Adam Smith on taxes, inequality of riches, regulating banks

adam smith on taxes“The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ….[As Henry Home (Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] ‘remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.'” — Adam Smith

“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from those rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.” — Adam Smith

“The Tyranny of Structurelessness”

 

Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

The Occupy Movement can take some pages from earlier movement struggles for civil rights and social justice.

“If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found.”

Read the rest:

THE TYRANNY of STRUCTURELESSNESS
by Jo Freeman aka Joreen

Jo Freeman (Wikipedia)

Varieties of Consensus

English: Flowchart of consensus based decision...

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Alternate title: Hacking Consensus]

Did consensus kill Occupy or are reports of its death greatly exaggerated–or both?

First of all, words like Occupy, consensus, capitalism, socialism, democracy, anarchy, liberal, conservative, and green all have one very important thing in common: each is, by itself, absurdly ambiguous. Each has a wide range of definitions, variations, and parts…some of which conflict with or totally contradict each other. Depending on the intended definition(s) (often absent or poorly specified) each term can represent a desirable set of ideals or a set of dreaded evils, or a mix of both.

For example, early capitalism was relatively democratic compared with the aristocratic manorial and feudal systems it emerged from. Many serfs and tenants evolved into self-employed freeholders. Eventually, however, that decentralized and egalitarian form of capitalism tended to morph into its own opposite: a system of concentrated  monopoly capitalism.  US capitalism returned, full circle, from its egalitarian, anti-feudal roots to a new iteration of top-down rule by a small, rich elite–in effect, neo-feudalism. So early capitalism was revolutionary while modern capitalism became mainly counter-revolutionary, both under the same banner, after numerous reversals of bias in the interim. Other minor but potentially competing or co-evolving variants include green, natural, ecological, and p2p capitalism.

Similar arcs, trend reversals, and full-circles can be found in the histories of  socialism, democracy, anarchy and most other “brands” of political and economic ideology and their many variants and hybrids.

Even within a single culture and a narrow historical period, simple one-word labels like capitalism and socialism, liberal and conservative, etc., conceal important variations and overlaps. Over time a brand like “Made In Japan” can go from signifying “inferior crap” to being associated with high-quality, high-tech gear. The fallacy of brand bias, whether for products or ideas, is partly a matter of intellectual fads and out-dated assumptions, and partly a matter of over-generalization.

As we are re-discovering today, largely thanks to the Occupy movement, effective political democracy and  economic democracy are mutually interdependent. Changes in economic bias, either democratic or anti-democratic (distributed or concentrated, egalitarian or authoritarian, etc.), sometimes precede corresponding  political shifts. Political trends may follow more “organic” grassroots economic trends. In other cases the chicken comes before the egg and economic trends follow political reforms. But in almost every case, it seems clear that political or economic extremes of any kind can lead to backlash: collapsing bubbles, revolutions, counter-revolutions, etc.

An interesting catalog of intellectual fads and over-generalizations related to common ideological brands is presented in Dave Pollard’s review of The Democracy Project  (a new book by David Graeber, prominent analyst of the Occupy movement and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years). Pollard not only summarizes some of the key issues in Graeber’s  book; he adds important social, economic and political insights of his own including a “sketch of the ‘camps’ of political and philosophical movements of the 21st century; elaborated on here.”

Pollards New Political Map

Source: Dave Pollard, how to save the world

Intelligence vs Ideology

Both Graeber and Pollard point towards consensus decision-making, rather than obsolescent ideologies, as a basic common denominator of civic intelligence.

In Creating a World Citizen Parliament (published in Interactions, the magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)), Douglas Schuler writes:

Building civic intelligence. The seventh, final, and probably most daunting challenge is building civic intelligence [22]. The goal of this project is to help make individuals, and especially groups, actually smarter in relation to our shared problems. This is the conjecture that motivates this project: We won’t successfully address our problems if we don’t increase our civic intelligence.

Civic intelligence is the ability of people working together to address shared problems. It’s a type of community capacity or collective intelligence focused on shared goals: the capability of addressing civic ends through civic means. Although this idea has been explored by countless authors (including, somewhat prominently, John Dewey), it has not historically been the orientating idea it needs to be.

–Douglas Schuler

Comparative Consensus

Many people insist that consensus is an all-or-nothing proposition, which is what distinguishes it from majority rule. This is the ideal or “pure” form of consensus. But if consensus is seen as relative (a matter of degree), rather than Boolean (true or false, all or nothing), then in some form, and and in some degree, it is common to any collective problem-solving or decision-making model. It is the basic currency of civic intelligence.

But many of the arguments for and against consensus just seem to beg the question: what is it? What forms can it take? What are its internal moving parts? The topic of consensus, like democracy, anarchy, capitalism, etc., covers both an abstract general notion (with varied definitions) and an evolving set of in vivo and in situ practices that are application-specific and context-dependent.

Like many movements before it, OWS bumped up against various practical limits of “pure” consensus. But Occupy’s process of innovation and work-arounds (hacking consensus) is ongoing. So reports of Occupy’s death are greatly exaggerated. In fact it has a growing number of definitions, variations, and moving parts. Its increasing diversity and complexity outpace the ability of activists, journalists, and scholars to connect all the dots.

The challenges of hacking consensus models might include:

  • inefficiencies of scale (numbers of people involved) and scope (number and complexity of issues)
  • resource constraints (physical space, infrastructure, time requirements, process proficiency levels, information distribution)
  • disruption by minorities
  • inequalities of access, influence, etc.
  • manufactured consent

I have a few opinions about consensus based on personal experiences but I’m not an expert on the subject. So I would love to see a broad comparative analysis of variations, case studies, and academic research on social/civic organizing and decision-making models that have, as a common theme, a significant bias towards consensus; but which also try to address the practical limits or failures of consensus. Can anyone suggest one or two of the best available resources on this topic?

Innovations in consensus processing

Automation might be one approach to minimizing some of the problems with consensus process. For example, a consensus status metric (the relative degree of consensus at a given point in time) might be generated from data mining using sources of “Big Data”  including opinion and preference data from social networks, consumer purchasing data, polling and petition data, referendum results, public comment data, etc.  Instead of starting from scratch with a blank slate on any topic (degree of consensus = zero or unknown), efforts at creating consensus on a given topic or set of topics might begin from a data-derived point of reference–a de facto initial consensus status benchmark. This might save a lot of the time and energy associated with seeking consensus, especially in the early stages of consensus processing.

Another example of automation might be a “human microphone (mic check)”  app for mobile phones. If lots of people in a general assembly could “conference” their mobile phones together in “speaker phone” mode, this might be a way of creating a mobile public address system on the fly.

Mobile and remote meeting apps might also address many other infrastructure and consensus-processing issues faced by online and in-person assemblies, committees, etc. For example, an “artificial intelligence immune system” for consensus-toxic behavior patterns might be able to minimize disruptions by minorities, reduce inequalities of access or influence, or produce antibodies against manufactured consent.

Innovation can have unintended negative consequences but Trial and Error is the Hinge of Evolution; and the perfect is the arch nemesis of  both the  individual and the Common Welfare even in the sometimes highfalutin’ world of consensus.

Poor Richard

LP: You favor consensus democracy with collective deliberation and equal participation. How can that operate at a large scale? What’s wrong with majority voting with rights?

DG: Majority voting tends to encourage maximizing the differences between people, rather than encouraging compromise, creative synthesis, seeking common ground, which is what consensus is designed to do. Majority voting also invariably needs some sort of coercive mechanisms of enforcement. Don’t get me wrong, nobody’s talking about absolute consensus, like they used to do, where just one person can block everything and there’s nothing you can do about it. Consensus is just a way to change proposals around until you get something the maximum number agree on, rather than our system, say, where practically 48-49 percent of voters each time always ends up crushed and defeated. And yes, when you get up to a larger scale, you can’t just rely on assemblies or spokescouncils. It does make sense to decentralize as much as possible. Consensus only works if you don’t have to ask for it unless you really have to. But as for scaling up: there are any number of possibilities.

One I’ve been studying up on of late is sortition. Through much of Western history, it never occurred to anyone that elections had anything to do with democracy — they were considered aristocratic. The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery. Give people basic tests for sanity and competence and then let anyone who wants to throw in their name have an equal shot. I mean, how can we do much worse than a lot of the people we have now? Sortition would be more like jury duty, except non-compulsory. But there are all sorts of other possibilities.

LP: Is democracy possible in America? If so, what might it look like?

DG: It’s possible anywhere. But it would take enormous changes in our economic and political assumptions. Myself, I’m less interested in mapping out a constitution for a truly democratic society than creating the institutions by which people can collectively decide for themselves what it might look like. The one resource in the world that’s absolutely not scarce at all is smart, creative, people with ideas we’d never have thought of. Solutions are out there. The problem is 99 percent of those people spend most of their lives being told to shut up.

We have a bailout by the people, for the

We have a bailout by the people, for the people, coming up November 15th called the Rolling Jubilee. This is a project of the OWS affinity group Strike Debt where we buy debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, we abolish it.  The banks got bailed out. We got sold out. The 1% won’t sponsor a #PeoplesBailout. But we are the bailout we’ve been waiting for. Join us.

Rolling Jubilee logo image

We cannot buy specific individuals’ debt – instead, we help liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal. The Jubilee begins November 15
 with a variety show and telethon in NYC.
 All proceeds will go directly to buying people’s debt and cancelling it.

The banks got bailed out. We got sold out. The 1% won’t sponsor a #PeoplesBailout. But we are the bailout we’ve been waiting for. Join us.

Sign up, donate, more info…

P2P

Photo copyright Ian McCalister

What is peer-to-peer (P2P)  culture?

P2P culture is a post-capitalist socioeconomic framework which includes but transcends capitalism. It encompasses many varieties of open and closed, public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, hierarchical and egalitarian associations (and hybrids of these).

I call P2P a “post-capitalist framework” because many of us are quite happy to abandon capitalism’s euphemisms and reductio ad absurdum altogether. However, other 99%-ers still consider it a major factor in lifting millions from poverty. They would rather reform and adapt it to humanitarian and ecological ends than to abandon it for something novel. I think it is entirely possible to craft forms of capitalism which “do no harm”, and I think there is ample room in the p2p community for such “diversity of tactics.”

Early P2P theory drew from experience gained in creating distributed computer networks and distributed organizations that developed open source computer software. These distributed systems of computers and programmers emphasized the role of individual peers–network nodes or people of roughly similar capability–which coordinated or negotiated their activity among themselves with little or no central authority or control. From those information system origins the application of P2P principles expanded to include many other kinds of distributed teams, organizations and activities.

P2P principles emphasize cooperation, openness, fairness, transparency, information symmetry, sustainability, subsidiarity, accountability, quality, and innovation motivated by a variety of human needs and values negotiated among peers.

IMO P2P principles and relations can operate in almost any economic or political theater if two specific rules are respected. P2P Capitalism, P2P Marxism, P2P Anarchy, or P2P whatever, must make every effort to respect:

  1. the moral and legal equity of every peer
  2. the fully informed consent of every peer

The relative degree to which these fundamental principles are followed is the relative degree of P2P-correctness, regardless of any other characteristics of a P2P model.

However, the simplicity of these two rules is deceptive because they have many corollaries and implications. And they don’t solve the problem of competing or conflicting rights and interests among peers–we must still have some form of contract, due process, conflict resolution, etc. for that.

In an ideology-agnostic nutshell, you might say the P2P framework is about cooperative individualism (this is precisely how Michel Bauwens describes peerism in “The Political Economy of Peer Production“).

Along with Thomas Jefferson, “I have sworn … eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Peers are interdependent but retain a self-identity, dignity, and an intellectual and moral agency. Any system which diminishes that diminishes itself.

A P2P peer is a self-directed individual, voluntarily consenting to various cooperative social contracts or arrangements. Whether cooperation is one to one, one to many, many to one, or many to many, all cooperators are peers. If they are not peers, the enterprise probably should not be called cooperation. Instead it would be some variety of coercion, manipulation, or exploitation.

A person’s success at being a peer and engaging with others as peers may depend largely on how well they absorb the ideas of intersubjectivity and enlightened self-interest.

individual -v- group

individual -v- group (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The mixture of individuality (selfishness) and sociality (cooperation) in each person reflects the multilevel interaction of individual and group selection in evolution. This often carries a level of social conflict and cognitive dissonance that each peer and peer group must grapple with.

Be sure to check out our Facebook P2P GroupMichel Bauwens’ Facebook page, and the Foundation for P2P Alternatives website for many more P2P related topics.

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2.0 posts:

The 99% Solution

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sign of the Four opens with an alarming scene:

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.”

A little later in the story Holmes states, 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution.  Would you care to try it?”

Limitation of classical social movements

Classical social movements have often been limited by tunnel vision, cooptationastroturfing, diversion, attrition, intimidation, repression, legal injunction, corruption, constraints of philanthropy, etc. Meanwhile, today, the 1% (the looter elite), are attacking the 99% on every side,  capturing every institution of society, and privatizing every resource on the planet.

“America is in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on the brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. But like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos.” (Xander Drax, The Phantom)

What cultural transformation has lacked is an organic form, an embodiment tailored to chaos: a stigmergic swarm, or a slime-mold for example.

“When food is abundant a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply, slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body.” (Wikipedia)

A Slime mold growing on a beer can

A Slime mold growing on a beer can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 99% Solution

  • The 99% Solution is not a “mob”. It is a self-organizing organism, a “complex adaptive system“.
  • The 99% Solution is an emergent cultural slime mold that can engulf countless separate islands of class, political identity, and single-issue activism.
  • The 99% Solution has the potential to initiate and sustain a fundamental cultural phase transition.
  • The 99% Solution can assimilate (but does not require) leaders, agendas, advisers, critics, and philanthropists. It only requires active participants.

“You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

(Star Trek)

Poor Richard

  • The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.

Videos

Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

– – – –

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(Amazon.com)

– – – –

Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.

Interviews

My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

 

Violence, anyone?

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:16)

Corporate-controlled media, including the PBS News Hour, has made much of the “violence” committed by persons supposedly associated with the Occupy and 99% movements. PBS joined practically every commercial media outlet in linking the alleged May 1 Ohio bridge bombing attempt to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) via an absurdly sketchy association between OWS and “anarchy“.

Entrapping Occupy?

Apparently this intimidated Occupy Cleavland to abandon their May 1 rally. They made this statement:

OccupyClevelandLogo-White-Full

OccupyClevelandLogo-White-Full (Photo credit: crazy-jake)

May 1, 2012 – Cleveland – While the persons arrested Monday evening by the FBI have participated in Occupy Cleveland events, they were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland. Occupy Cleveland has affirmed the principles of non-violence since its inception on October 6, 2011.

Occupy Cleveland has spoken out and worked against violence in all its forms, including:

  • Wars and occupations
  • Economic violence of financial inequality, unemployment, debt, and foreclosure
  • Social violence of racism, sexism and homophobia
  • Environmental violence of global warming and fracking

 Occupy Cleveland believes the only way to respond to a violent federal and corporate state is through active non-violence.

Main$tream media routinely downplay the size and peacefulness of OWS turnouts and their many non-violence declarations and instead they highlight vandalism and try to tar whole protest movements with the actions of a few.  And some are quick to label vandalism as terrorism. The issues of justice and proportionality, and the distinctions between violence against property and violence against persons, usually get lost if not intentionally discarded. Though I’m strongly committed to non-violence, I’m not a pacifist and I tend to side with Occupiers who maintain a high tolerance for “diversity of tactics”. However, should high tolerance be UNLIMITED tolerance for all the flies, infiltrators, provocateurs, self-serving spokespeople, etc. attracted to the movement?

An Occupy blogger writes:

I was having a conversation with someone about what MLK and Malcolm X might have talked about… If MLK might have understood Malcolm’s approach . . . even if he could not publicly admit it. When posed the question, “Did Malcolm ‘help’ the civil rights struggle?” . . . the quick retort was, “Not near as much as Bull Connor.”

I think OWS, the 1%, and the security forces each want the other side to be violent enough to make their opponents look bad. The corporate security state also wants OWS to be both violent and non-violent (and they secretly promote both sides within OWS) so as to increase the division inside OWS. IMO neither the corporate state nor the bankers and other  plutocons are at all afraid of OWS violence. They welcome it so they can appear to be justified when they unleash their wildly disproportionate violence on the 99%. To an extent we also welcome the excessive police violence because it helps us recruit sympathy and support.

And let’s be perfectly clear–the OWS news I am most compulsively attracted to is news of vandalism, violence, etc. The human brain is wired this way and both the for-profit infotainment industry and the independent activist media exploit this in every way possible.

How non-violent can we be?

99% Solidatity.net bus ride agreement:

“As you prepare to Occupy and join the 99% Movement in Chicago for the People’s Summit and other actions and activities beginning on May 18, 2012 , please open yourself to the needs of others. Consider how your actions affect those around you who are also struggling for a new world.

I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

I will Remember that nonviolence seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory. We must overcome our desires to control and conquer, as this will only replicate the oppression we oppose.

I will Take care of myself and one another, Stay positive, practice self-care, and acknowledge the good work of those around me.

Safety + Solidarity = Success

By participating in the bus trips that are being provided to and from Chicago, I agree to participate in the People’s Summit March and Rally on May 18, 2012. I further agree that if I violate any part of this action agreement, I will not be allowed on the bus from that point forward or be provided with any other support for the remainder of the action and trip.”

I like the sentiment of this bus ride agreement and would not hesitate to assent to it in full good faith. However, it goes without saying that I reserve the right to act according to my conscience and best judgement from moment to moment, accepting responsibility for my actions, no matter what I have affirmed or promised in the past. That is the highest form of honor. We cannot eradicate complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity from real life. We all use rules and promises to help us live, but every moment that occurs has never happened before. Rules and commitments are good when they help us compensate for information we can’t get. They are bad when they encourage us to ignore new information as it arrives.

In some cases what passes for ethics can actually be a kind of corruption or irrationality. Instead of Primum non nocere (first, do no harm), we may sometimes need to settle for Vitare superfluum nocere (avoid unnecessary harm) to avoid falling into a Reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd).

[Primum non nocere], is one of the principal precepts of medical ethics that all medical students are taught in medical school and is a fundamental principle for emergency medical services around the world. Another way to state it is that “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.”(Wikipedia)

Disclamer: the views expressed in the following video do not represent me or PRA 2010.

I’m trying to be agnostic about the “black blocks” at this point, but this video raises a few questions. 1) Why characterize other groups (implying OWS?) as “just standing around with signs” ? That seems like a cheap (and false) shot. 2) Why step on the actions of other groups like OWS and union protests? 3) Are bb’s hostile to OWS? Is OWS a target of bb’s in some way?

State Violence, for and against

To some extent, the blame for state violence can be laid at everyone’s feet. We all ultimately foot the bill for it, we drive the demand for it with our consumerism, and most of us awkwardly tolerate or ignore it. The main reason I try to minimize my energy usage is that most fuel is paid for in part with violence. The way I think of it, every gallon of gasoline sold in the USA (and in many other places) contains a pint of blood and misery. A few drops of domestic blood, and whole lot of foreign blood.

In conflicts over resources, who are the attackers and who are the defenders? Who are the freedom-fighters and who the terrorists? As Fox News says, YOU decide.

LOWKEY – TERRORIST?

Solidarity Now: workers + cops + soldiers + anti-war activists + anarchists + poor + et alia  = 99%

The debates around war, Imperialism, reactions to Imperialism, and terrorism have been with us always and fill thousands of volumes. I include the topic here for perspective, because they go to the motives and the passions of those on all sides of the argument (and there are many sides). These issues can be sources of conflict within Occupy and the 99%, as well as between the 1% and the 99%.

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today–JFK

The “systematic use of violence and intimidation” is common to many states (including the US and the UK) and non-state actors, whether the target is a foreign enemy, a domestic  riot, or non-violent dissent.  But those who SIGN UP for conflicts might do it because of brainwashing, or thinking they are fighting for God and country, freedom, justice, good social order, etc.  Some people try to weigh the motives of combatants; others think that personal intentions or delusions are, once they sign up to kill, oppress, or exploit people for cash, religion, patriotism, or for just about any other motive, irrelevant. They are terrorists whether they wear bluejeans or a uniform.  By another definition a “terrorist” is anyone standing between the USA and “our” oil.

Scott Olsen
(credit: Jay Finneburgh / AP)

What about those who sign up for law enforcement or military service, not to oppress people for money,  but for honorable motives, including a desire to improve their institutions from within? I think there are far more service people than some peace activists or Occupiers may think who bring their consciences with them to work in many ways, including dissenting up the chain.

What about Bradley Manning and other military whistle-blowers? Did their military service make them terrorists or facists? Did their acts of conscience make them traitors? Or are they working class heroes?

What about Scott Olsen, the 24-year-old Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, then stood up for the Oakland and SF Occupiers and took some brain damage for it? Was he a terrorist, a military fascist, a traitor, or a hero?

What about 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, the US citizen killed by an unmanned US “Peace Drone?”

Terrorist or terror victim?

What about retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis,  arrested in full uniform at an Occupy Wall Street demo after branding fellow officers ‘obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant’?

Was he a terrorist, a traitor, a pig, or a hero of the 99%?

An Occupier comments:

“Personally, I am heartened by the participation of Veterans for Peace and Occupy Marines. But this national neurosis of “you are never allowed to criticize the military or question the virtue of soldiers” has got to stop.”

Many within the 99% take different sides on these questions. Like Fox News says, YOU decide. But consider this: some popular uprisings have succeeded only because large portions of the police or military forces sided with the people.

Occupy Violence

“I’m really frustrated that asking questions and wanting to discuss hypotheticals is construed by some as support for violent tactics. I have never seen a black bloc in action. I’m going on theory and hearsay. So far I refrain from condemnation because I have little information. I’m not going to call that support, and I can see both sides of the issue. But I am reasonably certain that a true commitment to strategic non-violence means having considered and understood the alternatives.” (an Occupy blogger)

Fair enough.

So is this violence?

credit: Citizen Kane (click image for source)

It is an act of vandalism of state property and an act of strong provocation towards the officer. Both may be acts of violence by some definitions. Is it justified?

Wikipedia says “Vandalism per se is sometimes considered one of the less serious common crimes, but it can become quite serious and distressing when committed extensively, violently or as an expression of hatred and intimidation.”

So vandalism is or isn’t ( more or less)  violent and/or intimidating by degrees depending on the circumstances.

By some definitions, something that creates intimidation and fear is violence. By that definition, the massive police presence in full riot gear at a gathering of unarmed protestors including seniors, children, etc. is itself an act of violence.

One Oakland Occupier said:

“I was a liberal reformist believing in the 99 meme until I went through the two destructions of the Oakland Commune and all the state repression brought to bear on us since, and, well, the 99 meme is over. Dead. Kerput. In fact we don’t even chant that anymore; we chant “We are the Proletariat!”

Trauma changes people on both sides of a conflict. It can bring people together in solidarity and it can break them up into factions, or both at the same time. Consider the Stanford prison experiment.

My thesis is that violence is a very complex issue that ALL of us oversimplify in various ways according to our biases and context. I consider mowing my own lawn an act of violence against nature, but I do it anyway because of a particular cost-benefit analysis.

We each must follow the laws of the land and the dictates of our consciences as best we can — or not — and live with the results. Hopefully when shit happens, when there is blow-back, when there is collateral damage to others, , etc., we learn from the consequences of our actions.

My dad was a career military man and I was a part of the 60’s counter-culture. That drove a deep wedge between us. That was all my doing, because I felt passionately that I had to stand up against US Imperialism. Looking back from the vantage point I have now, I know that he wasn’t an Imperialist. He was a brilliant, kind, sensitive, and funny man who made some difficult and brave choices and maybe some blind ones. He didn’t invent radar technologies and electronics countermeasures in order to harm others, but to protect us. How those technologies were used can be laid at all our feet.

It turns out my Dad was a decent guy that I never got to really know. That’s one reason I now embrace a 99% that is full of people I have disagreements with (including a lot of punks 🙂 ).  We shouldn’t  make the same mistake about our 99% brothers and sisters that I made with my Dad.

But one thing on which I differ with some proponents of vandalism and “revolutionary violence”  within the 99% is this: The 1% is not in any way afraid of nor intimidated by our violence. They welcome it. They want it. They deliberately encourage and provoke it. It works almost entirely in their favor and seldom gains us anything but negative press.

No doubt for some of the 99% it is a right of passage like “counting coup“. The analogy applies well because the 1% aren’t truly harmed. (Some property or pawns of the 1% might suffer some damage or intimidation, but the 1% themselves are never scathed.)

It may also be a bonding experience for groups like the black blocks. But at the same time it alienates others in the 99% (perhaps some of the “reformist liberal bourgeoisie”–i.e. anyone who disagrees with certain anarchists or Marxists 🙂 ) who are strangely more annoyed or embarrassed than impressed. . . .

This kind of violence (and far worse) is often used by a small resistance group against a superior opponent. But rebels and anarchists aren’t the only ones who try to “wag the dog“. Its a tactic favored by many fleas and underdogs. But the 99% is not a pack of fleas or underdogs. Acting together we are the Big Dog.

The tail wagging the dog is a concept used by an inferior side in asymmetrical conflict. The 99% includes many who see themselves as inferior in strength to the 1% and so act as inferiors and employ the tactics of asymmetrical conflict. That’s rational as far as it goes. On the other hand, the 99% is actually the biggest dog in the fight if it acts that way. In order to act that way it has to first think that way. As noted by Étienne de La Boétie (a 14th century anarchist) in Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, power has never originated from the inherent strength of tyrants. Great power may reside in the tyrant temporarily, but it has always derived, at its root, from the beliefs and behavior of the masses. If the masses (The Big Dog) awaken, they do not need to employ any asymmetrical, underdog methods.

credit: Wikileaks (Facebook)

A typical anarchist might say something like: “The specter of potential violence is the ONLY thing the oligarchy understands.”

Oh? The anarchist knows this how? I think the oligarchy also understands our franchise to vote, it understands non-violent civil disobedience (especially in large numbers), it understands an efficient competitor, it understands the power of the consumer purse, it understands a general strike, etc. Of all these things the “specter” of violence is probably the least of its worries. The biggest favor you could do the real oligarchs might be to blow up Wall Street or something big like that. The real oligarchs aren’t in NYC, and wouldn’t be touched. But thousands of dissenters-turned-“terrorists” would be in concentration camps within a month, and most of the 99% would have turned against them.

There is no final answer. There is no perfect solution. There is only practice.

Poor Richard

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matt 21:12)

click image for credits/source

Vandalism at the Boston Tea Party (Wikimedia)

Acknowledgement/disclaimer: I have included some publicly posted quotes, links and an image borrowed from Facebook friends without permission in the spirit of fair use. Opinions expressed herein or in linked-to blogs are those of the respective authors only.

ALEC envy

click for image credit

Lately I’ve been experiencing ALEC envy.

As we know, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shady organization that mass-produces canned legislation in service to the corporate neofeudalist agenda.

Friends, brothers, and sisters . . . I come not to bury ALEC but to praise it — not for its deeds, but for its design.

We often confuse the evil men do with the tools and logistics used. I don’t think many progressives yet see the potential for good and for actually promoting direct democracy hidden in the ALEC model because of how it has been abused. I think that’s why things like ALICE  (ALEC’s non-evil, progressive twin) aren’t getting more support.

When I look under the hood of the ALEC machine with a system analyst’s eye I see some things that I like. If the 1% plutocons had not invented the ALEC model, the 99% would need to do it. ALEC is to politics as genetic engineering is to old-fashioned selective breeding. It takes the process of creating legislation from being an art to being a science and technology. And as destructive as such political engineering can be in the wrong hands, its technical innovations are potentially a good thing for participatory democracy.

“ALEC’s astonishing influence exposes the progressive Achilles’ heel: a lack of a similarly entrenched, nationwide infrastructure of state and local policymakers and advocates that can create and support lasting change.” (Katrina vanden Heuval, Deepening the progressive bench, via The Democratic Startegist)

In politics, liberals are still bringing protest signs to what has become, in the era of ALEC and other authoritarian political innovations, a gun fight (sometimes literally). It’s hard not to envy the 1% such a big, swinging tool.

Of course the ALEC model, as implemented by the 1%, violates tax and lobbying laws. We need to bust them HARD on that. Common Cause is calling for a tax fraud investigation. Meanwhile, we need to copy, hack, and re-mix parts of the ALEC model into a new model that is a venue for creating public interest open source legislation.  The right-wing ALEC is run like a criminal conspiracy. A citizens’ Open Legislative Exchange Council (OLEC) can be run like a democratic cooperative. The old ALEC is sick in the original sense of the word but a new public-interest OLEC could be sick in a street way, yo?

Why bother? Many state legislatures still have part-time and/or unpaid lawmakers with small or shared staffs. This makes them very susceptible to lobbyists who will hand them ready-made bills on a platter (not that corporate-sponsored national legislators aren’t, too). And we still want to think that legislators should be regular people, 99% people, who need not be professional career politicians, insiders, or technocrats who are independently wealthy and technically capable of writing good legislation in their spare time.

Transparency vs Secrecy

What ALEC prefers to do with as much secrecy as possible, the 99% can do in full daylight. An open version of the ALEC model can give all stakeholders in the 99% community a fair place at the legislative drafting table and every stakeholder can have a  position on the people’s “open legislative assembly line”. Our legacy political institutions often failed to do that even before they were captured by 1%  money.

OWS and open-source legislation

Part of the Occupy Wall Street movement could undertake to re-engineer the ALEC model to be consistent with 99% values and methods such as crowd-sourcing and open source collaboration. I think such adaptations would actually increase the tactical power of the model. A green ALEC could research, engineer, and promote legislative projects that would implement much of the OWS 99% agenda through well-crafted, enlightened and responsible species of open-source legislation. Instead of being governed by and catering to profit-motivated corporations, Citizens’ OLECs would be  governed by and accountable to public interest groups and activists across the 99% spectrum.

Reddit community crowd-sources “Free Internet Act

“On January 18th, we saw a day of online protest that at least for now killed SOPA and Protect IP. The Reddit community was one of many that played a huge role in pressuring not only businesses like GoDaddy to change their stance, but also members of Congress like Paul Ryan. Now, the community has come up with a proposed plan to create a piece of legislation, called the Free Internet Act, Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian explains.”

e-democracy

The U.S. congress’s attempts at e-democracy have been a “baby step compared to what others have done around the world,” says Matt Lira, the digital communication director for Congressman Eric Cantor. For Lira, there are some key reasons why he’s had difficulty pressuring Congress to become more digitally savvy. He contends that the political party in power has little incentive to give up authority to an experimental process that may tip the balance of power. Congress’s two most significant e-initiatives have been launched by Republicans — America Speaking Out, an aggregation platform where users list and prioritize various social issues, and YouCut, an SMS-based voting system to select which programs a few Republican congressman will attempt to cut.  (mashable.com)

The Republicans may be slow to adopt e-democracy, but it seems they are way ahead of the 99%! Other countries, including Brazil, are ahead of us, too. We will need to elect more progressive legislators and get money out of the political process before we can make democracy much more participatory. But a tool like a citizens’ Open Legislative Exchange Council should be invaluable to a new class of 99% citizen-legislators and voters.

Poor Richard

Related:

Know the enemy and steal the advantage:

知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” (Sun_Tzu, The Art of War)

Addendum for techies What kind of technology platform do we need for open, crowd sourced legislation development? I hate to say it, but we probably need at least the same caliber of development tool-set used to build things like Linux or other huge software projects. It would be a highly integrated and graphical development environment with ungodly enterprise-class content management and project management capability. Last but not least you’d want a great semantic “legislation debugger”. After all, legislation is a hell of a lot like a giant  code repository. There would be a very large “legislation developer” community with different skill sets. It might take a half dozen different user interfaces for different classes of participants and different client devices (notebooks, tablets, smart phones, etc.) I think the shortest path might be integrating and customizing some of the open source enterprise-class applications out there like Eclipse and whatever the biggest CMS might be. Wikis have the scalability but not the ease of use necessary for all classes of users. It all has to run as web services so users only need a browser. I think we’re talking a chunk of change and a very good team to build something like that.  Any feedback would be nice.

Occupy Whatever: Mic Check + Reality Check

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making

Generic consensus process

A trade-mark phrase all across the Occupy Stuff universe is “Mic Check!”.

Shouting “Mic check” means “everybody in earshot listen up and repeat after me…”

Many items of an OWS/99% reform agenda have been hammered out in countless hours of consensus-based “General Assembly” meetings around the US and around the world. “Mic Check” is about as good a phrase as any to represent the entire, evolving OWS consensus process or practice.

This consensus process as a whole, including all its rules and variations, represents the idealistic side of OWS. It has produced many fine ideas for social, political, and economic reforms. But to balance this “mic check” consensus idealism, OWS needs a complementary, pragmatic process that we might call a “Reality Check”.

What should an OWS “reality check” process consist of?

The academic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is about using a modern systems science approach: empirical evidence, quantitative measurement, quality control, continuous self-correction, etc. From that perspective the “reality check” process is about how OWS studies and corrects itself– how the movement observes, measures, interprets, documents, and improves itself inch by inch, day by day.

On the other hand, a more intuitive or poetic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is all about ones instincts or “gut feelings”.

But gut feelings and scientific methods might seem at first glance to have little in common. How could both represent a coherent interpretation of “reality”?

They represent two different ways of empirically checking or verifying a particular interpretation of data.  The “gut feelings” approach (gut feelings about “truth” are sometimes referred to as a “bullshit meter”) is instinctive and fast, whereas the “scientific” approach is generally more formal, standardized, and tedious.

Although a gut feeling and a scientific measurement are both empirical, the former is more subjective and less rational, while the latter is both more objective and rational. We are equally “conscious” of  gut feelings and rational proofs, but we tend to feel more conscious of how we arrive at our scientific measurements and rational proofs–whereas we are often far less conscious of how we arrive at our gut feelings. Our gut feelings just arrive on the threshold of our awareness spontaneously. They are generated by various specialized parts of our brain that have evolved to rapidly respond to danger or opportunity. They do not depend on language or even on our conscious rules of logic or rational thought.

Each in its own way, both rational thought and gut feeling are subject to complex combinations of biases.

Because rational thought is represented in language, problems of language spill over into problems of thought. A given set of facts can often be woven into very different, sometimes diametrically opposed, narratives. Said another way, a given set of dots can often be connected in multiple ways that suggest different interpretations.

The biases involved in gut feelings are programmed into our nervous systems by eons of evolution and are not generally open to our casual self-examination. Science (as in evolutionary psychology) is gradually teasing out some of the common biases in our gut feelings, but what little is yet known is not yet known very widely.

Ultimately, rational analysis and gut feelings must serve as mutual cross-checks (reality checks) on one other.

But how does a reality check process relate to OWS specifically?

For example, there are numerous historical and cultural variations of the consensus process. The appropriate reality check has to do with making sure that the OWS version of consensus process actually works out well in practice. It means measuring actual facts or results (typically before and after activities, projects, or actions) and adjusting  actual practices over time and across local conditions. It means continuous observation, adjustment and improvement– that is, continuously revising theory, ideology, and methods to fit the facts on the ground, not the other way around. (Note: That does not in any way mean “the ends justify the means”. )

DDG_0615

Image by ArtistJ via Flickr

 

Reality Check: what does the latest phase of the “Arab Spring”, the “Arab Autumn”, especially the Egyptian “Second Revolution” against their military  establishment, mean for the OWS movement?

Gut feeling: don’t go home (leave the streets) before the revolution is really over. As soon as occupiers leave the streets the old rats start sneaking back into the halls and the seats of power.

Rational analysis: Moderate, mainstream, middle-class-leaning people are not really comfortable in the street for long. They aren’t all that comfortable with open social (class) conflict, much less civil disobedience. So the tendency may be for Occupy coalitions to weaken and unravel around effects of prolonged physical occupation and the status-quo backlash which may include police or military violence and other reprisals. The evidence seems to show that it is easier to mobilize an oppositional coalition against a corrupt and unjust status quo than to maintain a proactive coalition in support of a specific set of reforms or prescriptions.

Therefore, to maintain the broadest coalition for the longest time, OWS should limit the specific reform proposals to the lowest common denominators across 99% coalition communities.  Adopt narrower ideological agenda items only if and when those opposed to them have already left the coalition, not before.

I think we should reconsider and perhaps pare down the OWS reform agenda in this light.

In my opinion, the lowest possible common denominator for OWS is opposition to political corruption. No other specific reform of social or economic injustice is possible until the general level of corruption is drastically reduced. But getting money out of politics is fairly complicated and controversial in its own right, and that may already be a bigger reform bite than a 99% coalition can chew.

GOP, Tea Party (TP), and Libertarian Party (LP) objections to campaign financing reforms, election reforms, lobbying reforms, and ethics reforms center on conflating money and speech and on an excessive and indiscriminate objection to “regulations” of any kind on any thing. That extreme ideology is unrealistic and incompatible with a 99% coalition.

Its time to concentrate on populist narratives that  justify regulating political corruption as a lesser evil to rampant, unfettered corruption in and out of government. Every single law ever established, including each of the Ten Commandments, is a regulation. The GOP/TP/LP ideal of a tiny government and an unregulated free market economy is based on a premise that all market failures are caused by government regulation or interference. The reality is that unregulated markets also fail for a variety of reasons including information asymmetry (as in the principal-agent problem), game theory dilemmas, externalities, economic irrationality and behavioral idiosyncrasies; and they produce excessive concentrations of wealth and power in weak or failed states as well as in strongly regulated ones. The fact is that corruption, concentration, and abuse of power are problems that cross all public/private sector lines and all ideological lines. Limiting the corruption, concentration, and abuse of power to tolerable levels cannot be implemented simply by reducing the size of government. It requires a fair, balanced, and organic body of law, an impartial judiciary, and a strong but restrained arm of  enforcement.

Furthermore, the issue of systemic political and judicial corruption is one that fully justifies the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.

The question is not whether we should have laws/regulations or not (that was generally settled several thousand years ago despite the persistence of a cranky minority), but what those laws should be.

Ultimately I agree with FDR:  economic security is just as much a basic a requirement for liberty as is the security of our property and our persons.

But for the present, it will be a miracle if we can all just agree that:

it’s time to GET MONEY OUT of politics.

Period.

(www.getmoneyout.com)

Poor Richard

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