Posts tagged Politics

Re: Being Rational Doesn’t Make You a Misogynist

Twisty / Jill of “I Blame the Patriarchy” (a radical feminist who also suffered from breast cancer a few years back) has something of a regular series on the Breast Cancer Awareness/exploitation industry, and on the worthlessness of the Komen Foundation in particular. (Crunch for the Cure, It’s Gratuitous Erotica Month! etc.)

Of course, the notion that criticizing Breast Cancer Awarifying campaigns or the entrenched corporate interests behind them (and Komen is nothing if not a well-run corporation) is “migoynist” is a straightforward result of treating breast cancer awareness as a metonymy for women’s health. Just as governments have succeeded in branding themselves so that anyone opposing the dunderheaded belligerence or parasitism or international mass-murder of, say, the United States government is therefore taken to be “anti-American” (as if the U.S. government were America, rather than a tiny, parasitic minority oppressing and robbing from the country and people of America), so also Komen and the rest of the Pink-Ribbon brigade have managed to brand themselves successfully as being simply identical with women’s health (hey, it’s got lady-parts, and unlike other women-specific health issues — like women’s reproductive healthcare — nobody will get boycotted or firebombed for associating themselves with it), so that only someone who is against women’s healthcare, or indeed against women as such, could think to criticize them or to suggest that there are other, more productive outlets for people’s resources (including the resources of those who would like to do something about pressing women’s health issues) than that particular patriarchally-correct donation-hole.

Re: Why We Need the Nonaggression Axiom

@Alex Peak: “The problem with the whole it’s-okay-to-initiate-force-against-nonviolent-assholes idea is problematic because of the slippery slope.”

I suppose that there is a slope, and maybe the slope is slippery, but is that really what you see as the problem with the judgment that “it’s Ok to use violence against people who are being major assholes”? I mean, when I read something like that, my main problem with it is that it’s a despicable sentiment, which praises thuggishness and the use of violence with the explicit purpose of domination and control. It may also have downstream consequences on other people’s behaviors in different situations which also suck, but even if it does not have those downstream consequences, it’s still a pretty sucky attempt when it comes to being a human being.

@Alex Peak: “None of this ought to be taken as a rejection of what Charles Johnson calls thick libertarianism. My understanding of (certain approaches to) thick libertarianism is that it is the view that liberty would be most easily achieved or maintained if society also adopted certain norms—e.g., rejecting racism, sexism, and homophobia—but that an embrace of these norms needs not, and ought not, be coupled with a rejection of the nonaggression axiom.”

Thanks for the nod; you’re certainly right that the thick conceptions of libertarianism that I would defend are not conceptions where the idea is to provide loopholes for justified aggressive force or fraud, or where the “thickness” erases the content of the “libertarianism” in select cases. The idea is that there are forms of oppression, abuse, social evils, etc. which are acted out by means other than physical force or fraud, and it’s important to recognize these where they exist. Not so that you can respond to them with aggression, but rather so that non-aggressive forms of oppression or abuse can be met with serious, confrontational, nonviolent resistance.

@Alex Peak: “And libertarianism, very simply, is the belief that people should be free from aggression”

@Alex Gleason: “Apparently you have cast Egoists out of the libertarian movement, Mr. Peak.”

I’m not sure how. There is nothing in most versions of philosophical egoism which require the egoist to be in favor of aggression (as Alex defines it). Indeed, egoists have generally been against that, and thought that people should be free from it; although they suggest that it’s instrumentally or strategically valuable, rather than being valuable for its own sake. That’s rather the point of Stirner’s Union of Egoists — the claim that there are egoistic reasons for free selves to abandon aggression in favor of mutual alliance.

@Jacob Vardy: “are you familiar with the Spanish term ‘acracia?'”

There is a cognate term in English-language philosophical writing, usually spelled “akrasia.” Unfortunately it already has another, mostly unrelated meaning It got picked up because the Greek moral philosophers wrote about the problem of ἀκρασία, which used to be translated “incontinence” but now is more commonly just transliterated to “akrasia.” The Greeks (and hence now English-speaking philosophers commenting on the problem) used it to refer to the predicament of people who believed in a moral principle but didn’t live up to it — who acted contrary to it. Thus Socrates seems to have argued that akrasia was impossible (if you acted contrary to the principle, he held that you must not really have believed in it in the end); Aristotle thought that it was possible but had something nuanced to say about the best way to describe the predicament; etc. Anyway, that usage also came about because of the literal meaning of “without command”; but the English-language use is meant torefer to a lack of control over yourself (the Greeks’ idea being that akratics were enslaved by their own passions or appetites), rather than a lack of control over others.

@Drew: “How about this – the state is antithetical …to individual liberty”

Isn’t that what a libertarian (at least, the kind of libertarian who would refer to the State as a criminal gang) usually means by the statement that the State is criminal?

@Anok Kropotkin: “Oh, and ‘crime’ is a general term used to define what governing bodies consider undesirable behavior.”

I don’t think that’s the only meaning of the word “crime.”

Certainly, sometimes people use “crime” just to mean “whatever the government has forbidden.” But when someone describes, say, Donald Rumsfeld as a “war criminal,” or when someone describes the Holocaust or other examples of state mass-murder as “crimes against humanity,” that they mean to claim that Pinochet or the Nazis or whoever were somehow doing something illegal. What they did was perfectly legal, according to government law, and authorized by the governing bodies (since these criminals were in charge of the governing bodies). So to describe it as “criminal” must mean something other than simply disapproval from governing bodies.

Re: The Koch Plotters Plot a Meeting

What makes you think that the Kochs have “a bizarre anti-Ludwig von Mises bias.” They’ve funded Misesian economic research (especially at GMU) for decades. It’s certainly true that they have a very bitter conflict with the Ludwig von Mises Institute. But not because of some mysterious beef they have with Ludwig von Mises (who was by then several years dead).

Rather, what happened is that, the year before the VMI was founded, the Kochs and Ed Crane had an extremely bitter conflict with Rothbard, who until then had been a founding member of the Cato Institute, and the main person writing their position papers. Rothbard was fired from Cato in 1981. Rothbard certainly did not “leave” Cato in order to “stick with Lew”; he was thrown out of Cato against his will (he maintained illegally — he had “shares” in Cato that the Kochs simply confiscated — but decided not to fight it in court), and Lew set up the VMI in 1982, after Rothbard was gone from Cato, largely in order to provide a new harbor for Murray and his ideas. The Kochs got pissed off about it because they were pissed off at Rothbard, and because the Institute was founded as a direct challenge to Cato’s approach to libertarian advocacy. Not, particularly, because the Institute was named after Ludwig von Mises.

You can read all about the whole sorry story in Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism (Chapter 7-8), or (for Rothbard’s side of the story specifically), in Rothbard’s “It Usually Ends With Ed Crane.”

Privilege and patriarchy

<p>Hey Marja,</p>

<p>Thanks for this. I’m sorry I’m late to the discussion. A couple of halting suggestions.</p>

<blockquote><p>Does patriarchy even exist any more? Men die sooner. Men get imprisoned more often.</p></blockquote>

<p>I guess this depends on what group of phenomena “patriarchy” is supposed to be encompassing. The strand of radical feminism I’ve always identified with has seen patriarchy as rooted primarily in men’s violence against women, and especially the sexualized violence of rape, wife-beating, abortion laws, etc. As much has been done to challenge all of these, they are still everywhere and still largely committed with impunity, and I think as long as, e.g., men are raping 1 out of every 4 women, and this has systemic effects on constraining women’s behavior and gender expression, patriarchy as I understand it is still in place.</p>

<p>It’s true that men get imprisoned more often, but as far as I know that’s always been true, as long as there have been prisons. Prison is oppression, but at present it’s almost exclusively form of oppression that some men inflict on other men. (Maybe that will change as more women become police, prison-guards, and political office-holders, but at present all those are still predominantly the province of states-men.) And I think the major causes of, e.g., men’s shorter life expectancies (labor conditions under state capitalism, violence among men, etc.) are also examples of things men do to other men. But hasn’t patriarchy, as a hierarchical structure, has always included internal hierarchy among the patriarchs, and intersected with cross-cutting forms of oppression?</p>

<blockquote><p>Is privilege the best way of thinking about it?</p></blockquote>

<p>I’m inclined to doubt it. But I’m increasingly uncertain that “privilege” is the best way of thinking about much of anything; I’m not sure if we have the same reasons for worrying in this case. I’m worried because I’m worried about how far the all-encompassing use of “privilege” to explain has shifted the focus from what oppressors do to what oppressors have. Of course there were reasons for that — unpacking invisible knapsacks and making privileged people aware of the limitations of their own standpoint and all that — but what we have now is a basically epistemological approach (about becoming aware of, and owning, how much “privilege” you do or don’t have) to the micropolitics of one-to-one or one-to-many power-relationships — an approach which provided a handy conceptual tool for the analysis and criticism of individual beliefs, attitudes, conduct, epistemic standpoints, etc. — but which seems to have been wrenched out of that context and awkwardly repurposed into an all-encompassing framework for viewing all forms of oppression, exploitation, bigotry, ignorance, alienation, interpersonal friction, or abusive behavior. I do think that one effect of this is that it has proved really, extremely awkward for any attempt to talk about power relationships that involve more than two sides, and hence also for horizontal, diagonal, or intersectional power (such as the hierarchies of power among men under male supremacy, for example; or the way in which “cis” women, trans women, trans men, gay men, genderqueer folks, children, etc. are all oppressed — but differently oppressed, in different directions, by patriarchal violence).</p>

<p>Everything else is really interesting and important; I just wish I had something more articulate to say about it.</p>

Re: Don’t Count on Anything This Election Cycle

You write: “Rand Paul pushes this neo-anarchist belief that the government should get out of everything,”

We anarchists don’t believe that “government should get out of everything.” We believe that government should cease to exist, and take capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and all other forms of class oppression straight to hell with it. Rand Paul is as much of an anarchist as any other “limited government” conservative Republican, which is to say, not at all: he wants to trim some parts of government here and there, while leaving in place all the violent functions of government that prop up existing forms of oppression (in particular government militaries, government police, government prisons, and government borders; he is especially fond of government border laws and using government to attack Latino immigrants). Anarchism is an entirely different, far more radical proposition.

You write: “… including mine safety because ‘who would work at an unsafe mine?’ Well, the people who have two choices- an unsafe mine or starvation.”

I certainly have no wish to speak for Rand Paul. But speaking on behalf of anarchists, (“neo-” or otherwise), I will say that the traditional anarchist approach to this question is to give people more choices — in particular, not setting up a political apparatus and hope that workers will somehow be able to control it more effectively than corporate lobbyists; but rather organizing grassroots mutual aid networks and fighting, rank-and-file unions that allow mine-workers to effectively stand up to the bosses — so that they do not have to depend on the mercy of the bosses or the solicitude of politically-appointed bureaucrats to gain a safe and humane livelihood for themselves.

Re: The Trick of Singularity

Aster: This one was merely nightmare fuel, as I said. … An ecological collapse is not a sign of our failure to be humble before nature but of our failure to be rational in regards to nature’s reality. Failing societies lose the capacity to produce to match their habitual levels of consumption, and the process of trying to hold on to effects without causes sets everything afire with debt and inflation. … I agree intensely that the only way out is forward. … But I look at the mentality of the social classes who make the relevant decisions and I tremble. … One could hope that the system will change when it realise that its disfunctionality will come at the cost of its own survival. But I’m not placing my chips on the numbers in accordance with hope, and I don’t think one needs hope to pursue happiness.

Well, maybe not, but if you’re worried about this, why not work on building an alternative for yourself and your neighbors, to the extent that you can under current conditions? I don’t know how the cost of the components varies in New Zealand, but in the U.S., you can get the basics for building out a partial off-the-grid home power system (which can be expanded out on the margin, to take over more and more capacity, as you get the money and the experience with the system) for a few hundreds of US$, and can set it all up with off-the-shelf parts with the help of a DIY manual or two. (I can point you to some resources, if you’re curious. The notion that off-the-grid home power systems cost tens of thousands of dollars is the result of the Green State trying to insist on all-at-once rather than piecemeal solutions, and, especially, on sending people to professional “certified installers” who charge thousands of dollars for the labor.)

Of course, getting up your own home energy production won’t solve the big problem just on its own. But if you’re worried about losing electricity, it will solve that part of your little end of the problem, and that’s something.

I have no hope at all for any global or national systems to change. But I do have a lot of hope for changing things by getting out of global or national systems. And, perhaps, for helping others along the way to doing the same.

Rational modes of production begin at home….

Re: Why We Fight (the Power)


The “strategic-thickness,” “consequence-thickness,” “application-thickness,” and “grounds-thickness” arguments strike me as pretty insubstantial, to the extent I understand them. The grounds-thickness argument, for example — “Sure, private hierarchy is logically consistent with libertarianism, but it’s weird!” — seems like an assertion, not an argument.

Peter, are you referring here to the paragraph on authoritarianism in Libertarianism Through Thick and Thin, under the heading of “Thickness from grounds”, which begins “Consider the conceptual reasons that libertarians have to oppose authoritarianism, not only as enforced by governments but also as expressed in culture, business, the family, and civil society. …”?

If so, I’m not surprising you find the argument unsatisfying, because that’s an extremely elliptical capsule version of the argument. It’s intended to illustrate the kind of argument that you would make for a commitment from grounds, not to give a full-on account of the argument for libertarian concern with non-coercive authoritarianism. A fuller version, with the details tricked out, would require a lot more space than I had available in that part of that particular article (which was written for print in The Freeman, and hence subject to constraints of length, and which was primarily about the varieties of thickness, not primarily about making the case for all the details of my own particular thick conception of libertarianism).

There’s a bit longer discussion of the same topic in my “Liberty, Equality, Solidarity” essay in the Long/Machan Anarchism/Minarchism anthology (particularly if you include, as background, the section on equality), which you may or may not find more satisfying.

Whether or not you find it more satisfying, though, what I’m more interested in is whether or not you accept the form of argument discussed. Specifically, an argument in which the arguer demonstrates 1. that the best reason to be a libertarian is some foundational principle X (Aristotelian natural law, rational egoism, Jeffersonian political equality, whatever your view may be); 2. that principle X implies not only that libertarianism is true, but also some other consequent, Y; and, therefore, 3. a libertarian, qua libertarian, has reason to believe in Y as well as libertarianism, even though denying Y is not inconsistent with libertarianism per se, because denying Y would be inconsistent with the reasons that justify libertarianism. (Hence, as I say, libertarians can reject Y without being inconsistent but they can’t reject it without being unreasonable.)

So, do you accept that form of argument as a legitimate one? If so, then great; that was the main purpose of the discussion, and presumably also the main purpose of Roderick’s link to my essay. If not, then what’s the problem with it?

Re: Kulcheral Littorasy, part 11 (in binary)


It doesn’t really explain the paucity of black or other non-white authors, either. I hear there’s a lot of black people in America.

Robert Paul:

But Charles, we’re talking about the West going back 3,000 years, not just America in the last few centuries.

Yeah, but in fact such lists, while containing a smattering of titles that go back that far, and that get as far out as the outer boundaries of “the West” (which apparently, given the ideological slight-of-hand that goes into defining that peripatetic bit of real estate, get out towards Iraq, except not when there are Muslims there). But in reality they tend to be slanted very heavily towards the last 400 or 500 years of literature (Great Books of the Western World samples heavily from the Hellenes, tosses in a couple of Helenistic writers and a couple of Roman writers for good measure, and then traverses almost 1,000 years of history between Volume 16 and Volume 19 with only four authors covered — Augustine, Aquinas, Dante and Chaucer — so that the next 40 volumes, out of a total of 60, can be spent on covering the most recent 500 years.) Given the typically expansive coverage of modern authors, and given the typical tilt of such lists (when prepared by English-speakers) towards works in English, I think the argument that black American, or other non-white authors, simply got crowded out by all the historical and geographical expanse is correspondingly a lot weaker. If you have 40 very large volumes’ worth of space to devote to the last 500 years, and more than half of that specifically devoted to English-speaking authors, I would be very surprised if a selection based on quality or influence, did not make at least some room for some of the excellent black American authors who have written in that stretch of time and space (or Latin American authors, for that matter, or any number of other Westerners who seem to be typically missing from this kind of list).

In this case, the alleged problem is the left-wing statist criticism that the lists are “mostly” DWEM. … My problem with the criticism (not the list) is that, instead of focusing on the quality of specific works as you are suggesting, the focus is on some sort of equitable proportional representation by race and sex.

Well, maybe; that’s one way of looking at it. But I think a more charitable way of understanding the criticism (and one which happens to line up better with what radical literary critics have usually said, when I’ve encountered them) is not that they’re after some kind of statistical proportion between the authors on the list and the demographics of the general populace, but rather that they have many specific very good authors in mind, who typically don’t show up, and who the critic thinks are being excluded, in spite of the quality of their work, because the compilers of the list are blanking out large demographic groups. (Presumably that’s usually because of ignorance or indifference on the part of the critics, rather than conspiratorial bigotry; they don’t include works that they aren’t aware of or don’t care about. But what the compilers of such lists tend to make themselves aware of, and to care about, is not innocent of American racial or sexual or national politics. It may well be true that Zora Neale Hurston hasn’t had much effect on Mortimer J. Adler’s life; but the question is whether that’s because of her qualities as an author, or because of the kind of life he has led.)

On this reading of the complaint, the idea is not to force some kind of purely demographic proportion, but rather to criticize the ignorance or willing blindness which the disproportions are a symptom of.

Of course, I’m talking about serious literary critics here, not necessarily about (for example) school curriculum committees. I’m sure there are lots of those that threw Chinua Achebe onto the reading list solely in order to avoid complaints from black or white Leftist parents, without the administrators having bothered to give much a damn about how good his books are.

Re: This Is What a Passion for Freedom and Justice Looks Like


I did, actually, understand the metaphor. The problem is I don’t like it, and I sometimes try to use flat-footedly literal readings to point out implications of metaphors that I don’t like.

I don’t mind “vulgar” language, and I certainly don’t mind giving William a shout-out for a brave and eloquent speech in front of the world, especially at such a time.

What does trouble me is metaphors that tend to identify courage with masculine sexual anatomy that more than half the population doesn’t have, because it identifies courage with masculinity (and in particular with an especially obnoxious form of male sexual aggression, i.e. proudly exposing your man-bits to an assembled crowd). And, contrapositively, it also suggests that there’s something wrong with not having balls — by identifying not having balls with being cowardly. That kind of metaphor points up irrelevant or nonexistent features in those who get the “praise,” and simultaneously excludes a lot of people (like, say, Betsy or Celia) who actually are both very brave and also literally ball-less.

It’s particularly troubling when the tenacity, endurance, and courage of that majority, in the face of suffering, terror, or death, have historically been, and often currently are, systematically blanked-out, denied, disparaged, or ridiculed and mocked (as silly, worthless, sanctimonious, or “bitchy”) — mainly because those forms of tenacity, endurance, and courage were and are practiced by people with no balls, and also because they were and are typically practiced outside of antisocial institutions devoted to killing foreigners or beating up demographically “suspect” locals — institutions such as the hollering, chest-thumping uniformed thugs trying to intimidate and assault their way through the streets in St. Paul. (And it’s largely from the vernacular talk within those military and paramilitary outfits, suffused as they are with a cock-swinging macho “warrior” mindset, that metaphors about things like balls of steel have generally entered our language.)

There are lots of good, visceral metaphors for courageous defiance — showing spine, having guts; even “courage” is one (etymologically, it means having heart). So why not use one of those metaphors, which would probably have worked just as well in the rhetorical context, and which don’t have the same sexual implications?

Re: Never Walk Alone


Well, “politics” derives from the Greek root “polis.” At the time the word was made, “polis” was ambiguous between (or consistently conflated) (1) the organized government of the city, and (2) civil society within the city. So when Aristotle wrote about “politics” he was talking about government processes, but about public life broadly, including many institutions within the city (religious, civic, educational, etc.) which today would be thought of as part of the private rather than the government sector.

Nowadays most people use politics to refer mainly or only to the business of the government, but some traditions (especially on the Left and in the feminist movement) use “politics” in a broader sense to include not only government processes but also struggles within civil society, especially if they have a common impact on a lot of people and if the civil society dynamics are structured by the balance of power between different social classes (such as men and women, or white people and black people, or…).

So “political” is not being expanded so far as just to mean “affects other people” (presumably remembering your friends’ birthdays affects other people, but I wouldn’t call it a political commitment); rather, “politics” is being being used to describe anything that acts to systematically structure public life in terms of the power relationships between groups of people. That includes governmental processes but it also includes a lot of other things, such as the way in which rape dramatically constrains the freedom of movement of all women, as women, and puts women in a state of greater dependency upon men.

Does that help clarify?

Incidentally, I’ve discussed the use of the term “politics” at some more length in section 2 of the Libertarian Feminism essay that I co-authored with Roderick Long.