Saturday, October 29, 2011

Half Moon Force

(For Scott Olsen)

It spills out forever, night, day.
Fingers spill to the wound

satellites, fireflies, the magic
of hot concern. Young man

sacked in silver light. Stun
the cut string of his collapse

into us, reach out from distant eyes.
The half moon bursts.

His brain swells. Comatose.
This asset to defend, this dividing line.

Gas burns, curls to eyes
tongues the message into corners

as markets rise on heat
their heart the magma of everything

that could possibly matter, the power
of the gun of fire

punched force forwards
forwards and forwards

arced at his brow now the blood grin dent
fingers slick in open moon

half of its self, half of us all
poison only. And heal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Is Capitalism, Exactly?

Russia Today seems to be a news organization growing in presence and penetration. It is, of course, not without an agenda, but for now at least it covers stories of interest to the 99%—to use the modern vernacular—far better than the mainstream. I drop by from time to time and watch any articles that catch my eye. Last weekend a debate on #ows did just that. An early theme that emerged in the opening minutes was that America had yet to experience true capitalism, that Wall Street was not a capitalist phenomenon, that until we got true capitalism we’d just be digging a deeper debt-hole for ourselves, and the socialist rich would continue to fleece the 99% and charge them for the pleasure. Oh yeah, and growth would not return. It’s an argument I’m sure you’ve all heard before. And it begs one blindingly obvious question: What the hell is capitalism?

At risk of annoying those who want to know, I suspect there are as many answers as people chancing an answer. Which is I suppose good in some ways, but bad in others. However, if capitalism can be any number of things depending on whom you ask, the assertion that some pure or true capitalism would put America or Europe or the world Back in Business is vague and unprovable. Furthermore, if the world has never experienced True Capitalism, how can we know it would work? And, is it even tenable to assert that something as vague as capitalism has a ‘true’ form, and what does it mean for such to work? These are not easy questions to answer. In fact, there are no answers.

My position is vague too, I admit it, but—I dare to suggest—less vague. Whatever we call The New Way (I’m with those who refer to it as resource-based economics, but that’s totally cosmetic, little more than a temporary holder), we cannot know from this distance the details of its operating, which would be emergent and changing anyway. But a New Way it will most definitely be. What I do not seek is a ‘return’ to, or arrival at, some pure, ‘free’ market oiled by an optimally minimal amount of ‘government interference’, because such a wish makes absolutely no sense to me. Not only is there no separation between the fictions of Market and State, there is no such thing as freedom. Acceptance of this will set us ‘free’ (ha!) to build The New Way from the ground up. And so, from a fresher perspective, a free market is exactly what I wish for.

Deep in the Myth of the Market I spy the seed of something radical, and that is direct democracy and its potential flourishing via the Internet (or similar infrastructure and software). The very idea that everyone’s dollar is equivalent, has purchasing power and therefore ‘political’ power too; that none can steer the market to their own egomaniacal ends, is a healthy one. The problem with it, is that money is necessarily powerful, operates as a commodity with value even as it is a mere measure, and that being rich is ‘better’ than being poor.

Because outcomes cannot be equal, because people are not uniformly ‘rational,’ motivated and well informed, the messy and unpredictable competition of markets can only lead, in this system, to grossly unequal accumulations and distribution of money and property. Under the current rules of the market game ‘success’ is about victory over, or at the expense of, other market participants. Competition is nothing unless it produces winners and losers.

In this system, healthy unequal distribution (uniformity of outcome is flat out impossible) generates unhealthy and stubborn rich and poor divides. When, by definition, rich is Good, and poor is Bad, why should we expect a different result? There is a constant incentive to game this system for ego-based ends; the rich seek to maintain the current distribution or tilt it even more in their favour, the poor to Get Rich by any means possible. The power lies with the rich, however, since they can afford lawyers, lobbyists, the best education, etc., to help them and their kin stay ‘on top.’ And none of this has anything to do with blame, except at the systemic level. As humans with empathy and imagination, we can imagine what it’s like to be rich or poor, so seek the former and avoid the latter (as a rule) and set up systems that survive across generations. Hence stubborn rich-poor divides, class divisions, and so on.

So the ‘free’ market dynamic so many yearn for can only generate the very monopoly problem it is thought to avoid, while our foundational assumptions about reality include scarcity, Separation (as Charles Eisenstein means it), greed and competition, and denigrate, or think illusory, abundance, cooperation and trust.

"What," as Mr. Fussy was wont to say, "to do?"

Well, to be vague, in conjunction with a change of consciousness, we change the rules and goals of the game, by changing the money system to fit what the new consciousness desires, perceives, understands. Until we address the stickiness of money, its ability to glue divisions in place and keep them there at all costs, the Market-State hierarchical extraction dynamic will operate as we have seen historically thus far, turning ‘idle’ resources into goods and services for sale at an ever accelerating pace, to the enrichment of the 1% (10% really), recently as aided and abetted by fossil fuels and our burgeoning technological prowess. Furthermore, exacerbating the problem of what I’m calling money’s stickiness is the usury attached to its creation per fractional reserve banking, such that the money system must constantly increase the money supply if it is to pay off the interest owed, which requires a forever growing economy. Consequently, growth is what ‘backs’ money in this system, hence our blind allegiance to the god Perpetual Growth, and our systemic subservience to it. We are witnessing today the system’s breakdown, for the simple reason that growth cannot be reignited as the system demands.

The money system is a problem generated by a consciousness (or paradigm) of scarcity, fear and greed. They reenforce one another, co-create each other in a positive feedback loop, and we are still in their (its) grip. But we are breaking out of it at last. There are multiple suggestions ‘out there’ to help us grow a new system from the soil of the new, emerging consciousness.

The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement call for a new socioeconomics which would render redundant the need for any medium of exchange, but are sketchy to silent on how to transition to such a different system. Their idea to give away goods and services at a price of zero, to all people, by producing more than enough across the planet, is beautiful, but too outlandish and far-off to find sufficiently deep purchase in the current culture’s soil, as evidenced by The Venus Project’s relative obscurity after decades of dedicated promotion and campaigning. The Zeitgeist Movement is concerned primarily (and rightly so in my opinion) with dissemination of information and analyses which help others more critically appraise the status quo so as to be readier for change when it comes, and more able to introduce it wisely.

Charles Eisenstein calls for the buying of existing debt with a fiat, negative interest currency, not debt-based; the end of income taxes, and the introduction of biting taxes on environmentally damaging mining, manufacture etc.; a social dividend ‘funded’ by that money drained from the economy via the demurrage rate and environmental taxes; for minimal (or no) private property, maximum commons, revolution in the education system; and multiple money types to meet flexibly various economic needs. It’s all laid out in his book, “Sacred Economics”.

Franz Hoermann and his ‘team’ call for a minimum of two “billing circuits”, such that matter (as mined, farmed, grown, etc.) is to be ‘tracked’ by one type of money, and human creativity (labour and other societal contributions) by another. ‘Money’ is to be totally electronic and transparent, created (as in Ithaca Hours) at the point of the transaction, which means locally at the level of the individual, managed by an Internet-like infrastructure, and to be seen as a means of keeping tabs rather than as wealth. In this ‘plan’ (better; set of ideas and suggestions) there is to be a social dividend in the form of an ‘overdraft facility’ at the level of the personal ‘bank account,’ which incurs no interest. There is no interest anywhere in the money system. Bankers become advisers to people seeking help on the best way to contribute to society. Private property would likewise (as in Eisenstein’s model) be phased out. Education would be a far more open affair. (Further details on this are available on YouTube in German, or at this blog as translated by me.)

There are many other ‘plans’ out there, from Freegold, to 100% reserve banking, to MMT. My ‘money’ is on some mix of the above.

But change is underway now, globally, in the form of Occupy Everywhere, which is the early beginnings of the creation of a new decision-making sociopolitical apparatus, which will mature and develop as it does, beyond the control of any individual or monopoly. As such it is a genuinely ‘free’ market (to the extent such a thing is at all possible) because it is motivated by transparency and cooperation, which has The New Way both as its goal and means (means are ends). The establishment of these means is to include the contribution of anyone who wishes to be involved. In this ‘market,’ this bazaar, the ideas and suggestions humanity has to offer can be discussed and critiqued, including how to get direct democracy up and running, scaling that up beyond the local, and slowly building the mechanisms which will transcend the current status quo, and render it redundant. If some people want to call this process True Capitalism, they can. Who am I to say no to that. My contribution (or desire) is adherence to a transparent and cooperative process which allows the stronger ideas to rise to the surface of human consciousness, globally. Science, feedback from nature, open-mindedness and concern for the environment will take care of the rest.

The earth belongs to no one. No one. Life (or Universe) is a web of ever-changing interrelationships which cannot be frozen into some ‘preferred’ arrangement, and includes humanity as deeply as it includes asteroids and weather. Humans are not separate from Universe. Existing ‘rulers’ only rule over others for as long as those others agree to that rule. Law, convention, tradition; all are negotiable, and being human inventions steeped in inescapable ignorance, need to be treated with a wise but cool attitude which allows us creative flexibility going forward. I agree with those who see an enormous sea change sweeping across the human sphere, that our consciousness is reaching out to a deepening appreciation of cooperation, interdependence, emergence, embeddedness and community. These ‘new’ desires can find no fruitful voice in this system of Perpetual Growth, consumerism, cynicism, propaganda and hierarchical ‘control.’ In the manner of autopoiesis (self-creating) we, the 100%, are giving birth to the soil that will nourish their flourishing, regardless of the label we choose to attach to what one day emerges as Our New System. What it will not be is the flowering of the neoliberal dream of homo economicus, locked into guarded competition with the rest of Universe in a battle over scarce goods and services, whose cost is the endless rape of nature in pursuit of the barren dream of Shiny Cars, Huge McMansions and other Bling Mirages.

So, my answer to the question I set myself in the title: I don’t care. It’s not history or some pragmatic, academic purity which should be guiding us, but our humanity and its embeddedness in the rest of nature. Chris Hedges:

Macdonald argued that those who wanted change had to base all actions on the nonhistorical and more esoteric values of truth, justice and love. They had to retain Danton’s call for audacity. Once any class bows to the practical dictates required by effective statecraft and legislation, as well as the call to protect the nation, it loses its moral authority and its voice. The naive belief in human progress through science, technology and mass production, which this movement understands is a lie, erodes these nonhistorical values by placing faith in state power and fantasy. The choice is between serving human beings or serving history, between thinking ethically or thinking strategically. Macdonald excoriated Marxists for the same reason he excoriated the liberal class: They subordinated ethics to another goal. They believed the ends justified the means. The liberal class, like the Marxists, by serving history and power capitulated to the state in the end. This capitulation by the liberal class, as Irving Howe noted, “bleached out all political tendencies.” Liberalism, he wrote, “becomes a loose shelter, a poncho rather than a program; to call oneself a liberal one doesn’t really have to believe in anything.”

Believe in us, and call yourself a human.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#ows Gets Down to Business

I am curious to how "Justine" is still part of this movement after robbing the poor so she can become richer, isn't this one of the biggest issues we our standing together in solidarity with !!!!!!!!!!! She is just completely out of line, has she been exposed for doing this yet ?
You did not get consensus approval for your website. You did not go through the procedures every other working group went through. You announce online a list of demands without approval of a group who has put everything in their lives on the line to create a global movement in solidarity. A group who has made it abundantly clear that there IS NO LIST OF DEMANDS. I ask of you Michael. How Dare You?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

WE, THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in order to form a more perfect Union, by, for and of the PEOPLE, shall elect and convene a NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY beginning on July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia.

#ows’ goals couldn’t be more ambitious, and the methodology—reaching consensus via direct democracy—about as untried and frustrating a means as one could select. And growing up in total transparency, in view of anyone who cares to look. However, the means are the ends, the journey is the destination. To do something new we first have to be the change we seek. Making demands of the existing status quo is not going to produce change, just minimal cosmetic adjustments to grease the squeaky wheels. That is, if the starting point, the driving fuel of the movement, is the recognition that the system is broken at its foundation, appealing to that system with a list of demands makes no sense at all. Such would be idiocy. The only road worth building is the hard road. And, though the pressure is immense and the situation dire enough to have inspired people to this bold action, this path cannot be rushed. It will take time. Lots of time.

Of course there will be frustrations. The tension has only just begun. No doubt things will get far worse, despair and despondency will have to be fought again and again if long term momentum is to be maintained. And there is no guarantee of success. The goal is nothing less than a profound reorientation of society at the global scale. Just typing that sentence makes me feel foolish, but, seeing as I believe exactly this is needed, shying from the enormity of the challenge isn’t going to help me, or anyone else for that matter. Hence, my respect for the movement is enormous, and I wish them all good fortune and strength. Any person or group putting their money where their mouth is on a project of this size, and doing so with clarity and grace, deserves our admiration.

The above-quoted preamble to the unauthorized proposals is bold indeed. As I read the document's demands I couldn’t help smiling at its temerity. Yet as they unfolded I became more and more disappointed. And there’s the deeper, deepest, trickiest rub. Even a secessionist advocacy is unsatisfying, doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. In my opinion. How many share my opinion? One thousandth of one percent? Fewer?

When I got to work yesterday, I realised the intractability of the situation is almost overwhelming. A metaphor Charles Eisenstein likes to use is that of pregnancy and birth. In this metaphor, humanity is about to be born into a new arrangement, a new paradigm. We have reached the maximum of what the current paradigm can possibly create. There’s no space left in the womb of the old. We have been sustained by its nourishing beyond what it can healthily do for us. The pressure to escape crushes, yet the way out is hidden. The new environment we are about to be born into is necessarily unknowable. And we can’t go back, even if we wanted to. We feel trapped, suffocated, hopeless, even as we feel compelled to do something, go somewhere. But where?

Precisely because we cannot know, there must be millions of different opinions about what we ought to do. All each of us can offer the unknown soil of our invisible future is the best of what we are, with no guarantee that our position, our heart, our vision or rage or hope, will meet open hearts and minds. Yet for those of us who feel we have to try, we try in the face of this. This is our fool’s courage. We add our voice to the cacophony again and again. But we can steer nothing to our ego’s ends. And nor should we. It’s up to all of us, not one of us.

I’ve spent a long time over recent months contemplating hierarchy and anarchy, and have almost reached the (flexible) conclusion that this so-called dichotomy is a red herring (as most dichotomies are). What is demanded of us is self-education aligned with a humble readiness to be corrected by events and new information, to be tuned by what gradually emerges from the cacophony of collapse as The New Song, as it finds melody and rhythm, with our contribution in its theme.

Self-education is vital not because of its anarchic connotations, but simply because trust is gone; whom can we trust today? Who is without an agenda? No one. The only wise reaction to such a state of affairs is what we might call ‘humble arrogance,’ that is; to wise up interactively while staying true to the uniqueness each of us is, while accepting that of others. It is not an easy path to walk, but I believe we all have to walk it, and knowingly. It’s not that hierarchy is better or worse than anarchy, it’s that what we now create together must involve as many people as possible at the level of deep comprehension and contribution. Weave some new tale from humanity’s accumulated wisdom, transparent, replenishing, fecund and mysterious.

That ought to do it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#ows, Sovereignty, and the Individual

Like millions of others I’ve been following the #ows and Occupy Everywhere movement grow in numbers and support (Maju has a great post up at his blog). What is most heartening for me, at least for now, is how robust the core desire of the movement appears to be. The ambition to redesign democracy from the ground up is hardly timid, and even if foolhardy—in that the enormity of the task is unimaginable—my sense is that it is precisely at this depth we must begin. All power to those who act so bravely and generously on the awareness that it is up to us, we naked apes, to restore our dignity and honour. No doubt this sounds overly dramatic to many, yet I would go so far as to add that this is humanity’s darkest hour, that if we don’t recognize the gravity of our situation soon, it will be the end of our chance at true civilizational progress.
What I want to ponder in this post, albeit briefly, is what it means for a system to be alive. Yes, that enormous old chestnut, ‘What is life?’ I feel this to be of central importance to what it means to believe in the sovereignty of the individual, to what selfishness and agency are, and what ‘earning a living’ means. For how can anyone claim to deserve either punishment or reward if there is no individual? And what is private property if the individual disappears? Discussing the phenomena of life as a process, a dynamic, an emergent, complex property of certain systems is key to this age old debate. Of course a blog post can only be a gentle introduction to such an enormous topic, but this is one intellectual battleground that will become more important as time goes on, so the more of us acquainting ourselves with the meat and potatoes of this debate, the better. (I don’t do predictions often, but yes, this is one. Suck it up, bitchez!)
According to my daughter’s school biology text book, an entity is said to be alive when it fulfils the criteria denoted by the acronym RINGER:
Growth and development
I find this too limiting a definition, too ‘biological’ or ‘matter-biased’, as do many others, which a look at Wiki’s page on living systems quickly demonstrates. As an old Star Trek fan I remember an episode of Next Generation in which Data’s right to be thought of as alive was discussed (for the uninitiated, Data is an android) . “I, Robot” covers similar ground, and there are many other similar explorations in literature and philosophy of course. However, the kind of living system I have in my sights here is a social system, such as a corporation or governmental organization.

What got me thinking about this was the YouTube video of the arrest of a woman outside a Citi Bank branch for closing her account (she was one of many, but the others had already been locked inside the branch). After my anger at the bank’s and police’s inelegant and panicked handling of the issue subsided, I started thinking about what one particular officer in a lower ranking blue shirt, with many cuffs dangling from his belt, rocking nervously on his feet in an aggressive-defensive posture, wielding his truncheon uncertainly as he protects the bank from the assembled crowd (about 2:20 on, right at the end of this short but compelling video). What was he thinking? Or, better, what was he feeling and experiencing for those few, hot seconds?

One thing is clear. The man is as much a human as any one of us. He has a job as many others do. His job is part of his totality, but only a part. Perhaps another ‘part’ of him sympathizes with those who claim to be “The 99%”. Yet in his role as policeman he must (at least while he thinks this way) put aside one part of his humanity in the interests of … What, exactly? I would say, in the interests of a living system we’ll call Police Force. Police Force trained him to become a Policeman, and when he’s in his uniform on the job he is a ‘different’ person to when he is on the couching watching TV. Why? Why do our behaviours change according to the hat we have on our head?
In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted a number of experiments on obedience, inspired by the question of the morality of Nazis such as Eichmann, as well as their underlings. What does it mean to be obedient if such results in our killing others? Milgram’s experiments involved three people: an actor posing secretly as a participant, a genuine participant, and a ‘scientist.’ The two participants were allotted the roles of teacher and learner, apparently randomly, but it was previously ensured that the actor always became the learner. The learner (actor) was then wired to an electric shock machine, and told to push buttons in answer to questions put to him/her by the teacher. The actor made plain that he/she had a heart condition. If the learner pushed the wrong button, the teacher was to punish him/her with an electric shock. Milgram wanted to find out how severe an electric shock the teacher would administer in the interests of ‘science.’ “He found that the percentage of participants who are prepared to inflict fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, 61–66 percent, regardless of time or place.” There are many experiments like this, and all yield, I suspect, similar results. That they are disturbing is because, in my view, we falsely think of ourselves as potent or sovereign individuals independently deciding on matters of right and wrong, correctly assessing situations ‘out there’ and acting accordingly in constant demonstration of our free will.
Are we discreet individuals in control of our lives, or are we emergent subsystems of larger subsystems in which we find form, definition and meaning in an ongoing and ever-changing way? What would your ideas about reality be like if you had been born deaf and blind? If we took identical twins at birth, raised one in a rich household in New York, but deposited the other with the Pirahã, how similarly would they turn out? If we then collected the Pirahã-twin twenty years later and brought it to New York to meet its identical sibling, how much would they have in common? How much about New York would the Pirahã-twin understand? If we deposited the twenty year old New York-twin with the Pirahã, how well would it function in that alien environment?
We will never know the thousands of reasons why the man shifting defensively on his feet outside Citi Bank became a policeman. If we asked, perhaps he’d tell us he freely chose the job. Could he have? Why not arrow-head maker? Or shepherd? Or poet? Or brain surgeon? How happy was he at school? How good a school was it? How ‘effective’ were his parents at raising him? Which of these many early conditions did he choose? Did he choose his body? Does such a question make any sense at all? When do we start being able to choose ‘freely?’ Certainly not where or to whom we are born. Nor the language our parents speak to us, nor how they communicate, their interests, sensibilities, passions, failings and strengths. Nor the television we are exposed to, nor the foods we are fed (though taste and screaming play a role here!). I’m not pushing the tabula rasa position of John Locke; I believe we are all born with a certain ‘stuff-mix’, a unique biological-social-familial-spacetime set that means we will remain unique forever. And we react uniquely to stimuli even though we have no ‘choice’ in the matter. We are not born blank slates, nor do we ‘begin’ at birth, and yet we are never ‘free.’ It is a non sequitur to point to uniqueness as evidence of free will.
So the policeman of this brief inquiry is a subsystem of a social organism called Police Force. The degree to which he is able to be ‘objective’ about this fact; that is, his loyalty to both his role and the oath he took upon becoming a policeman, is dependent upon millions of other factors we can never know about. For example, I am writing this article because of Universe as it has been through me up till now. As Charles Eisenstein puts it, I am Universe TobyRusselling. I am an unfolding verb, and so are you. Whether or not we see nobility in this or that part of Universe is a matter of perception, and all our perceptions are reactions we don’t control, as our reactions to what we perceive are beyond our control. Whether or not the policeman feels he acted nobly by virtue of staying true to his job is not as important as that we all tend to be true to our conditioning, as Milgram’s experiments show. And of course the minority who refrained from issuing the killing dosage were conditioned by their pasts to be less influenced by authority, less obedient, more critical of their situation.
As part of a nation, of a family, of a school and classes within a school, as child, sibling, father, mother, friend and employee, we are constantly influenced by ideas and other communications in various contexts; everything that we imbibe, not only as it comes to us from ‘the outside,’ but also as it exists in us in our own unique context, as we continually re-experience our ‘inner’ world of memories and senses and thoughts, we passively integrate into what we are becoming, passively generating associations, forming habits and addictions, likes and dislikes. This is what we are always becoming. We are not sovereign; it only seems that way because we can convince ourselves it is so. An idea-infrastructure is available to us with which we can create this impression. A human raised by dogs for long enough will never be able to comprehend the idea of individual sovereignty, for example.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Police Force is also a living system influenced by its environmental conditions, came into existence for certain reasons, and evolves over time in constant adjustments to unstoppable change. It, as we do, seeks to live on. In that it is what it does, and what it does is policing, it must police if it is to ‘survive.’ Furthermore, Police Force is a subsystem of State. State is also a living system which is what it does (extract the ‘foods’ it needs and ‘wants’ from its environment via exploitation of its citizens and other resources, in a hierarchical format), and seeks too to carrying on ‘living’ indefinitely. (And all this without even looking at issues of wages, money and debt, which are concepts, or communications, developed and evolved by culture and society.)
Niklas Luhmann posits that social systems consist of communications, and that the ‘soil’ from which they emerge are psychic systems (humans). Because we psychic systems find form in social systems, the interrelationship is obvious. Though notionally separate, in practice psychic and social systems cannot exist independently of one another. Even if we imagine a baby raised by wolves outside of human society, that psychic system is nevertheless embedded in a social system of communications consisting of barks, growls, snarls, smells and any other information produced by its environment, in my opinion including seasons, food, hunting, etc. Information is discernible difference, is anything we are capable of perceiving.
A large corporation emerges from the broader society of which it becomes a functioning subsystem. Ditto our Police Force. And as the cells of our bodies are living systems, so we humans act as cells of larger order social systems, from families to mutli-nationals. Our ‘obedience,’ or sense of belonging to those social systems we are part of depends on a multitude of factors I won’t even try to list. What I here publicly ponder, after having watched that video over and over again, is how the changes coursing through society as ideas that conflict with the existing paradigm of scarcity, greed and competition, are affecting people like the policeman here contemplated, or CEOs, or prime minisiters, presidents, and chancellors, and how they impact on social systems such as Police Force and Government. I don’t think I am saying anything controversial by stating they feel threatened.
Change is afoot at a scale and depth I suspect humanity has never remotely experienced before, yet the cultural equipment we have inherited to deal with this change finds itself in a defensive posture regarding that change. We are under an attack we must deal with using the cultural repertoire which is the very object of that attack. We each react differently, and likely we are all confused. That means Interesting Times Ahead, through which it is vital we remember, constantly, that we are all simultaneously ‘victims’ and ‘agents’ of reality, just as Police Force and Policeman. We are reality, as is everything else without exception. A wise mix of humility and confidence is therefore called for, which I fall far short of. My hope is that the efforts of those publicly closing bank accounts; those collecting in cities across the planet to teach themselves direct democracy; as well as those of us merely discussing, thinking and debating, find a constructive rhythm or cohesion towards a new direction thus far only minutely in evidence. If we are unable to keep this transition together to some useful degree, the centre will not hold and the subsequent, violent oscillations could destroy most of what humanity has built this far.

It's up to us, but by golly that doesn't mean it's going to be easy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Economics is Economic Madness! Markets Buck Reality!

I’m borrowing somewhat from The Slog’s recent post, though I had wanted to comment on the miraculous markets myself before I read his missive. Time and business elsewhere prevented me from doing so earlier, but I think Saturday is the better day for this my first ‘The Week That Was’ post.

Anyway, rating agencies have been slashing away merrily; Mervyn King has proclaimed the current crisis the worst in history; an IMF adviser is warning of imminent global financial meltdown; revolution is beginning in America, is underway in Greece, in Spain and elsewhere; relocating Tokyo has been mentioned as well as the possibility that all of Japan is becoming uninhabitable; JP Morgan lovingly donated multiple millions to the NYPD, who promptly arrested hundreds of oiks (of Occupy Wall Street fame) for being on a bridge, and yet the markets surged upwards:

Dow Jones



The Slog wonders if traders are stupid. Toby wonders if traders (human ones anyway) have anything to do with this at all. It is clear to me—as far as clarity is possible amidst this mud-miasma of disinformation—that the markets are rigged, and have been for quite some time. This ‘All’s Well on the Western Front’ media massage [sic] is so obviously a panic measure by those who want and need this system to survive as is, come what may, is as deft and elegant as JP Morgan’s metropolitan largesse, we can only take market robustness as a sign of desperation and evidence of embedded and rampant criminality. The Powers That Be are losing their confidence, their touch is deserting them. But what can they actually do? The game is up. And ‘we’ are taking ‘their’ power from ‘them.’ (In the end there is only us. As we stop playing along with the elite/non-elite dichotomy and start growing up into direct democracy and political maturity, the 99% will become the 100%.)

The Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t even making any demands of Government, which is exactly as it should be. Why one earth should we demand anything of the criminals looting global wealth so psychopathically, other than to tell them to stop and move aside, join us, or be steamrollered by the turning tide of history? When demands are made, we will be making them of ourselves. We want a system that has human and environmental concern built in. It’s up to us all to build it. And it always has been.

Meanwhile, the respectable organisation the NEF (New Economics Foundation) has just published a book on money creation and the mechanics of the money system. Here is the first paragraph from the executive summary:

“There is widespread misunderstanding of how new money is created. This book examines the workings of the UK monetary system and concludes that the most useful description is that new money is created by commercial banks when they extend or create credit, either through making loans or buying existing assets. In creating credit, banks simultaneously create deposits in our bank accounts, which, to all intents and purposes, is money.”
New Economics Foundation

No one who regularly visits either this blog or others concerned with similar objectives will be surprised by the above quote, but I think we should remember it is still controversial that money is the plaything of commercial banks worldwide (with the exception perhaps of China), that the money system is purposefully shrouded in mystery, and that we are again being asked to pawn our children’s futures to protect the system, the commercial banks’ ‘right’ to continue the charade they have employed for centuries to enrich themselves at the expense of others. The only human response to this redoubled attack is rebellion. Anything less is an abdication of our humanity. If we relinquish our dignity, we have nothing of any real value to live for. Isn’t that exactly what we are waking up to?

In short, the fact that the deeper system is the problem is the idea which needs to be promoted most energetically. It is not until this is recognized and understood by a sizable and coherent minority of people across the planet that effective change can be begun in earnest. When the numbers of us able to disseminate this reality compassionately, wisely and artistically to any ready, willing and able to hear it, reaches 10% and above, the tipping point will be reached. Perhaps we are already there. What lies before us is keeping vital infrastructure healthy and operational—the Internet, food supply chains, energy delivery systems, hygiene, sanitation, water, etc.—and learning, day by day and decision by decision, how we want direct democracy to work. Some of us will have to stay in the current system for this to be possible, as contacts, moles, what have you, others will be at the forefront of the new.

There are no guarantees of success, nor can there be a clear idea of what success will mean. And yet, the very fact that this is even beginning, whatever the outcome, is a success already. Live or die, the richer life we all want begins with uncertain courage flickering to action in our hearts, then flows outwards from there. We all have a role to play.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On Elitisim and the Growth of the Ego

“My littlest finger,” Rehoboam is reported to have said, “is thicker than my father’s loins.” Considering his Dad was Solomon this was quite the boast. Solomon had a way with the ladies, and, something of a poet myself, I’m pretty sure his sack-skills weren’t based on words alone. If you follow me.

Rehoboam was a Master of the Universe, a Mighty King. He took over from Solomon at a time when the Great Unwashed were moaning about some unfair tax burden. Being vastly superior to everyone around him, Rehoboam took council from a coterie of experts rather than talk to the plebeians directly, no doubt believing that Kings breathe a different air. Doing God’s Work requires a certain je ne sais quoi. Anyway, after long consultation his response to his people’s complaints was certainly kingly:

“Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, so shall I add tenfold thereto. Whereas my father chastised you with whips, so shall I chastise you with scorpions. For my littlest finger is thicker than my father’s loins; and your backs, which bent like reeds at my father’s touch, shall break like straws at my own touch.”

Nowadays we’d call this austerity. That it reads to the modern ear like the ravings of a psychopath isn’t perhaps as interesting as the refreshing absence of spin. Today a very similar message, in terms of the types of decision being reached, is delivered as if we were all in it together, as if Wall Street were suffering just like Mainstreet, that the burden is shared equally by elite and non-elite alike. Thus it is our contemporary Rehoboams who are truly terrifying, who have polished their statecraft to burnished and bewitching propaganda which they shape-shift with such adroitness, deliver into all minds so omnipotently, that we are lost in a glittering web of lies and half-truths from which ‘escape’ takes discipline, perseverance and time. And what is (deliberately) scarcer today for most of us than those precious things?

Elitism is as old as farming, perhaps even as the alpha-urge to shine, dominate, be the group’s ‘generous’ center. We could also say elitism is as old as the ego, though how old the ego is no one can really tell (it is not as old as homo sapiens sapiens, I suspect). What is increasingly clear to me is that the ascendancy of elitism is like the ascendancy of the ego, that sorter of data; that measurer; that perceiver of separation, distinction, boundaries; that arch deceiver and jealous defender of its throne. It is the ego which tells us, ‘more for me is less for you,’ though regal magnanimity can ameliorate the tensions and stresses generated by such an unfortunate ‘truth.’ And yes, science is the ego’s double-edged sword, humility buried deep in its hilt, the dangers and rewards of hubris glinting from its blade. But elitism has a lifespan just as everything else. Some of its flowers; perpetual growth, institutionalized hierarchy, extortion, dehumanization, are both the primary drivers of its ascent as well as the chief architects of its demise. Its demise is woven into the fabric of its power. Which brings us, somewhat tangentially, back to spin. Why do our leaders ‘need’ it?

Change. Since Rehoboam we’ve been changing. If Jamie Dimon spoke plainly and told everyone in a televised address to bow before him because his dick is bigger than his dad’s, he’d be out on his ear, pursued by the raucous laughter of the hoi polloi. Today our Glorious Leaders must stage manage the presentation of their obvious superiority more subtly than in days of yore; we don’t allow ourselves to think that way—not explicitly—anymore. It has become distasteful. The elitist dynamic is still transmitted, but more surreptitiously, via myth, advertising, body language, size of building, office space, desk size, salary, clothes, armies, police, etc. What with the end of slavery and child labour (sort of); the advent of sexual liberation, equal rights (sort of), and Rights generally, and other such social impulses inspired by centuries of striving towards egalitarianism and justice, modern humans now exist in a cultural web which requires a different manner of leadership, no matter how elitist at heart, no matter how jointly responsible our leadership has been in bringing this about. Our leaders still operate in plain sight, yes, but not so honestly as before. Honesty would be the death of them (as it was, in a way, of Rehoboam). So the very ‘tools’ for propagating their message, manipulating and subjugating us to docility via bland educations and careers and consumerism, are also those with which ‘The People’ learn about each other, about Rights, ‘equality,’ the money system, justice, and the nature of reality as we uncover and re-interpret it via science. And this is part of what I mean when I say there is no such thing as control. Events spiral off in unknowable directions, even from our best laid plans. As the ego has designed its ascent so has it ensured its downfall. One begets the other.

And yet the future will not be ego-free—at least, I don’t think it will be. Because life is richly diverse and develops in ways we cannot foresee, there will be wide differences of success and failure, forever. Equality is an impossibility. Demanding it is an act of violence against nature, even though the urge to implement it socioeconomically is part of nature. As humans with egos capable of the self-deception of separation and Cartesian Duality, we can indeed struggle against inevitability, against ourselves as embodied by ‘elite’ versus ‘non-elite,’ even producing wonders as a result (though beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but equality can never be one of our successes. Should we manage to weather the coming storms, should something like Jacque Fresco’s resource-based economy take shape, it will mean only a shifting of the goal posts. Perhaps poverty will be vanquished, war too, but such accomplishments will shunt our experiences of success and failure into new domains; emotional, intellectual, technical, artistic, not necessarily measured by money or material possessions, nor necessarily as the sources of immature envy and class conflict, but as something new and unpredictable, unimaginable to us today.

If something like a resource-based economy includes direct democracy, flexible and wise adaptation to ongoing change, transparency and openness of all public endeavour, it will, I believe, be a far better world, regardless of the moral relativity one might detect in this post. For whatever freedom and debt are, I’m sure a more mature relationship with and understanding of both are within our collective reach. Our next maturation is tantalizingly close, yet light years away, and will evolve unevenly—there are no beginnings, no endings. Getting ‘there,’ as ever, will take time, discipline and perseverance, which each of us must win by fighting for them.

Monday, October 3, 2011

On Violence II

It ain’t over yet. The issue I grapple with in this and the post which precedes it is complex. It has to do with the messiness of consensus. Even in a unit as small as a couple, even before we get to a family of three, consensus is often a battle. Of course there are happy moments of easy convergence, say to go to the movies rather than stay in, but as we all know, we each employ manipulation, bargaining, argument, reason and charm to get what we want at the cost of our partner or friend. That’s part of the glorious mess of human relationships, even with pets! Obviously, consensus among tens, hundreds or thousands of millions is quite a bit trickier.

I want to put this in some historical perspective. Class tensions and other conflicts at large social scales are as old as time.

The Hellenistic successor kingdoms established by Alexander’s generals, from Greece to India, employed mercenaries rather than national armies, but the story of Rome is, again, similar to that of Athens. Its early history, as recorded by official chroniclers like Livy, is one of continued struggles between patricians and plebeians, and of continual crises over debt. Periodically, these would lead to what were called moments of “the secession of the plebs,” when the commoners of the city abandoned their fields and workshops, camped outside, and threatened mass defection—an interesting halfway point between the popular revolts of Greece and the strategy of exodus typically in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Here, too, the patricians were ultimately faced with a decision: they could use agricultural loans to gradually turn the plebeian population into a class of bonded laborers on their estates, or they could accede to popular demands for debt protection, preserve a free peasantry, and employ the younger sons of free farm families as soldiers. As the prolonged history of crises, secessions, and reforms makes clear, the choice was made grudgingly. The plebs practically had to force the senatorial class to take the imperial option. Sill, they did, and over time they gradually presided over the establishment of a welfare system that recycled at least a share of the spoils to soldiers, veterans and their families.
David Graeber, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”, p230

To my mind the dynamic touched on here by Graeber emerges because of the slow evolution of people into what they see as distinct groupings, the subsequent divergence of the evolution of these groups as a consequence of conflicting or opposing interests, which then leads to the dehumanization of ‘The Other’ to the extent that all manner of violence becomes commonplace and acceptable. Yet someone has to 'win'. Consensus is vital if there is to be any sort of constructive and joint endeavor. The question is, who benefits how from this consensus, how was it won, and how is it sustained? In state form (as a monopoly on force and ideology creation and interpretation), or otherwise?

In my view, chieftaincies are sufficiently different from states to warrant separate classification. The key diagnostic feature is fission. All political systems up to the time of the early state, have as part of their normal political and demographic processes, inherent tendencies to break and form smaller units across the landscape. [...] The state is a system which overcomes such fissiparous tendencies.
Ronald Cohen, “State Origins: A Reappraisal”, in “The Early State”, p35, Claessen and Skalník (editors). [My emphasis.]

To prevent the constant fission of groups a state apparatus emerges. Prevention of fission is of course only possible around some general consensus. The methodology of states across time and space is based on force, violence, propaganda and extraction. Being hierarchical states are about extraction of the non-elite in the interests of the elite, with sufficient welfare provisions allowed so as to prevent the type of fission that would be harmful to the elites. Since all history has not demonstrated cohesive consensus at large scale societal level in the absence of state apparatus, anarchism has a lot to prove. Nevertheless, the analyses of our modern predicament which have most convinced me are anarchistic, and I include here The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM), though they would not describe themselves as anarchists. Nevertheless, any movement which calls for the break up of the state and party political governance is anarchistic at heart (the 'leader' being nature itself, which is self-evidently self-organizing). Although my knowledge of anarchism is that of an interested beginner, it is, it seems to me, Natural Law which both The Venus Project/TZM and anarchism refer to as guiding principles for governance. Both refer to the hubris of thinking The Market or Science can magic infinite growth on a finite planet, that supra-national corporations or other bodies such as the UN or IMF can operate above natural law, and so on.

However, We, The Human Race have never tried anything like globally connected anarchy. My own vision is of regional polities networked via Internet software/hardware cooperatively and openly managing or husbanding the earth’s resources. Getting there will be violent simply because the powers that be want to sustain the current status quo at pretty much all costs. No change as fundamental as required to transition to what I see as the next logical set up for humanity can happen, with as much invested in the current arrangement as there is, without violent upheaval. The current system also happens to be violent to its core. All this is quite uncontroversial.

But what about thereafter, assuming such a transition actually happens?

The opening paragraph of this post touched on the kinds of small disagreements that happen between couples and smalls groups of people. It would be absurd to suggest that all such disagreements could disappear, regardless of the social arrangement. Does this mean the inevitable emergence of groupings that develop distinct philosophies, sensibilities, jargon, expertise, etc? Is therefore the perpetual emergence of dehumanization inescapable? Even assuming an abundance, an absence of poverty, provision of the basics to all humans everywhere; even assuming that drudge work is automated, or, less technologically, that whatever work done by human hand is uniformly seen as essential and therefore ‘good,’ how can we possibly imagine an end of conflict and disagreement, of diverging interests, perceptions, philosophies?

In hunter gatherer groups, to my mind the closest analog to a human society directly governed by egalitarianism and natural law, violence and other conflict occurred. Indeed, murder was an accepted way of dealing with those who refused to conform to tradition, after other avenues had been exhausted. The group co-evolves with its particular environment and develops traditions and culture it ‘must’ adhere to to survive. Anyone threatening that is a threat to the group (obviously) and must be dealt with in the interest of the majority. And yet change happens. We today have states and multi-national corporations. We also have an overarching paradigmatic consensus based on private property, money, competition and survival of the fittest which, though fractious, kinda-sorta holds us together. But it's breaking apart, quickly, and even the elite know this, from what I can tell. Change is upon us.

Whatever change of direction is in the offing, whatever new paths emerge from the rubble of the current global meltdown, if we are interested in wisdom—and I believe we are—we must not allow ourselves to be overtaken by rigid ideology, fanaticism, or insistence on anything in particular. Though even writing this I feel like an ideologue. Even the posting of opinion as an admonition to beware stubborn and over-emotional loyalty to this or that ideology quickly becomes a work of hypocrisy. There is a necessarily impenetrable aspect to pondering what lies around the corner. And though reference to the past is helpful, my increasingly erudite gut tells me that this time it’s different. I mean really different. Something profound is underway here, in which our past efforts are all caught up and intertwined; Rome, Greece, China, India, Persia, Turkey, Europe, The United State, ‘The Primitives’ and so on; humanity has been cooking in its multiple soups for millennia and somehow it all comes together here, now. At not one time in all the ructions and upheavals that have brought us here had we seen earth from outer space, got to know each other via international travel and media such as radio and television, spoken to each other from one corner of the globe right across to its furthest opposite, instantaneously, nor had we experienced social networking software, though horribly commercialized, giving us a practical sense of being joined, across nations and cultures, into one fractious family. This is very, very new.

Violence is something intensely unpleasant. It is natural during periods of profound change to want to heal that which has gone wrong, to prevent evil from happening again. But evil is a perception of violence which can only be done away with by throwing out too intensity and pleasure. The vital diversity of perception which gives rise to the beautiful mess of life must mean, inescapably, that one man’s pleasure is another’s poison, which must likewise mean tragedy, violence, suffering and so on, are as vital as anything else.

I think what we can realistically imagine is learning from history. The type of violence that we might therefore rid ourselves of, is of the large group scale that leads to war and wanton destruction. Weapons of mass destruction are part of that wisdom. The majority of us simply don’t want to unleash that much suffering on each other, don’t want to wipe out millions of our fellow humans, nor, indeed, other life forms. The majority are probably far wiser than the elite on this and many other topics. As Charles Eisenstein says, we are falling in love with life. E. O. Wilson called this biophilia. I think this too is new. Our new, self-conscious appreciation of empathy is a huge part of this.

My strong sense is that an anarchistic, self-organizing system would allow us all to have more immediate control of the direction humanity pursues. In such a system we simply would not see it as beneficial to dumb ourselves down, to foster and entrench deep wealth and power divisions, and instead see health in the relatively unimpeded and open flow of wealth and power across all of humanity. The impetus towards direct democracy, with software like Liquid Democracy as pioneered by The Pirates, including direct action movements like Occupy Wall Street and many others, are the vanguard of this. If we make it, if we do create a garden of Eden on earth, violence will be there as it always was, as will scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes, wasps, weeds, and so on. But our appreciation of the mess of it all will have evolved.

If we make it through this challenge, it will only be because we have earned it, acquired the cultural wisdom to deal creatively and constructively with our new technologies, the challenges of peak growth, peak oil, peak debt and peak everything else, and organized ourselves accordingly. In such a system, whatever we decide to call it, there will be far less ‘unnecessary’ violence than in our current, disintegrating model, not because we seek to eradicate violence, but because a more just, more open and transparent model will give rise to less, by default. Consensus may or may not be as fraught as it is today, but perhaps our patience and maturity in dealing with achieving it will improve.

Worth fighting for.