May 9, 2011

Philosophical Basis of a Constitutional Convention


The mostly unspoken basis of the 1787-88 Constitution, in the minds of its framers, was to establish a monopoly on political and economic power by elites: Landed, merchant, creditor elites. Their success depended mostly on their having a coherent ideology and plan.
In the same way, if we envision a New Constitutional Convention, it won’t do to be scattershot, starting on an ad hoc basis, speculating about how this or that sounds good. That’s sort of what I did in this post, proposing a list of possible amendments. Let’s review: 

* The enshrinement of Food Sovereignty as a basic right. (This would certainly have been the First Amendment if anyone in 1788 could have contemplated a day when the federal government would explicitly deny we have a right to grow and eat the foods of our choice. But even the opponents of the centralized government who demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, as suspicious as they were, never contemplated such an obscene assault on our liberty and dignity.)

* Corporations are not persons and have no constitutional rights. Only humans have rights.

* If corporations are to exist at all, an amendment could explicitly limit them to the purposes and constraints which would have been familiar in the 1780s.

* The Full Faith and Credit clause shall not be construed to include corporate charters. All corporate activity shall be subject to the chartering laws of the state, except as restricted by one or both of the two previous amendments.

The point of these would be to prevent races to the bottom (since e.g. Delaware’s not all that big a market, and outside Delaware a corporation chartered in Delaware would be subject to the provisions of those other states, not those of Delaware)

* The federal government power shall be strictly construed according to the explicit letter of the Articles.

* “Interstate commerce” is only commerce which within a discrete transaction crosses a state line.

* Some way to declare that globalization “treaties”, i.e. contracts of adhesion, are most definitely not “the Law of the Land”, overriding federal, state, and local law.

* Clarify Article 1, section 8, to specify that the government may not alienate the sovereign power to coin Money. That is, the Fed and all private bank money is unconstitutional and to be abolished. 

But we should start with a unifying principle. For example, let’s say that a critical mass of people agreed upon Food Sovereignty as this principled anchor. What follows from that? Let’s look at Via Campesina’s Seven Principles of Food Sovereignty, and consider what constitutional basics follow from them. For each of these, one can either support it or not. But if you will the end, you must will the means. (Reformists and “progressives” pretend to will certain ends, but their flinching from the means gives the lie to their alleged will to the end.) 

1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.

2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it. 

This denies property in land, since it says land cannot be rationed by wealth. 

3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals. 

The same denial of property in natural resources. It also implicitly rejects globalization, commodification of food, and explicitly rejects the current intellectual property regime. 

4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices. 

An explicit attack on globalization and commodification. Food is food first. Combining Principle 4 with some of the others, it’s also primarily a means of a fulfilling work life. Only when these basic needs have been satisfied can we think of trading food for profit. 

5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed. 

An explicit attack on globalization in general and its totalitarian bureaucracies in particular. 

6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated. 

Again, this can be achieved only by the overthrow of commodification and illegitimate property regimes. 

7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision-making on food and rural issues. 

While written in anodyne language, willing the means here implies farmer-based democracy. The “equal participation” clause cannot be fulfilled except through the constitution of direct economic and political democracy and bottom-up confederation. Since post-Peak Oil food production will again be the primary occupation, it follows that this democracy has to be a grower-based democracy.
So now let’s look at those amendments again and what their unified goal would be.
The formal enshrinement of some aspects of Food Sovereignty as a Constitutional rights is obvious from any non-corporatist point of view. As I said in the quote above, even the framers would have rejected the tyrannical presumptions and arrogations of this government where it comes to food. If they’d had any inkling of what was to come, this would have been the First Amendment.
The anti-corporate amendments would strike a severe blow against the system’s ability to organize food commodification and globalization. It’s not that domination of food is impossible in the absence of the corporate form; history provides examples of other modes of domination. But this system is based on the corporate form, and it can’t fundamentally change itself in mid-flight. A mortal blow to this tyranny would kill it, and any subsequent tyranny would have to start from scratch. (Our vigilance against that eventuality shall be our subsequent citizen responsibility. But that discussion’s for another time. Right now our priority is liberation from this tyranny.)
An amendment declaring treaties to be Constitutionally binding only directly between governments, while agreements to abdicate sovereignty to rootless globalization cadres are Constitutionally invalid, would directly attack globalization’s ability to impose direct corporate tyranny. Again, while coercive “trade” can and has existed in other ways, the corporate globalization regime is the mode to which this kleptocracy is committed. It stands or falls with it.
On the domestic front, breaking the tyranny of the commerce clause would strike a direct blow on behalf of the rights and freedom of local and regional food production and distribution. Let’s recall, the seminal case Wickard v. Filburn centered on wheat production. The recent Food Control bill (taken in tandem with the health racket Stamp mandate) threatens to greatly expand this federal assault on food freedom. The anti-constitutional abuse of the commerce clause is the core tactic for all of it.
Above I mention Article 1, section 8. Another provision of this section is the Constitution’s view of intellectual property: 

To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries 

It’s obvious that today’s IP regime does not fulfill these two strict conditions, and in fact assails both. By now corporate copyrights, patents, etc. aren’t used to promote progress but to smother it. Oligopolies by nature don’t want innovation or entrepreneurialism. They want stagnation, with high rents enforced by nothing but market muscle and government looting and thuggery. Any innovation anywhere threatens to upset the balance of monopoly. As for the “limited Time”, this was originally just a few years. So while the Constitution doesn’t explicitly define a time period, anyone who subscribes to originalism, strict construction, or simply to the normal usage of the English language and common sense, would agree that this time period must not be very long. It certainly mustn’t exceed the lifetime of the inventor.
That’s a general condemnation of the corporatist IP regime. The specific application to Food Sovereignty involves primarily the alleged right to patent plant germplasm and the seeds from those plants. No matter what one’s view of patents in general, any sort of patent in a plant is illegitimate. Plants are first of all the produce of nature. Second, plant selection and breeding has been the project of tens of thousands of years of cooperative work. All modern selection, including genetic modification, has merely added tiny increments to the vast collective accomplishment. For a corporation to usurp a patent here is as if someone came into your house, changed a light bulb (which didn’t even need changing), and declared that he now owns your house.
To restore the integrity of the Constitution and to enshrine Food Sovereignty, amendments could clarify the useful inventions clause in general, and specifically declare humanity’s seed heritage off limits.
So there’s some potential jobs for the Convention, as they’d apply specifically to the enshrinement of Food Sovereignty. We can develop similar analyses toward other goals of principle and practice.

May 6, 2011

Food Sovereignty in Maine


I recently learned of a promising initiative in Maine combining principles of Food Sovereignty and relocalization.
In April Blue Hill, Maine, became the third Maine town to enact (by unanimous voice vote at a town hall meeting) a pioneering law asserting the people’s sovereignty over our food. (The law was narrowly defeated in a fourth town where the local government resisted it and engaged in actions at least skirting the line of fraud). Here we see democratic citizens recognizing their fundamental right to self-government, and the particular criticality of Food Sovereignty as a practical and democratic necessity. (Principles and concept of Food Sovereignty.)
The Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance of 2011 is a law which declares localized food production, processing, distribution, and consumption to within the sole purview of the locality. As stated in the Preamble and Purpose: 

We the People of the Town of (name of town) ,
(name of county) County, Maine have the right to produce, process, sell, purchase and
consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local
food traditions. We recognize that family farms, sustainable agricultural practices, and food
processing by individuals, families and non-corporate entities offers stability to our rural way of
life by enhancing the economic, environmental and social wealth of our community. As such,
our right to a local food system requires us to assert our inherent right to self-government. We
recognize the authority to protect that right as belonging to the Town of (name of town) .

We have faith in our citizens’ ability to educate themselves and make informed decisions. We
hold that federal and state regulations impede local food production and constitute a usurpation
of our citizens’ right to foods of their choice. We support food that fundamentally respects
human dignity and health, nourishes individuals and the community, and sustains producers,
processors and the environment. We are therefore duty bound under the Constitution of the State
of Maine to protect and promote unimpeded access to local foods.

The purpose of the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance is to:

(i) Provide citizens with unimpeded access to local food;
(ii) Enhance the local economy by promoting the production and purchase of local
agricultural products;
(iii) Protect access to farmers’ markets, roadside stands, farm based sales and direct
producer to patron sales;
(iv) Support the economic viability of local food producers and processors;
(v) Preserve community social events where local foods are served or sold;
(vi) Preserve local knowledge and traditional foodways. 

The law derives its authority from the Declaration of Independence, the Maine Constitution, and Maine statutes. It exempts local food activities from various licensure and inspection requirements and overrides state and federal law where these are in conflict. It asserts the citizens’ rights to Access and Produce Food, to Self-Governance, and to Enforce these rights. The local government is directed to take any feasible enforcement measures.
This democratic project is similar to the anti-corporate local ordinances pioneered and supported by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. (We briefly discussed them here.)
All the basic principles of this are excellent. (A few details are questionable.) In particular, it’s explicitly anti-corporate: “It shall be unlawful for any corporation to interfere with the rights recognized by this ordinance.” That’s purposefully open-ended and inclusive, and rightly so.
This law was drafted in accordance with the conditions of Maine, but the blueprint could be applied anywhere. Scoffers might suppose this won’t be able to resist applications of force from above, and that’s true in the short run.
But the real purpose of this is to codify democracy, Food Sovereignty, and relocalization as explicit legal principles. The more we go on record as wishing to redeem our democratic sovereignty, and the more the kleptocracy has to resort to brute lawlessness to assert its prerogatives, the more its true barbaric thug essence will be clear in the eyes of the people.
On a more general level, all pro-democracy grassroots action is a tonic. Citizens are taking action, however small to begin with, directly against corporate and central government power. We’re answering “federal” arrogation and usurpation through its anti-democratic pre-emption of lower-level authority with our own version of pre-emption. We’re declaring that our people’s law supersedes, overrides, overthrows their illegitimate might-makes-right. We’re declaring the principles of true federalism, which is a vector directly opposed to all the processes of centralization and concentration. This is a value in itself. 

May 4, 2011

A Strange Deal, and Two Questions

Filed under: Food and Farms, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Russ @ 6:32 am


Suppose you worked the fields with friends and family. You worked cooperatively and shared the produce equally. Your children and elderly contributed what they could and were secure with you. You all worked hard, and you had few luxuries, but it was wholesome, fulfilling work, and you lived happy, spirited lives as a free community.
Now suppose a stranger came along with this proposition: I can organize you all so that you’ll produce a far greater amount. You’ll have to surrender your productive freedom to me as well as any real political freedom (I might let you go through the motions of pretending you still have politics). You’ll have to surrender all that you produce. I and my helpers won’t work in the fields at all. I’ll then give back a portion of what you surrendered.
But the result will be that there will be so much greater plenty that even though I keep most of what you work for, you’ll get back more than you have now keeping all you produce. This will bring such luxury that it will be worth all you give up.
First question: Would you accept that deal? Would it sound plausible? And even if it did sound plausible, is this a trade-off human beings and democratic citizens would make?
And let’s say you were willing to surrender your political and economic sovereignty, your freedom, for the sake of more stuff. You wanted to be a consumer instead of a citizen. Now decades have gone by, and not only did this cornucopia never appear, but what you get back is far less than what you’d have if you just worked for yourselves and kept all you produced.
Not only that, but the stranger has used the wealth he took from you, not to maximize production, but to streamline it so that he could drive more and more of your people off the fields completely. They now rot, permanently unemployed, permanently useless, prey to passivity and despair. The rest of you live in fear. It’s unclear how long you’ll be able to feed yourselves, let alone your children. Although the stranger continues to promise the horn of plenty if you just continue to sacrifice ever more, there’s no reason to believe anything will ever change except that he’ll continue to get richer and you’ll continue to get poorer. Soon you’ll all be either slaves or dead.
Second question: How many years would you endure this before deciding the deal was a lie all along, that you made a mistake in ever accepting it, and that you should renounce it and get rid of this criminal?

May 3, 2011

“Fresh”, A Movie on the Food System

Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform — Tags: — Russ @ 3:58 am


Last week I went to a screening of the movie, “Fresh”, about the corporate food system and how to restore sane farming practices. It’s an excellent primer on the basics, with lots of inspiring as well as harrowing images.
Much of the attack is against CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), AKA factory farms. These are a physical, moral, aesthetic, and socioeconomic disaster. They’ve been the form of concentration of cattle, hogs, and chickens, destroying innumerable autonomous farmers in America, Eastern Europe, indirectly in Africa, and elsewhere. They’re a hideous regime of animal cruelty. They generate such vast amounts of unusable animal waste that it must be dumped in lagoons which slowly spread across the countryside, their stench spreading much further to afflict mostly poor (and only non-rich) communities. These “manure” lagoons are similar to the storage of spent rods from nuclear energy production. There’s simply no way to dispose of the toxic waste, which just continues to pile up. (I think no matter how much of a psychopath one wants to be, all defenses of nuclear energy as well as CAFOs must ultimately shipwreck on this waste problem, which is truly unsolvable.)
This waste crisis is an extreme version of the longstanding problem of the separation of town and country which is imposed by capitalism in food production. In sane farming the farmer uses manure, crop waste, and crop rotation to replenish the soil. It’s a mostly closed loop. But under industrial farming, the farmer is driven to grow a cash crop monoculture. The crop is repeatedly grown, harvested, and exported from the farm to the city. The farmer is forced to turn to synthetic fertilizer to prop up the zombie soil. Meanwhile the waste is imported to the city along with the animals sent to the processors there, as well as in the form of the human waste the city generates as imported food lets populations not grounded on the land burgeon there. Thus an intractable waste problem is generated there. As it’s always put, the separation of town and country takes a well-balanced natural system and replaces it with two massive artificial problems.
Today CAFOs are an intensified manifestation of the same phenomenon. They’re simply mini-cities of concentrated animals. In the movie we drive past a small CAFO of 2400 hogs. But 20,000 is a more typical number. This aggravates the artificial problems of lack of natural soil building and what to do with the accumulating waste.
This waste can’t be used by farmers as manure because it’s too concentrated and too loaded with drug and hormone residues. The animals could never function in the horrendous confined environment without quickly becoming sick, so they’re continually pumped full of antibiotics. The same US government which has strict regulations regarding the dispensation of antibiotics for human use, and whose DEA has long menaced doctors prescribing painkillers to suffering patients, has practically no regulations at all for the promiscuous use of antibiotics in factory farming. Not to treat actually sick animals, but as a constant maintenance regime to prevent their immediately sickening and dying. This only generates microbial resistance which must then be met with escalating injections. Thus we have a biological arms race taking place in what are de facto bioweapons labs. These bioweapons factories are unregulated and unsecured. They were probably the source of the swine flu, a shot over our bow. It’s guaranteed that they’ll one day be the source of a lethal pandemic which will kill millions.
The more dire things I wrote there aren’t explicit in the movie, which has a more restrained tone. But it comes through loud and clear when reformed hog farmer David Ball describes how he almost died from an infection he contracted after being lacerated by one of his hogs back when he was a factory farmer who spent most of his time injecting his stock.
Factory farms are the worst aspect of a terrible system in general. The movie discusses how the monocrop system is dominated by corn and soy, which in turn are not grown for direct human consumption, but almost all for industrial use: As processed animal feed in those CAFOs (another reason the cattle are all intrinsically ill – cattle aren’t set up to eat corn and grain, they eat grass; more on that below); to be processed into corn sweetener; to be processed into ethanol.
Today’s corporate farmers are economically unviable. They’re actually the same debt-enslaved sharecroppers of the 19th century South. Their income could never cover all they have to pay for seeds, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, fuel, equipment, and the interest on al their debts. The only thing which keeps them in business is government subsidies. So that’s the modern refinement on the old sharecropping system. Today’s sharecropper has his debts covered by the taxpayer.
But let me make clear that this is not done to “support the farmer”. There are far better ways to farm and to organize a food production economy which don’t require debt at all. The federal subsidies are to support corporate agriculture, which is what’s truly unviable, a permanent welfare patient. Corporate agriculture has never in its history been legitimately profitable. Instead, it’s always relied upon government support and externalizing many of its costs. In the movie Michael Pollan appears as a talking head, conceding that “local organic food costs more” (at the moment), but only because corporate food is dumped on the market, with most of its costs externalized on taxpayer subsidies, the environment, the poor (who must endure the proximity of CAFOs and other horrors of industrial production), and our health. So the price we pay at the supermarket for corporate produce and processed food is artificially kept far below the real price. But we’ll pay it, in taxes, doctor bills, environmental disasters, and eventually famines and pandemics.
What is the alternative? Most of the movie follows farmers Joel Salatin and David Ball, showing how they base their farming on natural practices. Salatin moves his herd of cattle from pasture to pasture. They graze on one field, leaving their manure behind. Free-range chickens follow them, picking the manure clean of all parasites and their eggs and larvae. Fields are fertilized, the chickens produce great eggs, and the cattle are healthy and yield delicious beef. Ball, who barely survived his scrape with CAFO microbiology, now practices similar sustainability in hog farming.
As Salatin explains, in nature herbivores are always moving and never eat meat. We see how factory farming, with its intensive confinement and cattle feed combining grains (which they also don’t naturally eat) and waste parts of animals (animals in CAFOs are forced to be cannibals) is the radical opposite. To think that we’re such exceptions to the natural order of the Earth that we can get away with spitting in nature’s face this way is insanity. Those responsible – corporate executives, major shareholders, politicians and media flacks – must answer for these crimes.
What could restore sanity to our agriculture? Salatin gives a taut formula. Currently 70% of our grain production goes to cattle feed, only 30% to people, pigs, and poultry. So take the land dedicated to that wasted 70% and restore it to grass-fed cattle raising. This would restore the balances and eliminate the problems.
The movie doesn’t go into the big political picture, and has a reformist tone. But the redemptions called for will take place only within a comprehensive framework of a Food Sovereignty revolution. There will be no way to redeem the land for this restored holistic production, liberate the farmer from debt indenture, remove the market inefficiencies like CAFOs and commodity ethanol, and remove the criminals who want to force all the destructive entities and practices upon us and prevent all reforms and redemptions, other than through a complete transformation.
But in the meantime, we must steadily and gradually do what we can to exist in spite of the system. Farmers like Salatin and Ball, and distribution networks like Good Natured Family Farms, a consortium of independent producers and distributors also featured in the movie, provide proof of principle.

May 2, 2011

Bin Laden Dead? It Has Nothing to Do With the War

Filed under: Afghanistan, Disaster Capitalism, Global War On Terror — Russ @ 3:08 am


So I wake up to hear that Osama bin Laden is allegedly dead. I remember back in 2001, once the government launched the war in Afghanistan, the consensus among my co-workers was that they’d kill or capture bin Laden within two weeks. That’s actually not far short of when they had him bagged at Tora Bora and let him escape through suspicious negligence of the back door into Pakistan. Of course, in 2001 most people thought Bush really wanted to capture or kill him. The idea that bin Laden was more useful to corporate imperialism alive and at large than dead or a prisoner was too cynical for most people at that point. We’ve since learned differently, and most people are jaded about it all.
Still, this has caused a ripple of excitement. At Naked Capitalism they’re even asking if this makes Obama a shoe-in for 2012. Nobody’s cared about bin Laden for a long time, and I’ll eat my hat if anyone cares about this in 2012. This criminal probably will win in 2012 if he’s up against anyone from the current slate of Republicans, but only by default on account of how repulsive they all are.
I suppose it’s not surprising that stimulus-response Americans in general, always desperate for a novelty to give them a temporary rush, are momentarily excited over such a non-event. (Bin Laden hasn’t had any operational significance in many years; he’s long been of only symbolic significance. Indeed, while his death means nothing from America’s point of view, his symbolic martyrdom may be more influential to the declining jihadist movement than he was alive as a has-been.)
Still, I hope people can turn this momentary enthusiasm to good effect by insisting, “This means the objective of the war is complete and we can end the war now.” That’s really nonsense, of course. The purpose of the war has nothing to do with actual terrorists, who are merely a pretext. Obama hopes he can score political points with a momentary proclamation of victory but still continue the wars unabated. Maybe for once this kind of scam won’t work.
(A cynic on this issue might go with the following line: For general audiences, pretend to go along with the notion that bin Laden was the one and only true leader of Islamic terrorism, that this is conclusive, and say, “So this is it. We’ve won. Now we can end the wars and bring the troops home.” Accuse anyone who disputes this of being a liar who always claimed killing bin Laden was the primary goal.)
What’s the real point of the war? I’ve written about it extensively before; see my categories “Afghanistan” and “Global War on Terror”. But I’ll sum up my more recent refinement of my view.
Going back to 1990 and through the early 2000s, I used to think Middle Eastern aggression was primarily about oil. It used to be, but I think by now it’s more about corporatism and domination.
An empire which was truly, rationally focused on the global flow of oil would have gone about things very differently. If you want the oil to flow smoothly, you want geopolitical stability. You want calm in the Mideast. But the US has done all it can to disrupt the region and create chaos. Similarly, if you want to maintain consensus on the dollar as reserve currency and the currency paid for oil, you’d want to maintain the same calm, not do all you can to break up that consensus and drive others to seek alternatives.
I think in Washington the goal of ensuring the oil supply is considered too boring and isn’t the most short-term profitable priority. As we’ve seen everywhere, no one in the kleptocracy seems capable any longer of setting a priority based on longer-term self-interest, or even of conceiving such things. No one seems capable of thinking or doing in any way other than to maximize short run profiteering.
That’s why the imperial wars are so impulsive, scattershot, strategically incoherent, and more in the nature of drunken plunder raids than calculated empire-building. Iraq provided the most stark example, as the neoliberal Einsatzgruppen surged in immediately following the troops, and with the indiscriminate destructiveness of a tsunami rushed to impose a policy of total deregulation, privatization, and throwing the borders completely open to the full fury of globalization. Not one bit of this was even the slightest bit coordinated according to any guiding principle whatsoever. It was total corporatist chaos as its own principle. Every racket which could get to Iraq now cashed in its chips. It could be compared to a bank run, in that for short term profit corporatism was depleting any basis for its long run ability to maintain a revenue stream from these new colonies. But nobody cares about that anymore.
In Afghanistan that same dynamic has sought to prevail, although there it’s more difficult as there isn’t the same domestic economy to exploit, so the pirates have to content themselves mostly with government contract plunder.
So we can see how improbable it is that anyone among the elites considers the death of bin Laden to have any significance at all. Indeed, the way Obama’s exulting in this looks like self-indulgence for the sake of merely a short-run political profit. Over the long run, wasn’t bin Laden still more useful at large than dead? At any rate, there was no downside to his still being alive, but like I mentioned above, there’s a possible political downside for them now that he’s dead.
But like I said, I doubt it will matter either way. The corporate imperial “war on terror” has nothing to do with actually fighting terrorists.

May 1, 2011

May Day

Filed under: American Revolution, Relocalization — Tags: — Russ @ 3:15 am


The other day, in response to a question about the morality which must fuel a transformational movement, I answered

Anarchism and direct democracy have always been founded on a moral basis. One basic principle, going back thousands of years in moral philosophy, is that human beings are ends and that anything which treats them as means (as all of today’s politics and economic policy does) is morally despicable.

The other is that the people have the right and responsibility to rule themselves, and that only those who work have any right to the management and distribution of the produce. Again, everything we have today directly contradicts this, as both conservatism and liberalism agree that parasitic “elites” should steal this produce and then trickle some of it back down.

The fact that corporatism is nothing more or less than robbery is first and foremost a moral fact.

Affirmatively, the morality of economic democracy is that the purpose of society is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the economy must be organized to maximize these. That means the purgation of evils like property and other hoarding beyond one’s fair share based on one’s actual productive work, wage-based employment, the commodification of any commons, any policy which generates artificial scarcity. Beyond that, the moral goal is to purge all forms of exploitation and coercion, replacing them with the cooperation and freedom which are proven to prevail and to work once such exploitation and coercion is removed.

All of this is nothing new. It’s the same economic morality as that of “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” More recently Kant updated this as, “Act as if your action would enshrine a universal law.” Again, these are anathema to capitalism and representative pseudo-democracy, which explicitly want to divide humanity into parasitic elites who do no work and monopolize the production, vs. the productive people who do all the work and control nothing, and receive an ever diminishing share of what only they produced.

Our morality will restore a unified humanity by causing these criminals and their vicious ideology to cease to exist, and replacing their cesspool with a human society based on cooperation, fairness, justice, citizenship, and community.

There, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will finally be the real goals of humanity, after so much wasted time and effort and blood. 

Where it comes to the categorical imperative, I’m not as pedantic as Kant himself was in demanding its rigorous application in detail. On the contrary, this would be impossible and undesirable. That was one of Nietzsche’s main criticisms of it. (And I don’t share Kant’s naivete about the alleged impossibility of there ever being a conflict of duties.)
But it can and must be applied it at the broadest level of humanism and justice. And anyone must live up to it where it comes to the basic principles one proclaims; otherwise one is a criminal.
To give history’s most evil example, capitalism is a moral abomination: Because it is robbery, because all its promises are lies, and because it flouts the categorical imperative. In spite of its lies, it does not in fact want egoism as a universal principle. It wants egoism to be a monopoly of the elites. On the contrary, it wants the great mass of productive people, those who do 100% of the productive and valuable work, to be pure altruists.
How else can we characterize an ideology which tells the producer: “You should toil and then surrender what you produce to a parasitic system (to which you should also surrender your political sovereignty) which will monopolize and distribute all you produce primarily for the benefit of its own power and luxury. It will then let you have back what little is left over, and this little bit will get smaller and smaller. We used to lie and claim that this would actually lead to greater prosperity for you than if you kept the fruits of your labor (and your political sovereignty) for yourself in the first place. By now we all know that was a lie and is a complete failure, and we seldom even bother to tell that lie any more. (Our corrupt media still does, and those cretin corporate liberals seem to actually still believe it.) But we still implore you to continue with the elitist system. You should do it out of pure altruism toward us parasites who claim to be your betters. We deserve to accumulate such vast wealth and power at your expense, simply because we’re entitled.”
I can’t imagine what else corporate capitalism, a proven failure and world-historical crime, has left to say by now. It’s making the most utopian appeal to pure altruism and suicidal selflessness which has ever been issued. A general ordering troops over the top of the trench into a machine gun barrage could hardly be making a more stark call to self-destruction in the name of sacrificing everything for the sake of those who do and give nothing.
We can see how, if we step outside the system and its brainwashing, how truly radical it is. We can see how bizarrely utopian economic and political elitism are in their call for such endless self-sacrifice on the part of the vast mass of humanity, for nothing in return. This is history’s most spectacular example of the Status Quo Lie, whereby the status quo, no matter how unnatural and radical and driven by extremist ideology, is represented as the normal, natural, moderate, apolitical, non-ideological baseline; while any alternative, any proposal for change, no matter how intrinsically rational, moderating, practical, common-sensical, is slandered as radical, extreme, and an illegitimate “politicizing” of things on behalf of “ideology”.
By contrast, any way of looking at things which incorporated common sense and self-interest in a healthy way with altruism would condemn this kleptocratic and destructive system and demand that economic and political power be redeemed by those who are solely responsible for the existence of an economy and a polity in the first place, the productive people. Reason and morality, philosophy and practicality, egoism and altruism, common sense all lead to one conclusion: Positive democracy, economic and political.
Anarchism is in fact the only rational combination of self-interest and altruism, since it recognizes that cooperation and respect for the freedom of others is also the only road to the greatest prosperity for all. This altruism is therefore also in our best self-interest. Anarchism, AKA true democracy, is therefore the only coherent political philosophy. All others are incoherent because they must pretend to seek universal prosperity while they really seek the aggrandizement of criminal elites. This is the fundamental lie of all elitism by now. (Though as I mentioned above, often today’s kleptocrats aren’t even bothering with a political ideology anymore, but are recrudescing to naked assertions of might makes right. This is another signpost on the road back to feudalism.)
The right response to this is the Work to Rule philosophy as a way of mind and life. Work to Rule, in the strict tactical sense, is a form of slow-down strike where workers pedantically adhere to their job descriptions and to the letter of any rule, policy, etc. The employer then learns how much the smooth operation of the business depended upon the creative improvisation of the workers and their performing duties above and beyond their nominal responsibilities. Production and the operation of the workplace declines in quantity and quality. We see how much the functioning of egoistic capitalism depends upon the generous lubrication of anarchistic altruism. If all workers went on a general work-to-rule strike, the system would quickly collapse. The same applies to the functioning of the government. (Although there the ideology does call for a modicum of “good civics” behavior on the part of the citizen even while the system completely disenfranchises and dispossesses him.)
We should strive to rebuild our sense of community, the healthy mix of altruism and self-interest, among ourselves. This is the moral project of relocalization. But in all our upward dealings, all our dealings with economic and political elites, big capitalism and big government, we should strive for Work to Rule. We should teach and train to deploy it as a discrete tactic in all kinds of disputes with predators and parasites. But even more importantly, we should enshrine it as a way of life and thought in all our dealings across this class war abyss the criminals unilaterally tore open. It should become a permanent general quasi-strike, for as long as the kleptocracy continues to exist. Even a partial institution of this general quasi-strike will be another severe drag on the already overloaded system, helping to accelerate its collapse. In the meantime, affirmatively, it’ll be an exercise in building moral discipline and political self-respect, which are the two most necessary things we most lack. Build those, and it’ll almost be enough in itself for our self-liberation.
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