Monday, May 16, 2011
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Manifesto of the Porkmole Liberation Front
A transmission from the southwest:
photo by Lory Pollina
M a n i f e s t o o f t h e P o r k m o l e L i b e r a t i o n F r o n t
We the Members of the Porkmole Liberation Front (PMLF) hereby demand the release of the porkmole that has hijacked the bodies and minds of people everywhere, seduced by consumer credit culture and the un-ending search for mass-marketed meaning, pre-packaged for your convenience in vacuum sealed container.
Until now, the Porkmole – the blind swine of excessive consumption, social apathy and corporate subordination has remained nameless, incognito, its very existence lurking just under the cultural radar. Though denied by many held captive by its illusion, a group of porkmole-loathing realists and surrealists has united to form the Porkmole Liberation Front (PMLF), a movement dedicated to exposing this farcical force and driving the porkmole from our lives and our society.
Those who have narrowly escaped the porkmole’s tubby talons tell a tale of hypnotic horror. The porkmole enters the lives of its victims by burrowing itself in the darkest nether-regions of the ego, where entitlement mutates into expectation for instant access and easy living. From here it spreads through the minds and bodies of its hosts, squealing its insatiable desires for the new and improved, no money down, life-changing cure du jour of all the needs you never knew you had - guaranteed to please your porkmole. Knowing no limits, it devours its host’s natural drive to search for personal, self-tailored meaning. Left unchecked the porkmole learns to speak through its victims, snorting out hollow excuses and thin rationalizations to buy more crap, take the path of least resistance, disengage from the social discourse - slowly transforming its hosts into blind consumers, slothful slugs, Napoleonic hermits and fear mongers.
In time, the masses, whose minds and bodies have been manipulated by the meddlings of the porkmole, are conditioned to turn their backs on civic-mindfulness, retreating down the hole of limitless consumerism, isolated forms of transportation, isolated living environments, isolating forms of personal entertainment, blatant expressions of excessive wastefulness, and the belief that satisfaction and happiness can be purchased off the shelf and charged to the all-mighty credit card. By promising happiness through limitless consumption and the lazy-boy lifestyle, the porkmole has hypnotized our culture into believing the illusion that community is merely a nice idea, a nostalgic memory, indeed a product of a foregone era. As a result, the notion of society itself has been replaced with a spectacle: a stage on which individuals play the roles of consumerist cogs, squandering our lives in the eternal gerbil wheel of self-aggrandizing consumption, wallowing in the muck of our material possessions. Many in our culture see the spectacle for what it is, but nonetheless choose to pander to the porkmole’s paradigm, rather than expose it to the mirror of its own falsehood. Others have become so dependent on the porkmole’s promises that what they desire has become eclipsed by their wanton wantings. Are we to choose willing dependence on this manufactured spectacle, or pledge our allegiance to one nation under Porkmole? We choose to believe NEITHER!
The PMLF is not an organization but a movement dedicated to movement – to using one’s own energy and physical abilities to living a mobile life while thumbing our noses at conspicuous consumption of all types. We believe that the porkmole must be exorcised from its hosts through exercise – by engaging in natural means of getting around including walking, jogging, hiking, moseying, sauntering, staggering, drifting, ambling, and cycling. We believe that getting people out of their porkmolbiles and on their feet is the only way of taking back the public realm, taking back life-enriching time, minimizing our ecological footprint on this planet, fostering meaningful interactions within our society, and ultimately expelling the porkmole mentality from each one of us and from our society.
The PMLF advocates true cost economics as the only solution to the destitution – to break the chains that bind and confine – keeping us all sheepishly in line. We work to subvert the grid of oppression and the resultant depression that affects us all. We resolve to reverse this diffused pattern of a divided and divisive built environment that has lead us into sprawlacaost. We will not tolerate the porkmole’s prevalence for personal privacy over public good but turn instead to living the communal life. We make our statement through our presence in and on our built environment. We turn the specter back on the culture for it to reflect on itself and ask the question “how are we to live with each other?”
Our fellow porkmole avengers are all of those committed to living these beliefs, creating a presence on our streets, sidewalks and trails and away from the gross outlets of consumerism. You may not be aware of our presence, but we are all around you – walking your cities and towns, pedaling on your roads and through your parking areas, watching you from the tops of the hills that surround you, eliminating our own inner porkmoles, spreading the word that we will not give in to the porkmole’s squeals of slothfulness and empty consumerism. We believe this culture needs to get off its collective ass and that individuals need to take ownership and responsibility for their actions and impacts on society and on this fragile planet. Cars and consumption will not rule our lives. We will liberate this culture from the fallacious forces of the porkmole one step, one turn of the pedal at a time. Get out of your car! Walk away from big boxes! Join the front to liberate the porkmole from our lives and our culture! Resist the porkmole lest it consume YOU!
- The PMLF
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Today's New America
Tijuana market stall
Today the United States Senate passed the bill creating the law retroactively legalizing Bush Administration war crimes and authorizing the president to violate the Geneva Convention's ban on treating prisoners in cruel, degrading ways. The bill gives the president the power to define who is an "enemy combatant" and allows him to try them in unfair trials or detain them indefinitely with no recourse to anybody. The United States House of Representatives passed the bill yesterday and the president will sign the bill into law probably tomoro.
Up to now, the president had unilaterally been placing himself above the law, and therefore the Constitution. Now Congress approves. Apparently, the Republicans in Congress like this bill now because they can use it as some political bashing point in the upcoming elections. Bush needed this now because if the Democrats take over either part of Congress, he probably couldn't get the votes to immunize himself and his people from liability for war crimes. Seriously, if Bush and his administration had not violated the US war crimes act between Sept. 11, 2001 and now, why did he insist on amnesty for himself and his administration for that period? Obviously, the only reasonable answer is that, under the law as it existed until tomoro, they committed war crimes, the kind of war crimes that can bring the death penalty under US law. But guess what? IT'S OKAY! The Congress said so – Bush gets a free pass for past behavior and a pretty open window to keep doing more or less the same thing – treating people they deem "enemy combatants" in cruel and degrading ways and keeping those people from any possible challenge to their imprisonment. And guess what? NOW HE CAN DO IT TO AMERICANS!
There is some (diminishing) hope the Supreme Court will disallow all this in the next coupe of years, but with a Republican-stacked Court, probably not.
The question is now not will Bush Inc take this country into authoritarian territory, the question is can we turn it back. There should be no optimistic fatalism about this – without active resistance and pushback, those with power will seek to increase and totalize it as long as they are able – like the infinitely moving forward traveler in Zeno's paradox.
I am increasingly afraid relying on Democratic politicians and the mass-mediated public culture to propel or even facilitate the pushback/resistance is a fool's game.
So, a preliminary question: do we try to get America back, or do we move on, creating new kinds of society that don't rely on or tolerate the kind of centralized power associated with nation states?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Torrey Pines, San Diego, Alta California.
There are finally glimpses of light -- most spectacularly the federal court decision today finding BushInc's domestic spying to be unconstitutional and, for all intents and purposes, a breaking of the law, an actual crime.
Hopefully the bits of light we are beginning to see are opening up the way out of these dark days in America.
But it is conceivable that the people who are threatened by the light will go to extreme measures to keep their power, which requires keeping things dark.
At this point, the glimmers of light are just glimmers. It is very possible there are struggles ahead, the big, social upheaval kind of struggles none of us alive right now have ever lived through before.
These are scary/exciting times.
Vigiliance is required.
Capitulation is moral death because of what capitulation gives in to: a hypermondern (the word can really no longer be avoided) fascism, a corporate consumer culture authoritarian society where a secretive centralized power fights an unending war against enemies over there and right here at home, bureaucratically managing the domestic population by doling out just enough bits of soulless, materialist 'good life' to manufacture consent through the corporate media screens that dominate our public culture and effectively hypnotize segments of the population.
For those of us who are Americans in the more profound historical-cultural sense, the political-philosophical descendents of Thomases Paine and Jefferson, who believe that a good society depends on the intellectual and everyday freedom of the people from a powerful centralized government that seeks to manage and control the democratic public in the interest of a small ruling class, we may have to face that haunting specter at the edge of democratic government, the fundamental principle that ideally remains poetic and theoretical: Liberty or Death.
Friday, August 11, 2006
The BIG BUSH LIE of '06
Right wing lies need to be confronted.
Right wing liars say people who are against the war in Iraq are weak on terrorism.
This is a lie, which is to say it is an assertion that cannot stand when scrutinized against reality.
The war in Iraq is not the same thing as the fight against terrorism.
The war in Iraq is a war of aggression trumped-up by fear-inducing distortions asserting we faced a serious, imminent threat from "weapons of mass destruction." (This is just indisputable.)
The fight against terrorism, as thoughtful, non-militarists see it, is the project of eliminating terrorist attacks in the short term by finding out about plots in advance and stopping them, and in the long term by defusing the kinds of views that lead people to conduct terrorist attacks.
Reiteration: It is a ludicrous, reality-denying LIE to say or imply Democrats or "liberals" or self-identified progressives are against stopping terrorism.
Opposing the way Bush purports to stop terrorism does not mean one is against stopping terrorism. To say or imply otherwise is a LIE.
There are different strategies for trying to stop terrorism. It just so happens that Bush-Cheney-GOP strategy is terrible. Bush's strategy is to start overseas wars and turn America into a police state where the central government is secretive, all-powerful, and above the law. Those who oppose Bush's strategy want to stop terrorism at least as much as Bush does, but we prefer to do it in ways that do not result in an endless war and an authoritarian society. To say or imply opposing Bush's strategy for stopping terrorism is being pro-terrorist or helpful to terrorists, as the right-siders incessantly do, is a despicable LIE whose only purpose can be to bully people into accepting the Bush-Cheney-GOP's terrible policy. [Serious question: what kind of government must rule through bullying and lies, seeking acquiescence to a secretive central government with unlimited and unchallengeable power and immunity from the law? These are truly dark days. I think this is indisputable.]
Contrary to the Bush-Cheney-GOP distortion of reality, we of the left side seek to stop terrorism without giving up basic moral-political principles based on our Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment history. Thus we are confident that competent, well-supported government officials can find out about terrorist plots and stop them without breaking the law and violating the Constitution; that they can do so without torturing people and using secret prisons; and without starting aggressive, destructive wars to impose our will on others. To repeat: we left-siders believe terrorism can be stopped without giving up basic Western moral principles and without breaking international and domestic law. It is in this way we oppose the Bush-Cheney-GOP strategy to stop terrorism – it is immoral and unlawful. As long as Bush-Cheney-GOP responds to the threat of terrorism by abandoning moral principle and acting outside the law, the terrorists are winning, we are destroying America from the inside. (Note to right-side apologists regarding the burden of proof: you're the ones who crossed this line, you have to justify it; you have to prove the need to act outside our laws and general moral principles (torture is immoral) to stop terrorism. If you can't meet this burden of proof and still assert the need to act immorally to stop terrorism, you have failed our society and you need to let people willing to try to do it within our law and morality have a chance.)
Democrats and liberals and progressives want to stop terrorism as much or more than the Bush-Cheney-GOP does (the latter sure have benefitted politically from terrorism, haven't they?), we just want to do it in a good, smart way. Rejecting Bush's immoral, authoritarian strategy of stopping terrorism in favor of more considered, lawful, long-term strategies does not mean one is weak on terrorism. To say or imply otherwise is a lie.
There may in fact be some tiny percentage of right wing and/or left wing radical revolutionaries who are happy about terrorist attacks, happy to have social chaos, although as a person who pays a lot of attention to news, I haven't heard about them. It's true I haven't gone digging to find it, but that's the point. If such views do exist they are the views of tiny fringes. The Republican assertion that that view characterizes the Democratic Party or "liberals" or self-identified progressives is a lie. The Republican need to make people believe that lie is the "news" that would blow open the whole Bush-Cheney-GOP misrule of America. They can't run on facts; they can't legitimately rule based on reality, so they rule illegitimately by distorting reality with lies. That's the news!
Republican lies are an important part of the problems undermining democracy and keeping our country on Bush's dim-witted, ultimately self-destructive course of "shoot first, ask questions never." An ultimately inseparable part of these problems is the tendency of the major news media to report Republican lies uncritically, without any kind of reality-based scrutiny that would in many cases reveal the Republicans are lying. A lot has been written about this issue, of course, and I wish I had time to read all those analyses. My sense is that the media problem is rooted in the decades-long hounding of the media by the right asserting that any reality-based scrutiny of rightwing positions is "liberal bias." Unfortunately, as a whole, the media did not respond to this challenge as serious journalists would, by assiduously subjecting every party's assertions, including this right-side media smear, to even more rigorous reality-based scrutiny. Serious journalists would in that way force the rightwingers to stop lying or explicitly deny reality. The journalists we have generally capitulated to the distortions, or at least the ability to distort without scrutiny. To avoid being smeared as biased, big media journalists will now generally report what the right-siders say without the larger contexts of reality and history. The general acceptance by the media of the "liberal bias" smear is probably due in part to the big corporate consolidation of the media and the related conversion of news into profit-aiming infotainment and ideological-identity politics, and probably in part to the desire of media professionals as a class to be "insiders," close to the people in power. Whatever the cause, we now have a mainstream media unwilling or unable to scrutinize the assertions of the powerful against reality; lies by those with power are generally not questioned, certainly not in a persistent, focused way that would squarely raise the issue of our governance by lies. Because of the mainstream media's privileged place in the public/political sphere, its capitulation to GOP distortions has the effect of disengaging politics and public discourse from reality and engendering a Foucauldian nightmare in which the powerful rule by semantic fiat – what they say is is; what they say isn't isn't. And anyone who disagrees is weak on terror!
That is the big Bush lie of '06. It is practically inevitable that the Bush-Cheney-GOP empire of lies will come crashing down eventually. The big questions (or some of them) are how fast it will happen, whether the well-intentioned can keep the collapse of the rightists from dragging the country into chaos, and whether the institution we call the mainstream media will have a place in our reconstructed polity or will go down along with the evil empire it facilitated.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Today the United States is on the brink of disintegration
I tend to think of myself as generally reasonable, not alarmist, and not prone to hyperbole.
And I think if, as the government likes us to believe, the goal of the terrorists is to undermine the United States of America, the terrorists might have won.
This was the founding idea of the Untied States of America:
When the government stops securing our basic rights, it cannot derive just power from the consent of the governed, and the political bands connecting the state are dissolved. At that point, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (Declaration of Independence.)
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is not ambiguous. It describes a clear boundary or relationship between the individual citizen and the government, establishing the basic right that the government will not come intruding into your life, your things, your property, without a good, lawful reason.
As everyone knows, the first ten amendments (changes, additions) were added to get more voters to approve of the Constitution – the original document had nothing about individual rights and freedoms and a lot of people were not willing to go along with what was basically a system of government that did not recognize or guarantee basic individual rights. So to secure popular consent, ten add-ons were made, laying out the basic relations between the individual and the government.
The various ideas of what rights individuals should have were developed in the context of the particular historical period – the advancement of enlightenment modernity, with its republican/democracy political ideas, past its ancestor, feudal-mercantile monarchy. This is why people at the time felt the need for the specific right not to have house soldiers in peacetime – that's what the king did, and they didn't want that or a king. And they didn't want a king or king-like government that could establish one religion as official or shut down the press and suppress political speech. They wanted guns to protect themselves against external and internal tyrants. They wanted due process of law – regularized procedures including jury trials. And they wanted to make sure the government could not seize or search them without a good, lawful reason. In some ways, this last is the most basic right. The six described in the First and Second Amendments are about what you can go out and do in the public/political sphere. The Fourth is about what the government CANNOT do to you – it cannot invade your home, seize your property, or arrest you without a good, lawful reason:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation,
and particularly describing the places to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
That's it. That's the basic right as defined by the Fourth Amendment.
The second part can use a bit of interpretation:
searching and/or seizing must be reasonable; reasonableness is ensured by obtaining a warrant from a judicial official; a valid warrant must be based on a sworn statement that lays out "probable cause," a good reason, based on stated facts and law, to arrest a person and/or search and seize hir property; and if the warrant is to search for something, it must be specific about what is to be looked for and where.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment to say police and other officials of government can arrest, search, and seize without a warrant in a variety of circumstances that the Court found to not be "unreasonable." In other words, if the search and arrest is of one of these particular types (*see next para.*), it is not an unreasonable search and seizure and is therefore okay under the Constitution.
Circumstances where searches and seizures can be reasonable without getting a warrant include: the arrest of a person based on a reasonable belief a crime has been or is being committed and that person X is doing it; emergency circumstances where immediate action appears reasonably necessary; and detaining people acting suspiciously and patting them down for weapons. Note, though, that probable cause (a reasonable, fact-based belief a crime has occurred and person X is involved) is still required for a warrantless search and seizure. But in these special circumstances, the official on the scene (typically the police) gets to make the call on probable cause, rather than a judge. Basically, the exceptions state that the government does not need to get a warrant to search and seize if events are unfolding too quickly to get a warrant, but there is a legitimate reason to search or seize someone or something right away. Otherwise, the Constitution requires, as a basic right of citizenship and limitation of governmental power over our lives, that arrests, searches, and seizures be conducted only after getting a lawful warrant.
Here, finally, is my point.
If, as many people believe and the government has only vaguely denied, the government is "data mining" or "keyword searching" large numbers of emails, if our government is routinely tracking who we talk to, when, and for how long, then our government is routinely violating our basic rights and has in effect broken the social contract defining the Untied States of America. (And yet, in the midst of this Constitutional/national-existential crisis, the establishment upper middle class and the media/public sphere they dominate are calm, riding tranquilly on the surface of the dark sea of corporate accumulation.)
Under any reasonable interpretation, when the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures of "persons, houses, papers, and effects," it is protecting things like phone calls and email messages. The "papers and effects" of 1789 were letters, communications, and documents – personal, financial, commercial, whatever. We have more kinds of "papers and effects" now – email is surely one of them – and therefore the government cannot lawfully search our email, under the Constitution, without either getting a warrant based on probable cause, or coming upon exigent circumstances requiring immediate actions and a reasonable belief the sender has or is committing a crime and searching the email will turn up evidence of this crime. Under this simple analysis, "data mining" or keyword searching our email violates the Constitution. Only the better-paid apologists for authoritarianism would try to argue keyword searching is not "searching." IT IS; keyword searching is searching. And if they are keyword searching massive amounts of email, they are "searching" massive amounts of email. And unless they get a warrant based on probable cause, or have specific reasons to believe that the searched emails contain evidence of a crime that needs to be seized immediately, they are violating our basic constitutional right to be free of government intrusion without a good reason.
The case asserting that the government compiling records of phone calls (their existence, not their content) is an unlawful search and seizure is less obvious, but ultimately reasonable: if the government is surveilling and compiling information on a person, it is in effect searching that person.
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the verb "search" as, among other things,
— to look into or over carefully or thoroughly in an effort to find or discover something . . .
— to examine in seeking something;
— to look through or explore by inspecting possible places of concealment or investigating suspicious circumstances; . . .
— CHECK; especially to examine a public record or register for information about
— to examine for articles concealed on the person
— to look at as if to discover or penetrate intention or nature
— to uncover, find, or come to know by inquiry or scrutiny.
On these definitions, it is reasonable for us to interpret our Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures to preclude the government tracking our phone calls "in an effort to find or discover something." If the government is tracking our phone calls, it is reasonable for us as citizens to assert that they are violating our basic Constitutional rights to be free of unreasonable government intrusion, and are therefore threatening to undo the bonds of rights and responsibilities tying us together into a nation.
Thus, at this point,
WE ARE IN A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS.
The president asserts the nowhere-in-the-Constitution right to ignore the Constitution he is elected and sworn to uphold,
and the Congress and Courts and "free press" that are supposed to ensure we don't revert to a monarchical dictatorship of absolute power won't even acknowledge there is a crisis!
I hope it's not the case, but it's becoming plausible to believe that as long as the expansion of the economy ensures the rich get richer, the establishment class doesn't care about basic democratic rights and is willing to go along with the authoritarian drift of our government. And as long as they control the media/public sphere, the crisis will be covered up by whitewashed news and flashy diversions. But that does not mean the rest of us have to accept this.
I guess we're supposed to hope yet again that Democrats will get elected and save our republic from the predatory corporate-executive power that is Bush Inc.
Maybe it'll happen. I HOPE it happens...
But I think we need to begin formulating alternative approaches to this crisis, approaches off the map of consensus perception, strategies developed by citizens taking democratic action to ensure any government we are to be governed by is just. All indications, both plain and those obscured by secrecy, are that the current government we are subject to is not just. The crisis is now. America is on the brink.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Trekking thru light to the future
Monday, May 22, 2006
A map of a sociogeological formation
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Monday, May 08, 2006
DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMICS – A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
democracy: government by and for the people
economics: the systematic distribution of resources
Imagine a big, gymnasium-size room with 100 people in it.
Imagine there is $1000 the 100 people can divide up among themselves
in any way that at least 51 of the people agree upon.
For instance, they might decide to give all 100 people $10 each,
or to give 50 people 15 and 50 people 5,
or any distribution at all that at least 51 of them approve.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Suppose someone suggests the 100 people divide up the $1000
in the same proportions as wealth is distributed in the United States
(based on figures in the Federal Reserve Bank's 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances).
That distribution would work approximately like this:
Get 10 of the 100 people and have them sit together in one part of the room.
These 10 people will get 700 of the $1000.
Before moving to the next group, get 1 of the first 10 people to stand apart of the other 9 –
out of their total of $700, this 1 person will get $330.
Now get another group of 10.
They will share $130.
Now, form a group of 20 – they'll share $110.
Another group of 20 will share $40.
And finally, the remaining 40 people will get to share $3.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
So here's how it ends up:
# of people .......$ each gets
1 .........................$ 330.00
9 ............................$ 41.10
10 ..........................$ 13.00
20 ..........................$ 5.50
20 ..........................$ 2.00
40 ..........................$ 0.075 (seven and a half cents)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE KEY QUESTION:
Would 51 of the people in the room agree to this distribution?
It doesn't seem likely, does it? (Would even 25?)
for discussion and debate:
This distribution of wealth could not exist in a democracy.
The United States, where this distribution of wealth does in fact exist, is not a democracy.
The United States is at best some form of virtual democracy
(virtual meaning "existing in the abstract but not in fact").
My unfortunate conclusion:
There is a name for our form of government, but it's not democracy.
government by and for the wealthy.
Is this the society we want?
notes and caveats:
* Figures are approximations based on Table 2 in Edward N. Wolff, Changes in Household Wealth in the 1980s and 1990s in the U.S. (Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No. 407 (May 2004))
[located at: http://www.levy.org/default.asp?view=publications_view&pubID=fca3a440ee]
And note that these numbers are from 2001, before the tax cuts favoring wealth, which will make the skewing toward the top even more dramatic.
* Of course, I don't pretend to have answers to the serious social questions implied by this experiment. Answers will necessarily be the products of social, rather than individual, understanding and action. This experiment is not intended to imply resources should be distributed equally to every household without regard to other factors, including skill, effort, etc. But it does imply the point that resources (wealth) are social products, products of the way we organize ourselves as a society, and of the individual (and 'corporate') roles and positions comprised by that society -- resources do not magically appear from individuals disengaged from social processes. And there appears to be no good reason to exclude key decisions as to how we should organize our production and distribution of resources from democratic control. Further, for me, the experiment implies that if we really governed ourselves democratically, we most likely would create a significantly less stratified and less plutocratic form of sociopolitical organization. Assuming most people agree that a less stratified/plutocratic society would be desirable, it remains the case that any overcoming of the reigning plutocratic organization will not be easy, probably coming only through a long-term project of social understanding and action. The idea behind the thought experiment is not to suggest solutions, but to contribute to the early stages of a necessary understanding, to identify a serious but somehow hidden problem that needs to be confronted by people of good will who believe in democracy.
* Use of the figure 51% to make an agreement in the experiment does not reflect my belief that key social decisions should be determined by simple majority. When consensus is not possible, I like the idea of 67%.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Tribute to the Haymarket martyrs
Haymarket Memorial, DesPlaines Street, Chicago
May 4 marks the 120th anniversary of the Chicago's Haymarket "riot," a police-provoked disturbance at a workers rally for which four innocent men were hung. Two of these four did nothing more than express unpopular political views in public, the other two had no demonstrated connection to provoking the riot leading to the deaths 7 police officers and at least 3 civilians (probably more). Two of the Haymarket martyrs, Albert Parsons and August Spies, were particularly admirable leaders of the Chicago labor/anarchist movement in the 1870s and 1880s that had as its first priority an 8-hour workday (over 30 years before national implementation of the limited work day with overtime requiring heightened compensation), and as its long range vision a society in which members of "self-governing communities and workplaces would determine their own rights and responsibilities democratically, without the domination of a powerful national state with its judges and laws, its police forces and armies." (J. Green, DEATH IN THE MAYMARKET p. 129.)
The event known as the Haymarket riot occurred at a May 4 workers rally, called by local anarchist union leaders in the midst of a series of industry-wide strikes for the 8-hour day and better wages. The featured speaker was Albert Parsons, a confederate officer as a teenager who became a defender of former slaves in Reconstruction Texas before being driven north to Chicago by the retrenching racist elite who could tolerate neither his pro-black political stances nor his marriage to the mixed race Lucy Parsons. In Chicago, Parsons was confronted by the evils of capital's extremist domination and suppression of working people and quickly became a leader of the idealistic movement to organize workers to demand better hours, wages, and, ultimately, a more humanely organized society. For this, Albert Parsons was made a martyr to American evil and became a model of American righteousness.
The day before the Haymarket rally, company thugs had provoked violence among striking workers at the giant McCormick Reaper Works and police then gunned down several strikers. The May 4 rally was called in part to refute bogus police allegations that the workers, and particularly German-language anarchist newspaper publisher August Spies, had provoked the violence. Spies spoke at the Haymarket rally and urged calm in the face of police confrontation. The crowd that night grew as large as 3000. The mayor of Chicago watched the rally for a while from the back of his horse, and then went to a nearby police station where police Inspector Bonfield had amassed a force of officers to counter any violence at the rally. Mayor Harrison told Bonfield that the rally was breaking up and that there was no need to worry about any violence. By this time, as it had started to rain, several of the speakers and organizers, including Parsons (with his wife and two young children), had walked to a tavern a block to the north where they were having a beer and talking about the day's events. Shortly after the mayor rode off toward home, a police agent erroneously told Bonfield that the last speaker, Samuel Fielden, was urging violent action. The trigger happy Inspector ordered the massed force into formation and down the street to the Haymarket, where they came to face the remaining few hundred workers. A police captain called for the rally to disperse peacefully. The speaker Fielden said they were being peaceful. The captain repeated his order to disperse. Fielden said "All right, we will go," and moved to climb down from the speaker's wagon. At that point, someone (probably a lone anarchist worker, but possibly a police agent provocateur) threw a small bomb into the mass of police officers, many of whom immediately began shooting the handguns they had recently begun carrying. Eventually, seven police officers died, one or two from the bomb blast, the rest from bullets fired by other police. (No non-police witnesses saw any of the workers with guns.) The establishment and the "respectable" middle class was of course outraged and terrified; the Haymarket became a symbol of the tenuous control the Establishment classes had over the workers who were suddenly susceptible to utopian visions of a radically different society. This, the establishment could not stand; someone had to pay the price to erase the power of the symbol and the potential power of the democratic majority of worker-citizens.
Despite the acknowledged lack of evidence any of the four martyrs threw the bomb or were involved in any planning for violence or had any advance knowledge of the bomb, they were convicted of conspiracy. The case against Spies and Parsons was basically that they had publicly said the time was coming when striking workers would use force to protect themselves against the increasingly violent attacks by police forces and company hired thugs. Spies and others had romanticized dynamite as a great social leveler, potentially enabling workers to contend with the violence of the bosses and their public and private armies. But there was no substantial evidence Spies ever possessed dynamite or encouraged others to use it. He and Parsons engaged in idealistic, prophetic rhetoric about what would happen if the bosses continued to violently suppress workers organizing and striking to gain better working conditions and wages. For talking about dynamite as a way to resist police suppression, Parsons and Spies were sentenced to die by hanging. Partially in response to an international uproar of the unfairness of the convictions and sentences, the governor indicated he was willing to commute their death sentences to life in prison. But the rules of commutation required the prisoners acknowledge some guilt and plead for mercy and neither Parsons nor Spies was willing to do that. On November 11, 1887, Parsons and Spies were executed, killed, hung from the neck by officials of the State of Illinois.
As a tribute to the memory of the martyrdom of the Chicago anarchists, I post the following passage from the book where I learned all this stuff, DEATH IN THE HAYMARKET (Pantheon 2006) by labor historian James Green. (Typed by me; any typos are not in the original.) The point of posting this passage is not to 'nostalgize' about some past idyll that of course never existed, but to evoke the conceptual freedom from a time when workers could envision taking society in a different direction than the one being orchestrated by the big money capitalist overclass. This was the real reason the anarchists had to be killed off: they insisted there was a non-capitalist and better way to organize society, a better way to live life cooperatively, a way that would not enable or allow the kind of super stratified wealth and power a capitalist society requires.
Green writes that in the mid 19th century, white American and European craftsmen "expressed 'a defiant sense of egalitarianism' toward other men who acted as their superiors. Their code was based on a sense of self-worth gained through long apprenticeship and mature workmanship in an honorable trade. They believed their work was noble, even holy, and that they should be regarded romantically as 'knights of labor.' Thus, manly workers refused to be put upon by their bosses or to accept any affront to their dignity. They also opposed efforts to pit themselves against one another. An honorable, respectable working man did not steal from his fellows or seek to undermine their customs and standards by rushing to please the boss or simply to make more money. . . . The habits that craftsmen cultivated were first expressed in the early benevolent societies based on the principle of mutual aid and then in the first craft unions their members called 'brotherhoods.' These 'rituals of mutuality' fused readily with the practices of democratic citizenship that evolved during the nineteenth century among white mechanics and workingmen who came to see themselves as the backbone of the republic.
"Being a skilled tradesman, a competent craftsman and an intelligent citizen required, above all, enlightenment through self-edification. Many craftsmen took pride in the breadth and depth of their reading, and appreciated what they learned from each other on the job. Cigar rollers sometimes asked a literate among them to read a book or newspaper aloud to them while they worked. . . .
"Manufacturers exerted little control over the cigar makers, who worked by the piece, and some producers complained that many of their men would come into the shop in the morning, roll a few stogies and then go to a beer saloon and play cards for a few hours, willfully cutting they day's production and voluntarily limiting their own earnings. These irregular work habits appeared in other trades as well, for instance, among German brewers, who clung to their Old World privilege of drinking free beer while they worked in the breweries. Coopers would appear at work on Saturday morning, like all wage earners did in those years, and then, in some places, they would pool their pay and buy a 'Goose Egg,' a half barrel of beer. 'Little groups of jolly fellows would often sit around upturned barrels playing poker . . .,' wrote a historian of cooperage, 'until they received their pay and the 'Goose Egg' was dry.' After a night out on Saturday and an afternoon of drinking on Sunday, the coopers were not in the best condition to settle down to a regular day's work. They would spend a 'blue Monday' sharpening tools, bringing in supplies and discussing the news of the day.
"Into this world, with its honored traditions, its irregular work habits and its rituals of mutuality came the machine. It rattled on relentlessly 'never tiring, never resting,' . . . dragging the worker along with it. And behind the machine stood a man, an owner or a foreman, who regarded the craftsmen's stubborn old habits and craft union rules as nothing more than ancient customs, relics of medieval times in a modern world governed by the need for industrial efficiency and the unforgiving laws of political economy." (DEATH IN THE HAYMARKET pp. 107-109.)
"I am doomed by you to suffer an ignominious death because I am an outspoken enemy of coercion, of privilege, or force, of authority. Think you, the people are blind, are asleep, are indifferent? You deceive yourselves. I tell you as a man of the people, and I speak for them, that you every word and act are recorded. You are being weighed in the balance. The people are conscious of your power – your stolen power. I, as a working man, stand here and to your face, in your stronghold of oppression, denounce your crimes against humanity. It is for this I die, but my death will not have been in vain." – Albert Parsons at his sentencing hearing, October 9, 1886.
We can pay appropriate tribute to Parsons, Spies, and the other worker-visionaries of the nineteenth century by keeping alive an American moral imagination – a vision and eventually practice of a more humane, cooperative society driven not by the imperatives of wealth and social stratification, but by the quest for good, meaningful lives for all.
Let nine thousand flowers bloom.
! FLIMA ! – frente por la liberacion de la imaginacion moral Americana
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Hidden spaces of light
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
What 50,000 people in San Diego taught me
On April 9 I was in San Diego and stumbled onto the March for Dignity, Hope, and Respect (and against the bogus immigration "reform" being debated in Washington). It was truly inspiring to see tens of thousands of people, mostly Latino/Hispanic, of all ages and clearly from all walks of life marching in support of freedom and dignity and against the rightist attempts to bolster the criminalization of the lowest-paid, lowest standard of living people WORKING in our society.
I came away from the rally on Pacific Highway with two insights:
1) I have spent the last few days trying to engage in rational discourse with Bushistas in some of the comments sections on the newest "Blog of the Year" (name withheld). While there were a few commenters who could engage arguments in fairly rational ways, most, as I'm sure would surprise no one, were reminiscent of smart ass and very unfunny high school debaters. They don't engage in arguments, they just make ad hominem attacks and then congratulate themselves on what for them passes for "intelligence" (i.e., smart ass comments, the kind of "intelligence" displayed by their Dear Leader, the naked wannabe emperor who thinks he's dressed up as a cowboy). This effort of mine was not based on masochism; when I think about it in a certain way, I am really disconcerted by the left/right divide manifesting itself on the internet and the mass media at this point in history, and I was sincerely trying to reach out to see if there was any chance left for rational interchange. (I admit I did sink to insulting rejoinders on a few occasions [it's so fun!].)
But having attended this rally and seen thousands of mostly Latino/Hispanic people of all ages and all walks of life marching and chanting and waving flags and celebrating America and freedom made me realize there is no need to reach out to the rightists - they are history, soon to be drowned by the impending sea change in our society. I am not sure how our society will change in the coming years, but I am confident the rightists will have not have much say it in. Sure, they will go down fighting, but they will go down. And sure, the establishment-corporate media will continue to pretend like the rightists are relevant, but they won't be. The rest of us will be moving on, out of this national nightmare and - working together - into a better society that places the well-being of people over the priorities of profit-seeking.
So the march brought me back to my senses - let the rightwing sink like the lead weight black ball of hatred that it is. The rest of us will continue to build the boat to a better future.
2) That being said, the danger is not past by any means. I have long been interested in / traumatized by the similarities between the Bush regime and the fascisti of Mussolini's Italy. The current attack on Latino immigrants closes the fascist loop - undocumented workers, along with gay people, are the American right's Jews and Gypsies - the other to be attacked and feared and demonized in order to wield control over an angry, cowering populace. Happily, Americans are seemingly beginning to shed their Republican and corporate-orchestrated doltification despite the "patriotic" efforts of our still-doltified mass media. (The people in the mass media and the others in their establishment elite segment of society will, of course, be the last ones to come to their senses.)
The point is, hyperbole aside, fascism is here now in America: we are governed by a super-secret centralized power effectuating the interests of plutocratic capital and controlling the population through lies, emotion, and fear, rather than reason (as well as, when necessary, executive-engineered police action).
So this is the other thing I learned today at the San Diego march: It's now or never in America - libertad o muerte.
Viva la libertad! Viva la justicia! Viva America! Viva la gente!
Oh, and if we want to deal with the "illegal immigration problem," it is clear what we need to do. The issue is supply and demand – there are jobs here needing to be filled and there are people there who need jobs. So the "solution" is to cut off the supply. A reasonable way to do that is to legalize the people who are already here working and then start jailing employers who hire new arrivals. If new arrivals can't get jobs they won't come. We should also use tax policy to penalize American corporations that take wealth out of Latin America. One could legitimately argue that migrants are following the wealth of their countries across the border. Contrary to the idea of free trade advocated by Adam Smith, the current corporate capitalist version of free trade allows capital to be free, but labor is not. Labor necessarily follows capital, but in our perverted system the laborers thereby become illegal. How could anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus support the anti-immigrant positions advocated by our national leaders? America is in a very dark place; I for one am willing to follow the illegal immigrants and their supporters to a better future.