Sunday, July 23, 2017

Theses towards a left ideology

It's common, on the left, to talk about historical materialism without acknowledging that the primary theories that the left uses have no connection to our contemporary era or its material conditions. Here are my best ideas to correct that.

1. Ecological value

a) The primary constraint on human economics is the production of ecological value: powered primarily through solar energy and processed through biomass.

b) Ecological processes are what create and maintain our air, water, and food. They can not be replaced by human labor. They are not "natural resources" but products of cycles with limited replacement times and limited surpluses.

c) All human value depends, in the end, on ecological value. We can't live without it, and no human labor can take place without it.

d) The primary surplus that capitalism, as well as state capitalism, feeds on and appropriates and changes into human value is ecological surplus.

e) No future left ideology can succeed unless it internalizes the maintenance of ecological value as an ideal and constraint

2. Democracy and scale

a) Representative democracy is the primary reproductive and maintenance mode of late capitalism. It predictably produces the exact results that we see around us now.

b) Large state structures run non-democratically also predictably produce those same results, but with extra misery. Even idealized, democratic left states would make popular decisions that, when averaged over millions of people, are predictably bad. See "ecological value" above, but also racism, xenophobia etc.

c) The best way of making decisions is to limit the decisions to the people closely or strongly affected by them. Large-scale decisions have to be minimized.

d) What scale counts as small? From the beginning of the Western political tradition, we know that even city-states are too large. Probably best is groups of less than 100 people.

e) The anarchist idea of confederalism is an attempt at small-scale democracy with some degree of large-scale coordination. The main element of what needs to be coordinated is built infrastructure, which is the main limit on what people can do.

3. Work and money

a) Human labor is no longer a limiting factor of production. We have more than we need, and there is no particular power in withholding it.

b) All attempts to call on person power as worker power are going to fail, and fail counterproductively, in part because being a prole is now a social identity that puts someone a step up from the class of lumpenproles, and more and more of us are lumpenproles. These two classes have different interests and can no more naturally cooperate than elites and proles do.

c) For this reason a social revolution requires devaluing work. We don't need everyone to do it: most of it is useless or ecologically harmful. Wage labor should be phased out through shortened workweeks until it disappears: people who believe in the value of work can do it, with most necessities provided through automation.

d) In a world where necessities can be provided to everyone, there is no reason to use money. Money only results in ridiculous situations like less than 20 people having half of the world's amount of it. Let's abolish it and educate people not to replace it with a new money system.

e) Without money, there is no real reason to forbid people from doing whatever kind of economic activity they want to do. If they pile up a big pile of some kind of valuable material, someone will eventually take it, and non-violently taking something that someone can't possibly use should not be a crime.

4. Societal values (in progress)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Eyeroller: a short comedy in three acts

I haven't been blogging much lately: I've been Tweeting. But given the recent back-and-forth over the NY Magazine climate change article and the instant suggestions about individual volunteerism e.g. that people should have fewer kids if they want to do something, I think it's time to repost this short play. (Originally from Crooked Timber comments.)

EYEROLLER: A short comedy in three acts

Act I:

FIRST PERSON: “I put solar panels on my roof. That cost a lot! Why are people always scolding people for not doing more? They should encourage them instead.”

EYEROLLER: “Micro-decisions about personal consumption or production will have no real effect, even en masse. The only purpose in talking about them is to give people something useless to do so that they can feel like they’re doing something.”

SECOND PERSON: “Of course you should tell people to put solar panels on roofs. That pressures the “market signals” to expand production and to further innovation, encourages politicians to get on board, etc., among other complex responses.”

EYEROLLER: “OK.. If we’re going to talk about complex responses and signals, let’s talk about what other signals the act of putting solar panels on your roof sends. It says that you’re interested in volunteerism, not collective action: it tells the market that you want middle-class equipment, not large-scale equipment.”

THIRD PERSON: “What? That’s unworthy. How could you say that putting up solar panels makes things worse?”

EYEROLLER: “Well, it might, and anyways if people invest in personal middle class solutions, they’re not going to want to also invest in community solutions.”

FORUTH PERSON: “Wait. Did you just say that I should have spent my money on the poor rather than putting solar panels up?”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes.)

Act II

EYEROLLER: “We’re stuck inside a neoliberal system within which all messages get turned into messages about personal consumption and personal virtue based on consumption, even if they weren’t intended that way. It becomes impossible to say anything about incentive structures without this being interpreted as whether personal decisions are good or bad, or anything about whether putting solar panels up or not is really a good idea overall without this being interpreted as a personal attack on people who put up solar panels.”

FIFTH PERSON: “You described reducing overall energy use as a kind of Puritanism, but we need to reduce overall energy use so what’s wrong with using Puritanism to do that? It mobilizes certain limbic system anchors for collective social behaviors you need, like the appeal of common sacrifice as a form of civic action and the kind of righteousness you need for altruistic punishment of deviants.”

(EYEROLLER looks disconcerted.)

EYEROLLER: “Puritanism and its focus on individual virtue is part of this, yes. Are you sure that’s a good idea? Once you start mobilizing limbic system anchors for righteousness to punish deviants, it’s pretty difficult to control –“

THIRD PERSON: “Are you saying I’m a goody-goody? I want you to apologize.”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes.)


EYEROLLER: “One more time. You can reach a kind of limiting case in which certain messages become literally unintelligible. Even if someone starts out thinking that they are doing public health work, how is the public going to interpret that? The public is going to see it as another opportunity for personal status competition–“

THIRD PERSON: “Are you trying to trash my reputation?”

EYEROLLER: “– everything comes back to a discussion of personal virtue and who has it, personal decisions and whether those are moral decisions –“

SECOND PERSON: “So you’re saying that people who put up solar panels are just motivated by feelings of moral superiority?”

EYEROLLER: “– and any kind of system critique can only be heard as personal critique — “

THIRD PERSON: “I have an orientation to public health in my work, and certainly that would never turn into just sanctioning people who didn’t agree with the program! Now talk about this how I want you to or I’ll tell the moderators on you.”

(EYEROLLER rolls eyes, but has a muscle spasm part way through, eyes pointing in different directions.)

EYEROLLER (in Captain Kirk tones): “FACE… FROZEN! Can’t stop … rolling eyes! CAN’T! STOP! ROLLING! EYES!”