Three unorganized thoughts on organization

Well, at the beginning of this week I decided to make the long overdue move to Leopard. It's been a good opportunity to clean up some accumulated cruft, but I'm being stymied by problems getting MySQL to work. This is not how the Apple experience is supposed to play out! Having lost several days now I'm getting desperate, and I'm slowly but surely mucking up the hard drive cleanliness I had purchased so dearly. I will resolve it today, one way or another.

Also, I suppose now is as good a time as any to officially announce that I am now committed to fulltime freelance software development. I've been very fortunate to find contracts through respectable people in the Rails community to get me started. One of my primary goals right now in life is to find a way to be a fully self-directed individual, and I've certainly learned that employment is no guarantee of, well, much of anything. If I'm going to be on my own, I might as well acknowledge it and pocket the full returns on my work.

I'd also like the business to be an experiment in some ideas about organization. Freelancing is, in some ways, akin to the human scale economics that this country was founded upon. I'd like to make it part of my object to advocate for self-employment in the IT sector, facilitating an ecosystem of independent economic actors in my community. Anarchism is about realizing the infinity of possibilities for human organization and coordination, in my view, and it is my heart's deepest desire to realize in the material and social worlds what I've spent too much time contemplating in the online and inner worlds.

On a third note, I've been enjoying the HBO series on John Adams' life very much. The latest episode (4) has been my favorite to date. It tells a story of how a loose association of correspondents, ranging from radical to quasi-aristocratic, turned the newly freed colonies into a united, centrally governed state (or at least laid the foundation for it, depending on how precise you want to be about the nature of the union).

As you can imagine, it all brings about extremely mixed feelings. Thomas Jefferson's prediction that what would emerge from the Constitutional Convention would be a dilution of the revolutionary ideals and a platform for reactionary forces obviously rings very true to my ears. And yet, as cheesy as I know it is, I can't help choking up a little on seeing Washington sworn in. There is a sense in which the formation of a government is a final culmination of the revolutionary deed, I cannot deny.

But seeing the events of the day through Adams' eyes sheds quite a new light on the contemporary uncertainty of the day. One cannot but be stirred by the contrast between the ritualistic, pompous courts of Europe and the bold, egalitarian attempt of the founders to bestow on us a more accessible form of governance. In every respect, the American experiment was a noble (if slightly clumsy and amateur) rejection of what Adams had endured in Europe for a decade. It is the first realization of what Karl Hess articulated many years later:

Liberty means the right to shape your own institutions. It opposes the right of those institutions to shape you simply because of accreted power or gerontological status.

And yet, it is impossible to look at the red, white, and blue bunting and flag waving and not feel a great sadness for what we've become. It's not the patriotism of a people who were justifiably and very purely exuberant about the promise of a more authentic and guaranteed freedom than they had ever known that troubles me. Rather, it's the way the episode ties the revolution's success to the establishment of the government. It's the knowledge of Washington's first significant act following his inauguration, and the unbroken chain of statist arrogance and violence he sets in motion, culminating in George W. Bush. It's the opening act of the revolution's betrayal - not by the men themselves so much as by the same reactionary fears of which Jefferson warned. It is a lack of faith in ourselves that brought about the need for central governance.

We could have assumed any organizational form we wanted, and what bothers me the most is that, though we don't often acknowledge it, we still can. Indeed, Jefferson would have agreed with Hess, if the remarks attributed to him in the episode are an accurate indicator:

I am increasingly persuaded that the earth belongs exclusively to the living, and that one generation has no more right to bind another to its laws and judgments than one independent nation has the right to command another.

Perhaps this is the great problem with living in a country founded upon a successful revolution. Desperate allegiances of rebels motivated by love for country and a desire for essential liberty, no matter how radical or heartfelt, inevitably become institutions. The institutions then serve to perpetuate themselves rather than those purposes around which their founders united - only with the added benefit of having shed superficial offensive characteristics in an attempt to retain those of substance.

One final observation about the series' telling of events is that it appears the federal, constitutional nature of the emergent union was largely motivated by the need to present a united front to European nations for the purposes of negotiating trade agreements and other matters of state. If the situation of the world, or the priorities of the founders, had been different, one wonders whether thirteen independent states could not have thrived without such a binding consolidation of power in America. The economics of the revolution dovetail significantly with its motivating philosophy, but only a reactionary conspirator (like Hamilton) or a idealistic but desperate pragmatist (like Jefferson) would sacrifice the latter for the former. Again, things could have been different, and they still can be.

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Written on Thursday, April 03, 2008