Friday, November 29, 2013

State and society

Following up on the below post, I think it's useful to think of the State as being the executive function of society on a high level, regardless of the lower organizations of society on more grass roots levels. The State is not society itself, of course, but society has it's own structure that transcends that of individuals, and the State on a high level can be seen as the administrator of that structure, hopefully empowered by the people themselves, in the pursuit of maintaining social stability and good functioning. This, of course, is based on that structure being good to begin with, otherwise, social stability and functioning maintains, at least in some degree, a corrupt system. This is why although reforms can and should be done, like increasing the minimum wage, the social system should also be transitioning to something where serious structural change has been accomplished to change the fundamental nature of society itself, in the relations of classes with each other, and in the relation of business with the people.

Wal-Mart accepting donations by employees for employees and McDonalds talking about how to stretch dollars illustrates proletarianization

The disgraceful and shameful act by Wal-Mart, where bins were set out in advance of Thanksgiving to collect food for employees who are not paid enough to get decent Thanksgiving dinners portrays Marx's concept of proletarianization in a nutshell.

Marx's idea was that capitalism works on a vicious cycle with regards to wages, where if nothing is done to stop it the tendency is for wages to get as low as they can before the employees themselves can no longer literally afford food and shelter.

It's a process that doesn't have to happen, and that in fact can be stopped by state intervention, in the form of higher minimum wages and other measures.

The absence of a good way to figure out how to deal with such a thing is a main weakness of anarchism. Usually, the suggestion for countering this is organizing on the job and direct action, but it's surely much easier to have the State approve a higher minimum wage and force employers to honor it or face the consequences.

A popularly empowered State that took action on these things could accomplish quite a lot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kant and Hume, part 1

 Hume made a very interesting case that simple perception of two things happening in close association with each other does not prove that one caused the other, and that in fact the idea of causation as a whole has problems.

Kant responded to this by saying that, in point of fact, that is a moot point because we never simply have a disconnected, abstract, point of view but always one that's contextualized within human cognition which produces causation as part of a greater set of assumptions that makes up a worldview that is mostly functional and verifiable.

Kant makes the point that there should be something more than just chance association to our ideas about things like causation, even if what it actually is is not clear, because there are a great many things that we can in fact know or deduce without direct observation that also prove to be correct when we find them in nature...math being a prime example. Without any observation of the external world, you can work out complex algebra that you can then find working in the world itself.

If all associations between ideas are just opinions made after the fact, how is that possible?

Kant is in effect saying that while the example of the billiard balls and causation might be superficially appealing, that if one truly took that logic and applied it to all of the things that we deal with on a daily basis, most if not all, of things that we take for granted, that do work to a certain degree in the actual world, would be invalidated.

Now, Kant does not suggest that what we think is the explanation of these things actually is the case. In point of fact, he suggests that to a very large degree the categories that we use to evaluate these things are the product either of culture or of a sort of semi-arbitrary biological programming. Yet, although they might be the product of something that is, in the end, programming and filters that are "false", or not what they appear to be, in and of themselves, they do appear to interface with the actual world and produce actual results, even if imperfectly.

That sort of mysterious connection between the categories of thought and the ultimately unknowable truth of the world, unknowable because it's very, very, difficult to truly go beyond our categories of thought themselves, is what makes Hume's point invalid.

Nations, the Nation-State, and Socialism

Nationalism is roundly condemned as being a right-wing aberration, however, in the United States this usually refers to the version of it found here, as opposed to that found in Europe. There are actually features of it in the European context, independent of atrocities like those that occurred in the Third Reich and in the former Yugoslavia, that make it not so easy to dismiss as a positive force.

I say that for the following: fundamentally, the nationalism of continental Europe was not based on the nation-state as it existed in France, England, and Spain, but on customs, geography, and language in common, and people who possessed these determining their own destiny without reference to any sort of autocratic monarchy that happened to possess their land.

The nation-state as it's usually referred to in these discourses is a descendent of the absolutist state, where a monarchy unified power in itself, taking it away from the more confederal arrangement of the local aristocracy having regional control. This monarchy then consolidated power and created a state based on this consolidation.

Most nationalisms in Europe originated in the 19th century, in the wake of the French Revolution, and originally had radical roots. Giuseppe Mazzini, the great example of cosmopolitan nationalism, was a socialist as well, and very liberal, and in part due to his influence after the unification of Italy there was a period of agrarian, socialist, reform and redistribution of land. The state that came out of Italian unification was a parliamentary democracy that was part of a constitutional monarchy, that was actually fairly progressive for the context that it existed in, not an absolutist state.

That there were internal differences in Italy and elsewhere that made these communities not homogenous was recognized from the beginning. It's kind of hard not to notice that the local dialect of a region in northern Italy is vastly different from that of Sicily. Yet, the people who pushed for unification in Italy and for self-determination else where believed that despite these differences, the people who lived in these areas had more in common with each other than they had differences. In the case of Italy, these commonalities included being part of the Italian peninsula, and related islands, being part of the Roman Empire, and in general having been part of the Greco-Roman classical world.

Self determination is another way of expressing what the nationalism of continental Europe was about, and is a term that is much nicer to the ears of us United States-ians. It should be, because a lot of what World War I was fought over depended on it. While it may be fashionable to say that the first World War was just fought over money, the dissolution of the German, Austrian, and Russian monarchies, as well as the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, wasn't a trivial matter to the people making up the present Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Lithuania. All of these countries only came into real existence as independent countries after the first World War. Before that, they were the property of either Prussia, Russia, the Kingdom of Austria, or the Kingdom of Hungary.  That was how Europe was organized before the first World War: countries of people who had similar languages, customs, religion, and who occupied coherent regions being subsumed under personal monarchies.

Finland as well. Some look at all these countries and dismiss it as all of those Eastern Europeans, countries that because of being absorbed into the Iron Curtain are viewed as more foreign and weird, but even Finland, considered now to be just a part of Scandinavia, was the property of the Russian Empire for a long time, and only got independence during World War I. If the Bolshevik Revolution (which later tried to forcibly incorporate Finland into Bolshevik Russia) hadn't happened, Nokia would be written in Cyrillic.

People generally agree that the independence of countries from servitude is a good thing, but what, then, is the ideology that motivates this drive? Because, by definition, to be an independent nation means to form a nation, nationalism is a very appropriate label for it.

As said before, this does not necessarily mean a quest for purity, either linguistic or otherwise, and does not necessarily mean the great perversion of ethnic nationalism, which imputed linguistic, cultural, and religious commonalities to a genetic or racial basis.

The more perceptive people did see that the borders that demarcated one country from another were vague, and that different peoples lived to a certain extent within several different related areas, including peoples like the Jewish people who otherwise didn't enough concentration anywhere to form a state, and they advocated for respect of their rights.

Which is not to say that things went smoothly. Greece, another country that achieved independence and national self determination in the 19th century, underwent with the Ottoman Empire a series of painful and destructive "Population Exchanges", where Greeks who had lived in present day Turkey for milenia were expelled to live in Greece, while Turkish people who had lived in Greece for several hundred years were likewise expelled back to Turkey.

It should be noted, though, that this and other actions, as painful as they may have been, also had a dimension of conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed, with the oppressor population being asked to leave. The rights regarding that are sensitive, but that dimension of domination and oppression puts into context things like the law that came into place in Latvia that intentionally penalizes speakers whose primary language is Russian. Latvia was not only part of the Iron Curtain but forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union itself, and underwent a good deal of movement of Russians, with higher social status and other benefits, into itself while part of that.

That this also has erupted into out and out genocidal madness is not in question. In fact, the conflict between the Serbs and the Bosnians is a result of this. Serbia was another country that gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, before it was incorporated into Yugoslavia, with Belgrade being picked as the capitol of the new Yugoslavia in deference to this. The Bosnians are simply Serbs who adopted Islam during the Ottoman years, and the war of the Serbs against the Bosnians, done in the name of supposedly 'liberating' Serbian land and of course the rights of Christian Serbs still living in Bosnia, was motivated by revenge against former oppressors.

But this does not have to be the end product of the impulse to self determination. In fact, in the U.S. itself, regionalism, which has quite a lot in common with the more cosmopolitan versions of European nationalism has a lot of support in progressive circles. Not only that, but self determination is compatible with social justice on the whole and socialism in general.  Besides the Italian agrarian reform, to which could be added the agrarian reform following the Mexican Revolution, were the proposals of people like Otto Bauer and the Austro-Socialists, who formed the "2 and a Half International", who advocated for radical social change in the former Austrian territories combined with national self determination.

Even the Soviet Union itself recognized that the two impulses, a socialist sentiment and a national one, were not necessarily enemies, in that all across the Soviet Union were built museums showcasing the local folk traditions of minorities in the regions. That these were somewhat trivialized does not change the fact that national minorities were able to have their own autonomous republics within the Soviet Union, which, not matter how this was undermined in practice, was quite an accomplishment. That the policy was initiated under Stalin himself also mitigates the idea that socialism and some sort of national sentiment are completely opposed.

So what does all of this mean, in the end? I think that socialism should come first, but that nationalism, whether it be expressed as a regional identity, as something based on common language and customs, or on other factors, touches cultural commonalities that go beyond a generic socialist framework and that color our lives in ways that are important to preserve. A multi-cultural society is better than one where there's a generic mono-culture that honors no cultural features whatsoever, and that replaces the diversity and richness of countries with a flat, official, formalism.

*on edit: I should also add as well that Serbia at the end of the 20th century was in a much different position from Serbia in the 19th century. It was a dominant force in Yugoslavia, so that it's claims to 'liberate' oppressed Serbians in Bosnia and Kosovo were the claims of a now dominant power against minority populations that had much less, both economically and socially, although Bosnia was much more developed than Kosovo.

Also, below all of this, there's one thing that unites everyone, and that's our common humanity, which transcends national boundaries, new and old.

Friday, November 15, 2013

It looks like Kshama Sawant will win, congratulations to one of the sane voice from Occupy Seattle!

Happy that she will most likely be on the city council. She was involved with Occupy Seattle from the beginning, and was always a voice of reason.

If it had been just people like her, there would have been no problems, and the whole thing would not have imploded like it did. However, human selfishness, a willing to exploit victim status, and a respect for direct democracy that went beyond all sanity, conspired to make it not so.

About the later, Occupy Seattle shows the weakness not of Democracy itself, but of total, deliberate, direct, democracy. You had so much time wasted on absolute bullshit that, if it had been present in any other system, would not have gotten out of committee, so to speak. Literally. I'm making this example of, but the sessions I experienced were like "Hey man, I believe that everyone should have free marijuana, that I'm being harassed by microwave thought control, and that the CIA has been following me sine 1997. I want free pot, microwave harassment, and CIA hijinks to be put on the agenda". And instead of saying, no, can't do that, you're fucking crazy and that's bullshit, people would be like "Well, okay, let's talk about microwave harassment, and about the pros and cons of the idea of law enforcement using microwave technology to beam secret messages to people".

The notion that by honoring all that anyone has to say will lead to better ideas getting out there is proven false by this. Maybe it should be honoring anything that anyone has to say provided that they're not fucking crazy, paranoid, or otherwise off their meds, and have good arguments to back up their opinion. Having some sort of more structured democracy, where, for instance, you might actually have a committee of people to go through, who would vote on a proposal, before it got to the main assembly, instead of pure direct democracy, is the way to go.

Clarification of political position

In light of a few things.

First, my position is a synthesis of socialism, liberalism and conservatism, specifically of Marxism, liberalism and conservatism.

Second, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are anti-semitic.

Third, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are either anti-immigrant or anti-Islam.

Fourth, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are anti-gay.

These positions are distortions, and in the present are very hurtful to individuals who have done nothing wrong.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

With Duggan, Detroit breaks tradition of demagoguery

The post Coleman Young mayors have been a mixed bag, but most, if not all, have been much better than him. The Detroit mayor's race came down to the head of the police versus Mike Duggan, and the Detroit police is not something that's either good or on your side. Duggan won. The people of Detroit ignored the race baiting and voted for the person who they thought was best for the job, someone who had run one of Detroit's best institutions, Detroit Medical Center, while it was still a non-profit. Hospitals versus cops, you decide.

The six year old boy who wants to be a girl---I'm not sympathetic

Not because of any doubt about the authenticity of transgender claims, but because of the age. Someone who's six is a small child; they can't make big decisions for themselves, they certainly can't live on their own, they need parental guidance and protection. They have also only recently graduated into going to school for full days and are being taught the very low end of books for elementary school readers. We're talking about people in First Grade. A first grader is not qualified to make decisions that in later years will lead to either surgery or hormone treatment, and they should not be allowed to switch gender because they suddenly have the idea that they're the opposite one.

Thinking that this is in any way appropriate is an example of the utter lunacy of ultra-persmissive parenting, that would rather indulge in decisions that later on may lead to serious harm, and to your child hating you, rather than apply common sense to decisions.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Perhaps I went too far in my Arafat post

To be explicit, through using the reference to the "Chosen People". Although they're small in number, real anti-Semitic discourse today makes great use of the concept, not simply to refer to people's feelings of an absolute right to possess the land that is now Israel and Palestine, but to refer to a huge number of other things. Specifically, the idea is that because people who are Jewish think that they're the "Chosen People", they feel that laws in general do not apply to them, and that they therefore act only for themselves in whatever situation they find themselves in. I completely and totally reject this idea.

The scope of the post should have been limited to Israel itself, and to the very feeling that that physical piece of land was granted by their God to them, in perpetuity, as his Chosen People, without framing it in a way that could have been taken to imply a set of behaviors that goes beyond just a relationship with the land of Israel itself and instead goes into things that are non-existent, completely false, and extremely prejudicial to people.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Arafat poisoned with Polonium

Here. Ruh-roh. I'm sure that it was an internal rivalry in the Palestinian Authority between Hamas and Fatah that lead to this, right?  Hopefully, this will prompt international action against Israel, the state that possesses the mindset that they are the "Chosen People" who can do anything they want in their territory. There are quite a number of Israelis who believe, pure and simple, that the piece of land that Israel/Palestine was on was granted to them by their God, and that they have a divine right to it, one that goes beyond all law, international and otherwise. They believe that they can do whatever they want on it, to whoever they want, and that there should be no consequences whatsoever, because they're their God's favorites. Maybe this will piss off their neighbors, and the rest of the international community, to prove that that is not the case.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The inadequacy of class alone to explain things

Let's take two people, one who comes from a working class background, the other who comes from a bourgeois background. One's parents are poorer, the other are better off. Now, the working class individual comes from an intact home where the family is well integrated into the community. They have a pretty healthy home life, despite not having that much money. The bourgeois person, on the other hand, comes from a highly dysfunctional background, with a split family and the family that remains being less than optimal, with lots of problems of their own. They're not well integrated into the community, in fact the community thinks that there's something wrong with them so they avoid them. However, the family members still have jobs that give them a good income.

Which of these two people are probably going to have a better position going out into the world? The working class person has the economic disadvantage, but they have a distinct sociological advantage that the other person does not. If you looked at the situation from the lens of class alone, well then, the bourgeois would not be worthy of sympathy because their family had more money, while the working class person would be, because they had less. Economic background is not everything.

We already recognize this in drawing a distinction between people of better economic backgrounds who are minorities, and those who aren't, so why not just generalize it?

*on edit: family background, class, and minority status all contribute to the whole, with both family status and minority status potentially leading to becoming declassed, despite claims that this can  never happen.

*on edit 2: there's also the issue of "Bourgeois Decadence". When the bourgeoisie do it, it's decadent, when working class people do it, it's a reaction to oppression.

One of the best examples of the poverty of the idea of bourgeois decadence is contained in Bernardo Bertolucci's film "1900". Although Bertolucci has since gone on to make much better films, "1900" is probably one of the most hack, stereotyped, wooden, socialist realist films ever made in the West. The people are paper cut-outs.  In the case of bourgeois decadence, the guy who comes from the prosperous family is portrayed as leading a life of leisure, cocaine, and women, while the virtuous worker spends his time schooling unappreciative fellow workers in basic literacy.