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.