Category Archives: Anti-capitalism/usury/STV

Arguments against the free market.

UPDATE: Due to an influx of trolls from I don’t know where, I have to close the comments section.

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Milton Friedman is quoted as saying that “[u]nderlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” If we keep in mind that for free market advocates the term “freedom” only means the absence of force, or freedom1 (for those who don’t know my nomenclature, see this entry for explanation), then the quote makes a great deal of sense. I argue against the free1 market and I do indeed lack belief in freedom1. But this very abstract conception of freedom is so impoverished that its continued use as a valid political framework begs credulity; it has about as much to do with politics as alchemy has to do with science.

Like freedom1, the free1 market is a theoretical, idealized construct which reflects a very narrow view of power. A free1 market is an economic system where individuals perform voluntary transactions to their mutual advantage, free from government regulation and taxation. The model of human behavior underpinning this idealized structure is that of the Invisible Hand, which was expressed by Adam Smith as such:

Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.

The Invisible Hand model can only obtain if a number of prerequisites are true: first, that everyone is self-interested, second, that there exists no sources of power above and beyond that of individuals (such as governments or corporations) which can be exploited for personal gains that are against public interest, third, that all trades are inherently beneficial for both parties, fourth, that competition is the most efficient way of structuring the interplay of self-interested individuals.

All these prerequisites are patently invalid. It is not true that everyone, or even most people, are self-interested, which is to say, only consider their own values as relevant to an ethical problem. Apart from some Objectivist droids and sociopaths, self-interest is pretty universally vilified and considered abnormal, as it should be. Self-interest is a very low level of moral development and it makes as much sense to posit universal altruism as it does to posit universal egoism.

The second prerequisite is especially problematic, since free1 market proponents believe in corporate power, and corporate power depends on government for enormous subsidies of infrastructure, favorable regulations and laws (including protectionism and immigration), money and protection of private property (i.e. of the means of production). Both forms of power are therefore always available for people in a free1 market to exploit for personal gain, bypassing the benefits to the public interest which are supposedly brought about by unfettered trade.

The third prerequisite is only true if we look at the issue from a superficial, voluntaryist point of view. Of course there is a mutual benefit in the sense that both parties to a trade have agreed to make the trade and therefore believe it’s better than the alternative. But this can only be convincing if one sees any given trade as existing in a vacuum. I’ve already argued against this over-simplified view.

As for the fourth prerequisite, competition is the most inefficient way of structuring production, motivating people and fostering creativity. This is a result confirmed by so many studies that it is an ironclad fact of sociology (see No Contest by Alfie Kohn for a summary of these studies).

This leads me to the first argument for free markets, which is that markets allocate resources efficiently. All free market arguments are wonderful examples of projection, and this one is no exception. I can’t think of a more inefficient system of resource allocation than one where everyone’s effort is duplicated endlessly in the name of “competition,” where resources are transformed to maximize profits instead of use value, where there is unemployment and wasteful production, and where natural resources are so drastically wasted. It’s hard to conceive of a workable economic system more inefficient than capitalism (although some forms of capitalism are far more wasteful and inefficient than others).

The second argument for free markets is that central planning is inadequate in gathering and using information due to its top-down nature, and the free market is somehow superior in its supposedly decentralized nature. Again this is pure projection, as free1 markets are a form of central planning: the corporation is the unit of planning and information is gathered within them on a top-down basis. In fact, the corporate structure have been compared to communist organization: both are rigid hierarchies made to benefit an elite at the expense of the common people, property is owned by the collective (the corporation as “person”), and no corporation uses market processes to allocate resources within itself but rather allocates resources top-down based on profit-maximization.

I’ve pointed out that the famous story I, Pencil, by Leonard Read, is actually the best argument for socialism that I’ve ever seen. I, Pencil relies entirely on demonstrating that any single person’s production is at best a marginal addition to everyone else’s production. Therefore any individual producer is largely indebted to, ultimately, eir entire society of co-producers, and the capitalist conception of property as individualistic is nonsensical.

The third argument is that free markets promote innovation and scientific research. This is pretty laughable given how much disrepute corporate-funded “scientific” research has fallen into. As for innovation, well, as long as we have Intellectual Property that pretense will remain equally false, although I think free1 market advocates are pretty divided on that issue. It is at least a good argument against the free market that it is the antithesis of responsible scientific research (for more information, see Trust Us, We’re Experts!, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber).

The fourth argument is the belief that there is a fundamental equality in a free market, at least in the sense that no one can set prices or impose regulations that are unwanted by others. This strange belief is the result of anti-government sentiments, but makes little sense in a system where corporations actually do set prices and impose their own regulations through State power. Of course free1 market advocates are against State power, but without a State corporations would simply fill the gap with their own self-regulating institutions. There’s no reason to think corporations wouldn’t have a common interest in banding together against labor power just because there’s no State.

Even from a capitalist standpoint, the free market is not effective at profit-seeking. Isolationism and high tariffs grow stronger corporations, free markets do not. In fact, free markets have historically been, more often than not, imposed on vassal States by imperialist States as part of a global strategy of economic domination and control.

Another popular argument for free markets is the so-called “tragedy of the commons,” the debunked myth (said debunking winning someone a Nobel Prize) that resources held in common will be depleted rapidly as people only seek their self-interest (another free market myth) and will seize everything they can. The historical reality is the exact opposite: commons of natural resources have been far more stable than privately-owned natural resources, which have been typified by rapid depletion and “tragedy.”

But despite these known facts, free market advocates continue to brandish the “tragedy of the commons” myth as if it was established scientific fact and proof positive of the superiority of free markets. The truth is actually a powerful argument against free markets: free markets are terrible at resource management compared to commons, because of the unaccountable, total control inherent to private property.

My position on the minimum wage.

The minimum wage debate is framed by the media as a battle of ideas between conservatives, who believe that poor people are responsible for their condition and basically deserve to die, and liberals, who believe that the minimum wage should be raised so income inequality can be somewhat stemmed. These two positions set the margins of discourse in our societies.

Both sides of the debate share some major assumptions:

1. They both believe in the “virtuousness of work”; that working is inherently good and not having a job is a situation to be remedied or a personal dysfunction. From an Anarchist standpoint, the desirability of work is highly suspect; in a capitalist society, work is inherently demeaning, alienating, and serves to enrich the elite of society at the expense of the workers and unemployed.

2. Wages are rewards for having a job, not a right. Apart from general grumblings about unemployment, we don’t hear much about the right to a job, let alone the right to a wage. Wages remain controlled by the economic elite and the minimum wage is really the only restriction on that control.

3. They think minimum wage is about teenagers, but three-quarters of minimum wage earners are not teenagers (admittedly, it’s mostly conservatives who posit this).

These assumptions have profound consequences on how people relate to work:

* Unemployed people, whether by choice, by handicap (physical or mental), or by “the market,” feel guilty. The only possible consequence of this unearned guilt is a lowering of one’s confidence and a lesser enjoyment of life. Guilt cannot give someone a job, therefore it is uselessly destructive.

Not only that, but there’s no reason why anyone should feel guilty from not working. Of course they may feel anxiety due to financial stress and that’s normal, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with not having a job. Why should one feel guilty at not being made into a “human resource”?

* Wages are set according to “offer and demand,” which really means set according to the power wielded by each party. Owners offering a job for which a lot of people compete have the leeway to offer low wages, because they hold the power.

* Owners of the means of production steal a profit (because it is theft, not production, I would not say “make a profit”) by lowering costs and/or raising prices. The most important category of costs is wages. If forced to offer higher wages, owners can generally get away with offering fewer jobs or raising prices.

Conservatives claim that the minimum wage lowers employment, while liberals claim that the minimum age has little to no effect on employment for various reasons. Either way, the unbiased, objective evidence for a link between minimum wage and employment is spotty at best and is usually based on bad science. Various reasons have been proposed to explain the lack of correlation.

Small increases may have no effect or such a small effect that it’s swallowed up by normal fluctuations. But a small increase in the minimum wage, while beneficial, would not solve the problem of inequality.

The 15$ living wage proposal would be a substantial income equalizing policy, even though it wouldn’t be accompanied by a strict reduction of income for the rich. The problem I see is that such a large increase would have a substantial impact on employment, putting workers between a rock and a hard place.

The minimum wage debate, like the other debates I’ve discussed previously (abortion, gun control, immigration), is a distraction from the real issue; in this case, the real issue is control over jobs. The capitalist elite always seeks greater profits, and these new profits can only be achieved by raising prices, which hurts the working class the most, or cutting costs, which means lowering wages/benefits or hiring fewer people.

There is no permanent solution to poverty and inequality possible until we reject the doctrine of private property of the means of production. The push for a higher minimum wage benefits us, but any debate about minimum wage laws which does not set this as the ultimate goal of any legislative measure wastes revolutionary energies. That’s why we need to put this fact at the front and center of the debate.

Why has the concept of self-ownership persisted?

I have extensively covered how self-ownership is irrational and contradictory (see here, here and here). In this entry, I am concerned with why. Why has the error of self-ownership taken such an importance in Western thought?

If any study can tell us this, it must be the study of our mental frames, which reveal the hidden structure of our thoughts. We mostly think in metaphors because abstracts can only be understood by referring to direct experience (e.g. we understand TIME as MONEY, as a VALUABLE COMMODITY, as a LIMITED RESOURCE). I think the way we Westerners metaphorically grasp the concept of the self is the source of the error.

Let’s start with the concept of ownership, since it’s less abstract and simpler than the concept of self. Relations of ownership are taught to us as a part of life from childhood and they are very easily understood. They are an integral part of metaphors we use about objects and resources (such as TIME IS A RESOURCE, where we say things like “you are wasting MY time” or “I don’t HAVE any time for you”), such a mundane part of them that they are usually not even worth mentioning.

Ownership, I think, is a basic physical experience shared by most humans, which has as part of its prototype:

1. Ownership takes place between two entities, an owner and an owned.
2. The owner is a single person.
3. The owned is a single material object.
4. The owner has direct physical control over the owned.
5. The owner can exclude others from controlling the owned.
6. The owner came to acquire the owned through legitimate (legal) means.

Now when we talk about the prototype of a concept, we’re talking about the mental image we have of it, not a definition. For example, a robin is closer to the prototype of birds than a penguin or an ostrich.

A prototypical ownership relation would be one between a hunter and a spear, or between a farmer and a house. These examples follow all five points I’ve listed. Other relations only follow some of these points. For example, ownership of common land by a town or community fulfills 4, 5 and 6, but not 1, 2 or 3 (except if you take into account the metaphor LAND IS A CONTAINER, which turns a piece of land into a singular object, which fulfills 3).

I think 4 and 5 are probably the most important prototypical elements, because it is in terms of exclusive control that most people formally define property.

Now, we do have the experience of ownership (toys, pets, etc.) at an early age…

My property is something I control. Because it is mine, I don’t have to beg permission of anyone to use it. There is no hindrance to my use of it. But what is not my property typically belongs to someone else. If I want to use it, I must beg another for permission.

According to the linked article about the Stoic conception of self, the self is a property owner, and the objective of the individual self is to not desire anything that is not its property (e.g. things that are not choices, desires or aversions), so as not to be in a position of weakness (lack of self-control).

This brings us to the concept of the self. According to Johnson and Lakoff in Philosophy in the Flesh, the primary fact we need to understand about the self is that we understand it in terms of a metaphor of a relationship between two people. There is a fundamental dichotomy between the subject and the self: they are the metaphorical equivalent of two wholly different people. The relation between the two can be adversarial, parental, friendly, or authoritarian, but in all cases “I” does not equate with “my self.”

This has profound implications for our understanding of the self. For one thing, it is the only way in which “self-ownership” can make any sense at all. Equating the subject with the self nullifies any possibility of framing the self as a relation of ownership, since that implies two different entities.

Going further into the nature of the self, Johnson and Lakoff identify three main metaphors used to understand the self specifically: SELF IS A CONTAINER (e.g. “out of your mind,” “take a good look at yourself”), SELF IS A SERVANT (e.g. “I don’t know what to do with myself”) and SELF IS A STANDARD (e.g. “be true to yourself”).

Let’s start with the more basic metaphor, the SELF IS A CONTAINER. As a CONTAINER IS AN OBJECT, this leads us to the conclusion that the SELF IS AN OBJECT. I think this leads us pretty directly to the notion of the soul, if we add to the mix the Christian notion of life after death (which the body, being corruptible, obviously can’t join).

More importantly, it leads us to a relation which almost perfectly fits our prototype of ownership: there is an owner (the self, which is both an object and “me” at the deepest level) and an owned object (the body/subject), total control (of the self over the body), compete exclusion (only one self can exist in any given body, barring things like DID). I’ve pointed out before how this is wrong, so I am not going to repeat it here.

The other two metaphors may seem to contradict, at first glance. But Johnson and Lakoff point out that they pertain to different things. When we say “I don’t know what to do with myself,” the “myself” refers to the physical body. But when we say “be true to yourself,” the “yourself” refers to some inner voice or thought, not to the physical body.

Of course the former is perfectly in line with the bizarre relation of self-ownership (body as servant-being, thing that is owned). And I think that in the latter there are definite connections to the soul (as an incorruptible part of us that is connected to the supernatural realm) and to the conscience, the secular equivalent of the soul (as a moral standard that one should follow).

It’s blindingly obvious that we urgently need updated metaphors to understand the concept of self, because our current ones do us a great disservice. The concept of self-ownership has been a great and destructive error in Western thought, and has provided theoretical impetus for capitalism and neo-liberalism.

I think that to counter this, we need to present two complementary accounts of the self: one of the self as social agent (in order to dispel the myth of vulgar individualism), and another of the self as not being controlled (in order to dispel the myth of self-control).

I am no linguist, but here are two ideas in this vein. One is the metaphor of MIND IS A RIVER. Like the waters of a river, thoughts flow outside of our control, and we are only riding on them. We can talk about the speed of this flow (slow or fast thinking), the depth of the river (depth of ideas), the clarity of the river (clarity of a person’s reasoning). We can also use the metaphor to illustrate the relation between the stream of thoughts and the conscious mind through the relation between a person and the river.

Another metaphor could be that of SELF AS A PLANT. This is not perfect by any stretch, but I think we can get a lot of mileage out of it. Like selves, plants depend on their environment to come into existence and flourish: like humans, they are not self-made. Furthermore, researchers have been discovering that plants communicate with each other in a wide variety of ways (chemically in the air, underground, and by sound), which could emphasize the need for cooperation between human beings.

These are just some suggestions I came up with. Post in the comments if you can think of better metaphors.

Impositionists and their problems with consent.

In this entry, I want to make some general observations about some common characteristics that impositionists seem to share. When I say “impositionists,” I am referring to people who hold to an ideology which explicitly advocates imposing harm.

Invariably they have reasons why such imposition is just or reasonable (e.g. innate evil or sinful nature, innate gender, the innate stupidity of children and other species, might makes right, etc). I do not care about these reasons, or at least not in this entry. All I will say is that only the limit cases (e.g. saving someone’s life by pulling them out of harm’s way) have been proven justified; every systemic imposition of harm in our society is blatantly unjustified. Of course they don’t really care about justification anyway: harmful power has no motive to deconstruct itself, only its victims do.

* They have major issues with consent.

My first issue is that of consent. Consent is a vitally important topic because it represents the bare minimum standard that must be met by any action for it to be non-coercive; advocates of most ideologies are keenly interested in portraying them as non-coercive for the same general reason as advocates of some pseudo-science want to portray it as scientific: being explicitly unscientific or coercive is considered bad form in this day and age.

So again let me list the criteria for consent to be present. First, the obvious:

1. There must be a clear signal of approval of the action.

This is merely a slight extension of the standard definition. And now, for the corollaries:

2. If there is no signal that one or the other party would accept as a refusal (no alternative), then there can be no signal of approval either, and no consent.
3. A signal of agreement given where there is a credible alternative, but said alternative is not viable due to pre-existing conditions, is as invalid as one given without actual alternatives.
4. Any signal of agreement given under a threat of force is the product of duress, not approval, and is therefore not consent.
5. In a situation where one of the parties cannot communicate, there can be no consent.
6. If the signal of agreement cannot be given prospectively (i.e. to the action itself), then there is no possibility of consent for that action.

I would say that all impositionist ideologies break at least one of these principles. Before I get into examples, I do want to point out that probably all these ideologies fall into most categories I’ve listed, and when I say that a given ideology breaks a particular point, I am not by any means implying that there’s nothing else wrong with its attitude towards consent.

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* Most religions heavily rely on childhood indoctrination in order to propagate. This breaks point 3, as childhood indoctrination is most definitely a “pre-existing condition” that makes alternatives (to belief in the religion one was raised in) non-viable. A person cannot be meaningfully said to consent to anything that they’ve been indoctrinated to believe (e.g. we don’t say a cult member consented to the hardships of being in a cult, such as false imprisonment or human trafficking).

The religious call it “freedom of religion.” They are incapable of explaining how being indoctrinated and peer pressured into a religion which keeps you in by threatening eternal torment has anything to do with “freedom.”

* Genderism is similar to religion in that it’s indoctrinated from the youngest age, and therefore there cannot be any freedom to live without some conception of gender, gender hierarchy and gender roles (which are all the same thing). It’s equally meaningless to say that the performance of gender is consensual, in any form.

* Statism always assumes that anyone born within a nation’s borders “implicitly consents” to whatever the State makes into law. As a citizen, you simply have no means to signal disagreement with the law, breaking point 2 (prejudice against prisoners would also enter into this).

Yes, I know, the standard argument is that voting is the signal of agreement. But that’s not really true, is it? Otherwise non-voters could veto any law applied to them, which obviously does not happen.

Another argument is that staying in a country is the signal of agreement to the laws of that country. But we don’t use this “go away if you don’t like the rules” in any other context. Either way, it’s only further proof that there’s no means to signal disagreement (compare to telling a child “you can’t get beaten by your dad if you just run away!”).

Related to statism is imperialism and neo-liberalism, which follow the same general pattern, except applied to other countries. You will be liberated whether you like it or not; consent is always assumed.

* Capitalism relies on pre-existing conditions for its docile workforce (poverty, expensive education, creation of artificial unemployment, need for medical insurance in the US). It is therefore part of point 3. The conditions that make capitalism possible (property rights, money system, corporatism) are set by States, so what I’ve said for statism applies here as well.

The usual sort of reply you get to capitalist consent issues is that no one has to take any specific job. That may be so, but it doesn’t provide an alternative to capitalism. Faced with the massive inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, objectification, servility and conformity inherent in capitalism, it’s natural to want alternatives. People do not naturally want to work for other people’s profit margin or to have no control over what they produce.

* As a way of often dealing with having limited possibilities (or no possibilities, in the case of trafficked women) within the capitalist system and often as a result of parental abuse ingrained in the personality, prostitution is also part of point 3.

* Natalism, insofar as it assumes consent to being born where consent cannot be obtained, breaks point 5. The usual natalist answer is that we should assume implicit consent because it’s necessary in order for them to experience the pleasures of being alive (compare with: brown people implicitly consent to us “liberating” them and will be happy later, after we’re done killing them).

But mostly natalists just don’t care about consent, because they assume that the impossibility of consent is a carte blanche to do anything you want, which is absolutely illogical and delusional. Impossibility of consent basically means you are not allowed to do anything, because consent is, again, the absolute bare minimum criterion.

* Pornography and BDSM both fall under point 6: they both pretend to be concerned with consent and contracts, but only prospectively, which means that there can be no agreement on specific acts.

Advocates would, I suppose, argue that a contract is enough agreement to signal consent to any act that’s part of it. But if you sign a contract to perform a series of acts, and then no longer wish to perform one of the acts but are coerced or intimidated into performing it, that’s rape pure and simple. No contract can contradict this fact.

* Misopedia and carnism, two ideologies which posit a hierarchy where children/other species occupy the bottom rung, both partake of point 1, because they just don’t care if children or other species consent. The “lower intelligence” argument supposedly justifies exploiting children and other species. Guess who gets to define intelligence? Adult humans, of course. Surprise, surprise.

When you do point out to misopedists and carnists that they are simply ignoring consent issues, they will use the “lower intelligence” argument to posit that children/other species cannot consent, therefore justifying coercion against them. Again, this is logical nonsense.

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I cannot think of a single ideology which explicitly creates harm and does not also attack consent in some way. This is not too surprising, as they are also all hierarchies, hierarchies set people apart as superiors and inferiors, and inferiors cannot have the same freedoms as their superiors; a child cannot have the same freedom as a parent, a cow cannot have the same freedom as a human, a sub cannot have the same freedom as a dom, a worker cannot have the same freedom as a boss. There must be some imposition, and that imposition cannot be consensual (the superior-inferior relation is based on obedience backed by power, not consent), for a hierarchy to be maintained.

Note that you could do this same analysis with the term “scientific” and show how various pseudo-sciences line up.

What is the perspective on consent from their perspective? One credible model was made by Tom W. Bell and is called the “scale of consent”:

Now, from a rational standpoint, only the very first item on this scale- “negociated exchange”- is actually a form of consent (“standardized exchange” implies giving consent prospectively, which breaks point 5), so the idea that the top half represents different forms of consent is complete bullshit. “Negociated exchange” is basically consent, the rest of the top half represents all the non-consent that impositionists claim as consent.

If we look at this scale, not as any sort of truth, but as a tool to help us understand how impositionists think, then I think this scale can be used as a complement to my list of points. It’s basically a chart version of the impositionist’s rationalization playbook.

For example, consider “custom” as signal of consent. That is an exact description of cultural relativism and how it provides support for customs such as female genital mutilation, suttee, foot-binding and prostitution, to name only those. It is assumed that because it’s “their/our culture,” that the issue of consent is automatically resolved.

Granted, proponents of cultural relativism would not state outright that they think there can be no consent issues. Rather, they would say that we, as outsiders, have no grounds to criticize the practice, but this really amounts to the same thing; we are after all talking about harmful, non-consensual practices, and therefore suppressing criticism about them is the same thing as evacuating consent issues.

The concepts of “standardized exchange” and “consent per past agreements” are often used to justify rape, especially spousal rape. Marriage is supposedly a contract which grants mutual sexual ownership, and therefore spousal rape is seen as just sex. It’s also often argued that past interactions justify sexual demands (you made out with me, so you should let me fuck you).

Likewise, “hypothetical consent” is reflected in many different areas. Take the natalist justification “the vast majority of people are happy, therefore anyone would want to be born.” That’s purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to gauge a state of non-existence: anyone who is happy also exists, and has vested interests in being optimistic. It does not mean that e.g. a hypothetical person in Rawls’ Original Position would always want to come into existence. In fact, it seems more likely (from the antinatalist perspective) that a fully informed person in such a position would decline existence.

* They refuse to quantify the risk of harm.

Impositionists have to ignore the harm their ideology causes because that would mean they are cheering for the perpetrators, not the victims, which is why they have to claim victimhood in any way possible. Statists build up the big bad leftists and Anarchists as their persecutors, capitalists scream about the “entitlement” of poor people, the religious demonize anyone who stands in the way of their pseudo-moral agenda, parents claim to be slaves to their children, and so on.

Related to this fundamental dishonesty is the fact that impositionists refuse to quantify the risk they are willing to impose on others. For instance, I asked anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates to quantify the risk they bring about, and very few even tried. Of course they cannot, for doing so means no longer ignoring the harm their ideology causes.

I admit that asking such a question puts the person between a rock and a hard place: who wants to say they want such and such number of children to die as a result of their cause? But if you have this problem, why do you believe in an ideology that entails the death of children in the first place? Shouldn’t that make you think?

The quantification of risk can, and should, be asked for all ideologies which promote harm. For instance, here’s one that has been asked about pornography:

And a serious question for porn users in general: what’s the maximum percentage of risk you’re willing to accept that the scene you’re getting off to has a performer who was coerced into participating, who couldn’t consent to participating, who was forced to perform acts she was uncomfortable with or explicitly barred, who didn’t consent to the distribution of the material? Give me a number.

But we can make similar questions for everything else, too. In all cases, what we’re trying to find out is: what’s the point where the implementation or fulfillment of the ideology entails just too much harm? And most importantly, how do we determine that point?

That would be the start of any real discussion on the ethicality of harm and risk. But impositionists will not, and probably cannot, have such discussions (feel free to prove me wrong!).

* They treat people as means to an end.

This can be deduced easily from what I’ve said so far. Impositionists see other people, especially their inferiors, as resources to be controlled (non-consensually) by a hierarchy to achieve some level of control over society. Impositionists see harming other people as a tradeoff, that it’s okay to do so in the name of some higher goal, which is really some level of control over society. All of that is very anti-freedom, anti-individual and anti-human.

If there is any ethical principle that should be obvious, clear and basic, it is that we should not treat other human beings as means to an end. It is the most basic form of egalitarianism that one could conceive.

* They all fail the Chomsky Principle.

I’ve discussed before what I call the Chomsky Principle, that we should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way.

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it- invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

“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.”

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