Posts tagged: Politics
Todd Miller writes:
The police always put the checkpoint at the entrance to the mobile home park where María and Manuel live. A road barely two lanes wide leads through the park with its approximately sixty gray, white, and beige mobile homes tightly concentrated in a two-block area. Just in case, María and Manuel check to make sure the shiny black police cars and orange cones aren’t there. They decide to risk it and go to church.
Even though they are in South Carolina, María says the placement of the checkpoint makes it feel as if the U.S.-Mexico border were right at her doorstep. That’s saying something. María, though originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán, grew up in Naco, Mexico, right on the border. Although police checkpoints are often used throughout the state of South Carolina to find people driving under the influence, they are also there to make sure a driver’s residency status is in order.
“They put it in the entrance of the trailer park,” María tells me. “You have to go through the checkpoint.” There isn’t any other way to get in or out. The authorities at this particular checkpoint have already busted Manuel three times, each time for driving without a proper driver’s license. And this checkpoint has caused serious havoc for María’s neighbors, family, and co-workers, many of them non-citizens who have come into the area to work in the booming construction industry around the island of Hilton Head. Many are carpenters, landscapers, and construction workers who now live in the small town of Ridgeland. They are the people who have sculpted and landscaped gigantic gated communities built around golf courses and fake waterfalls. These modern subdivisions are now filled with mainly affluent white retirees, the majority from the Northeast and Midwest. Some places, like the ten-thousand-person town of Sun City, didn’t even exist fifteen years ago.
My latest column for TechCrunch looks at one of the weirdest political subcultures on the web:
Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme: they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French Revolution.
Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.
You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas, and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche of contemporary tech culture.
Previously: Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism
Steven Attewell writes:
Steve Rogers doesn’t represent a genericized America but rather a very specific time and place – 1930’s New York City. We know he was born July 4, 1920 (not kidding about the 4th of July) to a working-class family of Irish Catholic immigrants who lived in New York’s Lower East Side. This biographical detail has political meaning: given the era he was born in and his class and religious/ethnic background, there is no way in hell Steve Rogers didn’t grow up as a Democrat, and a New Deal Democrat at that, complete with a picture of FDR on the wall.
Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time (his father died when he was a child; in some versions, his father is a brave WWI veteran, in others an alcoholic, either or both of which would be appropriate given what happened to WWI veterans in the Great Depression) and then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB. And he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.
Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.
And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.
I just came across this interview with hacker and activist Eleanor Saitta from last year:
I think we’re going to (necessarily) see a shift over the next fifty years in the kinds of energy interdependencies that we see in the world. We must; the old way will not hold. One way or another, we must anticipate a lower-energy future with little or no fossil fuel movement.
Finance, is composed of one part politics, one part extortion and violence, and one part coordination. The network does coordination and politics very differently, in ways that make more sense for it. While I’m not talking about some kind of mythical post-monetary future, I do think the territory there will change just as much in energy. We may not have (mass) global energy flows, but we will have global trade, global coordination, and global politics, in the service of the network whole. What the violence of finance means in a network context is still to be determined; we have some hints, though.
There will be resistance to this shift from those empowered by the old order. There is already resistance, and it will only get worse. However, the past has already lost its war with the future; it doesn’t understand this yet, but it will learn. Now, what remains to be seen is whether or not this network future is any kind of improvement for actual human lives caught in the middle. Some good changes will likely happen, and there is a vast potential, but it’s unclear if that potential will become real.
[…] I joke that my ten year stretch goal is to kill the nation state, but really, I don’t think that’s particularly necessary. There will always be territorial organizational structures, but they’re only one possible structure among many that can interact. I favor building up new alternatives, starting now. If we somehow magically did manage to destroy the nation state before there was anything to replace it, we’d all, quite frankly, be fucked. I’m a road fetishist. I really like roads. And power. And food. Those are all currently mostly provided by or coordinated through the state. Kill the state now, and life looks grim.
That said, waiting until you’ve got a fully functional alternative before taking any kind of political action aimed at common emancipation is equally dumb, as is investing more effort in actively hostile systems when you can’t actually change them. I’m a realist, in the end. I want less suffering, for everyone, in both the short and long term, and that doesn’t come out of the barrel of any one ideology, just as surely as it isn’t going to come by sticking to the straight and narrow of our status quo handbasket.
My latest for Wired:
What many people fail to realize is that Change.org isn’t a non-profit organization. Though anyone can set up a petition for free, the company makes an awful lot of money from all the data it collects about its online petitions and the people who sign them. It’s not just a path to The People. It’s a Google-like Big Data play.
In amassing data from its 45 million users and the 660,000 petitions they’ve created and signed, the company has unprecedented insight into the habits of online activists. If you sign one animal rights petition, the company says, you’re 2.29 times more likely to sign a criminal justice petition. And if you sign a criminal justice petition, you’re 6.3 times more likely to sign an economic justice petition. And 4.4 times more likely to sign an immigrant rights petition. And four times more likely to sign an education petition. And so on.
Change.org uses this data to serve you petitions you’re more likely to be interested in. And, in many cases, it also uses the stuff as a way of pairing you with paying sponsors you’re more likely to give money to.
It’s an intriguing business, and as it turns out, a rather lucrative one. But for some, it also toes an ethical line. “We’ve sort of created an email industrial complex where we’ll do anything to get people’s email address,” says Clay Johnson, a Presidential Innovation Fellow who, in 2004, co-founded Blue State Digital, a for-profit consulting company that helped develop the Obama campaign’s finely targeted fundraising system.
A good take on certain types of political violence:
It is usually exciting to see reports on insurrectionary attacks on capitalist structures in the news; for example, the recent torching of a fancy-pants car dealership in Melbourne, Australia. An unidentified anarchist cell (unidentified by the corporate media, anyway) has claimed responsibility, although the police are expressing their skepticism that the fire wasn’t an accident.
There is an argument to be made that such actions can inspire and educate the general population, and drive them to take up revolutionary struggle. This notion is encompassed in the idea of the “propaganda of the deed“, a philosophy that emphasizes actions over words, and is usually cited as justification for assassinations, bombings, arson, street battles, and other acts of sabotage and violence.
I’m not going to deny that I am not emotionally roused by such actions, especially when they take place in the West. The dearth of radical political action in the United States makes it very easy to want to cheerlead violent actions by clandestine groups. However, we must keep a cool and logical head when it comes to theorizing and practicing radical politics, and analyze specific tactics from an empirical and historical standpoint is crucial. History shows that the propaganda of the deed has typically failed to drive any kind of real emancipatory struggle. From the Weather Underground in the US to the MEK in Iran, insurrectionary actions devoid of any mass organizational politics has always failed to rouse the general population to revolution.
(I’ll henceforth refer to this phenomena of militancy without the masses as “adventurism”, a somewhat pejorative term that was popularized by Lenin to distinguish individual acts of violence from actions taken by a popular organization or community).
Short Q&A in Christian Science Monitor with Jesse Walker, author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory and contributor to the libertarian magazine Reason:
Q: What do we need to have in place for a conspiracy theory to develop?
A: Conspiracy theories emerge where three things collide. The first is our natural tendency to find patterns and creative narratives, to try to turn all these stray signals we receive into some sort of coherent order. Second is a situation that we’re suspicious of and makes us fearful. And third is the fact that there are actual cases of people conspiring. There’s a reason why there’s a legal offense called conspiracy. It’s not like being afraid of some supernatural monster that people talk about but never shows up. […]
Q: When conspiracies get mentioned, some people accuse the believers of being mentally ill. Is that a real issue among conspiracy believers?
A: When a story catches on with enough people, we’re not talking about mental illness. If believing in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental illness, it means 90 percent of Americans have been crazy since the beginning. We’re talking about folklore. Even if it says nothing that’s true, it says something true about the anxieties and experiences of those who believe and repeat the theory.
Charlie Stross on what’s going on in the world today:
The over-arching reason for the clamp-down on dissent, migration, and freedom of expression, and the concurrent emphasis on security in the developed world, constitutes the visible expression of a pre-emptive counter-revolution. […]
I believe what we’re seeing is a move towards the global imposition of a police state in the developed world, leveraging the xenophobia that naturally emerges during insecure times, by a ruling elite who are themselves feeling threatened by a spectre. Controls on movement, freedom of association, and speech are all key tools in the classic police state’s arsenal. What’s new about this cycle is that the police state machinery is imposed locally, within national boundaries, but applies everywhere: the economic system it is intended to protect is transnational and unconstrained. Which is why even places that were largely exempt during the cold war are having a common police state agenda quietly imposed. There is to be no refuge, other than destabilized “failed states” where the conditions of life make a police state look utopian in comparison.
This system has emerged organically, from the bottom up, and is not the result of any conspiracy; it’s just individuals and groups moving to protect their shareholdings in the Martian invaders, by creating an environment that is safe for the hive intelligences to operate in.
Full Story: Charlie Stross: Who ordered *that*?
Here’s an essay question from a scholarship application to Eton, an elite boarding school in the UK:
Laurie Pennie weighs in:
questions like this – topics for debate designed to reward pupils for defending the morally indefensible in the name of maintaining “order” – crop up throughout the British elite education system, from prep schools to public schools like Eton to public speaking competitions right up to debating societies like the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, which are modelled on parliament for a reason.
This is how you’re meant to argue when you’re eventually in charge. You’re trained for it, and part of that training is regularly being presented with morally indefensible positions to defend anyway or risk losing whatever competition you’re engaged with. I have seen perfectly decent young men get carried away defending genocide and torture because that’s the only way to win. Those who are unable to do so are taught that they have no business having political opinions. The people assumed to be the future elite are not rewarded for getting the answer which is most correct, most compassionate or humane or even sensible – they’re rewarded for smashing the opposition. And that’s how you get politicians who will argue anything they’re told to, enact any policy they’re told to no matter how many how many people will get hurt, just so that their team can win.
Moreover, this isn’t just a standard homework question. It appears on a scholarship entrance exam, a test designed to be sat by young men seeking to join the ranks of the rich and powerful by virtue of merit and smarts rather than family money.
Meanwhile, Tim Maly poses some alternate questions.