September 1, 2010

The Prize of the Venture


We survey the rubble-strewn landscape. Aftershocks continue to threaten further earthquakes. Ignorant armies lashed on by criminal leaderships intensify their bombardments of themselves and one another. Surveying this desolation, we may feel the gravity of despair. How can anyone hope to turn the guns against their masters, as part of a vague wish to calm the earth itself? The solution seems unfathomable. The problems themselves seem so vast as to be innumerable.
There’s the structural atmosphere of corporatism, where by now it seems the very oxygen we breathe is financialized. The air through which our encumbered limbs try to move is corporatized, suffused with the gaslight of our indoctrination into consumerism, capitalism, the “American Dream”. The things we can see are increasingly branded with various scars signifying “property”, fronting increasingly aggressive guard towers and barbed wire. Our entire cognitive and sensory experience is dominated by this paradigm. We can add the tyranny of technology and bureaucracy. These inexplicable and inextricable tangles and wires and bonds seem strewn and writhing everywhere.
Even the few who can still conceive of actual freedom – freedom to move, to act, to speak and express, to define one’s own being and decree one’s own action, through both the course of a day and on the long arc of a lifetime – must feel daunted by what seems by now a complete enclosure and imprisonment. In principle it would still be easy to smash down all the walls, but who can tell how to do it in practice?
Economic enclosure is the great prison of humanity. Its walls have always been erected by the elites as prison walls of a vast forced labor camp. This has been the goal of economic and political elites throughout history. Although Marx correctly called our history the history of class struggles, one aspect of this history has been the developing prison-building consciousness of the elites. Enclosure, AKA primitive accumulation, was the criminal strategy which marked the transition from medieval feudalism to the modern feudal/capitalist hybrid. We’ll never know how experimental capitalism would have remained without the boost it got from fossil fuels and concomitant industrialization; as things are the rentier sectors were temporarily eclipsed enough that classical economists could believe capitalism was phasing out the rentier completely.
Today we know that was a vain notion. Feudalism – land rents, resource rents, usury and other finance rents, IP rents, branding and marketing rents, lobbying, bribery and extortion rents – was never euthanized, but only submitted to temporary shadow status. But by the latter 20th century, as resource limits and the innovation limits of capitalism loomed, the elites embarked upon a combined strategy of refeudalization. I’ve written about that several times before. Here’s a few summary examples:
The New Feudal War – Part 1: Kleptocracy.
Part 2: The Bailout
Part 3: “Austerity”
Part 4: The Intended End State
Beyond the Freedom Flotilla
So the only question left is What to Do? And the only action left is to do it.
Nothing is innocent now but to act for life’s sake.   – Cecil Day Lewis
A first step toward fathoming things is to in fact enumerate the problems. We have the finance tyranny, the Bailout and the Permanent War. These are indelible features of the landscape which can only be destroyed by their own inner turbulence. This will happen, but for these I think we who serve must stand and wait. The answer to the big banks is to refuse to engage with them, move our money, otherwise shun them, cut all rents out of our lives as much as possible. That’s the negative aspect of relocalization. The positive actions are everything we can do to redeem our way of life on the local level and protect our heritage and property against the assaults of external, alien barbarians. This means forming our own political and economic relations, growing our own food, preserving our own seeds, crafting our own manufactures, providing our own services, living as the political and economic actors of ourselves, affirmatively defining and decreeing ourselves as much as possible, excluding and shunning the enemy where we can, reacting and defending and counterattacking where we must.
There are two great legislative assaults upon us, what we must properly call Stamp Acts. The first is the health racket bailout which not only does nothing to control the cost of basic, decent health care, but adds aggressive tyranny to injury by forcing us to pay crippling extortion to vile, parasitic gangsters, in the form of the Mandate.
The second is the legislation of food tyranny the system’s trying to impose upon us. Here the law isn’t complete yet, and indeed the Senate version seems somewhat less oppressive than last year’s House version. But let’s not be fooled – the kleptocracy’s barbarous intent is clear. They want total control of food production and distribution. They know what we know, that relocalization is the great threat to their power. (Indeed, if anyone doubts that proposition, he can look to the elites’ goal here as confirmation.) So even if this particular bill ends up not being as severe as it could have been, that’ll only be one inconclusive battle. They’ll be just the next corporate food-borne illness away from gaining the pretext for the next assault, just as every alleged terrorist plot is the excuse for the next assault on civil liberties.
That leads us to the two Stamp Acts of neglect, where it’s not so much a formal policy assault as the inertia of the status quo which is the main vector of tyranny. Civil liberties were being gradually but steadily eroded even prior to 9/11 and the Patriot Act. Once the elites had this “war on terror” pretext, as we know, the assault was accelerated and intensified. In the latest outrage, a federal court has claimed that you have no privacy right in your car even if it’s parked in your own driveway. Police agents are now said to have the right to commit criminal trespass at their whim. No search warrants necessary. (Although the decision was unusually honest about its class war aspect, openly declaring the double standard that if you can afford walls and other security barriers, the police have to respect those and can’t enter without a warrant.) This assault will continue all the way to a totalitarian police state exactly like those of Stalin or Hitler (and much worse thanks to improved technology; as Arendt wrote of Stalinist secret police, imagine if they had computers), until somehow the inertia is halted. No rational person can deny this.
The other inertial process of tyranny will be gutting net neutrality and rolling back Internet access in general. These, along with old-style censorship, will combine to assassinate Internet democracy and strangle the Internet as an economic frontier. In this case, just as with civil liberties, all that will be required for evil to triumph is “for good men to do nothing.” It’ll sure be a surprise if the FCC’s Genachowski even tries to proclaim a semi-strong net neutrality policy. And of course the war of attrition will continue from there.
So these, I propose, are the four problems of policy we must focus upon, even as we try to build a relocalization movement. We must vigorously resist the health insurance mandate and any manifestation of government tyranny over food production and distribution. And we must actively fight to change the inertia on civil liberties and Internet democracy. So it’s two kinds of fights, each on two battlegrounds.
From here on when I write about corporate and government assaults I’m going to write mostly about these four fights, trying to work out strategy and tactics.
Meanwhile I’ll also try to develop the affirmative principles which animate relocalization and positive democracy. These are both ideals and actions, dialectically cycling to constitute a way of life. The fight for them is already the living of them, just as living them must always involve the vigilance of the fight for them.
Unfortunately, the enemies of America are providing us with an all too rich environment for living this struggle. But there’s no point passively lamenting it, no utility in despair, no virtue in defeatism. It’s an obstacle that has to be overcome, and the attack of a wild animal that has to be fended off. Our ancestors dealt with the same and fought through to victory. We can do the same, if we get on with the job.


  1. Yes! Many of us just feel kind of powerless in the face of this system. I look forward to reading what you think we can do to start fixing this place.

    Comment by jimmy james — September 2, 2010 @ 1:12 am

    • Thanks Jimmy. I’ll do my best.

      Comment by Russ — September 2, 2010 @ 3:36 am

  2. Have you read Kevin Carson’s The Homebrew Industrial Revolution? The material needs some editing but it’s a nice overview of 20th century mass-production and the move towards decentralized production.

    Another book I really like is Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. The detailed history and technical matters discussed may not interest you, but I hope you’ll at least read enough to understand what the author calls the “recursive public”.

    Comment by Karl — September 2, 2010 @ 4:39 am

    • Thanks, Karl. I haven’t read those though I’ve heard of the Carson book. I’ll check’em out.

      Comment by Russ — September 2, 2010 @ 7:13 am

  3. Russ~ I enjoy your content and style. Thanks for being you. ~Tawal
    PS If you haven’t as of yet: take a gander at Stephen Martin’s columns over at counterpunch (dot) com

    Comment by tawal — September 11, 2010 @ 4:31 am

    • Thanks, tawal. I’ll make a note of it.

      Comment by Russ — September 11, 2010 @ 4:48 am

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