Monday, January 31, 2011

....and Seattle PD officer Steve Pomper chimes in on the city with "Just shut up and be a good little socialist"


From the Seattle Officer's Guilde newsletter "The Guardian". What is Pomper upset about? Seems that a survey done as part of Seattle's "Race and Social Justice Initiative" aimed at identifying institutional racism has got him upset, particularly the fact that the title includes the words "Social Justice". Why? Because as Glenn Beck says, "Social Justice" is really code for Socialism, and Seattle's initiative at trying to counteract some of the effects of racism, including making it that blacks and others aren't discriminated against when they get involved with or come in contact with the city is really a sinister plot to overthrow our freedoms, our traditional way of life, and individual responsibility. As a socialist, I think that's kind of funny. Only folks who either think that everyone is where they are in this country, white or black, solely because of individual responsibility and not also because of how society behaves to them, and people who have drunk the purple koolaid that Beck dishes out would really believe that that's the case.

It's fine to talk about racial tolerance, but when a city tries to get to the bottom of why exactly crime rates are different for different groups, as I understand the Race and Social Justice Initiative is doing, then there's a problem, at least if the answers show that racism is enforced by flawed institutions and not solely by individuals who are racist. Which is a little like saying that voting rights were a problem in the segregated south due to white supremacy but then saying that, oh, you know, can't do anything to actually try to make voting rights a reality.

Quoting Steve:

"The city, using its Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), continues its assault on traditional and constitutional American values such as self-reliance, equal justice and individual liberty. But more to our immediate concern, the city is inflicting its socialist policies directly on the Seattle Police Department."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Starting the Ur-Socialism project

Which is an attempt to describe what the essence of socialism is, or at least what some of the basic underlying themes are the run through social democracy, soviet socialism, non-soviet revolutionary socialism, and anarchism. I'm envisioning it as a kind of summary rather than a totally creative contribution on my part, and intend for it to be put out there in language completely free from jargon, completely free from sectarian rhetoric, and hopefully completely free from the cliched phrases that have dominated socialist writings in the U.S.

Because socialism has been repeatedly killed as an idea here, actual living understandings of what folks who have been part of socialist movements in the past have been for are somewhat hard to come by. However, in other parts of the world this sort of practical understanding lives on.

That understanding is largely what I'll be drawing on in the Ur-Socialism project.

State of the Union address: back to Clinton....and we're not in a Sputnik moment

There was so much in the State of the Union address last night that seemed eerily familiar. The declaration that we're in a new era of technology, which means we shouldn't invest in conventional jobs, the call for less government, and the notion of encouraging the economy by letting business do what it wants. It was all reminiscent of Bill Clinton and the Third Way centrism that dominated the '90s.

To take a few points, the idea that the U.S. government is like a household, particularly like a poor household, and that it can't take in more than it can spend, is a fiction that can be disproved in a second. The problems there are that households can't raise taxes, thereby raising their income, to finance themselves, and that unlike households experiencing pain right now the U.S. government can finance its deficits and its debt in a longer term timeframe, so that in bad times it can increase spending and in good times decrease it and pay off the debt itself. In fact, this flexibility is one of the key benefits of government in that it can do what is beyond the capability of households to do in order to be able to act in a way that helps the economy.

Similarly, the idea that we're in a "Sputnik moment" is flawed as well. The collapse of the economy didn't come bound with any particular advancements in technology on the horizon. In fact, I would say that it's our dependence on the old economy, things like cars, house wares, electronics, furniture, virtually every other consumer good, and the fact that the old economy is being manufactured elsewhere, that helped fuel the economic crisis. It can be argued that one of the reasons why credit and money from home loans was so attractive was because of the general downturn in the economy over a long period of time, that made advancement or even retention of status difficult. Pure greed and feeding at the trough was not necessarily the only story. Now, when we need jobs, where we can find them isn't really a hard question. We can find jobs, the jobs that actually create most of the goods we use, but they're located in the third world.

Renewable energy, while trendy and necessary, isn't going to save an economy that fundamentally can't make most of the products that it uses. Agricultural security is looked at as very important, it's realized that a country should be able to feed itself; industrial security should be looked at as just or even more important. Which doesn't mean that literally everything we use should be made here, but at this point we're not even trying to support ourselves in this way. Restricting what job growth should ideally take place, or is likely to take place, to exotic new fields like biotechnology overlooks the very large elephant in the room and in point of fact concedes almost all the field to other countries. Obama made some good points in his last State of the Union address about the need to create real jobs that had components that were high tech, that were helped along in very modern ways, but he overlooked the real jobs part of that this time.

And not making that connection is a seal of approval given to the practices of the business community, which has moved the jobs overseas because of the greater money to be made by using cheap labor. Bringing jobs back to the U.S. will cut into that easy profit margin. Biotechnology and clean energy products won't do that nearly as much because the infrastructure hasn't been created yet. Unlike factories manufacturing televisions in other countries, where duplicating their efforts in the United States would cost lots of money, new technologies that don't really exist yet only require a single investment. If that's the future, then the future belongs to the countries that are doing the actual work that we depend on, not to us.

Overall, the State of the Union was filled with nice sentiments about reconciliation, about moderation and about responsibility, that had almost nothing to do with the realities facing people in the United States right now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ad misericordiam arguments....Democracy Now! today

Listening to Democracy Now! today, I found that they lapsed into something they usually avoid: arguments not based on evidence and logic but on appeal to emotions. Specifically, in a generally very good piece about tort reform and about how the notion of frivolous lawsuits has been exploited by the right, they included this piece, about a couple whose son was born with cerebral palsy. The problem wasn't sympathizing with people who either have or are effected by cerebral palsy, or opening ones self up to the possibility that medical malpractice may have been involved. The problem was that, especially compared to some of the other stories covered in the show related to tort reform, their case appeared to me to be very weak and to be argued based on appeal to general outrage rather than to specific wrong done to them.

The woman was 9 months pregnant with twins. She noticed that there was less movement. She called her doctor who said that it probably wasn't anything. Then, the next day, she noticed that there still was less movement, so she called the doctor again, and was given an ultra-sound that resulted in an emergency c-section. One of her twins was born with cerebral palsy. Now, the way that they explained it didn't actually give any explanation as to why waiting a single day was wrong. In fact, not only was waiting one day wrong according to them but waiting an hour and a half in a waiting room was wrong, and was equally guilty. I suppose that not being able to instantly teleport themselves to the doctors office makes the doctor culpable for whatever harm occurred.

Instead of actual arguments about why the doctor doing this was wrong in doing so, the guilt of the doctor was assumed, and then in the remaining section, the idea that states can put limits on cash awards was challenged, and the insurance industry was invoked as well as capitalism in general, corporate greed, etc...

While corporate greed etc... may be issues, a person can't just come in off the street and put whatever they want forward, then list a lot of stock rhetoric, and expect to be proven right and given whatever they want. In court, and hopefully everywhere else, they have or should have to give actual reasons as to why they're right that involve actual evidence. Otherwise, there's no limit to basic selfishness and self interest running rampant, with folks looking at whatever system in place as being a sort of piggy bank that they can just take money out of by saying the right things. And being shocked, morally shocked and outraged, when people refuse to give it to them because they have no real reasons for doing so.

Reasons are important. The thing is that no matter how you feel about political issues the other side has a right to defend themselves, to present evidence for their innocence no matter what they're being accused of or who they are, or who the community or a section of the community thinks about who they are.

Democracy Now! is very good in that they usually don't make naked appeals to emotion. They have their viewpoint, but it's mostly based on solid journalism that backs up and supports that viewpoint. It's especially sad to see it when for example the case about the woman with third degree burns from McDonalds' coffee is a so much more compelling story of someone getting hurt and the media and ideologues distorting it for their own purposes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Resolution Calling to Amend the Constitution Banning Corporate Personhood Introduced in Vermont....not what you think

Here, on Alternet.

Actually, much of the rhetoric, as opposed to the substance, of the opposition to corporate personhood is really flawed. We all know, or, at least many people think, that corporations have more power than they should have. However, there's a basic problem in the whole "Corporations aren't people" argument, and it's this: legally, they're one entity. That's what incorporation means. This is far from being a novel idea, and is actually very functional. It's based on the notion that large business enterprises with lots of people are for legal purposes better dealt with as single entities as opposed to entities run by particular people who are each responsible legally for a definite area of their work.

This may shield people unnecessarily from the consequences of their actions, but in that case I think it would be better to have both sorts of identity running concurrently instead of one or the other, because not treating corporations as a single legal entity with fictitious personhood would be a nightmare.

The question, then, is if this thing is a fiction, what rights should it have and where should those rights come from? Corporations can engage in speech, they put out literature and by ads, for example. But is that speech equivalent to the speech of actual persons, as covered by the first amendment? Should legal ideas from the Bill of Rights be imported over to cover corporate behavior where there's some sort of resemblance? I don't think so. It would be better to evolve a different set of rules for what rights these entities do and don't have, and how they manifest.

Yet, for the most part, this is not what the folks talking about corporate personhood are advocating. Instead, they want to invoke corporate charter rights, and strip corporations of legal identity as a whole. If you read the second page of the article the link points to, the author waxes poetic about corporations' immortality, their ability to merge, the idea of people owned pieces of them, etc..., not seeming to realize that by whatever name you call these things 'corporation' or not, under the current system we have this stuff has to exist. Unless you're talking about doing away with companies existing indefinitely, buying each other, and being sold publicly, yes, there have to be legal fictions.

It's for this reason that the corporate personhood argument is likely never to get mainstream, or else when it does get somewhat mainstream to be viciously demolished by people who have a much better understanding of the issues involved....because they're the corporate lawyers who run the system.

Besides, what folks in a boutique state like Vermont do isn't going to make much difference. Not to throw mud on the state, but we're talking about a place where most of the original (non-indigenous) population has left looking for work elsewhere, and where it's been replaced by hippies moving into the abandoned towns from all over New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. The progressiveness of Vermont is only possible because its economy died and all the people who grew up there left.

I'm sure it's a nice place, but like many other nice places, it's probably quite a nice bubble to live in, and most of the world realizes that.

Russia, ethnic conflict...

I hope that this bomb doesn't signal an escalation to the anti-foreigner sentiment that's been growing there for the past months. "Foreigner" in this case means people who aren't ethnically Russian, but who live in the Russian Federation, or who are from countries that are part of the former Soviet Union, say the Central Asian ones.

There's been violence back and forth between football fans and folks from the Caucuses, with a Russian person being shot, Caucuses people being beat up....and always being harassed and beyond. Russia is fast on its way to becoming a sort of Red-Brown state in actuality, which is to say a fusion of some left derived ideas, mostly expressed in an opposition to bourgeois Westernism, with some sort of collective values included, combined with far right ideas such as ultra-nationalism and moderate theocracy derived from both conservative and Fascist thought.

Setting a bomb off at an airport is not the way to stop discrimination against ethnic minorities in Russia. It may satisfy a person's sense of honor, but it's pretty pointless.

Putin has been drifting farther to the right, it seems. Originally, he was honoring, at least on paper, a kind of multi-cultural "Eurasianism" that recognized the different nationalities in Russia as having a common cultural heritage through historical reasons. But even then he revoked the ability of the different Republics within the Russian Federation to pick their own governors, who are now appointed by the central Russian government. So officially, Russia is a multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious state (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Indigenous Beliefs), state. In practice, "Great Russian Nationalism" appears to be coming out on top.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cultural relativity examined from a Hegelian perspective

By which I mean a perspective based on Hegel's methods of analysis as outlined in the first two sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

In these sections, Hegel is trying to separate out what, when we look at the world, comes from within, from our own mental activity, and what really comes from without, from what it is that we're perceiving.

To demonstrate how this can apply to normal life, take the question of cultural relativity. In analyzing cultures, we in the West started out with a view that only Western culture had value. To this can be opposed the idea that no cultures, including those of the West, have value. Instead, we've come to a sort of halfway point, saying that to some extent all cultures have value. Yet I would argue that based on Hegel's viewpoint, even saying that all cultures have value is an error.

It's an error in that cultures, in and of themselves, simply exist. We can look at Western culture, the culture of the United States, and compare it with other cultures, like the culture of Japan, the culture of India, the culture of China, and we can point out similarities and differences, can look at the ethical and moral systems in place in all of them and point out similarities and differences, but anything going beyond that, into the realm of worth or value, is something created by human beings themselves and not inherent in the systems as they are.

The conclusion that if you look at various cultures there are similarities in certain kinds of ethical values, in that all cultures have ethical codes and those codes are in many cases not radically different from each other, is a scientific observation. Saying on the basis of that that therefore all cultural codes are valid and equal, and that all should be respected as such, is a moral position imposed by the human observer onto the material, where the argument for or against it is based on judgments coming from the human making the statement.

Notice that this cuts both ways. Saying that judging moral and ethical systems as all being valid and equal is something that goes beyond an analysis of the codes themselves also implies that judging no ethical and moral systems as being equal is equally unsupported by the codes themselves. Not only that, but picking favorites too is not supported by the codes themselves. They just are. What meaning we give to them comes from us, which doesn't mean that we shouldn't come up with value judgments.

Instead, it means that if we are to come up with value judgments we should view them from the point of view of being our own products, which are supported by logical reasoning that comes from elsewhere than from looking at the cultures themselves. That reasoning comes from ones own background, ones own moral and ethical beliefs, ones own view of the world. It is these separate arguments that are imposed on an analysis of culture when one declares not only that all cultures have certain similarities and differences but that all have equal value, with the idea that all should be respected being a derivative argument from the first one.

What this means practically is that it would be better to separate the observer from the topics being observed, and instead of just saying that all cultures have similar features, therefore all cultures have value, to instead say that all cultures have similar features, therefore in looking at them in comparison to our own we should not rush to judgment in condemning them simply because on the surface of it they may appear to be radically different and have radically different values than our own. That, is something that we can talk about, that disassociates talk about cultural relativity from concepts such as general 'value', which is really a false term standing in for statements like the one above.

When we talk about cultural relativity a lot of what's being talked about is how the West has responded to other cultures in the past, whether that was moral and immoral, and how the West and Westerners should respond to other cultures in the present, based on an analysis of that past experience. It's a discussion of imperialism and of colonialism, of how folks from Europe colonized the Americas and how they thought about and treated the Native Americans that they encountered. It's a discussion of the British and French empires, how they engineered colonial domination of other countries, and of how they thought of themselves in relation to these other cultures, what they thought about these other cultures in general. Yet although this material is most often talked about in relation to cultural relativity, the idea that simply viewing all cultures as being equally valid is a way to escape the consequences drawn from those experiences is not supported. There's no guarantee that a general sort of valuation where all cultures have equal value will prevent colonialism from happening again, or from exploitation from occurring.

If we really want to prevent what happened in the past, again based on human judgments that what happened in the past is wrong, from happening again in the future, I would say that we need to discuss the roots of the issues head on, the roots of power and exploitation. Simply talking about viewing cultures as embodying "The Other", for instance, does little good in the end because "The Other" is an abstract concept that we as human beings have created in order to try to explain why greed, exploitation, and intolerance occur. It's a convenient fiction, something that we've imposed over a diversity of information in order to try to make sense of it. Indeed "The Other" is a concept so vague that it barely registers as existing.

The problem isn't whether cultures are relative or absolute, or whether if relative they all have some sort of value that should be respected, the problem is how to treat other cultures, cultures that have some intersections and some differences with the culture that we, the people asking the question, have grown up in and live in. The question is how to treat, think about, and respond, to people and societies that are different from our own.

Incidentally, taking a general approval of the value of all cultures at its word would mean a relativistic approval of Nazi Germany and of Pol Pot's Cambodia. Some would argue that these are different cases, but how? After all, Nazi Germany had a perfectly consistent set of values, as did Pol Pot's Cambodia. Are we to give general value to their interpretation of reality?

The solution to that question, or a solution, is to take a step back and say that, yes, these cultures existed, and they had some beliefs, and, yes genocide also happened. But if we want to condemn genocide we should do it, and come up with general arguments on why genocide is bad, instead of turning the analysis of culture into a football going back and forth of whether or not the cultures in and of themselves have total value or not. They just were, as much as a lion or big cat that stalks and kills a human just is. Whether or not that action is good or bad depends on our response.

And it should be clear that, as far as this argument goes, we should have a response. We should not just say that this society exists, or that society exists, without making conclusions. But we should take responsibility for making those conclusions ourselves, and not turn it into game of how it is or is not right to analyze other cultures. The methodology does not give value judgments, we do, therefore don't criticize methodology but instead have the courage to make moral and ethical judgments that stand on their own two feet.

The Dialectic of Language

Language is a funny thing. Words, sentences, are integrally bound up in thought, yet they're not the thought itself. Thinking produces expressions of language, which are then used as the basis of new thought processes, or at least are used as reference points for new thought processes to orient themselves by. Language never truly expresses thought, yet thought itself is incomplete without language to express it. Thinking and language, then, exist in a dialectical tension with each other, where thought generates and manifests language as a summation, which is then seen as wanting and which is then overridden by new thought, which in order to try and complete itself is expressed in language, which then is incomplete itself, spurring new thought. Thought and language can be seen to exist both as adversaries that are competing with one another for ultimate expression and perfection, and as friends that are mutually dependent on each other, a sort of tension filled love-hate relationship.

But thought is something that can generate multiple expressions in language, while language itself is much more limited and definite, suggesting that of the two it's really thought that's primary, with language being a secondary moment used by thought in an effort of self clarification, and not the other way around. Indeed, language as an abstract entity does not think, and is static. It only has real meaning on the background of thought process that can take the semantic and semiotic structures and symbols and derive content from them. Language, written or oral, has no meaning in and of itself outside of minds set up to process it except in the sense that a computer program set in lines of code has an abstract, universal, meaning detached from all computers set up to use it.

This in part goes back to the distinction between physical existence and meaning. Many things can physically exist, but meaning is something that only exists because minds make it. A car on an alien planet that was barren, with no life, and with no possibility of ever coming in contact with any life, would be just a physical structure. It would take minds coming in contact with it to actually derive, and in a sense create, the meaning attached to what this physical thing was and is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creative liberty and Machiavelli

Going forward with the Discourses on Livy, which are much more liberal than The Prince, M. states that the tension between the upper class and the people is good in that it's forced societies to come up with creative compromises to resolve the tension, and that this has guaranteed liberty. It's part of M.'s analysis of Rome as having all three parts of the traditional Greek classification of governments: monarchy, aristocracy, democracy. Monarchy is embodied in the executive functions of the State, which are separated from the legislative portions, which include the aristocratic and the democratic. The aristocratic Senate dominates at first, but is then forced to give up some power to the people through popular uprisings. M. feels that just the people taking over wholesale is a bad idea, and that the rich ruling absolutely is a bad idea as well, because both parties would then abuse their powers, but if they're arranged in such a way that they check each other the abuses are less likely to occur. Of course this assumes that the system as it exists, with an aristocracy and the people, is just, but it provides a window into how authors from the early modern period sought to formulate an idea of a good state.

The same sort of creative tension between Monarchy and Aristocracy is pointed to by M. as the source of solid and stable representative government in the first place, because reacting against the idea of monarchy, yet forced to deal with the necessity of some executive power existing, the Romans and possibly the Greeks before them created a kind of compromise system of elected monarchy. It's the thing that we call Presidency and Prime Ministership today.

College students not learning the basic skills that college should teach...survey says

Here: Study: Many college students not learning to think critically

By Sara Rimer, The Hechinger Report | The Hechinger Report

NEW YORK — An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn't learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn't determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Arum, whose book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective.

Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called "higher order" thinking skills.

Combining the hours spent studying and in class, students devoted less than a fifth of their time each week to academic pursuits. By contrast, students spent 51 percent of their time — or 85 hours a week — socializing or in extracurricular activities."

No surprise there.

Of course, the excuses are inevitably there, although only in the final two paragraphs:

"Christine Walker, a senior at DePauw who's also student body president, said the study doesn't reflect her own experience: She studies upwards of 30 hours a week and is confident she's learning plenty. Walker said she and her classmates are juggling multiple non-academic demands, including jobs, to help pay for their education and that in today's economy, top grades aren't enough.

"If you don't have a good resume," Walker said, "the fact that you can say, 'I wrote this really good paper that helped my critical thinking' is going to be irrelevant." "

But you can't fucking think. You cannot think, you just got a piece of paper that says you're skilled while you can't do what it says.

It's possible to get plenty of experience working at World Wraps without going through the trouble of going to college, so maybe folks who are thinking primarily about their resume should consider doing one without the other.

"Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don't preclude the possibility that such students "are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.""

Which pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Machiavelli provides insight into the origin of democracy in Greece

Not being sarcastic here. It comes at the very beginning of his Discourses on Livy, when he starts talking about the origins of the Roman state. Machiavelli states that the way the Roman Republic was structured was a reaction to the previous monarchy that ruled Rome, which left such a distate for concentrated power in the minds of the Romans that even when they sought to restore executive power they never framed it in terms of kingship. Instead, consuls and praetors were institutionalized as elected officers. Civil offices, with a separation of powers, were the ways to reassert the presence of executive authority, which Machiavelli calls "kingly authority", without restoring the office of king.

The answer on how to do it, I suppose, is that you make the government one of laws as opposed to that of men, where outright blood dynasties are forbidden and where offices are disconnected from clan structure. In other words, what we would call today a civil governmental structure.

The Senate was aristocratical, with there being an inherited Senatorial class, but there was a barrier put between pure family interest and political domination, and later the Tribunes representing the regular people (who weren't slaves) were instituted to bring an even bigger barrier to it.

Similarly, you can make a parallel between that and Greece, where it appears that Athens' love of democracy was influenced by their early absorption into the Persian empire, which left them with such a hatred of concentrated authority that they were willing to consider ways of organizing governmental life that split radically from traditional notions of family and clan based leadership and that forged new ground.

In both Greece and Rome, there was a fixed problem, executive authority, where the traditional answer given by many different tribes, either monarchy or aristocratic rule, was denied as a workable option for historical reasons. On the one hand, there couldn't not be authority of some sort, in those societies, on the other hand it couldn't resemble what came before. The bias against what came before was stronger but no totally so. The tension between the two options forced them to create new ways of dealing with the problem that included public accountability within the solutions in ways that were likely dismissed before.

Why have representative government at all? That's a question. It's something that only makes sense if you've experienced unrepresentative government that's been oppressive. Plenty of unrepresentative government existed in the classical world, outside of Greece and Rome, that was accepted as just being the way things were. When federations of tribes affiliated under one powerful tribe controlling them all, or when a king created an absolute dictatorship, it was part of normal life.

Only legacies of reaction to that sort of rule, where the reaction was such that the people involved won, could give rise to the sort of spirit that treasures democracy and representative government as something always good in and of itself. This happened with Greece and with Rome.

It wasn't the genius of the west that lead to democratic government.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's responsible for the spirit of capitalism, the culture of commercialism, can be traced back to Luther and Calvin

The Reformation, in my opinion, set the stage for the degeneration of society into superficiality that we see around us all the time, especially in the United States, which was never Catholic to begin with. Which is not to side with the folks who think that Catholicism pre-reformation was a great time, especially with regards to the relationship between the Church and the landed class, but at least in those days society revolved around collective expressions of religiosity that served the community and that gave meaning to both personal life and to the year. Values were believed in collectively, not individually, and the spirit of those values won out over the letter. So what if there were also non-Christian practices integrated with Catholicism? Or that there were parishes where the priest was supposedly woefully inadequate in his learning? Better to have that than to have folks who can quote the bible by heart but understand nothing. This is much different, too, than the reactionary nature that the Catholic Church assumed post-reformation, where it increasingly opposed liberty, democracy, and equality. But it's not the particular religious questions that concern me, just the implications of the religious form. I'm not Christian, after all.

Luther and Calvin took humanity, existing it its diverse glory, and reduced it to the 'I', the individual, cut off from nature, standing against nature, corrupted by sin, weak, powerless. The 'I' shouldn't be a capital 'I' but a small 'i', because the individualism espoused by them was anything but the more positive definitions of individualism talked about these days.

Suddenly the most important thing in the world was my 'I' and its relationship to either salvation or damnation. 'I' have to think about myself, not about my family, not about my community, or my friends. 'I' now have to radically devote myself to selfishness and to self-advancement in order to be saved and not go to hell.

From there it's a small step, only brought on by a crisis of faith, to seeing the 'I' as just the most important part of society in general, and to see the same self-satisfaction that was once devoted to being saved devoted to buying stuff, to work to make money instead of working to get into heaven, to advance ones self socially as opposed to advancing spiritually. The preacher becomes a selfish egomaniac who preshadows the charismatic businessman, selling salvation one day, the next selling salvation in the form of goods for you to buy.

And we all want it because we don't know what we'd do without it, without would be like, hell. We wouldn't be keeping up with the Joneses, we wouldn't be getting anywhere, as if there's a 'where' with regards to consumption that we should be getting. The thirst for accumulation is like the thirst for salvation. It's just a rewrite of the same old story,and all the collective aspects regarding responsibility and values are conveniently excluded, because, of course, it's your 'I' that's most important.

The recent rise of self actualized or humanistic individualism, where actually doing something with your humanity for its own sake instead of just using your 'I' to pursue money, is a positive step, but one that needs to be integrated with a context that's collective or that recognizes collective values as well. Truly developing your individuality, as opposed to just developing the pseudo-trappings of it, is as always very worthwhile, but you can't buy your way into it.

Better to restore a collective, communal, sensibility with regards to the world around us, and to combine that with the possibility of real individualized actualization within that context, than to sacrifice all social responsibility and values for making money and accumulation while telling yourself that what you're doing is somehow something else than just prostituting yourself to make a buck..... or to be a good Christian and believing that your not just selling yourself in trying to save your soul.


America's constant revolution vs. perceived European stagnation in economics

Capitalism is often described as a kind of contest between businesses that leads to innovation and advancement due to the profit motive. But what exactly does that mean in practice? I think that the American experience with consumerism provides a good example in that, sure, we have a society and an economy that praises entrepreneurial 'innovation' that generates infomercials selling the latest half thought out fad. We have gimmicks that don't work, or that if they work are really unnecessary, but are there just to squeeze that last drop of positive utilitarian value out of life. And it all changes, too, never staying put for a second. Innovations on innovations....much of them largely being failures in the medium to long run that are swept under the table in order to make room for the next half baked idea. Contrast this with Europe.

Europe, a supposed stagnant society, tends to create fewer products that are better thought out and that last longer. Instead of jumping on every bandwagon that comes along the people who design products in Europe, taken on the whole, seem to be ultimately concerned with what will endure, and what will serve its purpose in a fundamental as opposed to superficial sense. You don't have to have the latest technology to create a good product, say, piece of furniture, if the way you're doing it at present produces high quality goods.

Possibly this is indicative of a series of societies that choose quality over quantity, with actual values being lived out as opposed to whatever the marketplace chooses to put forward.

We could learn a lot from that, because in the end, what matters is what endures, not what's created in one year and gone the next, along with all of the resources and time needed to produce it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

....and Loughner listed an Ayn Rand book as one of his favorites as well

Which argues against the idea that he was a leftist, and even suggests that he put the Communist Manifesto up as a favorite on YouTube either to be controversial or because he didn't like it. While folks have commented on the Manifesto and Mein Kampf being up there, few seem to have looked at the rest of the books on the YouTube channel:

"Books:I had favorite books: Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver's Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno."

On top of "We the living", about a totalitarian state, he lists Animal Farm, and Brave New World, both of which are against dictatorships, as well as Fahrenheit 451, which of course is about control of the public. The latter three are of course liked by people across the political spectrum, even though Animal Farm was a direct comment on Soviet Russia, with Stalin and Trotsky being embodied in pig form.

I doubt that anyone on the Left would ever list Ayn Rand as an author of a favorite book, considering that all her vitriol was directed against the Left itself. Yet the listing doesn't seem to have been commented on. Neither, of course, is it pointed out that this is the same 'Rand' that congress member Rand Paul is named after, so pervasive are her ideas on the libertarian right.

Also listed is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", which suggests that he also had ideas about how mental illness is constructed in the United States.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Derrida, Hegel, the unity and the overcoming

It's interesting that most of what Derrida, in essence, says in his philosophy, Hegel says in paragraphs 90-118 of his book "The Phenomenology of Spirit", which is part of the first real section after the Introduction. The section starts at paragraph 90, so in essence we're dealing with the first 28 paragraphs of the book.

A lot of what Derrida's philosophy is about is realizing inherent and received biases in perception, and finding ways of viewing the world that get beyond them and beyond the possibility of the types of biases he's talking about in general. The goal is to get a de-centered perspective, where the particular features of the perceiver as an 'I' does not color the object perceived. Of course, since the tendency is to perceive things in a biased way, the de-centered perspective is sort of like a negative image, or like a subtractive piece of art, where the meaning is gotten through removing rather than adding. A de-centered perspective sees the qualities of things as they are without imposing added meaning that comes from the characteristics of consciousness itself. In practice, this means a sort of jelly of qualities floating around, just being there.

Hegel recognizes basically the same thing, the necessity to view qualities as they are removed from the structures of perception that our minds place on them, as best we can, but although he comes to what really resembles, if not duplicates the de-centered perspective of Derrida he doesn't stop there.

The question is now what are you going to do with these qualities now that you have them? For Hegel, in order to actually make use of anything you've gotten from getting a de-centered perspective, you have to create an artificial model of it in your head, or on paper, based on an exhaustive enumeration of the qualities that it does have. This bowl in front of me: it's round, it's red, it's light, it's made of plastic, it has a rim, the plastic has little specks in it, it's cold, it feels smooth. All of these things are non-biased opinions. To make some meaning out of the bowl Hegel posits a hypothetical bowl that shares all these qualities, to which more qualities can be added. You can then try to find the underlying unity in the model, as modified by actual observation of the bowl, if you're aware that you're working with trying to find an underlying meaning that explains limited perceptions, that in itself is destined to be limited and by definition not the real or whole meaning of why the bowl is definitively how it is.

This can be somewhat mitigated by making the description as thorough and exhaustive as you can get it, but it will always be relative. Yet, just because it's relative doesn't mean you can't do anything with it. By interrogating relative models you can launch yourself on the way to discovering empirically verifiable facts and tentative explanations of what you see before you.

After deprogramming ones self of whatever -centrism or bias your talking about you have to examine what actually exists and create some sort of tentative model without being afraid that in creating said model you're going to fall into whatever trap it was you're trying to get out of. If you can't do that, then what you've arrived at is meaningless because you'll never be able to relate it practically to any objective reality, or even to explain it satisfactorily to anyone else.

The model is not the territory, and truth is always positive and not negative. If you can't come up with something that has positive content, you don't have anything. Examining the positive content is the next step, the coagula after the solve, without which everything stays in a semi-solid flux.

....and here is the YouTube video where he rants about the Constitution and his community college

Which besides mental illness suggests that, yes, he was on the Right, especially combined with his fixation on currency.

Related to Tucson: Loughner ranted about Constitutional Rights in class

From CBS News:

"(CBS) TUSCON -- Debbie Scheidemantel got to know Jared Loughner when he was a student in her biology class at Tucson's Pima Community College last summer.

The adjunct professor says she once had to call police and have Loughner removed from her class.

Scheidemantel shared her story exclusively on "The Early Show" with co-anchor Erica Hill.

Scheidemantel said on September 23, Loughner was "very destructive" in class.

Special Section: Tragedy in Tucson
Gallery: Tuscon Shooting Victims

She explained, "I was collecting papers that were due at the beginning of class. A different student had realized he forgot his paper and asked if he could turn it in late, and I said he could, but it would be half-credit. Then Jared realized that he didn't have his assignment. He raised his hand, and asked if he could turn it in late. And I said, yes, but for half-credit. At that point, he was upset, he said, 'No, I want full credit.' And I said, 'No, it's half-credit, it's part of the policy, it's spelled out in the syllabus.'

"Students understand this," Scheidemantel said. "But he didn't seem to, and he pointed at the flag, and the Constitution up at the front of the room and said that I was taking away his freedom of speech, I was taking away his individual rights, that it was unconstitutional. He was saying that, you know, he's paying me, and therefore I'm taking away his freedom of speech if I don't give him full credit. Well, I did calm him down. And I told him, you know, at that point, we couldn't resolve it real quick, so I said, you know, talk to me at the break. And he seemed to calm down. And class started."

But Loughner's disruptive behavior, Scheidemantel said, didn't end there.

"Class started and, five minutes later, he raised his hand. I guess he got the idea. He asked, 'Could I go to the library and do the assignment and come back before class is over and turn it in for full credit?' And I said, 'No, that it would be half-credit, because it was due at the beginning.' And again, he started his rant about the Constitution, pointing to the flag, pointing to the Constitution up at the front of the room, and at that point, he wouldn't stop, so I asked the students to be calm and wait, and at that point I went to the next room, and alerted my lab staff that there was a situation, and I called 911."

Hill asked, "Were you fearful for your safety or for the safety of your other students at that point? Did he seem that he was violent in any way?"

Scheidemantel answered, "He was not violent in any way, and he did not threaten anyone directly. But I did feel uneasy. I know the students were feeling uneasy. And so we called 911, and two officers came out. They removed him from the room and talked to him for awhile, and then one of the officers came to talk to me."

Scheidemantel said the school and police backed her up appropriately.
"Pima, I have to commend them. Backed me up and was right there. One officer talked to him for about a half-hour outside the classroom, and I think they realized that he was not thinking rationally, and the other officer mentioned something about maybe special ed or whatever. I didn't know, I had no indication if just was in a special program or something like that."

That was the last Scheidemantel heard of Loughner -- until Saturday. "

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Class dimorphism in the U.S. economy

The U.S. Congress opened yesterday, but that post can wait. Anyways, something not widely known or at least commented on if known about the United States is that the ratio between people who are unambiguously workers and those who aren't is roughly 50:50, possibly something like 55:45, with a big variation occurring in the income and job descriptions of those folks making up the bourgeois classes. I'm defining someone as belonging to the bourgeois class if they work in an office and do something that they need a college degree to get hired for. I base this on my own interpretation of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

But if the traditional notions about capitalism and what capitalist development should lead to are right, then how can the ratio be so close? There are a few reasons that I can see: first, a lot of the working class jobs have been outsourced to other countries and the administrative work of overseeing that production has stayed in the U.S; second, the way capitalism has developed regarding technology and general sophistication in production has created an interesting imbalance, which could be called a class dimorphism.

"Dimorphism" is a term used in biology, mostly to refer to differences in characteristics between males and females of the same species. If one is big and the other is small, or if one has bright colored feathers and the other doesn't, then those are cases of sexual dimorphism. The male and the female don't perfectly correspond to each other. Similarly, what has happened as capitalism has moved along, increasing in typical business size and organization as well as in technologica sophistication, is that more people are working on the design of products, the implementation of those designs, and the general organization of day to day business transactions, while less people are working on the actual realization of those designs. The latter is happening because increased efficiency means that more products can be produced with less people. There might be much planning going into all aspects of a product, something that has only steadily increased since the birth of corporate as opposed to smaller scale capitalism, but the product itself might be made with a smaller relative number of people, although not anything like the total lack of labor suggested by some theorists imagining how the future of work would be.

This lack of need in the home country merges with the administrative focus with regards to offshore production to create a situation where less workers are actually required to keep the economy going than was the case in the past.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Entrapment Plots, by Ted Rall

Entrapment Plots I know it's just a link, but my guess is that doesn't like hotlinks to pictures. Click it, it's a funny comic.

Your daily dose of Class War: "Father Who Donated $40K to Jesuit Private School Sues When Son Gets Turned Down"


"A father who donated tens of thousands of dollars to a prestigious private school in Houston is suing the institution, claiming that school administrators rejected his son despite promising that his generous contributions to the school would ensure his son's acceptance.


Bardwil recalls that a school administrator went to lunch with him and during their conversation pushed a piece of paper over to his side of the table that read "$100,000."

"I told him at that moment that if I make that type of large contribution I expected that my son will go to the school and the administrator said 'Yes, of course, absolutely," said Bardwil.

After consulting with his accountants, Bardwil told the school's administrators that he would be able to pledge $50,000 over a five year period."

Saturday, January 01, 2011

"Knocked up" and Wikileaks

I find it interesting that one of the two charges against Julian Assange, namely that he had sex with a person without a condom without telling them, which is being called rape, is the same act that's at the heart of the popular movie "Knocked Up", starring Seth Rogen. The fact that this transgression is being called "Rape" and is being feted by people who believe that questioning that label is an acceptance of violence towards women, says a lot, about a number of different groups of people. I mean, who knew that all the people who liked "Knocked up", who laughed at it, were in reality championing rape? Or that a movie about rape, that excuses rape, is regularly shown on television?

One of the interesting things is that the person who's accusing him of this was the person in charge of monitoring gender related crimes at the University she was attached to, as well as having links to a right wing Cuban exile group. To me, it looks like she's exploiting the system to advance her other agenda, and intentionally playing on the predicted response of the international community. So far, the predicted response has mostly happened, which has shut down any sort of rational examination of what Assange is actually being charged with in a sea of rhetoric.

The Cuban exile link is very important in this because folks in general, folks who are socialists, which is what she claims she is, and in particular folks in Europe, don't accidentally walk into a meeting with anti-Castro groups and decide to stick around. It's not like, hey, today we'll go to an event put on by the Green Party, and tomorrow one that suggests that Castro should be violently overthrown.

...and of course the U.S. will take Chavez' turn towards censorship as a reason to either invade or otherwise destabilize the country

Happy New Year. I'm predicting for this year that we'll see calls for "regime change" in Venezuela, instead of leaving them the fuck alone despite their turn for the worse. Neither we, nor anyone else in the world, has the right to go into any country they want and overthrow it, or otherwise destabilize it, because they don't like it. Countries exist who have terrible governments, for instance Belarus, which has just been wracked by protests over the system there, but we don't have any sort of moral right to go in and rewrite their system of government. It's called coexistence, and in the international world before Bush it was called sanity, since "Regime change" means war and the notion behind regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq really means the right of states to wage war on countries who haven't done anything to them, just because they don't like their government.