Volatility

August 13, 2011

Freedom, Responsibility, and Material Equality

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This is adapted from a comment this morning on this thread at Naked Capitalism, because it goes to what we’ve been discussing here lately.
 

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents.

This, I would suggest, is real liberty at work. And it is probably an early example of what I expect will become an increasingly political debate, rather than a managerialist debate, about the direction of developed economies.

 
(Actually, the last I heard Iceland’s Leaders still wanted to go along with the neoliberal game plan, but the people were simply refusing. It was a stand-off, since Iceland’s consciousness still hasn’t yet advanced to the point of dispensing with Leadership completely. That post is from over a year ago, but I haven’t heard that anything’s changed.)
 
This is certainly a debate which will need to begin. This has long been nothing but politics, but there’s been no debate, just a unilateral assault by the rich and big corporations on the people, those who actually work, on civil society, on democracy, and on all freedom. This means the assault has been upon politics itself, to abolish it and replace it with direct administrative rule on behalf of corporations (globalization cadres like the WTO and IMF), wherever the corporations don’t exercise direct dictatorship.
 
The market ideology is simple: Only the rich and big corporate persons exist at all as citizens or even as human beings. They have infinite rights and zero responsibilities or risks.
 
Meanwhile human beings, except insofar as they have sufficient money, are not citizens or human at all, have zero rights, but do have infinite responsibilities to respect the prerogatives of their overlords. (The piece itself implicitly agrees, as we see with its drive-by attack on the uprising. More lies about alleged responsibilities of the poor to “society”. I’d say they have responsibilities to their own communities, and to their fellow impoverished elsewhere, but to nothing and no one else. Everyone else is simply part of a massive crime wave against them.)
 
The truth is the opposite. Freedom can exist only among peers. Being peers includes rough material equality. By definition it’s impossible for freedom, contracts, etc. to exist wherever there’s a significant material or other power differential. If you’re on the wrong side of such a differential, you’re already disenfranchised and dispossessed. You’ve already had your freedom and citizenship stolen, and probably far more. You’ve already been stripped of your rightful society (this was at the core of the Greek political concept of tyranny: the tyrant was one who usurped the entire political realm by setting himself above others and making political peer relations impossible). You certainly can’t have responsibilities to things that don’t exist. And you certainly cannot have rights under such conditions.
 
So why not live up to our human responsibilities, our responsibilities to ourselves, our friends and families, our communities, our lost democracy, by asserting our right outside this criminal system, and wherever possible against it? Toward it and all who support it, indeed, we should mirror its purely mercenary policy.

August 10, 2011

Urban Uprising (London) and Implications for the New Movement Morality

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Internet Democracy — Tags: , — Russ @ 1:46 am

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One of the most interesting things about the London unrest, and of similar outbreaks in the past, is the way people loot corporate retailers in direct imitation of those corporations themselves, turning the exploiters’ own looting practices against them. I welcome every sign that the people are learning to give back to the system as they’ve received from it. This is the attitude we need to cultivate toward the real Work to Rule tactics and overall mindset.
 
While I’m not kidding myself that these demonstrations are on the whole politically conscious or guided by a strategy, they still evince a fierce energy ready to reject meek compliance with the system and lash out in some direction. (There’s also evidence that even “rioters” like these are mastering the techniques of the tactical use of communications media like Blackberries and Twitter to coordinate actions and fight the police in classic asymmetrical style. Pretty soon we’ll have a full-blown tactical doctrine for this stuff. Maybe someone’s already written it.) The will to renounce the system-imposed identity, to embrace something new (but the new something still being indeterminate), the readiness and ability to fight, the rage, the numbers – these are all a latent force, up for grabs.
 
The imitation of capitalism in the happy willingness to loot* foreshadows the bigger question of the willingness to imitate the system on the part of those called by many names in many national economies, the lumpenproles of Marxism. We can look with expectation to their frequent willingness to attack the system (during the first stage of the Egyptian Revolution shantytown dwellers attacked police stations in some smaller cities), doing so primarily based on a mirroring of the system’s own aggressive materialism. But at the same time we must beware of their propensity to let themselves be astroturfed by the system itself as mercenaries and thugs. So we face the question which has loomed for us at least since the mid 19th century. As Fanon put it, if the revolution doesn’t organize the lumpenproletariat, the counter-revolution will.
 
[*While in a perfect world an urban uprising would refrain from looting its own neighborhoods but systematically range into the commercial and residential neighborhoods of the enemy, the crowds seldom achieve that level of coordination at first. The opportunities immediately available for the people rising up include looting corporate stores, thereby striking a blow against globalism and at the same time acquiring often useful material things they couldn’t otherwise afford, but to which they have a perfect right given how these goods are the embodied form of their stolen labor and destroyed jobs. In that case, looting those stores is a moral and rational act. We could wish they’d refrain from attacking their own local businesses, but this isn’t always honored. That’s part of the imitation of the indiscriminate destruction of capitalism.]
 
Part of this goal is the new morality we need to build among the oppressed, which by now includes not just impoverished urban dwellers but all the non-rich, all of whom are on a direct downward vector to serfdom, no matter what their material status today. (As I wrote before, we’re all lumpenproles now.) This nothing but the same old Golden Rule morality among ourselves, Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, but with the added emphasis on community and democracy, for by now we know it to be a law of history that if we don’t hang together we’ll all hang separately. So the community-building and positive democratic morality is not only affirmatively a wonderful thing. It’s a self-defense imperative. (One of the purposes of my posts on co-production and time banking is to go toward building the ideas and forms of this new morality.) 
 
This leads to the corollary, Do unto others as they’ve always done to you. This must dictate all our relations with the system, which in principle we must renounce completely with loathing and contempt. This must dictate our relations with government, capitalism, corporation, employer, property. (In all these I’m talking about the big, powerful manifestations. Small manifestations of these should be seen as conscripted and exhorted to identify not with the elites, who are the enemy of the small businessman just as much as of the worker, but with the people. But if in his conduct a small actor or local politician proves his pro-elite malevolence, he should be regarded and treated accordingly.)
 
This will include mustering our own resolve, relentlessness, indefatigability, to match those of the system and its cadres. Since we’re driven by an ideal and by physical necessity, our will to fight should be more than a match for those who are actuated by purely mercenary concerns. (It’ll also mean that the erstwhile “rioters” we can bring to our side as true activists will be worth far more to us than those the enemy is able to astroturf as thugs will be worth to them.)
 
It’s important to start getting the ideas out there, fastest with the mostest. Here the perfect, as in waiting to perfect doctrine and strategy, will be the enemy of the good if the quest for such unachievable perfection turns into an excuse to procrastinate. We don’t need to struggle endlessly to achieve this. We only need to attain critical mass to achieve a tipping point at which point the movement ideal starts to exponentially propagate itself. This mass may be as low as 10% of the population.
 
There will certainly be vast convulsions in the mass psychic energy, and the forms this will take, the conscious ideas people will formulate, will depend completely on what ideas are available, what ideas are speaking to the suffering and fear and rage they feel. These go far beyond the inner cities. The arc of their explosion is longer among the incipient ex-middle class lumpenproles, but shall be the decisive detonation. This is where we must make the great push, where democracy will prevail or wither, where feudalism shall be resurrected or remain a corpse, where humanity shall triumph or perish.