Posts filed under The Art of the Possible

Re: You Say You Want a Revolution

TGGP: Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the “country party” of England the Tories and the “court party” the Whigs?

Other way round. The Tories were known as the “Court Party” for their political loyalties to a powerful and interventionist Crown; the Whigs distinguished themselves as the “Country Party” in opposition to the royal court. (Cf. WikiPedia: British Whig Party, etc.)

ajay: I was with you until that point… why shouldn’t slavery have continued in (say) the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia etc? Obviously not on the same scale without the ex-French states of the Deep South, but the “died of strangulation” argument doesn’t really ring true.

Well, a few reasons.

First, it’s not clear that plantation slavery would have remained economically viable without expansion into the Deep South and the old Southwest. In the upper South (Maryland and Virginia especially) unsustainable farming practices had already stripped much of the land, and the slavers’ livelihoods had become substantially dependent on the American slave trade — “selling down” slaves to the Deep South or to the Caribbean — rather than on actual planting. (This is part of the reason why Virginian slavers like Jefferson and George Mason pushed so hard for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade: not because they wanted to roll back slavery, but rather because they wanted to eliminate foreign competition.) Had it not been for the expansion of U.S. territory, and the slavocracy along with it, into the Gulf states, slavery might well have died out for economic reasons, at least in the upper South.

Second, without the centralized system created by the Constitution there would have been no enforceable federal Fugitive Slave laws. The Southern slavocracy depended on the federally-assured cooperation of the free states, and without those assurances — with freedom beginning not at the Canadian border, but rather at the Mason-Dixon line — individual refugees and coordinated efforts like the Underground Railroad, operating without any fear of slave-catchers or federal judges, would very quickly have made slavery unsustainable even in those states where it would otherwise have remained economically viable.

Third, on a similar note, without Union bayonets and cannon, and without the Slave Power’s expansionist program, there would have been no Seminole Wars, and far more territory outside of the U.S. for fugitive slaves to flee to and establish maroon communities. This threatened to dramatically destabilize the slave system in the Carolinas and Georgia prior to the Seminole Wars, and would have had a profound effect had it not been for the subjugation of Florida by the Federal military.

Note that it’s for precisely these reasons that many radical abolitionists — most famously William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and, early in his career, Frederick Douglass — argued that the Northern states should secede from the Union, and that the Constitutional system of compromise and political centralization was one of the chief bulwarks holding up the slave system in the Southern states.

Re: The Little, Tumid Platoons


Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad if you found what I wrote useful.

I understand that it’s easy to get defensive, and hard to know how to deal with the conversation, when something like the rape culture comes up. It’s natural to want to defend yourself when it seems like you’re being implicated (morally, if not legally) in crimes that you didn’t personally commit, and which you personally would oppose and condemn. What I’d want to say is that — while obviously I can’t speak for people that you’ve talked to and I haven’t — I know that, in my experience, most feminists who talk about a rape culture are much less interested in ripping on random men than they are on trying (1) to shake up a settled power and a kind of institutional inertia among the administration, (2) to make certain kinds of unhelpful responses to rape (apathy, victim-blaming, etc.) publicly unacceptable, and (3) to make it clear to their audience (sometimes men, but also, keep in mind, other women on campus) how certain sorts of danger and violence, imposed on women by a hard to identify but always present subset of the men on campus, are connected to a broader set of issues. There’s a necessary element of urgency, and impatience, and of very real and very justified anger, which may make something seem like a personal accusation when it’s not really intended as such, and would be better understood if not taken as such.

Robin Warshaw wrote a very good book, some years ago, called I Never Called It Rape, which offers a good overview of some of the research on acquaintance rape and offers a gentle introduction to some of the feminist critique of rape myths, and the role of common norms in heterosexual dating and sexuality, in particular, and rape culture. (By “gentle” I mean it doesn’t presuppose much about your ideological or academic background. It’s an unpleasant book to read, given the topic.) It may help explain in more depth part of what I’m talking about, in one area. It also provides a good walk-through of Mary Koss’s 1985 study of rape on college campuses, which has been the object of quite a bit of ill-founded, uncharitable, and sometimes downright dishonest criticism, including an unfortunate amount of it in self-described libertarian forums.

One thing I should note is that in my post and in these comments, I’ve mainly been talking about one direction of causation: the way in which certain social phenomena may be unintended ripple-effects of the prevalence of rape and the threat of rape. But feminist who write about a “rape culture” have something to say about both directions of causation: they think that what they call a “rape culture” is not only partly the effect of rape, but also a contributing cause, in that it promotes cultural norms that partly motivate rape (and encourage rapists to justify their crimes to themselves), makes it easier for rapists to act with impunity, encourages non-rapist men to dismiss or smear rape victims and make excuses for rapists, and very strongly discourages women from speaking out about their experience of rape except in those limited cases where it conforms to a stereotypical script and serves the interest of one group of men as against another group of men. So the view is not just that rape culture is the effect of rape, but that the two are mutually reinforcing of each other.

Hope this helps.

Re: The Little, Tumid Platoons


I don’t like being in either the position of being feared, or in the position of being depended on for protection, either.

I don’t mean to suggest that male supremacy is all a bed of roses for men. Patriarchy Hurts Men Too ™, and all that. But the reason I’m willing to endorse Brownmiller’s claim, that the threat of rape redounds to the benefit of men as a class, including (especially) those who don’t actually commit rape, isn’t because playing the role of a “protector” is supposed to be pleasant in itself. Truth be told, it is pleasant for many men, or at least ego-stroking, and a lot of men have historically been quite explicit in expressing how much emotional satisfaction they get from providing for and protecting their wife and children. But that’s not the main point here.

The more important point has to do with ripple effects, and (1) the indirect payoffs that come from assuming the social role that men, as men, assume, as well as (2) the disadvantages that restricted mobility in physical space imposes on women, as women, vis-a-vis men.

Taking (2) first, living with certain spaces or times closed off to you by the threat of physical violence, without being able to safely and comfortably walk through many public spaces in a big city, or in certain male-dominated spaces (certain kinds of workplaces, certain kinds of clubs and bars), or much of anywhere at night has direct effects on what you can and cannot realistically do with your time. The lack of freedom that comes from the realistic fear of rape, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual aggression directly effects women’s ability to participate in civic life, in politics, and in certain kinds of work. It has direct effects on women’s prospects for business, on women’s prospects for work, on where and when and with whom they can socialize, and in any number of other ways on their economic, social, and political participation. It also has indirect ripple effects: the effects of living with constant warnings and a constant feeling of confinement, as well as the effects of having to find, please, and satisfy the Right Man in order to safely navigate everyday situations that most men have no worries about navigating. (It’s worth considering how much of stereotypical American femininity is linked, either directly or indirectly, with the threat of rape and with the need for male “protectors.”) That works to the systematic disadvantage of women, which means that it works to the systematic advantage of certain men who are, or would otherwise be, in competition for jobs, promotions, socio-political status, etc. (The connection between the traditional “protector” role and the traditional “provider” role for the male “head of household” is not accidental.)

As for (1), those indirect payoffs have largely to do with the way in which women are socially expected to defer to men, both in public forums and in interpersonal relationships, and to focus on finding, pleasing and satisfying the Right Man. How women are expected act as sexual “gatekeepers” and not to be assertive about their own sexual desires, and to have a sexual experience more or less on the man’s terms. Also with corresponding, often subconscious entitlement that men have acted on and continue to act on. Expectations used to be very strong, and quite explicit in social norms; in these days — by which I mean the last 40 years or so; the change was very dramatic and quite recent, in the grand scheme of things — we have largely shifted towards unspoken, or covert versions of the same thing. But they are still there. If you see more or less what I’m talking about in your own life and the lives of people you know, then that’s what I’m trying to point out when I endorse Brownmiller’s claim that stranger-rape serves to promote male power and male privileges over women — even, or especially, the power and privileges of men who do not themselves commit rape. If you don’t see it, then I’ll just plead that I don’t have the talent or the space to really get you to see it within the space allowed by a blog post or a comments thread. What I’d want you to take away is an some idea, even if only in rough outline, of the kind of stuff I mean when I say that non-rapist men get concrete privileges out of the violent undesigned order that arises from the violence of male rapists against women. For a fuller and more convincing elaboration of the specifics, I’d just have to point you to extended treatments in the feminist literature, starting with Brownmiller’s book itself–which, after all, only had a few short summary paragraphs quoted and discussed in the course of my post–and with other work that discusses sexism in contemporary language, media, culture, sexuality, etc. My post wasn’t really intended to give you a full panoramic view of Brownmiller’s theory of rape, let alone her whole theory of patriarchy; my aim was just to help point certain of my readers towards the right lens to use when you try to get the view.

I don’t know why this would be any more beneficial for males in general than would the negative actions of some blacks be beneficial to all blacks.

This is really a separate issue. The reason that white stereotyping of black people as violent or criminal — and the fear that results — is harmful to black people is that that fear is projected onto all black people, and then used by politically and socially well-connected white people to justify individual practices and large-scale policies that hurt black people (e.g. economically deserting certain neighborhoods, or the racist War on Drug Users, or increasingly violent policing and punitive imprisonment). There’s no real equivalent in the situation between men and women as depicted by Brownmiller. Firstly because the fear is not universally projected onto all men, or at least not equally onto all men. (The key move in her theory has to do with men who are seen primarily as protectors, rather than as rapists.) Secondly, because the fear of rape is not usually used to justify increased violence against men as such. (After all, it’s men, not women, who have the advantage in terms of access to economic and political resources; so women’s response, by necessity, is to depend more upon the “good” men as a defense against the bad, rather than to push through policies and practices that punish the “good” men along with the bad.)

Hope this helps.

Re: Prepare Two Envelopes


The standard Keynesian line is that stimulus is bad when an economy is at full employment, because any stimulus at that point must lead to inflation or asset bubbles, rather than additional output. But stimulus during a crash is sort of the textbook answer for what the government should try to do.

The “standard Keynsian line” is generally taken to have been either decisively refuted, or else shown to be in need of substantial revision, by the plain fact that a recession and massive monetary inflation coexisted for several years during the 1970s. There are cases where government monetary manipulation can create short-term bubbles in certain assets or industries, but it always comes at the expense (realized either sooner or later) of everyone else outside of those beneficiaries, and there’s no real guarantee that you won’t just end up pushing on a string, anyway.

I realize you’re not a Keynesian, but I’m not clear on what you think the appropriate (short-term) course forward is.

Repeal the government money monopoly, instead of trying to find yet another government scheme to make the world safe for finance capital. That may seem drastic to you, but the fact is that it’s quite easy to do on the margins (just stop prosecuting people who, on their own, decide to establish alternative forms of currency and who set up alternative forms of banking), and in any case anything else is just going to produce more of the same old shit.

Re: Against “Objective” Journalism


I would argue that there *are* significant entry barriers–owning a computer, internet access, and time being huge

I think the latter is by far the most important. In more or less every city, the availability of Internet terminals in public schools and public libraries means that not owning your own PC, or not being able to afford home Internet access, is no longer a significant barrier to web-based applications like blogging. Working 60 hours a week at three different jobs, on the other hand, is.

Besides the barriers on the supply-side, the other important concern (which a lot of feminist bloggers, for example, have raised) is on the demand-side. As many millions of blogs as there may be, attention in blogging is structured much more hierarchically than blog boosters are inclined to acknowledge, and that hierarchical structure much more closely reflects traditional social hierarchy than they care to admit (actually, often, a hyperthyroidic version of traditional social hierarchy, because straight white male educated professional “A-list” bloggers have, so far, been subjected to critical scrutiny far less than straight white male educated professional “MSM” outfits).

Unfortunately being able to speak is fairly irrelevant, from the standpoint of politics or civil society, if nobody hears what you have to say, or nobody takes it seriously enough to consider it worth listening to. I think that blogs are a move in the right direction — and one which will become increasingly important with time — but there’s a long walk down and a long, hard slog ahead between that mountaintop to the Promised Land.

I should say that in the medium to long term, actually, I think that what will be far more important than any blogger’s ability to show up on the mainstream media’s radar, or even to break through into “A-list” bloggers’ boys’ club mutual linking society, is that blogs are making it much easier for writers with a distinctive view to simply bypass broadcasting prominence and to reach a smaller, mostly self-selected audience with more narrowly focused interests. As people change their habits of reading, conversing, and news-gathering, broadcast success will become less and less relevant, and deadlocked mainstream consensuses will be shifted because, by nearly imperceptible steps, the ground collapses out from under them, not because some mighty force erupts up through them. But, again, we’re still a long way from that, and I think that part of the process of getting to that will involve recognizing how far we are from it and consciously changing our tools and our habits (in both reading and writing) to work towards traversing the gap.

Re: The Rats of El Toro

Mike G:

I have yet to be convinced that once the state is dissolved we would default to the well conditioned individuals required for governmentless existence.

So, Mike, if you’ve “yet to be convinced” that enough people could become “well conditioned” enough to govern their own affairs without intervention from the government, then why are you convinced that enough people can become “well conditioned” enough to run a government, which requires not only governing their own affairs well, but also governing the affairs of millions of complete strangers? Governments are, after all, made of people, and if you think that people are basically unfit to run their own lives, then it seems like the worst thing you could do would be to put such paragons of folly and vice in charge of other people’s lives, too.

Of course, you might instead claim that a most people aren’t equipped with the wisdom or virtue necessary to govern their own affairs, but that a select few people do have it, and have enough of it to successfully govern others, too. But if such philosopher-kings exist, then it’s up to you to figure out how you will ever find them and what sort of political process could ensure that the people who get into power are members of the select few rather than the multitude that you consider to be so ill-conditioned for self-government. But what would that be? By heredity? Conquest? Election? Self-selection? If the first two, then certainly neither heredity nor fighting it out (which are by far the most common means, for the vast bulk of known human history, by which these questions have been decided) provides any guarantee whatever that the wise and temperate will tend to win out in either the genetic lottery, or in armed combat, over the careless, ignorant, or brutal. If the third, then you are just proposing that the select few are to be picked out and installed by the multitude. But then why should people who are (on your view) incapable of self-government be capable of correctly picking out those who are capable of governing them? Or, in the fourth option, if the select few are to be picked out and installed by predecessors who are also part of the select few, then you face a regress; for how did we go about finding and installing those predecessors?

If you want to try and use general folly, ignorance, or vice as an argument against anarchy, then you take on the burden of showing how you could successfully find and organize enough people who avoid that general condition in order to constitute a government and maintain it over long periods of time. Until you give some concrete idea of how to do that, proposing to solve the problem with government is hard to distinguish from proposing to put out a fire by pouring some cool, fresh gasoline on it.


My point actually doesn’t have very much to do with “personal responsibility.” It has to do with the priorities that you’re expressing in your action, and with some basic considerations of fairness.

You evidently don’t think that the problem is important enough to stop you from eating at El Toro. That’s fine; as I see it, that’s your business, and if don’t consider it a big enough deal to affect your eating choices, I’m not about to butt in and try to tell you that you should. But if you’re fine with eating there, under those conditions, then why oughtn’t other people be able to eat there, too, under those conditions?

If the argument is that other people should be able to, if they know what they’re getting into, but currently they don’t know what they’re getting into, because only the boss and the employees know about the situation, then that response only seems to relocate the problem. Firstly, an argument like that doesn’t actually justify having the government threaten restaurateurs with being fined or shut down over their rat problems. At most it would justify having the government publish the information about the rat problem, and then allowing customers to make their own decisions once they have been given the opportunity to find out about it.

But, secondly, it also seems obvious, from your actions, that you don’t consider the rat problem at El Toro, or the problem of customers not knowing about the rats, to be a very serious problem, anyway. If you did believe that your customers’ health or well-being was likely to be put at a serious risk, then what excuse would you have for not telling them about the danger? (So you’d lose your job. Better to risk that than to conceal information and gamble with other people’s health.) If, on the other hand, you don’t believe that there’s a serious enough issue here to justify you putting yourself out in any way to protect others from it, then what makes you think it’s a serious enough issue to justify calling in the government to force other people to pick up costs that you don’t see as worth taking on? The issue here isn’t so much with personal responsibility; it has to do with the mismatch between your explicit claims about the importance of the problem, and the real-life priorities that seem to be revealed in your chosen course of (in)action.

As for what would happen if El Toro got put out of business over the rat problem, have you considered that if restaurants started getting put out of business by conscientious private individuals who exposed rat problems, then remaining restaurants might have a pretty strong motivation to clean out any rat problems they may have before the same thing happens to them?

Re: The Rats of El Toro


So, just so we’re clear:

You’re fully aware of the rat problem at El Toro. You could just not eat there, but you choose to eat there anyway because you think the food’s good enough that it outweighs whatever risks you think the rat problem may pose to you.

You also could tell customers about the rat problem that you happen to know about, if you wanted to. You choose not to tell them because, for whatever reason, you don’t think it would be worth it to provide that information, even though you apparently think your customers would care about it.

In short, while you no doubt harbor some idle dislike for the situation, you manifestly don’t think it’s enough of a problem for you to stop eating there, nor enough of a problem for you to stick your neck out by giving customers the straight dope, or, as far as I can tell, to really inconvenience yourself in any way at all over this issue, either for your own sake or for others’.

On the other hand, even though you’re not willing to do anything personally about this putative problem through nonviolent means and on your own dime, you are willing to endorse a third party barging in to force the restaurateur to do what you want him to do (or else), because that course of action allows you to get your own way while forcing other people to bear the costs of your own hygienic preferences.

Have I got your position right, or is there something that I’m missing? If so, what?

If not, then I don’t understand how this is intended as an argument for the legitimacy or the desirability of State hygienic intervention. Rather, it sounds a lot like you started off presuming what you claimed to be proving.

Re: Intro

Man, a “anarchists can’t get organized” joke. Ho ho ho. Never heard one of those before.

“ANARCHISM … the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.” – P.A. Kropotkin

I don’t mean to be an old stick in the mud, but really, this old chestnut involves such a complete misunderstanding of what the overwhelming majority of anarchists in the history of the world (who have tended to assign a lot of importance to freely constituted, participatory assocations) have thought, that it really just fails as humor.