Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thinking through to the other side

In the last several weeks I went through a mini-identity crisis. This was confirmed by my wife who called it just that. After spending most of my adult life riding bicycles and walking rather than owning a car, living in the urban rather than suburban, and listening to punk rock icons Husker Du, Minutemen, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers....a few weeks ago I asked myself if I was now a Republican.

This was worrisome because I live in Seattle, and also because I have over 20 years invested in friendships forged somewhat on the grounds of being countercultural freaks. Seattle is a liberal victor in the culture war, a city that started making tangible differentiation from the homogenized mall-ification of the USA back in the 1970's. As for me and my friend's atypical stylizations, if you know any of us you'll know what I mean. I'm surrounded, literally, in a counterculture that consciously chose to leave Reagan's America, totally and forever.

If I was to embrace significant portions of Reagan's ideology, I would have no friends.

Then somethings happened: In a quest to save money, I stopped renting a Zipcar on Saturdays for the weekly grocery run to Fred Meyer. I've decided to haul even the big stuff the 2.4 mile roundtrip in a little $20 cart or in the cargo hold of my son's jogging stroller. This kind of self-propelled austerity doesn't fit the with the Republican lifestyle. The other was the death of Jesse Helms, and the Republicans and mainstream media positively framing his life. I danced irreverently on Helm's grave here. Other small incidents were the content of emails from conservative magazine Human Events. One email they sent out had Fred Thompson rallying the Republican zombies to continue supporting small government and little/no taxes by voting Republican. What kind of crack does one have be on to think the Republicans save us money and make us free from government regulations? The Bush regime handed out tax money to defense and police industry's like crazy, and notoriously in ways that don't solve real security problems. I don't join political parties that tell stories exactly opposite of how things are really happening.

Then a magazine article appeared before me, and I began to see the big picture of me, my political direction, and where I fit in it the world of ideas.

The magazine is Salon, and the news feature is Apocalypse Now by Mike Davis. After this point my personal journal morphs into a step-by-step critique of the Salon's Apocalypse Now, I'm changing the webpage format to black letters and white background for visual demarcation.

  1. The article explicitly and implicitly accepts that the Earth is going through a dramatic climate change. I totally agree, and have for at least since 1990. On this logical level, the liberals/left/Democrats have typically affirmed there is a dramatic climate change, and it is man made. The Republicans, along with sister organization Right Wing Protestants, have tried every tactic of rhetorical denial of climate change. This summer I've made a daily announcement to my wife that tornadoes have killed some people in the red state midwest. Sometimes ignorance kills.

  2. The article tries to claim the oil dollars going to build skyscrapers in Dubai are a denial that our oil dollars are investing in alternative energy. I sense disinformation from Salon. It should be no surprise the oil sources are taking their income and investing more locally and within their cultural sphere. No one should expect anything else. A more precise question Salon could have asked is how much of US oil expenditures are going to US based companies, and if these companies are diverting this income towards alternative energy development. Salon didn't, and chose to make vacuous rhetorical points with anti-wealth readers by vilifying Dubia 's mega-capitalism.

  3. The article believes the rightful distribution of wealth should be communistic. Look at this paragraph and the carte blanche ownership of oil wealth Salon gives the "poor":

    "This super-charged Gulf boom, which celebrity architect Rem Koolhaas claims is "reconfiguring the world," has led Dubai developers to proclaim the advent of a "supreme lifestyle" represented by seven-star hotels, private islands, and J-class yachts. Not surprisingly, then, the United Arab Emirates and its neighbors have the biggest per capita ecological footprints on the planet. Meanwhile, the rightful owners of Arab oil wealth, the masses crammed into the angry tenements of Baghdad, Cairo, Amman, and Khartoum, have little more to show for it than a trickle-down of oil-field jobs and Saudi-subsidized madrassas. While guests enjoy the $5,000 per night rooms in Burj Al-Arab, Dubai's celebrated sail-shaped hotel, working-class Cairenes riot in the streets over the unaffordable price of bread."

    Here is my stance: the people born in a country do not inherent the wealth coincidently generated in it. Birth does not grant any resources. The masses are a meaningless glom, and worthless when discussed within a meritocratic space. The windfall profits of oil, computer, informational, or any other industry should never be given to people just because they were born. Birth is a biological event, not an economic qualification.

  4. Apocalypse Now states more of it system of justice:

    "The North's Ecological Debt

    The real question is this: Will rich counties ever mobilize the political will... to help poorer countries adapt...Will the electorates of the wealthy nations shed their current bigotry and walled borders to admit refugees from predicted epicenters of drought and desertification like the Maghreb, Mexico, Ethiopia, and Pakistan? Will Americans... be willing to tax themselves to help relocate the millions likely to be flooded out of densely settled, mega-delta regions like Bangladesh?"

    The phrase "The North's Ecological Debt" is a moral landscape I do not inhabit. If my culture's adaptions and empowerments have destroyed others, then it shouldn't be such a surprise tomorrow when we do it again. If I become captive to a political fascism that involuntarily diverts my tax dollars to the equatorial poor based on industrialized guilt, I care enough to stop that enterprise by any means possible. Why? Its not that I want more wealth at the expense of others, it is forcing a religion on me, imposing on me a certain valuation of life and specific cultures. It is an instance of fascism, the worst kind: self-righteous in its assumed benevolence.

So here I am at the end of this ridiculously long post screaming about anti-industrial leftist fascists. Am I semiotically pushed back in the corner of Republican? No. Of late I'm realizing I'm being semiotically pushed into appreciating the old American ideas of freedom and independence. They were not abstractions protected for their own sakes, rather these ideals were protected because they were the environment for innovation, enterprise, and industriousness in the individual (not just the corporation). To me, the civil rights movement was originally about allowing non-whites access to that same freedom and independence, so they could become wealthier or happier through successful business or professional acumen. After the initial gains for civil rights in the 1960's, white leftists have messed it up for everyone, embedding their anti-merit valuations of life into civic dialogue at every turn, disabling the road to prosperity or happiness for anyone not already wealthy. Centrists supporting the old values of personal industriousness shouldn't allow themselves to be pushed into the Grand Old Party of Low Levels of Competent Industriousness But High Levels of Spin, rather maintain stake in their plebian interests by reasserting meritocracy into the central assumption of civic dialogue .

There. Thats me.


BFGalbraith said...

Here's a related theory I came up with talking to Lance, Seth and James about this stuff:

It's not about left vs. right. Taking the Human body for example, if you take away the right side, the left side of the body dies also. Politically speaking, the right represents the need for individuals to be self-reliant, while the left represents the need for individuals to be charitable. An individual without self reliance or charity makes a very poor citizen.

This transfers into almost all issues of left vs. right. Macro-economically for example, capitalism compliments socialism and socialism compliments capitalism, and either without the other stink.

Ryan Hawkes said...

Lance, It seems like you often react to the words chosen by others. In this case rhetoric to describe developed countries roles in global warming (a concept you accept). For example, "ecological debt" can push over a guilt-ridden liberal but it also states a truth. That in the global bank of resources the US (in particular) has taken its fair share (plus more) and not deposited enough in return. Ecologically spebaking. Stating this isn't facism. How people react to this would be facism depending on the landscape that is created.

I had a conversation just last night regarding this same topic. Chema mentioned a program that the President of Mexico is proposing (or it is a project in place within the UN, I'm unclear on this) where developed countries contribute money to mitigation projects in developing countries regarding global warming. Chema, being an employee of a state government here in Mexico, supported this idea. I jumped right past it and exclaimed "what good is mitigation as long as the US continues to emit at ever increasing levels!"

A government represents its people. A countries resources are controlled by the government, normally giving permission to individuals or corporations to use them. So in a way, the authors point is that governments are allowing its resources to benefit only a minority of people. That wealth is being put into isolated and controlled 'civilizations' that reject the poor. Really a form of corruption. I don't think the author was making a communistic remark that people deserve to be given anything outright.

Last Saturday was "national reforestation day" here in Mexico. It was a national holiday where 8 million trees were planted country-wide. At the site I visited alone there were 12,000 supposedly being planted. There was a ceremony to start and the slogan "plant a tree, make history". The problem for me was, we were planting trees in a parking lot of a state fairgrounds where last year trees had been cut down illegally by the fairgrounds administration. Not really 'reforestation' in my book.

My point is that developing countries are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to develop, to improve the lives of their citizens and they also are facing catastrophic environmental changes to which some they caused and some were caused by the governments of other countries. To do both is difficult and since people in Mexico tend to (from my experience) rely on government for 'change', bigger is better. And well its true for the US too, cause climate change ain't going to slow down until REAL things happen at the federal government level that changes the economy.

I'd like to hear your response to the points of the author, not just reactions to his choice of words. Do you think that free-market mechanisms should be trusted? What reaction should the US have to its responsibility in the world regarding environmental problems?

oh. and i think Benjamins ideas of left/right are true to an extent. Though I would argue that democrats aren't 'charity' - more 'communal' in nature. Though that could be the rhetoric in my own head. I just don't like the word charity...cause it lifts one person over the other in terms of who deserves.

LanceMiller said...

Ryan. Per my Athropocene blog entry I am not interested in stopping in global change, but adapting to it.

As for natural resources being governed and distributed by governments, and governments represent the people. I agree only so much. Various cultures may see what you called corruption as the proper function of government. I don''t want the outcomes of that cultural norm to be blamed on the West, and a rescue expected.

I don't think I'm missing the spirit or precise points of the article.

The Serpent Lord said...

I am a communist in the sense that I think natural resources are a commons, and I think that progress comes by using human ingenuity to expand or stretch that commons rather than simply expropriating disproportionate chunks of it for relative personal advantage.

So I empathize with the salon writer, yet have to ask myself "is he insane" when he says the wretched poor of the middle east are the rightful owners of of middle eastern oil.

First, not all people are wretchedly poor. Although the poor are always a majority, they only have a right to the oil in partnership with their wealthy minorities.

Second, oil is an awesome resource which is distributed unevenly around the world, so the wretched poor of the middle east have a right to the oil of that region only in common with the rich and poor people of the whole world.

Africa and the middle east have high levels of social inequity and high birthrates. Before putting control of the global oil supply exclusively in the hands of the poorest billion people on the planet, consider the impact on the other 5 billion people.

Third, oil in the ground is a natural resource, Oil in barrels is something people made with that resource. Oil wealth is yet another thing produced from the oil in barrels, several steps removed from the natural commons. To what degree this system belongs to everyone and to what degree we should reward or incentivize developers of this commons is a question of strategy, with the right choice being a balance, not a romantic story.

Of course the salon writer does not mean what he says!

Put him in charge of the world, and he will put the oil in the hands of democratically elected elites who will pay a lot of lip service to "representing" the wretched poor.

Not that this is a bad thing!

Still the writer feeds us fairy stories. Stories about a God that wants us to give everything we have to the poor so we can enter the eye of the needle and reach the worker's paradise!

BFGalbraith said...

Ryan: With the words "self-reliant" and "charity" I was abbreviating two opposing but very diverse schools of thought. In this big of a generalization, "charity" would be "communal" (just as "self-reliant" would be "walling off your own section in a suburb." Taking this literally, to participate communally it helps if one has a giving attitude (charity) towards other members of the group.

LanceMiller said...

To me it feels like you are threatened by forms of communal thought. If a group has an idea you feel like that idea is forced upon others and is therefore facism. I can respect this. I've always bristled at leftist ideologies, particularly when people accept them wholeheartedly without question.

If you oppose using US taxes for mitigating global warming problems do you also oppose US food aid? I mean, I a long term strategy.


Reply from Lance, and pertinent to this blog thread:

On the food aid question: Lately I'm seeing a lot of agenda's as related to a valuation of life, and I'm starting to categorize these as a religion. I'm for these agendas having a lot of support, but be bounded under a banner such as "Red Cross" or "Religious Action Network", etc. People could give their $$$ or time as much as they wanted to these NGO's. But these NGO's would not try to twist my governments to operate within their epistemological goals.

Communal thought: Some degree of social coherence is needed to deliver any of the things I like. But most things I truly love also depended on maverick individualists who think differently, take risks outside the norm, or do things that are an outright act of anti-solidarity with their neighbors.

It is lockstep solidarity that I consider an ultimate evil. And I do mean ultimate. On a local scale, I saw this in the south as I grew up. (older, mainstream )Whites were in solidarity with their exclusion of blacks. Then into the 70's came the solidarity with blacks in which one never pointed to violent black criminals as heinous or a problem. To me the situation is absurd. There are real subcultures in southern black neighborhoods where offing whites is a common activity, and general society should be able to articulate that while also saying the majority of blacks are not included. The layers of solidarity within a given agenda keep common sense out of civic dialogue.

Continuing on a local scale: the dominant white Baptist culture that was Arkansas was certainly constructivist, the locals created a culture famously all their own. People from the rest of the south made jokes about Arkansas ignorance. The intrusion of international information and culture, such as when Bill Clinton went off to Oxford then returned to govern the state, was a godsend. In the late 80's and early 90's it was the most progressive that welcomed internationalized information into Arkansas social/political/business values. I was shocked to find out in 1999 that NW progressives opposed globalization. To me globalization ended such local Arkansas practices as the a local state legislature representative along with preacher and some upper ranks of the sheriff's department
going to the women's prison and fucking a lot of the inmates, regulaerly. No joke Ryan, when I hear let's all normalize to the local rather than a globalized homogeny, I truly think of those good ole boys fucking the female inmates and the stop signs for that activity being removed.

LanceMiller said...

To Seth (Serpentlord)

In Jan 2004 I was sponsored by the Communist Party USA on a trip to their headquarters in NYC to help brainstorm an anti-Bush strategy session. I stayed at the communication director's house in Brooklyn. Lots of good, smart, principled people were there. Essentially, I have a lot of good things to say about the people and some of the politics, but i have since moved on to a different political agenda.

Also note, most of what you said as a critique to the Salon writer are things I was thinking.

Onto other parts of the thread about natural resources: I agree in the inverse wording, natural resources DO NOT belong to a small group who through exclusive social networking can get land/water/oil/mining rights granted to them with little or no usage payments. And I personally do call this corruption or cronyism.

The Serpent Lord said...

Lance said: "There are real subcultures in southern black neighborhoods where offing whites is a common activity, and general society should be able to articulate that while also saying the majority of blacks are not included. The layers of solidarity within a given agenda keep common sense out of civic dialogue."

This is an interesting problem. I grew up in Navy towns where racial solidarity is largely subsumed into class solidarity. Black peoople are cooks, not crooks. White people have varying ranks and frequently associate with blacks of their own rank. Rank can refer to social class, officer vs. enlisted, education level, civilian vs. military etc.

So the OJ Simpson trial was my first exposure to racial solidarity. It turned out that in many places around the country, (especially suburban SoCal which is disproportionately represented on TV, not to mention the location of the crime) black women and white women did not have opinions, they had solidarity. White women circled the wagons and fired outrage at this classic example of predatory male behavior. Black women on the other hand were united in defending their boy OJ from an obvious case of police racism.

Here's the very real problem:

The court system deals with the nasty problem of taking collective action. If we punish OJ we have to take collective responsibility. If we put him on trial but let him go, we also have to take responsibility. Sometimes we let bad guys go so that we don't end up hanging innocent people more often than necessary.

A sheriff chasing a homeless man out of town is a moral dilemma the sheriff has to deal with personally. A whole town hanging a murderer is something that affects how everyone thinks.

But by forming prejudices along race/identity lines in the OJ case, people effectively took collective responsibility for their race. All those white women were giving consent to a lynching. All those black women were covering up a possible murder.

Now you could say that those millions of women were several steps removed from the case and that what you say to a reporter or around the lunch table at work is not as important as the information you give officers of the court. But I have a hard time believing that this solidarity did not make these millions of people more likely to respond in an even more impassioned way when dealing with a case closer to their own lives.

BFGalbraith said...

Going back to the left-doesn't-exist-without-right and right-compliments-left issue, this applies to the local vs. global opposites as well. Purely localized economies have weird Texas Chainsaw Massacre type problems, and Purely globalized communities full of nothing but MacDonald's and Wal*Mart are a souless waste of human existence. But when the two are full embraced side by side, we see incredible things like the development going on in Puerto Penasco where the jobs there offer an alternative to sneaking into the USA, and Beacon Hill in Seattle where awesome Mexican food with authentic recipies from different parts of Mexico are part of a way to strongly support a local living economy.

Again, Self-Sufficiency is not antithetical to Charity.

Jane Jacob's sequel to "Systems of Survival" is the best read I know of on this collaboration between global and local. When I ask people if they've read the sequel, they typically shrug it off, which unfortunately is like shrugging off the suggestion to see Empire Strikes Back because you've already seen Star Wars. This book I am strongly recommending is called "Nature of Economies."