an obession with first principles

The Common Liberal’s Problem

Posted: Friday Dec 16th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Politics, Power | View Comments

Most people in the US have pretty casual ethics. That means its generally seen as moral to just obey the law. And if you’ve transgressed in a less-than-major way its fine so long as you didn’t get caught. The law has always been seen as generally good and in the best interest of everyone. There have been rare instances where its been seen as moral to be civilly disobedient — and the disobedient actions which have been taken have been incredibly mild and non-violent (e.g. marching on roads or bridges, sitting at counters, boycotting services).

A “common liberal” believes this to be the height of moral structure. When I say common liberal I don’t mean “people who vote democrat”. I mean those people, and “moderate republicans”, as well as anyone who claims to be independent or “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”. I mean the people that don’t follow politics, but view voting as the height of their civic duty, and generally believe “everything will just be ok”.

Here is their problem. Those who have come to operate the majority of the Republican party no longer believe it is or morally correct to obey the law or the governing norms set down through tradition over the decades. The “liberal” continues to believe that mere statements or penned documents are going to stop the GOP from continuing to do whatever they want. Both these people, and the DNC (which is the bigger problem), believe that by stepping behind a microphone and stating that their political opponents are acting immorally and need to stop they are acting meaningfully.

They are wrong. And if the longer it takes for them to realize this the more ground they will lose. Here are three immediate events to show them they are wrong:

  1. The governor of Maine has directed his administrations department of labor to refuse to enforce a minimum wage bill passed by the state legislature. This is a direct assault on the separation of powers and the rule of law.
  2. The state legislature of North Carolina has placed every single appointment by the incoming democratic governor’s administration subject to the republican led legislature, and removed the possibility of the UNC to have any party majority, thus deadlocking its ability to take any actions. This is once again a direct assault on the separation of powers, and the functioning of the state education system.
  3. The president-elect is in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution and is refusing to take any action or even hold a press conference about the problem. And the GOP leadership in the Senate has declared this constitutional violation not a problem. Once again a direct assault on the rule of law.

Meanwhile no one in any position of leadership in the DNC has done anything more than talk into a microphone as re-assert that laws exist and legislative norms exist. There have been no lawsuits filed to my knowledge. There have been no injunctions filed to my knowledge. There have been no calls for protest to my knowledge. And the common liberal still thinks that calling your representative is a solution. Representatives are not the solution and they are showing us why.

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.

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

Wendell Berry

Posted: Wednesday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, History, Power | View Comments

We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable. And these abominations are not balanced or compensated or atoned for by the list, endlessly reiterated, of our scientific achievements. Some people are moved, now and again, to deplore one abomination or another. Others–and Hayden Carruth is one–deplore the whole list and its causes. Must protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvements and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protestors who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depends on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
On Difficult Hope by Wendell Berry, a reflection on Hayden Carruth’s poem “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam”

Literalism Fails the Question of Intent

Posted: Sunday Feb 13th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Philosophising, Power | View Comments

But nowhere in the original Constitution does it say that the federal courts have the power of judicial review. Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers suggests that the federal court has this power, but it wasn’t until 1803 that the Supreme Court actually ruled that this power existed. Hence, a contradiction: Hamilton, a constitutional framer and author of the beloved Federalist Papers, asserts that a power that is not explicitly written in the Constitution exists and a court rules in his favor — and then, all these years later, Tea Party constitutionalists use that power to invalidate a federal healthcare law on the basis that it violates the Constitution!

Literalism, in any form religious or political, adopts the text as it stands for the purposes and intents of its interpreters. It forgoes any original intent of the author(s). If it did just this without asserting that the literalist interpretation is The One and Only True Interpretation – I would be fine with it. But the blatant disregard for the original setting and other writings than the one in question, combined with their rhetoric just sicken me.

On top of that, if the ideal the Tea Party espouses ever was realized, it would just mean the states would have more authority to suppress rights.