#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.

Another blast from the past

christofpierson:

“[M]odern democracy is at the service of global capitalism. We will not be voting our way toward a more humanist redistribution of resources, least of all if the market does not require it. Similarly, when we voted for Obama in 2008, we did not really vote for what we had the audacity to hope we were voting for, nor for change we really could believe in. We were voting, simply, for the choice the Democratic Party, through its intricate, arduous and obscenely expensive vetting process, presented to Democrats and Americans as the titular head of its party. We were not voting for any ideas other than the usual handful that get talked about endlessly in media that also owe their existence and wealth to global capitalism. We get what global capitalism pays for and wants and needs in that office to further its aims and agenda (of enriching the rich and distributing resources toward that end).”

Originally posted on Tragic Farce:

I call myself a Democrat because that’s how I’ve been registered all of my voting life. In fact, the older I get, the more disconnected I feel from that label. I don’t want to register as an independent because, Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, I can’t get over the prejudice that American independents are all right-wing at heart. Was it George Wallace’s American Independent Party that instilled this in me? Who knows? It’s beginning to feel, however, that the correct radical stance in this disintegrating context is to not register or vote at all. A vote begins to feel like acquiescence to the corruption.

Did Democrats or any other Obama supporter vote for the fiasco of the last month, culminating in the supreme surrender by our audacious leader last night to the anti-democrats of the Republican Party, bypassing the leaders of his own party to give the (fictional) partisanship-loathing centrists of the…

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Blast from the past, but it seems relevant still

christofpierson:

 

“It appears that the inequality gap in the US has been caused by a combination of legalized looting of public resources by the financial class and tax policies that have favored them above all other classes in the society. This is, in effect, a government underwritten redistribution of wealth away from the bottom 99% toward the top 1% and, therefore, it would seem to violate the Paulist principle that starts this article.”

Originally posted on Tragic Farce:

4. Government may not redistribute private wealth or grant special privileges to any individual or group.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Continuing my gradual critique of Ron Paul’s Ten Principles, the next in line is relevant to what I’ve been talking a lot about these past few weeks, the great impetus behind #OccupyWallStreet: income inequality.

It’s significant that the godfather of the Tea Party movement (the original form of it, anyway) includes wealth redistribution in his principles of liberty. It points up an area where these two movements can either come together or get driven apart.  There’s no question about where #ows stands on this point. Income inequality is a key symptom of the disease #0ws arose in response to, and one of its goals, I would argue,  is to force a correction of what it views this to be: a moral wrong. If Paul is…

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Graeber: “In America…the Entire System Is Built on Legalized Bribery”

This video interview with David Graeber of Occupy Wall Street by Italian activist, comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo covers a range of subjects this blog has also covered, focusing on debt, political power and direct democracy.  The questions appear in written Italian, but most should be fairly clear to anyone with high school-level familiarity with the romance languages, and those that aren’t Graeber answers very straightforwardly and clearly. (One thing he discusses that I’m not familiar with is the Italian 5 Star movement, of which Grillo is a leader.)

Graeber’s view of the American system is essentially captured by the quote which is the title of this post. I think it’s an accurate view. What do you think? I also greatly appreciate his proposed antidote to  the poison in the US system, which is for the people to act as though they are free and have power. That is what Occupy Wall Street is all about.

Maybe Some Businesses Do Need a Nanny

I’m going to take a contrarian position from the Twittersphere in its reaction to news that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who, I tend to agree, is an annoying nudge who has overstayed his welcome) intends to ban supersizes of sugary softdrinks from certain purveyors Continue reading

Fun with Dishonest Quotes from the Manhattan Institute

James R. Otteson of the Manhattan Institute begins his article “An Audacious Promise: The Moral Case for Capitalism” with a shameless distortion of a quote from President Obama:

“The market will take care of everything,” they tell us…. But here’s the problem: it doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ’50s and ’60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.

—President Barack Obama, Osawatomie, Kansas, December 6, 2011

Clearly, Otteson wants you to think Obama attacked capitalism and the free market, but, of course, Obama did not. Here’s what Otteson elided between “they tell us” and “But here’s the problem”:

If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty. Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker.

In fact, Obama’s words make clear that he was criticizing Reaganite supply-side economics, which, as a professor of philosophy (Chair of the department at Yeshiva University, according to his bio!) should know, is not identical with “capitalism.” As a professor of economics, Otteson should also know that, at the very least, Obama’s case against trickle-down has some strong evidence to back him up. It should occur to anyone arguing in favor of supply-side to pause for a second and compare 30 years of predominating Reaganism with 30 years of Rooseveltian-Keynesian economics to consider which was more successful at resource distribution and scarcity management in the long run. I wouldn’t want to be on the Reaganist side of that debate if I wanted an easy win. Continue reading

Where’s the Lean, Finely Textured Beef?

Like the estate tax , “lean, finely textured beef”has a marketing problem. The tax’s enemies have successfully hung the popular term “death tax” on it; similarly LFTB, as the meat product is referred to in the industry, has assumed the unappetizing moniker its enemies have given it: pink slime. Unlike “death tax,” which is actually assessed on the windfall some very much living heirs gross after an especially well-off loved one dies, “pink slime,” coined by a microbiologist and critic of the product, is an apt label. The stuff is pink and before being mixed into ground beef as a cheap filler to reduce its fat content and cost per pound, it is slimy.

But is it bad for you?

“See Arr Oh,” a medicinal chemist and guest blogger at Scientific American, gives a level-headed report on Pink Slime, Deconstructed

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