Social Memory Complex: A political economy of the soul

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.


What's going on

So we're deep in summer here in Richmond, and things are as busy as ever. My consulting business is going well, and I'm about to start work on a few cool projects while continuing work on past ones. Tasha's business is also taking off, and so we are partners in stress -- for once! I'm even considering advertising for an intern as Tasha did, since it would not only be a chance to get some help but to give a computer science student the kind of real-world, practical tools for building a consultancy that I never got.

Last week, Tasha and I saw Wilco in Charlottesville and that was great. Having been a fan of jam bands for so long, I'm used to artists taking big risks on stage and it either paying off wonderfully or crashing. To see such accomplished musicians deliver stunning performances so consistently impresses me -- and the songs are pretty much top notch. After that we went to Baltimore for Artscape, where Tasha sold pottery while I got drunk and walked around the exhibits with our Baltimore friends. It was a fun weekend but not so relaxing.

As far as writing, I have a new piece over at C4SS on my experience with the anarchist pedigree of Occupy Richmond. I'll be expanding on this in a future post. I also am working on my "freedom of religion / defense of the pre-rational" argument. I also just wrote an attack on a developer encroaching on our neighborhood. It's pretty sick how rich developers can subvert city regulations at will, yet I have to go through an ordeal just to put up a picket fence.

Well, that's about all I can think of. Stay tuned for more hopefully -- I'm really trying to post more often!

Written on Thursday, July 26, 2012
Tags: personal

The Only Way to Win the Game

I've been doing a lot of work on the blog infrastructure lately, including augmenting the tag system and updating my links page. Most of my blogroll and links from the old Wordpress site got lost, so I'm trying to put together something that represents all my interests and the blogs and sites I read and support. I rediscovered which is an awesome web application my friend Tobey Wheelock put together to make the Law of One material indexable, searchable, and categorized. He's also used it to compile his work on relistening to the original sessions and he's picking up some interesting corrections to the original text. It's really cool to see the material go from one guarded by a few people to a crowd-sourced collaborative rediscovery of the source.

Anyway, Tobey also has a page of interesting quotes and I found one of my favorites. One of the things that really appeals to me about this way of looking at the human condition is that it reconciles waking life with a greater reality in a way that doesn't require you to really believe in any concrete metaphysics or afterlife or anything fancy. The focus is not on heaven or hell but on making the best use of the tool of human incarnation. Getting new agey people to appreciate their mundane human experience -- not in contradiction to but as itself the spiritual teleology they seek -- prioritizes self-knowledge over system- or doctrine-knowledge. Spirituality should be something you engage in to satisfy your own needs, not to conform to a system that will fill in the blanks for you.

So why is our human condition the way it is, if we are all genuinely one? Why do we have these short lives trapped in finite bodies with limited senses if we are, indeed, infinite in reality? Because there is a utility in our ignorance, something we can learn in this constrained experience that we can't learn in any other way:


Written on Sunday, July 01, 2012
Tags: law-of-one, spirituality

Anarchism and the Constitution
Thoughts on Obamacare from an anti-statist perspective

So the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is constitutional, according to the Supreme Court. Does it actually conform to the United States Constitution? And does that question actually matter to anarchists? I'd argue "no" on the first question, but I think the latter is a more important question if we are to be effective in building institutions and relationships that serve our interests and crowd out the state's monopoly on legitimacy.

As anarchists, we find ourselves in an environment run by statists who attempt to get away with all manner of illegitimate actions and policies. For us, those acts and policies are not illegitimate because they are inconsistent with the state's own internal rules. We believe there are no rules that can justify the state or its coercive actions.

However, the statists who claim to rule us are in thrall to the myth of the constitution's legitimating power. Of course they get away with a lot that any plain reading of that document prohibits. This is the origin of "loose construction" in the first place: if they could just ignore the constitution to get what they want, they wouldn't bother framing their acts in any construction of the constitution at all. Clearly, the constitution doesn't matter to them in the way it's supposed to, but it does play some sort of role in the state's performative exercise of authority and power.


Written on Thursday, June 28, 2012
Tags: constitution, anarchism

Add your Rails 3 lib tests to rake:test

I have a large Rails 3 project with lots of reusable code in modules. Tests for these modules are placed in test/lib to isolate them from database-heavy model tests. In order to run these tests automatically along with my unit, functional, and integration tests, I implemented the solution described here some time ago. However, at some point over the last year, either Rake or Rails or both broke this (I'm leaning towards Rails, since the new tasks in the Railties gem look much more complex, with special subtasks derived from the Rake::TestTask class). I've been looking for a new approach, and today I got fed up and started fixing it myself.


Written on Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Tags: rails, rake, testing

A Leftist Critique of Political Correctness

As a longtime libertarian and an avowed egalitarian socialist, I've struggled with the concept of "political correctness" for as long as I've had a political awareness. I went through a neoliberal democrat phase in the 90's where what many denounced as PC simply looked like good manners to me. Don't get me wrong; some of it was just that: the attempts of well-meaning people to navigate a culture permeated with deep-seated privilege and oppressive features. And yet, just as much polite talk is not exceedingly honest, I always had a nagging suspicion that politically correct habits were something more than mere social graces.

So this essay has been a long time coming for me, as I try to figure out where I fit in on the Left. My heart is in the struggle for an egalitarian, enlightened, peaceful world. But I don't consider leftism a religion, and the impulse of many to treat it as such -- to codify and regulate the behavior of people according to its tenets -- too often looks like a movement going through the motions instead of genuinely challenging the human condition. Indeed, my argument is that political correctness, far from being an expression of genuine compassion and anti-bigotry, has transformed into a cosmetic substitute for authentic radicalism legitimating authority and privilege while hampering our efforts to change our condition. The goal of this essay is to start a conversation within the Left about our means, not our ends.


Written on Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Tags: leftism, political-correctness, active-listening, institutions

This is why we use the "left" qualifier

Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Dr. Matt Zwolinski has a video defending sweatshops. I suppose if this were just another libertarian site, it might not concern me. After all, he's hardly the first libertarian to associate our philosophy with defenses of exploitation.

What gets me is that the site is called "Bleeding Heart Libertarians". Ostensibly, the goal of the blog is to defend libertarianism as a compassionate philosophy. It adds insult to injury for libertarians to make the same tired arguments not only in a flashy new medium but also on a site intended to represent a compassionate, concerned variety of the philosophy whose label we both employ.

It's not that his arguments are wrong per se. Yes, sweatshop jobs are the best of a crappy set of options for far too many people in the third world. Yes, shutting down those sweatshops without doing anything else would not improve anybody's situation. And yes, I can't contest the point that people should do things to help their situation, even if they don't remedy it completely.


Written on Friday, June 08, 2012
Tags: sweatshops, left-libertarianism, libertarianism, poverty

Political action that counts

Scott Walker won his recall election, and labor has suffered a genuine defeat. Maybe the words of Big Bill Haywood can give us some perspective on the place of elections in the struggle and where we might go from here:

The Industrial Workers of the World is an economic organization without affiliation with any political party or any non-political sect. I as an Industrialist say that industrial unionism is the broadest possible political interpretation of the working-class political power, because by organizing the workers industrially you at once enfranchise the women in the shops, you at once give the black men who are disfranchised politically a voice in the operation of the industries; and the same would extend to every worker. That to my mind is the kind of political action that the working class wants. You must not be content to come to the ballot box on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the ballot box erected by the capitalist class, guarded by capitalist henchmen, and deposit your ballot to be counted by black-handed thugs, and say, "That is political action." You must protect your ballot with an organization that will enforce the mandates of your class. I want political action that counts. I want a working class that can hold an election every day if they want to. (my emphasis)

Written on Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Tags: labor, unions, iww, election, voting

Abstaining for Change
Why I will not vote for Barack Obama this year

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I didn't do so because I believed the hope and change hype. Since Obama changed two key positions almost immediately after winning the nomination (telecom immunity and caving to AIPAC on Iran) I had long abandoned such naivete. Instead, I voted for Obama because I thought at least he would be restrained and judicious in charge of the imperial war machine. The attitudes of the Bush years seemed more important to repudiate than the actual policies, and everything seemed to indicate that, while he wouldn't depart too much from Bush's war policy and domestic police state, he would at least go about it in a more measured, less bellicose manner.

I think after three years of Obama at the helm, we can safely put to rest any notion that he's any substantively different. Need I list the reasons? Composing "kill lists" for drone strikes that target any "military-age males" and kill scores of innocents. Duplicity on withdrawing from Iraq. Doubling down on Afghanistan. Waging a war on whistleblowers while indeminfying torturers and other criminals. Corporatized health care for all. Continuing and extending bailouts for corporate America. Crackdowns on medical marijuana despite his campaign rhetoric. The NDAA and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists.

Just as it is unwise to be reflexively partisan when voting, it's unwise to be a reflexive voter at all. I am not the kind of anarchist who believes voting is inherently evil or violent. You have to weigh each opportunity on its own, unique merits, surveying where you can make the most difference. Even when you choose to participate, most of the time the real opportunity has nothing to do with the office being contested or the people contesting it. Because the state is tied up so intricately in the civil society we want to liberate, and engaging those people is the real task anyway, we have to meet them where they're at.


Written on Sunday, June 03, 2012
Tags: election, 2012, obama, voting, democrats, liberalism, progressivism

Respecting the "Left" in "Left Libertarian"
C4SS and the Litz Affair

I am a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society. Its steadfast advocacy for a society free of privilege has been both heroic and unique. One of the aspects I find most compelling is the sense in which it has popularized left libertarian ideas in the wider leftist movement, including all kinds of anarchists, socialists, communists, anarcho-syndicalists, greens, and other radicals. Indeed, many of us have become involved with a wider circle of friends, comrades and collaborators than we ever could by clinging to more conventional libertarianism.

So the revelation that C4SS staff member Stacy Litz served as a police informant for months comes as quite a shock to all of us. She is responsible for snitching on several of her fellow libertarians to escape jail time. The extent to which she attempted to mitigate the harm of her actions is unclear. None of us know for certain what we would do in her situation, and we can all have compassion for the horrible dilemna in which this person was placed -- even as we regret and condemn what she chose to do.

The Center released a statement reflecting the decision to non-judgmentally but resolutely remove Stacy from her position. The debate that brought about that decision was very contentious. Some members pushed to keep her, arguing that cutting anybody the state flips sends two messages: (A) if you make a mistake, you cannot rehabilitate yourself, and (B) the state has only to flip people to break our movement. Theories were advanced that we somehow throw this back in the government's face and turn it into some kind of PR coup. We're not going to let the state tell us who we can and can't work with!


Written on Saturday, May 12, 2012
Tags: c4ss, snitches, activism, leftism

Back again

So, it's been almost a year since I've updated this blog. There's a good reason for that. I love Jekyll but I love HAML and SASS so much for markup that I hacked Jekyll quite a bit and then never touched it again. When my computer went up in smoke (literally) last summer, and I had to reinstall everything, the old, fragile environment it ran on was gone, and I couldn't reestablish it. So I started playing with using Jekyll's plugin architecture. Finally got it working now.

It is kind of crazy to think about everything that's happened since then. I wrote a content management system that runs a major newspaper site and handles millions of hits a month. I went to Germany again and had a great time with Tasha and my host family. I got involved in Occupy Richmond which was a life-changing experience. My essay Let the Free Market Eat the Rich! was published in the new Markets Not Capitalism compendium. And so on.

I have lots of things I want to write about -- most pressingly to flesh out my ideas on political correctness culture and how it distracts the Left from building a genuinely egalitarian society. So stay tuned!

Written on Thursday, May 03, 2012
Tags: personal,, ruby,, jekyll

David Foster Wallace on freedom and consciousness

This quote from David Foster Wallace pretty much sums up my present thinking on the human condition and the possibilities for freedom and autonomy:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some intangible set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things -- if they are where you tap real meaning in life -- then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already - it's been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart -- you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.


Written on Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Tags: freedom,, liberty,, consciousness,, responsibility

Do you love commerce?

As a footnote to my last post, here's the choice Jeffrey Tucker leaves us with in his ringing defense of fast food:

Murray Rothbard used the phrase "do you hate the state?" to ferret out real from mild libertarians. As a correlative question, we might ask "do you love commerce?" to ferret out real defenders of real markets as versus those who just enjoy standing in moral judgement over the whole world as it really exists. Yes, I too am against corn subsides, and against all subsidies, as well as taxes, regulations, inflation, zoning, public roads and everything else. In a free market, everything would thrive even more than it does today, and that goes for fast food too.

I have some responses.


Written on Sunday, June 05, 2011
Tags: markets, libertarianism, market-fundamentalism

Denial and the Exaltation of Personal Taste
We all fetishize our preferences, but we can do better politics than that

The Mises Institute's Jeffrey Tucker recently wrote a post entitled Fast Food Is Beautiful. I know. Here's Tucker's definition of beauty as excerpted from the Bloomberg article he was writing about:

Every Taco Bell, McDonald's (MCD), Wendy's (WEN), and Burger King is a little factory, with a manager who oversees three dozen workers, devises schedules and shifts, keeps track of inventory and the supply chain, supervises an assembly line churning out a quality-controlled, high-volume product, and takes in revenue of $1 million to $3 million a year, all with customers who show up at the front end of the factory at all hours of the day to buy the product.

Yup, right up there with truth, symmetry, sublimity, and sunsets, for sure.


Written on Sunday, June 05, 2011
Tags: market_fundamentalism,, libertarianism,, mises_institute

Reordering embedded documents in Mongoid

One of the great things about embedded documents in MongoDB is that you can design your "schema" according to how you're going to use the data. Ordered lists of objects is a great use for embedded documents, as you can just shove objects in an array and read them out in order. This allows one to dispense with the unpleasantness of "acts_as_list"-style approaches where you have to juggle a "position" field and do an explicit sort.

But what if you want to reorder the embedded documents? Should be simple to sort an array. Our ODM - Mongoid in this case - would never represent the embedded collection as an array and not let us work with it as an array, right?

class Container
    include Mongoid::Document
    embeds_many :items

class Item
    include Mongoid::Document
    embedded_in :container

    field :title, :as => String

c = Container.create
c.items.create :title => "first"
c.items.create :title => "second"

>> c.items
=> [#<Item _id: 4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003, title: "first", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003'), _type: nil>, #<Item _id: 4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004, title: "second", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004'), _type: nil>]
>> c.items.reverse!
=> [#<Item _id: 4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004, title: "second", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004'), _type: nil>, #<Item _id: 4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003, title: "first", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003'), _type: nil>]
=> true
>> c.reload.items
=> [#<Item _id: 4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003, title: "first", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d971322bcdab7c000003'), _type: nil>, #<Item _id: 4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004, title: "second", _id: BSON::ObjectId('4dd2d981322bcdab7c000004'), _type: nil>]

OK, so not that easy, but maybe this means we just need to set the new array explicitly.


Written on Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Tags: mongodb, mongoid, ruby, rails