Democracy In Chains

October 8, 2019

There are plenty more libertarian role models available in our culture than there are anarchistic ones; and given the apparent similarities between the two concepts of individual liberty, I occasionally have to remind myself why I am an anarchist and not a libertarian. It’s the economy, stupid, and everything that flows from that.

  • Libertarians believe in the exploitation of the capitalist system (stripped of State-imposed rules and regulations) and the supreme sanctity of private property no matter how acquired; many have a tendency toward exclusionary -isms (racism, sexism, nationalism, fascism); they believe in no government other than that which protects their interests and assets (police, army, judiciary; jails);
  • Anarchists conceive of a non-exploitative production/consumption system and have a strong tendency toward inclusive community building; they believe in autonomous self-government by individuals and consensual groupings only.

We are currently living through an experiment in which the Libertarian fringe has taken control of the central government.  Earlier this year, I was read an article about how the GOP in Missouri were working to overturn a state constitutional amendment improving ethical governance that passed overwhelmingly by popular vote just a month ago. They noted:

“the Republican Party’s newfound disdain for democracy. Republican leaders across the country have tried to make voting more difficult; to keep some Americans from voting; to interrupt vote counts before they are complete; to gerrymander in the extreme; and now, in Missouri, to repudiate a constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of the state’s voters.”

Everything in that paragraph is true, except that the Republican’s dislike for genuine democracy is hardly “newfound.” I have been reminded of this most recently through reading Nancy MacLean‘s vital Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right;s Stealth Plan For America. which is a book that every resister needs to read to understand what it is we are facing.  The thesis of the book is that current libertarian bent of the far rights financiers (a la Koch brothers and too many others) is fuelled and driven by the political-economic theories propounded by James M. Buchanan who was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 1986.  Buchanan developed his theories in the 1950s and 1960s when the current wave of capitalist barons were being educated.  [Page number references are to this volume).

“Buchanan believed that “majority rule, under modern conditions, had created … a risk to capitalism … The goal of the cause, Buchanan announced … must shift from who rules to changing the rules … the cause must figure out how to put [constitutional] shackles on public officials.”  [pages xxv-xxvi]  “A government based in the naked principle that the majority ought to govern, Calhoun [had] warned, was sure to filch other men’s property and violate their liberty.”  “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” wrote F.A. Harper. Democratic government was increasing “the power of certain persons to destroy other persons.” [6, 132]  Buchanan said modern rules fail to establish ironclad rules for “curbing the appetites of majority coalitions … There are relatively few effective limits on the fiscal exploitation of minorities through orderly democratic procedures.”  [150]  “The project must aim toward the practical ‘removal of the sacrosanct status assigned to majority rule’.”  [184]

Buchanan first made his name opposing taxes to pay for schools.  If a constitution enabled what Buchanan would call socialism — “which in Virginia’s case meant requiring a system of public schools — it would be nearly impossible [to achieve] his vision of radical transformation, without changing the constitution.” [72]  An important supporter, Oliver Hill, NAACP lawyer opposed to tax-paid vouchers for private schools, opined that: “No one in a democratic society has a right to have his private prejudices financed at public expense.” [69]  This group of thinkers were often opposed to educating the masses at all. As Gordon Tullock put it: “we may be producing a positively dangerous class situation” by raising their sights. [106]

More broadly, Buchanan criticised modern economics and its value system

“because the very idea that inequality was a bad thing led to looking for remedies, which in turn led the discipline toward an applied ‘mathematics of social engineering’.” [96-97].  He  “wanted not just to rein in taxation and regulation, but also to dethrone the dominant paradigm of Keynsian econonics that was the core of the mid-century social contract.”  [136]  A later disciple, Paul Ryan said “public provision for popular needs not only violates the liberty of the taxpayers whose earnings are transferred to others, but also violates the recipients’ spiritual need to earn their own sustenance.” [213]  Liberty Fund economist Gary M. Anderson alleges that public health is nothing more than “a device use by organized interest groups to redistribute wealth to themselves.”  [214]

And Buchanan’s theories began to enter the realm of social conservatism.  A Virginia petition of the early 1960s was very clear about its position:  “Individual liberty is a higher good than racial equality.”  [94]  The Goldwater campaign of 1964 openly attacked the Civil Rights Act on Buchananite-libertarian grounds, complaining

“that it used coercive means to make all conform to the values of the majority, in violation of the liberty of the white minority that opposed it.” [84]

Buchanan eventually came to believe that

despotism may be the only organizational alternative ... There was no glossing over it anymore: democracy was inimical to economic freedom” [151-152]  Charles Koch called Greenspan and others “sellouts”  because they sought “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.” [135]  Buchanan “valued economic liberty so much more than political freedom that he simply did not care about the invitation to abuse inherent [as in Chile] in giving nearly unchecked power to an alliance of capital and the armed forces.”  [165]  He wrote in 2005 that those who fail to save for their future needs “are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to … animals who are dependent’.”  [214]

Given the static two-party system in the US, it came as no surprise that Buchananite disciples discovered the Republican Party as a ready-made vehicle for political advancement.

“But while these radicals of the right operate within the Republican Party … the cadre’s loyalty is not to the Grand Old Party … Their loyalty is to their revolutionary cause … The Republican Party is now in the control of a group of true believers for whom compromise is a dirty word”  [xxvii-xxvii]

Political theorist S.M. Amadae says Buchanan “was mapping a social contract based on ‘unremitting coercive bargaining’ in which individuals treated one another as instruments towards their own ends, not fellow beings of intrinsic value.”  [151]

*****

This is a significant addition to our knowledge of how the elites run our lives and what they have in store for us.  Well worth the read.

 

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The Scythe, Modernity, & the Crash To Come

September 30, 2019

For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technology, you could do a lot worse than read Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth.  It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.

Each summer, Kingsnorth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery.  He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:

“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…

Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”

Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”

Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:

“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”

Kingsnorth responds:

“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politician might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”

Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:

“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”

“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”

He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:

“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”

“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”

This is a sad pass we have come to.  Humanity has been too clever by half.


The Anarchists Amongst Us

September 11, 2019

Philosophically and politically, I have been an anarchist for a very long time. However, I find myself embedded within this capitalist web and I’m frankly too comfortable to do much these days except pontificate from the heights of theory. There are, however, true anarchists that live among us, living as anarchists.

They are perhaps not as obstrusive as they once were, but they are with us nonetheless. These true anarchists are the hobos. They travel where they want, do what they want when they want, and work as they need. They are burdened by no quantity of possessions and leave little or no footprint on the environment.  They are the modern equivalent of the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

Unfortunately we are forced to define by exclusion here, to overcome a long-held societal belief that hobos are bad folk. We are not talking here of tramps and bums, nor even of the urban homeless. As the late “hobo doctor” Benjamin Reitman, P.h.D, noted,

“a hobo works and wanders, a tramp dreams and wanders, and a bum drinks and wanders.”

Tramps and bums are seen as lazy, alcoholic, or dirty but authentic hobos are none of these, according to 2003 Hobo Queen Mama Jo LeCount. They are migrant workers, honest friends, and grateful stewards of the earth. A true hobo will always offer to work a chore in exchange for food and shelter. Handouts are for bums.

hobo2

In North America, Civil War soldiers seeking a way home spawned the hobos and they were propelled by further economic necessity during the Depression years. Today, to live as a hobo is generally a lifestyle choice.  I am reminded of this by a fascinating article in the Smithsonian magazine that looks at wannabe hobos and the annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa.  Thousands

make the trek each year to convene with their fellow wanderers in joyful celebration and community at the convention, held in Britt since 1900. The week long event, which often includes weddings and parties, is filled with hobos and “hobos at heart” alike.

Mama Jo LeCount describes the hobo life as an “adventure” and there is certainly something in that.  The road trips many of us made around the world in the 1960s (in our hippy search for something that may or may not have been just drugs) were hobo-like in that adventurous sense.  However, most of us did those trips knowing that, at the worst, we had middle class parents and/or a full-employment economy to come home to.

For the true hobo, however, there is no backstop and their choice of lifestyle is much more serious than just “adventure”.  I am certain that the absolute freedom to choose — the essence of true anarchism — that is essential to the lifestyle is at the heart of their choice.  I’ll add it to my ToDo List to get to Britt one year and talk to them about it.


An Anarchist View on Public Health

February 16, 2019

Vancouver is in the early throes of a measles outbreak — which is just dumb because a highly effective measles vaccine has been widely available for decades.

As an anarchist I do not accept that the State (at any level) has the right to oblige parents to vaccinate their children.  However, my kind of mutual aid anarchism does not mean a complete lack of rules.

The sharing of scarce resources often requires some form of agreed reciprocity from all who gain from the sharing — an agreement to follow the rules of the club, if you like, as the cost of membership in the club. It follows from that that school boards, managing the distribution of education by school-board paid teachers and facilities, a scare resource, as delegates from the parents and children assembling, can set a rule insisting that children be vaccinated as a prerequisite to delivery of the resource.

They can set such a rule and they should do so for the protection of the community as a whole.

Parents who choose not to follow the rule should be left to make their own arrangements for the education of their children.


Thought For The Year

December 9, 2018


Remembering Joe Hill

November 19, 2018

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the murder by the state of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.

A minute’s silence, and then back to the important work that still remains unfinished.


Anarcho-Syndicalist Birthdays!

June 27, 2018

Today is the anniversary of the births of two of my primary political influences and allegiances.

 

 

On this day in 1869, Emma Goldman was born in Lithuania. She lived an ardently revolutionary life until her death in Toronto in 1940.  Her autobiography Living My Life (1931) is a constant inspiration, as was so much of her extraordinary output.

On Goldman’s 36th birthday in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was formed in Chicago. They engaged in revolutionary industrial unionism, promoting worker solidarity in the struggle to overthrow the employing class.  They believed in workshop democracy and full worker control.