Nail in the coffin

“Citizens United” was a nail in the coffin of American democracy.* But remember, we’re the ones inside that coffin. And we’re not dead yet.†

And remember. They’re still nailing the coffin shut. Indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA are another reminder that American democracy is in peril.

†I can’t be sure however that whether we’re “not dead” or “un-dead.” Either way we can fight back, right? And just like zombies, there’s always more of us than there are of them.


Too big to fail? The republic and its eventual irrelevance.

Is our republic (ie. the United States government) is too big to fail? Too big to exist? (In its current form at least).
Many Americans depend on the Feds in many many ways. This dependence has grown over time. More people depend on federal support programs than any time since the Great Depression. These programs are harder to qualify for as well.
The State does as much to promote poverty as it does to ameliorate its symptoms. It does as much to suppress our liberties as it does to “promote” them elsewhere. Granted, it does help major projects like interstates and uhh…stuff, but many of those are crumbling. There are easier more humane ways to get those things done than handing the keys to power over to the feds. I, for one, think we should find ways to supplant every support and service that the government or any corporation supplies. I think that’s what needs to happen for #OWS to keep going. I don’t think it is really that hard, it will just take time. These things will take time, but they can be done. Money is an abstract concept whereas the power of humans organizing is not.
In solidarity.

An engineer describes some shortcomings of “expert solutions”

This video talks less about “unintended consequences” and more about basic failure that can result when white man’s burden goes for the feel-good aid story and ignores the monitoring and feedback loops that are important for a project’s success.

Further thoughts on adaptation, ‘experts’ and unintended consequences

A friend recently proposed the idea that we need a bunch of MIT experts to “fix” the planet. ‘Experts’ solving our problems would possibly be much better than what we have now, but, if unquestioned, their solutions WILL have unintended consequences. Engineers, economists, social engineers, and other really smart people caused most of the problems we faced today. Whenever a centralized bureaucracy enforces the will of the few, blinders get put on. People want to think they are right. The heaviest burden of a world ruled by the ‘experts’ will likely fall on the people and ecosystems that the experts are least familiar with; the ones that can least afford those burdens. As far as I know, China is the closest thing to technocracy in the modern world (the Soviets were another pretty reasonable example of technocracy). Here’s a list of their experts’ unintended consequences: three gorges dam, a missing generation of women from the one-child policy. There’s more, but these are pretty major examples.

I would offer the occupy movement and the general assembly as a potential alternative to this centralized technocrat model. Experts are always valued and should be, but it doesn’t seem like it’s always a good idea to just hand over the power and say “you’re the expert.” Democratic review of experts is the single most important part of peer-reviewed science, but one that is often left out of a technocratic bureaucracy, once consensus is built and injected into centralized power structures, it is no longer deemed valuable to fact-check or monitor for success. In the extremely (and sometimes painful if you’re not used to consensus building) democratic process of a GA, the expert is forced to consider other viewpoints and must convince a group of their expert opinion. In many cases, they may have to consider the problem/system from the perspective of traditionally marginalized voices, eg. those who did not receive their education from the marquee MIT name. This results in a rigorous decision making process that is subject to many forms of oversight, monitoring and revision.

That our education system teaches us facts instead of process is a huge failing in a world that is rapidly changing. The facts change. Adaptation is critical and our current systems are not built for it. Both the State and corporations suppress dissent to maintain the status quo because it’s profitable.

The scary truth about how marxists and the 1% are the same

(And by the 1% I mean the .1%, the financial industry and true “capitalists” everywhere.)
Marxists and capitalists both operate on the myth that their group of elite is smarter than all the rest of us combined. Both groups kindly offer to take all the hard decision of governance and most types of problem solving out of our hands and put those ideas into the hands of a few well trained experts. The results? Industrial food that is poisoning our bodies, our streams and the Gulf of Mexico. Top that off with the BP-Horizon oil spill. Some other examples? Three Gorges Dam. The 2008 Bailout. Destruction of African economies in favor of “aid charity and a free market!” Another example? The great depression. Need I continue?

It takes an engineers mind to really think that for every  situation there is one correct way to define the problem with one best solution. As an ecologist I’ve been growing into the idea that this type of thinking is what has caused almost every problem on the globe. “There is a problem.” “Let me solve that problem.” “Hey team of 10 really well trained people from the other side of the planet, how can we solve this problem?” It’s like physics. Every problem gets distilled down and context gets excluded. As the joke goes, every problem becomes a spherical chicken in a vacuum. In most cases I can think of where experts get involved, unexpected consequences result. Also, the motives of those creating “solutions” for “problems” should always be questioned. “Don’t worry your pretty little head, just vote for me and I’ll take care of your problem.” “Oh you have X problem? I have this product you can buy to help solve your problem.”

I think this ties into the commonly held idea (I think this is commonly held both on the left and on the right) that someone who would grasp for power is the last person you should give it to. We all like to think we’re smarter than someone else, but imagine for a moment a world where no one assumes they’re smarter than everyone else. Instead imagine everyone assumes everyone should have a say and may have some special bit of personal experience or evidence that can help the group figure out the problem at hand and a collective solution.

Many of us are slowly/abruptly coming to the conclusion that we have a major problem on our hands. Before we talk about the “one correct way to solve that problem,” we should all just agree that I’m a genius and should be elected lead expert next time we all want to solve a problem.

Just kidding! What do you think about the mess we’re in?

Now would be agreeable to me, but I'm interested in your opinion

Has capitalism paved the way for anarchism?

Few words stir strong opinions as two words: Anarchism and Capitalism. The baggage associated with each term

You may be a hardcore anti-capitalist, but there’s little arguing that capitalism has been important in our development as a species. In some ways, I think it has led to pretty important increases in our quality of life (particularly with the help of fossil fuels). Expanding availability of power has given millions/billions access to an incredible weath of knowledge (and sometimes lolcats). Robots increasingly free up humans for more human tasks. So far, I think these advances have been squandered.

I think it’s fair to estimate that millions of Americans work in jobs they hate or are overqualified for. Millions more are unemployed or underemployed and while many others are overemployed (I have a few engineer friends that work 80+ hours a week, similarly I know doctors that work 65+ hours/week). In these overemployed groups, the workload could be eased if corporate profits were not the primary rubric for success in our economy. Thousands of kids grow up playing doctor and get to med school where they realize the only way to pay off their student loan debt is through jobs that have little face time with patients (radiology) or have little medical benefit (cosmetic surgeons). Profit-driven insurance companies set prices and drive costs for both patients and doctors while bullying both with threats. Without corporate influence, (independent) primary care physicians could once again make a living wage and work a standard work week. Both problems (under/overemployment) beg for a simple elegant solution. I like the ideas in the Dispossessed: a computer (called Divlab) that helps figure out how to optimize “from each according to their gifts, to each according to their needs.”

In a just economy, everyone’s needs could be met pretty easily. More food is produced per person than ever before in history. Doing this sustainably would likely require re-employment of lots of people, but that just solves another (slightly smaller) problem, young energetic farmers with little access to land.

In many ways I think anarchism is more possible now than ever in history. Technology was instrumental in liberation movements that swept the Arab world early this year. Similar technology could possibly help us. Americans of dramatically different backgrounds are fed up with a system that represents them poorly at best and an economic system of crony capitalism #bailout and environmental disaster #horizonoilspill. Socialism might offer some help, but few resounding successes pop into my mind in spite of the diet socialism that has been attempted across almost every European country. These efforts result in a their own growing bureaucracy which has contributed to the impending Eurozone collapse. Also, Americans would fight tooth and nail against anything that could be easily branded as pinko commie bullshit. Occupy & libertarian socialism are harder to pigeonhole because they are so dedicatedly independent and individualistic.

I’d also like to once again bring up Thomas Jefferson whose ideal version of the new republic would have involved the city-state model and direct democracies of ancient Greece. I believe these ideas played a substantial role in the development of American anarchism and are an important olive branch to other branches of libertarianism.

David Graeber for Al Jazeera: Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots.

It certainly is an exciting time to be an American anarchist. I never dreamed that direct action would involve (tens of?) thousands of Americans and capture the attention of the media for more than a month.

To whet your appetite:

“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”

If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honourable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States’ financial elites taking the approach such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.

That said, I think winter is a great time to head home, hunker down and organize locally. Building local economies is a hugely important if this movement is to be successful. It’s also essential to recruit EVERYONE, including cops, religious groups and the “1%” as we try to build a society that doesn’t need “armies, prisons [or] police.” Extend the olive branch to EVERYONE, but let NO ONE take the reins.

Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

Graeber goes on to explain how none of the Founding Fathers believed true democracy could work in America, taking notes from Hobbes’ Leviathan:

According to the official version, of course, “democracy” is a system created by the Founding Fathers, based on checks and balances between president, congress and judiciary. In fact, nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the US being a “democracy”. The authors of those documents, almost to a man, defined “democracy” as a matter of collective self-governance by popular assemblies, and as such they were dead-set against it.

This is one area I slightly disagree with Graeber. Jefferson and the Anti-federalists were in favor of a much more democratic model than the one we ended up with. From what I remember about my course in American Political Thought,  TJ envisioned a landscape like Greece made up of hundreds of free city states, most of which allowed more-or-less direct democracy for most of the land-holding white males. I think OWS builds on that idea. I also think that mentioning TJ early and often can really help us start a conversation with right leaning Americans who might look on OWS with disdain.

To read the rest of David Graeber’s article click here: