#FreeWillies

free-will-99-steps-of-progress-geek-art-series

Last week, in the wake of the People’s Climate March and the #FloodWallStreet protests that followed it, I was tweebating folks of the “voluntarist” persuasion of libertarianism about the alleged hypocrisy (or irony, at least) of environmentalists using the fruits of capitalism to communicate their presumably anti-capitalist ideas. This was something we used to hear a lot in the beginning of the #Occupy movement from Wall Street’s apologist-propagandists in the media and the grandstands they played to. The argument seemed to be, if you use it, you can’t complain about it. Interesting to me, those who take this argument seriously (and assuming anyone really does, it must be these people), they don’t seem able to see that they could be accused of a similar hypocrisy for criticizing the government when they benefit from government infrastructure, public safety and defense.

But that is not my problem with the voluntarists. My problem is with their fundamental stance, which was exemplified for me in a tweet from one “Jack”:

Jack ‏@oaaselect Sep 23

Did you get tricked into buying your device [meaning what I was using to Tweet with] or did you buy it voluntarily? @ChristofPierson @scooterpie61

via Twitter / Notifications.

On its face, this seems like a good question. The problem is, if you dig just a little under the face, the question falls apart. Do we really buy things “voluntarily”–of our own free will? Is it as simple as that? Consider the millions of people who broke records dumping their current phones for the iPhone 6 recently. Did all of those people need a new phone? Did they need the iPhone 6 in particular? Considering they were surviving fine without it until it went on sale, It’s hard to believe they did.. But the question is not did they need it, but did they want it? Did they buy it of their own free will?

Philosophically, free will is still controversial, of course. It’s a popular belief for obvious reasons, but the jury is still out on whether or not it’s fact. The very unpopular determinist position is that we are restricted to a very limited range of behaviors, based on any given stimulus, and the range shrinks the more habituated to these stimuli we become–unless we are insane, in which case, our behaviors can be frighteningly free-ranging and considered dangerous to society. Of course, just because this is an unpopular (because unflattering) point of view doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I think it’s prudent to wonder, then, if the millions who ran out to buy the iPhone 6 all really “wanted” the phone or were responding as expected to a stimulus (“new Apple product,” or just,” latest gadget”) they’ve become habituated to reacting to in a specific way. There is no easy way of knowing, except maybe by comparing one’s own responses to these kinds of stimuli. Do we always buy what we want? Do we always take the job, or marry the spouse, or buy the house or car or gadget we want?  If I were a voluntarist–I mean, if voluntarism were something I thought I wanted to believe in–wouldn’t it be important to know if free will were something more than a wish or hope–in other words, a self-flattering illusion? Wouldn’t it be important to know if it were something more like an objective fact?

If it is more like fact, it certainly is not a simple one. But my conversation with these voluntarists was unsatisfying not just because of Twitter’s limitations as a forum for complex discussion. These voluntarists were not interested in complexities in the least. They were quite content with their received opinions about free will, the nature of “real capitalism’ (which according to them is something, unironically to them,  not of this world), or the right (or justice, if you will) of those who critique capitalism partaking in the gadgets the system produces. I have to wonder, who’s less liberated: the person within a system who sees its faults and says what those faults are, or the person whose ideology doesn’t permit more than a shallow understanding of the very thing they think they believe in.

Will the “Final” Revolution Be Started by Second Amendment Absolutists?

Gun-porn kitsch or talisman of the "final revolution?"

Gun-porn kitsch or talisman of the “final revolution?”

“A new American revolution is long overdue. This revolution has been brewing in the hearts and minds of the people for many years, but this Independence Day, it shall take a new form as the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property. Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible.

“The time to sit idly by has passed. To remain neutral is to be complicit, just doing your job is not an excuse, and the line in the sand has been drawn between the people, and the criminals in Washington, D.C. While some timid souls will say that it is too early, that we can solve this problem through democratic means provided by government, that current levels of taxation are reasonable for the services provided, and that the crimes of this government are merely a tolerable nuisance, it may already be too late.

“While there is risk in drastic action, the greater danger lies in allowing this government to continue unchallenged. So if you are content with the status quo, stay home, get fat, watch the fireworks from a safe distance, and allow this Independence Day to pass like any other. But if you see as we see, and feel as we feel, we will see you on the front lines of freedom on July 4th, 2013 for this, The Final American Revolution.”

Signed, Adam Kokesh, May 23, 2013 from a cage in the Philadelphia federal prison.

In the summer and fall of 2011, I watched with excitement as the Occupy movement spread from Wall Street to Main Streets across the nation and, surprisingly, then the world. It was thrilling to watch a movement to change the way everything is done not only launch and spread but so quickly get deep into the consciousness of people all over the globe. Even the most powerful news media, though claiming at first to be uncomprehending of its aims, were taking its ideas about the  politics of inequality and the corrupting influence of money seriously. It felt like a world-historical revolution was being born right in front of our eyes.

Then came the winter of 2012 and Occupy, most of its camps having been forcibly removed from their reclaimed public spaces, seemed to lose its momentum and its influence. Media still talk about the 99% and the tyranny of debt  and pay closer attention to the misdeeds of the bankers, but by and large, Occupy fell out of the public eye. When it resurfaced briefly after Sandy, the media mostly ignored the powerful message it was sending that where the austerity-obsessed governments were failing, people power was succeeding. Occupy Sandy was made to look like a group of civic do-gooders.  Occupy’s radical Strike Debt program to buy defaulted medical debts and forgive them and its ongoing battles against residential foreclosures were all but completely ignored.

It’s easy to forget that just because the revolution is not being televised, there might still be a revolution going on. Continue reading

An Introduction: Welcome Crooks & Liars Readers

Thanks to John Perr over at Crooks & Liars for rounding my last post up along with Nevada Progressive, Kevin Drum and The Political Carnival. I’m flattered and honored to be included in such distinguished company.

Some of you may have encountered me before over at Democratic Underground, where I went by the handle Burt Worm. For the rest of you, I’ve been keeping this blog for a little over a year, sometimes with more attentiveness than others. If you look at the word cloud down the right margin a ways, you’ll get an idea of my interests. As of today, #OccupyWallStreet is still my most covered topic (tangentially, usually, these days anyway). But I also obsess over Ron Paul, libertarianism and “anarcho”-capitalism because the ideas at the heart of their philosophies, which I tend to argue with, I think are essential for understanding what’s going on in the US and the world today. I’ve also been a bit obsessed with justice lately. And I won’t even mention my dabbling in theories about the face-eating Miami “zombie.”

I hope you’ll have a little look around the joint, and if you like what you see, you’ll come back and engage with me here. Otherwise, maybe  I’ll be seeing you on Twitter.

 

Ron Paul’s Racist Backers (and Backstory)

Michael McAuliffe at Huffington Post reports on some sizable donations in Ron Paul’s campaign war chest from the sorts of racist fringe dwellers the notorious Ron Paul newsletters of the early 1990s were designed to appeal to:

Paul’s 2012 campaign has received more than $6,000 from people who have identified themselves as white separatists or supremacists, or who are listed on anti-hate group sites such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Two prominent donors are leaders in what may be the most ambitious white nationalist political movement in the U.S., American Third Position. One is William Johnson, the group’s chairman. Another is Virginia Abernethy, a former Vanderbilt professor who is listed as a director of the party.

Abernethy has given Paul at least $2,451 for this election. Johnson has donated at least $3.349.

Most presidential campaigns reject what they regard as money from tainted sources. Paul has not done that, even though Abernethy and Johnson are well known for their views and Paul has encountered Johnson before.

It doesn’t look as though Paul will be gaining any more traction as a Republican. He’s got his solid fan base in the party, which doesn’t seem able to grow or shrink or bear any sign of sensitivity to the currents of the primary race. So, unless the anti-Romney contingent decides to throw over Santorum and Gingrich finally, this news is likely to have zero impact either way. And the way things are in the GOP, it would likely be more of a reason to move toward Paul than away from him, if only because Republican rank-and-filers love to side with anyone under attack from the “liberal media” for being too outrageously right-wing.

We have a hint as to how Paul intends to handle this, according to McAuliffe. Continue reading

Must Read: David Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”

I’m reading a book that is so good, so well-written, so relevant to the zeitgeist, that I can confidently recommend it to anyone who reads, though I’m just a bit more than halfway through it myself: Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.

Before I tell you why you should go now and buy, borrow or reserve this book and get reading, I’ll call your attention to an interview Graeber gave the British magazine The White Room which gives an interesting peek into his background and main political ideas. Graeber, a well-respected anthropologist,  is becoming better known as one of the influencing thinkers behind #occupyWallStreet. A couple of sentences from the introduction of the White Room interview beautifully make a point about OWS that I less successfully try to make when people criticize its “fuzziness” and lack of demands:

…Graeber has put the spotlight on the anarchist principles of the Occupy movement, explaining that the lack of concrete demands is part of a pre-figurative politics. The protestors act as though they are ‘already living in a free society’, and thus refuse to accept the legitimacy of existing political institutions and legal order – both of which, he says, are immediately recognised in the placing of demands. Continue reading

Is Government Property Always Unjust?

I want to spend a little more time on the notion in Paul’s third principle that “justly acquired property” is “privately owned,” which implies that government (or public) property can only be unjustly acquired. I suspect the primary libertarian principle at work here is “taxation is theft,” a right-wing perversion (or theft, if you will) of Proudhon’s original libertarian socialist principle that “property is theft.”

It seems to me a bit sneaky of Paul not to put his cards flat on the table and admit that that is precisely his meaning here, if that is his meaning. Of course it would open him wide up to the charge of  supreme hypocrisy for having accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years of  “unjustly acquired” income as a representative to the Congress from his district in Texas. Continue reading