Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pride and Prejudice

Since I started writing about Black Lives Matter I’ve started to feel like I’m presenting myself as their  opposition. It’s a strange feeling because I truly do believe that greater oversight of the police would benefit public safety. I also agree that the black community is disproportionately  targeted by state violence, and only one of the reasons for that is economic. I even agree with BLM that those people who wave facts about black-on-black violence, or the greater number of whites shot, or that all lives matter aren’t really interested in the facts that they’re waving. Rather, those fact-wavers are using their facts as a way to deflect attention from the very real problem of police violence that BLM is trying to address. None the less, I do have a problem with BLM, and that problem is with the self-destructive nature of their tactics. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe they have a strategy, so I can only criticize at their tactics. I suppose that those problems, like the specious reasoning of BLM’s opposition, are a byproduct of one of the great fallacies of our culture – the fallacy of the logical mind.

Both BLM and their opposition are facing their particular situations like a platonic dialog, where the most reasoned argument wins. Both sides fail to realize that humanity is in no way logical, the majority of our decisions are in fact emotional and justified with logic after the fact. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: those emotions are our instincts and have helped us survive and thrive in very hostile environments. Thinking and acting emotionally only becomes a problem when you live in a society that believes all things are logical, and then tries to deal with an emotionally reasoned action with logic.

The human mind is ridiculously convoluted. We are a product of past experience, cultural standards, and both acknowledged and unacknowledged personal desire. Prejudice, as I discussed in an earlier article, is simply a prejudgment about a person, place, or thing. Those prejudgments are often based on past, limited, or no direct experience. We need to look at how our prejudices against people develop, and how they affect our behavior. As I pointed out in my previous article, the history of systemic racism in our country has been gradually corrected through civil war, civil disobedience, and reform. Where we once legislated the non-personhood of blacks, we have now given them legal equality. Of course legislating someone’s equality does not mean they are automatically treated as equal, and it is that separation where the mark of history is most keenly felt.

Our society has made great strides in abolishing many of the injustices that have oppressed the black community, but legislation cannot undo socialization. Every society has lessons and habits it passes on to its young by direct and indirect means. We are taught, or socialized, by our society to behave in specific ways. This process is called socialization and it can be very beneficial or very dangerous. When we are young we see our parents and other respected members of our community behave in specific ways toward others. For example. in the US we are taught to be deferential toward legal authorities such as the police. We are also taught to dehumanize those who are confronted or questioned by the law. The process of socialization is often subtle, such as when we joke about prison rape, or it can be quite direct, such as when we say, “people who haven’t done anything wrong do not need to fear the police.” Over time these statements, and a thousand other subtle and direct experiences, shape our subconscious minds to respond as our society deems appropriate. Not everyone reacts the same way, but we’re all affected by the process. We do not always know why we behave or react in the ways we do, but that’s just how the subconscious works. Events and words leave an emotional imprint and those imprints influence our thoughts and actions in the future. Prejudice of any kind is usually based on a generalized emotional experience. 

Governments and most organizations are excellent at using this process to their advantage. Constant streams of propaganda convince us to believe or support the standards of whatever organization is producing the propaganda. Several studies have demonstrated that when a person wears a uniform people only see the uniform, not the person wearing it. So whatever emotions that we’re taught to associate with the uniform are the emotions we will experience when we see someone wearing it. Personal experience can overcome propaganda, but only if the personal experience leaves a strong enough emotional imprint.

Strangely, even the absence or presence of people can alter our perspective of people. In the U.S., the absence of blacks in politics and businesses is noticeable, and this influences people to associate blacks with where they are visible - primarily in low income areas. A large part of public perception is based on media coverage, what news and other media sources choose to emphasize is often what shapes public prejudice. Here is where history matters, because past socialization efforts were about convincing the public that blacks were the other, and any attempt to change that perception runs up against deeply entrenched emotional perspective. Each positive public representation of blacks is a step forward, while each negative representation is two steps back. It is far easier to demonize someone than it is to lionize them.

Social standards have changed. That fact that a black man has served as our country’s leader for two terms is proof of that, but that change doesn’t mean that racism is dead. Societies can change their standards rapidly, but past social norms leave very long imprints on behavior. People change far slower than social standards. Currently there is a great deal of shame associated with racism, and any act or statement associated with racism can destroy one’s social standing. None of us desire to be seen as bigots by our peers, nor do we wish to see the worst in ourselves, so we must find some way to justify our actions. After all, if prejudice is subconscious, and the subconscious causes us to act instinctively, and those acts can risk our social standing, then it is inevitable that people will seek to justify those acts. That logic is especially true for the police, who could see their careers destroyed and face worse penalties for an instinctive act. Racism against blacks, especially black men, describes them as dangerous and criminal. The mind plays tricks when it is under stress, and will cause people to perceive danger where there might not be any. The mind will even invent reality to justify an action. No one should be surprised that putting poorly trained officers in stressful situations would result in violence against a group of people who are already technically an underclass.

However, organizations have mastered the skill of training people to control their instinctual reactions by indoctrinating us to conform to new behavioral norms. That would not be possible for our whole society, but it is very possible for the police force. Increasing training standards and accountability will rapidly reduce instances of fear and stress based reactions. The wider public can even be reached if citizens’ groups, like BLM, start to hold meet-and-greet events to allow neighbors to become familiar with each other. One gentlemen, a black man and blues musician, even managed to help KKK members leave behind their prejudices by befriending them. Emotions are the basis of prejudice, so it is absurd that BLM is trying to fight prejudice with logic. Compassion and goodwill are a far more viable tactic to overcome a history of prejudicial socialization than all the facts in every book in the world, yet we are stuck in a society that sees logic as the only useful kind of rationality.

BLM needs to realize that a clear understanding of the social situation in America is the only way to produce viable strategies to resolve the problems putting us all in danger. Make no mistake about it, the increasingly violent actions of the police is a result of a mentality of subservience from the public. We do not have the courage to face an overly militarized force that is supposed to protect public safety, but is treating the public like enemy combatants instead. The black community, since they are our country’s social underclass, serve as the canary in the coal mine. Unfortunately, BLM isn’t capable of providing us the unity needed the deal with this dire situation. Whether some other group will rise to deal with the problems we face remains to be seen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Institutions of Inequality

Blacks Lives Matter is already starting to splinter. The core groups of the movement, the ones who control the website and fundraising, are repeating the same strategic and tactical mistakes that have destroyed other reform movements in the past. Two articles ago I noted that reform movements need clear strategy that allow them to set goals, and also need to adopt tactics that will allow them to reach those goals. BLM has the latter, but is still missing the former because of their inability to understand what they’re fighting against.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t groups marching under the BLM banner who are doing their best to end the victimizing of the black community, because there certainly are. Unfortunately, these groups are the minority and their actions are at best ignored, or at worst derided. All the core BLM groups, whom I can only assume are staffed by some of the most learnedly ignorant people academia could produce, are trying to plan a campaign around the abstract concept of systemic or institutional racism. The terms are interchangeable, but I’ll stick with institutional racism for the purposes of this article.

Don’t mistake my meaning, institutional racism is real, but it is insane for BLM to target because it is the product of a convoluted history and even messier characteristics of human psychology. In this sense it is an abstract; it is a thing that is literally drawn out of history and exists within the mind. Institutional racism can be challenged by breaking it down into its component parts, but in order to do that BLM and its supporters need to actually sit down and analyze its component parts.

Racism is a prejudice, which simply means it is a prejudgment about someone based on their ethnic heritage. Racism is the prejudgment that an entire, or even a majority, of an ethnic group are predisposed to specific behaviors because of biological differences. If you believe a majority of blacks are predisposed to specific behavior because blacks are simply born that way, then that’s a racial prejudice. Similarly, if you believe the majority of whites are predisposed to specific behavior because they are born that way, then that is also racial prejudice.

I’m sure many of you have heard the nonsensical phrase, “racism equals power plus prejudice,” and found yourself growing irritated. That phrase, often shouted by BLM and its supporters in an attempt to drown out their opposition, is the attempt by some critical theorist in academia to redefine the very clearly defined idea of racism. Renaming and redefining concepts is a veritable industry in our society, and careers can be made if a redefinition is widely accepted. Unfortunately, this redefinition actually does a disservice to ending the victimizing of the black community. Effectively, by saying that racism equals power plus prejudice, BLM and its supporters are saying that racism equals power plus racism. Racism is a form of prejudice, and it isn’t even the major prejudice of the American elite. That dubious honor goes to classicism. If BLM wants to deal with the consequences of power combining with racial prejudice, which is called institutional racism, then it needs to clearly define racism and institutionalism. Those two subjects are targets of substance that can be struck by individual effort and organized communities.

Institutions are those things that are created to stand with an intention or purpose. A religion is an institution, as is a government, business, bureaucracy, law, or a tradition. All these institutions were set up to accomplish specific ends. Prejudices are customs and are thus institutions, because they are set up to distinguish one part of society from another. Political and economic power are also institutions because they are systems established to give groups or individuals the ability to create laws, levy and distribute taxes, commit acts of violence, secure land and other forms of wealth, or set up more institutions. Now, say that group or individual also happens to subscribe to the idea that other groups or individuals are inferior to themselves. That is to say they have prejudices, in the case of the US that would be the white community’s prejudices against the black community. Then you have a situation where institutions are built to deny the weaker community privileges that the powerful enjoy.

Historically, the most blatant form of institutional racism was slavery, which turned blacks into livestock that could be owned. When southern slave owners were defending slavery they would often refer to it as “our venerable institution,” because that’s exactly what it was - a series of laws designed to deny personhood to blacks, and a great deal of organized violence to hold them in bondage. The abolition of slavery only slightly improved conditions, because the laws of non-personhood were replaced by laws such as Jim Crow, which turned blacks into second-class persons. The violence never went away, it just became unofficial. Jim Crow and other similar laws were abolished only in the 1960s, but by that time the effects of the laws were imitated by the private sector. As a matter of official policy many businesses across the US would deny banking, realty, and other vital services to blacks. Redlining wasn’t banned until the late 1970s, but by that time the cumulative damage to the black community’s prosperity had already been done. This pattern is institutional racism, the creation of systems designed to prevent one community from achieving equality with another. 

A community's prosperity is accumulated generationally, each generation building on the hard work and success of the previous. The process is quite simple: individuals work hard and contribute to the prosperity of their families. The family belongs to wider communities and contribute to the institutions of the community, such as education and health care. These institutions allow other members of the community to prosper and then make their own contributions, and so on. Any community that is denied access to wealth for a prolonged period of time will find it difficult, if not impossible to create the institutions that make the prosperity of the next generation possible. Institutional prejudice places barriers of law and violence between a community and the ability to accumulate wealth or power. The elite of our country who held political and economic power literally denied the black community access to equality for generations, and many of those injustices were only abolished a mere forty years ago. It should come as no surprise that blacks are still mired in poverty because it takes generations for communities to develop institutions of ascension, and even that can only occur if the national economy is sound, which it clearly isn’t.

The strategy to overcome the economic consequences of institutional racism is straightforward: help build the prosperity of the black community. Tactics such as creating communal education programs, financing small businesses, providing health, and other welfare services were successfully used by the Black Panthers before they were violently suppressed by the US government. It is staggering that BLM’s core groups no longer even have the reflective capacity to study their own predecessors. The strategy to overcome the political consequences of institutional racism grow from overcoming the economic consequences, because one cannot gain power in this country without access to wealth. Understandably these strategies and tactics are easier said than done, but no one should expect change to be easy. History tells us society changes when people change, but to understand how people let go of old prejudices we must first understand how the human mind deals with change. To understand that we must delve into the mess of human psychology, and overturn the myth of rationality that dominates our conception about the human mind, but that is a discussion for next week.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Those Without a Voice

The ongoing debate between All Lives Matter (ALM) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) is currently one of the more aggravating spectacles in the American political arena. It is another clear example of how easy it is to trap reform movements with rhetorical subterfuge, and how quickly they trap themselves with stubbornness.
I want to state clearly that I understand and agree with BLM's position about the use of their particular mantra. There is nothing particularly wrong with their assertion that black citizens ought to have the right to live unmolested by the police, just like white citizens. BLM is also probably correct when they say that ALM is just a reactionary group that doesn't actually believe its own mantra, after all I haven't seen any ALM protests against police violence. I may be wrong, but the only time I see ALM appear is as a counter demonstration to BLM protests.

Where I agree with ALM, and disagree with BLM, is on one very important point. The strategic value of the mantra “All Lives Matter” far outweighs that of “Black Lives Matter,” and instead of co-opting this gift like smart revolutionaries, BLM chose to dig in their heels and expend energy bickering about the mantra. The claim that one mantra has greater strategic value than the other does need to be justified, and the justification can be found in the dusty corridors of our country’s countries history.

The divisions that are currently tearing our country apart have their source in decisions made by the elite of our country in the distant past. In the early days there was one major social schism in the country, between those who were wealthy landowners and those who were not. Indentured servants and slaves, both black and white, lived and worked side by side. There were legal differences between the two, but in practice they were more or less the same. Over time the commonality between poor blacks and whites caused the two communities to grow close to each other. Interracial relationships began to form, leading to marriages, and child-birth. This development didn't go unnoticed by the elite of the era, and they quickly realized that a united wage class could compromise the elite's power. The solution they devised was to simply grant privileges to the poor whites, effectively separating them from poor blacks. The goal was to create a cultural and economic division between blacks and whites, which could be exploited to the benefit of the elite. The psychological impact of having someone lower than oneself in a social hierarchy is profound, because no matter how bad your social condition you would always know there was someone who had a worse lot. Describing blacks as inferior only made the process easier to sell, for their condition became a matter of nature rather than oppression. Poor whites became the defacto warrior class that helped control the slaves.

Even the end of slavery did not help alleviate the subjugation of blacks and, by one measure, made conditions worse. Where previously the black community could point to the institution of slavery as cause for their poverty, it was far more difficult to point to laws and institutions of discrimination. The elite took full advantage of this difficulty and reinforced prejudices that poor whites held against poor blacks.

As we walk from the remote corners of our country's history to the recent past, and then on the present, a clear trend emerges. Each time the black community made gains by hammering away at one layer of institutional injustice, a new more subtle layer was added which made it harder for the black community to achieve full equality. When people speak about institutional racism they are referring, in part, to this pattern, but that is a subject for future exploration.

The strategy of divide and conquer was easy to see, and many scholars did see it. One such scholar, a civil rights leader by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not only saw the division but also understood how it supported the elite's power. He also noticed a failure in the elite's strategy, even though granting privileges to the white wage class created an economic division, it did not create a cultural division. The economic differences were easy to maintain, all the elite had to do was favor whites for education and employment, but ultimately American wage earners watched the same sports, ate the same foods, dressed the same, and structured their families much the same way. That is to say that the differences between the black and white wage class communities were only skin deep.

King worked and his associates started the Poor People's Campaign to bring poor whites and blacks together to fight for economic justice. Senator Robert Francis Kennedy supported the campaign, since he was running for President by wooing wage class Blacks, Hispanics, and Catholics (whites). The campaign kicked off in the spring of 1968 by establishing a 3000 person tent city on the Washington Mall. On 2nd April, 1968 MLK was assassinated, and three months later on 6th June, 1968 RFK was also assassinated. The campaign, demoralized and afraid from having lost its two most powerful leaders, dissolved. I'm not one to advocate conspiracy theories, but it is suspicious that assassination of two prominent public figures occurred within months of launching a campaign to undermine the power base of the elite. 

From 1968 to the present day, the elites have governed unchallenged doing everything in their power to maintain the wedge between the wage class communities. They are secure in their power because the white and black wage class are at each other’s throats, class issues remain largely forgotten. However, during the same time period the elites made two mistakes that have opened the door to their defeat. The first, oddly enough, was hiding the language of racial prejudice behind the language of economic prejudice. Blacks stopped being classified as poor because they were naturally inferior, and began to be classified as poor because they were lazy, irresponsible, or any number of other reasons. The language, once it became detached from racial baggage, stopped being a barrier between poor whites and poor blacks. Classist slurs that can be used with equal effect toward poor whites, who are the elite's power base, and poor blacks are a thin barrier between the two communities. After all, how long will it take two groups to realize their commonality when powerful oligarchs address them with the same derisive words? The second mistake was that the elites began shipping high wage jobs overseas. Off-shoring eroded the economic divide between the two wage class communities, and as the economic advantage of wage class whites disappears so too is their loyalty to the elite.

The new level field should be obvious to anyone who notices that the majority of those shot by the police are poor. That blacks are disproportionately shot comes as no surprise either, since they have historically been trapped in poverty by the writ of the elite, and are the underclass which draws attention away from the elite. The power of the elite comes from the divisions they create in society, and enforcing these divisions violently. Anyone who can find a way to bridge the divisions in the wage class will weaken the elite's power, as MLK realized. BLM was handed a perfect opportunity by ALM to finish the work King started, handed an opportunity to become a voice for the voiceless, an opportunity to bridge the divide by challenging the violence. Instead of taking the opportunity they doubled down on their rhetorical choice, expended precious time and energy defending the choice, and played into the divisions that strengthen the elite. Is it that difficult to hold two signs, one that says ALM and one that says BLM?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Signs of Virtue

I hoped to keep writing about imperial systems of control because there are so many factors to explore in the subject that I could happily keep writing for years. However, current events are drawing my attention in another direction. Since the issue I have in mind is tangentially related to a concept called “colonized minds,” the divination isn't particularly far from the core of what I want to discuss.

Resistance against empire isn't easy, but it also isn't particularly new. As long as there have been empires, there have been those who sought to destroy them. A whole range of strategies and tactics were used (from violent confrontation to civil disobedience) to challenge imperial power. This being the case, it should come as no surprise to anyone that volumes were written about the strategies and tactics of resistance. In the twentieth century alone Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and a host of other revolutionaries laid out detailed how-to guides on starting and organizing resistance movements.
Yet despite having access to virtual libraries worth of knowledge on the subject of resistance and revolution, the majority of modern proto-revolutionaries are stuck in a self-defeating cycle of rhetoric and protest. I could speak at length about the environmental, economic justice, or numerous other movements, and I probably will speak about them at a later date, but here I want to confront a movement that is particularly active at the moment: Black Lives Matter (BLM).

BLM is not a single homogeneous group, but an extremely diverse number of groups marching under a single slogan. I have my own views about the argument surrounding that slogan, but that's a discussion for another time. Here I want to look at a far more important, and unaddressed, issue about the real motivations of the movement’s supporters, and what two tactics they use – namely protest and social media promotion, and what these can tell us about the motivations of the supporters.

BLM's supporters cannot be easily categorized because they are ultimately bound together by a common idea rather than a common organization. That does not mean that they defy categorization, just that the categories must fit them, instead of the supporters being made to fit the categories.  Divisions based on their regions of operation and names of their groups are too narrow while categories based on their rhetoric are too ephemeral to provide any meaningful understanding. Here the best way to categorize the supporters of BLM is by their collective actions.

By 'actions' I do not mean the recent shootings or riots, which are isolated regionally, but the day-to-day activity that the movement’s supporters do to resolve the injustices of police excess upon the black community. One’s actions ultimately establish one’s underlying motivation, which is easily hidden by loud rhetoric.

The emotional motivation driving the actions of the movement comes from anger at the indiscriminate violence perpetrated by the police. The anger is followed by compassion for those suffering, and hope to remedy the problem causing the suffering.
Anger, compassion, and hope are excellent motivations for a movement calling for justice, but only if they are the fuel to move a well thought out strategy. Without a strategy it is impossible to establish benchmarks, without benchmarks it is impossible assess whether progress toward resolution is being made. Even worse, without benchmarks, it becomes impossible to determine who genuinely supports a movement, and who is simply using the movement as a status symbol.

Before we proceed, it is important to understand the virtue signal. The term is synonymous with status symbol, but derives its meaning from something that anthropologists noticed in all societies. A good example of virtue signalling comes from an NFL player named Tim Tebow, who would kneel on the field and give thanks to his god after every successful play. Tebowing was a meme for sometime as people poked fun at his explicit religiosity by Tebowing in absurd locations. The meme itself became a kind of virtue signal from sports fans. Tebow was performing his actions as a way to signal people within his sub-group, Evangelical Christians, that he was one of them. It is quite common within that community to loudly and publicly declare ones faith. Similarly, politicians who declare their faith publicly are signalling their virtue to their base, saying, in effect, “I am one of you, vote for me.” Every sub-group, from video gamers to music lovers, has their own system of signalling their virtue to their groups.

In our society, facebook and other social media platforms have become the loudest stage from which to signal one’s virtue, and thus improve one’s status among a sub-group that one wishes to affiliate with. Movements for justice are especially vulnerable to this problem because there are very few people who don't want to be affiliated with calls for justice. A article from IFLScience exposed this problem, noting that most people share articles without actually reading them. Social media is proliferate with articles about environmental, human rights concerns, health, politics, and many other issues which are largely unread, but heavily shared because their titles are provocative.

Here we have our first categorization between those who truly want to see police power constrained, and those who are simply virtue signalling. The problem with these categories is that as the situation currently stands with BLM, there are no clear actions that allow true supporters to separate themselves from false ones. Afterall, the only three actions that seem to be available are protest marches, social media posting, and writing to one’s congressperson. The two former actions are public displays that any  individual, whether out of vanity or sincerity, can partake in to signal their virtue, and placate themselves for making a contribution to the cause. The latter action, writing to one’s congressperson, is ludicrously ineffective.

Police violence is directly, and provably, related to training, discretionary authority, and lack of oversight. Each of these factors, along with many others, are not handled by the federal government. The United States of America is one of the few countries where police power is determined by those policed. As far as accessible strategic goals go, reforming the police is actually possible for an organized and motivated group of reformers. The task is by no means easy, but reform has never been easy.

Following the well worn path of reform would give real supporters a checklist to help verify true allies and supporters from virtue signallers. Is person willing to set aside personal time to write letters, knock on doors, or attend meetings? If not, then that person is virtue signaller. Is the person registered to vote? If not, then that person is a virtue signaller. Do they know the names of their city/county councillors, mayor, sheriff/chief of police? If not, then that person is a virtue signaller. These kinds of checklists are usable no matter the person’s skin colour.
While it may seem crude to vet the virtue signallers from your rank, ask yourself if you really want someone claiming affiliation with your cause and doing nothing substantive to support it. BLM should be especially offended because virtue signallers are literally using the deaths of young men and women to improve their public status. Voter registration, letter writing campaigns, attending committee meetings, reading, and study groups are not very sexy, but they are the core of successful civil rights movements. Real movements take the sacrifice of time and energy, they take the humility to work knowing you may never be publicly recognized for what you do.

All the available evidence points to a fairly significant portion of BLM supporters being little more than virtue signalling parasites. BLM is already stuck in a death spiral of protest and rhetoric, one very similar to other reform movements. They attack potential allies in other minority communities, such as breaking up the LGBTQ vigil for the shootings in Orlando; miss vital opportunities to open their movement to other aggrieved persons, like failing to co-opt the All Lives Matter mantra; fail to establish a functional strategy; and pursue one endless series of publicity campaigns after another. A meaningful road to reform would necessarily require people to give up as many leisure activities as possible, in order to join together as a community to take real actions against police violence. Sacrifice is the core virtue of reform movements, and the more people are willing to sacrifice the more likely beneficial change will happen.

The Diminishing Returns of Immigration

I feel deeply uncomfortable writing anything bad about immigration. Not only am I an immigrant, but my whole family, and very many of my dear friends have benefited from global citizenship.

Global citizenship, as I defined in my previous article, Nails in the Coffin, is the process by which people are extracted from a deprived part of the empire and granted access to a prosperous part. The gift of access comes with the obligation of supporting the systems of the empire with one's labor, and generally shying away from speaking negatively about parts of the system that are considered “good” by the empire’s philosophy. My labor is my writing, and I have benefited from immigration, so by speaking against immigration I am laboring against a system that has benefited me and could benefit others.

I fully expect to have charges of bigotry or selfishness leveled against me. After all, by speaking against a system that has made my life better, it does seem similar to pulling the rope up once I've made it to the top of the mountain. However, the current theory of open immigration is a tool of imperial control, which is hurting working class people with false promises of prosperity. That must be confronted.

Open immigration, which stands in direct contrast to controlled immigration, has much lower standards to receive permission to immigrate. Different countries have different requirements, but we can say that the more requirements, the more controlled the system. I am fully in favor of a system of controlled immigration, but not open immigration.
Open immigration is supported by a broad spectrum of individuals, from human rights advocates to economists, under the assumption that the free movement of people will benefit both the migrants and the receiving economies. It is a concept most heavily promoted by neo-liberal (new liberal) economists. Their reasoning is that free movement of capital (raw material) and labor would allocate these resources more effectively, boost economic productivity, and lead to a genuinely “free market.” The fact that free movement increased the rate of extraction from the peripheries (payer communities) to the center (beneficiaries) was no surprise because that's what productivity means. That the movement of material and people undermined local community’s ability to resist extraction was an added benefit. Neo-liberals stated that “free markets” were supposed to improve prosperity for all people, but obviously didn't for the majority of people.

Those of us who occupy the lower rungs of the hierarchy in the beneficiary’s circle, support open immigration by chanting the mantra “it helps the economy,” or some variation thereof. Like the “free market,” the “economy” has become an abstraction to hide real limits and real consequences, which are known in economics as diminishing returns.

Crack open a text book and you will find a definition of economics that reads something like, “Economics is the exchange of goods and services.” This definition, and others like it, leave out vital pieces of information, such as where do the goods come from? Or more accurately, where do the raw materials to produce the goods come from? The answer, as John Michael Greer points out in his book, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, comes from nature. Greer divides the economy into three parts, or tiers. The first tier of the economy is nature, which produces the produce that we extract. The second tier is production of goods, and the services that develop around the distribution of those goods. The third tier is financial, and is a means of facilitating movement of goods and services. When divided in this way only the first two tiers can be considered real, because if there are no materials there can be no production or exchange. Because tier three is simply the movement of paper it can also become detached from the real economy, and forms what we call a bubble. Strangely, even though it is the least useful tier it is the most powerful in our society.

Prosperity anywhere depends on people having immediate and future access to goods and services. All people measure their prosperity comparatively. They compare what they have in terms of basic necessities like food, water, shelter, medicine, and in terms of luxuries, to what they had and what the could or might have. They also compare what they have to what others in their community have. Just as important is their perception of both their own and their community’s ability to achieve the prosperity they believe they deserve. The availability of resources per-capita is a determining factor of how prosperous a community is, and will be.

In our empire's economic system prosperity is divided  on the three tiers of economy. The least prosperous people all work to extract resources from nature (miners, farmers, etc...), while the wealthiest are in the financial tier. As William R. Catton pointed out in his book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis for Revolutionary Change, division of labor is an ecological principle. Every quasi-species in the case of human societies, finds an ecological niche. We can reasonably say that any society that has endless resources can create endless niches to fill. Thus they can absorb an endless number of people, who would find endless prosperity without compromising the prosperity of others. The problem is that no society has an endless amount of resources at its disposal, and the current high levels of prosperity in the developed world can be directly tied to having access to a disproportionate amount of the world’s natural resources.

The developed world, as a result of having access to those resources, could take in as many people as there were niches to fill and create more niches without compromising the prosperity of people already in the developed world. Their intake capacity, the total number of people an economy can absorb without compromising the prosperity, or perceived prosperity, of the resident population, is high. Intake capacity is quite similar to the ecological concept of carrying capacity, which states that every ecosystem has a maximum supportable load for a given species relative to the resources available in the ecosystem. Carrying capacity is applicable to division of labor, or specializations, as it is also known in economics. If everyone was a banker or baker then those two niches would witness intense, even violent competition. The point at which the majority of an ecosystems population are losing prosperity, however it is measured in that ecosystem, is the point at which intake capacity has been reached. The point at which the available population is greater than the number of available niches is the point at which maximum carrying capacity has been reached.

When niches become over saturated, adding more people to the population base does not grow the economy. Rather, each additional person strains the ecosystem, that is to say the infrastructure and welfare system, that help supplement personal prosperity in the developed world. Housing, fresh water, food, medicine, and the promise of future prosperity all become issues that instigate conflict. Past a certain point more people do not grow the economy, they only reduce the benefits gained by working in some niches and deliver those benefits to those working in other niches. In our economy, that means as more people are added to the service sector, which holds the majority of niches, then the drop in wages paid by those jobs will benefit those who use the services. Keep adding people and the conflict created by those competing for finite resources will negate any benefit gained from cheaper services.

In the United Kingdom and the United States of America, the beating hearts of our empire, the elite have done something infinitely more insane than simply add endless numbers of people. Under the advice of their neo-liberal economists, the elite have actively reduced the number of niches available in the economy by outsourcing entire industries, and simultaneously reduced the resources that go toward maintaining welfare and infrastructure. These steps have reduced the diversity of niches available, and reduced the resources available that support standard of living (personal prosperity), all while adding endlessly more people to the labor force through the support of open immigration policies.

This strategy, if you want to call it that, is directly contributing to the rise of racially and religiously motivated nationalism. Keep walking along this path and the inevitable consequence will be mass violence.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nails in the Coffin

Over the past week I've watched the rhetoric surrounding England and Wales' decision to leave the European Union with growing concern. I'm concerned because a great many people who I though were ardent opponents of globalization, which I will refer to by it's actual name, imperialism, from here on, attacked and derided those who may have just struck the most important blow against the imperial project in the last half century.

Before I go on I want to be clear about something. I am not British, thus I have only a small understanding of the complexities of political and social issues of those isles. Therefore, you should read my thoughts knowing that I do not believe what occurred in Britain is any of my business, except in context of my border stance against the imperial project.

The “imperial project” is a loaded term that needs be unpacked in order for my understanding of the context of the recent referendum to make sense. To start with, imperialism is the imposition of the will of one body of people onto another. The motivation behind the imposition is the control of natural or human resources. The resources are extracted for the benefit of the imposers. Author John Michael Greer calls this a wealth pump.

What we need to look at are the tactics used by empires against our communities, and communities similar to ours, to fully understand the growing nationalist backlash. First, however, we need to understand social stratification within the empire, for these divisions determine how successfully an empire can control its wealth pumps.

Social stratification is a natural byproduct of human population growth. The larger our population the more specializations our societies generate. Imperialism is based on two broad categories beneficiary and payer. That is, those who benefit from wealth extracted and those who have their wealth extracted. There aren't always clear separations between the two, but a cursory study of any country will allow you to find groups that have access to more resources and those who have access to less. Many social scientists have called this division of caste, class, and several other names. These same people have observed and established that a hierarchy does exist between the division, and that there is movement between the strata, albeit with varying degrees of frequency.

In our empire we call the movement between strata “social mobility,” and we name the concept class, using various descriptions such as middle-class, working-class, and so on to describe ones position on the strata. A well run empire will try to keep the majority of people on the beneficiary’s side of the line, and find a way to ensure that even payers see some benefit. Social welfare programs are essentially the attempt by those who control the resource surplus to expand the scope of benefits available to those who don't have any control.

The on going conversation on wealth distribution is about how our empire should fix a broken beneficiary system, but that is a conversation for another time. The tactics we need to discuss here are the ones that allow the elites, and their middle-class clients, to reap the benefits of their control, while everyone else pays.

If you have heard the term “global village,” and subscribe to its general principals, then it is likely you are a beneficiary of our empire’s unification strategy. The logic behind unification is simple. Create one system of prosperity that responds to a single power structure. The philosophy is one of negation. It negates the right of any community to not participate, it negates the right of any community to control its own resources, it negates the right of a community to control its own territory, and even to decide who belongs to that community and who doesn't. Freetrade, immigration, and metropolitanism are all tactics to negate local power structures which can stand in opposition to control over people and resources.

Rights are not abstractions. They are not granted by the heavens, but are imparted by social consensus. Our empire, as with most empires, attains consensus through coercion. The coercion isn't always violent, but it is always aggressive.

Freetrade, one of a series of Orwellian phrases deployed by our empire to describe a method of control, is not free by any measure. No community can opt out of freely trading their goods to the empires merchants without significant force of arms. That effectively means that every small tribe, in every remote corner, will be forced to join the world economy to some degree. Whether or not they become a curiosity for tourists, slaves, or are simply exterminated varies from case to case. If the community is unfortunate enough to live upon or near abundant natural resources, they will quickly find themselves ruled over by a beneficiary and reduced to poverty. Even a well organized and populace country can find itself cut off from neighbours, if it doesn't conform to the trade standards of the empire. Iran, Russia, Greece, and many other countries have experienced this coercion, and England will soon feel it for its deviance. Of course violence and economic coercion are only two methods to bring countries and communities under the control of empire. Once there, two very insidious methods are deployed to retain control.

Divide and conquer is common tactic used by most empires to keep its subjects under control. Divisions are created by granting privileges, and in our empire the biggest division is between “global citizens” and “citizens.” A global citizen is a citizen of the empire, and a major beneficiary of wealth extraction. People are encouraged to lend their talents, time, and passion to the project of global prosperity. The unacknowledged truth is that prosperity is not global, and is only concentrated in a few centres of power. Thus the encouragement to contribute to global prosperity, to take up Global Citizenship, is an invitation to partake in the process of wealth extraction. The invitation is insidious because it is part of the process of extraction, and the resource being extracted are the people  who take up their new unrooted citizenship.

We call this process “Brain Drain,” an apt description for removing much needed talent from local communities. Encouraging individuals to forsake the often desperate needs of their community, disentangle themselves from complex emotional demands, from the hard realities of subjugated communities and pursue person prosperity over communal prosperity is how an empire's elite create a willing army of conquistadors: those who serve as equal part solider, trader, bureaucrat, and functionary of the empire.

Sadly, even immigrants, who are normally from payer communities, and simply seeking to join the beneficiaries table, are used as fodder for imperial subjugation. Our empire has existed long enough so that many communities within the empire have managed to negotiate a fairly stable position at the beneficiaries table. What we call the “working-class” formed unions and negotiated an agreement that traded labor for the comforts of imperial life. The empire’s elite broke that agreement by passing laws that undermined collectivization, and then opened borders to allow free movement of subjugated peoples.

Open immigration was even supported by several opponents of the empire, who saw the movement of subjugated people from exploited regions to less exploited regions as a way to better the lot of one payer community. They did not stop to consider that an influx of labor into an already saturated market violates the law of supply and demand, and allows the elite to drive down the cost of labor.

People supporting immigration see it as a moral imperative, a way to better the well-being of payer communities in distant parts of the empire. These self-same people see themselves as part of the global village, and as global citizens. To them it makes sense to support policies that allow others to partake in the fruits of empire. They do not stop to consider the negative effects of open immigration on local communities that are already over-populated. In fact the imperial system of thought control, manipulative words and phrases, actively discourages the middle-class from thinking about the negatives. Academics, another group of beneficiaries, publish extensive studies supporting open immigration. That the constant influx of new arrivals creates completion for scarce jobs, housing, and government welfare is never given proper consideration. Add to that the outsourcing of high wage jobs, and the backlash against immigration becomes easy to understand. What looks like xenophobia is no more than a reaction to the imperial negation of local prosperity and sovereignty.
Ultimately, the only people who benefit from outsourced production and constant movement of labor are the ones who have to pay less for goods and services – the global citizen and their elite patrons.

Beneficiaries now overwhelmingly congregate in cities such as London, New York, Seattle, Beijing, and many others. These are centers of prosperity, places that are wholly dependent on a global network of extraction and exploitation to survive. The Orwellian phrases of “diversity” and “multi-culturalism” are deployed to describe a globally homogeneous culture. Global citizens hop from one part of the global village to another, and are ultimately able to find all the same comforts regardless of where they travel. Metropolitanism epitomises a culture of exploitation and false promises. It is somewhat ironic that one of the current leaders of England's Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, once remarked, “Nobody wants to live in a f*cking village, you can't be a rock start in a f*cking village,” when he served as London's mayor. Indeed the promise of joining the beneficiaries table and ascending its hierarchy is what draws the young to the cities, never mind that the odds of ascension are remote, or that the native communities need the service of the young to survive. No, what's important is self-interest. This is the lie of the city and its keepers.

Given that freetrade, immigration, and metropolitanism destroy the ability of payer communities to prosper, let alone survive, it should come as no surprise that a nationalist backlash was forthcoming. When people resist they unify themselves around familiar symbols such as ethnicity, religion, regionalism, or class. These symbols allow for the biggest tent, and draw the most supporters, which is what a nation ultimately needs to resist the mechanations of empire.

What is surprising is that the backlash against empire has nearly no support from the traditional opponents of empire, the political left. The ideals of worker’s rights, anti-free trade, and anti-metropolitanism are the positions long advocated by the political left. Yet at every turn they are lending their voices to support the leaders and citizens of the global village. Instead of seeing the truth of a class rebellion, they see only the rising tide of ethnic nationalism. Make no mistake, the current leaders of the backlash in Europe and the United States of America are using every tool at their disposal to overpower the imperial elite. Nationalism and religious sentiment are certainly tools that are being deployed. If the nationalist resistance against empire drifts further into ethnocentrism and religiosity then no one will bare more blame than the secular and cosmopolite class, all of who failed to sacrifice their privileges for the well-being of the native payer communities.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The New Circles of Privilege

I am reluctant to dip my toe into the discussion on “privilege,” it is a water heated by two years of fiery rhetoric, and so hot that I may end up boiled alive.

Unfortunately, the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump makes the discussion impossible to ignore. Our two nascent demagogues portend an event in our fair country's history that I was waiting for, but by no means expecting so soon.

No, not the end of privilege and the herald of some utopia age, nor the mechanical marching of jackbooted feet, but the end of a fair portion of privileges for various social classes in our fair country. Before I launch further into this thought, let me dust off the word privilege. A much used, but much misunderstood word. Simply put, there are two kinds of privileges, those that exist due to historical circumstance, and those that are created in response to historical circumstances. The most obvious of the former is birth, in most societies privileges are passed along by birth. Whom your parents were, how wealthy they are, and a great number of other factors that can be added or subtracted, depending on where you live, determine where you start in the game of life. The latter, the point where privileges are created or extended, are considerably more complex to discuss. The creation or extension of privileges normally only happens during exigent, or stressful, social circumstances. Think about war, where one part of the population suddenly gain the privileges, and reciprocal obligations, of soldiers; or economic crisis, where great numbers of a population can suddenly lose the privileges that come with stable employment; or any number of other social upheavals and you will understand how and when the circle of privileges changes. All privileges then are the product of historical happenstance, meaning they are the sum of conscious effort and a whole lot of dumb luck.

Yes, it goes without saying that unevenly distributed social privileges, are both a result and cause of social hierarchy. But don't worry, those on top don't always stay there, building a grand palace of personal prosperity on ones historical social privileges is the equal of building a palace on wet sand. It should also go without saying that the privileges one has, and one gets, comes with reciprocal obligations, which again vary depending on where you are and who you are.

Ultimately, the particularities of history determine your position and society mobility, and the appearance of Trump and Sanders signal that we're standing at the beginning of one of those exigent circumstances. I don't know who will win, or whether either will win, this election cycle but their appearance has shown the vulnerability of our current crop of elite and the circles of privileges that they protect. If redrawing of the circles of privilege doesn't happen in this election, it'll happen in two or three.

When demagogues rise they always redraw the borders of privilege to benefit themselves, it's called consolidation of power. Often the only thing needed to gain some privileges from the new power structure is loyalty. I feel safe saying that a fair portion of elite, and a fair portion of their long chain of dependants, are about to end up as far from the center of privilege as I now sit. Who in our country will end up on the outs, and whether they end up shoved out or leave quietly, is another of those historical details I have no influence on, so I'll leave that alone.

The rise of demagogues puts elites and their chain of dependents into a panic, because once those privileges are redistributed, the new borders are more or less permanent until the next crisis. Note how many people are panicking about the rise of Trump and Sanders, and who's screaming the loudest, and you'll have a pretty good idea of who stands to lose the most.

The broad stroke is that a fair portion of “us,” unless you're part of the “us” that is already on the outside, are probably going to end up outside those new circle of privilege. Are you a part of the “us” that will determine whether you end up the outside? That remains to be seen, but stepping lightly and making preparations might not be a bad idea.

If you're on the outs, or soon will be, you're part of the commons. The circles of privilege are always small and more people end up on the outside than on the inside, since it's more common to be on the outside than on the inside it makes sense those on the outside are commons.

As a common you have three options, one is to hope your dumb luck holds out and you end up in one of the new favored social categories, which could be determined by any of the normal factors such as religion, ethnicity, blood-relations, or region of residence. Dumb luck might just put you in one of those categories. The second is to side with demagogues, and their dependents, and make yourself useful to someone in the new circle to gain a little spill-over privilege. Of course that depends on whether you have any useful skills, and what the new elites find useful. Not a particularly winning proposition because you'll have to hope that we have the right skills, and the new circles aren't full of monsters, but there is historical evidence to support those choices.

The third, and my personal preference, is to redraw the circles ourselves. Make common cause with people in similar circumstances, and start finding small ways to secure our access to basic necessities. At this point there are enough of us who have already been kicked out, or stepped out, of the current circles. The system as is doesn't benefit us anymore, so why sit around hoping that someone will make it benefit us? If we commons intend to secure a future for ourselves, and our children, then perhaps it is best we do so on our terms rather than on someone else's? Trust is a core privilege that you have the ability to grant others, something that is only in your power to give and take away. Why give your trust to some far off voice making promises of prosperity, when your friends and neighbours are close-by?

Trust is the foundation of community, and what greater privilege is there than belonging to a community that trusts you with their prosperity and safety? If we can trust each other with our economic welfare, it is a short step to being able to trust each other with our safety. Trust doesn't just appear, it is planted and watered by action, it is nurtured by words. If the commons are to come together, even in a small way, we must be able to trust that we won't betray each other based on the promises of far off voices. We have to count on each other for what we need, use our skills and ideas for each other instead of some abstract whole. 

These are our options, we have the ability to decide our future. Either we make choices, and follow them up with actions, either we draw together, or we take our chances with the cards history is about to deal us. Time to choose.