#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.

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David Graeber: “The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery.”

One way to thoroughly clean up the corrupt election process: sortition: Election by lottery. All eligible and willing candidates would put their names in the system and, like jury duty, would be selected at random to serve for a limited time. I hope the democracy matures to the point where this becomes not just a crackpot idea but standard practice. David Graeber of OWS fame defends the position in this article the blog Equality by Lot.

Equality by lot

David Graeber is an

American anthropologist, political activist and author. He is currently reader in social anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and was formerly an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. David is a member of the labour union Industrial Workers of the World, and has played a role in events such as the 2002 New York protests against the World Economic Forum. His most recent book is Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011)

He is also described as

a man of many talents. A longtime activist, a professor of anthropology at the University of London, and a prolific author, David also helped found the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. He even coined the phrase “We are the 99%.”

Graeber is not impressed with the electoral system:

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Underdog Democratic Opponent to Entrenched CA Reactionary Responds to Homophobia Charge

David Secor, who is running as a Democrat in California’s 50th Congressional District based in San Diego against Republican stalwart Duncan Hunter, has replied at length to my previous post. I’ve decided to highlight it as a blog post unto itself rather than hope it will be read in the comments section. I recommend reading the previous post  first to get a sense of what exactly the candidate is responding to.  I won’t comment on Secor’s response here but will, rather, yield the floor to him and respond later.

Before I turn the blog over to Secor, I want to thank him for taking the time to explain himself. I also want to say a word about why I think this dialogue is important. This conflict interests me because it points to some of the less visible strains running through progressive discourse in the US. Here are two “opponents” (I refer to Secor and Mike Flynn) who inhabit more common ground than this personal antagonism between them would suggest, notably on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) that Secor refers to here. But beyond the personal disagreement is a political one, over the notion that the system as it stands is capable of change or whether a new counter-system is required to effect real, meaningful change.  This is a conflict that has raged on the left for a long time–and on the right, as well–but only recently has it come to be a vital, relevant debate beyond the merely academic.

So thank you, again,  to David Secor for his contribution to this dialogue. It follows in full after the jump: Continue reading

Assange Grills #Occupy

Julian Assange chats (sometimes pointedly) with leaders prominent members of the #Occupy movement from New York and London, including David Graeber, Alexa O’Brien of US Day of Rage and Aaron Peters. Does Assange get Occupy? Not fully, which leads to some interesting exchanges, particularly around the subject of force and violence from without and within the movement. These are amazingly intelligent people all around, which makes for occasionally abstruse dialogue. But it’s very much worth sticking with to the end. Uncommon television. Lots and lots of food for thought.

PS: I want to point out a startling (on first hearing, but not on second thought) revelation from David Graeber during the discussion in the video’s late portion about how #occupy deals with disruptors that the NYPD “allegedly” sent newly released prisoners by the busload to Zuccotti Park last fall, telling them that there was free food and shelter available. As Graeber says earlier in the program, the United States (and its hired goons) do not act well to the threat of democracy breaking out all over.