears of White America.


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.

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

Libertarianism and Society

Posted: Saturday Mar 31st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

As Ron Paul continually runs for higher office more and more people are hearing some of his policies, and thus the word libertarian. This post isn’t about Ron Paul. Nor do I imagine that people who aren’t following politics, but now hear “libertarian” actually know what this political philosophy is actually founded on. I sure didn’t, but I saw a very in depth discussion on Reddit (yes, deal with it). So I wanted to dissect the underpinnings

The poster goes on to describe libertarianism as wholly wrapped around the defense of personal property (which includes ones person) and pure utilitarian ends. Any action undertaken by anyone — including the state — to remove personal property (which, in some way, includes currency) is understood to be immoral. Taxation is thus immoral. The poster goes on to suggest that a privatized court and police is a system that will work. I want to stop and consider these elements (ignoring his talk on education, with which I am fairly sympathetic).

First, I am surprised that a political system would revolve, wholly and purely, around property rights. This means that the political system will inherently favor those with more property over those who have less. It is a system devised explicitly for the powerful. A person with more property can gain more property easier than a person with less (Especially when the property in question is land and resources).

Second, I am surprised that any political system could ever describe state-printed currency as “property”. The currency would not exist without the state, just like “free” markets. All historical societies we have studied have no markets, and no currency until a state creates them. “Primitive currencies” are not currencies at all, and are traded to resolve issues of status, dignity, and un-payable debts. If the state prints the currency it has the ability to extract from the state-created markets a percentage of that currency for creating and maintaining said currency and markets.

Third, I am surprised by the naivety of the libertarian belief that “every man is an island” is demonstrably false. We have always, are now always, and continually will always be in relation to the other around us. To act as if that is not the case is naive and ignorant. This is, again, born out by the evidence of all communities which care about one another. In the case of communities that are bound together there is often a social interplay of resolving of debt – but there is the unquestionable motive to care for the other as one’s self. With the understanding that they will do the same when it is necessary.

Fourth, I am utterly shocked by the proposition that a private court and police system will work. We have seen the slide of previously “free-er” markets into very rigged and non-free markets (as the poster admits). First, any state or private entity capable of enforcing penalties must be powerful enough to violate the guilty’s defense of personal property. Why would you trust a private system rather than a public one? I understand the argument of “once a private company violates trust they’ll lose in the marketplace”. But if the private company is capable of violating personal property rights how do you stop them? Other companies step in? What happens in the case of collusion between companies? This system slides right back down into rigging the game.

There is a nice correlation between government corruption and the rise of powerful multinational corporations which can donate endless to the political cycle. It seems only a public, and transparent state, staffed by citizens which can, and must, be mindful of how much power the state acquires. Only with true and accurate information about these people can we choose (ostensibly through voting) who to trust with dispensing the state’s abilities. The troubles with our democratic and representative system is that our voting systems, districts, etc are rigged to hold power, those elected are not representative whatsoever (either in ideology or in material wealth), and the inability — likely due to both of these factors combined with corporate money — to get true and accurate information about the people and the process.

It seems to me that property ought not be the central issue of a political philosophy — especially in our digital age when “property” is becoming a very gray area.

The End of History and the Last Man

Posted: Thursday Mar 8th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

Where Marx differed from Hegel was over just what kind of society emerged at the end of history. Marx believed that the liberal state failed to resolve one of the fundamental contradiction, that of class conflict, the struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Marx turned Hegel’s historicism against him, arguing that the liberal state did not represent the universalization of freedom, but only the victory of freedom for a certain class, the bourgeoisie. Hegel believed that alienation–the vision of man against himself and his subsequent loss of control over his destiny–had been adequately resolved at the end of history through the philosophical recognition of the freedom possible in the liberal state. Marx, on the other hand, observed that in liberal societies man remains turned into man’s lord and master and controls him. The bureaucracy of the liberal state, which Hegel called the “universal class” because it represented the interests of the people as a whole for Marx represented only particular interests within civil society, those of the capitalists who dominated it.
Fukuyama, pg 65

It seems that Marx was correct: within a liberal democracy the capitalists can exert mastery over others through economic means. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat need to be defined by this relationship – not by any analogizing to histories examples. Mastery and control are what Occupy Wall Street is protesting. It isn’t about jealousy. I keep seeing discussions like “We need to get rid of money” within Occupy. I think the sentiment is correct, while the details wrong.

Money is just economic fungibility. I might be able to trade writing, or fixing a bike, or moving furniture, for food. But I can’t trade web software for it. It’s too large and unwieldy to break down into small bits. This is why money/currency is created, for fungibility. To create equivalency between work. Whether the payment is deserving or just is a whole different argument (because that isn’t the argument I’m talking about). Money needs to exist.

One thing that popped into my mind while thinking about this section – What if money and capital were not related? Capital is what exerts mastery and control. A person with $100k/yr income doesn’t have mastery over someone who makes $50k/yr, or even $30k/yr. $100k isn’t capital, its just a bunch of money. Capital is just a resource that moves institutions, powers, businesses, industries, and people. Right now, capital ends up being a lot of money. But does it have to be money? What if it were a combination of trust, responsibility, and integrity. We obviously can’t pay people with these traits. But if you think money holds back things with trust, responsibility, and integrity you’re living in the old days. See Occupy for instance. New York has half a million. Another example purely outside politics: Kickstarter.

Money is just fungibility. Capital is the problem. Once we remove the fact that money makes up capital, perhaps we’ll have achieved a solution to Marx’s paradox of the liberal democracy.

Control is Fear

Posted: Sunday Mar 4th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising | View Comments

There was an odd confluence of mental events this weekend. Yesterday I had a brief, but interesting conversation with some friends about cars, cyclists, and pedestrians (abbreviated as “peds”). And this evening I decided to relax by watching The Dark Knight. To me the Joker is one of the single greatest characters conceived and executed on film in my time. The main character in the movie is not Batman at all – its the Joker. The mental explosion occurred during the scene where the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent. This conversation results in the psychological creation of the villain Two Face in the mind of Dent. I couldn’t find a transcription of the speech, so I transcribed it:

Do I really look like a guy with a plan?

You know what I am, I am a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what with it one I caught it. You know, I just do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon has plans. They’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers have pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth.

It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer and had plans, and uh, look where that got you.

I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that, like, a gang-banger will get shot, or a truck load of soldiers is going to get blown up, nobody panics. Because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die then everyone loses their minds.

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos. Its fear.

The more I follow politics, rhetoric, and watch the American culture the more I realize that fear is its true disease. And the symptom of fear is control. But I want to describe how these two events from this weekend coalesced to show me this.

There have been psychological tests to show why people in cars are less observant: it is because they are sitting in an entirely concealed box and thus removed from the world. And the more gadgets we add to cars (full suspensions, automatic transmissions, anti-lock brakes, navigation systems, automatic parking systems) the more we are removed even from the car itself. Experienced cyclists, however, are hyper-aware (as this recently posted comic points out). Taking a pothole with my full weight will hurt my ass (perhaps even the family jewels) if I’m not paying attention and get off the saddle. Peds, cars, dogs, and doors are all things that can seriously hurt me. I hear the car approaching me from the rear. I stare down the driver approaching on the side street so they don’t roll all the way into my lane. I even talk to myself as if they can hear me. I can feel my tires reacting to the road surface, and how that changes when I roll over paint, because I don’t have a full suspension. Because of the design of bikes I am forced to be hyper-aware of my situation. While my abilities control the bike – I have very little control over the situation and am one of the most vulnerable people on the road. As the driver of a car there are a million systems and you only have partial control over your vehicle. Because you are in a climate controlled box you are disconnected and only partially attentive to the real world outside your car. But they feel as if they are in total control. Until someone, like a cyclist weaving through gridlocked rush hour traffic, shows them they are not in control. Not at all. They’ve just built a box of illusion to keep them from their fears (other drivers, inclement weather, poor driving skills, etc.)

But perhaps the single best example of this control phenomenon is the American government. We are always told that our country is the best country (whatever that might actually mean). We are “exceptional”. And we know what that means when we see how we act. The United States can act unilaterally without any repercussions on the world stage. The only repercussions are the hate we have created around the world for our government. The government sets up puppet regimes, has military bases all around the world, and has bombed every region of the world. Why? One word: control. They need to control other governments. They need to control markets. Markets aren’t “free”. They are only allowed to do what we say they can do. Which is fundamentally true as we make the market. They market doesn’t objectively exist. We cause it to come into existence. However, as in 2008, we are finally seeing what matters. The government saved the fundamental money-making mechanisms from failing. But they didn’t save anyone else from the fallout. Not home-owners. Not business-owners. Not municipalities. Not pension plans. No one else get saved. The fear was not “what will happen to these people”, but “what will happen to our money-making mechanism”. This also goes for the auto-industry (no matter how much other influence we can attribute to our love affair with cars) we need to have a car industry for control.

It is clear, at least to me, how much the GOP thinks they need to control: almost every other country on earth (“Let’s bomb Iran”), down to every women’s uterus. I have no concept of what a small government could possibly look like when you fundamentally need to control that many different points of interest. The democrats also have their control issues. But both issues are rooted in deep-seeded fear. And this is why I love The Dark Knight’s Joker so much.

As his speech goes: “You know, I just do things.” He is doing what he is innately driven to do. He is entirely free. It is sad to watch what his freedom is being used for, but it is freedom nonetheless. The 500 channels of TV, 4 GOP candidates, and multitudes of genres within which to re-style ourselves (whether it be hipster, thug, geek, gamer, cyclist, chic, anglophile, steampunk, stoner, jock, popped-collar or whatever) are not freedom. Freedom of choice does not equate to freedom. Freedom is the condition of a person. Civilization has never been geared towards being free. Sometimes we find it where we are. Other times we have to go get lost in order to find it. But being free is the all-important bit, not the proliferation of meaningless choices. The Joker is free from having to control, because he is not afraid. The institutions of the world are deathly scared of losing their grip, their place, and their meaning. Because of that they are incredibly controlling. They have power and they will use every last bit of it to keep their place.

I grew up in a distinct culture of religious fear which required a great degree of control. It took me a long time to realize there isn’t a single reason I should be seeking control over anyone else. I was very afraid of people. All the people around me implicitly taught it to me by how much fear of others they had. So long as everything is going according to the plan we are fine. But as soon as the accepted order is disrupted we have a lot of problems. Once we were forced to look at something in the microscope it took over our entire minds to re-order the world.

It is a funny thing that we, as a civilization, are determined to control the world. When, if the biblical narrative can tell us anything, it tells us that God isn’t controlling. God acts. There is a big difference. We believe that the God we believe in is sovereign yet we approach that sovereignty with such an ignorance to believe that God must act as we do.

“You wanted God’s ideas about what was best for you to coincide with your ideas, but you also wanted him to be the almighty Creator of heaven and earth so that he could properly fulfill your wish. And yet, if he were to share your ideas, he would cease to be the almighty Father.” Søren Kierkegaard

This is not a more sophisticated attempt at the pithy: “God works in mysterious ways”. Perhaps the other way around. God is sovereign by his being, not by his action or non-action. God is not fearful and therefore does not seek control. I am not fearful, and therefore I do not seek control. I simply act. I do what I desire to do. And when that means I take my life into my hands by riding my bike through traffic with the meager skill I do have, I am free. And that freedom is why I get so much joy from doing what I desire to do. Because I am not afraid that I don’t have control over everything else. Because I don’t need that control. A truly free man is dangerous, just as the Joker was dangerous. This is why protests are violently quelled. People sitting on their couches enamored with their freedom of choice don’t see their chains. The people yelling in the streets have thrown off their chains.

If I had no joy, then I would be desperately afraid to hold on to the meager materials that I do have in order to be merely content. Content is the enemy, the illusion, of joy.