Saturday, September 17, 2011

Table of Contents

1. Why a Boutique Revolution?
2. Dismantling the Nation State
3. Three Dimensional States
4. Operating Systems
5. The Golden Rule: All Too Human
6. Buffers
7. Bugs in the Ointment
8. Revolutionary Loaves
9. Efficiency is the Enemy of Social Compact
10. Riot Act
11. Riot Gear
12. Game Changers
13. Wheels in Motion: The Revolutionary Cycle of Countervailing Forces
14. Left its Discontents


Other projects by Justin
1. Painting (art)
5. No Direction Home (multimedia fiction)
8. Apocalypse Mom (comic)
13. Boutique Revolution (political satire)
21. Big Dada (social philosophy)
23. XChess (gaming)

Dismantling the State

To start this discussion, I ought first to highlight a book I am currently reading that brings into sharp focus many ideas and observations I have been trying to move forward here. Seeing Like a State by James C Scott is an examination of how the world actually looks through the emergent perspective of the modern state, and how the body of the state behind this point of view changes the world it observes to make it more legible from this perspective. I believe it is helpful to fully understand and inhabit the perspective of the state, and to fully appreciate its evolution and its slow, but cumulative, influence on the physical contours of society, from the mindsets of the individuals to the manufactured landscapes of cities, towns, and country side that they inhabit.

Many constructs of our modern world that many of us mistake for objective reality are memes that have been ruthlessly and relentlessly built by the state. The problem with these points of view, or memes, is that they are, by definition, simplifying for cohesive and reductive purposes. A more important insight is that It is an executive summary point of view that wants to be able to compare apples in one region to oranges in another reliably illegibly, and reliably legibly for correct pairings, and where local economies were illegible to the executive summary, they were colonized by the state’s legibility. What this meant in practice were things like standardizations of languages, currencies, and economies. Where this got very messy was in the matter of land holdings. Local economies did not have property in the sense that we have it today, land was shared and allocated with yearly modifications and changes based on social issues owing to family size or contingencies (a handicapped dependant’s family might get some local charity) and local knowledge about the quality of soils, specific field deficiencies, and other factors that also change over time. These economies were inscrutable to a state perspective, and there was no way to be able to create an administrative system that could tie them together and give any meaningful information about the economic utility of these economies to the state. As part of its legibility program, the state created a definition of property that was static and affixed to individuals. This made taxation an easier task, and taxation based on property calculations a simple matter to know what to tax them, and some idea of larger scale productive capacities. Back of the envelope calculations on generalities multiplied by acres were easy. All the marginal and exceptional stuff at the local level would even out with enough scale owing to statistical probability. A particularly fertile field that is undervalued would compensate for swamp land that is overvalued if all acres are valuated evenly for productive purposes, so long as that average assumption was about right.

The premodern Nation State began with scientific forestry and monoculture farming. The next step in legibility was to create static maps with units of land attached to individual tax payers. This process of creating Cadastral maps systematically remade how land resources were commonly shared and used in functioning communities. It froze in place a particular arrangement in time, when in practice that arrangement was constantly shifting owing to changing local conditions. This gave rise to justifiable property claim disputes as families currently giving up the most relative to their local communities, that is the ones currently being the most altruistic relative to their neighbors, were frozen permanently in place of altruists with a stroke of the state’s pen. A mindset of individual ownership on things that normally seem nonsensical to own, like a river, or a bunch of land, also arose. That is, the state’s perspective, with its simplifying and unifying assumptions that allow it calculate national economies statistics, has at its root the simplification of land into mostly uniform measurements with tax payers potentially attached to each parcel. For this perspective to take hold, it required the systematic elimination of all other prior arrangements on the issue of property and land holding, and these were all equally illegible precisely because there were no unifying legal or economic principles for the state to generalize on, they all functioned according to differing rules, customs, and social and local contingencies at each local economy’s level, and these rules were enforced and modified at the local level according to whatever social custom required there. I am describing a system often called anarchism. It was what existed where the peoples the state claimed rule over were illegible owing to their local culture, customs, economies and value systems. Prior to making them legibile, the state would throw a dart and guess on a tax number, collected and enforced by a local police force. However, since they were illegibile, the state really had no understanding of them other than as rabble, and disaster would strike when the dart was too far off the mark and the people couldn’t pay. The other worse disaster was the opposite that the state wasn’t extorting as much as it could. It needed, in economic terms, to find a way to determine an equilibrium point between the supply of submissive tax payers and the demand of revolting dissidents. The only way to do that was to understand the local economic conditions, and the only way to understand those conditions was to destroy the ones that were hopelessly tangled and complex arising from generations of arrangements and culture, and create ones that were stationary enough and by the book to become comparable to others.

A more ambitious management of living arrangements were the literal restructuring of existing communities. Old world cities were tangled skeins of living and working arrangements that had to be lived in locally to be scrutable, and more importantly, their scrutability was entirely dependent on local social and economic contexts, so one administrator could not go learn the city and give any meaningful information to a General, or economic advisor. Often the restructuring projects were not entirely successful owing to financial constraints, but in several notable cases, such as Napolean’s surgery on Paris, states did manage to remake cities into straight edged, grid like designs. Just as crucial, they could control all new development going forward with standards, codes and zoning ordinances. Nowadays, all modern cities are exceptionally grid like, unlike anything that occurred in naturally growing human communities, even those that were cities before the state intervened and uniformed their growth and design. I should pause here to reiterate the meaning of the last point because I think it is interesting, the existence of the cities predates the modern nation state in Scott’s analysis. The nation state first began by tithing the cities for taxes, and to better understand those cities, had to remake them economically, so they fit within a universal economic value system, and by redefining land as property by fiat, and to remake their physical structure into a grid pattern of distinct areas (commerce, living, industry, etc.) so the state could understand them and calculate various statistical measures by looking at a map with desired statistics in hand, and multiplying by grids. From this perspective, the chicken and egg question over what constitutes a state and when it begins to resolve; the city and local economy comes before the nation state. As a boundary condition, this means that a state is 2 or more local economies that are completely scrutable to one another in some described context. A Nation State is the specific economic and military contexts.

The next question is what is meant by local economy. With the observation that states literally erase and remake cities to render them legible for incorporation in order to fit them into context with a unifying and simplifying set of assumptions comparing their expected economic or military utility with other territories, then it seems that a city and local economy supporting that city would be the largest meaning of local economy that does not become a Nation State even with the existence of justice, morality, social customs, taboos and sharing of the commons. The colonization of a local economy is what a Nation State does. Obviously, defining local economy down to the size of the individual family unit, or as far up as aggregates of Nation States, for purposes of comparison is valid depending on the resolution desired. I would argue that a line can be drawn at least at the city level on the ruins of prior arrangements that were largely destroyed in the process of physical and ontological colonization that rendered them legible for a larger system. This is also at about the point that maps become more legible, rather than less, if local details are ignored and rendered in homogenous grids with parcels of static ownership of land.

The legibility of the current system of global order is rendered in a Nation State perspective, which is to say, in a comparable, integrated economic and military perspective that must, in order for the perspective to render any meaningful narrative or coherence, make simplifications and generalizations that intentionally overlook irregularities as statistical aberrations that can be ignored for the purposes of large scale calculations and analysis. Part of rendering local economies legible is by retrofitting whatever currently exists into a coherent economic system, this is done at the local level by eliminating the local arrangement and establishing a new one by fiat, this is perpetuated to the degree that the people at the local level accept the imposed order.
Here is where it gets interesting and brings me around to why I believe we are living in potentially revolutionary times, despite the abundance of evidence of social change or unrest that we expect to see in turbulent or revolutionary times. Scott argues that the intellectual colonization of the subjects of the state was driven by the deterministic, scientific approach to human affairs, what he calls high modernists. High modernists are often ideologues that believe in a universal objectivity of truth underlying their designs and ideas, and in that arrogance felt no qualms about crushing local objections rooted in subjective local conditions. They exist on the right and left, and numerous examples are easy to conjure. The high modernist strain of thought that has driven the economics of consumer capitalism and the systems of democratic governments like ours is rooted in the conceit that with a perfect enough system, such as a deist taking inspiration from his uninvolved, watchmaker God, we could achieve a utopia. This is a Cartesian mindset. A perfectly designed system that was built on principles of objective truth would, if built correctly, correct itself of human error by a built in gravitational pull toward objective truth; we call these checks and balances and three branches of government. In practice, the systems and institutions of government have grown irreducibly more complex and cruel, rigged, and unjust, and in a related note, has grown at the same pace their supposed benefits have shrunk. At the same time, the consumer capitalist high modernist economies are slowly and now more rapidly immiserating the planet for human life. People are long beginning to wonder what the hell it even means to work in this economy, in shows like The Office and elsewhere in pop culture, we are increasingly acknowledging the naked truth, that the existential emptiness of going to a job every day with a bunch of other people and everyone seems to be in on the joke, even management and ownership at times, that the job and the company is a meaningless, perfunctory exercise, but they still show up on time anyway and adhere to the dress code. Once this stuff shows up in pop culture, its assumptions have already permeated throughout the potential audience in order for there to be an audience to receive it. It’s one thing to think these things in private, another to realize your co-worker is on the same page, quite another to catch management letting in, and another for it to be the generally understood context of the workplace that much of what you do is fill time, even if you manage to find yourself filling time with things you find somewhat more interesting than others in a work environment, but it’s not quite couth to bring it up except within the context of generalized chit chat about pop culture so as to maintain a plausibly deniable distance. It’s becoming more thinkable that the only thing worse than not having a job is having one, when you get to questions like that, then you start questioning things like what exactly the economy is going to return to, or what economic growth in the context of rapidly destabilizing global environment whose velocity of entropy appears to be directly related to growth, and you also begin questioning the mechanics of capitalism itself.

In both spheres, economics and politics, we are seeing the questioning of assumptions down to the basics of current high modernist, deterministic, Cartesian based views of how to organize society. Capitalism is a system of interchangeable actors by design; the mathematical logic and order of its theoretical system are where it vests its authority, regardless of the individual properties of the people playing out the various roles. Our political system of universal justice and vested authority in the office and system itself over individual players is similarly premised on the enduring mechanisms of a self correcting system. What is becoming more apparent, however, is that there never was complete legibility. It’s an imposed mindset that is out of sync with localized experience. As the disparity between what the universally legible perspective says and the locally understood one as experienced by individuals in a social context says grows, the questioning of the legible perspectives premises grows. The math starts looking less and less right. If you live in a community wracked with unemployment, and you and everyone you know is struggling like hell to get by, and the headline in the paper says that the nation’s economy is recovering, you start beginning to question what formulas and ideologies would lead to such a backwards conclusion. I think the confluence of questioning the assumptions that lead to the positive and negative value analysis of capitalist democracy, a more comprehensive critique than arguing on specific value analyses could lead to sweeping changes in an age of rapidly changing economic conditions. The assumptions of these systems both rest squarely on High Modernist, deterministic, Cartesian designs. To question them opens the mind to rethinking everything; such as admitting that human social contexts are usually so convoluted and specific to individuals and cultural conditions, that there are no universal standards of justice, or morality, and so on that make the authority of the state appear legitimate. That a greater level of utility, in total, would be achieved if local economies managed their affairs without an overlay of Nation State legibility zeroing out local contingencies in the equation becomes more thinkable in the decolonized mind.

When the mind ceases to cooperate as people become disillusioned with the system, the Nation State begins to work the body.

The Nation State is, by definition, a hierarchical system. Status and wealth seep up, decision making and violence flows down. A hierarchical system works on the threat of or act of coercion. Sometimes this is direct and indirect, our system mostly uses loss of income, an indirect threat by proxy through deprivation of food and secure shelter.

The Nation State cannot threaten everyone because it ultimately serves someone. It is a perspective lens designed for scale, coordination, uniformity and administration. That lens is a lens through which specific interest groups or constituencies wish to be able to see things. A local fruit merchant doesn’t care what the local fruit economy is like a few hundred miles over, only a capitalist who wished to have operations in both economies would need to be able to understand them both on similar terms. It is easier to convince the fruit merchant that all would be better off if he could trade with that other town by adopting universal standards of language or weight, like the metric system than to threaten him into complying. The way to convince him is simple, his experience as an inter city fruit trader is more fulfilling to him than working solely in his local economy. To be able to control that, the state must instill assumptions that frame general beliefs about personal fulfillment that validate the premises of the Nation State perspective; this is done through national education and religion. If everyone agrees that the greatest thing a human can do, no matter how he does it, is be the richest guy in town. That if they are the poorest guy in town, they accept their circumstances because they had a chance and failed, then it takes less physical coercion to get people to accept being the poorest guy in town unwillingly. Fair and universal systems have objective truths that are the basis of their fairness and universality. As more people begin to see that the Nation State lens is not their view of the world, that the systems are not fair or rooted in any kind of objective truth, but in the same assumptions of the Nation State lens, that there is a lens, then they will fall out of a Nation State identity in unrecoverable form from a Nation State perspective. I don’t know that we will get to that level of questioning in actionable form, but it’s there.
Another sign of the growing disillusionment is the rise in nakedly coercive implements of surveillance and police action in the wars on drugs and terror.

The more coercion built into the system, the greater the threat that is needed to sustain its dynamics of material hierarchy because the willing are increasingly becoming unwilling, and they are becoming unwilling as a consequence of going from unquestioning to questioning the system that seems to be against them by design. (“I am just doing my job.”) The level of coercive threat needed does not go up because of a low bottom, but is directly related to the distance between the bottom and the top; in other words, the poor are acting under pressure by the accumulated coercive mechanisms in the system, such as mandated health insurance policies purchased from private corporations, into giving up a lot more as the ceiling gets higher above them because that ceiling is rising on the material they are giving up; generally people understand that no one, no matter how talented they are, is actually worth, in whatever way or function you personally define human worth, that much more than the least valuable person. If person A and person B were your sibling, and they fit any number of descriptors of humanity, you would agree that in spite of minor differences that only make sense as value judgment in very limited contexts, such as economic utility, they were inherently worth about as much as one another as people to you. Even in specific contexts, such as economic utility, it is still hard to see how much any of us actually contributes to society, but the spread does not seem like it could be very large as several million to one; a perspective could conclude that a guy in a suit is who does some banking management type stuff contributes infinitely more to humanity than a day laborer is warped, whatever the level of consistency of that perspectives internal logic and adherence to its own rules. Capitalists (and bankers) say that economic worth is whatever the market will bear, and although the models of the system are mostly coherent, the system still says things that seem patently absurd, such as that some people make hundreds of millions of wealth all by themselves every year, and the vast majority make a piddling few thousand, fractions of a percent of someone else. Even a context specific lens, like economic utility, must pass a sanity check.

The Nation State is a relatively recent imposition on all of humanity. Our historical perspective is warped because the historical institutions of the Nation State write history through its lens. For a time, Nation States claimed dominion over territories, economies, and peoples that it found inscrutable. There were no Frenchmen or Englishmen, there were people who lived on territories the premodern French and English states claimed as resource bases. It was through a long term effort to colonize and remake their local arrangements in order to make administering and tithing resources in a relatively uniform system easier to calculate and more predictable in effect. They were so thoroughly colonized, and so coherently remade according to a set of uniform and coherent administrative language as today to appear coherent as nations. Many people existed as citizens in a historical sense only; their lives were specifically colored by and understood through the heterogeneous local social and material economies. In our historical accounts of pre-modern states, very little is often known or said about the vast majority of people who are mostly faceless, vague categorizations of economic status. Occasionally, there are riots or revolts and a bit more is known about those. If the premodern nation states found their subjects inscrutable, it is because they did not know much about them, if they did not know much about them, that means the economies and subjects were illegible to them and this also means that the subjects found the Nation State mostly illegible and alien.
In order to make a legible system, nation states had to freeze in place social and legal arrangements at local levels, these arrangements were often fluid, changing over time owing to changes in the social, political and economic circumstances. The next thing the state did was to displace the localized mechanics of these arrangements with the states ordering and classification system in order to make them legible. Nation States that impose universal systems of justice or consideration in effect freeze in place a particular social arrangement, and it takes a long time to update any changes that take place even after the people have long moved past whatever it was that was frozen in place. The state did not end slavery, it universalized it as law and maintained it long past people had begun disavowing its practice. They did not end Jim Crow either, the created and maintained legal disenfranchisement long after people had rejected its premises. A similar observations holds with the war on drugs. Nation States codify injustices as a matter of turning a dynamic and heterogeneous collection of local economies, social contexts, customs and traditions into a static and homogenous economic system. Without the Nation State overlay and imposition of legibility, local economies would sort out their social and economic arrangements according to local conditions, and they did this before colonization. The process of legibility was only recently completed in the last few centuries and we only have vestigial traces of prior ways of life in some older cities that still have remnants of pre nation state ordering that Nation States have not yet had the resources to remake.

It is important to keep in mind that legibility is a physical process, it requires the destruction of local communities and in cases where the Nation State remade the physical geography to read better on a map, such as Napolean's project in Paris, the people were displaced and repressed. They were colonized, it makes no sense to refer to displaced people whose way of life has been remade from above as citizens in the same way their descendants are.

The legibility of a Nation State does have some qualities from an administrative angle. Principles of engineering that generalize and can be applied to specific circumstances at the local level improve municipal services. Where the Nation State goes dreadfully wrong is with the coupling of this administrative capability to the High Modernist desire to socially engineer people and society. Analyzing a sewer system and finding a solution that maximizes sanitation and service is a largely deterministic process; there are a few solutions that will be the best and a few that will be the worst, and they can all be analyzed with an engineering framework, no matter what city or town in study. Social arrangements are wholly different, they are context dependent upon local conditions and circumstances and change over time as local circumstances change. The Nation State operates on the assumption that all of this can be universalized with a system that is designed with the right degree of complexity. This long term project has failed and is increasingly seen as a failure. Complex systems of social ordering are probabilistic rather than deterministic. Outcomes exist in a range of probabilities, similar or duplicate sets of circumstances can lead to a wide range of outcomes, some more likely than others. To freeze one in place and standardize it is to freeze and impede social evolution in place by legal regime.
Can the value of the Nation State as an administrative tool for physical infrastructure be salvaged, that is decoupled, from the desire to political and socially engineer?

The high modernist basis for political and social engineering comes within the context of Cartesian, deterministic ideology. All zealots believe they have the master plan for re-ordering society, and their plans are all different. But what is common among them is the belief in a universal and objective answer. As they fail in time, the faith in any universal or objective solution existing is undermined in its entirety. I identify with anarchism, in my understanding of anarchism, the only universal principle is that of subjectivity. Anarchism is the absence of a master plan. That is the point of anarchist reform, to eliminate the artificial and extremely limited perspective of the nation state and return decision making to local economies. It is not a utopia that eliminates injustices and inequities, those are part of the human condition, but it is an arrangement that offers greater individual liberty. An arrangement that has been destroyed for the sake of being able to have legible pop culture and the capacity for nationalist fervor. In its universalizing and static imposition of human society, the Nation State makes it almost impossible to improve or dismantle outdated standards once frozen into place as law. To change a federal law requires massive mobilization and resources. If these matters were left at the local level, the effort of an individual would extend as far as their community, a far easier and more fruitful impact. (The challenge of changing the minds of a few hundred people in a local economy to change an existing social custom is less work than changing the minds of a few hundred million people in a Nation State, and subsequently getting the laws changed to reflect the mindset change.) The Nation State comes after and predates on trade, organization, and society. Functioning anarchist societies can and did exist in order for Nation States to arise.

An anarchist project could begin at rejecting the universal standards that superficially impose a narrative order across all local conditions and exigencies and return this decision making to local levels to be determined and constructed by the people living and working together there. That is not to say that in the absence of universal rules, all rules are equal. The point is that rules, or laws, only make sense in context. I am not a universalist, I have my own beliefs about how things should be to maximize fairness and utility. I am sure I would find some local arrangements that arose from a reform along these lines abhorrent, but the individual does not have to worry about the customs of the next community, only his or her own, which they have far more influence and say over. Accepting these pockets of backward custom and order is a better tradeoff than what the Nation State offers, which wages wars and has criminalized an entire race of people. Anarchists are often asked for a plan, but the answer is simple; there is no plan that can be given for the issues that arise from social context. You have to figure it out based on the circumstances you know best. A significant impediment to an anarchist change is the physical and psychological successes and legacies of the Nation State in remaking human culture. Functioning communities are anathema to coherent Nation States and have been designed against with urban arrangements that have placed people living cheek to jowl who do not know each other’s names. The pacification and legibility project of local communities has zeroed out the institutions and properties of localities that enable them to exist independent of the Nation State, this was the explicit goal and work of making them transparent in the process of colonization.

I believe the materialist culture of the ideas and principles underlying the desire for a Nation State are becoming maladaptive to physical reality and this more than any other factor will lead to their demise. The deterministic conception of human social context rooted in scientific enlightenment has repeatedly failed and led to some of the greatest horrors in recent history. Just as importantly, the economic and military framework of the colonial project are adaptive for a world whose resources outstrip by great margins humanity’s capacity for utilizing them. Local shortages can be made up for by taking from local abundance. In a world with more local abundance than shortages, the ever expanding economies and administration of Nation States are possible. In one where there are more local shortages, the premises of the Nation State begin to fail. Local contingencies begin to outstrip the administrative efficiencies and gains of a legible perspective. The economic and military lenses through which humanity at scale is currently seen for purposes of governance will fall out of favor as their depictions of reality becomes further removed from reality as experienced locally and individually. The system becomes more illegible at the local level. Other primary lenses could return into favor. One that I believe has promise is a lens of philosophy, that is to say that in a world of dwindling resources and increasing hardships in our daily lives owing to the exhaustion of natural resources and widespread ecological breakdown, philosophical, non-deterministic consciousness will be more adaptive for that environment than what is currently in favor and breaking down rapidly. Tragedy is starvation and deprivation; criminality is starvation and deprivation in the context of a material culture that has an excess abundance of food and other material goods. To begin to make that distinction is to relinquish delusions of absolute scientific control, to accept that sometimes life is hard and hardship unavoidable owing to forces beyond one’s control, but adapting to and finding meaning regardless of material culture.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Table of Contents

1. Why a Boutique Revolution?
2. Dismantling the Nation State (new)
3. Three Dimensional States
4. Operating Systems
5. The Golden Rule
6. Buffers
7. Bugs in the Ointment
8. Revolutionary Loaves
9. Efficiency is the Enemy of Social Compact
10. Riot Act
11. Riot Gear
12. Game Changers
13. Wheels in Motion: The Revolutionary Cycle of Countervailing Forces


Other projects by Justin
1. Americana.
2. Shotwell Art Project
3. Big Dada

Wheels in Motion: the Revolutionary Cycle of Countervailing Forces

A State is the interface between competing constituencies that takes place in the context of an agreed upon social construct of common identity, or nationality. The story of these competing constituencies over time is a nation's history. The political entity of the state exists to mediate the conflict between these constituencies and find some resolution to select which actions taken and whose interests should be favored and protected, and which suggested actions not taken, and whose interests overruled.

The claim of Democratic governments is that they are imperfect, but better than autocracies in providing as wide a range of interests and constituencies to have a voice in the political arena. It should still be understood, of course, that autocracies have constituencies and competing interests, and the constituents with any influence are of about the same small percentage of the overall population as in a democracy, but autocracies do not put any effort into maintaining pretenses that the arrangement is otherwise. The ballot and propaganda is to a democracy what the hob-nailed boot and repression is to a dictatorship. Nonetheless, even the harshest dictatorship has some constituencies it must keep happy to maintain in power; the whole purpose of its existence is to keep some subset of a nations constituencies happy.

The construct of nationalism gives a veneer of coherence and continuity to the history of competing constituencies. With competition, it follows that over time, some groups rise and fall in their influence. That is to say, the history of a state is the story of what direction and at whose behest a collective of people acted on in a given period of time. The varnish of national identity makes understanding what constituencies were competing and winning at any given time somewhat opaque. What constituents? What interests?

Modern nation states are hierarchical arrangements. In a status or wealth hierarchy, authority and decision making flows down (along with violence), and wealth and privilege flows up. As wealth and privilege is materialist, it is worth understanding a bit about economics to understand the conflict between various constituencies and their circumscribed interests.

Economists divide the world into three spheres, or economies. The first economy represents all of the natural resources in the world, all the water, plants, animals, air and so on. These all represent some potential or latent and kinetic economic value. A latent value would be an untapped reservoir of gas. A kinetic value would be the economic utility of the resource as it exists. For instance, honey bees pollinate crops. If the honey bees go extinct, the work of pollinating crops and other plants would have to be done by humans; there is an economic value of productivity that can be assigned to a honeybee. That there is no inherent value to any of this; it is only valuated in terms of its economic productivity. Aesthetic value, the beauty of having honey bees is not a factor.

The second economy is all of the work that humans do to transform resources in the first economy into goods and services. The process of mining a vein of minerals that eventually becomes the metal on a circuit board in a computer is a long chain of economic exchange.

The third economy is the valuation of the actions in the second economy; this is the paper abstraction of money used to keep score of the first two economies and to determine which actions should be selected and valuated in relation to others. This is what capital markets and investing is all about; determining approximately what economic activities in the second economy are worth relative to one another.

It follows that all of the wealth in a society is ultimately derived from its resource base in the first economy. Without any resources to harvest and turn into goods, there is nothing of value in the second and third economy. It also follows that from an economic perspective, in the process of converting resources to goods to valuations through the first, second and third economy, every point of exchange will accrue some percentage of the valuation of the wealth that is ultimately generated. An example of this process and exchange points is the mining of an ore, to its smelting, to its production into a metal, into the fashioning of that metal into a part, to assembling that part into a larger product, to selling that product on the open market, and finally to insuring and investing in that product. At every link (and there are likely others) the question is who gets the most value from the final product. Does the mining company get the biggest share of the wealth, or the factory, or the retailer, or the investor? This is hashed out in markets, and markets are bounded by, shaped, and influenced by politics. Markets, contrary to what economic purists would believe, are not naturally occurring phenomena, they are social constructs.

The history of the United States is the story of the competing constituencies of the second and third economies as competing interest groups have risen and fallen over time in a chain of cyclical succession leading from the third to the second and back to the third.

In the colonial era, before there was a United States government, the constituency that had supremacy was the investors of the third economy in Britain. As the colonists established a foothold in the new world, a landed aristocracy materialized and began to challenge those colonial masters for a greater share of the wealth derived from the first and second economies of the new world. They had a revolution and established independence.

This land holding elite created a new government with their economic interests in mind primarily. They had an interest in maintaining slaves, who did the bulk of the work in the second economy, and argued for the disenfranchisement of any other Americans, poor whites and women, who were not land owners. This was set up to ensure that the majority of the wealth from the resource base flowed into the land holder’s pockets.
The story of what happened next is best exemplified by Andrew Jackson. Jackson famously shut down the national bank, which he is often misguidedly lauded for by progressives as a populist.

Jackson's opposition to banking interest was not populist, it was the manifestation of a competition between financial interests and land holders. Jackson was part of the dominant constituency of America at that time, one that had just recently thrown of the banking and corporate interests of England. They were land and slave holding elites, and the biggest threat to land-holder (asset holders of any kind, really) wealth are banks. Banks gain by channeling a greater share of the wealth deriving from a resource base like land into its coffers rather than the pockets of the asset holder. If money is to be made off an asset and the bank wants it, then it must accrue to the bank from rich exchange points. At the time, land holders made the most from the resource base. Jackson’s other historical legacy, natch, is the genocide of the native population and his violent seizure of much of the North American landmass and incorporation into the United States.

Banking interests do not wish to own anything; banking interests would prefer to own as little as possible. It is what they call debt to equity ratio, or leverage. The less they own in real assets, the more they can make on loans and capital flows. It is also not in the bank’s interest to have any slaves anywhere in the second economy, slaves make no money, and the banks make their money off the exchange points in the flow of capital. They cannot make any money off of slave labor. The best set up for a bank is to have someone who works their entire life in debt, paying off loans until the very end of their economically productive life.

The struggle between the titans of the second and third economies took a long time to play out. Wealthy industrialists still exert influence and have extraordinary wealth, but the general picture today is of the dominance by the titans of the third economy. In the 1980s, corporations divested themselves of assets. From the late 19th century until the 1980s, with the rise of industrial production, the model for corporate power was vertical integration, meaning that wealth was derived from owning as much of the physical assets and resources within an industry as possible. The strategy to maximize wealth was to capture as many of the exchange points along the path from resource to finished product. This model became outdated very quickly corresponding with the meteoric rise of the third economy. The new model for corporate profit was to own as little as possible, but to harvest money with loans and control over branding and rights to intellectual property. This reflects the investment banking model. The process has played out in several major corporations quite dramatically, GM used to be a car company, not its biggest money making division is now its financing. GM's automotive division is a drag on the company. GE has made a similar transition. Its metamorphosis from a supremely vertically integrated corporation with an array of operations from weapons manufacture, to electronics, to media to appliances into a finance oriented company happened almost over night. Within the last several decades, the story of American politics has largely been of the triumph of Wall Street and the FIRE sector, and the story of the middle class has been of debt peonage and wage slavery as people have been stretched to their limits assuming debts that will take a lifetime to pay as a prerequisite for entering the economy; school, home, credit card and car loans to be paid in perpetuity.

The logic of the third economy is in the realm of abstract. Currency is an abstract measure of real world wealth, and the theories of economics are often disconnected from real world considerations. Infinite growth, for instance, only makes sense in a theoretical construct of infinite sources and infinite sinks, the earth is neither. Another abstraction is the logic of substitutes and marginal utility. The third economy does not concern itself much with depleting resources because it assumes that the market will always provide substitutes. If honey bees die off, then birds or people can do the job of pollinating crops. If a fishery becomes overfished and crashes, then some other fishery can be found. In the abstract realm, all value is contained within abstractions of productive capacity; there is no room for aesthetic or spiritual health. The real danger of abstraction is the disconnect abstract models put between people and the real world. The assumptions of infinite sources, sinks and substitutes leads to magical thinking about declining resources for which there are no substitutes. Abstraction also obfuscates the link between the health of the underlying resource base for which the second and third economy depend; without a healthy resource base, the second and third economy wither and die.

The centrifugal forces concentrating wealth in the third economy creates instability in all three economies. The first economy is the foundation of the second economy, and the first and second economies together are the foundation for the third. As the wealth concentrates in the third economy, the foundation beneath it begins to weaken. As a greater share of the wealth deriving from the first and second economies accrues to the third, an inherent instability is created in the social order. The first economy suffers first as its resources are depleted and converted to wealth. After the first economy crashes, the second economy is the next to begin suffering as the third economy turns to it as its resource base. The second economy, comprised of human beings, reacts differently than the inhabitants of the first economy. A polluted river does not begin drowning its polluters in the same way that an exploited human being can go after his exploiter.

The myth of American democracy is that the people are a meaningful constituency in the decision making process, when, in fact, it has always been dominated by narrow interest groups. The interface of the state and efforts into maintaining a coherency of nationalist identity has given a sense of common purpose. In the middle of the 20th century, this was expressed in the pro corporate slogan, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." First a land and slave holding patriarchy held power, which gave way to the industrialist captains of industry, which has given way to a financial elite. The financiers are now seeking to break the bonds of nationalist identity entirely in the ultimate act of vertical disintegration, bringing the narrative cycle of nationalist identity full circle.
The world company was to be a new form of colonialism, in which global assets would be acquired by economic rather than military coercion. The company would extend across national boundaries, aggressively engaging in mergers and acquisitions until the assets of the world were subsumed under one privately owned corporation, with nation-states subservient to a private international central banking system.
...
The world company acquires assets by preventing governments from issuing their own currencies and credit. Money is created instead by banks as loans at interest. The debts inexorably grow, since more money is always owed back than was created in the original loans. (For more on this, see here.) If currencies are not allowed to expand to meet increased costs and growth, the inevitable result is a wave of bankruptcies, foreclosures and sales of assets at fire sale prices. Sales to whom? To the "world company.".
The recent downgrading of U.S. debt by a ratings agency of debt worthiness was notable for three reasons in the context of this discussion; first, the admission of a $2trillion math error that did not change the decision to downgrade U.S. debt indicates an agenda of some sort. A second point of interest is the effect this will have in further in-debting American citizens, who will see a rise in the price of imported goods and compelling those at the margins to finance their consumption further.  A third is that the downgrade is an assault on U.S. soverignty. Section 4 of the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions ... shall not be questioned...
The financial elites embark on this program at their own peril, in an earlier era, so long as an elite interest group maintains the semblance of national unity, they enjoy the protection of a shared nationalist identity. Not so long ago, the financial elite of a foreign identity aroused the anger of the colonized who rose up and broke the shackles of dependence and oppression. As the financiers of our present age slip the surly bonds of the state from constraining their voracious appetites for wealth, which is to say they are becoming arrogant enough to assume that they have no reason to bother with the fiction that they are willing to mediate their competing interests through the interface of a State with other constituencies, they are also removing themselves from the protective veneer of national unity. They are becoming the colonial occupiers of their former nations, and although it often takes time, the story does not usually end well for colonial masters when the dogs start biting back.

3 Dimensional States

Questions posed to anarchists often revolve around one concept, the State. For whatever reason, the definition of a state or government is hard for people to pin down. Where does the unruly mob end and the state begin? When trying to describe the damn beast, the state can look like a serpent that’s all body and no tail.

A state is an arrangement over time. There are both literal and figurative states; such as of nature, consciousness, awareness, growth, maintenance, and decay. In computer science there are state machines. States give way to different states under changing conditions.

The first part of the definition of any state is a description of its properties as they appear in a snapshot of time. The properties are an almost meaningless litany of descriptors until they are contextualized by taking snapshots at different time and deriving a story, or history.

We describe four general trajectories as states are either maintained or give way to different states; growth, equilibrium, decline, and decay. Natural organisms follow this life cycle and are bound by its progression. Other constructs that exist independent of physical being, such as abstractions like governments, can fluctuate between them. A nation-state can rise, fall, rise again and so on. Similarly with states of ecosystems, and economies.

And a government is a state of what, exactly?

A state of government is a state of violence; it is the sustained threat of or practice of violence over time.

Does that mean a mob is a State until it disperses? Sort of, but no.

We can add a qualifier for a state of violence to qualify as a State, or government; and that is that the state seeks to perpetuate itself and succeeds. If the mob begins practicing martial movements and becomes a gang; then it is becoming a state. As states exist, they must ways to support their existence. They offer protection and services in exchange for tithes. This starts as naked distortion, such as a mobster making an offer someone can't refuse or collecting insurance to keep the mobster's goons from burning the place down, and slowly puts on more and more clothes until it looks more respectable as a government. States don’t start at the toll booth or at the mob, but when the mob begins running the tollbooth, we have a government.

We can imagine how these evolve by considering how villages become linked together as states of union in commerce. It is often said that civilizations start with cities, and cities as a grouping are linked by roads, so let's follow the road as an exercise.

At some point, as roads are laid, someone is bound to take offense at the path of the road. Imagine a community of farmers that needs to cut a road to link to pastures or water sources, and the road is to run right through what one member considers their part of the land arrangement. They argue, and eventually agree that everyone will give the guy a little something extra for use of the road cutting through his field. This works for a time, and the farmer finds that he gets more enough each day to take care of himself. So he lets someone else use his fields and spend his time maintaining the road. This is an arrangement of voluntary participation, and there are rules of the road that people obey out of respect and cohesion sharing of resources; this is anarchy.

One day, some out of town toughs come along and rob the man.

The next day, they come back and rob him again.

This continues for a time. The road becomes crappy and the man finds himself in desperate condition. He asks a robber, “Why do you have against me that you are trying to destroy me?”

One robber answers, “Its nothing against you, my man, but we need to eat.”

He says, “Can’t you see that I am almost in ruins and soon there will soon be nothing left to take? Then what will you do?”

The robber answers, “I could rob the next guy, and then after he is ruined the next, but eventually there would be none left. I see your point. Ok, we’ll leave you be and I’ll think about this.”

He retreats to think it over and returns one day. He calls out to the man and says, “Here is the deal. We are moving in and we’ll guard the road and help you collect taxes from the neighbors.”

The man says, “Guard the road from whom! You are the ones who’ve been attacking me!”

The robber says, “True, but just as we may have to find someone to rob after you are ruined, if we leave, then someone else will find you as an attractive target as we did. Why not keep us around to fight them off?”

The old man thinks about it, and believes they’re right. So he accepts, and they form an arrangement, the tollbooth, and the toughs now enforce a poll tax on all the neighbors. The arrangement has become a state.

The great trick that states manage is that after a time, everyone gets everything all backwards and comes to believe that the road can only exist because of the toll booth, as though a toll booth comes into existence and breathes road out before it. People come to believe that it was from the threat of violence that rules and order followed; as though without the out of town toughs extracting tolls on the village road and threatening everyone to pay, there was no possible way for the man’s neighbors to honor their arrangement.

It is not enough to say that a state of government is a state of violence and tithing, however, because we also must ask what the nature of that violence is. To what end does it serve? A state of government is a state of emergent consciousness expressed as the will of the people within its domain. Naturally, controlling the emergent will of this state is of great import because its the battle over who gets the largess of the toll booth. Over time, it has been the case that a few are able to exert more influence over this will than the many. In some states, this has been direct control, such as military coups. In other states, such as ours, influence is accomplished through indirect control; through what we call a representative democracy. Although this is a complete sham by the presence of a simple observation; lobbying is a form of bribery and an officially sanctioned way of making concentrated interests control the emergent will of the state. Lobbying should be illegal if we had any real commitment to representation of people; instead, lobbying is wholly the domain of corporate persons; which like any abstract concepts exist independent of physical growth cycles. As expected, the emergent will of the state is most favorable to these elite interests and directives

Within our system, any number of terrible injustices and crimes are carried out every day in our wars on terror and drugs. Any number of stories emerge that we can all agree are horrible crimes and terrible violence that the victims did not deserve. Acts of violence that occur as a result of the emergent consciousness and exercise of the sustained threat of violence carried out by the state. If any of those injustices were to befall you or someone you know, such as a predator drone dropping a bomb that collapses your home, killing your family in a gruesome way, or a SWAT team raiding your home by mistake or on purpose for what are incoherent reasons, then you would find it unacceptable and terribly unjust, and find a sudden unwillingness to participate in its perpetuation any longer in any capacity. That this has not happened to you is largely a matter of chance and circumstance.

My thought is this, if it is immoral to do the wrong thing even if you can get away with it, then perhaps it is also immoral to only do the right thing when you can get away with it.

My question is this, does every disagreement in a social context cry out for total withdrawal? I have disagreements about the popularity of Lady Gaga's music, but those disagreements are matters of taste and opinion. Some distinctions are meaningful differences, however, and no matter how far we remove ourselves from their direct mechanisms, they are still differences that call for our attention.

Recall Thoreau's apple and acorn metaphor about what a man can do to follow his conscious as a metaphor of personal responsibility and consequences. In the forest, when an acorn and apple fall side by side, both compete for sunlight until one overshadows the other and it dies. Human morality in the contexts of participation in States should function similarly; if one finds that one cannot exist in the shade of a violent state, then fighting for sun light and losing is the consequence of standing on your own morality.

We more often believe ourselves more vine than tree, and the we lash ourselves to those trees with roots; States, and hope they carry us to sun light. The real grows dependent upon the abstract, which is backward. Rather than refuse to accept the unacceptable, we cling to the stronger trees branches, hoping that as they grow they will lift us into the sunlight. Vines have no form of their own and collapse into a tangle of infirm leaves and plant matter without support, and thusly we fear the absence of structure provided by the State. As the tree lifts us up, we find ourselves believing that the tree itself is what provides the sun light that sustains us. This behavior in plants is understandable, they are immobile. In high functioning humans with agency and autonomy, this is nonsense. Without the State and its toll booths, there is still the sun, and there is still the road. We might not have an easy road, or any road at all if the State has managed to put up a toll on every footpath, but we should never lose sight of the fact that States are not enabling us to get where we want to go, they are premised on extorting us for using the things that are ours; from our feet to our heads and beyond.

Our state of government appears to be stable over time; and in its dominance over the tools and apparatus of violence in the three branches and their ceremonial changing of the guards, it is quite stable. But violence is just a tool, and a state is not just the presence of this tool, but also to what purpose this tool is used. A state of government is defined along three components; the sustained threat and exercise of violence, a system of tribute, and an emergent will for directing this state of arrangement. Over time, the tools of our state have been fairly stable, the control of emergent will has changed in content, but not character. First there were colonialist Europeans, they gave way to a slave and land holding aristocracy, who gave way to industrialists. They have begun erecting toll booths over every aspect of our existence. Our relationships are now being taxed and mediated through toll booths; social networking is the commodification of your interpersonal lives, a continuation of the system of human commerce begun by Bernays and the founders of modern propaganda and consumerist psychology in the 20th century with the explicit goal of putting a toll booth at every intersection of human interaction and bleat of emotion. Materialism is the toll booth on your emotional and intellectual life; to feel fulfilled, happy, and meaningful, you must purchase these goods or services.

Fulfillment and happiness are emotions that are free, they are always there. The presence of sports cars and mansions, of material comfort are not gateways to those emotions. Like any toll booth, be are beginning to get things all backwards, thinking that the tolls on our existence are what support that existence rather than the other way around.

When people say that violence is a tool of the State, they are correct. When they say that it can therefore never be used to dismantle it, they are wrong. Taking over the toll booth by force leaves the structure intact. Tearing it down may only delay the time until we build another one. It is not the physical manifestation of the threat of violence as a means of control that is the tool of the state that we must refuse to use for ourselves, it is the sustained threat of violence that we must reject. Threats come in two forms; empty ones, or bluffs, and the dangerous. It is safe to call down a bluff with a committed approach to non-violence. It is foolhardy to call down a certainty of violence without some ability and willingness to deal with the threat as it is being realized. Whatever the outcome of that skirmish, it would be wise for us to realize that the point of calling down the threat, whether bluff or not, was to challenge its right to exist, not to replace it with one of our own. The tool of the State is not the realization nor threat of violence in a single instance, it is the sustained threat and realization of violence over time. It is possible to call this threat without seeking to replace its coercive logic with your own.

The road does not flow from the tollbooth, it never has, it never will. We as individuals have to realize is that we more options than tearing down or taking over the toll booth, we can also ignore its operating premises. We have to stop paying the fee to walk down the street, and maybe begin forging our own paths, refusing to acknowledge the validity of a sustained threat (which carries with it some serious consequences to your personal comfort so prepare for that), and understanding that we are not vines, but men and women, and if we can't find our way to the sunlight, then so be it.

Game Changers

I don’t follow sports, but I do like watching the games on occasion, and especially with other people. To meet some friends at a bar for an afternoon of drinking, talking and general revelry amidst a crowd of people doing the same is what I consider a good time. It probably helps that I went to college at an SEC school, for those not in the know, the SEC is a conference of schools in the south east of the United States and in southeast they take two things deadly serious; religion and college football. Tailgating is a one, two, sometimes even three day affair. And in the case of the Georgia – Florida game, also called the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, an entire week. Tailgating was my favorite part of the spectacle, and I would often go hang out with friends and as often as not, slip away at game time when everyone would head into the stadium.

As a kid I played the typical sports, football, baseball, wrestling, some pick-up basketball (I still don’t know the rules or understand the subtleties of basketball in the same way that I can see what is going on in the sports I played in organized leagues), so I can follow the action pretty well.

Sporting spectacle and political spectacle have striking similarities. The garishly loud colors, the pageantry, the emotionally charged crowds. The similarities have led any number of people to point out the inherent tribalism of nationalist and sporting sentiments. It’s us vs. them, whatever we are fighting over is less important than that we win.

People have not always identified so strongly with nationalist identity for the simple fact that nationalist power has only recently become a global classifier. In the not so distant past, citicizens living in the provinces of a country like, say, France, did not really put much identification into their identity as being French. One of the troubles the French and Americans had in Vietnam is that rural peasants did not really know what being communist or Vietnamese meant, they just wanted to live. They were barely aware of their nationalist identity, and what the Americans wanted of them made no sense on the Americans’ terms. In the American west, the colonizing Europeans had trouble dealing with the Indians because although the Americans applied labels like Commanche to a group of people, the Commanches did not see them as part of a Commanche nation. A treaty negotiated with a chief only went so far as the handful of people who accepted that chief’s leadership. The Spanish, Texans and Americans would believe they were negotiating a treaty that would be binding for the thousands of Commanche that would really only apply to 30 or 40 people. And in America, the argument over states rights vs. federalism is not yet a dead letter, as anyone who has lived in the south could tell you.

It is important to keep this in mind when reading history books about the distant past, often these accounts euphemistically refer to nationalist identities that only made sense for a limited number of people at the time. ‘France’ in the time of absolute monarchism referred to the King, his court, and his military apparatus. A peasant living in a far flung province of French territory likely had little invested in his identity as a Frenchmen. We often make sense of the past with the cognitive framework of today and in doing so, a distorted picture emerges that looks more like the present than it should. Many of the mass migrations of history were not migrations of people, but of identity. To change from a Roman to a Hun in the fifth century can and did happen, and generally, a major trend in archeological thought is that the Goths, Huns, Romans and other ethnic groups at the frontiers of the Roman empire were a melting pot, and the ethnic identity was a currency that people traded in to align themselves with whatever group afforded power and protection at the moment.

The people who have the most interest in maintaining group identity, and in regulating its inclusion set, are those who benefit the most from hierarchical status; those at the top. Nationalist identity requires constant maintenance. Consider the ways in which the modern American state has to spend resources to maintain a strong patriotic identity with the federal state. It begins in grade school with the daily repetition of a pledge of allegiance. It holds parties, like the fourth of July. And much of the educational curriculum in the liberal arts and humanities is designed around promoting a nationalist identity and stake in being an American before all else. The task of creating a nationalist identity is to implant in the individual’s head a state of consciousness, in specific contexts, the individual subordinates concerns and thoughts they would normally have to this state of nationalist consciousness. This state of consciousness is invoked with specific key words and phrasing, national security, American interests, and so forth. Once invoking these key phrases, the individual accepts actions and consequences for himself and others that would in other circumstances be considered abhorrent. This is straightforwardly brainwashing.

There are clear advantages to buying into this identity for the individual; they are afforded protection and comfort. They are given preference and less likely to suffer violent attack from the state identity than a non member. The anarchist mindset looks through this arrangement and asks the individual to voluntarily give up these advantages on behalf of those who are suffering disadvantages.

Anarchists have two approaches to this arrangement. The first is an attack on the entity of the collective nationalist conscious, what they call the State. A nationalist identity is an imaginary construct, however, there is no State; it is a collective sense of identity and purpose. Anarchists attack the legacy of this identity, such as property and buildings, and fight with its foot soldiers, cops. The second line of attack is an attack on the collective identity in individuals through persuasion and appeals to moral conscious on behalf of those suffering. In other words, they try to guilt trip their fellow humans into giving up their nationalist identity and working toward the destruction of the State.

The attack on the physical structure in place that is the state’s purpose is not a direct attack on the State. It is an attack on the infrastructure that makes the State worth having from those who benefit from it the most. The appeal to moral consciousness in individuals is mostly a losing game for the simple reason that if the game could be won; it would have already been won. Someone who identifies strongly with nationalist identity is not unaware of the suffering in the world on behalf of their privilege, it’s a trade off they have already made and come to terms with. They may not be happy about it, or they may have numbed themselves into not caring. Guilt tripping them is a lot of effort for very little return.

As a collective approach, or emergent behavior, the anarchist mission is to try and change the collective conscious on the point of nationalist identity. I personally believe appeals to moral consciousness in the individual are a losing battle. The reason I believe this is because in today’s culture, the primary consideration we are taught to have in any decision making process is a cost benefit analysis for ourselves. Our moral conscious and behavior are informed by personal interest. A few individuals with extraordinary senses of self-sacrifice and courage might ignore this cost-benefit analysis and do what is right even at great personal expense. As a whole, it is statistically unlikely for this level of morally informed irrationality to reach any kind of critical mass. The Civil Rights movement had a critical mass because people had been so oppressed, so abused, that the cost benefit analysis at the individual level said that it was costing more to accept those horrid conditions than to act righteously. For those who benefitted from the arrangement, whites, it was much rarer for them to act on a moral consideration that could land them in front of Bull Connor’s snapping Dobermans.
Even for those who do have courage to act in ways that will cost them personally, such as the protestors against an Alaskan Tar sands pipeline who found themselves in jail, they do not need anyone to convince them to do so. It’s a decision they make unto themselves. If you take away the people already willing to act without outside influence, whom exactly are anarchists going to persuade?

Another line of attack is on the premise of the cost-benefit analysis itself; a cost benefit analysis relies upon value judgments of what is a cost and what is a benefit. To reiterate; our culture is a me-first culture. The roots of this attitude extent back into the enlightenment, which began the process of the ascendancy of man and the individual. This long process has run amok with scale, very few of us are willing to do anything that compromises our personal deity of self. We don’t have to give up our selves, however, although that is possible and what I referred to above as brainwashing. We can begin redefining what is a cost and a benefit to our self image. That is malleable and also takes a lot of energy to maintain. The amount of advertising in our culture and its repetitive images speaks to the effort it takes to define costs to ourselves as that which makes us uncomfortable and benefits as that which flatters us. The level of psychoactive medication and self-help or spiritual products for sale in our society speaks to the schism that this process creates; we are a materially rich country of deeply miserable and unstable people. I would go a step further, the way to undermine this equation is not to convince anyone of anything, but to live a life that may cause personal hardship and some pain and to do so with dignity and joy. And to do that requires the individual to redefine what gives them dignity and makes them happy. We are meaning making machines; it is not hard to redefine what gives us meaning. A significant impediment to that personal process is indulging in mainstream pop culture and its dominant themes of what you should want in life and how to define quality for yourself. There is a message within that medium, and even if you are aware of it, you are still enticed by its bribes. I wouldn’t say give it up for aesthetic reasons of purity, but to create space for oneself to define life on your own terms.

The struggle for anarchists is an uphill one, the same uphill that any other movement in the past has fought to change a collective conscious. It appears hopeless and meaningless until it does not. It brings with it consequences that appear unjust to the anarchist, which is the point, really of protesting a standard of justice that once considers obscene. To lose one’s sense of self is an important aspect of this fight. If you are seeking personal fulfillment on the basis of seeing your actions give some return, then you are almost certainly destined for bitter disappointment. In mass movements throughout history, the number of people who took part in the struggle far outnumbered those who enjoyed the fruits of their collective labor. Accepting that depersonalized equation is difficult in a culture with slogans like Just Do It, that generally teaches that actions are only worth taking if you get to win and that winning means personal wealth and glory. There is a reason for that message, the only way to win personal wealth and glory is to follow all the rules and internalize the dominant system’s value system. Dissidence is an intentional rejection of this value system, and an attempt to redefine its operating premises. Part of this is accepting beforehand that there will be consequences for actions, and that you are not going to succeed in changing very many minds.

Mother Jones has an article about Brandon Darby, an anarchist turned FBI informant. His work with the FBI landed several activists in prison. The sense of betrayal and outrage at Darby in the activist circles he once moved in bleeds through the article. This betrayal is to be expected, and in the context of anarchist activism, I struggle to call it betrayal. Not everyone’s mind is going to be changed. Darby came, he saw, he tried, and he found the ideas and vision dangerous. He made a decision as an autonomous individual to reject the anarchist program. That is to be expected. Political dissidents that questions or current order at the profound level of anarchism should know going in that this is the consequence of their beliefs; they are trying to undermine the foundation of the current order. More crucially, they are doing this by trying to change mindsets. They are making an appeal for a different way of existence based on greater individual autonomy and voluntary participation, if others reject that appeal and find their proposal dangerous, then that is their choice. The matter has been put to a vote, and fellow humans found it lacking. You are free to continue trying to change their minds; they are free to continue rejecting your proposal. The best one can do is to limit exposure to actionable illegalities. We don’t get away with it just because we try and we don’t deserve to be accepted just because we think we are morally righteous. That is for others to determine, we can just keep making the case. If we do not have constructive alternatives of lifestyle in the struggle for conscious change alongside the destructive attacks on the physical infrastructures that are a product of and support the existing nationalist conscious, then it is less likely we are ever going to succeed on anyone’s terms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Introduction - Why a boutique revolution

"In traditional accounts of these events, the labels used in our sources -Goths, Heruli, Sciri and so forth - were concieved of as belonging to 'peoples': as noted earlier, by this was meant compact masses of humanity comprising men, women and children, all of whom shared distinct cultural norms and who were, by and large, closed to outsiders, generally reproducing themselves by marriage within the group. The different phases of migratory activity associated with the rise and fall of Attila's Hunnic Empire could thus be characterized, literally, as part of the... 'movement of peoples.' The historical evidence for most of these moves, however, is quite pathetic. Roman historians' accounts of barbarian migration leave much to be desired, as we have seen, even when those migrations directly affected the Roman world....

Any estimate of the scale and nature of the action involved in these population moves - or to be absolutely precise for a minute, recorded shifts in names - is going to depend on your general understanding of the nature of the groups behind the labels. This means in turn that the issue of migration within the Hunnic Empire is intimately linked to the hotly contested issue of barbarian group identity. If you think labels hid population units each with a a substantial sense of group identity, then your estimate of the amount of migration flowing on to and out of the Great Hungarian Plane will be correspondingly large. If group identities are percieved, on the contrary, as no more than a set of labels which barbarian populations could adopt or jettison according to short-term convenience, then the moevement of these labels around the map of Europe need mean very little in demographich terms.
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(Following an account of a Roman merchant who went barbarian in Attila's empire.)
This Roman merchant turned Hunnic warrior provides a textbook illustration of a major trend in current thinking about group identities in Attila's Empire: they were highly malleable."
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There is no doubt, then, that within Attila's Empire individuals, probably in large numbers, were busy renegotiating their identities as part of their attempt to navigate their way to prosperity as political conditions and opportunities changed around them.
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we have explicit evidence that... their populations contained warriors of two unequal status.... When it comes to understanding group identity, this adds an important extra dimension. Only higher-status warriors benefitted fully from the existence of the group to which they belonged, via the rights and priveledges it conferred upon them, and only they can be supoosed to have been completely committed to that group's identity.
...

Empires and Barbarians
Peter Heather
Discussions of what is to be done about the problems of society and its lumbering atomic set pieces, human beings, often rely upon assumptions who and what those people are. These assumptions are often put forth in an implicitly condescending and arrogant way. Statements along the lines of, "People are tribalistic and prone to fear and irrationality, so what can be done with them?" put the speaker and his or her audience at a remove from the common stupidity of mankind. Of course, they are tribalistic, but we are not.

For all that I have read, thought, or heard about how humans are this way or that, in my experiences, this has not often held. I have mostly known and interacted with under, lower and middle class people throughout my life of various races, creeds, religions, and nationalities. I have been friends with illegal immigrants, southern baptists, rednecks, racists, mysoginists, hill billies, and drug addicts as well as comfortably middle class people. In my direct experience, the labels affixed to them and the cultural stereotypes rarely tell me much about the people. (Which is to say that in many cases, they reformed, as my racist father, or expressed doubts in unguarded moments about the roles in which they were expected to and did play.)

Much of what we understand about how humans are, as individuals and in groups, is misguided. It has been distorted and manipulated throughout history by elites, who also get to write history, to better serve the interests of maintaining and promoting a hierarchy of status and wealth, which also necessitates that someone be oppressed, and someone other than the people at the top of the hierarchy do the oppressing. The assumptions about human nature are very subject to questioning. Objective truths about human nature is often the combination of cognitive bias and time; what we call history. And it is against this history of cognitive bias that we validate our biases of today. It hasn't always been any way, it has just seemed like it has always been some way for a long time. It is a truism that history is written by its victors, and it is also obvious to anyone who follows history in the making that the perspectives of the powerful warp and distort the understanding of our current world, but we rarely follow these two observations to its logical conclusion; we reject the official story but not the underlying assumptions of the larger history and the narrative framework that informs our common sense understanding of how things are. We can see through this or that lie with some study and insight, but struggle reject or question every last truism within the lie because we often run into things we just 'know' must be true.* As the Nazi propagandists knew, a lie, no matter how outrageous, only has to told often enough to become truth.

* For some us, what we know to be true is that America is an egalitarian democracy that sometimes loses its way; it only needs reform and reactionary restoration to return to glory. For others they are questions about human nature. For still others it is an internalization of the hiearchy of value; the rich are rich because they are better. All of these are conclusion supported by the premises of historical understanding, as told and promoted exclusively by elites of societies that bother recording their history. History is the most sociopathic and narcissistic of mankind's collective diary.

In the passage above, Ethnic identity was in historic times, as now, a tool of manipulation by elites to shore up their power and to rationalize the oppression of outsiders. Elsewhere in the text, the author records the large amount of propaganda the ruling elites of ancient time had to use to maintain these fictions. And that seems to me to be just as true now as then. The Nazis had to spend a tremendous amount of energy demonizing the Jews, our government does its best to do the same of Arabs and non-Americans. I don't believe we are naturally given to tribalism, we are prone to manipulation and a desire to find a spot under the umbrella. Tribalism and factionalism is imposed using fear and propaganda from above by ruling elites as a way of maintaining and fueling their power, and it is accepted from below by the ruled for economic and personal security from the depredations of conflict The tribal identity is highly malleable, which is another way of saying it is meaningless and would mean next to nothing on its own.

The contours of  conflict are, in my view, not the causes of conflict; they are the evidence of what elites of various eras have used to sow dissent and manipulate people to fighting their battles. Once started, the contours of tribal conflict become feedback loops; once people accept the premise of division and conflict then they act upon them; division becomes cause and effect. Throughout history, formerly irreconcilable differences recede into the category of distinctions without a difference, and in times of turmoil, elites pull the most convenient of these distinctions out to draw power to themselves. The Nazis used homophobia and anti-semiticism. The Hutus and Tutsi lived together in harmony for centuries, and as African negroids, appear indistinguishable to those from cultures mired in racial tropes on skin tone. The Apartheid regime of South Africa very consciously created a complex system of racial categorizations with a mind toward keeping the populace divided, as is the case in India. These are not natural divisions, or differences in type that people gravitate for. In the ancient past, conflicts supposedly over religion followed a similar pattern of chaos; at times Christians and Muslims fought, other times they were fine. Within religions, at various points sects could coexist or fight with a savage fury. Today, in Iraq, many Iraqis have said that the so-called sectarian division of Sunnis and Shiites is intentionally manipulated by power brokers. Over time, not a single blood drenched difference among humans has remained an irreconcilable difference over time.

Why a boutique revolution?

The boutique is a nod toward the privilege and comfort upon which people like me enjoy as an aspect of the largesse of this same system. And yes, I am aware that self-awareness is not absolution. The boutique is a place of privilege and vanity for ideological discussion and dreaming, and right down the street from the salon, with a bar and a coffeehouse separating the two. This is not all self-flagellation and irony though, it is my belief that a significant impediment to our progress is not found solely in the material constraints of our world, but within the dominant social memes and constructs of human consciousness. For as long as we believe that humans need to be coerced, that we naturally seek ever and greater personal wealth and glory at the expense of others, until we begin understanding that naturally may not be natural at all, but a learned and taught behavior and mental understanding, until we have a revolution of the mind, we will have a very self-limited range of options available to us. (My other ongoing online book project, Big Dada, speaks to this.)

Throughout history, social movements in hierarchical societies have had an interesting dynamic. The action comes from below, first from those suffering the most of a hierarchy's power flows; the underclass. They are the weakest and most desperate members of society, so their protests are often weak and desperate acts as seen from above. At the next level in the hierarchy you have more educated and better off members of the middle who struggle on behalf of the underclass and themselves; solidarity movements like church members going to Latin America in the 1980s are an example of this playing out in the present. It also includes the dynamics of the Civil Rights movement. The middle class people have different talents and resources to lend to the struggle owing to their better education and priveledge. Often this translates into physical skills, like doctors or engineers lending their talents to the poor. At the top are men and women who are trained to have the skills of the ruling class; they are good at writing, organizing and politics. Their talents are used to give expression to the injustice felt at the bottom of the society. At the very top of the structure are political and military leaders who are only rarely moved by moral considerations to act on behalf of injustice, and far more often forced to act by the growing unrest below them. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considered about the closest America has had to a President concerned with the underclass, once famously told protestors lobbying him for curbing the influence of money in politics, "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." Social change takes place at every level of society, and depending on your perspective and identification, you are likely to accredit one source or the other. The underclass's numbers and physical presence, the middle class to the same effect, the upper class as people of ideas and eloquence, and the ruling elites as reformers and benevolent masters.

This project is the culmination of my evolving political consciousness that has grown from passive, vague liberalism, to mainstream party politics, to dissidence, and has could best be described as anarchism. I tend to shy away from labels, not to pretend to have some independant vision or clarity that rises above ideology, but because I believe that subscribing or investing one's personal identity explicitly in an ideological framework leads to sloganeering and blindness in defense of identity. I don't believe anarchy is a blueprint or master plan for human society, it is in our modern context most meaningful as a direction rather than position. It is an attitude of skepticism toward power and authority and a demand for authority to always justify its structure and existence. An ideological framework, no matter how complex, is a tool to understand the world. It is a symbolic tool, meaning that it is an abstraction of the real world and a model, which is, by definition, reductive and therefore limited. There will always be shortcomings of any model or tool, just as there are strengths. This is important to keep in mind, anarchist theory might be a powerful way of understanding and approaching our current global concentrations of wealth and power in the corporate and political structures of our time, but it is not an absolute tool.

Anarchist theory and politics are often prone to boutiquery, or the intellectualization of the problems facing our species. Discussions often get lost in the wilderness of theory and cant of the ideas and words of the men and women of different eras, never to return to real world applications of our present moment. The danger of falling in love with ideas that are disconnected from their applications in reality is that if they are ever implemented, then what was ignored on the way in is just as easily ignored on the way out. The 20th century is littered with horrors of unimaginable scale owing to the implementation of ideas disconnected from reality and its consequences; the killing fields of Pol Pot, Soviet communism, Democratic capitalism, the west promoting democracy and 'stability' with the barrel of a gun, Zionism, the atrocities of the Nazis, the atom bomb, and so on down the line.

If dissidents of the current order decide to propose an alternative ideology of their own, it is incumbent upon them to relate it to the real world, warts and all. This is my attempt to contribute to this discussion. Fellow humans are not brutes, nor are they stupid, they are not excess waste or units of production. They are my equals, from the president on down to the pauper, no more, no less. I strive for this to be my only bedrock assumption and conceit.