#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

Memo to Rand Paul: Condescension Won’t Win You the Hearts of the “Rest of America”

Sen. Rand Paul

From the Huffington Post:

At a sold-out New Hampshire Republican Party dinner Monday night, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) encouraged the room of GOP supporters to embrace diversity and outreach if they want to take the White House in 2016, the Courier-Journal in Louisville reports.

“We need to be like the rest of America,” Paul said. “We’re going to win when we look like America. We need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black, we need to be with tattoos, without tattoos, with ponytails, without ponytails, with beards, without.”

Paul urged New Hampshire Republicans to reshape their party’s image and become the “party of opportunity.”

“We need to be that party that can express it in a way that shows that we care about people,” Paul said, according to the Concord Monitor. “We need to care about people even if they are on government assistance.”

Paul may be playing coy about his plans for a presidential run, but there’s no doubt at all about his plans to influence the Republican Party’s national chances for the highest office in some way. In addition to his high-profile and principled filibuster of drone attacks on Americans in March (principles that he seemed to have walked back a bit in April), Paul has also caught the press’s attention visiting Howard University,  the storied “Black Harvard” located in Washington, D.C.,  and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where he spoke in favor of amnesty for undocumented workers in some cases  in opposition to his own position pre-Election 2012. Paul has been putting quite a bit more sweat into outreach to non-Republican demographics than any of his peers since, maybe, Jack Kemp in the 1980s.

So why is it almost certain that Paul will fail? It’s not just that he’s dealing with the Sisyphean task of making the Grand Old White People’s Party attractive to young multiculturals. I mean, that’s a difficult enough task, for sure, especially given the way the party’s hardcore rank-and-filers and its most visible politicians are able to undo all Paul’s efforts with just a little bit of  talk about the issues that matter most to Paul’s alleged target audiences (if his audience isn’t actually just more moderate white independents), and the way many on the right resist threats of outreach as betrayal of fundamental principles. No, I think Paul is going to fail unless he finds another way of talking about his aspirations for the party–and to really try to understand if his aspirations for the party are genuinely appealing to non-Republican groups. It’s one thing to want more diversity in the party; it’s another thing entirely to know how to build it. You do not build diversity by making speeches that scream how little you understand the audience you’re trying to appeal to. Continue reading

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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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.

 

“The Shock Doctrine” in Easily Chewable Form

The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein from Vj Ultra on Vimeo.

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important books of the young 21st century and will likely remain so as it ages. I’ve mentioned it before and will probably have call to mention it again and again. As a public service, I’m making this film version available here for anyone who doesn’t have the time/patience/whatever to read the book. I hope it will convince you to make a plan to read the whole work.]

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