Volatility

July 30, 2011

Farmers’ Market Update

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russ @ 1:07 am

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I’ve been meaning to post accounts of the season at the farmers’ market where I work. The first few weeks I neglected to do so, but I’ll get started now.
 
Just to quickly get up to date – the season’s going pretty well so far, considering the nasty weather (very hot for several weeks). This past Wednesday was finally a nice day.
 
We had one new vendor quit after three weeks because, according to them, this was the first time they didn’t immediately generate a huge customer base, but instead faced a gradual climb. That was unfortunate, but we sucked it up. It doesn’t seem to have affected business.
 
On the whole the vendors are happy. Our two new produce vendors are big hits. Everybody loves their produce and layouts. They both farm just one acre, and are for all intents and purposes organic, though neither is certified. (On another thread we discussed the inadequacy of official certifications.)
 
We may have a slight problem with our bigger, established produce vendor. One of our committee members said she thinks their layout looks bad and that one of their employees is obnoxious and is turning customers off. She wants to have a committee visit to them to discuss the problems. Last year there was also an issue with the inconsistency of their quality. So we’ll see what’s next with that.
 
On that thread mentioned above I alluded to how our market has been sometimes lackadaisical in enforcing our bylaws. Since then I’ve been thinking more about it. A farmers’ market which proclaims localization principles and then enforces them creates its own informal but important imprimatur, a kind of certification. It’s all about reputation based on a proven record of action.
 
This is going to be tremendously important for the relocalization movement going forward. Farmers’ markets, time banks, sustainability groups, must all help create the new structures of morality, loyalty, and cooperative obligation to replace all the old ones which, if they ever existed, have been drained of all life by corporatism and are now mere wraiths whose touch is poison.
 
So I’m already thinking about how our committee can be more resolute for the 2012 season, better organized and determined to build a rock-solid reputation for localization integrity. (I too have voted to relax the rules, although never on anything directly impinging on principle, just on process stuff. But I recognize that it’s the lax attitude in itself which is part of the problem. So I also need to do better.) In many ways we need a more coherent and consciously followed strategy, not just for this but for the economic success of the market, as well as what could be called its political success. (By that I mean community relations – we’re beloved by a faction of the town, disliked by another. The goal is to expand the one and diminish or at least neutralize some of the other.)
 
Then there’s the critical issue of how to convey a sense of community to the vendors themselves. Of course the vendors’ first priority has to be making a living at farming or food processing. But there’s still plenty of room for a more holistic consciousness, that the farmers’ market is far more than a place of business, that it’s a center of rebuilding our communities and our humanity. This is explicit in our statement of principle, and it’s how we on the committee feel about it.
 
I don’t know how much the vendors share this feeling. Clearly the one who bailed was concerned only with the money. Most of the others probably have a mixture of motives, with varying degrees of community-mindedness.
 
It would be great if we could all realize that the more we work together on a community basis, the better off we’ll all be, including materially, in the long run. A mercenary attitude won’t work for anyone who’s not rich. It’s just digging your own grave.
 
Well, I have no specific ideas on how to do any of this yet, or for that matter what specific changes I want to see at the farmers’ market, other than a more close adherence to the bylaws, which all stem from the community-building and relocalization principles which inspired us to start the market in the first place.
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July 29, 2011

Tactical Discipline

Filed under: Civil Disobedience — Russ @ 1:56 am

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Yesterday at Naked Capitalism Yves linked to this piece describing a study of social networking and the proliferation of ideas. The study found that when the proportion of “committed opinion holders” dedicated to an alternative idea reaches 10% in a population, this is likely to constitute critical mass and trigger a non-linear jump in the propagation of the idea. At that point the rate of its spread is likely to greatly accelerate.
 
Readers of my blog and comments are familiar with how often I say things to the effect that “we only need a critical mass of activists” and “this number doesn’t even need to be that high to start with”. So I’m always interested in any example or evidence that backs this up.
 
Beyond that, where it comes to anything which I see as lying in the realm of tactics (as opposed to the realm of principle), the first and main question I ask of anything is, How can this be used for the fight? I have zero prejudices beyond that.
 
In this case, history proves that victorious movements (as well as those who contended but lost) usually experienced exactly such a tipping point where their membership leapt from a small band to a larger mass. It’s important to get people to understand this fact, because the way things are for now lots of people may have anti-system and even pro-relocalization sympathies but feel daunted by the seeming impossibility of the task. How can a scattered bunch of isolated individuals and small groups take on the kleptocracy, history’s most monumental power structure? But if these allegedly isolated individuals and groups understand that they’re only the pioneers of an already-growing movement which, if they keep working hard and spreading the word, will soon reach a point where its growth will suddenly surge, it can provide a morale boost. It’s a major milestone short of the total victory which seems so far off, one to which we can look forward in a much closer future.
 
The fact is that given something like this, the most important thing isn’t whether or not it’s objectively and timelessly “true” in an ivory tower sense, but whether people believe it’s true. If they believe, this is the most important factor in making it come true in reality, as a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s the way history has always worked.
 
So when I saw this study my instinctive response was to say, “For anyone who needed quantitative evidence that all we need in order to achieve transformational effects is a critical mass far below a majority of the population, here it is. There’s no need to fear – just keep saying to yourself: 10% All we need is 10%.”
 
I didn’t respond by knee-jerking about how all statistics is bunk, or how this study “sounds like 90% bullshit”, to quote one of the other commenters on it, who were pretty much unanimous in disparaging it. While some of these commenters are pro-bankster, many of them are normally at least sympathetic to the anti-system project. You’d think they’d have had a similar reaction to mine. But nope.
 
Unfortunately, many people aren’t really serious about what they claim their ideals to be. They’re really prone to nihilism wherever they see a good chance to go into detached Internet hipster mode to goof on something, anything. In this case, statistics is of course an easy target. As a rule, statistics is bunk. And I don’t doubt that anyone who wanted to find methodological issues with this study could find them. There almost always are.
 
But that’s not the right way of looking at things. For anyone who really wants to fight, the right way to look at any statistic isn’t with a knee-jerk “all statistics are lies” nihilism. The right viewpoint is to ask: Is this statistic pro-corporate, or could it have an anti-corporate application? If the answer is Yes, that’s the most important factor.
 
Now, I’m not saying this number is likely to have any great importance. In the end people will believe or not believe in the movement’s future viability based on more subjective factors. Mirabeau didn’t have statistical studies to back up his famous contention that ten men acting together could dominate a hundred thousand who stand apart from one another, yet this claim has given heart to beleaguered fighters ever since. Still, if studies backing up the basic idea are available, it can’t hurt to use them, and may help.
 
This little flap is just one example of how far we still are from a real class war consciousness, from the mindset which looks at everything and asks, “What is it from the point of view of the class war? How can it be used in this struggle?” To indiscriminately reject (or accept) all inputs from any category, for example statistics, isn’t a disciplined mindset, but rather a form of crackpot discipline, in the same vein as conspiracy theorizing. It makes one feel superior and “cool”, but achieves no constructive end. The real discipline is to be always on the alert without bias for the possible uses and dangers of things, to be always searching these out.
 
So that was my response to this example. I invite anyone to read the comments and ask whose reaction is more likely to have any constructive use whatsoever.
 
Getting back to the example itself in conclusion, it’s true that this 10% (or 12% or 20% or whatever the number really is; the point isn’t the exact number, but the fact that it’s far below 51% or 70% or whatever people might think they need) have to be committed “opinion” holders, meaning that they’re not holders of shallow, flighty opinions but unshakable convictions who are committed to spreading and fighting for those convictions. Then we’d achieve the effect Mirabeau described.

July 27, 2011

Kleptocratic Self-Cannibalism and the Opportunity It Opens Up

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The early Marx and the existentialists emphasized the alienation of human beings from their fabricated world. In particular, Marx explored how capitalism, in stealing the fruits of our work, alienates us from our labor. Our communion with our work is one of the core elements of our humanity, essential to our happiness, dignity, and wholeness. This emotional, psychological, and spiritual robbery practiced by economic elites is perhaps a far worse crime than the material deprivation and monetary “value” stolen.
 
A similar alienation is the result of the same crime in the political realm. Our humanity craves democratic participation. But representative pseudo-democracy, blaspheming the name and the ideal, robs us of our participation and our sense of real political control. This participation and control is part of the definition of true democracy. On a practical level, it achieves the most wise and socially productive outcomes. Far beyond this, it’s a core human value in itself, essential to our felicity, self-respect, and sense of being whole. This emotional, psychological, and spiritual robbery practiced by political elites is perhaps a worse crime than the destructive and evil outcomes their hijacked political system produces.
 
The result is humanity’s complete alienation from the economy, polity, society only we create at all. This generates a huge amount of potential energy in the mass. Millions of people not only have no constructive vehicle for their most elemental energies, but feel the added stress and tension of the economic and political instability and fear the kleptocracy engenders. Therefore, as Eric Hoffer says, the alienation from the self proceeds amid intense passion. The refugee energy and socioeconomic tension, arising out of our alienation from ourselves, further intensifies this alienation, which in turn generates further tension. Usually, at least at first, this is an inchoate passion. Then it’s often misdirected, hijacked/astroturfed by the very system which produces the psychological crisis. Fascism and innumerable quasi-fascist an co-optation phenomena comprise this category.
 
The kleptocracy will try to organize all the alienated passion it causes to its own benefit and the further detriment of those confused enough to conform to this plan. What are the chances that it will be unable to do this? One of the things we have going for us is how this system is liquidating its own base, and how it propagates an ideology of atomization, selfishness, and such a totally mercenary way of thinking and being that it will be difficult for it to ever muster real idealism on its behalf. Sure, it can astroturf a surface idealism on the part of pseudo-fascist scum. But these will never be anything more than a rabble. As for the system’s police and soldiers, they’ll never think in terms other than their paychecks and their material stuff at home (maybe their personal families as well). Historically, fascism was strong as it piled up victories, but started collapsing immediately as soon as it sustained losses and faced adversity. A fascist (including the kind of neoliberal pseudo-democracy we have today), individually and systemically, is typically a bully who feels strong as long as he’s winning but runs away as soon as the going gets tough. Mussolini was like that, and that’s why his system (and himself on a personal level) collapsed as soon as the war reached home. That was real fascism which had enlisted a high level of non-mercenary idealism on its behalf. It’s likely today’s purely mercenary kleptocracy will collapse even more completely as soon as it begins sustaining losses and enduring hardship. Mussolini wasn’t very tough, but I bet he was far tougher than today’s bloated, childish, infinitely “entitled” elites.
 
So who are the groups, naturally the base for political and economic elitism, who are under assault by very kleptocracy which depends upon them for its political sustenance? Who’s the newest and most critical alienation base?
 
1. Pensions are a linchpin of the liberal welfare state and a core part of the Ownership Society propaganda (“We are ExxonMobil”). For both the liberal and conservative ideologies they’re a key co-optation ploy. But the kleptocracy is now liquidating them. First they came for the manufacturing unions’ pensions, then for the public sector union pensions, and now for Social Security… Anyone who thinks the day of the 401(k)s of white collar workers won’t come soon is delusional.
 
2. “Home ownership” is a similar joint liberal-conservative ploy. Commentators have often been frank about how the goal is to give a large middle class a stake in the stable propagation of capitalism. So you’d think that after the blowup of the housing bubble and consequent deflation, the system would want to temporarily hit the reset button and retrench. But instead the banksters launched a veritable foreclosure war, enlisting the federal government as collaborator with such frauds as the HAMP. Meanwhile even the most modest prophylactic measures like principal mods and bankruptcy court cramdowns have been fiercely resisted by banks and government. Here too, although it still spews the propaganda, the kleptocracy has clearly renounced even the pretense of its own ownership society co-optation plan.
 
3. Public sector unions are a major part of the base for government as such, and the Democratic party in particular. But the kleptocracy, including the Democrats, is liquidating them as fast as it can.
 
4. College grads, if there are system jobs available for them, are always a major part of any status quo base. Instead, today’s grads find that there are no jobs for them, and that instead they were made the victims of a joint bank-government-university debt indenture scam. Historically, this has been a major revolutionary indicator. (The results were mixed. In 19th century Russia, unemployable students and graduates became revolutionaries. In Weimar Germany they became Nazis. Since as a group students are a nihilist rabble at heart, it’s probably just a matter of seizing upon the most radical idea lying around.) I previously devoted a post to this factor.
 
5. Professionals are also a key system base element, as long as their jobs are protected. This is why even as globalization ruthlessly drove a race to the bottom for all other forms of labor, for a long time it protected doctors, lawyers, journalists, IT professionals, and most others. But today these too are starting to be liquidated. A computer programmer’s already in the same boat as a manufacturing worker. Everyone else will soon be joining us. Again we see the “First they came for the factory workers…” dynamic.
 
6. The federal government depends upon the states for a vast amount of administration and supplementary enforcement. It has bought this compliance with gravy train of biblical flood size. But now the federal largesse is being rolled back furiously. The states are being cut off. Under these harsh new conditions, will state governments continue to comprise such a compliant power base for Washington?
 
7. The assault on civil liberties is the kind of petty harassment more likely to drum up resistance than is systematic repression.
 
8. Economically, here’s the biggest one, the classical contradiction of capitalism which is even more unsolvable today than it was a hundred years ago. Capitalism depends on infinitely growing consumption while it grinds the worker down to nothing. But this worker is also the consumer. Once capitalism liquidates its own consumers, who’s gonna buy? The answer nowadays is corporatism. The federal government buys and tries to force individuals to buy (Obama’s health racket Stamp mandate is the ultimate example so far). In these ways the government coerces markets. By now we have a command economy, corporatist version.
 
But this is only kicking the can down the road. Forcing the consumer to buy won’t increase the amount of blood you can squeeze out of him. In the end, capitalism will endure for as long as the federal government can run its debt Ponzi scheme. Deficit terrorism is a lie where it claims that deficit spending as such, and deficit spending toward socially productive goals based on real production, is inherently unsustainable. But it will be true in the end that deficit spending toward no goal whatsoever but enabling corporate looting, and based upon no productive base whatsoever but just the lies and vapors of financialization, is unsustainable. In the end this capitalist fraud will collapse of its own rancid yet hollow bloat.
 
9. I described the psychological contradiction of capitalism above. It alienates us from our work, our thoughts, our friends, our families, our communities, our democracy, and ourselves. Our alienation accumulates as a tremendous force, and no matter how that force is eventually unleashed, it will place the status quo in peril.
 
10. Part of this alienation, a strategic blunder on the part of corporatist ideology (if we could impute any long-term strategy, as opposed to short-run greed, to them at all), is how this ideology and kleptocratic practice seek to radically atomize the individual instead of trying to provide even a sham sense of belonging. By contrast, classical fascism worked hard at this, and with considerable success.
 
This has left a void and an opportunity for any movement which wants to fight the kleptocracy.
 
11. Based on the system’s record so far, we can expect a continuing escalation in the assault which will be malevolent in principle but haphazard in the execution. This is exactly the kind of oppression most likely to generate resistance. The alienations, contradictions, and self-injuring liquidations I just described are both part of this haphazardness and will contribute to it. See also my post, The Limits to Racketeering.
 
So we see how there’s a big opportunity for anyone who wants to fight and defeat the kleptocracy.
 
But the existence of the opportunity doesn’t guarantee it will be seized. We have to meet it halfway. We have to work hard to build the democratic movement which can transform all the alienation and disintegration into a coherent vector, which can gather all the festering potential energy and render it kinetic in one direction.
 
The negative element of this vector is to destroy the kleptocracy. The affirmative element is to build and practice positive democracy.
 
So part of this necessary work shall be to account for all the factors I described above (and probably others I missed) and learn to speak to them, and then do so relentlessly.

July 26, 2011

Shadow (A Poem)

Filed under: Poetry — Russ @ 3:42 am

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(It’s been almost a year since I posted any poems, so I figure it’s past overdue that I post some. This one’s an oldie without any political content.)
 
Shadow
 
A prone cracked dun leaf awaits the wind,
The sky of deception limberly waits
On its shaded perch
 
                                           sunshy of day’s fates
Till the air tilts a sound, eyes spinned
Into vigilance.
 
                                The moment won’t rescind
Its dreamy quietude.
 
                                             The haze inflates
Too sleepy for that, the day sleeps its dates
As well.
 
                  The limber sleep silently grinned.
 
Time can freeze. The spots fade the conjured form
To nothingness.
 
                                   All the waves softly blend
The moment opaque, as volition wends
The minutest twinge of a neuron. The storm
 
Drags down impotent static protest,
Claws brace frame for teeth.

July 24, 2011

The Movement Path Toward Positive Freedom

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Our most precious assets are political self-confidence and self-respect. With these, we can attempt and achieve the impossible. Without them we can do nothing. There’s no in between. One must have total confidence in the future. We can’t achieve this confidence through rational deliberation, rational education, all the tropes of the Enlightenment Myth. The movement must first speak to our souls in the language of goodness and right, and then in the language of our critical need.
 
And then it must present a plan, which to be sure partakes of reason, but which most of all inspires the will to fight and win. With this will, anything can be accomplished. Without it, nothing. In our case, reason and science are on our side, so we can enlist them as well. But in the end this is a political and spiritual war, and it will be fought and won on those battlefields. So all our efforts, all our words, all our actions, all our thoughts, must focus first of all on those fronts. This is an essential part of the movement discipline we must build.
 
As we understand the moral, rational, and practical truth of everything we know and do, the path in front of us shall become wider, straighter, better illuminated. Our fatigue shall evaporate, our pain shall flee, our desire to stop and rest shall transform to an impatience to keep going, faster. We shall feel ourselves walking the path of necessity. This is the paradoxical essence of the individual or cooperative group which discovers itself, its true mission, and the way to carry out that mission, under conditions of positive freedom. Indeed this is the essence of positive freedom itself – the more one achieves this freedom, the more one moves with unfailing certainty, in accord with the prerogative of necessity, every step clearly laid out before one.
 
Nietzsche was eloquent on this point:
 

[E]verything there is or has been on earth to do with freedom, refinement, boldness, dance, and masterly certainty, whether it is in thinking itself, or in governing, or in speaking and persuading, in arts just as much as in morals, developed only thanks to the “tyranny of such arbitrary laws,” and in all seriousness, the probability is not insignificant that this is “nature” and “natural”—and not that laisser aller! Every artist knows how far from the feeling of letting himself go his “most natural” condition is, the free ordering, setting, disposing, shaping in moments of “inspiration”—and how strictly and subtly he obeys at that very moment the thousand-fold laws which make fun of all conceptual formulations precisely because of their hardness and decisiveness (even the firmest idea, by comparison, contains something fluctuating, multiple, ambiguous—). The essential thing “in heaven and on earth,” so it appears, is, to make the point again, that there is obedience for a long time and in one direction: in the process there comes and always has come eventually something for whose sake living on earth is worthwhile, for example, virtue, art, virtue, music, dance, reason, spirituality—something or other transfiguring, subtle, amazing, and divine….

…that genuine philosophical association of a bold, exuberant spirituality, which speeds along presto, with a dialectical strictness and necessity which takes no false steps are unknown to most thinkers and scholars from their own experience, and hence, if someone wishes to talk about it in front of them, they find it implausible. They take the view that every necessity is a need, an awkward requirement to follow and to be compelled, and for them thinking itself is considered something slow, hesitant, almost labourious, and often enough “worth the sweat of the noble”—but under no circumstances something light, divine, closely related to dancing and high spirits! “Thinking” and “taking an issue seriously,” “considering it gravely”—among them these belong together: that’s the only way they have “experienced” thinking.—In such matters artists may have a more subtle sense of smell. They know only too well that at the very moment when they no longer create “arbitrarily” and make everything by necessity, their sense of freedom, refinement, authority, of creative setting up, disposing, and shaping is at its height—in short, that necessity and the “freedom of the will” are then one thing for them.

 
Beyond Good and Evil, sections 188 and 213.
 
Our movement philosophy, to resume and redeem the American Revolution: Positive democracy, the full opportunity for political participation in a dedicated common space, full management of economic production and distribution by the working people; food sovereignty in its fullest form; a full dispensation of useful possession/usufruct; anti-corporatism, anti-statism, anti-propertarianism; general relocalization; all this founded upon the values of community, of valuing oneself, one’s friends, family, community, and democracy above material greed; and upon values of cooperation, caring, integrity, and justice.
 
Can this philosophy stir the souls of humanity to the point that we achieve the full consciousness of positive freedom? I think it can, and the ideas are necessary and beautiful enough that it’s worth the attempt. One thing’s for sure, whether these ideas are true or not – there’s no truth left outside them. Everything outside them is wickedness, falsehood, stagnation, and blockage.
 
The regular possible, the pseudo-possible, what “progressives” call “pragmatic”, is in fact impossible, and is repulsive to our human dignity. It offers no way out. We reach agreement with the great theologians – only a miracle can bring salvation, so we believe in the miracle, and in that way produce it.
 
But our “miracle” is secular and rational as well, literally grounded in the soil. Our work awaits us. It won’t perform itself, but it will be both the catalyst and the productive vector of our self-respect and self-confidence, on the political and human level. By now these are synonyms. That’s how we’ll create these most precious assets, and that’s how we’ll use them, first to liberate ourselves, and then to build true freedom.

July 23, 2011

Time Banking/Co-Production Video

Filed under: Relocalization — Tags: , — Russ @ 12:59 pm

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Here’s a short introduction to time banking by its inventor, Edgar Cahn. Time banking and co-production, like P2P/open source, is a transitional concept and practice between capitalism and full economic democracy. I’ll be writing lots more about this.
 
This intro is pretty good. His only real stumble is the way he keeps referring to “scarcity” as if it actually exists, as opposed to being something artificially generated by capitalism. But then, Cahn is a reformist who regards co-production as the end goal rather than the transitional step it really is.
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We First Say Grace, Then Enjoy the Meal

Filed under: American Revolution, Food and Farms, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 1:21 am

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Years back, when I was primarily an environmentalist, I had an epiphany while considering how reformist environmental policy was always expected to meet a rigorous standard of “cost-benefit analysis” (it always did, and I didn’t use the term “reformist” back then although I was already temperamentally more inclined toward the old EarthFirst! than toward what I’d now call mainstream environmentalism). It was clear that capitalism itself, based primarily on corporate welfare, and with so many of its costs and destruction externalized on the environment, was never called upon to meet any CBA standard whatsoever. The more I thought about it the more I saw how this wasn’t unique to environmental policy, but was a universal feature of capitalism itself, in all realms. Capitalism is destructive, wasteful, inefficient, irrational, and is never expected to meet any standard of rationality or efficiency except for its own Orwellian definitions of those terms. All attempts to regulate or reform it, on the other hand, always had to meet the most severe standards, both according to capitalism’s definitions as well as English language definitions. This was, to say the least, a double standard.
 
(That reformism always tries to comply with and overcome this obstacle, in good Enlightenment Myth fashion, is another measure of its fecklessness. Agreeing to play a game which is rigged against you isn’t very smart and isn’t likely to have a winning outcome.)
 
I induced a rule: The more rational and practical a course of action is alleged to be, the more it’s held to that standard, while the more insane it is, the more it’s absolved of any concord with the reality principle. “I believe because it’s absurd.”
 
At first I agonized over this. Even though I was never a fetishizer of rationalism in politics myself, I still thought it ought to play a far bigger role than it actually did. More importantly, I didn’t see how environmentalism or other important causes could prosper in the long run unless politics became more rational. But I also realized that I had to at least hedge my bets, so I became more interested in the moral and psychological aspects of political struggle (what I’d then call the “irrational”). I gradually learned that these are not in fact the debasement of politics, but their human basis. A rationalist may deplore this and wish it weren’t so, but them’s the facts.
 
Better yet, as I accepted this, I felt more at home in my own skin, since by nature I’m a moralist and mythologizer myself . My “rationalism” was actually a transitional stage, an attitude arising out of my years-long self-education program which bled over into my advocacy. Now I was finding myself again, in the course of recognizing strategic and tactical truth. We fight first and foremost because our cause is right, and second because it’s rational and will have the best practical effect.
 
(But I always include both in my arguments. As I’ve written many times, food sovereignty is the only legitimate basis for the economy, morally and philosophically, while agroecology is proven to be the most productive mode of agriculture, and will become relatively even more superior post-oil and as climate change sets in. It’s also the only way to provide full employment at fulfilling work. That’s also both a moral and rational imperative.)
 
So in order to bring home to victory a rational and practical goal, one must also be on the side of the angels, and be able to communicate this feeling to others. This goes to the core of our psychology. As Eric Hoffer says, it’s less absurd to be willing to die for an ideal than for a material thing (for some small thing we already have), because if you’re going to measure things materially, “rationally”, then what could be more real and valuable than one’s life? Self-sacrifice becomes intelligible only when we measure things according to an ideal. This puts in perspective our common laments that so many among the non-rich have no sense of their material self-interest and so often act against it. The answer is that they have a sense, but don’t know how to rouse themselves to find it worth acting upon. They need to find the spiritual key which could liberate them for action. They wait for the trumpet call which is so clear and bright that their feet rush to answer the summons before their minds even think about it. That’s the state we’re all in. (Not every individual, of course, but every group, no matter who they are, no matter how ostensibly rational. Scientists as a group, for example, are the same.)
 
This moral/philosophical/spiritual appeal must evoke the sense of right, and it must conjure faith in the future. Self-sacrifice always involves some kind of idealized hope. People with no hope don’t fight, even in direct self-defense. Those who cling to the present, for example clinging to some diminishing material base, won’t fight. Those who live for the consummation of the future will. We’re more ready to fight and if necessary die for the great things we want than for the things we already have, even if these are being stolen from us before our eyes. We won’t resist the thief for the sake of preventing the theft in the here and now. But we’ll fight back with great ferocity for the sake of redeeming all thefts in a future which shall put everything back in joint.
 
I cited Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in my previous post. It applies to everything we’re discussing here. Forget the little bit to which you cling. Demand the moon and stars. Fight to get it all. Demanding the seemingly impossible is actually an excellent practical tool. We fight for morale itself, and surging morale then spurs the fight onward. The victorious fight is always counteraggressive and affirmative, not negative and defensive. Calls to self-defense and self-interest are only supplemental to the affirmative call to fight to achieve positive democracy and food sovereignty. (I’d still be calling for these even if kleptocracy didn’t exist.)

July 22, 2011

Striving for Democracy

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There are many in the Peak Oil and environmental movements whose main contention is that we must accept a diminished future. This ultimately places them in the same ideological category as the austerians, albeit from a different point of view. Objectively, they seek to engender the same sense of paralysis and conservatism in the masses, since that’s the most common psychological result of telling people who face the erosion of what they have that this process is inevitable and permanent. This is ironic but not surprising coming from “progressives” who are nominally calling for significant lifestyle changes from the same people whose inertia they’re really reinforcing. No one ever accused progressives of being psychologically astute.
 
By contrast, positive democracy as well as the panoply of transitional principles/practices toward it – co-production/time banking, peer-to-peer/open source – promise a vastly expanded future: politically, economically, spiritually. This is true both affirmatively, as true democracy will open up vistas for the human experience never known before, and do so on the foundation of a stability and security never known before, as well as negatively, in that any democratic or even co-production solution will be infinitely more bountiful than the feudal indenture the kleptocracy has in store for us.
 
This is one reason why we must set great goals and aspire to them with all the force of our being. As I’ve written before, such visionary aspirations are attractive in themselves to the best, most passionate, most courageous, most intrepid citizens. It’s an example of infusing the best with passionate intensity and the fullness of conviction. Another is the simple fact that only the great democratic goal has any chance of practical success. Reformism is proven not to work even under the best of circumstances, where it merely dooms us to an endless war of attrition the criminal rackets must always win in the end. Today, under the worst circumstances, it’s a total waste of time and effort we don’t have the luxury to waste. Advocacy of it is really collaboration with the enemy.
 
There’s a famous quote from Ferdinand Foch at the Battle of the Marne in 1914: “My center is giving way, my right’s being driven back, situation excellent, I shall attack”. Taken out of context, it sounds ridiculous, and is in fact often played for comedy. But in context what it really meant was, “Right now, I can attack, but I cannot stay where I am. If I try to stay where I am, I’m going to be driven back if not destroyed completely.” That’s our position today. Reformism (let alone mere lassitude) will continue to be driven back until it’s completely destroyed. This is the fate of all “pragmatism”, all “practicality”. We’re at the point Eric Hoffer described where extreme crisis flips the polarities between practical man and utopian visionary. Where the visionary is really the truly practical activist, while the erstwhile “practical reformer” is really the pie-in-the-sky dreamer. All anyone needs to do is look at the evidence to induce this truth. From there you can deduce the future.
 
What’s the more likely path: Going all in on co-production and peer-to-peer, as relentless work toward a full democratic revolution, or trying to reform kleptocratic capitalism and representative government?
 
So there’s our affirmative work. Along the way we’ll keep an eye out for the seeds of change. Positive signs of the cohering movement, changing attitudes among the people, disintegration of existing groupings and institutions, eroding confidence among the elites (ignore-ridicule-fight-win), symptoms of impending structural collapse – our instruments for detecting these are becoming more sensitive.
 
However, much of the measure of what’s possible isn’t on account of objective conditions, but whether or not a critical mass comes to believe in an idea enough to fight for it. So we cannot rely on the system to collapse, but must affirmatively present the democratic movement as the rightful and fruitful successor to it. After all, there will be pernicious rivals to our democratic claim.
 
To the extent that relocalization may have to mean temporary material retrenchment, this very spartanism and self-austerity can become a source of strength. The kleptocracy merely wants to steal all we have, right down to any hope for the future at all. We positive democrats redeem all sacrifice of time, energy, materiel, pain, even life, with the promise of a vastly greater spiritual boon and political self-confidence and self-respect. These are gifts beyond price, gifts we give ourselves and our posterity, along with the material promise that democracy shall bring the most economically prosperous future possible.
 
We shall exemplify the truth Jesus taught in the Parable of the Talents:
 

14For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

19After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

24Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

26His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

29For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

(Matthew 25: 14-30)

 
We’re not “servants”, but human beings who aspire to freedom and prosperity, and we have the capacity to fight and to have faith in our struggle, such that we’re willing to risk all to win infinitely more. But those who, out of cowardice, laziness, elitist sympathizing, corruption, or simple inertia, try to cling to what little they have, will end up losing all except their enslavement. That’s what they’ll deserve.
 
Our choice is between a worthless, slavish present and a present which shall embody our political self-confidence and self-respect and the dignity and affirmation of our will to fight back. The movement shall comprise those who choose to fight. In this way we can take our destiny in our own hands. In this way we shall achieve, first, equality with a debased present and with the criminals who embody its measure of “success”, and then mastery of it. Our envisioned future shall become a joyous, free, bountiful present for ourselves and our posterity. By finally taking our lives and our futures in our hands, we shall achieve the great release from a tyrannical world, and the great affirmation of a democratic one. Negative and positive freedom shall then be our way of life, with the latter increasingly predominating as we live our new lives with ever-growing vigor, assurance, and courage. That’s how the movement shall triumph.

July 20, 2011

Democratic Redemption of Past and Future

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil — Russ @ 2:54 am

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If our only choices are to submit to a cruel present or sacrifice for an envisioned future, the struggle is far better. It’s the only path of positive action and renewed human dignity.
 
We’ve been robbed of the pursuit of happiness in this present by the accumulated criminality of the past. (This is becoming true in a very literal sense when you look at the monopolies of propertarianism in general, and in particular the way the kleptocracy is using and abusing the laws to entrench a new inheritance aristocracy.) Our only way to render our lives meaningful and worthy of the human heritage, and to give our posterity a present worthy of human beings, is to turn the present into a time of struggle instead of a time of unilateral predation. (Thus it’s one vision of inheritance vs. another, the citizen vs. the criminal.) We didn’t start the war of the present, but it’s been imposed upon us. We can be its victims, or we can turn the tables and be its victors. Either way we’re slated to be conscripts. So why not instead be Volunteers?
 
To take up the struggle with alacrity and enthusiasm is to seize the present, even to redeem it. If enough people discover themselves as citizens with intrepid bodies, minds, and souls, if enough of us say as one, “Today we fight, tomorrow we triumph”, this triumph shall be guaranteed. This is the promise we can make to ourselves, our friends, families, communities, and democracy. We shall once again give life to the long-neglected democratic movement. This is the proper course of history, and we once felt it coursing through us as the true life essence of our very blood. This essence goes back millennia, to the hazy memory of primal agriculture, and flowed forward in many tribal forms, including such European forms as the Saxon Witan Moot and the medieval town. This spirit migrated to America, fermented in the New England town hall, and the burst forth in its full historical splendor, the first phase of the American Revolution.
 
As we know, this first phase was stifled as soon as the War of Independence was won. 1787-8 began the process of hijacking, misdirection, and repression of the democratic movement. But it was probably inevitable that democracy had to go on hiatus during the Oil Age and the Industrial Revolution. Today we reach the end of these, Peak Oil, and civilization shall soon enter the post-oil age. We have the promise of renewable energy, but this can be no promise in itself. Windmills and concentrated solar panels can be corporatized and turned against the people as surely as a private prison.
 
Only the democratic promise can make good on all other promises. If we fight for positive democracy, if we promise this to ourselves and our children, we can make all the other promises as well and make good on them. If we don’t rise to the struggle for democracy, all our other promises are lies.
 
We can gather up all the threads of the past and hold them in our hand, discovering that they’re the shining guidelines of fate leading to a bright future of freedom. We can once again realize our humanity by rediscovering our context in history. By claiming a human history for ourselves, we can envision and claim a future. The enemy wants to reduce us to ahistorical atoms drifting and rotting in a changeless present without context. We can defeat them first by discovering our present as a broad boulevard of coherency and meaning running straight ahead of us and behind, our progress always as a vector, the sun rising directly ahead. This is simply to define history as humanity’s struggle toward positive democracy and humanity itself as the class of hominids who fight for this. Our current task is therefore the most monumental humanity has ever faced. We stand at the final battleground. Kleptocracy wants to restore feudalism in its full fury, in a far more vicious form than the medieval. But the end of the Oil Age is also history’s great opportunity for positive democracy to triumph in its full dignity, splendor, and bounty. These are constants. The only variable is the citizen spirit, humanity’s will to fight for its own existence and self-transcendence.
 
Do we promise ourselves this future? We must, and we do.

July 19, 2011

Freakshow: Deficits, Taxes, Austerity

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: , — Russ @ 1:28 am

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I haven’t been closely following the latest magic show in Washington. I’m aware of the same old maelstrom of lies, fake struggle, phony digressions, dire predictions. The truths are clear: The deficit and the debt are not real issues. No one within the system who claims to care about them actually cares about them, and there’s no reality-based reason anyone should care about them. There’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this, although each pretends there is. Of course, if Obama wanted the political/media discussion to be about job creation and not about deficits, that’s what the discussion would be. But just as much as the Reps, he’s focused only on austerity for the people. This is a kleptocratic imperative.
 
Meanwhile we have digressive, misdirectional nonsense like debates over the legality and/or constitutionality of the debt ceiling, philosophical hand-wringing over the very concept, speculation over how Obama can/ought to do end runs around the law and constitution (thus the liberals get a whack at aggrandizing the imperial presidency). All this is absurd since this government recognizes no “law” in the first place. If it wants to borrow, it’ll borrow. If it wants to print, it’ll print. It’ll deal with this law the same way it deals with every other law, acknowledging its authority or flouting it (brazenly or clandestinely) based purely on what brings the outcome most congenial to kleptocracy.
 
(Of course the US government is hardly unique in this. It’s cute the way European governments, none of whom, including the Germans and French, adhered to the debt-to-GDP requirements of the Eurozone, are pretending to agonize over this latest example of US banana republicanism. I think there’s plenty of bananas to go around.)
 
The point of the foregoing was to describe how this is a completely phony debate. As always, the government will do exactly what it wants to do, regardless of the law.
 
What about the alleged substance of the issue – are deficits and debts really a problem? MMT says no. In an economy this depressed, government can and should run deficits as long as the spending is on constructive things. The current political reality is a funhouse mirror image of this. Everyone in Washington, all elites, agree that the government can and should borrow and spend infinitely on corporate welfare. (And this is without reference to the economy’s operation relative to capacity. No political/media elite thinks corporate welfare should be cut even if the dreaded inflation monster did show itself.) Somehow, deficits are only an issue, and the fear of inflation is only an issue, where it comes to public interest spending. This really means that it’s not deficits or inflation which is the real issue, but the public interest itself. Today’s elites are dedicated to destroying government as something which benefits the people in any way, while maintaining it (in an extremely big, aggressive form) as the machine of corporate tyranny and looting.
 
This leads us to taxation. Like austerians elsewhere, Obama keeps intoning that we must have “shared sacrifice”, which is of course code for 100% sacrifice for the non-rich, 0% for the rich. What would happen if he were forced to listen to actual citizens demanding to know, “You can actually stand there and claim we haven’t sacrificed enough already? Do you have even the slightest shred of decency or shame?” But he clearly has neither. Part of this demanded sacrifice is raising taxes on the non-rich, even as government abdicates all responsibilities to us, once and for all. On the contrary, we’re to be taxed to fund bureaucratic and police assaults on us, and to facilitate the “privatization”, that is robbery, of our public property.
 
It’s clear that whether or not taxation on the non-rich ever had any legitimacy in the past, it no longer does. Philosophically, we do not have a legitimate government. This is a kleptocracy which recognizes only the rich and big corporations as citizens, as persons at all. It does nothing other than for their benefit. From the point of view of the actual citizens, people who actually do work, this government is nothing but a parasite and a predator. It will never inaugurate a new public interest program, but only continue to destroy the ones which still exist. To the extent any still exist, this is only out of inertia and political duress.
 
(As for entitlements, these aren’t legitimately part of any discussion involving deficits and debt, because we the people already paid for them with dedicated taxes. We must refuse to allow that they’re touchable even in principle. We must reject immediately anyone who participated in embezzling those funds for other spending (or who supported such embezzlers) and who now wants to turn around and claim those programs are debt-drivers that need to be cut.)
 
As a practical matter, people who are struggling, people who face even more severe economic tyranny further down the road, and especially people who are fighting to relocalize their economies and rebuild their communities, need every cent we can get, and we can use that cent far more effectively if we do it directly by ourselves than if it’s “trickled back down” to us by alleged good government, and if we do it now rather than at some indeterminate time in the future. For both of these reasons any taxation upon us robs us of precious resources we can’t afford to lose.
 
And then there’s the fact that the money taken from us isn’t merely handed over to the corporations and the rich to be thrown down a rathole never to be seen again. That would be bad enough. But much of it is then used by these predators as a weapon against us. This is war, and ammunition stolen from us and handed over to the enemy will then be used to shoot at us. That’s the effect of the government policy of redistributing wealth upward. That’s the effect of all taxation. To the extent that taxation touches the non-rich at all, it is regressive by definition. Viciously so.
 
That’s why it’s stupid to still argue about “making the tax code more progressive”. One, kleptocracy would never do that. Two, even if this system ever did make the income tax, and even payroll taxes, nominally more progressive, that would make no difference. The rich would continue to evade these taxes, and anything taken from them in taxes would be handed right back to them anyway, since the government’s policy is to benefit them in any way it can. (“Trickle down” really would work for the rich.)
 
So we’ve disposed of taxation as such, and of the progressive-vs.-regressive misdirection ploy. We’re left with a clear, stark position:
 
No Taxes on the Non-Rich.
 
We must furiously resist any tax increases upon us (any hike in existing taxes, any new taxes like a VAT), and fight to have existing taxes removed. Every cent we redeem for our own use in this way is a pure gain. Under this system we’ll never do any better with the diminishing money we have.
 
(Previous posts on my No Taxes position include No Taxes on the Non-Rich and End All Taxation.)
 
There’s no point fearing that without taxation the criminals will have a pretext to gut Social Security and Medicare. They already want to do that and will do so whenever it’s politically possible. The presence or absence of any given level of tax revenue won’t change that. No, here we must make another stark demand:
 
Total Austerity for the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People.
 
Including the rock that SS and Medicare are untouchable. Absolutely no cuts to them. (On the contrary, we should be demanding Medicare expansion, Medicare For All, single payer. We should always take the offensive.) They’re perfectly solvent. They’re not part of the deficit. We the people already paid for them. To even suggest compromising them is to advocate robbery plain and simple.
 
So there’s the clear, simple position: No taxes, no cuts in anything but corporate welfare.
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