Sunday, January 28, 2007

Antiwar Rally

The day was beautiful, 60 degrees, nice wind, lots of sunshine and small puffy white clouds. We took the bus to Austin City Hall and met the large group of people right before the march was to begin. We caught the tail end of the bolstering speech there that got everyone fired up and ready to march.

We milled around the crowd, gathering the energy of it. We overheard one veteran from Iraq say "Been there two times already, don't wanna go back." The march was under way!

We marched into downtown, where the tall buildings obscured the sun.

Fellow citizens that were not participating showed their support. We had several people honk or wave peace signs at us:

The goons were pretty benign, only coming into play to corral and keep us safe from traffic. They didn't look like they were in strong opposition like the last protest.

At the start of the march there were about 500 people. During the course of it it seemed we picked up more people along the way. Look how far down the street the crowd stretches:

The approach to the capitol building. There were some "protest warriors" wielding signs claiming Bush is protecting us from "terrorists". I got the feeling that people aren't buying this lie any more. The incompetence of this administration speaks for itself.

The bottleneck caused by the protest-protesters actually served to intimidate them, as a sea of people swarmed around them and enveloped them.

More teeming masses:

There were easily 1000 people by the time we made it to the capitol building, either they were there waiting or joined us along the way. Imagine scenes like this in cities all over the country and imagine a burgeoning consciousness not seen since Vietnam.

The protesters pushed through, spilling onto the capitol grounds and gathering at its steps.

Some more speakers gave a few speeches. One speech by an activist was about how they would go to high schools and try to dismantle the ROTC programs there, and inform students about the lies the military tells them about enlisting. Their logic was "stop their suplly line." And the reward at the end, music:

All in all, I would say it was a much more successful protest than the last one, both in terms of how many people participated and how much of an impact we had on bystanders. I don't particularly care for the whole groupthink thing, but chanting "Peace...Now!" and having the words reverberate through the chasm of buildings was undeniably powerful. Bush and his cronies will face increasing resistance from the public for his disastrous policies, thanks in no small part to large public displays of disapproval like this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is the Unexamined Life Worth Living?

This is an essay I wrote for a Plato class.

Socrates suggests that the unexamined life is not worth living. It is the opinion of this essayist that this statement is valid, for several reasons.

There are many practical reasons to know and understand the world around us. Our arboreal ancestors certainly benefited from having knowledge of food and trees and predators, and undoubtedly extended their lives using predictive power. In modern times, it is still valuable (perhaps more so) for a human to have knowledge of the world. Knowing how a car or television function may allow the individual to repair them, or at least diagnose the problem accurately. Being aware of trends in weather or human behaviour helps to make these seemingly chaotic systems more predictable and manageable.

Experience and memory allow refinement of many facets of the individual. Examining ourselves can be entertaining and fulfilling. Noticing patterns in the way we operate grants us the opportunity to better ourselves, a powerful tool for self-improvement. To merely exist and react is not enough; we must know and discover the universe and ourselves in order to thrive.

There is a deeper satisfaction that goes beyond practical reasons. The famous cosmologist Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself.” Knowledge of the universe helps us describe ourselves like never before. We can understand where we have come from, and where we might go. New advances in neuroscience explain how our brains represent and interpret reality. The spine-tingling epiphany that the brain as an organ is used to study itself does not fade quickly. By Sagan’s quote, when we learn more about the universe, more of it is represented in us, a hologram of sorts, ballooning itself into our consciousness - an amazing accomplishment to be honoured by both.

Each generation inevitably reveals more and more of the workings of the universe, adding to the impressive body of knowledge gleaned from it by previous generations. Through a painstaking process of examination, experimentation, and double-checking, the world goes from being an unfathomable expanse to a more convenient package. This constantly updated, challenged and tested body of knowledge is an artifact of all of humanity, a gift shared amongst all. As a species-wide endeavour, seeking understanding also becomes a shared task in which we can engage, bringing us together in a common, endless quest.

For practical and personal reasons to common group binding activities, examining life certainly makes it more worth living.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Socialism Defined

Socialism and communism are bad words. They instill a mind-numbing fear in people who hear them uttered without the necessary contempt. They stand for violence and oppression and death. They represent the exact opposite of freedom and democracy and all those wonderful nebulously-defined terms we love. They are also sorely misunderstood and often not clearly defined.

Let's look at another word that is often used without full understanding: evolution. To many religious people, xians especially, evolution is the opposite of god. It is evil, it is destructive, it is an unnatural and corrupting idea that makes humans no more than monkeys and apes and attempts to remove and deny the holy spirit that resides in each of us. Evolution has been (unconvincingly) linked with teenage pregnancy, violent crime, abortions, moral decay, and yes, even communism. To those who claim these things about evolution, the word itself is not clearly defined and understood THE WAY IT WAS INTENDED TO BE. Charles Darwin did not explicitly say: "Because humans are merely soulless animals, it is perfectly acceptable if they behaved in violent and destructive ways, without care and concern for others." What he was talking about was the way and mechanism by which organisms change and adapt over time.

Fortunately, long ago humans invented writing, which allows information to be stored for long periods of time and passed to many people with very little loss of content or meaning. Writing allows us to view the lives and accomplishments of pharaohs and kings of the ancient world, it allows us to peer into the minds of the early Greeks as they desperately tried to understand the world around them. Very little of what they meant to convey is lost because the writing doesn't change meaning from person to person as it must do with verbal communication. This property allows what we call "static definitions". The Rosetta Stone does not mean anything different now than it did when Napoleon's troops found it, nor when it was written in Greek, nor when it was originally carved in hieroglyphs. (Side note: I will admit our understanding of this artifact may change with new or better interpretations of the ancient languages, but this has no bearing on this discussion and does not nullify my point.)

Using this new understanding of "static definitions", we can interpret the words of Marx more along the lines of what he originally intended them to mean. Let's examine perhaps the most misunderstood concept of the last century:

"Socialism is based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange... so that humanity, at last freed from economic exploitation, from oppression, from any form of coercion by a state machine, can devote itself to its fullest intellectual and cultural development. Much can perhaps be added to this definition, but anything less you can call whatever you wish, but it will not be socialism."

This definition is from a great debate from 1950 between someone who understands what socialism is and someone who supported the USSR.

When discussing socialism with others, I often get the "human nature" argument, delivered with a smug tone, arms crossed over chest to denote a sense of finality, as if I had been given something I could not refute. I don't quite understand it myself, but what I think they mean when they say "human nature" is that humans are not "altruistic." They say human beings are not ants, and so cannot live in such a society. I have three counter-arguments that I must set down here, because I'm tired of having to explain these things over and over again.

Firstly, as the altruism link suggests, there is no such thing as altruism as it is commonly defined. Humans are inherently selfish because we are the units of survival. My collection of cells must get food for itself, it must find shelter for itself, it must interact with other collection of cells to mate. Does that mean we can't work together, as independent and fully realised survival units, towards our mutual survival and aid and thrive together?

Secondly, ants are not "altruistic", they regard themselves (to the extent possible in ants), as their own individual survival units. It is the job of the queen to guide the colony with scents and to oppress the other ants by dictating what kind of ant they will become (worker, warrior, etc) as they are forming in the larva stage. If we compare this practice with the current operations of human society, we would see that this is actually very much like what we do. Before birth, someone's role in society is determined by the amount of money, skills, and training their parents and caretakers have available to them. Those who dominate the means of production also dominate the state apparatus, and determine the fates of those who do not by dictating what kind of schooling they receive, what kind of job opportunities are made available, and by controlling mass media to influence their perceptions and outlook on life.

Third and last, Marx and subsequent *socialist* thinkers (i.e., NOT Stalin, Mao, etc) did not use the terms selfless, sacrifice, or altruism, and certainly did not base their ideas on them. If you don't believe me, you yourself can access the largest collection of Marxist works on the internet and do a search for these terms. I am fairly confident you will not find blatant references to these terms, nor will you find any strong link between them and the ideas of Marx. If you happen to find them, and if they are stated explicitly and with this connotation, show them to me, and if I was too hasty or incorrect in my assessment, I will acquiesce and apologise.
Have fun!

Some people think that socialism is when control of the means of production is in the hands of the state. What this does is make society one big dominance hierarchy,

as opposed to an interconnected and overlapping web of control over the means of production and decision-making.

From the static definition of socialism, we see that this is very much against the main idea. If the means of production are owned and operated by the state (more exactly, the individuals who comprise the state: managers, etc), and not democratically by the workers who use them, then this is more like capitalism than socialism. The power of this managing class is legitimized by the power of the state, just as the power of the nobles of previous eras was legitimized by god. The latter is known as divine right, and the former is what we call "state capitalism".

Some people think that socialism means having a planned economy, one determined by the state and not that most magic of words: the market. This market myth will be destroyed here and now. Any and all decisions undertaken within an economy are necessarily formulated by humans. To put it simply: EVERY ECONOMY IS PLANNED. The forces of supply and demand are the actions of multitudes people making countless individual decisions writ large. There is no invisible hand, there is no awe-inspiring final-decision-making force, there is no equation inherent to the universe that dictates supply and demand. NONE. ("Free" market freaks, please get over this. It only makes you look like theists.) Now that we have dispelled this unplanned magical nonsense, we can view how an economy REALLY works.

In the Soviet Union, the economy was planned (rather poorly) by state managers, factory foremen, and other bureaucrats. How did this happen? Incentives were promised to these decision-makers if they could meet or beat quotas determined by some over-arching state entity. What ended up happening is that to meet these quotas, the managers ordered up to almost a third more of the raw materials they needed to ensure they had enough in reserve, and also intentionally under-estimated how productive their factories could be so they reap the bonus of exceeding the quota. I would like to point out an ironic twist. It is often claimed that socialism necessarily means abolishing individual self-interest and reducing incentives for productive economic activity, and that this is what caused the Soviet economy to stagnate. As I have just shown, there most certainly was a measure of self-interest on the part of the managers when they intentionally lied about the productive capabilities of their factories to receive the incentive bonus. The irony, of course, has to do with the main theme of this paragraph: it is not that there were no incentives, that there was no self-interest, it is that those making the decisions were far removed from those most affected by them; what to do with the means of production and how was not determined by the main users of this equipment, the workers, nor by the main benefactors of the use of this equipment, the consumers. Notice how very much like our economy this arrangement is. Meaning that both economies (as all economies) are planned. By and for whom and for what purpose should really be the questions we ask, and, by that static definition, are exactly what socialism means to address.

Now we turn to hypocrisy, both of those who call themselves socialists/communists and those who profess to believe in the compatibility of capitalism and democracy.

Personally, I do not believe that violent revolutions are the way to spread democracy and share control of the means of production amongst the people, for several reasons:

1) Violence does not work. Memes are ingrained and have built-in safety mechanisms that resist attempts to change them. Violence is clumsy at best, and more galvanising than eroding.

2) Someone has to perpetrate this violence. I do not think someone is refining themselves as an individual by hurting others.

3) Someone has to produce the tools of violence. Again, I think this is counter to personal development and the welfare of others. It is productive power stolen from society to help destroy society.

4) Dead people can't vote. If the point of socialism is to create a highly motivated and democratic society, it seems very counterproductive to kill people.

5) Sudden change in society is often more damaging than it is helpful, especially when violence is used. Humans need time to adjust to drastic changes in their environment.

I do not advocate violence as a means to bring about positive social change. I believe past attempts to bring about socialism on a national scale have failed because these movements used violence. Pointing to hideous deeds committed in the name of socialism can be matched, point-for-point, with hideous and vicious deeds committed in the name of freedom, democracy, security, profits, etc. I no more consider slavery in the United States to be any more a result of the desire for freedom and democracy than gulags and forced labour were of the desire for socialism.

Using violence to stop the spread of communism is just as bad as using it to help spread communism. The Vietnam War (and Cold War in general) made a few people that work for arms manufacturers really, really rich. Any despicable and vicious act perpetrated in the name of preserving freedom and democracy that undermines the true meaning of these terms does not deserve such associations. The only thing that flows from the barrel of a gun is pain, suffering, and death.

As to you free-market capitalists, I have some issues to raise. First, you erroneously assume that the market is an entity unto itself, making decisions out of thin air, with no respect or regard to the input of humans. Then you oxymoronically claim to champion individual liberty and the attendant responsibility that entails. Instead of promoting them, you undermine them. According to this magical free-market view, our conscious choices as individual consumers do not dictate what occurs in the market, because the market, as an entity unto itself, does this for us, removing us from the equation. We no longer need to concern ourselves with being responsible, because by assuming the market is an entity, and by arbitrarily declaring it "free" and outside our conscious control, you excuse any and all behaviour of it. This is in essence delegating responsibility to some inhuman "other", instead of owning up to the consequences of your actions (i.e., global warming, rampant consumerism, etc). Third, you see the state as an entity in competition with the free-market, and assume again that the former is all evil while the latter is all good. What we have left is a runaway non-entity competing with another runaway non-entity vying for the destiny of humanity. Sorry to break it to you, but capitalism, as it was defined by Marx, is incompatible with democracy. Take a close look at the current Bush administration and draw some lines between these officials and large corporations, and you'll see why.

Those who own the means of production will inevitably use their power to shape public policy. This should be plain as day and undeniable. Either directly such as with blatant campaign contributions or indirectly through insidious pre-made propaganda media spots, corporations and wealthy individuals dictate and determine policy. Our political system and economy both are planned, to the great benefit of the planners. Socialism, as we have defined it thus far, is planning done by society, for society. It is therefore in contradiction with capitalism, which is planning done mainly by those who own the means of production, and mainly for those who own the means of production, and very often at the expense and detriment of those who merely operate them.

Socialism most definitely works, even as it was described above, and is being practiced right now as you read this. It is not on a national scale, nor even a significant proportion of the global economy, but there are workplaces in America and around the world that operate according to the democratic control and decision-making principles defined above. If socialism is to come about, it ought to come about gradually and organically, evolving its way towards the ideal with mutual understanding and consent.

This was another long post that took several days to compose. If you feel I missed something, or got something wrong, feel free to inform or ask me about it. Some readers will be angry and argumentative, and I understand that. I can imagine them disagreeing with the way things were run in the USSR, and I would second these opinions, much to their confusion and frustration. I do not accept the USSR nor PRC nor any other totalitarian state as being socialist nor communist, no matter how profusely they use the terms to describe themselves. I go by the static definition and that should be the end of it. Some readers will be genuinely lost or confused, as much due to my disjointed writing as to the foreignness of the material. If such is the case, please ask for clarifications, and I would be happy to oblige.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dominance Hierarchies

Dominance Hierarchy

Egalitarian Democratic

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Capitalism Defined

As promised in an earlier post, I will in this post describe what Marx meant by capitalism when he used the word. Discussing socialism with others involves clearly defining what is meant by the term, and how it relates to capitalism.

My first task is to dispel some misconceptions about capitalism that were created to make it more appealing, even worth defending. "Capitalism" to the US is "everything good that we do". "Capitalism" is the ability to own your own toothbrush. "Capitalism" is when you can go to a store and buy products. "Capitalism" is freedom to do what you want. "Capitalism" is what makes possible all the nifty products and services we have available. "Capitalism" is the laws of supply and demand. There are all sorts of things capitalism is and does. Rub some on a wound, and it heals miraculously. Put some in your gas tank, and your car goes super fast. Throw it at a country ruled by a despotic leader, and they will suddenly be made free. Amazing!

As Marx defined it, capitalism is the relationship between those who "own" the means of production and those who don't. The latter must sell their labour to former. *Yawn* Talk about bland and boring; what does it mean, anyway?

Let's start off with a hypothetical. There are five people roaming around the jungle. One of them sees a fruit tree and thinks: "If I could just get the other four to pick fruit for me, I would have an easy life of luxury and sweetness." To this end, the person "claims" the fruit tree, and tells the other four that the only way they can have any fruit from it is if they pick it, give him the bulk of it, and then keep the rest. This is basically what capitalism is. If you don't understand this, or think it is something otherwise, you are wrong. Marx wrote the book on capitalism, and while admittedly he may have been wrong on some things, this concept, as he defined it, is right and undeniable. This is the relationship between those who own the means of production and those who don't.

How did Marx come to this definition? By exploring other cultures and other economic systems, he was able to piece together this almost eternal struggle between these two distinct classes of people. Stage by stage humans progress through different modes of production, in all but one the means of economic production are arbitrarily owned by some ruling class.

**Stage 1: Primitive communism - This stage was way, way, way in the past, and probably the longest-running economic system. It was during a time when humans were not that plentiful, numbering in the mere thousands, scattered across the globe in little bands of hunter-gatherers. We can return to the world of the previously created hypothetical to take a closer look. Those other four that were given the terms of their slavery would probably have laughed at the one who sought to tell them what to do. When the treemaster is asleep, the four will pick fruit and eat it as they see fit. They will go to another tree, or eat something else. The one has very little control over the others. Using force to dominate the others would be impractical for several reasons. Firstly, the survival of each is dependent on the survival of the others. This is not to say that if treemaster died, the others would starve, but they would certainly be worse off without an extra set of hands. Second, those trying to use force would have been shunned, perhaps even kicked out of the group, for the very reason listed previously. It is also highly unlikely that the four would have put up with treemaster's crap for very long. They could band together and remove him from the tree, or thwart his efforts to use force against them. It was in these conditions that, I believe, our understanding of freedom and democracy developed. In such a setting, each person is a vital member of the group, and the benefits of a social network would have been readily apparent. The concerns of each are genuine and related to the concerns of the others. While it was necessary to cater to the well-being of the group, this was not freedom-stifling in principle, because supporting the group was, in effect, supporting each individual person. (Why this is so hard for people to understand is beyond me. Randroids, eat your hearts out... if you have them.) Thus human society formed and many of the truths and rights we feel we have created recently were actually formulated well before our time.

**Stage 2: Ancient/Classical society - fast forward a few thousand years from our original hypothetical to a new time, when humans are much more prevalent and congregate in much larger groups, resources have become less abundant, and farming and the domestication of labour beasts has begun. Something new and different has also occurred: a descendent of treemaster has managed to convince people that he "owns" something, that is, he has unlimited claim to it, and anyone desiring the products of this something must either give him something in return for it or sell their labour to him in exchange. How this came about, we can only guess. I have used my feeble imagination to come up with one possible way:

Suppose a group of humans was getting a bit large, and food more scarce. Early farming was probably just leaving a patch of seeds to grow when the group was away, chasing the herd or migrating to warmer climes. In this large group, farming and other important food-related tasks may have been assigned to particular people, AKA specialisation. Suppose the one who did the farming became an expert at it, knowing all sorts of useful things about the soil and rain and how far apart to plant, etc. This person was indispensable to the rest of the group. They could now lay claim to the field of crops which they tended and demand that the others do work for them on it in order to get the products of it. I want to clarify this point a bit. Specialisation in a society, by its very nature, means that one person somehow provides the product of their labour to someone else, who also has something to offer the original giver. In this case, the person farming can make the threat to not farm any more. The group is dependent on this one person, and compliance means survival. Over several generations, farmmaster's descendants have milked their status for all it was worth. The idea of their superiority as compared to the others has become a built-in understanding for the whole group. At this point, farmmaster no longer needs to work on the farm, but can instead become "master" of the group, and have them do the farming for him.

This stage is also when such horrible institutions like slavery (of workers and women) became prevalent. Farmmaster can have his subordinates (goons) go out and conquer other groups, bringing home their children and women. He can then impregnate the women and use the children as slaves. If they haven't yet learned that he is better than they are simply because everyone around him believes him when he says he "owns" farmland, they will soon learn, either from his brutality or the drone-like insistence of the others. Fortunately, human society is still rather scattered, so even very poor people could still "own" something of value, like land or a herd. Little pockets of resistance lasted only as long as they could repel the expanding influence of the major civilizations. The freedom of the previous stage is all but lost, and don't even try to bring democracy into it. Yes, the Greeks had representative government, as did the Romans, but not for very long. And always undermining this most noble of systems was the false truth of ownership. Those who owned or laid claim to the most resources have more power and influence than others. Thus so long as one person can tell others what to do by means of a social construct and violent goons, there can not be genuine freedom nor democracy. Bear in mind that all this stuff happened way in the past, but it still happened, meaning that if the Romans conquered other lands and laid claim to it, the descendants and subsequent kingdoms would have been dealing with the changes and constructs wrought during Roman times. This point will be brought up later.

**Stage 3: Feudalism -

The peasants had their own land, sort of, in that they had to give the lord a percentage of the yield of their crops in exchange for his "protection". Mob-like in its underpinnings. The social construct of ownership is further refined and buttressed by powerful religious institutions. Divine Right, original sin, and other freedom-crushing memes and practices poisoned society. All sorts of wars between kingdoms were fought because one monarch of one kingdom believed he had a claim to the land of another kingdom (Hundred Years War). Land and wealth changed hands often during this stage as in the previous, often a result of violence and force. The Catholic church, one of the most corrupt institutions ever conceived by humans, gains power and influence and itself lays claim to morality and heaven and souls. These false intangibles are used as leverage to glean wealth from people and to demand obedience. Please notice how there is no difference between the idea of "owning" a tangible thing, like land, and of "owning" the true path to heaven. "I own it, you have to bow to me in order to get it." The domineering attitude is present in both.

**Stage 4: Mercantilism - In this stage, language and culture become very refined. Printing allows standardisation of language and mass media, even in this crude form. Propaganda and other social control mechanisms are used to great effect during this time. Whereas previous kingdoms and empires were tenuous at best, in this stage, their existence was made stable and secure by means of a common and standard language.

The lords kicked the peasants off their land and claimed it for their own. The peasants were left with few options: go to the cities to find work in manufactories (more on these later), or turn to crime. A higher population density than the previous stage has a few important repercussions. First, relatively few people were necessary for farming, and the peasants were often idle, doing little work, because there was very little for each of them to do. Second, as a result of a flooded labour market, labour was cheap - people were desperate for work. (This describes the stagnation of China around this time, and with this in mind, we can see how rickshaws came about. It also explains the current situation in China with its abundance of cheap labour.) Lastly, all these extra people milling about and being thrown in jail compelled the kingdoms to explore and expand, seeking new lands to form markets and empty prisons. When resources are scarce, it is a habit of humans to seek to migrate, and is probably built-in from our evolutionary history. This may explain the age of discovery and subsequent expansion of European powers.

(I often wonder if China had less ocean between it and north america, would it have colonised it first? The most I can get out of this is that China did send out explorers, but was so paranoid and isolationist that no expansion phase was implemented to alleviate the overcrowding and cheap labour. The government destroyed the maps of the explorers for fear that China's unique and exalted place in the world would be undermined.)

The aforementioned manufactories were early assembly lines. One skilled shoemaker, working diligently and carefully on each part of a shoe, could not make as many shoes as twenty people each doing a distinct and simpler task on each shoe made. This is specialisation taken to the logical extreme. Whereas the shoemaker might have been an apprentice for several years before becoming a skilled shoemaker, a person working in a manufactory does not need a full set of shoe-making skills. All they would need is knowledge of the simple, repetitive task they are to perform. They don't even have to know how to make a whole shoe, from beginning to end. Workless and penniless peasants would work in these industries, selling their labour because they had nothing else to offer. This will come up again later.

One last thing to mention about this stage: This was when America was formed. The end of this stage and the emergence of the new was the creation of the USA. Many children in the US learn that the US was created because it wanted independence from an oppressive Britain. This is just false. Citizens in London paid 40 shillings a year in taxes, on average, whilst American colonists paid a paltry 1 to 1.5 shillings. Britain at the time had the best navy, the best army, the best merchant fleet, and the most markets. Ah, the exclusive markets I should say, since this was the age when wealth was deemed finite, colonial powers formed exclusive markets to keep money in their empire. The one great break with this was the USA. The American colonists, especially the merchants, wanted to open their markets to other nations, violating the understood rules of mercantilism. This was the main difference between England and America, and part of the stunning success of the latter.

Stage 4: Capitalism - This stage is marked by rapid industrial growth as a result of machine-aided automation. The manufactories became just factories when an outside source of power (electricity or steam, etc) was introduced. Now the monkeys could make even more units of a good in even less time. Productivity was improved even more when Taylor and other efficiency experts made careful observations of factory workers. Some suggestions, like breaks, are certainly commendable. Others, like dividing up an overarching task into tasks that require the least amount of movement, make monkeys into extensions of the machines they use to make goods. This is very important.

Huge machines that are used to make finished goods cost enormous amounts of money, only affordable to those who have wads of cash lying around. The wealth and power disparity in this stage is greater than it ever was before. The owners of the manufactories of the previous stage now manage the labour of hundreds of people, affect thousands in the market, and influence millions in politics. Wealth concentrates more and more in the hands of a few. Fewer and fewer people own the means of production, and cottage industry as it was known in the previous stages is all but obsolete and vanished. The economy that Adam Smith described is now very different, and his prescient warnings about power consolidation and the hijacking of the political machinery by greedy capitalists are ignored.

Later in this stage, roughly starting shortly before WWII, comes state capitalism, which was the dominant political feature of the 20th century, and existed both in the US and in the USSR (no, for the last time, the USSR was NOT communist). State capitalism is the unabashed use of state machinery to expand the control of capitalists, especially with the help of the military-industrial complex. Half of federal tax money goes to military spending, and much of that to "defense" contractors. (If you wanna see who gets how much, check out this website: )

The main thing to look for between stages is who owns the means of production, how these social relations are enforced, and how these relations link to political power.

I often point out a racist element to present-day capitalism, that being that those with lower melanin levels tend to do better than those with higher melanin levels. Such a distinction is also present in genders. Black people were slaves in the US, "owned" by rich white men. Two-hundred years later, and the descendents of these wealthy plantation owners are probably still rolling in the dough. Thus, much of the current wealth-distribution has to do with violent and vicious deeds committed in the past. Our acceptance of this reality is also a mild acceptance of the cruelty and grotesqueness perpetrated. I could write a whole other post on the subjugation and mistreatment of women.

If we accept this definition of capitalism, and are honest with ourselves, we realize that previously defined concepts of freedom and democracy do not jive well with these kinds of social relations. At the heart of our economic system lies the dirty truth of manipulation and control of millions of people for the almost exclusive benefit of a select few. For roughly a third of your life, where you live, where and what you eat, when you wake up, when you go to the bathroom, who you marry, what kind of schools you have available for your children will be largely determined by someone else. Yes, you do have choices, but only those within your monetary means are genuinely considered. You have no voice in how much of a product is to be made, how much of a role you play in it, how much you make for it, how often and for how long you are to work on it, how much it costs, how it is transported, advertised and sold, how and when you are fired/laid-off. Your input on these matters is of no concern to those who decide all these things for you. Even simple matters like these, some which affect you greatly, are outside of your control. The main activity of your life is dictated by someone else.

At this point, you might say that of course humans have these kinds of social relations, we are primates, and primates have dominance hierarchies as part of their social makeup. This is true. But, again, if we accept this as being true and ignore any possibility of it being otherwise, then our concepts of freedom and democracy are incompatible with our very nature. Male chimps in the wild are known to rape female chimps in a desperate act to have their genes passed on. Some claim there is a similar tendency in humans. I would agree to an extent, as I have met people that behaved much more like chimps than like humans, but this raises some serious issues. Is rape to go unpunished, because it is simply biological behaviour? Do we accept this as being the way we are, and do nothing about it? Is it wrong to try to alter our behaviour to make life more amenable to all?

A short example here involves democracy. The US claims it was founded as a democracy. If only rich, white, land-owning people are considered human, then yes, the US was a democracy. Black slaves, of course, were considered 3/5 of a person, and couldn't vote any way other than that of their owner. They weren't considered whole people until 1863. Women were ignored until the early 20th century, and minorities were STILL not considered real PEOPLE until the 1960s. You can see a general trend toward democracy, towards more and more citizen participation (or, rather, the right of citizens to participate). Fortunately, democracy and freedom are static definitions, so we can always tell if we are moving closer or further away from them. We would view the move towards them as being desirable.

I have actually met someone who didn't care that they were living in a giant dominance hierarchy, their fate determined by people far away in distance, wealth and power. It struck me as odd, but then I realized this may be one of these chimphumans. They had this sense that so long as they were allowed cable TV and big SUVs, they didn't care that their lives were almost entirely decided well before they were born by pre-existing social relations. There is this sense that if they have a chance at being at the top of the dominance hierarchy (not bloody likely), they will exchange a chance at a world less restricted by dominance hierarchy (and one, I believe, more in line with our concepts of freedom and democracy) for it.

So, now that we have defined capitalism and demonstrated why it is very much against our concepts of freedom and democracy, what would we call an alternative system, one in which dominance hierarchies are not the basis for social relations and the means of production are not arbitrarily controlled by a few domineering jerks? I was gonna save it for another post, but this succinct definition will suffice for now:

"Socialism is based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange, upon production for use as against production for profit, upon the abolition of all classes, all class divisions, class privilege, class rule, upon the production of such abundance that the struggle for material needs is completely eliminated, so that humanity, at last freed from economic exploitation, from oppression, from any form of coercion by a state machine, can devote itself to its fullest intellectual and cultural development. Much can perhaps be added to this definition, but anything less you can call whatever you wish, but it will not be socialism."

Straight from:

Make of this what you will, recognizing that, like concepts such as freedom and democracy, this is an ideal, perhaps one that will never be attained, but one which we feel is worthy of pursuing. It is also static, so claiming that socialism is what happened in the USSR and China is just flat-out wrong. Something like socially appropriate behaviour, fashion, or the status quo is dynamic, and subject to the whims of public opinion and popular beliefs.

This post took far longer to write than I thought it would, and is a bit rambling and loose in places, so please forgive me for that. If you feel I missed something, or could explain something in greater detail or clarity, please let me know. I am planning on defining anarchy and/or socialism in the coming posts, but since he has been reading a lot on it as of late, perhaps delta of freethought weekly can define the former term.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bloggers Unite!

I had the great pleasure of meeting delta of Freethought Weekly and his brother of Rationality. I was really only expecting to see delta, but as became an over-used joke, I thought: I got two bloggers for the price of one! It was a rainy day when we met, and their visit was short and hectic. I got the impression we would get along fine had we more time to socialise. Alas, the holidays are inherently hectic, and when away from home, it's often hard to stay in one place for long. I wish them well in their respective cities.

I wonder when a blogging convention will take place. Show up in booths labeled with blog names, and the monkey who writes it is there in all its glory. Various activities to occupy them for a while, like workshops on blogging and using HMTL, etc. If such a thing were to occur, I bet a lot of people would blog about it.