Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Authoritarian Alternative to Authoritarianism

I heard the tale end of NPR's "On Point" tonight. Tom Ashbrook was interviewing Clay Christensen, a religious and business leader.

He recited an anecdote about a Chinese Marxist and economist who studied with him at Harvard. You can find a similar retelling here. The main thrust was that in order to create a stable and prosperous culture, there were two ways about it. You could go the way of Singapore, and have clear rules and clear ramifications for those who broke them, or you could go the way of democracy, which Christensen sweetly stated through the mouth of his Marxist friend was far harder.

But in democracy, the only way people would behave in a just way was that they believed they would be punished or rewarded according to a higher power. The PDF I link to makes the religiosity much clearer, though even the radio statement (toward the last 10 minutes) was blunt as a hammer.

Personally, I am not surprised that an economist from the PRC would believe that people are weak and require some kind of authority to "hold them accountable"--or, in other words, make them do what is "right." I am sure Christensen saw this as some incredible validation--"Look, even the Marxist thinks we need rules, and that democracy needs religion!" But for me, this is no surprise. An authoritarian and an authoritarian will likely agree on the people; it's the nature of authority on which they differ. It is no surprise that authoritarian socialism gave way to monarchy, state religion, and cults of personality. It is no surprise that Juche and Maoism resemble ancient despotisms, complete with supernaturally gifted leaders. It is no surprise that Guevara became a Castroist Jesus and Stalin was painted with happy children in the same tacky style I see in Adventist portraiture. Man as he is is unimportant to these doctrines. Man is to be molded, recreated, and perfected. They are all Procrustean exercises, all self-demeaning faiths. As valuable as Marx is to deconstructing capitalist economy, he despised anarchists and believed in a rule by elite. He and his heirs ushered in a new priesthood and a new liturgy which has only given way to new Marxian philosophy with great effort and the fall of the Soviet Union.

This is the same as Democrats being trotted out by Republicans when they personally agree. I am not impressed that Lieberman agreed with Bush, no more than I am that Republicans voted for Obama in droves. What is presented as an alternative is not often that significant a difference. Those who are presented as opposites may share great similarities in many areas, especially when the range of discussion is so very small.

In the past, it was much easier to spot this kind of false choice, though people were still ignorant and distracted. Have you ever seen the faces of the Kings of Great Britain, Germany, and Russia at the eve of the First World War? The inbred fools could be practically brothers. Now the appearances are greater among our options, but we still have much the same choice as then: this empire or that, this thug or that, this master or that. And yet we have not improved on the Marxists of a hundred years ago. We do not reach outside to the rest of the world. For all our technology, we have dwindled to myriad disparate homebodies and provincialists. I am all for home rule, and yet I do not believe in being divided and being conquered. And if it is not obvious right now, despotism is as strong as ever it has been. After all, the Mormons and the Maoists talk when they are at the highest levels of power. We commoners cannot say the same. We libertarians and anarchists and resisters have yet to answer the authoritarians. And as a result they continue to choose our alternatives, and control our fates.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


It must be a miserable existence to mistrust and punish each new acquaintance for the sins of past others.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What are others for?

Other people start out as housing and food source.
Then they basically provide the same thing, only with more apparent labor.
Then they're masters, sometimes kind ones, sometimes bewildering ones, sometimes cruel.
And they are also playmates. And rivals.
They're too close and need to get away.
They're too far away; please don't leave!
They teach us. They teach us some things that make sense and some things that are very, very wrong.
They hurt us.
They soothe us.
They ignore us.
Others come.
Others leave. Some come back. Others never come back.
Peers, entertainment, necessary collaborators, enemies, brutalizers, allies....

What are others for?
Themselves? Sure, we believe it sometimes. We know that their interests are theirs. But sometimes it's so hard to extend to them our own desire for autonomy and we want to see them in some manipulative, Stirnerite way. They are for me and my interest.
But let's be honest. It's so hard for us to even get to a point where we can be earnestly egoist. Most of the time we don't know where they end and we begin. Most of the time we have no idea when to please others or revolt or stand alone or accept the wisdom of others. When do we accept logic or agree and when do we knuckle under?

I'd say most people don't know the difference between agreement and acquiescence. And that's a real problem.

I interact with others and the more "professional" the interaction, the better. All the rules. And if I know you very well, then good, too. I can be honest. And then between them is a vast sea of individual interactions in which I have neither title nor familiarity and I freeze. My work has made me very good at talking to anyone, so long as I do not offer too much of myself. The disintegration of my marriage has made me very, very scared, however. Every interaction brings peril if I say anything about my personal life. I don't know who to trust, I don't know what to say, how much is oversharing, how much will bring quiet resentment. In short, I've had four and a half months of education that have told me not to be so open, not to be forthcoming. I've had multiple instances where I have learned that others will use your information against you, even if you speak freely and with no distress.

So what are others for? I want to play and talk and speak boldly and be very open, very blunt, and very forgiving with others. But I am learning that I must regard every other as a potential threat. The thought sickens me, is foreign to me, but there it is. Right now I am realizing that threats come from all directions. It is a lonely thing to realize. It drives me a little mad, which is to say deeper into my mind, farther away from tangible experience. I am out of touch with my instincts to associate and trust. In my current environment, those impulses appear rather stupid.

What are others for? I don't know. I look forward to the time when I interact with new people. Now I operate in isolation. My greatest goal is to continue until the danger has passed. It feels autistic. I don't know if it's healthy or if it's necessary.

Maybe the question I really want to ask is "What am I for?" Because there are times right now I feel like an empty skin, a husk, a hull of a man.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Basic Ideas: Housing

Back to a real post. It's been too long.

I have been troubled by hearing anarcho-libertariany people pick up the meme of bemoaning the last few decades' policy of ostensibly encouraging home-ownership. Don't get me wrong--I have a lot of contempt for convoluted liberal statism that works through banks and employers and tax revenue and the housing industry* to basically create conditions that, for me anyway, could be imposed in much easier ways (that probably require greater forms of despotism).

* Still puzzled that this has become the thing that it has, but I don't know economics. Anyway.

So anyway, I think the housing scheme, with Johnsonian governmental orgs and business exploiters and I guess a few people who ended up with homes, is eminently questionable. But that's not where it stops. There seems to be a degree of offense to the idea that everyone who wants one ought to have a house, like one they quasi-own. And we deviate into a lot of classism and other -ism that some people ought to just rent. And let me say how I understand renting.

Renting is fine, I suppose. There've been times in my life I've done it, no doubt. But basically it's paying money to stay in a place, and once the money ends, you're out. You haven't gained anything but the time you had. You maybe take your furniture unless you, God forbid, rented that too. But basically you're just paying money to somebody else who owns it.

In the last way, it's the same as a mortgage. Banks own it and you say that you do, but again, in our convoluted system, there are things like equity that you do take with you and there's also something you can sell potentially, at least in part. At least owning it becomes an option. Straight-up renting is nothing but a fee for living space. It's a penalty that some of us are willing to soak and some of us even able to. But it's inherently inferior.

So anyway, if you don't support our system of housing, fine, but if you reject an owned or one day ownable home for all who want it, I wonder what alternative there is. I mean, if you're a small state conservative, this appears to be the renter way, which makes sense, because the bourgeois love renting out houses to pay the mortgages on them so that they can own two or more homes when they retire from their jobs looking busy. And... what else is there?

I have come to the position that even if I don't support the current housing schemes, I believe that everyone--everyone--is entitled to some room that is just theirs. I don't know if these should be block housing or what. I think everyone should have a place that is reasonably fire-proofed, with a locking door, where they can rest or pass out or spend time without fear of rape, assault, or murder. If we can say that the state is overly complex in its housing schemes then I would add that this is true and that I see the idea of expending time and effort in order to earn coupons that can be used in exchange for temporary housing is workable but no less complex and morally questionable. I do not see why my service to wealthier citizens is required for housing, and I think that state housing is abysmal and purposefully miserable.

Obviously constructing this or reassigning space for this is a very hard thing to achieve. Call it a pipe dream. But while I consider tactics, I believe I have the ethics right. Housing is the first means of production, for it houses and allows the ongoing construction of the self. It is as fundamental as food, its lack as detrimental as any other. When you see the behavior of individuals who have lacked for individual space, it is not entirely upbringing or mentality or situation or choice that can be credited. It is a curious combination of vigilance and carelessness, lack of boundaries and potential for aggression. People suffer when they do not have space. That so many manage in the system we have is to their credit, not to the system itself.

Seeing What We Want to See

I say:
"Context helps make them worse, but context doesn't always make a good action bad or vice versa. I think a Falwell encouraging casual violence is bad; that the hypothetical encourages it against women may be considered worse because it combines with larger power differentials."

High Arka responds:
"That's an interesting point. If someone is the current underdog, then, we should excuse them violent speech directed against the current overlord?"

At first I responded to what he clearly wants to say, but I should have been annoyingly logical. The above is not a response at all. Where did I excuse violent speech? The initial statement condemned it. You know, the Crow hate goes on just fine at Crow's blog. I can't very well defend the man because I never intended to. I have agreed with him, but I don't share his beliefs. Even if I did, I'd defend them differently.

Christ, if I wanted straw men and intentional exaggeration of my arguments, I'd have stayed in Kentucky or kept talking to my ex-father-in-law. If you've got an issue with Crow's comment about castration, go tell him yourself. I've critiqued his ideas of revolutionary justice aplenty. What I am saying is relatively clear. Genitals and skintone have a little bit of historical baggage around here. If you want to be all pedantic, then say "Well, I don't know why Wollstonecraft needed to vindicate woman's rights. She should have just vindicated people's rights." Yeah. The future starts now. We're all enlightened. Queers need to settle down. Women are uppity. I know plenty of blacks who love Ron Paul. This is where this is going, right?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seriously, though, this is actually one more argument for the irrationality of action and life.

Sometimes you only know what you're leaving after you've left it.

I think the human perspective is so easily warped, so subjective, so limited in scope if potentially grand in accuracy, detail, and understanding, that sometimes you only perceive by retreating, abandoning, moving away...

And the sayings go that you'll only miss it when it's gone, but I think another case is true. Sometimes only in thrashing to get away do you realize precisely how necessary your escape was.

Some quantum mechanical part of my brain says that I've changed what I left, but I really don't think we change things fundamentally. The attacker does not get to say "you made me do this!" as he holds down a throat or pins a knee. Because all of us have the option to let others go.

Anyway, the first line was the only part I saw clearly of all this. Break free, friends. Sometimes that's the only way you'll see it clearly.