October 9, 2011

Political Free Will

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Nietzsche, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 6:00 am


What’s real political free will? It would seem to be a necessary element for democracy, but what kind of action proves it exists at all?
Part of Nietzsche’s disproof of “free will” in general (for example Beyond Good and Evil section 19) was how it’s really circular logic, a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a rule you only “will” action you already (more or less unconsciously) assumed was within the bounds of possibility. That’s quite a preordained circumscription of the will, isn’t it? Yet people then triumphantly proclaim, on the basis of success, that this was “my will”.
Sure, it would be idiotic to leap from a tall building in order to test whether or not you would bounce when you land because your legs are springs. But Nietzsche’s point was that we impose the same psychological limits upon ourselves in the spiritual, creative, intellectual, political realms, where it’s not at all truly clear what’s really possible and what’s not. But in most cases our vaunted free will operates only within brainwashed bounds.
The best and most critical example today is the alleged boundary of the politically possible. The notorious Overton Window is a familiar part of this, but the same issue presses everywhere, down to the deepest psychology. The call for the Occupation wave to be collapsed to circumscribed, particulate “demands” (which are, of course, all to remain well within the bounds of reformism, kinder-gentlerism, real “compassionate conservatism”, which is what liberalism actually calls for nowadays) isn’t just coming from pro-Dem astroturfers and the corporate media. It also arises from the ingrained fetish of “what’s possible”.
I think a criterion going forward, a movement value, is the recognition that history proves that, in the realm of the political, our legs often are springs, if we just have the guts to test them. So this is the real measure of political free will, the ability to break free of the tendentious, arbitrary bounds of the crackpot “possible”. Instead of accepting the frame that Wall Street has to exist at all, demand an answer to Why? If the answer is that we need the banksters to provide credit, although we can add that they’re not really doing that at all, the real reply is the same question, Why do we need bank credit? For 99% of humanity’s natural history we never needed it. Why do we need it now?
Do this, and I think you’ll find that it ends up being turtles all the way down for system brainwashing. Every answer begs the same question, because in the end there’s no moral or rational answer to the question to which all the others boil down: Why should organized crime be allowed to exist? In the end there’s no answer to that but might makes right.
The measure of democratic will, political free will, is to recognize this and transcend it. We reject all brainwashing on behalf of the kleptocratic structure because we reject the structure itself. As soon as a critical mass accepts that none of this is necessary or desirable, then it’ll be kleptocracy itself which becomes impossible. Possibility, on the other hand, shall ramify as far as imagination itself.


  1. Brilliant observation. Let me provide one answer to the why and offer a suggestion.

    I want you to see me as an ‘old’ dog. New tricks come hard. So rationalizing the demise of wall street was a hard one for me to conceive of. I think I speak for many in my position who are marginalized yet still too engrained into the existing system. I care for Wall Street as much as Wall Street cares for me. But that is not the point.

    IF my suburban philosophy is I have made my bed, have I got to lie in it? I think the answer here is unfortunately yes. A ‘No’ answer would mean revolution and I would prefer a more orderly transition. Or at least act in a manner that provides a path of greatest change without risking life and limb. I like to think I can ‘will’ a transition that respects everyone’s humane nature. Or am I only promoting sheepdom when the only alternative to achieving an alternative, say agrocology, is revolution? I have tried working with government to make it better for my local community and it is/will be a life long obsession and tribulation with no clear victory.

    I am one of the lucky stiffs who up until 2007 was able to get a few good high paying gigs. But all that got me was a mortgage, recently saved by a HAMP, and a home where my property taxes are skyrocketing because suburbia is a ponzi scheme. So I have tried to implement a transition by minimizing my carbon footprint. I did my part by joining a Credit Union that I could walk to, although Credit Unions are too much like Wall Street. I started a garden. I ran for a local office. I have reduced my energy needs, added insulation, and would get a hybrid if I could ever get the cash. These are the pragmatics that stop individuals like myself from even contemplating the idea of “free will”. I am in too deep and I owe. Now I could argue that paying compound interest over many decades should have taken me further than it has and in that light have earned more than what I am credited with?

    To implement the change we need, we need a vision that people can gravitate towards. To me, the path forward lies in recognizing not just how the banks are all interconnected, but how societies and the environments around us are as well. But whereas connecting to a bank is a false choice that leads to only debt slavery, connecting to that something else………like agrocology, provides the ends to the means that this occupation and protest lacks.

    We need someone who is living off the grid and detached from Wall Street to speak up. Remember, as a rule you only “will” action you already (more or less unconsciously) assumed was within the bounds of possibility. As you mentioned above, but in other words, what we need is a place to go if we are to exercise our free will. And I prefer to do it in a way that does not take me on the path to hell or through it. Is that possible?

    Comment by comtedartagnan — October 9, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    • Thanks for that account, comte. You describe well the apparent catch-22. I suppose, having nothing to lose, I’m unconcerned with the alleged risks of the transformational path. From my point of view nothing could be worse than the continuation of the status quo anyway. I think that will lead to complete destruction for all of us regardless. As you say, the status quo cannot work, has no future, and is just a scam being run by con artists.

      I think all the stuff you describe doing toward trying to change our situation, one person at a time and in the aggregate, is good. The most important thing is the right actions. You may change your mind about how you see possibilities, or maybe you won’t. (I didn’t always see things this way.)

      I guess my exhortations like this are directed more at people who refrain from the right actions because they lack a sense of the possible. For them, a change of view may be the necessary first step. But I know lots of people deeply involved in relocalization action, and they comprise a whole spectrum of social outlooks. Only a minority could be called conscious “radicals”, at least at this point.

      I agree that we need an affirmative vision, and not just a negative critique. That’s one of the things I’m trying to puzzle out – how to articulate something which is clear as feeling and need, but which is hard to verbalize. Democracy, community, humanity. These encompass it but don’t quite define it. It’ll develop organically.

      Comment by Russ — October 9, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

      • I’ve been around long enough to experience the law of unintended consequences. It’s not that I am for inaction. Quite the opposite.

        I find your perspective forward thinking. As far as exhortations go, you could dial it up if you wanted to. Your writings are coherent and transfer the amount of thought you put into your blog. Kudos. btw, the only thing constant is change. And boy, do I think we are due for one! I am debating, like you, for a change that is not the false start we got in 2009 but a systemic overhaul for the better.

        Check this out. We need to get more peeps like these out there!
        http://www.321gold.com/mustread/100611_rant.html Cheers.

        Comment by comtedartagnan — October 9, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

      • Thanks. We’re overdue, on the merits.

        Comment by Russ — October 10, 2011 @ 2:35 am

  2. I find new ideas of how we might create our future are all around us. One view worth noting, one I recommend you: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2011/09/26/140813567/the-illusion-in-our-habit-of-control#more

    Comment by iy9g86 — October 10, 2011 @ 6:14 am

    • Thanks.

      Comment by Russ — October 10, 2011 @ 6:43 am

    • That’s a great post, thanks for the link.

      Comment by paper mac — October 10, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    • Great link! It torpedoes Ayn Rand Objectivism, does it not?

      Comment by comtedartagnan — October 10, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

  3. Christ on a crutch, I had no idea this was happening: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2011/10/10/melancthon-quarry.html

    Just unreal. If people can’t figure out that destroying an aquifer and thousands of acres of some of the most fertile land in this country for GRAVEL is a terrible idea (especially when you have millions of acres of exposed rock in the Canadian Shield just north of there), we’re fucking doomed. This looks like it may have stalled out for the time being, but we can add this to the pile of “corporate capitalism is determined to kill us all” evidence..

    Comment by paper mac — October 11, 2011 @ 2:50 am

    • The structure is set up to maximize ad hoc psychopathy. So long as we allow corporations to exist this will continue until we’re all dead. Corporatism is a murder-suicide pact.

      Comment by Russ — October 11, 2011 @ 3:34 am

  4. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


    Comment by Ross Wolfe — October 11, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

    • As I’ve said from the start, I think this is on its own self-radicalizing vector. It’s mostly still within reformism, but as long as it doesn’t let itself be diverted or quashed by outsiders it shall transcend its initial limitations.

      I agree that not only is “reforming” Wall Street insufficient, but so is seeing WS and financialization as an “abuse” within an otherwise potentially constructive capitalism.

      Comment by Russ — October 12, 2011 @ 2:41 am

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