In the wake of over-the-top police responses to the Occupy protests, there's been a lot of discussion here about where this militarization of the police forces is coming from, with the finger mostly being pointed at 9/11, counter-terrorism, and the Department of Homeland Security.
But there's one other piece of the puzzle that I haven't seen mentioned so far, which is the tactical training schools that cater equally to the military, private security firms, and the police. Most of these places focus on firearms training -- but the language that is used on their websites suggests that, at the very least, they expose the police who attend them to a highly militarized atmosphere. And some also offer courses in such things as arrest methods, all within the same quasi-military context.
I don't know a whole lot about this -- it's something I've mainly run across when looking into Blackwater and other security firms -- but I definitely think it could use investigating. Here are a few links to get started.
The mission of the Tactical Firearms Training Team is to provide the highest level of cutting edge instruction in the most up to date and progressive firearms skills and tactics. The TFTT instructor cadre is composed of a small team of men who all possess extensive backgrounds in military and police Special Operations. The TFTT Cadre has trained thousands of SWAT and patrol officers from the United States in addition to many hundreds of foreign military and police operators.
For over 21 years TFTT has been the industry leader in cutting edge and realistic training. All programs come under the direct supervision of the Training Director – Max F. Joseph. Max has been supervising, coordinating and conducting Special Operations training non-stop for the last 27 years. He proudly oversees a highly skilled cadre of world class instructors who are committed to forging the sharpest operators possible!
Spartan Tactical Training Group is dedicated to presenting professional firearms training programs and tactical concepts that will prepare law enforcement officers, armed professionals and civilians to survive and win deadly force confrontations.
Here at Spartan_Tactical_Firearms_Training_Courses, we believe that during a deadly force confrontation, you will defend yourself the way you have been trained to respond.
Our firearms training programs focus on developing combat mind-set, tactical aptitude and a reflexive conditioned response when the use of deadly force in self defense is imminent.
Seamless Progression represents more than just an addition to the already saturated tactical training market; it represents a fresh look at consultation, design, and the delivery of tactical training. The name Seamless Progression stems from the concept that all training elements should be integrated to produce maximum effectiveness during real world applications.
Arrest and Control Training
Low Level Resistance Restraint and Escort Methods
High Level Resistance Stabilization and Restraint Methods
The right-wing machine is very money-dependent. Conservative foundations and donors give millions to the think-tanks, public policy institutes, legal foundations, and groups like ALEC. (Just check out the State Policy Network for a handy listing, since it's an umbrella organization of all these other groups.) And that's been their strength -- but it's also a potential weakness.
These groups and others that are loosely affiliated with the Heritage Foundation (specifically the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute) put a great deal of money and attention into promoting young conservatives at the college level. They subsidize right-wing college newspapers -- and often pick up on stories from those papers to feed their outrage. (All those "I got a D because my professor discriminates against conservatives" stories that show up on Fox News come out of this system.)
And both during and right after college, these young conservatives also get slotted into interning for Republican members of Congress or holding entry-level positions with these same think-tanks and foundations. They then enjoy rapid promotion, so that by the time they're in their late twenties, they're showing up on television as expert spokespeople -- at an age when their liberal counterparts are still scuffling along as assistant professors or community organizers.
But my real point is that the open-source software movement has shown us that a money-based system is not the only way to go. When people are passionate about what they do and are prepared to work together within an ethos of freedom from corporate domination, it's possible to achieve by cooperative effort anything that can be bought with money. And the results -- as any free software exponent will tell you -- tends to be stabler, more comprehensive, and more secure.
So I firmly believe that anything the right can do, we can do better -- and without marching in lock-step to get there. The main question, I think, is how to get organized -- first in terms of presenting a plausible front that gets you treated as experts by TV programs or newspapers that need someone to quote on an issue and secondly in terms of passing certain stories and memes up and down the structure so that they get maximum public exposure and don't just sputter out or get lost in the haze.
And there's something else. These think-tanks clearly have slews of people doing nothing but thinking up ways to game the system -- like this recent abomination about splitting up Pennsylvania's electoral votes. But there are people on the left who are equally capable of poring over legal codes and coming up with innovative ideas. Again, it's a matter of organization and promoting good ideas rather than letting them fizzle.
We're never going to have the level of funding and professionalism that the right does. But we have far greater resources of talent and creativity. They just haven't been hooked up in a think-tank / public policy institute / media spokesperson structure. And given the organizational tools of the Net, that's something we can now do without the big money. We can publish ourselves, make our own videos, and do anything the right can in a way that's freer, more authentic, and lots more fun.
I'm not talking about violence or destruction of property -- just about being able to put a crimp in business as usual.
Since the 60s, the authorities have learned how to hem in protesters to the point where they're barely noticeable. They get a permit, have a designated march route and specified hours. They're not allowed to interfere with business or with the normal operations of government. And society routes around them and ignores them.
So the question is how to become un-ignorable.
I suggested in an earlier thread that unofficial flash mobs might be one way to go. No leaders, no organization, no permits, and no official route. Just a bunch of people show up, make their point, and then disperse. But do it over and over again, every hour on the hour, in various locations around town.
Another tactic is to make things uncomfortable for business rather than trying to protest against government. Go out on the busiest shopping days and gum up the works. No sit-ins, nothing you could get arrested for, just so many people that ordinary shoppers are discouraged. Kind of like a real-life DDOS attack. Throng the malls. (Being private property, they can forbid visible protests, but not invisible ones.) Buy nothing -- or buy a dozen small items, make sure a couple are missing price tags so the cashier has to take extra time, and pay in cash, preferably all singles and small change.
Or become inescapably visible. Choose a movement color and think of how many places it could appear. Find a symbol equivalent to the 60s peace sign and spread it everywhere -- with extra points if you get it before the TV cameras. Devise a few pithy slogans and spread them around as well. And once you have a well-defined, symbolic presence in the country, use that to intrude upon routine political and economic events and turn them into vehicles to spread your message.
In our society, protest no longer works, but advertising does. And government has walled itself off from the voters, but business still depends on consumers. So those are the two pressure points in the system where we need to apply our efforts.
And one more thing. In an age of enforced austerity, life gets very boring. So the more entertaining we can be -- the more we seem to be having fun -- the more attention we will garner and the more people we will get to say, "Gee, I want to do what they're doing." Fun is perhaps the greatest secret weapon of all.
My sons are both heavily into role-playing games and online multi-player games, and they're both analytical enough to have learned a lot from the experience and drawn some general conclusions.
Son #1 in particular believes strongly that there is no rule-based system that players cannot eventually learn how to game. They will use obscure rules to undermine the clear intent of the major rules, they will combine rules in ways they were never meant to be combined, and they will use every possible trick to maximize their advantage while minimizing their risks.
He also believes that this principle applies completely to the real world: There is no rule-based system that will not eventually be gamed. This includes the US Constitution and it includes democracy in general. It's kind of like a predator-prey relationship. No matter how fast and strong and adaptable you are, the predators will eventually find a weakness in your defenses and exploit it mercilessly.
There was an article a few days ago suggesting that sex exists in the natural world because if offspring are exactly like their parents, the predators/parasites/diseases will already know how to get through their defenses. Sexual reproduction, by making each generation a little different, helps them stay a jump ahead of whatever's on their heels.
When it comes to politics, however, sometimes small tweaks are enough to stay ahead -- and sometimes the entire system becomes too thoroughly corrupted to be redeemed. I'm starting to conclude that we've reached the point of systemic rot, where democracy as we know it is no longer able to throw off the disease of corruption.
In part, this is because representative democracy doesn't scale well. A member of Congress who represents a few tens of thousands of constituents and spends most of the year living in their home district is very different from one who represents hundreds of thousands, needs massive amounts of campaign funds to reach the voters, and spends most of the year in Washington hobnobbing with lobbyists.
The technical complexity of issues today has also increased, to the point where most representatives don't really know very much about what they're doing -- which makes them even more vulnerable to lobbying or to groups like ALEC that supply pre-written legislation. I suspect that -- far from cutting the bureaucracy as the right wants -- we need to bureaucratize and de-politicize a lot more of the government, bring the voters more closely into ongoing policy debates, and drastically reduce the current role of the president and Congress to one of keeping the machinery running smoothly.
How to get there, though, is another question.
Big city newspapers have always been owned by the wealthy and have promoted the interests of their friends and their advertisers. That's simply the way it was -- you needed a large infusion of capital up front to buy those fancy high-speed presses and hire a hundred people, and then you needed ad revenue to keep things going. But the result is that a paper like the New York Times, for all its pretensions, has always shamelessly slanted its coverage towards the monied interests.
Newspapers haven't been all that accurate either. Hedges writes, "Traditionally, if a reporter goes out and reports on an event, the information is usually trustworthy and accurate." But my own experience has been that when a reporter shows up to report on an event of which they have no first-hand knowledge, the result is likely to be slanted, partial, and contain at least one or two major whoppers. And this is true of everything from anti-war demonstrations to science fiction conventions, so it's not just a matter of political bias. It's more the reporters' tendency to think of themselves as insiders and of everyone else as strange native tribes whose doings are to be treated as a matter of entertainment for their readers.
The one place Hedges does have it right is that when newspapers were at their peak, they were willing to pay for reporters to just sniff around, hunt for leads, ask the shoeshine boy on the corner for tips, and do anything they could think of to come up with a story to scoop the competition. But I'm not even sure how long that ideal model prevailed -- certainly the Twenties were marked more by the Sunday supplement sensationalism of the Hearst papers or the even more lurid sex scandals favored by the Daily Graphic.
So probably that classic model was at its peak only during the Thirties and Forties, like so much else in our society. Certainly, by the time I was a kid in the Fifties, people were getting their breaking news from radio or TV -- then picking up the evening paper for more details -- and you never saw newsboys out on the corner yelling "Wuxtry, wuxtry, read all about it." There were still something like a dozen papers in New York City then -- down from maybe seventeen a couple of decades earlier -- but they were already losing that hyper-competitive edge.
On balance, I think the answer is not to bring back the obsolete business model of the large metropolitan dailies, but to figure out what was best about them and how to replicate it. The core of what Hedges is talking about has to do with there being people whose income depends on looking for trouble -- and who also have sufficient institutional backup to protect them from retaliation if they find it.
That was a very delicate balance, and not one that can be easily replicated. The salaries of all those crack reporters, after all, were paid for by stuff that is far more efficiently done online -- sports statistics, stock market charts, classified ads, comic strips, even astrological forecasts. So the real question becomes one of how you can maintain serious local journalism financially, and in what medium, without either falling under corporate control or being reduced to the level of part-time blogging.
The Kos piece reminded me of Murdoch's million-dollar donation to the Republican Governors Association last June.
When Haley Barbour became chairman of the RGA in June 2009, that was a tip-off that the GOP was going to make that a focus of their attention during the 2010 off year elections. But I assumed at the time that it was just a matter of them concentrating their firepower where they saw a chance of electoral gains.
Now I'm not so sure. The fact that so many of these GOP governors seem to be operating out of the same playbook makes me wonder if some of this was planned as much as two years ago.
Barbour is the consummate GOP insider, with a history that goes back to his days as the head of the notoriously corrupt RNC in the 1990s. In 1997, he returned to lobbying, but he also formed connections with the 2000 George Bush campaign and Karl Rove. And as governor of Mississippi over the last few years, he's continued to play an active low-profile role in GOP politics.
There is a significant regional component to the attacks on labor. Mississippi is at the heart of right-to-work territory, and is dominated by a traditional, quasi-aristocratic culture in which workers identify themselves with the interests of their bosses. Karl Rove got his start in Texas in the early 90s, when he figured out that he could get Republican candidates elected and also haul in business contributions by campaigning on issues like tort reform. The current messed-up situation in Texas can largely be traced back to Rove's successful efforts to turn the state Republican.
So on one hand, you have a hierarchical, anti-labor Southern culture -- and on the other you have the northern industrial states of the Rust Belt which are traditional union strongholds. Those states have been targeted by the Chamber of Commerce for a decade -- particularly Illinois and Ohio -- but to only limited effect. However, now you have a new wave of teabagger-style candidates with a greater ability to appeal to northern workers but a southern-style anti-union agenda.
I think the connections between the RGA and governors like Walker and Kasich could use some closer scrutiny than they've gotten. Were these candidates all hand-picked by Barbour? Did the bulk of their funding come from some combination of the RGA, Rove's front groups, and the Chamber and its own front groups?
There's a lot more that could be said on this topic. There's a political alliance at work here that was formed immediately after the 2004 elections and ties in with Rove's failed Social Security privatization attempt in 2005 and even with the US Attorney firings and the phony voter fraud issue. But what they couldn't manage in 2005 on the federal level, they have a much better shot at in 2011 on the state level.
Come to think of it, Barbour may have his own ties to the Koch brothers going back to his RNC days in the 90s. Here's something on the Triad Management fundraising scandal of 1996. (And note also the involvement of Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer who seems to turn up wherever there are GOP front groups and dubious elections.)
I keep wondering about these "hallowed ground" or "sacred ground" descriptions being applied to the WTC site.
The idea of sacred ground was initially a religious one -- probably going back to the days when the sites of temples were carefully determined through feng shui or following the meanderings of cows or whatever method was considered best to trace out the earth energies.
As that sort of practical knowledge was lost, a more superstitious form of the concept came to be applied to any area around a church -- for example, the old principle that a suicide could not be laid to rest but had to be buried outside the churchyard.
And when even that degree traditional of religious awareness vanished, the idea took on a more secular meaning. Lincoln saying in the Gettysburg Address, for example, "We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
The Battle of Gettysburg was both a great victory and one marked by tragic loss of life, and Lincoln's words were not misplaced. But in retrospect, I can't help feeling he set us on a very slippery slope, bringing us to the point where now any place that lots of people were killed can be considered "hallowed."
The World Trade Center was not a battleground. It was not a place where anyone "gave their lives that that nation might live." It was not turned into a cemetery for the fallen and is not their final resting-place. Nothing at all happened there for Americans to be proud of.
This suggests to me that it isn't really being treated as "sacred ground" so much as a continuing irritant and source of anger and humiliation. That sort of thing also has a long -- and overwhelmingly barbaric -- history, but it's nothing to emulate. It has to do not with healing but with vengeance and the perpetuation of ancient hatreds.
There used to be a word for this sort of thing -- "revanchism," which was applied to the French determination to get back at the Germans for their humiliation in the Franco-Prussian War. That determination was one of the major causes of World War I -- and thus, by extension, of World War II.
Revanchism is the kind of low-level pseudo-religious cult that crops up when a real desire for peace and understanding is lost. It makes a mockery of any genuine idea of the sacred. And by even allowing the forces of darkness to describe the WTC site as "sacred" -- out of some sort of fear that we might be pilloried if we suggest it isn't -- we are setting ourselves up for exactly that kind of descent into barbarism.
The simple truth is that our democracy is broken. We're never going to get out of the current system what we want and need.
And railing against Obama isn't the answer either. He's probably as good as we could have hoped for in these dysfunctional times, and maybe a bit better, but he's clearly not going to fix any of the underlying problems.
You remember Woody Guthrie's guitar with the inscription "This machine kills fascists"? Well, the US government is now a machine that protects and enables fascists -- or whatever they're calling themselves these days -- and no matter who you put in charge, it's going to keep doing that as its primary mission.
What we need here is something like a cash for clunkers program, -- but unfortunately you can't take your old clunker of a government down to the lot and trade it in for a shiny new one.
And "revolution" isn't the answer either. Revolutions may have been viable when everything was simpler -- but all they can do nowadays is put new people in charge of the same old broken machinery.
What I see us as needing is something more like a workaround -- or a million workarounds. What are the essential functions of government? If government is no longer serving those ends, and the corporations are actively subverting them, then what tools do we have for generating alternatives? And how do we keep government from forbidding those alternatives, or the corporations from coopting them, before they can take on real power of their own?
It's not going to be easy to imagine, create, and protect new institutions until they can grow into an entire alternative system -- but it's what I think is going to have to be done. And if DU is too tied to party politics and the electoral cycle to serve as a forum for discussing those kinds of issues, I'd like to see a place that can do it.
The New Deal-style liberalism that Buckley started railing against in the late 40's was closely tied to modernism and early 20th century ideas of progress. It was based on the belief that human beings were blank slates and you could engineer society into any shape you chose. It was generally well-meaning but all too often ruthless and top-down and out of touch with ordinary human needs and the wisdom of long-established social institutions.
That flavor of liberalism was still around in the 60's. It was behind the assumption that you could implement school desegregation through massive busing and that neighborhood schools were of no importance -- that neighborhoods themselves, with their deep family ties and cultural roots, were of no importance.
But that sort of liberalism no longer exists. It got hammered from all sides -- by the critiques of Buckley-style conservatives on the right, by grassroots community organizers on the left, and by a general cultural sea-change down the middle.
The conservative writer quoted in the OP still thinks it exists. He says, "The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress," and goes on to decry "the left's belief in political solutions for everything."
But he's fighting ghosts -- thinking that if the right went back to its arguments of 40 years ago, the liberal targets of 40 years ago would still be there to hit. This is why even the teabaggers have to rant about socialism and government takeovers. They're living in a dream of the last glory days of conservatism and not in present-day realities
It may also be one reason why they show such a virulent hatred for ACORN and for community organizes in general. These bottom-up anti-poverty groups are the absolute antithesis of old-fashioned liberalism, and the right has no intellectual basis for arguing against them, so all it can do is try to destroy them.
At the same time, it's becoming clear that the corporations have all the socially destructive impact that even a conservative should hate. They destroy long-established communities by pulling out industries those communities are dependent upon. They weaken families by destroying leisure. They pervert venerable institutions into sources of profit.
But today's right-wing doesn't seem to care about any of that -- to a degree where it's probably an insult to conservatism to continue to call them conservatives. They don't actually seem to want to conserve anything, except for "traditional" (which is to say, 19th century) forms of marriage. For the rest, they're perfectly happy living rootlessly in the land of trailer parks and fast food, with no sense of community and no cultural memory.
When I was in high school in the early 60's, we were taught about Karl Marx's labor theory of value -- and were also taught that it was considered basic economic doctrine, apart from whatever opinion you might have of Marx's advocacy of communism.
The labor theory of value, as I recall it, states that value is created by the people who put actual effort into making things -- the labor that turns raw materials into finished product, the creative effort that produces books and movies and music that never existed before.
According to Marx, capitalists and middlemen get their share only by exploiting the workers -- by making sure that workers are paid less than the true value of what they produce and taking the difference for themselves.
I don't think I completely buy that -- there are other things besides the labor involved that add to or detract from the value of a product. But it seems undeniable that the major portion of the value of anything comes from the work that went into it and that neither the people who do the physical labor nor those who supply the creative ideas ever get their fair share.
When I was learning about this stuff as a kid, though, nobody doubted that exploitation was a fact -- and the debates were about how things like the role of unions in enabling workers to obtain a bigger piece of the pie.
But since then -- and specifically since the Reagan presidency -- the entire grounds of the discussion have shifted. Not only does nobody talk any longer about exploitation, the entire labor theory of value has vanished from the public sphere.
Instead, we have been given the noxious term "wealth creation." We have been told that it is the investor class that "creates wealth." And we have had tax cut after tax cut sold to us on the grounds that letting rich people become even richer means they will be free to create even more "wealth" and everyone will live happily ever after.
Wealth, of course, isn't value. It's just money -- and much of it not even real money but on-paper profits that vanish as soon as you look inside the box and see there's nothing there.
Meanwhile, the idea of value has gotten lost. Thanks to productivity gains, workers are creating more value while being paid less. And the environment (among other things) is being degraded because we have a system that sees no problem in destroying things of real value in order to generate the phantom of wealth.
Marx's answer to all this, of course, was communism -- giving the workers complete ownership of the fruits of their own labor. That hasn't ever proved possible to put into practice, and I think there are good reasons why not -- perhaps starting with the fact that in a society of assembly line workers and paper pushers, there simply isn't the personal investment in one's labor to make most people eager to "own" whatever it is they do for a living.
But setting aside communism as an answer, we're still left with the basic problem -- which is one of value, exploitation, and where a society needs to invest its resources and attention in order to create more value (and less on-paper wealth) and to distribute the fruits of that value-creation more equally.
As a result of looking into Bush family history and related matters, I've come to several conclusions:
1) Support for fascism -- or at least for a kind of Americanized fascism-lite -- was extremely widespread among American business leaders in the 1930's. Some actively endorsed Nazi racial ideology or funded domestic fascist groups. Some merely looked to Germany for a model of a government that would overturn the New Deal and destroy the unions.
2) When the US entered World War II, a deal was struck with these near-traitorous corporations. They would help in the war effort and all would be forgiven. Then, following the war, there was a massive re-writing of history to conceal the inconvenient facts of what had gone before. In this sense, Orwell's 1984 wasn't prediction -- it was a straightforward description of what was happening as he wrote in 1948.
In this rewritten version of history, the Republicans' only fault in the 1930's had been excess devotion to Hooverian economics. They and the corporate elite had never been disloyal, never turned against democracy, never looked approvingly at Hitler. The nation had always been unified where it counted and had responded seamlessly during World War II.
3) Until about 1953, there were still plenty of people who knew what was what and weren't afraid to call a spade a spade. But after Eisenhower was elected and Dulles became head of the CIA, this rewritten history was ruthlessly imposed. Much of Operation Mockingbird had to do with cementing it into place. At the same time, it became unacceptable to call extremist forces in the United States "fascist." You could decry McCarthyism or the hijinks of right-wing oil millionaires, but expressing the idea that the f-word might apply to Americans was considered almost a form of libel.
At its mildest, this was a kind of deal between the right and left -- we won't call you communists if you won't call us fascists. At its worst, it was more like a threat -- of course we're not fascists, and only a dirty commie would suggest we were.
4) There have been cracks in the we-were-never-fascists myth from time to time. The explicit reliance of the John Birch Society on fascist conspiracy theories. The willingness of movement conservatives in the US to associate with outright fascists in Latin America in the 1970s and 80's. But those have never gotten any traction. The power of the myth is too strong.
But the history of the Family lays the whole thing out too clearly to ignore -- from its fascist-lite origins in 1935 to its wartime re-imagining of itself as a patriotic organization bent on bipartisan religious uplift to its maintenance of clearly fascist doctrines for its elite inner circle. I still have no hope that the MSM will ever acknowledge this, but it's time for us to start putting the real nature of the extreme right in context.
This pattern of right-wingers in the US supporting and cooperating with ultra-right-wingers in Latin America is painfully reminiscent of the situation during the Carter administration, when fascist regimes were being supported by groups like WACL and CIS, by right-wing politicians like Jesse Helms, and by rogue elements of the CIA.
After working behind Carter's back -- and in some cases actively undermining him -- those groups went on in the early Reagan years to carry out much of the administration's illegal Latin American strategy. They supported the Contras, they cheered on death squad leaders, and they harassed and terrorized US opponents of the Latin American fascist regimes.
Many of the same people and groups are still around, on both the US and Latin American sides. Dan Burton -- mentioned in the OP -- was closely associated with Helms back in the 80's. Dana Rohrabacher is another name out of that period.
Two groups funded with taxpayer money through the National Endowment for Democracy -- the International Republican Institute and the Center for International Private Enterprise -- appear to be in close contact with the ultra-conservative Venezuelan group CEDICE. Those groups (and others on the more liberal end of the spectrum) were founded in 1983 to do openly what the CIA had been doing illegally in the way of meddling in other countries' elections. Their activities have generally been more-or-less in alignment with US foreign policy -- but now I'm getting a strong sense that they may be preparing to go rogue and start actively sabotaging Obama's policies.
Anti-communism was one of the strongest organizing principles for the Republican Party over many decades, helping bring together business interests, libertarians, and other groups that might not otherwise have had anything in common. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the GOP has been reduced to its essentially non-existent domestic agenda and as a result has become increasingly fragmented. They'd love nothing more than to get that sort of consensus back.
In a lot of what's been going on lately, I can see seeds of an attempt to turn "anti-socialism" into a new organizing principle that applies to both foreign governments that challenge the dominance of US corporations and progressive or pro-labor policies at home. Support for the Honduran coup may not have much traction as an issue right now -- but if it helps them get their messages and their mailing lists together, it could be a harbinger of things to come.
This nation was created on the basis of a beguiling myth which grew out of social contract theory. The social contract argument was that people voluntarily surrendered some of their autonomy to a strong central government because the advantages it provided in the way of security and coordination of activity outweighed the loss of personal freedom. And the founding myth of the United States is that it's possible to find a sweet spot, where government has enough power to protect us but not enough to tyrannize over us.
It hasn't worked out that way.
I have very mixed feelings about the extent to which government is necessary at all. It's obvious that we do need some kind of universally-accepted institutions to set and enforce basic ground rules, to mediate disputes between individuals and groups, to counterbalance the extent to which the powerful tend to exploit the weak, and to look after certain aspects of the common good which can otherwise get lost in the thicket of personal self-interest.
We're accustomed to having government do most of those things -- but that doesn't mean either that they are necessary functions of government or that they make government itself necessary. At best, they account for perhaps 10% of what government actually does -- while the other 90% mainly goes into protecting the property and privileges of the elite.
What passes for government these days most closely resembles a system that existed only during major crises in earlier and simpler times. Just as the single cells of slime molds come together to form a quasi-organism in times of crisis, so the human community pulls together and seeks strong leaders when under assault. War-chiefs in times of conflict. Charismatic prophets when famine makes it necessary to pull up stakes and migrate to greener pastures. But after the crisis passes, that degree of centralized power is no longer necessary.
Except that for some reason, we've been living in permanent crisis mode for the last 5000 years -- since the rise of the centralized state at the start of civilization.
It isn't clear just what happened then. Disparities in grave goods show that class distinctions had increased sharply over the previous thousand years or so -- but around 3000 BC there is a sudden phase-shift, from local aristocracies to centralized monarchies in which the ruler has nearly godlike status. The most likely guess is that the climate took a turn for the worse and there were a couple of centuries marked by threats of famine and border attacks by nomadic tribes. But whatever the crisis was, it ended -- and the centralization of power never did.
Naomi Klein talks about the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism -- but that's merely an acute form of what we've been living with as a chronic condition for 5000 years. The overthrowing of an occasional tyrant wrings some of the worst abuses out of the system, but only to return it to that same chronic level.
Even the American Revolution did nothing to change the basic fact that government functions to protect the wealth and power of the privileged. There have been gestures from time to time at rebalancing the equation, but none of them have been effective in the long run. And at present, we are in the worst shape we have been in for a century, with the facade of democratic elections increasingly unable to disguise the fact that Washington is run by a permanent and often hereditary governing class for the benefit of lobbyists and corporate interests.
But that's the nature of government. It was designed that way to serve that specific function, and thinking it could be anything different is a sucker's game. Government is programmed to serve its original masters, and that programming will always win out no matter how many override codes you try to apply.
So instead of applauding our deeply-flawed and ultimately inadequate American system of government on this Day-After-Independence Day, we ought to be taking a step back and thinking about what alternative system would actually achieve the ends that government of any kind appears unable to attain.
The Declaration of Independence asserts, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
That's half true as can be and half deeply distorted by the social contract myth. Our founding fathers recognized the abuses of all known forms of government, but they also believed that the true original purpose of government was to secure the rights of the governed, and that if one system of government fell down on the job you just had to abolish it and start over in slightly different form.
It's time to recognize instead that government of any kind is a con game that picks our pockets while it promises to secure our rights. If after more than two centuries of experimentation with liberal democracy, *all* forms of government are still "destructive of those ends," we may need to shake loose of the permanent crisis mentality, abolish government itself, and start over from first principles -- to create something that actually serves our needs instead of screwing us over and spitting in our faces.
There are some good points in this piece -- but it seems to have the fatal defect of confusing free markets with capitalism.
Markets can be an excellent mechanism for allocating supply and demand -- but it is all too easy to rig the game. Corporations can artificially limit supply to increases prices or pump up demand to sell useless products. Monopolies can control sales and prices with even less effort.
Corporations also have a hundred other tricks to get out from under the imperatives of the market. They exploit workers, cheat consumers, blackmail local communities, and despoil the environment -- constantly taking without giving back. They have their fingers in everything from the media to the courts to make sure that they will never be held accountable and will always be able to continue to rig the system.
The real issue of socialism, as far as I can tell, is not whether you want to have the federal government run your local corner grocery but how to break the power of the corporations. I'm not convinced socialism is the best way to do that -- government is a good regulator, but it's not an ideal provider of goods and services -- but it's a good starting point for thinking about the problem.
Fundamentally, I think we have to break the power of capital itself -- to have a society in which there are certain things money cannot buy (elections, for starters) and in which the lack of money cannot be a barrier to either fulfilling essential human needs or participating in the political process.
Once we decide what our objectives are, we can then start to design a method for getting to that end point.
If I'm understanding this correctly, the standard argument for the free market is that natural market efficiencies will solve all our problems. If oil becomes scarce, its price will go up and both investors and consumers will turn to alternative technologies.
The problem here, though, is that coal is very cheap -- but also very dirty. So in this case, the free market is not going to save us from pollution and global warming.
As someone mentioned upthread, that leaves us with three solutions:
1. The government simply imposes restrictions on carbon emissions. Simple and direct but it doesn't actually do anything to solve the problem. It would be likely to drive up energy costs without providing any alternatives.
2. The government promotes the development of alternative technologies through financial incentives. This has the advantage of addressing possible solutions but it doesn't do anything to rein in the current problem.
3. Create a cockamamie artificial "free market" in cap-and-trade derivatives, which does little to address the problem and nothing to provide solutions.
The free market types, of course, hate #1 and love #3. They're also willing to accept #2 to a degree, since it would mean government seed money going to private companies -- but they're really not thrilled about the potential for backyard generation of solar or wind power, which would cut the major energy firms out of the picture. They're much more enthusiastic about the idea of "carbon sequestration," which would not only keep the coal companies in business but would add another layer of expensive technology to current methods of power generation, thus perpetuating a heavily centralized and capital-dependent system.
But the real dirty secret here is that this argument isn't actually about energy or pollution or global warming. It's about the fact that the free market has failed to solve the most pressing problem of our time, thus invalidating its central claim to be the ultimate answer to everything -- and making the brutality and injustice that it creates along the way a lot more suspect.
Sure, this silly cap-and-trade system has the potential for helping a small number of wealthy people to become even richer, while screwing over everybody else and doing nothing to address the actual problem. But that's just a side benefit. Its real purpose is to continue propping up the rotting structure of capitalism for another generation.
And I use the word "rotting" quite deliberately -- not in the sense that a 1930s socialist might have thrown it out as an insult, but in the sense that capitalism itself has now become a shambling zombie, or perhaps an immortal vampire. It has less and less connection to the provision of actual things that people need but is merely a disintegrating remnant of what it once was, maintaining its artifical existence by feeding on the blood and brains of the living. And cap-and-trade is just one more sign of that ongoing decay.
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