Category Archives: Anti-capitalism/usury/STV

“Communism has been tried, and failed!”

A common, popular line of argumentation against communism (some might say, the end of all discussion about communism) holds that communism has been tried and failed, so we shouldn’t talk or think about it any longer.

I guess what we’re butting against here is good ol’ pragmatism. As for any other pragmatic argument, we must first ask: on what standard(s) are we to evaluate whether it “failed”?

If the standard for “failed” is that it no longer exists, well, communism still exists in some places, therefore communism has not yet “failed.”

If the standard for “failed” is that it does not raise the standard of living for people (by which I mean not just economically but socially as well), then communism “succeeded,” because it did raise the standard of living in the USSR. Indeed, when communism ended, the standard of living dropped.

If the standard for “failed” is that it has killed millions of people, then capitalism and democracy have also “failed.” The Black Book of Communism states that 94 million people died due to communism (a questionable claim in itself); the estimates of capitalism’s death toll is estimated at one billion plus, not counting all the deaths caused by neo-liberalism around the world. But who’s counting?

Is it that communism was “defeated”? Well, democracy in Ancient Greece was defeated by the Roman Empire, so democracy is a “failed” system and we should not talk about it any more. We should immediately replace all democratic governments with autocratic governments. Right? Well obviously that doesn’t work, because democracy is “good.”

What about Christianity? Christianity is responsible for countless deaths, including the Inquisition, the native american genocide, and the persecution of the Jews. Christian doctrines were used to fight against measures which raised the standard of living for all, including abolitionism, feminism, gay rights, abortion, and so on. Christianity, as an ideology, reforms itself very slowly and is always behind the times.

Granted, Christianity has not been defeated yet. It is still very much a force for evil around the world. But it will not survive forever (unless we exterminate each other in the centuries to come).

The fact is that no system of thought is eternal. And how do we deal with transformation and renewals? Capitalism and democracy have both gone through a number of iterations, adapting to the exigencies of successive eras (e.g. classical liberalism, imperialism, fascism). So has anarchism, for that matter.

Anarchism of course has been suppressed by States on many occasions and therefore has “failed.” But it still exists, has raised the standard of living for people whenever it has been put into operation, and has not killed as many people as either capitalism or communism. So by these standards, anarchism is more “successful.”

But either way, what does it matter? Pragmatism is not a fair standard of evaluation of anything, because, as in this case, it is based on some implicit, unquestioned standard of “working.” People want to talk about communism being a “failure” as a way to shut down discussion about it. It connects with our mainstream desire for “success” in all domains: who wants to be associated with “losers”? Radicals are less likely to care about “success” or “failure” and to care more about ethical principles.

I would go beyond the principle that no system of thought is eternal, and say that no principle at all (including this one!) is eternal. A principle may be formulated to hold true in a wide variety of contexts, but it is generally not made to be true in all possible contexts. This is true even in science, where even the most stable principles of physics break down near Planck time.

Comparing self-ownership and self-objectification.

A discussion in the comments between myself and cyanidecupcake led me to consider the differences between self-ownership and self-objectification.

Ownership is, fundamentally, a relation between one individual and society as a whole regarding control over some man-made object (ownership cannot logically be derived from a state of non-ownership, therefore it is logically impossible to justify ownership of natural resources). Using the power inherent in society, we all make a deal that anyone who tries to usurp that control may be violently stopped. Depending on the scope of the control, we may call this system property, rent, commons, and so on.

Objectification means to abstract human beings as purely physical objects of desire, and to evaluate women based on the sole standard of how much they fulfill socially constructed male desires, a process which we call the male gaze. In short, it separates oneself as a subject and the other as an object, as long as one sees oneself as a human being. Objectification is a process which inscribes itself within Patriarchy as a form of devaluation of women and exploitation of women’s bodies.

At first glance, there does not seem to be any connection between the two concepts. But remember that I argued that hierarchy is property, and the Patriarchy is, amongst other things, the expression of gender hierarchy, meaning that men as a class claim ownership over women as a class. This claim used to be legal and literal; nowadays in the Western world it thankfully has no more legal status, although we still operate under most of its corollaries (e.g. the rape culture, pressure to marry and have children, near-universal objectification).

I’ve already extensively discussed self-ownership, so I will not start another such discussion here. Self-ownership, briefly put, is the logically impossible concept of a human being owning emself, and is used to justify property rights and the absence of positive rights (therefore the absence of actual rights for the individual, since actual rights require positive rights) under ideal capitalism.

Self-objectification is the result of an individual woman integrating the male gaze and adapting herself to its requirements. This means that the woman starts seeing herself as an sexual object and evaluating herself based on the fuckability mandate.

Because objectification is a class phenomenon, self-objectification arises because women are told how to conform through a mediation system composed primarily of parenting and its gender mania, the mass media and its constant objectification, and authority pressure. These factors are all consistently far more oppressive than the society they exist in, because they all have vested interests in preserving gender roles, even if there may be disagreement on how exactly those roles should be apportioned.

Further muddling the issue is that self-objectification in a patriarchal society creates its own reward system (secondary gains for being an obedient inferior).

I bet there are plenty of women who have, from time to time, felt flattered by a look or compliment in the street. There are many more who have felt threatened, unsafe, and angered by being yelled at out the window of a passing truck or stared down on public transit. Whatever Lees feelings and experiences are is fine — what isn’t “fine” is to write an entire article about how great being objectified makes her feel without acknowledging that these feelings aren’t about “mating calls” so much as they are about patriarchy.

Being admired by men for one’s own body can be very gratifying, but it comes at the price of one’s full person (including one’s desires, feelings and intelligence) being rejected. This is a no-win situation for all women: the women who actively pursue the male gaze cannot win because they will never be recognized as full human beings (no matter whether you’re a porn actress, a scientist, or prime minister), and the women who do not pursue the male gaze cannot win because they will automatically be classified as marginal. This is a crummy game where the table is rigged and the dice are weighted.

Competition between women is another obvious effect of self-objectification. If the individual woman is an object and the role of that object is to attract male attention, then other (self-objectifying) women are necessarily competitors. And this will be magnified in male-dominated areas, the areas where women need to cooperate the most.

This leads me to market competition. Women already start at a disadvantage, since they get paid less and are generally seen as less competent than the men in their field. I have little to add on these topics that hasn’t already been said before.

But there’s another issue, and here is where self-ownership and self-objectification join up. If we understand self-ownership as an economic process (I look at myself as an object which produces and is controlled by that process of production), then we can understand that we’re simply looking at two facets of objectification: the human being as a sexual object (object of desire) and as a commodity (object of profitability).

As a worker, you are conceived as a resource (a “human resource”) which must be exploited optimally in order to generate a maximum of profits. As an individual, you must internalize this conception and see yourself as an object of profitability in order to appear valuable to your employers. Failing to do so means you are more likely to lose the game.

Permit me to extend this reasoning even further. As some readers may have noticed, evolutionary psychology is one of my pet topics when we’re talking about explanations for human action, and I think it’s relevant here as well.

I have already pointed out that evopsych is incompatible with individuality, because it is predicted on the (unjustified) assumption that the individual is merely a vehicle for genetically transmitted behavioral strategies which are hardcoded in every human brain. The individual, in this view, is not an active subject but a passive robot, as Richard Dawkins eloquently tells us:

We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.

This is an extremely bleak view of human existence. It’s also inaccurate. For one thing, sequences of genes are not selfish, or even entities for that matter. For another, there is a gigantic leap between the fact that certain sequences of genes have an extremely tenuous connection to the organism’s survival and stating that our identity revolves around preserving genes. We are blindly programmed survival machines, sure, but that has little to do with preserving genes.

According to evopsych, men are programmed to objectify women and cheat on them, women are programmed to be attracted to men who have more resources, men and women are programmed to seek different kinds of work, and so on. It universalizes the worse of conditioned Western gender roles as innate human impulses. As I see it, the psychological objectification inherent in evopsych leads to justifying sexual objectification and commodification as well.

Incidentally, there is evidence that self-objectification correlates with women being less likely to engage in feminist activism. To me this seems to lead into a vicious circle: objectification leads to lower activism, which leads to less voices speaking counter to the mediation system, which leads to more objectification.

Maybe we should say objectification is selfish too. That makes about as much sense as selfish genes.

Politics is an occultation of power and violence.

From Jen Sorensen.

The fundamental principles of political discourse are not freedom, right, choice or equality. As I’ve previously discussed, these terms actually have three different levels of meaning, which fluctuate depending on the person using them. So for instance there are three kinds of freedom, following the three kinds of power:

1. Freedom- from condign power (force).
2. Freedom- from compensatory power (money).
3. Freedom- from conditioned power (indoctrination).

Based on this nomenclature, we may call the “freedom” discussed by voluntaryists and Libertarians freedom1, because it only takes into account condign power. Your standard socialist may be closer to freedom1,2. As for your run-of-the-mill statists who talk about freedom while accepting all forms of power, we can talk about non-freedom or perhaps freedom0.

If our concept of power underlies every use of those other concepts, then it must be more fundamental. What differentiates political ideologies, then, must be their conception of power?

Although I can’t say I know the answer to this question, I haven’t yet found a political issue or question which does not revolve around identifying power, because all arguments around freedom or rights ultimately are about power.

Take the issue of abortion, for example. Anti-abortion proponents argue that abortion is murder and that a fetus has a “right to life”; this reasoning can only make sense if one has already assumed that a pregnant woman is using condign power on another human being, therefore they must redefine fetuses as human beings. So their view of abortion is that of a woman having power over, and murdering, another human being.

The narratives people use to illustrate their political positions serve to reinforce the patterns of power and privilege they assume exist in society. So for instance we have the narrative that women are going around getting abortions as a form of birth control, that they are uncaring, callous, and so on, reinforcing the murderer image.

But if abortion is murder in itself, then why would we need to emphasize the perpetrator’s callousness? You’d think that murder in itself would be more than enough indictment. Obviously the goal is to make us believe in the power of the pregnant woman over the fetus. The fact that women treat fetuses callously “proves” that they are superior on some hierarchy, since we know superiors treat inferiors callously (as all our institutions demonstrate).

Of course the real root of the error about abortion is religio-cultural, centered around genderism (see this entry), not political. People are not anti-abortion on the basis of failing at identifying power and privilege correctly. But inevitably their beliefs about abortion, once formulated, will reflect this logical failure.

Now take the example of social safety nets. Neo-liberalist opponents of safety nets correctly identify condign power as the ultimate basis of government, and rightly oppose this, but they refuse to identify compensatory power and its profound effects on society. Not only do they support a corporate and neo-liberalist apparatus that is more powerful than most world governments, but said apparatus also depends on the very condign power of government and the safety nets that they decry (except they call them “bailouts” instead of “welfare”).

Their stance on power is a direct contradiction, which can only lead to a muddled ideology (here is one example). They believe that social safety nets are “entitlement.” They assume that our current property scheme and distribution scheme are not only the way things should be, but the “natural” way for things to be (as demonstrated by the invalid term “property rights“), and this is how they convince people to ignore corporate power and condign power used in its support.

Another example is genderism (traditional genderism and trans genderism both), which is based on the bizarre notion that women have privilege just by virtue of being women, despite a history of five thousand years of Patriarchy.

The common thread between all these errors is a complete denial of any greater historical or scientific context, which leads to errors about the power and privilege that exists. I have talked about this phenomenon at an individual level (the atomistic mindset), and there’s no great difference between that and applying it at the social level; all you have to do is apply the same concept of actions existing in a vacuum to an entire group of people. The more you simplify a situation, the more you can apply linear logic to it, but the more disconnected from reality your conclusion will be.

Obviously statists are highly motivated to misunderstand the scope of power, because their preferred paradigm (whether religious, political or philosophical) support some form of power. Like theology, whose arguments serve a pre-existing conclusion, their beliefs about power serve a pre-existing ideology.

Okay, now consider a different tack to this question. Stating existing property relations as justification cannot be valid because our property relations exist solely because of a specific property scheme, and the property schemes we use in Western societies are not universal or logically necessary.

So we have giant megacorporations that produce most of what we eat, what we interact with, what the government fights with, and so on. Those giant megacorporations exist because of a legal and cultural framework where capitalist work contracts, corporate personhood, corporate welfare, and so on, are seen as valid (if seen as objectionable by some). So one cannot then turn around and argue that megacorporations are the “natural” order of a large-scale economy; there is nothing “natural” about it, it’s entirely socially constructed.

Now consider the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). The principle that one should not initiate force seems superficially noble (and similar to my Prime Directive, with one crucial difference), but in practice it is meaningless because what one defines as “aggression” depends entirely on what one considers human rights and property.

So let’s take taxation as an example, because it’s a common application of the NAP. Again, neo-liberalists correctly identify taxation as ultimately backed by the force of arms, like all forms of State action. They also posit that taxation is aggression, more specifically theft, based on the NAP, which is where we run into trouble; taxation can only be aggression if we presume that the money belonged to the taxpayer in the first place and that no one has any obligation to their society.

It may be argued that such a view is dictatorial, which is really besides the point; but let’s suppose we set up the same kind of scenario, but this time comparing a socialist ownership scheme with our current property scheme: workers taking over an abandoned factory in Argentina and using it for their own self-managed labour.

Under any legal system which does not function on the basis of self-management, such an act is a highly illegal form of squatting on valuable means of production, and is typically met with beatings and arrests. Under this view, the workers are the aggressors. But under a socialist ownership scheme, such an action is perfectly warranted and just: the workers do own their means of production and are perfectly within their rights to commandeer them. Under this view, the capitalist owners are the aggressors.

My point is not that all property schemes are equally valid (as a socialist, I obviously think the workers are in the right in that last scenario). My point is that determining who is an aggressor and who is a victim cannot be done without starting from a specific conception of property and human rights. Proponents of the NAP, being mostly capitalists, would say that the workers are the aggressors; the correct reply is to point out that this evaluation is based on the unjustified assumption that capitalist property schemes are just and natural.

To come back to the first example, the most obvious problem with taxation is not that it is theft; our taxation system is no more or less theft than our property scheme, and the latter is enforced with a far more extensive use of power than the former. The real problem with taxation is that the money is managed by the State, which has little to no interest in fulfilling its own obligations to society, let alone support our obligations to each other.

The same general problem applies to the term “non-initiation of force.” We can only determine who initiated force by having a prior conception of the situations where it is appropriate and not appropriate to act on other human beings, that is to say a conception of human rights.

You may complain that it is very easy to figure out when someone initiates force: your rights end where my nose begins, and so on. Well this is a very narrow definition of force; consider, for example, a boxing match, or the pollution of someone’s property. In the former, people’s noses are very much invaded but there is no force involved because both parties have consented to the match, while in the latter, no one’s nose is necessarily being invaded but the pollution is an initiation of force against the person, again because of lack of consent. As I’ve said before, consent is not a sufficient standard, but it is a necessary one.

So let’s go back to the example with the workers again. Who initiated force? Let us assume that the owner did not use force in firing the workers. The workers likewise did not initiate any force by taking over the means of production. Neither action usually involves any violence. So it seems that, in that scenario, the initiation of force lies with the apparatus which is tasked with defending property and its owners’ interests (the cops, the courts and the State as a whole), thereby demonstrating again that any property scheme is necessarily backed by force.

Replying that the workers initiated force by using what was not theirs would simply make my point that the conception of force depends on how we define ownership (what is “theirs” and “not theirs”).

I think I’ve made my point sufficiently clear. Force and aggression are not fundamental concepts, because they depend on one’s conception of rights and property; but in parallel with that, all property schemes and conceptions of rights depend on aggression and force in order to exist. Property can most concretely be expressed as a relation between one individual (the owner) and the rest of society: if you take “my” stuff (for any definition of “my”), violence may be used against you.

All politics by definition is violence, so non-violence, NAP and all other such ideologies are not an option (non-violence is at most a luxury). Politicians have to occult this fact because they must maintain the pretense that they are fulfilling a sacred duty to the people, guarding freedom, and so on and so forth. The real question, to anyone who cares about the truth, is: to what ends should we apply violence?

Obviously there are situations where we want to tell other people what to do, and to use force if necessary: we don’t want innocent people to be killed, physically harmed or threatened of such, we don’t want people to be deprived of their life or livelihood, we don’t want people to be deprived of their freedom without at least an excellent reason. Their importance is why we call these things “rights.” Rights are those things we think violence must be used to protect because they are that important.

From a libsoc standpoint, hierarchy is property, therefore the debate revolves around freedom/equality on the one hand, and property/hierarchy on the other. Freedom/equality/non-property ownership/non-hierarchical society necessarily entail no government and no capitalism. Power and violence should both be minimized, because they are unjust and unrealiable tools of governance; when they are to be used at all, they should be distributed as equitably as possible and hopefully used to further the aims of social cooperation, instead of hindering it.

Considering competition as a form of woman-hating.

In a previous entry, I discussed the connections in what I called the Axis of Woman-Hating: natalism (women as a means to the end of procreation), anti-feminism (women are sex objects) and genderism (nature made women inferior).

Obviously there are some connections missing there, and I was only getting at the major ones. Capitalism would be another good example. The difference is that there is nothing that leads us logically from the private ownership of the means of production to woman-hating, but historically there is a strong connection between forms of capitalism (including fascism and State communism) and forms of woman-hating, usually connected to procreation and the family.

Sexism aids the capitalist system. The family provides a base for the reproduction and bringing up of future workers and the servicing and care of current (and unemployed) workers and retired workers.

This work which, in the home, is usually carried out unpaid by women (who may also work outside the home) saves capitalism millions of pounds, increasing the profits of a few.

The capitalist system could exist perfectly well without woman-hating, but it depends on it in various ways. Racism is a good analogy: slavery was economically beneficial to the elites of pre-industrial societies, therefore it was allowed to remain, while industrialization made slavery undesirable to the elites and therefore became illegal. Nowadays racism manifests itself economically in the exploitation of immigrants for cheap labor and the use of poc as an expendable working class.

As the quote points out, capitalism needs to exploit women’s free labor in order to maintain a strict separation between work and family and, in a wider view, to maintain the population of the worker base.

So the connection to the other forms of woman-hating is pretty obvious. In all these ideologies, women are seen not as full persons but as means to an end: the end of mindless procreation, the end of sustaining the factitious family structure, the end of the widespread exploitation of women by men and the intellectual justification of that exploitation.

One of the core ideas of capitalism is competition. The idea sounds good in the abstract, if you don’t really think about the social context, but in practice competition leads to lower creativity and higher conformity, lower efficiency, lower motivation (especially when coupled with monetary rewards), and is least conducive to learning in schools. These results have been confirmed by so many studies that they are some of the most solid conclusions of the social sciences (see No Contest by Alfie Kohn for a review of these studies).

Already we run into a problem, because the kind of conformity that competing individuals follow has for the most part been established by men. Women stick out in male-dominated professions and are trapped in a lose-lose situation: either assimilate and be judged as a bitch and a ball-buster, or resist and be passed for promotions and recognition.

The old “having it all” bromide really means: that a woman should first and foremost fulfill her gendered function as an unpaid homemaker (and therefore to be unproductive according to capitalist standards), and second pursue a career and be a productive worker who is able to compete in the job market. Not only are women expected to shoulder a double burden, but they’re supposed to relish doing so in order to be a “modern” woman. In fact neither ideology has anything “modern” about it.

Competition leads to winners and losers, which leads to Social Darwinism, the application of a misreading of “survival of the fittest” to human societies. Basically, as applied to today’s societies, that means “you deserve what you get for being a success or a failure, and you shouldn’t be helped because that would mean rewarding failures.”

In capitalist theory, there is an ideal state of affairs (call it free market or voluntaryism or unfettered capitalism or what have you) where a person receives only exactly as much as they can contract for, and no more. Inconvenient things like social programs and safety nets, workers’ rights and unions, accessible education and health care, free access to air and water, and all the other pesky things neo-liberalists are constantly trying to eradicate, are a deviation from this ideal state.

So for instance, women make 82% of what men make on average in developed countries (the United States average is currently 81%, making gender income disparity one rare area where the United States is not dead last). Women were banned from entire industries (and still are, in some places). This is the “ideal” state of affairs and any attempt to correct it would be a “distortion.”

In practice, this belief serves the status quo. Men’s privilege over women is part of the backgrounds facts of capitalism, therefore it becomes part of the “ideal” state of affairs. “Survival of the fittest” is inherently unfair when some people are trained from childhood to be fitter than others.

So I think the issue with capitalism is not that it is woman-hating as such, but that it treat human beings as tools of production (human resources). It should not be too surprising that a system which objectifies all human beings is also unconcerned about objectifying women.

There is an ever-present danger that, because a given ideology is not explicitly woman-hating and preaches some form of equality (like equality of opportunities), we accept it as a “lesser evil.” But anything that keeps people from thinking about the way society is run is equally poisonous in the long run.

Nowhere do we see this more than in the pretense that feminism stands for “gender equality,” even though such equality is a logical impossibility because we live in a Patriarchy. Getting equal wages for men and women, or giving men and women the same opportunities or education, are laudable goals but they are not the objective of feminism, neither can they ensure “gender equality.”

Mixing one’s labor does not prove property rights!

A common justification for property rights given to us is that one deserves to acquire property by “mixing one’s labor” with natural resources. It is this “mixing” which magically turns a resource from a property. This formulation comes to us from John Locke:

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

I’ve already debunked self-ownership, so I won’t say anything further on Locke’s false assumption that “every man has a property in his own person.” Also note what we now call the Lockean proviso, “enough and as good,” which is another point of contention. But this entry is not about either of these things, so I will merely mention them here.

What concerns me is more specifically the belief that mixing one’s labor is a sufficient condition for turning a resource into property, from something small and consumed such as an apple to an entire piece of land:

As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common.

Locke believed that the proviso ensured that no one would be deprived because there has to still be “enough and as good” for everyone else. But even that is besides the point. The point here is, what is this magical transmutation that turns a piece of land into property?

In Qu’est-ce que la Propriété?, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon debunks the concept of property. He specifically refutes the argument that property is the result of mixing one’s labor:

I maintain that the possessor is paid for his trouble and industry in his doubled crop, but that he acquires no right to the land. “Let the laborer have the fruits of his labor.” Very good; but I do not understand that property in products carries with it property in raw material. Does the skill of the fisherman, who on the same coast can catch more fish than his fellows, make him proprietor of the fishing-grounds? Can the expertness of a hunter ever be regarded as a property-title to a game-forest?…

To change possession into property, something is needed besides labor, without which a man would cease to be proprietor as soon as he ceased to be a laborer. Now, the law bases property upon immemorial, unquestionable possession; that is, prescription. Labor is only the sensible sign, the physical act, by which occupation is manifested. If, then, the cultivator remains proprietor after he has ceased to labor and produce; if his possession, first conceded, then tolerated, finally becomes inalienable, — it happens by permission of the civil law, and by virtue of the principle of occupancy.

He also argues that if the principle that labor-mixing led to property was valid, it could only lead to equality of property:

Admit, however, that labor gives a right of property in material. Why is not this principle universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of laborers?…

If the laborer, who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of property in it, he who maintains this value acquires the same right. For what is maintenance? It is incessant addition, — continuous creation. What is it to cultivate? It is to give the soil its value every year; it is, by annually renewed creation, to prevent the diminution or destruction of the value of a piece of land. Admitting, then, that property is rational and legitimate, — admitting that rent is equitable and just, — I say that he who cultivates acquires property by as good a title as he who clears, or he who improves; and that every time a tenant pays his rent, he obtains a fraction of property in the land entrusted to his care, the denominator of which is equal to the proportion of rent paid. Unless you admit this, you fall into absolutism and tyranny; you recognize class privileges; you sanction slavery.

Obviously libsocs do not dispute that a person owns the product of their labor, but disagree that one can claim a piece of land as property and thus demand rent from anyone else deciding to mix their labor with that land. Proudhon makes clear that the reality of land ownership has no relation with labor-mixing, since one can own a piece of land and stop laboring on it, either by sitting on it or by hiring others to do it instead. This leads to rent and the inherent contradictions of “property.”

Proudhon was talking about the cultivation of land, but this rebuttal of labor-mixing applies to capitalist work contracts as well. From ethicist Brian Zamulinski:

Now, suppose that two people work together. Although it may be difficult, if not impossible, to determine the shares of the two in the product in practice, if people acquire property by mixing their labour with things, it must be the case that each owns a share proportional to the labour performed that actually went into the product. Otherwise, one is appropriating the property of the other.

If one of the two is the employee of the other, the problem is that the share that the employee receives will be determined not by the amount of labour he contributes but by competition with other potential employees, assuming that there is freedom of contract. Occasionally, he will receive proportionally more than he should but other times, he will receive proportionally less. The latter outcome will occur far more frequently than the former. Either way, the employee will almost never get what he deserves in light of the labour-mixing theory of property acquisition. It will be a fortunate accident if he does.

Zamulinski goes on to rightly point out that the end product of capitalist work contracts is incompatible with labor-mixing theory, and that in order to make any sense of their own position, capitalists must logically abandon labor-mixing as their justification for property. In this he again joins Proudhon. I don’t know if Zamulinski believes there is any valid justification for property, but Proudhon definitely did not, at least at the time he wrote Qu’est-ce que la Propriété? (his opinions did change quite a bit as his thought evolved).

No such thing as market failure?

The concept of market failure divides the two kinds of capitalists, the extremist capitalists (free market fanatics) and the moderate capitalists (or as they like to call themselves, the “progressives”). “Progressives” (a code-word for moderate capitalists) vaguely understand that the free market is suspicious, although they couldn’t tell you why beyond “because there are poor people and somebody’s responsible.” They believe that markets usually work but that they can experience periods of failure which are caused by monopolies or some other lack of competition, the free rider problem, externalities, lax “property rights,” and so on. Extremists, on the other hand, don’t believe in market failure; they do believe that lax “property rights” are bad for business, but that such a cause is not part of the market proper.

I should probably specify that I am using the term “markets” in the same way capitalists do, as an economic system where supply and prices are mostly fixed by giant corporations.

Why don’t they believe that there can be such a thing as market failure? Extremists believe that markets always “work,” and they determine that they “work” based on a view of trade in a vacuum. They posit a situation where a person X buys something from a person Y, person X having decided that ey would benefit from buying the object at that price, and person Y having decided that ey would benefit from selling the object at that price. The conclusion is that any trade is necessarily to the advantage of both parties, since value-judgment is subjective and they both subjectively believe they have gained from the exchange.

Obviously there is a great deal wrong with this picture. For one thing, value-judgment is not subjective and therefore one cannot conclude that a person’s opinion of their interests necessarily proves that they are acting in their own interests, since people can be mistaken about what’s in their interests. There is no clear reason to believe why our beliefs about our own interests must be infallible, which is the logical consequence of believing that value-judgments are subjective.

But by far the most important, you could say all-encompassing, problem with this scenario is that it posits that trade exists in a contextless vacuum. In reality, person X and person Y operate under pre-existing conditions which force them to a certain extent to act in certain ways. In reality, price is not determined by dialogue between two people, but usually by organizations of disproportionate power compared to any individual. In reality, a person’s value-judgments are distorted by the pressures operating on one’s life.

Let’s take one random, innocuous example, like a person deciding what kind of vegetables to buy at the grocery store. The price was not set by a dialogue, but by a group of people setting price points in accordance with policies enacted by their superiors. The “choice” of the customer is not based on some abstract comparison of preferences between that amount of money and the product, but is mediated by one’s economic status. It is also dependent on what stores are available to the consumer (if ey lives in a food desert, for example), on how much cooking one has the time to do, on dietary or ethical restrictions. Finally, the whole system is contingent upon the nature of the food supply, what the stores put on their shelves, marketing and consumerism, the exploitation of the workers involved in the food supply, the application of mass murder (e.g. the Chiquita Death Squads, the massacres involved in extracting the fuel that is used to transport the produce), and so on.

Taken to its logical extent, the context of any given trade is the totality of everyone’s work and of all relations between people, at the individual and the geo-political level. If you want to be poetic, you could say that any exchange embodies the entire world.

Let’s move on to a logical consequence of exploiting food for profit, which is starvation. According to the capitalist narratives, people deserve to starve because they don’t contribute enough value to the market through their labor. Of course this is completely false from an ethical standpoint: no one deserves to starve; but it is also false from a factual standpoint. In general, we observe that the return people get on their labor is not dependent on the value they contribute, but rather on education. People who work hard, who extract the resources upon which we all depend, make less. People involved in less demanding work requiring a high level of education, which can only be attained through privileged families or crumbs given by the privileged, make more.

I have argued so far that the narrative presented by capitalists to justify the contradiction of market failure is invalid, but I still don’t subscribe to the concept of market failure. To understand why, you simply have to examine what this term “market failure” implies. The word “failure” implies that there is such a thing as a “successful market” or “well-functioning market.” The extremist position is that markets are always well-functioning, the moderate position is that markets are well-functioning most of the time, and my position is that markets are never well-functioning.

The very nature of a market can be expressed succinctly as “profits before people.” The primary drive for economic activity is to generate as much surplus value as possible, and that our economic units are set up and structured with this goal as sole standard. And because in a capitalist society money is power and money is status, workers likewise value money over other people. As a consequence, modern capitalist markets are inherently, and virulently, anti-egalitarian to the point of slavery, mass murder and torture.

I have seen the objection that, while profit is important, it’s not the only objective one can have in a market. I don’t dispute that, but extensive practical experience around the world teaches us that any economic unit set up along socialist lines will rapidly drown or forever teeter on the brink of drowning. Acting ethically costs extra money, and extra costs cut into surplus value, which affects the viability of any business. The only way to flourish is to compromise. This is not, I think, particular to capitalism: I expect that trying to go counter to the values of a local economic system, whatever it is, would be very difficult; I imagine a giant capitalist corporation would fare very poorly in a society where economic equality is mandated and enforced.

Note that I am not making any argument about efficiency here, or trying to argue that capitalism represents efficiency and that socialism represents fairness (although I do think the latter is true). Competition as a driving principle is extremely wasteful, and capitalism is no exception to this rule:

Many goods and services once made in the US and western Europe for those markets are now produced elsewhere and transported back to them. That wastes resources spent on the costly relocation and consequent return transportation. The pollution (of air, sea and soil) associated with vast transportation networks – and the eventual cleaning up of that pollution – only enlarges that waste.

The factories, offices and stores abandoned by departing capitalist corporations increase the waste of resources and of workers’ lives. In the surrounding communities, tax bases eroded by capitalists’ departures mean reduced social services, public spaces, and qualities of life for all but the richest. Those vast wastes of resources and damages to lives offset whatever small efficiency gains corporate relocations only sometimes achieve…

Efficiency did not and does not deliver what its supporters claim. That is because efficiency was not and is not what drives capitalists’ decisions. The structure of a capitalist economy – exclusive power in the hands of major shareholders and boards of directors, competitions, tensions, and unequal resources among enterprises, shareholders, directors, managers, and workers – drives the decisions made by shareholders and directors. Those decisions primarily advance capitalists’ interests in greater profits, growth and market shares.

Within the totalizing worldview of the free market extremists, the free market is the ultimate solution to everything. These just so stories usually rely on a misunderstanding of the Tragedy of the Commons mixed in with starry-eyed fantasies about the intentions of business owners (i.e. that they pursue some other objective than profit). So we get told, despite all the contrary evidence of history, that the market can magically solve the problem of bigotry because there’ll always be some corporation ready to snag workers who are discriminated against and to offer them better working conditions, since corporations compete against each other for workers. The market can also solve environmental issues because corporations have an interest in maintaining natural resources, unlike non-market societies, where people just try to get as much money out of the resource before it’s depleted by everyone else (which actually sounds more like the way capitalism deals with natural resources than anything else that has ever existed in history).

From the extremist perspective, we have never had a free market because of State intervention, and this is a regrettable fact. From the moderate perspective, we have a free market but that freedom must be balanced with the needs of the State. Both positions are predicated on the error of believing that the market and the State have contrary aims. But the State is the handmaiden of the power elite, which is mostly composed of market leaders and policy leaders; their aims are not, on the whole, contrary. Political conflicts are almost alwasy between ultra-conservative and moderate conservative factions of the power elite (for more on this, see Who Rules America? by G. William Domhoff).

A free market, in the sense of a market being completely unregulated, has never existed and will never exist, since it would collapse into itself in short order. All modern large-scale markets crucially depend upon the infrastructure, the subsidies, the laws (including “property rights”) and the indoctrination provided by the State. This applies as much to the most abstract financial transactions as to two individuals exchanging an object for money, but obviously to the former to a much, much greater extent.

Cheerful submission to one’s enemies.

Above: Cheerful submission to one’s enemies.

People who have an attitude, not of humiliated submission, but of cheerful, willing submission, represent a strange puzzle which doesn’t seem to fit human behavior. But we know it does happen. Black slaves took sides with their master against other masters, and had lively arguments about it. Kidnapping victims can experience Stockholm’s Syndrome. So it’s not entirely unknown, but these situations are rather extreme.

But in the past decades it seems that we are seeing a surge in cheerful submission from people who are not in extreme situations at all, but rather in every day life. Two examples which come to my mind are the Tea Party and funfeminism. Despite being politically distant, these two movements have a lot in common.

1. Complete and utter failure to identify the enemy.

The Tea Party and funfeminists are absolutely unable to identify their real enemies, the people who do them harm or wish to do them harm. Instead, they point to straw men opponents: the Tea Party rails against poor people and “immigrants,” who have little to no power in our society, instead of the CEOs and other economic agents who seek to exploit them; funfeminism rails against radfem and other ideologies that are against female exploitation, instead of attacking the men who seek to objectify them. In short, my enemies are my friends.

[Pornography icon Jenna] Jameson comes to a very different conclusion than Farley. She writes, “Though watching porn may seem degrading to some women, the fact is that it’s one of the few jobs for women where you can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not just in the work environment but as a sexual being. So, fuck Gloria Steinem.” One has to wonder how she puts it together this way. If she feels so powerful as a sexual being, why can’t she watch her own sex scenes? If her work environment is so satisfying, why does she say that if she had a daughter, she would lock her in the house before she’d let her get involved in the sex industry? Why does she refer to her vagina as a “ding-ding”? I’m not sure any of this is Gloria Steinem’s fault.
Female Chauvinist Pigs, p183

In some cases, the very concept of exploitation and objectification is so outlandish or passé to them that they could not recognize any oppression anyway; in general I find that this incapacity of connecting actions with ethics is true of any status quo ideology, not just those two (indeed they must disconnect the two if they are to rationalize their beliefs at all).

Both cases of ignorance can be explained by games conditions. Tea Partiers are mostly working class stiffs competing for jobs and promotions, and it’s not in their interest to fight against the source of their meager power. Funfeminists, like most non-feminist women, compete for male attention and credibility to the male gaze, and fighting against the need for male attention would go counter to their objective.

2. Misdirected jealousy/admiration.

Misidentification of the enemy entails a misdirection of our emotions. Lying to ourselves is a full time job, and in order to prevent relapse, we necessarily have to reverse the flow of our emotions: our praise must stop going to the praiseworthy and instead go to that which helps us cover up the truth.

Funfems admire women who are amongst the most dispossessed people in our societies (strippers, porn actresses, prostitutes, trafficked children), and refuse to help them on the grounds that helping people is arrogant, while they are jealous of the made-up power of radfem to dictate policy. Tea Partiers are jealous of poor people and “immigrants” for attacking the economy, despite the fact that these people have no power to change the economy.

Even though they seem absurd and irrational on the face of it, these emotional connections serve the main purpose of helping them hide the truth from themselves. Tea Partiers could not hold the party line (no pun intended) if they sympathized with poor people, and funfems could not keep being funfems if they wanted to help “sex workers” instead of admiring them for their “power.” So they have to keep looking away in order to maintain their lie.

3. The enthusiastic pursuit of their own exploitation.

This is mostly a corollary of the previous two points: if they are unable to identify exploitation or objectification done against them, and ally with those who exploit or objectify them, then they will enthusiastically pursue their own exploitation or objectification in the name of their own “freedom.” In short, slavery is freedom.

The word “freedom” is always interesting to analyze. In this case, it means that one can support the dominant paradigm. But this is trivial, since supporting the dominant paradigm will never be opposed by one’s rulers; it is always heterodoxy which needs to be protected and which must be granted the freedom to exist.

One does not need the “freedom” to kowtow to the male gaze, since such “freedom” is by and large accepted (except when it comes to prostitution). One does not need the “freedom” to enter in capitalist work contracts or manufacture profits for one’s bosses, because doing this is expected and encouraged. This is why the “freedom” that these people preach is a pointless dead-end.

4. They want to work the system to effect change.

Because they think and operate within the status quo, funfems and Tea Partiers cannot imagine working outside the system. This would require them to reject their own exploitation which, as I’ve already pointed out, they cannot do because that would expose their lie.

So you get the strange spectacle of self-professed rebels, who take the name of a group which today would be seen as anarchists or worse, trying to elect people to office. You get the strange spectacle of self-styled feminists who promote “feminist” objectification (including so-called “feminist porn”) and promote male violence against women to be the result of a woman’s “choice.”

Obviously there are big differences between funfems and Tea Partiers in other areas; for instance, the former are usually liberals and the latter are usually conservatives (although in both cases they tend to be less authoritarian than their respective political ideologies). But they share the attributes of other people who have right intentions but are unable to identify what is in their interests.

The unholy triad of the little god…

Image from Something Awful.

It is often said that all philosophical discussions eventually reduce themselves to the free will versus determinism debate. The same could be said about political discussions and the concept of self-ownership. But what is not often said is why that should be the case.

The importance of the debates derives from the fact that everything we think or do is at its core thought and done by human beings. This is a fundamental implicit premise of any philosophical reasoning, and the debates just make it explicit. We have two basic options: either human beings are “little gods” that self-generate everything, which means reality takes a back seat to human action, or human beings are engaged in a process of discovery and reality is primordial.

They are all part of what one might call (to borrow a Creationist term) “human exceptionalism,” the delusion that humans are somehow exceptional by being exceptions to natural law. “Mere animals” do not have free will, are not self-owners, do not construct their own morality, but humans do, somehow, in some vague, fuzzy way.

A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself.
Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I call this mindset “self-generation,” and we can easily see how it applies to the three members of the free will/relativism/self-ownership triad (which I broached on in my earlier entry on free will as an ideological weapon):

* Free will can be reformulated as the position that individuals self-generate (“choose”) their decisions.
* Relativism can be reformulated as the position that individuals self-generate their morality.
* Self-ownership can be reformulated as the position that individuals self-generate ethics (“I own myself so I decide what’s right for me to do in society”).

What about God-belief? Some people include it as a primary element of the self-generation mindset, but I don’t think it’s primary. Every sect of Christianity has a different conception of what God is and how to follow God’s (subjective) laws, and which set of beliefs one adopts is purely subjective. Christian belief is relativist because the moral rules one adopts is not based on facts but rather on sectarian preference (not to mention that each sect has as much evidence for their moral position as any other).

So relativism is necessary before we even have a conception of God, at least in Christianity. As other thinkers have noted, relativism and subjectivism go hand in hand; a subjective moral principle is not likely to connect to any standard that transcends the individual point of view (e.g. to exhibit moral realism and not moral relativism).

And the Christian belief in God itself leads to belief in free will and self-ownership. An atheist may still hold such beliefs, but that’s usually because they’re holdovers from Judeo-Christian thought. Still, the possibility of a consistent atheistic adherence to the triad cannot be rejected, which means Christianity cannot be its fundamental basis.

Christianity is relativist in two ways. One is what I’ve already pointed out, that the sects’ moral principles are all equally valid on the sole basis of their supposed adherence to the Bible. The other is in the belief that God created everything, including morality. Whatever God decides is good, is good, regardless of existing facts.

Each element of the triad is dependent on the other two, so disproof of one of them casts serious doubts on the others. To take an easy example, when (not if) free will is conclusively disproven, Austrian economics, which for decades has been a major support for capitalism, will also have been conclusively disproven, since it holds “choice” as its foundation (see the Axiom of Human Action). Likewise, a radical position against self-ownership means that free will is rather unlikely, since self-ownership is predicated on (the self) being in control of one’s body.

In this way, it seems relevant to me that Wikipedia describes the sense of agency as being intertwined with the sense of (self-)ownership:

The “sense of agency” (SA) refers to the subjective awareness that one is initiating, executing, and controlling one’s own volitional actions in the world.[1] It is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that it is me who is presently executing bodily movement(s) or thinking thoughts. In normal, non-pathological experience, the SA is tightly integrated with one’s “sense of ownership” (SO), which is the pre-reflective awareness or implicit sense that one is the owner of an action, movement or thought.

The three concepts all depend on each other for justification, because they represent different interconnected facets of a coherent (if nonsensical) mindset.

I call the triad the “little god” because each of its parts involve giving humans some kind of element that goes beyond the natural world. When we look at the natural world, we come to certain moral or ethical conclusions, such as that genocide is evil. Indeed, most “little god” believers will usually agree with these conclusions. But when we apply the conclusions to their belief systems (for example, genocide in the Bible narratives), they balk and argue that God decided that genocide was good and that’s that. But for this new conclusion to also be true requires there to be something more than the natural world, some supernatural process or entity that can somehow overrides normal morality (in this case, God).

This sort of contradiction does not only apply only to Christianity, but to all forms of relativism. Take for example cultural relativism and its justification of atrocities such as footbinding, female circumcision, suttee or the Inquisition. Academics have an almost endless fountain of justification available to them (for examples, see Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly). And yet equivalent acts, but acts which do not perpetuate the status quo, would be considered atrocious by most, if not all, people.

Suppose, for instance, that gangs of theologians were going around torturing and murdering women, or that parents started chopping off their babies’ ears a few days after their birth. I’m pretty sure that everyone, except the offenders, would be outraged (when the police or jailers do the torturing, on the other hand, we’re not outraged because this maintains the status quo).

In the case of free will, the non-natural element is obvious: for there to be something contra-causal, there must be something non-natural, whether it is a soul or a quantum process in the brain (or some other kind of “pure randomness”).

God himself is said to have complete free will (but also omniscience, however that’s supposed to work), to be the supreme owner, and the ultimate relativist (whatever he says, goes). So he’s a perfect fit for the unholy triad.

The funny thing is that many people engaged in worshipping “little gods” insist that they are being “objective” (others, like New Agers, don’t really care and only want to indulge in their pretend divinity as much as possible). A lot of the demonization and political rationalizations going around actually exist to try to prove that the profound subjectivism of the triad is actually an inexorable law of nature or is based on laws of nature. So you get absurd positions which state that it is a law of nature that there is this domain (the human mind, morality, politics) where there are no laws of nature.

This then provides the opportunity for the “experts” to affirm the absolute truth of the lack of truth, the freedom of tyranny. Self-ownership “proves” voluntaryism, which “proves” capitalism, which “proves” the need for neo-liberalist policies (which crush the lives of the dispossessed around the world). Free will “proves” total personal responsibility, which “proves” the evilness of the dispossessed (poor, “immigrants,” people persecuted by the government, invalids, and so on), which grounds hatred against the dispossessed (for an example, here is an entry from Femanon discussing how this is applied to women). Cultural relativism “proves” the validity of evil cultural practices, which grounds implicit or explicit approval of those practices (said practices being mostly used against the dispossessed).

Another property they share is their chilling effect on scientific inquiry and intellectual curiosity. This is especially true with free will, as its proponents are outright hostile to the examination of the causes of human actions (especially criminal ones). Through voluntaryism, self-ownership blocks awareness of the effects of people’s “voluntary” actions on others. Relativism prevents one from examining the validity of other people’s moral principles and measuring them to ours. In all cases, we are enjoined to stop thinking and stop evaluating. We are invited to cheer for “freedom” and are told that anyone who objects to these magical, contra-causal ideas is against “freedom.” We are told that systemic analysis is intolerant and wrong, that only the individual creative intent matters.

So it’s important to keep in mind what these concepts lead us to. Free will leads us to pride, but it also leads to demonization and revenge. Self-ownership leads us to a feeling of control, but it also leads to voluntaryism and free market capitalism. Relativism leads us to tolerance, but it also leads us to genocide. In all cases the negatives are many orders of magnitude more important than the positives.


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