In 1950, the US went to (undeclared, and under pro forma UN auspices) war with North Korea.
In 1953, the parties (the US, the UN, South Korea on one side, North Korea on the other) negotiated a cease-fire, which has now been in effect for 61 years.
Over the years, various incidents have occurred which strained the cease-fire. From the point of view of an American media consumer, most of those incidents (the taking of the USS Pueblo, sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, the artillery duel on and around Yeonpyeong, etc.) have been blamed on the north, but …
Earlier this year, Kim Jong-Un’s regime declared that the impending release of a film, The Interview, constituted an act of war. And we all laughed. Well, most of us laughed. I know I did.
Then, earlier this month, the studio releasing the film — an American subsidiary of a Japanese company — came under cyber attack by hackers unknown. Part of the fallout from that hack was disclosure that, well, the production and planned release of The Interview WAS pretty much an act of war. That is, the US government encouraged and facilitated its production for the clearly stated purpose of encouraging the assassination of Kim Jong Un and the overthrow of his regime.
Now, most of us are probably still laughing.
I still was, until the Obama regime announced its certainty — unbacked by any disclosure of real evidence, that’s “classified,” see? — that the Kim regime was behind the hack and that the Obama regime plans some regime-to-regime retaliation.
Well, now. This shit is starting to get real all of a sudden, isn’t it?
Could the US go to back to open war with the DPRK over the matter? I’d like to laugh at that notion, too, but then I remember what the Obama regime has done or tried to do to individuals who have initiated embarrassing disclosures about it (the four who come immediately to mind are Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Barrett Brown).
When the US accuses a foreign government of doing things that it has jailed (or tried to jail) and exiled people for, war doesn’t really seem beyond the realm of likelihood. And the US government’s bellicosity abroad seems to run on the same cycle as its descents into banana republicanism and police statism at home. We’re at a pretty high tempo on the latter front right now, for reasons including but not limited to the Ferguson intifada. New attempts at Internet control and censorship here at home, with the Sony hack as an excuse, will almost certainly top the next session of Congress’s to-do list.
Our pale blue dot has circled its star eighteen times since it lost the astronomer who gave us the perspective to see it that way — and that phrase.
Carl Sagan is not usually remembered as a political prophet, aside from pioneering recognition of the dangers of nuclear war and remaining an inspiration to opponents of drug criminalization. But his inquiry probed any political order’s taboo “set of forbidden possibilities, which its citizenry and adherents must not at any cost be permitted to think seriously about” (like the USSR’s “capitalism, God, and the surrender of national sovereignty” or the USA’s “socialism, atheism, and the surrender of national sovereignty”). Otherwise, it would wither, as with antiquity’s Alexandrians who never “seriously challenged the political, economic and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned; the justice of slavery was not.”
While not a radical leftist like his feminist wife and coauthor Ann Druyan or his New Leftist friend Saul Landau (who, in a sign of the up-in-the-air alliances of the times, contributed to the Cato Institute’s Inquiry Magazine), his liberalism was influenced by the ferment of SDS’s participatory democracy Whole Earth Catalog-style emancipatory technology. It was thus steadfastly in favor of civil liberties, people power, and sexual liberation, and highly wary of moral panics and calls to trade freedoms for security. Despite being vilified by a right dominated by National Review hawkishness, he sought common ground with pro-lifers. As he said of Albert Einstein, he “was always to detest rigid disciplinarians, in education, in science, and in politics,” and his distrust of politics was evident in proposing “[a] series in which we relive the media and the public falling hook, line and sinker for a coordinated government lie.”
He took note that the flowering of inquisitive, tolerant values in ancient Greece and Renaissance Holland grew from their trading economies; as his muse Bertrand Russell put it,
The relation of buyer and seller is one of negotiation between two parties who are both free; it is most profitable when the buyer or seller is able to understand the point of view of the other party. There is, of course, imperialistic commerce, where men are forced to buy at the point of the sword; but this is not the kind that generates Liberal philosophies, which have flourished best in trading cities that have wealth without much military strength.
His antidote for the existential crises of nuclear war and environmental damage was not consensus reasonable-centrism — he was apprehensive of the triumphalist The End of History prediction “that political life on Earth is about to settle into some rock-stable liberal democratic world government” — but the widest possible experimentation. He recommended two of the great science fiction depictions of functional stateless societies: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, with its “useful suggestions… for making a revolution in a computerized technological society,” and Eric Frank Russell’s “conceivable alternative economic systems or the great efficiency of a unified passive resistance to an occupying power.” He hoped the inspiration of such ideas would make a reality “the beginning, much more than the end, of history.”
Chelsea Manning is one of the great heroes of our time. She released secret government documents that described a litany of crimes committed by the American state. In the process, she influenced the Arab Spring and the US withdrawal from Iraq. The state-enabled criminals she exposed have not been held accountable, though their ranks include murderers, torturers, and child rapists. Instead, Chelsea has been punished for exposing these crimes. She was tortured with solitary confinement prior to her trial and then sentenced to decades in prison.
Today marks Chelsea Manning’s 27th birthday, and I’ve been glad to see an outpouring of support for this heroic whistleblower and political prisoner. Gawker posted birthday wishes for her today from journalist Terry Anderson, former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz, and rapper Talib Kweli. Yesterday, The Guardian posted birthday wishes for her from fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, rapper Lupe Fiasco, and many others.
I hope someday, the sooner the better, Chelsea Manning will be able to celebrate her birthday free from the state’s prisons. Until then, I wish her a happy birthday and as much freedom and happiness as possible.
To learn how to write to Chelsea Manning, check out this guide from the Chelsea Manning Support Network.
Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. These are just the latest in a line of minorities who have been killed by the police in excessive force cases where no scrutiny was even applied to the cops. While protests arise in the memory of these fallen human beings, I find myself asking a question in their names more abstract at first glance — particularly of the liberal contingent of our alleged “representative” system of government.
There has been from some corners of mainstream liberal opinion justified anger at the disproportionate behavior of the police towards minority populations. However, even this has been couched in terms assuming an overall legitimacy of the system that the victims live within. Consider the view expressed at Salon.com by Elias Isquith, in reaction to Rand Paul pointing out that the excuse used by the NYPD for the harassment and subsequent murder of Eric Garner was enforcement of cigarette taxes: he called this an example of “political narcissism,” unthinking attribution of anything that occurs as vindication of preexisting ideology.
I am not one to deny that such things occur, but to dismiss questions of which laws are enforced in the context of law enforcement — by deadly force, in this case — strikes me as absurd: if indeed the reason that Eric Garner was harassed and subsequently murdered was because of suspicion of circumventing New York City tobacco taxes, then how is that not a valid factor in his death? It is like dismissing the Georgia flashbang grenade maiming of 2 year old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh — oddly enough, also covered at Salon — in a raid triggered by an alleged petty methamphetamine deal by a relative with “well, The Law is The Law.” Why is the law The Law though? Do outcomes not matter? Is the law a means to its own end of self perpetuation?
An implied reasoning is carried behind the respective mainstream ideologies of US politics, and has been from the beginning. The reasoning has been that there is, within a “representative” government, a range of responsibilities for those granted power of a force monopoly, as well as limits to what indeed can or should be done with such. There is within this an implication: If the responsibilities are unfulfilled, or the limits violated, that legitimacy of the granted force monopoly is void. In other words, the ideologies proposed within the respective wings of defense of “representative” government contain a claimed failsafe that if triggered would see revocation of authority — that is, anarchy — as better than continued recognition. This is to say that eventually everyone is an anarchist, it’s just a matter of when.
Consider the recent circumstances that have led to the administration and justification of deadly force by the State and its officers: Suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, jaywalking, buying pain medication without a prescription (Rumain Brisbon, in Phoenix), even merely existing in the toy section of a Wal-Mart with a toy gun in the case of John Crawford (in an open carry state, nonetheless).
Frankly, any ideology that can dismiss the laws that led to such harsh enforcement has no standing to even bother criticizing the enforcement itself in my opinion — when you state that an act is to be met with force, or allow some to be seen as threats for other than logical reasons, you essentially court violence for your preference — period.
To simultaneously defend taxation as a behavior modifier while decrying the result of its enforcement is hypocrisy. If you claim tobacco taxation as a justified use of force to maintain, the blood of Eric Garner is on your hands, like it or not. You can feel as bad as you wish, it doesn’t bring the Garner family back their father and husband. Government is a hammer, and it landed where it did.
If the anguish and outrage prompted by the murders committed by the enforcers of the State are to mean anything, they suggest something that is today seen as a bridge too far for those anointed as acceptable within the political sphere.
That suggestion is of the bankruptcy of the Government Is Us myth, leaving the reality that we are faced with an Us versus Them scenario, and we are, to the state, The Enemy. If now is not the time for a liberty or death moment, then when?
Como afirmei em setembro, nós passaríamos por um momento de apertar os cintos na embaixada em português do C4SS. É claro que isso não significa que vamos cessar todas as nossas atividades, mas apenas que não estamos trabalhando no ritmo frenético em que vínhamos desde fevereiro.
De 26 de setembro a 25 de outubro, publicamos apenas 6 artigos. Em outubro, nosso blockbuster foi o panfleto de Kevin Carson O punho de ferro por trás da mão invisível, que recebeu até uma introdução especial para o público brasileiro pelo próprio Carson.
Já de 26 de outubro a 25 de novembro, publicamos 9 artigos, três deles originais. Valdenor Júnior falou sobre o separatismo brasileiro e sobre a consciência negra. Já o convidado Eduardo Lopes, por ocasião do Dia da Consciência Negra (20 de outubro) falou sobre como a Lei de Terras, sancionada durante o Império no Brasil, impediu os negros de ascenderem socialmente.
Em outubro, conseguimos 476 curtidas em nossa página no Facebook. Já em novembro, mais 227, ultrapassando a marca de 3000 curtidas. No Twitter, chegamos a 99 seguidores outubro e permanecemos no mesmo patamar em novembro. Não registrei o número de republicações que tivemos neste mês, que ficarão para o mês que vem, quando farei um resumo das atividades de todo o ano.
Coordenador de Mídias
Centro por uma Sociedade Sem Estado
Portuguese Media Coordinator Update: October-November 2014
As I stated in September, we would be tightening our belts in our Portuguese stateless embassy. It obviously does not mean that we will cease our activities, but that we will not keep the rhythm we had since February.
From September 26 to October 25, we published 6 articles. But during that month our blockbuster was Kevin Carson’s The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand in Portuguese, with a special introduction to Brazilian readers, written by Carson himself.
From October 26 to November, we published 9 articles, three of them originals. Valdenor Júnior talked about secessionism in Brazil and about black awareness. Invited writer Eduardo Lopes, for the ocasion of the Black Awareness Day (November 20th) talked about the Law of Lands, that was sanctioned during the Brazilian Empire and prevented black people from reaching economic independence.
In October, we got 476 likes in our Facebook page, while in November we had 227 likes, surpassing the 3,000 likes mark. On Twitter, we reached 99 followers and remained at the same level in November. I did not register the number of pickups we had this month. I will do so this month, when I will do a retrospective for the whole year.
Center for a Stateless Society
Antiwar.com is having its annual fundraising drive right now. And it’s well worth contributing to. You won’t easily find a better and more comprehensive news source. The site also features great in house editorial writers like Lucy Steigerwald and Justin Raimondo. Not to mention providing links to many op-eds around the web.
The site is something I visit everyday to enjoy the above features. It keeps me abreast of the latest machinations of the warfare state. This has led to a few blog posts on war related current events. If you’d like to see those posts continue; one way to help is to donate to the fundraising drive.
Another reason to contribute is that the financial deck is stacked against the forces of anti-militarism and anti-imperialism. The war party has the whole U.S. treasury at their disposal. Both of the two major party establishments are committed to a policy of statist interventionism. A way of countering this imbalance is to make contributions to sites like Antiwar.com.
In addition to the reason above; Antiwar.com is also worth making a contribution to because of the timely importance of the issues it addresses. In light of further U.S. military intervention in Iraq and continuation of drone strikes; its message is more relevant than ever. We can’t afford to lose a valuable source of information on the warfare state’s policies at a time like this.
As the destructive impact of said policies spreads; we need to keep abreast of developments more than ever. Knowledge is part of challenging oppressive militaristic power structures and the fruits they bear. Antiwar.com does a real service in furthering this aim. An aim that can save countless lives around the globe.
The immense loss of life from U.S. military policy in particular justifies special attention and focus. We can’t afford to lose sight of the importance of battling the evils of U.S. military interventionism. Antiwar.com is an invaluable resource for furthering this agenda. It deserves our support and attention.
The war party responsible for the above doesn’t sleep and neither does Antiwar.com. News is updated daily and new op-eds from around the net appear on a daily basis as well. If you have any extra cash to spare; do consider helping Antiwar.com continue to do this. You will be rewarded many times over by the information and opinion it gives you access to. If you can; please donate today. Don’t put if off. Antiwar.com needs your support today.
“I am that whore. I do confess. I put you on just like a wedding dress and run down the aisle.” I’m listening to Wedding Dress by Derek Webb. I go to this song when I’m sad.
I’m sad. Beyond angry. Brokenhearted. The Staten Island Grand Jury chose not to indict the officer who choked father of six Eric Garner to death on the street while attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes.
They chose not to make the officer even stand trial. Despite video. Despite the fact that chokeholds are illegal. Despite the coroner ruling the death a homicide. Despite everything. They found no evidence to indicate a crime may have been committed. But they did indict the man who filmed the killing. And they tell us cameras on cops will make a difference.
This is a hard day. It’s been a hard week. A hard month. A hard year.
You get to that point when you’re not angry anymore. When you read the NYPD Tweet, “The #NYPD is committed to rebuilding public trust. #Wehearyou,” and just sit there with your mouth agape, thinking, “How could you?”
The NYPD Commissioner joked about it.
How could you?
This is what the police are saying.
How could you?
#BlackLivesMatter? Like hell they do.
But, then, how could I? I am complicit. I have not yet burned the fucking system to the ground. The system that allows police to kill young black males twenty-one times more often than their white counterparts. The system wherein people respond to that stat with lies about black criminality. The system where white men Tweet at me, “Why is this about race?” The system which buys cops tanks but never offers consequences for breaking the law, starting with the one that requires them to report on how many people they kill every year. This is the racist, corrupt, lawless, and totally unaccountable system I build and support and allow through my complacency and it is a system for which I must be called to account.
I’m going to the White House tonight. It’s not enough. It’s not even close to enough. It’s so far from enough that, to quote a friend, “A part of me wants to crawl into a hole and never emerge again.” But I’m going. I don’t know what else to do.
Dear C4SS supporters,
A quick update on English language media for December:
- I made 33,437 submissions of C4SS op-eds last month, each submission to as many as 2,597 newspapers worldwide (some submissions, if they were only relevant to the US or to some particular locale, to fewer publications than that).
- I’ve identified 50 media pickups of our op-eds for November.
A couple high points:
- Our single most picked up piece in November was Kevin Carson’s “Surprise: The Drug War Isn’t About Drugs,” which appeared in seven “mainstream media” outlets.
- Kevin’s op-ed on the killing of Michael Brown — “State Justice Failed Michael Brown. People’s Justice is Just Getting Started.” — is already at four pickups and was only released on the 25th, so I expect some December reprints on that one.
- Also at four pickups and with some likely December mojo is Grant Mincy’s piece on the coal economy in Appalachia, “Wild, Wonderful and Free.” Two of those pickups were from West Virginia newspapers, meaning the piece is actually hitting home in the locale it addresses.
As of two years ago, my standard for a “successful” month within the Center’s op-ed program was 20 “pickups” — one each weekday in a 30-day month. Lately, that standard has been 50 pickups per month, for several reasons.
One reason is that Before It’s News, a popular aggregation site, picks up most of our material. We had an internal discussion as to whether or not to count those pickups since BIN is an aggregator; we came down on the side of counting them because BIN is an extremely popular site that gets us lots of exposure … exposure worth including in our counts. It regularly ranks in the top 3,000 sites on the Internet per Alexa and its demographics indicate a very broad reader spectrum that qualifies it as “mainstream” in audience. So while there’s a certain “inflationary” effect, it’s not a false effect.
Another reason for raising the bar, of course, is that we expect, want and strive to get better and better at placing our op-eds in newspapers. And in my opinion we are meeting that expectation. Even two years ago, we were lucky to get the occasional pickup in a weekly community newspaper (we loved, and still love, that market, by the way).
These days it’s not at all unusual for our stuff to show up in small town dailies from coast to coast in the US, with occasional penetration into international markets that we had no expectation of getting into back then — Barbados, Jamaica, Fiji and Taiwan are four that come immediately to mind over the last few months.
My new goal, which I have no expectation of making next month but every expectation of making next year, is the 100-pickup month.
I see no reason why we can’t average two pickups per day by “regular daily newspapers” in addition to 40 BIN reprints, left/political media pickups and US/international market/topic-specific “occasionals.”
That’s the next prize. But, and you knew I was going to say this, winning that prize means continuing to ask for, and get, your support. The US Thanksgiving holiday being fresh in memory, let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make our work effective, and those who will do so in the future.
Yours in liberty,
English Language Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society
The talking point popular among right-leaning libertarians that the Plymouth colony is an example of the failure of the commons has been dealt with on C4SS. But it takes a list to make clear just how often the same piece has been rewritten:
- Tom Bethell, “How Private Property Saved the Pilgrims”, the Hoover Institution’s Hoover Digest
- Jerry Bowyer, “Lessons From A Capitalist Thanksgiving”, Forbes
- Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie, “The Pilgrims and Property Rights”, Reason
- Jim Cox, “Celebrating Individualist Private Property—Based Production Day”, the Ludwig von Mises Insitute’s LewRockwell.com
- Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “Giving Thanks for Private Property”, LewRockwell.com
- Richard Ebeling, Thanksgiving: Celebrating the Birth of Free Enterprise in America”, Epic Times
- Gary M. Galles, “Property and the First Thanksgiving”, the Ludwig von Mises Insitute’s Mises Daily
- Anthony Gregory, “Giving Thanks to the Market”, the Independent Institute’s The Beacon
- Daniel Griswold, “How Capitalism Saved the Pilgrims”, the Cato Institute’s Cato at Liberty
- Henry Hazlitt, “Private Enterprise Regained” (PDF), the Foundation for Economic Education’s The Freeman (In his editorial comments to the 2004 issue, C4SS’s own Sheldon Richman concurred.)
- Kathryn Hickok. “What Governor Bradford Learned at Plymouth’s First Thanksgiving”, Cascade Policy Institute
- Aloysius Hogan , “Thanksgiving and Markets“, Competitive Enterprise Institute
- Jacob G. Hornberger, “Thanksgiving, Socialism, and the Free Market”, LewRockwell.com
- Richard J. Maybury, “The Great Thanksgiving Hoax”, Mises Daily
- Benjamin W. Powell, “The Pilgrims’ Real Thanksgiving Lesson”, the Independent Institute
- Sartell Prentice, Jr., “Our First Thanksgiving”, The Freeman (and summarized succinctly in an official tweet)
- Howard Rich, “A Thanksgiving Lesson”, Americans for Limited Government’s NetRightDaily
- Murray N. Rothbard, “What Really Happened at Plymouth”, Mises Daily, excerpted from Rothbard’s book Conceived In Liberty
- Byron Schlomach, “Giving Thanks for Lessons Learned”, Goldwater Institute
- Paul Schmidt, “The Real Story Behind Thanksgiving”, the Advocates for Self-Government’s The Liberator Online
- John Stossel, “The Tragedy of the Commons” (2007), “Happy Starvation Day” (2010), “Thankful for Property” (2013) and “Thanks, Property Rights!” (2014), Creators Syndicate
- Alex Tabarrok, “A Thanksgiving Lesson”, Marginal Revolution
- Kim Weissman, “The Plymouth Experiment”, Congress Action
- “The Real Thanksgiving Story”, webpage with unidentified author on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education (as well as a prominent section in founder Leonard Read’s famous speech “The Essence of Americanism”).
It should be noted that some of the pieces, unlike the one analyzed in the linked C4SS piece, do mention that Plymouth’s economics were imposed by it being a corporation, but none draw a parallel to the modern corporation’s not escaping the same problems. (Prentice’s remark that “Each time I produce less, in my work, than enough to earn a profit for my employer, I am stealing from someone else” gets it even more backward.)
Compare with the take on Plymouth of single-taxers like Fred Foldvary. The elision of the otherwise eagerly-cited account by William Bradford’s noting that his assigning colonists private land was “only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance)” has long been one of their points of contention with the mainstream libertarian movement.
We are nearing the end of the year and November was another fantastic month for the Center for a Stateless Society. We were honored to be able to publish a Portuguese translation of Kevin Carson’s The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand and included a brand new introduction, by Carson, just for our Portuguese speaking readers. Our Portuguese speaking writers and translators are amazing and our growing presence in Brazil is humbling. Our Brazilian fans are the most active and engaged part of our social media outreach. Our C4SS Portuguese facebook “like” page has already reached 3,000 likes, up from 2,000, in only two months. At this rate of growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if Centro por uma Sociedade Sem Estado eclipses our C4SS English facebook counterpart in traffic and support by 2017.
All of this growth and expansion needs your help. Our writers and translators need the information and support that your donations provide. We at C4SS want the resilience and information that comes from a swarm of microdonations from many, many people. A small monthly donation will allow us to provide even more left-market anarchist content to our brothers and sisters in Central and South America. There is a whole galaxy out there that hasn’t, yet, heard of C4SS and we are committed, with your help, to remedying this problem.
If C4SS, as an organization and an idea, is something you like having around or would like to see do more things (like funding more studies, publishing more books, helping with travel expenses for writers to speak at events, updating the youtube graphics, etc), then, please, donate $5 today.
What will $5 a month get you from C4SS? Well let’s see,
For the month of November, C4SS published:
And, thanks to the dedication of our Media Coordinators and translators, C4SS translated and published:
Fellows on Patreon
Kevin Carson and Thomas Knapp have both popped up on the creator supporting site Patreon. Patreon allows individual to directly support their favorite creators, or in this case, left-libertarian writers. You can pledge any amount that fits your budget or enjoyment of their work, and, for certain pledged amounts, they offer bonuses.
C4SS Study: Power and Property
C4SS Fellow, Grant Mincy, has complete the first of two full length studies for C4SS on the topics of power, property, commons governance and ecology. The first, Power and Property: A Corollary, takes us through a sketch of how property and power share a mutually determining relationship that can either liberate or destroy us. He then gives a history of the people, institutions, flora, fauna and biome of the Appalachian Mountains; using the setting as a backdrop for describing and explaining the interconnected relationship between power and property.
When thinking of Appalachia, I am amazed by the sheer amount of water in the region. Imagine a drop of water falling from the sky over the rolling mountain ecosystem. As it plummets towards the Earth, a vast green valley and ridge awaits it. The water may land on a mountaintop, perhaps on the limbs of a great Eastern Hemlock, only to join with countless other molecules and make its way to the topsoil. The water would either provide nutrients to the local plant community or make its way into the ground where millions of microbes and bacteria await to naturally filter the precious resource. Water could escape to fresh mountain springs, to be lapped up by a number of animals or perhaps travel further still — until a great turn in the rocky slope takes it to the beginnings of a trickling stream. Here, the water will travel along the river continuum, passing vast aquatic communities, providing habitat for some of the regions incredible, endemic biodiversity. The water will carve and erode ancient rock, just to lay the sediments that will one day tell future travelers about our unique place in history. Water is nourishment, and it is incredibly important to this regions ecology.
In the final analysis, any individual or institution with a claim to property wields power. When the libertarian examines property rights, they must consider systems of power, domination, enclosure and assimilation. If one is to mix labor with land, the individual(s) hold dominion over it. A claim to property is a claim to power, but where should such power lie? If we wish for a society rooted in liberty, then there exist a necessary reclaiming of the commons. Full commitment to liberty demands both the individual and the collective.
Kevin Carson has just turned in his latest study, his eighteenth study for C4SS, surveying the Kropotkinian anarchism of Colin Ward. We expect to publish this study by the end of December.
The Communism of Everyday Life
We were finally able to publish Kevin Carson’s anticipated review of David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years this month. It complements nicely last month’s Debt… review, Debt: The Possibilities Ignored, by William Gillis.
David Graeber is one of the social theorists, along with Pyotr Kropotkin, James C. Scott, Elinor Ostrom and Colin Ward, that offers invaluable insights into how a stateless society is likely to look and feel. Graeber also offers us important historical and analytical tools for identifying weak points in the state’s hold over our lives and drawing attention to those existing aspects of our lives that offer a bulwark against the state and possibilities for expanding liberty. As Kevin Carson summarizes:
If we look at things in another few decades, I think, I think we will see a world in which surviving states, corporations and other hierarchical institutions are much weaker and much smaller, the major portion of social life will be coordinated by self-organized, horizontal institutions like local markets, p2p networks and social commons, and average people have a degree of control over the circumstances of their daily lives unprecedented since the hunter-gather era or the pre-state agrarian village.
Graeber’s book, and the view of human nature presented in it, is a tribute to the fact that — in the words of the Inuit hunter’s declaration — we are human; and because we are human we help each other. We have done this since our hunter-gather origins, long before the rise of states, and states — despite their pretensions of the contrary — have acted largely to suppress this human tendency or subvert it, in the interest of making us easier for one parasitic ruling class after another to exploit.
Jester’s for the Warfare State
Ryan Calhoun‘s article, Jon Stewart, Jester for the Warfare State, struck a chord, positively and negatively, with audiences that see him as an important critique against the absurdity of state power and those that see him as running interference for the status quo against radical levelling alternatives to the state altogether.
Stewart is a Fool. He will apologize to the King and his Court for disrespecting their most holy of political processes and go back to smashing pies in people’s faces as if that makes him different. He is in reality an integral part of the mechanism which maintains the legitimacy of the warfare state. His opinions differ in only boring, trivial minutia from your average Neocon. He must apologize because he realizes he doesn’t just mock the system but himself. He will never have to apologize for his comments on the draft. He will never have to apologize for his worship of Harry Truman. Frankly, as a fan of comedy and honesty, I wouldn’t want him to. Stewart has his beliefs and I want him to be open about them. I want to know who the warmongers are and who the fools are. I know now, like I never knew before, that he is a jester for murderers. Analysis of his comedy above that level is an insult to Carlin and to every revolutionary mind that made American comedy more than just a late night TV gag.
Privatization as a Means for Disaster Capitalism
Kevin Carson’s Detroit, Disaster Capitalism and the Enclosure of the Water Commons offers us a powerful look at the false promises of “privatizing” our way towards liberty. He summarizes the “privatization cycle” as a means for Disaster Capitalists to subsidize and expand modern day enclosures of common pool resources.
The typical “privatization cycle” occurs as follows:
First, a basic infrastructure is created at taxpayer expense, either funded directly by taxpayer revenues or by bonds that will be repaid by the taxpayers. When it’s a country outside the US — especially a Third World country — foreign aid or World Bank loans may also help fund the project.
The infrastructure’s main purpose is usually to provide below-cost water or electric utilities, transportation, etc., to big business interests. In the Third World, that means foreign aid and World Bank loans to build the local power, water and transportation infrastructure needed to make Western capital investments (like offshored production) profitable. In California, the whole corporate agribusiness sector depends on massively subsidized water from government-funded dams. And as we will see below, large-scale business and industrial water consumers in Detroit have received preferential treatment like forbearance on tens of thousands of dollars in past-due water bills, while ordinary household ratepayers in poor neighborhoods are treated without mercy.
Second, Disaster Capitalists (to use Naomi Klein’s term) seize on opportunities presented by US-sponsored coups (like Pinochet and Yeltsin), economic meltdowns (the European periphery and Detroit) and military regime change (the US invasion of Iraq) to coerce governments into selling off that debt-financed infrastructure to global capital. And the Disaster Capitalist toolkit includes using such debt (either to bondholders or to foreign lenders), and fiscal insolvency from debt, in exactly the same way as debt peonage or debt to a company store — to blackmail government entities into “privatizing” their infrastructure to “private” (but politically connected) corporations or to domestic kleptocrats. The purchase price is a sweetheart deal, pennies on the dollar, because of the purchasing corporations’ insider ties to the political authorities selling off the goods.
Third, governments frequently spend more in capital investments to make the “privatized” infrastructure salable than they realize from the sale of it.
Fourth, the first item on the agenda of the corporation acquiring the newly “privatized” infrastructure is typically asset-stripping — jacking up rates, using the revenues as a cash cow, and simultaneously starving it of needed maintenance expenditures. The asset-stripping frequently yields more in returns, in a short time, than the company paid for the infrastructure.
And fifth — as Nicholas Hildyard pointed out in “The Myth of the Minimalist State: Free Market Ambiguities” (Corner House Briefing 05, March 1998) — far from operating as a “free market” actor, the newly “privatized” utility or other infrastructure usually operates within a web of state subsidies and protections that more or less guarantee it a profit.
The Production of Uncertainty
Grant Mincy describes the terrifying process of community disempowerment and manufactured consent through the dual monocropping effects of uncertainty and narrative control in his On the Horizon: Quiescence and the Production of Uncertainty.
Quiescence is often used to portray the legitimacy of systems of power and domination. The state seeks social and economic stability and utilizes power to ensure such stability. Because of this, systems of power and domination are maintained not because of their legitimacy, but because of quiescence itself. This is the very nature of power: Maintain the existing order by further centralization.
The tools of uncertainty manufacture consent. From disasters such as the TVA ash spill, the BP Horizon incident, or any industrial disaster, the public arena is dismissed while government/industry scientists, state agencies and the corporate sector dominate the discussion. This allows systems of power and domination, as explained by Button, to both define and control the distribution and interpretation of knowledge, while community members are made to feel as if they are arbitrators of uncertainty. Furthermore, Sociologist Max Weber notes that power systems wish to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping knowledge and intention a secret. This allows the elite to hide knowledge and keep their actions protected from criticism. The control of the discussion governs what is understood about disasters — manufactured uncertainty produces quiescence.
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Cheryl and I had our first Uber experience yesterday and thought I’d report on it. The experience itself was first-rate. Things went just as widely reported — but better. I wanted a ride from my home to the tobacco shop that I frequent, about seven miles away. I launched the app on my phone, which immediately located me via GPS. I entered the destination, and in a split second I was informed that a car was three minutes away and that the estimated fare would be $18-$22. Two points about the fare: 1) I’m told this is what the regulated monopoly taxicab company would have charged; 2) I knew that the ride would be free because Uber is giving away its service until it gets clearance from the city government. (That’s another story.)
When I tapped “request a ride,” a window popped up with a picture of the driver, his first name, the make and model of his car, and the license-tag number. Then a map appeared with an automobile icon, enabling me to see the driver’s progress toward my home. Another tap gave me the option of calling or texting the driver. I could also cancel the ride.
In minutes the car turned the corner and stopped outside my door.
I entered a perfectly clean automobile. The driver had placed a bottle of water and some candy in the backseat console. He was friendly and happy to engage in conversation at my prompting. I discussed Uber with him (he said he is quite pleased with his situation), and I was pleasantly surprised by his knowledge of basic economics and political economy, especially regarding how the local government was looking for ways to regulate Uber.
Cheryl and I arrived at our destination in about 10 minutes thoroughly satisfied with the experience. As I expected, the app asked me to rate the driver. (I know he was asked to rate me.) I gave him the maximum five stars. (If a driver’s average falls below a 4.2, Uber “deactivates” him.”)
The return trip was similarly pleasant. (However, the two-door Volkswagen GTI was not as comfortable as the earlier four-door Volkswagen Jetta, and there was no water.) Again, the driver was able to talk about Uber in terms of economics and monopolistic rent-seeking by the taxi monopoly. I was impressed. I gave him the highest rating also.
Now to some concerns.
I’ve been vaguely aware of leftist complaints about Uber, but had not looked into them closely. I regret not having done so. My friend and left-libertarian colleague Kevin Carson has voiced some of these grievances, and I should have known better than not to have paid closer attention.
Anyway, the clue that I had something to look into was a small signed hanging from the mirror of my second driver. The sign, with Uber logo, stated:
While tips are not required, they are appreciated.
I was surprised by this. I had understood — exactly why, I’m not sure — that tipping was taken care of. The app says nothing about it; there is no option to add X% for the driver. I also understood (or thought I did) that the Uber ride was to be a cashless and cardless experience. A rider does not pay the driver directly, either by credit card or cash. The app takes care of that. My drivers didn’t even realize that I would not be charged for my rides. They had no reason to know this because I would not have paid them directly in any case. (Uber, so I understand, pays the drivers their 80 percent of the fare even when the ride is free to the customer. Uber, then, is forgoing the 20 percent it would have made.)
I decided not to ask the driver if the sign raising the issue of tipping is an official Uber sign. I suspect it is not. How could it be when the company’s website says:
Being Uber means there is no need to tip drivers with any of our services.
I also saw an email apparently from Uber to drivers saying that they should not ask for or accept tips.
In other words, the sign is an indication that at least some Uber drivers are trying to communicate with riders against the wishes of the company. Is this part of the driver resistance I’ve been reading about?
Further investigation informed me that tipping is quite a controversy surrounding Uber. Company statements tell riders that there is no need to tip because the tip is included in the fare. But some drivers, commenting at various forums, and others contend that this can’t be true. Drivers say that their company pay statements do not indicate that part of the fare is a tip. My receipts indicate no tip. Moreover, if the tip is really included in the fare, that would mean the company skims 20 percent off drivers’ tips. That’s not how tips work.
So why is the company discouraging tipping by telling riders the tip is already included in the fare? What’s the motive? On a moral level, it’s not right for Uber to mislead riders, with the effect of depriving drivers of tips they would have collected. Uber says drivers make a good living (some dispute this) without tips, but that’s irrelevant. Falsely telling riders that explicit tipping is redundant or unnecessary is wrong and harmful to the drivers.
When I reported my favorable experience on Twitter, someone identifying himself as an Uber driver responded:
we strive to provide the very best level of service to our riders! Glad you had a pleasant experience:)
But when I asked about the tipping controversy, he said:
there is no need to tip! We never want are [sic] riders to feel obligated to do so. We do appreciate tips tho:D
Then he followed up:
the fuss is because Uber lied to the riders saying the tip was included when it wasn’t.Now they just say it’s not required.
Lied to the riders. This is wrong, yes, even from a libertarian standpoint. I still wonder what the motive is.
I hope driver and customer pressure will push Uber to change the policy and change the app so that riders can add a tip that would go entirely to the drivers. I’ve read that the app offered by Lyft, a competing service, permits this. (Lyft has not come to my area yet.)
But I will add this: there is no right answer to whether a firm or industry should create the expectation of explicit tipping, as opposed to some other system, such as bonuses for high ratings. After all, tipping is not inscribed in the natural law. This is an issue for the competitive market process to determine through the free actions of consumers and producers. The key here is to truly free the market. No privileges. No regulations.
Controversy has also swirled around Uber’s abrupt fare-cutting, which of course reduces drivers’ incomes, regardless of how much it pleases riders. The company assured drivers that the increased volume of business would make up for the lower per-ride return, but some say that this has not happened.
Uber has the right to set its fares, of course, but the issue raises the question of whether drivers would be better off in some kind of peer-to-peer arrangement rather than essentially being wage-laborers for Uber. I know that they are independent contractors, but their status is not very different from that of a staff employee. They have no say, for example, in the fare structure or other matters. True, drivers don’t have to work for Uber, but that doesn’t mean they have no right to use peaceful pressure — and to organize — to change the company’s policies. Calling drivers “micro-entrepreneurs” does not make up for the company’s treatment. (I realize there are other labor controversies, but I’ll have to get to them another time.)
Let’s hope the grievances against and publicity about Uber accomplish two things: 1) pressure the company to make the changes suggested here, and 2) more fundamentally, stimulate the search for an alternative arrangement in which drivers truly work for themselves while being part of a self-governed network that exploits the wonderful technology that makes such fantastic services available to consumers.
PS: I am increasingly annoyed by an attitude of some libertarians with respect to Uber and other firms that amounts to this:
Thou shalt not speak ill of any business. If you dislike something a company does, patronize a competitor or do without the service or good. But otherwise shut up.
What are the grounds for believing libertarianism forbids criticism of the labor or other practices of particular firms? Rights violations are not the only offenses against persons worth talking about. (Must we re-litigate this issue?) Even if we lived in a freed market, criticism and badmouth publicity would be a perfectly proper part of the market process. But it’s especially proper in the corporate state.
I say all this qua libertarian. I am promarket, not probusiness, dammit.
Hey, everyone … if you follow C4SS more than casually, you’ve probably noticed that I work here (Senior Fellow, Senior News Analyst, English Media Coordinator). You may or may not know that I’ve been an Internet political writer for about 20 years, starting in 1995. Yeah, it’s really been that long. And it having been that long seems like a good point at which to publish a collection. Not a “best of” collection, exactly, but a sampling of material starting in during my “libertarian, but one of those conservative-constitutionalist leaning types” and ending here at “fire-breathing left market anarchist.” Just the stuff I found interesting and thought worth sharing.
KN@PPSTER’s Big Freakin’ Book of Stuff weighs in at about 400 pages in trade paperback format. You can download it 100% completely free in PDF format by doing a “right-click/save as” on this here linky-looking text. If you decide you like it enough to pay a little something for it, that’s great … and I’d prefer you send that money to the Center for a Stateless Society.
If you’d like it in EPUB or MOBI formats, it’s available for $1.99 from FastPencil. The dead tree paperback version is also from FastPencil and priced at $13.99. Just click on the cover graphic over there on your right to order.
It’s election day in the USA. The mass incarceration nation is deciding which political opportunists will rule. On the state and local level, citizens are casting their votes on ballot initiatives that will determine the structure, specifics, or application of state coercion. Some of these ballot initiatives probably deserve support from prison abolitionists, specifically initiatives to reign in the disastrous war on drugs. Other initiatives create new prohibitions and restrictions on human liberty, and ought to be opposed.
But I think it’s worth looking beyond ballot initiatives and the particulars of this election cycle, and instead examining how elections intersect with the prison state. One obvious intersection is felon disenfranchisement. According to the Sentencing Project, “an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.” There are major racial disparities in this disenfranchisement, “resulting in 1 of every 13 African Americans unable to vote.” These disparities are exacerbated by what the Prison Policy Initiative calls prison-based gerrymandering. In many states, prisoners are counted on the census not for the communities or regions they have been forcibly taken from, but for the community in which the prison is located. This dilutes the voting power of black communities and other communities torn apart by mass incarceration. Moreover, it increases the voting power of communities that receive concentrated economic benefits from prisons, such as communities where prison guards live.
The result is that those most directly harmed by the state have no vote on how it is operated. Those who spend their lives not interacting in the voluntary sphere of communities and markets but under the constant power of the state’s prison guards get no vote regarding the government that controls the prisons. Those who have had their friends, family, and community members taken from them and locked in cages have their voting power diluted through prison based gerrymandering. And when prisoners are released, they typically remain disenfranchised. While the violence of the law has taken years of their life from them, and licensing laws restrict them from entering many professions based on their criminal records, they have no vote on the government that forcefully impacts their life. Clearly, the government does not operate with the consent of those who are most brutally governed by it.
My friend Ørn Hansen points out that this ought to seriously undermine arguments about every American having a duty to vote, writing:
Before you call people out for not voting or you call people stupid or worthless or privileged for not voting, remember that some of us people are legally prohibited from voting because of legal issues. Your system is a sham and cuts out a large portion of people from it because they have been convicted of certain crimes or because they don’t have certain forms of ID. Maybe that’s why we don’t trust your system: because they don’t want to hear from us.
The system excludes people from participating in its elections, and then the system’s sycophantic lapdogs blame and shame them for not participating in the state’s grotesque decision making rituals. Of course, it’s worth noting that even if everyone ruled by the U.S. government were permitted to vote, there would be no duty to vote, as Jason Brennan explains.
Just as mass incarceration impacts how electoral processes work, electoral processes have played a key role in the rise of mass incarceration. As the federal government gained control over sentencing policy and other criminal justice issues, crime became a key election issue. According to the National Research Council, “The two parties embarked on periodic “bidding wars” to ratchet up penalties for drugs and other offenses. Wresting control of the crime issue became a central tenet of up-and-coming leaders of the Democratic Party represented by the center-right Democratic Leadership Council, most notably “New Democrat” Bill Clinton.” These frenzies of punitive power tend to reach a boiling point in the lead up to elections. The National Research Council’s report notes that “the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have been far more likely to enact stiffer mandatory minimum sentence legislation in the weeks prior to an election. Because of the nation’s system of frequent legislative elections, dispersed governmental powers, and election of judges and prosecutors, policy makers tend to be susceptible to public alarms about crime and drugs and vulnerable to pressures from the public and political opponents to quickly enact tough legislation.” Electoral politics likewise tends to make prosecutors and judges behave in more punitive ways. “In the United States, most prosecutors are elected, as are most judges (except those who are nominated through a political process). Therefore, they are typically mindful of the political environment in which they function. Judges in competitive electoral environments in the United States tend to mete out harsher sentences.”
So democratic participation in elections in a sense gave us mass incarceration, a policy that has disenfranchised and excluded many from participating in electoral democracy. Yet this disenfranchisement is one of the least destructive impacts of mass incarceration. Rape, torture, murder, the caging and abuse of children, forcible denial of basic health care, the rich and well-connected stealing from the poor, and countless other atrocities mark the true costs of the carceral state. No election, no public opinion poll, no amount of political participation can make this just or acceptable. Even if all the prisoners and their families were given full voting rights, Lysander Spooner‘s words would ring true: “A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years. Neither are a people any the less slaves because permitted periodically to choose new masters. What makes them slaves is the fact that they now are, and are always hereafter to be, in the hands of men whose power over them is, and always is to be, absolute and irresponsible.”