Social Memory Complex: A political economy of the soul

Wandering upon the Affective Terrain
Understanding Emotions as Information

Pema Chodron's What to Do When the Going Gets Rough has had a great deal of influence in my daily life. It appears to me that in meeting the difficulties of life we are faced with several levels of experience. In order to process this stuff we harvest from our waking lives, we need more than just the mind, and Chodron has given me novel tools to do just this.

I'm fascinated by the way Bhuddist thought aligns with my chosen philosophy of life and spirit, but the most intriguing aspect for me is the praxis of Bhuddism. While much spiritual information can seem unmoored from and hovering over the material life, Bhuddism has a wealth of accumulated practices, strategies, techniques, and attitudes that seem to be able to ground the subtle and intangible in the daily go-round. Chodron's article was the first that really woke me up to how much help there is available when we seem to be floating in mid-air.

The great lesson I feel I'm now learning is that of appreciating emotion. I've often approached it in the past in much the same way an objectivist might: that our emotions are reflections of the quality of our thinking. According to this attitude, a difficult emotion is a sign of some problem to be addressed, and the purpose of addressing it is to attain forward progress by overcoming or purging it. It is no exaggeration to describe my former regard for emotions as one regards noise in the signal.

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Written on Thursday, September 08, 2016
Tags: spirituality, law-of-one, buddhism, emotions
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Taking left libertarianism seriously
On the Center for a Stateless Society and the discipline of effective outreach

I hate marketing but I have to admit it is effective. Any serious cause makes an affirmative and considered effort to get its message out. While this is an especially delicate matter when it involves politics, focusing on the strategy of propaganda, outreach, and advocacy as a coordinated effort authentically demonstrates the urgency of one's ideas to the world and one's opponents.

That is why I've been a big supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society ever since Brad Spangler founded it in 2006. Both left libertarianism and market anarchism (a label I try to hold at arm's length) deserve an outlet focused on getting their unique points of view in front of as many eyes as possible. The goal from the very beginning has been outreach and advocacy, to embark upon a coordinated, funded effort to get left libertarian polemics into mainstream outlets to influence policy and public opinion. The emergence of C4SS was a sign that left libetarianism had grown up and wanted to be a player on the political stage, not simply a loose ring of blogs (though those were heady, fun days indeed).

I've written several essays for the Center. The first two pieces I wrote for them were among the hardest writing I've ever done in my life. It turns out that writing for the general public outside the normal cliches of politics has very, very little in common with writing for an expressly radical audience. Couple that with the rules that guide newspaper publication, such as word counts, an emphasis on very accessible diction, and conforming to certain reading levels, and suddenly writing from the heart transforms into a kind of eristic crossword puzzle. However, the finished product was not only something of which I could be proud, but something that felt like an important, unique contribution to the conversation precisely because it was disciplined.

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An anarchist critique of the reporting on the Snowden leaks

Update (Saturday, January 4, 2013) Glenn Greenwald has asked me to make certain corrections to reflect the facts, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to make them. You can find a copy of the old post here. I apologize to Laura Poitras and Ryan Gallagher if I misled folks about their roles, and I hope this sets the record straight.


As the year rolls to an end, I'd like to compile a few thoughts on the handling of the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ryan Gallagher, and others. This debate has occurred on ephemeral media like twitter, and these matters deserve a more extended treatment. There have been many developments since my last post on the subject; one of the most interesting has been the journalistic issues surrounding this episode.

Throughout this post, keep in mind that I approach this as a radical, anti-institutionalist anarchist. My values place very little weight on compromising secret government plots for any reason. I disagree fundamentally with Snowden's desire for selective leaking, though it shouldn't surprise anybody that an ex-NSA employee would maintain very different priorities than an anarchist. Nothing could be more useless or moronic than to expect relatively establishmentarian, statist folks like Snowden, Greenwald, or Poitras to act exactly like I might were I in their shoes.

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Written on Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Tags: anarchism, glenn-greenwald, edward-snowden, nsa, espionage, concentrated-power
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Who wants to know?
Ramana Maharshi and Egoism

I've had the pleasure of engaging in long-running conversations with a few egoists, and I'm always trying to delve deeper than the often disruptive or obscurantist polemics that so characterize egoism. To my mind there is a foundational question at the heart of the egoist enterprise that never seems to get due attention: what is this ego, this self you go on about? How can us egoists go on and on about our elevation of self over every other concern, and yet not deal with the character, the nature of that self? This is especially frustrating when we acknowledge the social construction of the ego, recognizing that the dualism we stress is contrived in at least some important ways.

As you may recall, my approach to egoism is infused with an interest in the metaphysical. Much of political egoism is tied to a spiritual teleos for me because that's my experience of self, my reality tunnel, my model of the phenomenal world. Indeed, egoism appeals to me because it acknowledges the primacy of the subject in subjectivism. Now on the one hand, I go to great lengths not to impose this approach on others. It's not rational, and therefore I simply cannot argue it, and that's not a helpful mode to discuss such matters anyway.

However, I have no qualms about asserting the utility of a more contemplative, introspective, inward-oriented approach to the nature of the ego and the self (as well as the politics involved). I frequently and vigorously push back on the notion that the end goal of egoism is some sort of exaltation of the individual self. Indeed, I'm inclined to think that the ego is much more of a social phenomenon than we often realize, and our experience of ourselves individually can be as memetic and artifical as any institution.

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Written on Saturday, November 02, 2013
Tags: egoism, spirituality
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Against the Police
They don't create oppression; they just make it possible

What I'm about to say may surprise you, but I assure you it's the honest truth: in my personal experience, cops are overwhelmingly decent folks. They almost always conduct themselves "professionally" and have generally treated me with respect. I'm not saying stories of law enforcement abuse haven't affected me--they absolutely have, and I'll get into that. I'm not saying my arsenal of privileges haven't colored my experiences. But as far as my personal dealings, I've encountered very few who were anything but by-the-book and courteous.

Because they are so frequently decent, I'm sometimes tempted to reconcile the profession of policing with the kind of free society I dream about. After all, I have several friends and family who are police officers, and I'm loathe to let ideology darken my opinions of them as individuals. I want to believe policing is possible outside the hegemony of a state, and that these people can be meaningful participants in a stateless community.

But I never persist in that belief very long. I cannot think of any acceptable justification for the existence of law enforcement as an institution at all. The entire enterprise is abominable, root and branch. There is no escaping the conclusion that, everywhere they exist, police are mercenary occupiers serving a power hostile to the authentic human flourishing. As I intend to show, so long as our society exhibits privilege and injustice, I cannot pretend law enforcement does not prop it up in some fundamental manner.

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Written on Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Tags: police, law-enforcement, libertarianism, anarchism, self-government
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The Banality of Privacy
Spinning the NSA's Espionage of the Human Race

The collective responses to the dramatic revelations of NSA mass surveillance feel like the well-worn plot of a classic movie. The story reminds me of the government's admission a few years back that Iraq did not, after all, have weapons of mass destruction. By the time it was admitted, everybody had already figured out the emperor was naked. But there was something about the formal acknowledgement that gave us permission to finally wrestle with the reality we had already suspected overwhelmingly.

Those of us who make a habit of dissent have gotten used to this frustrating complacency. It demonstrates that we as a social body don't trust ourselves, that the complex of media, government, academia, and business -- otherwise known as the state -- that proports to lead us can be better described as creating and curating our reality. This insight renders many radicals outright misanthropic, but I tend to approach our apathy sympathetically, regarding our behavior as a kind of learned helplessness inculcated by decades of spiritually arresting mediation. When political expediency necessitates disclosure, we don't know what to do with it, much like paroled prisoners who don't know how to live on the outside.

So when the school assembly is over and the principal has made her announcements, thank God the pundits are there to round us up and lead us back to our homerooms, single file. Our passive consumption of pundits' reactions give us a false sense of agency, as if somehow the variety of spins from which to choose is itself empowering. After all, we don't have time in our busy lives to mentally deal with this, let alone exercise our inherent duty to apprehend it. Better to signal our relevancy by choosing our coping mechanism from a buffet of cynicism, jingoist indignation, reformist compromise, or handwringing resignation.

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Written on Thursday, June 13, 2013
Tags: espionage, spying, surveillance, nsa, punditry
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Julian Assange, the Left-Anarch

This passage from the interview of Julian Assange by Google CEO Eric Schmidt exemplifies the kind of radicalism I most admire. Notice the lack of a clean, rationalist philosophy or any sanctimonious univeralist moral bravado.

I looked at something that I had seen going on with the world. Which is that I thought there were too many unjust acts... And I wanted there to be more just acts, and fewer unjust acts. And one can sort of say, well what are your philosophical axioms for this? And I say I do not need to consider them. This is simply my temperament. And it is an axiom because it is that way. And so that avoids, then, getting into further unhelpful discussions about why you want to do something. It is enough that I do.

The rest of the interview has some fascinating insights, anecdotes, and theory on networks, social movements, politics and conspiracies, technology, and even ontology (never knew URLs were so deep). Highly, highly recommended!

Written on Friday, April 19, 2013
Tags: julian-assange, wikileaks, justice, anarch
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Closing the Gender Gap From the Bottom Up
Women in Tech, Donglegate, and Revolution

I have wanted to write about the issue of "women in tech" for a long time, and now donglegate has elevated the matter to a level I can no longer ignore. It's like a train wreck from which you can't look away, but the underlying tension speaks to a broader conflict in the tech community. While I find Amanda Blum's excellent post on the matter pretty authoritative, I don't want to focus on Adria Richards' behavior, but instead talk about the background issue of sexism and gender parity in the technology community that informed her behavior.

So, first off: are women and minorities underprivileged in the technology sector? Of course; they are underprivileged in almost every sector of society. Biases, hostile environments, outdated socially constructed roles, bigotry and outright discrimination are pervasive in our community, as they are in most communities. And it doesn't just suck for our community because it's manifestly unjust, but also because it hurts us and our work.

We technologists can write all the code, build all the gadgets, run all the software we want--but if people can't use it, if it doesn't actually solve their problems, if it doesn't speak to their diverse experiences, then it's useless. As women become an ever larger user base, we require their perspective as first-class citizens in the creation of software, hardware, and other high tech products that have become so important. We need to listen to them, sure, but they should also be part of our community as creators themselves, possessing the same skills and ability to pursue their vision in concert with, or independent of, male technologists.

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Written on Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Tags: women-in-tech, gender, hierarchy, corporatism, feminism, donglegate
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Depression is the healthy response

This article by Bruce Levine argues that many if not most diagnoses of depression, ADHD, ODD, etc. are actually the psychopathologization of anti-authoritarians. This excerpt really rings true to me:

Many people with severe anxiety and/or depression are also anti-authoritarians. Often a major pain of their lives that fuels their anxiety and/or depression is fear that their contempt for illegitimate authorities will cause them to be financially and socially marginalized; but they fear that compliance with such illegitimate authorities will cause them existential death.

It's scary to think that some of our best and brightest are probably being medicated into mediocrity, but I posted the above excerpt for all my friends who wrestle with these issues. Kissing the boots of some jackass has always felt like a small death to me, but I've had the support from family to deal with it in a healthy manner. My mom always told me that getting through the public school system was a game I had to play, since she knew I found it intolerable and incredibly dumb.

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Written on Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Tags: mental_health, authority
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Cowed to Be an American

I thought this up on the car ride to Asheville, when I was trying to keep myself awake.

And I'm cowed to be an American
Where the drones are watching me
And I won't forget the men who died
In that no-knock raid last week
And I'll gladly lay down on the ground
With my arms behind my back
'Cause there ain't no doubt that I'm under arrest
God help the USA
Written on Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Tags: humor, song
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Embedding users in accounts with Devise and Mongoid

This gist referred to by the Devise wiki is no longer accurate as far as I can tell. So I wanted to share my approach for how to use devise in a situation where user documents are embedded in account documents, especially in the scenario where your account has a subdomain assigned to it.

Obviously, the first thing you need to do is make sure you always have access to the current account as keyed by the subdomain. This means a before filter on any controller that runs under the subdomain that loads in your account. The idea is that once you load the account, you never have to pull it from the database again:

class AccountSubdomainController < ApplicationController
  before_filter :current_account

protected
  def current_account
    @account ||= params[:current_account] ||= get_account_by_subdomain
    params[:user][:current_account] = @account if params[:user]
    @account
  end

  def get_account_by_subdomain
    Account.where(:subdomain => request.subdomain.downcase).first
  end
end

If you're not using an account-specific subdomain, just modify this to pull out the account from the URL or something.

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Written on Friday, January 04, 2013
Tags: ruby, rails, devise, mongodb, mongoid
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Some unions are more collusive than others

I often hear defenders of "Right to Work" (RTW) laws say that unions are collusive and extortive in a way that is simply unfair to employers. Neither workers nor management should be forced to negotiate through unions, and RTW laws simply level the playing field by ensuring that employees can always negotiate directly with management. The point of labor unions, to the mind of RTW supporters, is to exploit the Wagner Act that forces all parties to negotiate in good faith, and to thereby move wages and benefits up in a way a free market in labor would never allow. The aforementioned article on RTW even compares unions with Mafia protection rackets in this regard.

To describe this line of reasoning as selective would be a gross understatement. After all, let's assume that labor unions are as evil as the RTW lobby says they are. Even granting that for the sake of argument, labor is not the only interest engaging in collective bargaining. What about the individuals involved in the employing corporation? Aren't these businesses effectively "capital unions" exploiting incorporation laws to achieve a better bargaining position relative to labor? Isn't the reason why investors pool their resources and form businesses to get better deals in the market through economies of scale? Isn't that why they try to get investors rather than simply borrowing all the money for their start-up costs--to spread the risk and the reward?

So unions of labor are only one side of this story; to emphasize collusion on the workers' side is to leave another form of collusion totally unaddressed. Corporations are capital unions, organizations whose members work together to negotiate wages and benefits (and other costs, of course) downwards to get the best return for themselves. Why is one form of collusion wrong and the other not?

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Written on Monday, December 17, 2012
Tags: labor, libertarianism, free-market, economics, corporatism
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Tela McKelvey-Weiland
May 15, 2000 - November 29, 2012

My favorite picture of Tela

A few minutes ago Tasha and I said our tearful goodbyes to our friend and companion for the last twelve years, our beagle Tela. Tela wasn't just a wonderful, cheerful, cuddly dog whom we doted on; her life intersected with our relationship so completely that it is difficult to picture us without her. We always told her that we were a couple, but that she made us a family.

Tela came into our lives because I needed a present for Tasha when she graduated from college. She was actually promised to Tasha before she was even born, and ended up being born on Tasha's graduation day. Tasha would be going back home to start building her pottery business, and I still had another year or so of school. So my mom got me in touch with a breeder in my hometown, and they arranged for us to come visit the litter once it arrived.

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Written on Thursday, November 29, 2012
Tags: personal
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The revolution will not be phenomenal

Marat
these cells of the inner self 
are worse than the deepest stone dungeon 
and as long as they are locked 
all your revolution remains 
only a prison mutiny 
to be put down
by corrupted fellow prisoners

The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, by Peter Weiss, Athenium. 1965

Written on Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tags: quote, revolution, spirituality
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Glenn Greenwald and the Technocratic Blind Spot

I'm a big fan of Glenn Greenwald; just about every position he takes is anti-authoritarian, liberal in the best sense, and based on rule of law (which, in this age, is as close to fairness as one can expect). However, he wrote an article on the Chick-fil-a controversy that bugs me. On the narrow question of whether governments should be able to punish corporations for political advocacy, I agree with him that such punishment is unconstitutional. I take issue with his reasoning, though.

Greenwald invites us to consider a series of bills that enlist government in punishing corporations for views they express, money they donate to causes, etc. Some examples:

  • Congress enacts a law that states: No business incorporated in America, whether for-profit or non-profit, shall be permitted to donate any of its money to groups espousing liberal ideas. Any business found to be in violation of this prohibition shall be guilty of a Class A felony. Corporate donations to groups espousing conservative causes shall still be permissible and legal.
  • A city enacts an ordinance that states: Any business found to have donated money to any group that advocates same-sex marriage or abortion rights (including Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood) shall be barred from doing business within the city limits. Businesses shall still be permitted to donate money to groups which advocate against same-sex marriage or against abortion rights.

I agree with him that the above laws are unconstitutional. Government is prohibited from discriminating or giving unequal protection to the free speech rights of corporations as currently settled law stands (that was indeed one of the caveats he made). Indeed, Greenwald took pains to point out that even in the Citizens United case, not one Supreme Court justice questioned the legitimacy of corporate personhood at all (I addressed Greenwald's commentary on this matter in more detail here). I also agree with him that The Nation's Lee Fang takes an unprincipled, politically expedient position against corporate personhood -- one cannot confine one's critiques of the doctrine to only those cases where it acts against one's sense of justice. Nobody wants to be allied with a hack like Fang less than I.

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