Saturday, January 26, 2013

S1:E4-The Conspiracy Conspiracy

"A wingnut is someone on the far-left or far-right wing of the political spectrum- the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They're the people who try to divide us rather than unite us." -John Avlon, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America

The very term "conspiracy theory" is misleading and it's proponents would do well to abandon it.

[1] con-spir-a-cy, noun
1: The act of conspiring together
2 a: an agreement among conspirators
b: a group of conspirators

If we turn to modern law, we see people can be indicted on charges such as "conspiracy to commit murder," "conspiracy to commit robbery," or "conspiracy to commit larceny." Collusive firms are guilty of "organizational conspiracy." The Catholic Church has entered, in regards to sexual abuse accusations, a "conspiracy of silence." It certainly has it's greater usage in the context of criminal or otherwise nefarious activity. But when planning a surprise birthday party for someone, you are entering into a conspiracy with the other party-goers. When parents leave presents under the tree marked "from Santa," they have entered into a conspiracy. This modern context of disinformation or information suppression meant to deceive others is an abuse of the English language and has become nothing more than a convenient trigger word for the purposes of fear-mongering.

There are a few distinct brands of conspiracy theory, and we should be able to distinguish between them.

Michael Barkun, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse, has a book A Culture of Conspiracy; Apocolyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003,) in which he breaks them down into three groups:

-Event conspiracy theories
This refers to speculations surrounding 9/11, the JFK assassination, AIDS, etc.

-Systemic conspiracy theories
The idea that Freemasons, Communists, Jews, etc. are infiltrating and subverting existing institutions (banks, media, govt.)

-Superconspiracy theories
A hierarchical construction linking the two previous presumptions, such as the Illuminati faking the moon landing.

The book itself is a good read, pick it up if you get the chance or read it here, if nothing else for his witty commentary on subculture. He has two other titles, Religion and the Racist Right; Origins of the Christian Identity Movement (1996) and Chasing Phantoms; Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security since 9/11 (2011) which I have not read but were similarly received. I have my own system for diagnosing these attitudes:

-Covert paranoia
The belief that X-group for X-reasons is keeping X-information from the general population.

-Totalitarian paranoia
The belief the X-group is withholding X-information in order to later cement their place as unquestionable rulers.

-Supernatural paranoia
The idea that X-group is achieving aforementioned goal with either the assistance or suppression of something otherworldly.

Similar to Barkun's model, mine builds upon itself. Many people (even if only subconsciously) believe that someone somewhere is keeping something from us, even without knowing why, and of course they are not incorrect. Wikileaks has proved this since their inception in 2006. In many cases this progresses to the next tier, an assumption that this is being done to affirm mass control. Rarely (but more often than would be nice) folks commit to the third tier, a belief that there are spiritual, mystic, extraterrestrial or otherwise unproven factors at play. Though covert paranoia may involve say, the government classification of alien contact, supernatural paranoia victims would then go on to say that those aliens are perhaps helping the U.S. rule the world. I am (and will be) using the term victim (or sufferer/patient/case/subject) quite intentionally.

Where our models differ comes from an emphasis on the amount of information these individuals profess to have, and the extent of their delusions. Barkun makes the assumption that those who subscribe to an event theory know and agree on precisely who was behind the event and why they would perpetrate it. In practice, if you were to speak with a thousand people who believe JFK was assassinated by anyone besides Oswald, you would get a thousand different answers, including a few who had no idea as to a culprit, only that there was "something fishy about it." Barkun also assumes that disciples point to specific organizations in their systematic theories, when in fact the most widely-accepted (though no less dangerous) theories we see point directly to the institutions already in place. While most conspiracy is inherently conservative in origin, every time a democrat takes the fairly-arbitrary seat as President, there is a new barrage of anti-state propaganda that (very popularly) makes the rounds. Lastly, Barkun's superconspiracy category combines what I see as the shortcomings of the previous two, while my final tier can be used to conveniently classify the most extreme, fatuous, and neurotic.

While I don't want (or need) to dwell too long on it, we should examine the shortcomings of such mindsets.

Much like the attitudes we explored in S1:E3, the major flaws behind conspiracy culture can be summed up by two factors: A lack of education and inert action.

I'll ignore the multitudinous logical deficiencies these victims not only exhibit but proudly wave and proceed to my more important grievance. I use the term education because devotees already have quite a bit of "information," however inaccurate it may be. They are not equipped to reach accurate conclusions because they have not learned (or have since refused) to adhere to the standards of research used for hundreds of years. They are content to cherry-pick data, accept unreliable and/or unverifiable personal testimony, and reject all that does not support the framework of narratives passed down from the equally-disreputable founders of that school of thought.  Climate change deniers vehemently reject the overwhelming consensus in scientific circles that global warming is indeed real, and indeed man-made. The fault of 9/11 Truthers is not that they believe the government could or would commit such a vile act of domestic terrorism, it is that they ignore the many, many studies proving that two planes did indeed bring down the Twin Towers. Does this mean that we should indubitably accept the word of those in a relevant industry as if they could not also be involved in such deceptions? Of course not! But these folks have well-researched, well-thought out, cited, tested, peer-reviewed knowledge that can cheaply and easily be accessed and assessed by all. Not doing so, and continuing to not only harbor but disseminate your misinformation is nothing short of sociopathic laziness.

In addition, for all the secret knowledge they claim to have compiled, for all the horrible atrocities and wicked fabrications they claim to have uncovered, they have yet to produce a single constructive movement or even single action to combat the evil they perceive around them. They may change a minute aspect of their normative lifestyle, but allow the culprits to continue unhindered. Timothy McVeigh is often labelled a conspiracy theorist because he stated the OKC Building bombing of 1995 was to avenge the 1993 "murder" of Branch Davidians in Waco, TX. But upon reflection, FBI agents essentially did murder almost 75 American men, women and children, whether under orders or negligence is no matter, and while a horrible, deranged man, McVeigh can hardly be called a conspiracy theorist for recognizing that. Yet for all the thousands of people who believe the royal family of Britain is comprised of shape-shifting reptilian aliens that secretly rule the world, there have been no assassination attempts on the Queen. Millions believe that 9/11 was an inside job, and yet no one within the CIA, Department of Homeland Security, or Bush Administration have ever been brought to justice, let alone made to stand trial. Our subjects are complacent in their consciousness, choosing instead to sit safely at their computers and speculate as to the nature of the next anathema that will be laid in front of them. If they are in fact correct, then surely they too now have blood on their hands. 

In order to combat misinformation, it is important that we look at it's origins.

We have already seen the way in which people are allowed to adopt such aberrations, namely, through the utilization of bad science and faulted cognitive reasoning. But how do such ideas emerge into the public conscious to begin with? To paraphrase Fredrick Douglas: where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, and where ignorance prevails, one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them. The "conspiracy class" is, with a few rare exceptions, not composed of successful financiers or decorated academics or well-adjusted family men. Rather, the ones responsible for such fascinating posits as hollow earth theory feel that society has failed them in one way or another and seek first a culprit, then, in an ill-conceived attempt to appear more sane, proof that they are not the con's only victim. That Jews somehow furtively control the US, and indeed the world, is a popular conspiracy amongst white supremacists. Despite most likely being raised in poverty in an unhealthy family environment, receiving minimal education and abusing drugs, alcohol, or both, they believe that they did not achieve because "the Jews are holding them down." (They of course fail to realize the irony in claiming that the "master race" is so easily subjugated by another.)

The truth is that there is something comforting in such conspiracies; it is the reason that they can so easily sway minds and develop an almost religious dogmatism in their followers. The idea that there are individuals, no matter how depraved or detestable, capable enough to conceal their identities and pull the wool over the entire world's eyes speaks volumes to human ability. The idea that they have a plan (no matter how dark) for the world makes us feel protected, under some sort of structure. Moreover, believing we have by some graces gained access to this secret information makes us feel "chosen," makes us feel as if we belong to something larger and gives us a purpose in life.

Finally, though I have little evidence on which to support this, I believe conspiracy is allowed to take off because it just sounds so fucking cool. You never hear asinine theories like "aliens are secretly fixing the import price of tuna" or "the Illuminati got Arrested Development yanked off the air." Because those don't sell. Fear sells. We like fear. Look at the EXPLOSION of zombie apocalypse media in the past five-or-so years. Think about how many people honestly, truly believe an event like that would be an awesome way to spend the rest of their lives. How many teenage "anarchists" dream of single-handedly taking on the government before their first black bloc. People buy into the bullshit because part of them so desperately wishes it were true they are willing to throw reason out the window.

Conspiracy's role as a placatory structure

I wish I could end by saying that our paranoia sufferers are overall harmless, irrational members of society best kept indoors. For the most part this is true. But we need to analyze the ramifications of a culture that quite often weasels it's way into the mainstream core of beliefs. We have already examined how it (like our other structures) breeds apathy and creates a fictitious, iniquitous mannequin upon which to heap our more legitimate concerns. Indeed, the true culprits are often quite easy to find when we proceed logically and follow the money. Despite public disquiet, fluoride continues to be pumped into American water supplies unnecessarily. Now, it has been proven that these levels of fluoride are not detrimental to human health, and certainly do not have any of the mind-control abilities so ludicrously associated with them. We must find a new motive, which is easily done when we recall how many policymakers (including those in the EPA) not only collect paychecks from, but sit on the boards of chemical manufacturers who then get the government contracts.

But in what other ways does it benefit the Capitalist Statists? We return to the idea of fear, a tool which has kept them in power for years, conventionally being administered via mass media and war. But this, the fear of the unknown and unverifiable, is perhaps most powerful. Who will speak out in a country they believe murders its own citizens secretly, and with impunity? Who will stand against a system they believe controls every aspect of our daily lives? And will the more rational citizenry remain silent, fearing they risk association with those so susceptible to artifice? The only thing we need fear is duplicity, in any form. Commit to memory that fear-mongering is fear-mongering, whether done by the state, the media, or the man wearing an "End is Nigh" sandwich-board.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

S1:E3-A More (Or Less) Tolerant World For Sale

"I am absolutely opposed to political correctness. You cannot confront hate until you have experienced it." -Jane Elliot, anti-racist/LGBT educator and activist.

In recent years, America has become trammeled by conversely disparate movements based solely on "social awareness" as opposed to any sort of change in public or private policy.

These movements tend to be operated by members of the extreme reaches of the political spectrum. They are centered motivated by one of two ideas: creating a society that is either more accepting of those outside the operator's [race/gender/sexuality/etc,] or a return to a more polarized one. While it might be considered distasteful to outright categorize which groups belong to which side, anyone with a remote understanding of political history should be able to discern which can be placed where. Many of said loosely-organized coteries have forgone traditional methods of community organizing in favor of grandstanding publicity stunts and guerrilla social activity. It need not be noted that in the over-saturated realms of mainstream media and internet communities, these actions rarely (if ever) garner meaningful attention or lead to productive discourse.

What must first be understood is that prejudice is not only fostered by, but one of the most important tools of, the Capitalist State. These attitudes are fairly openly protected and even endorsed by many members of both the ruling class and the political charlatans that represent them. Any such attitudes benefit them directly as they serve to divide the working class. A class that refuses to trust it's fellow members who share in the larger oppression of unrestrained capitalism cannot organize and cannot demand any sort of protection or constructive change. In addition, recall that societal diffraction has limited consequence for the predominantly straight white male individuals in the upper echelons of industry and government. Though there are exceptions to that generalization, we need only look at their predominant philosophies of objective morality and equitable opportunity (as exhibited by their role in neo-Imperial governance) to understand that they have no motivation to assist those who are encumbered by the same burdens they overcame.

Some are under the impression that our security and/or moral integrity as a society is under attack by the integration of those unlike them.

We'll begin with an easy example of a passive prejudicial movement that most all of us can agree has no place in a progressive world: The Westboro Baptist Church. To their credit [this is the first and last time you will ever see me use those words in that order] this cult utilizes non-violent methods of protest, which is more than can be said for many right-wing, Christian extremist organizations in the U.S. (see: The Klu Klux Klan, anti-abortion violence, and more recently The Hutaree) They instead rely on grandiose disrespect and a sensationalist media they know will pick it up to get their message across. Surely the number of people who watch WBC demonstrations and say to themselves "sure, those are folks I can jive with" are few. In fact, it could be said that they instead do quite a bit of damage to the image of those pushing for a halt to LGBT rights. But all this serves two purposes. Firstly, it further polarizes the populous via the methods and for the reasoning stated earlier. Secondly, it creates a scapegoat for the deplorable disenfranchisement of homosexuals throughout the country. Disregarding the fact that policymakers have yet to push through any definitive legislation providing even basic marriage rights to same-sex partners, many saner citizens will instead view marginal WBC members and their associates as the ones holding us back. (Interestingly enough, gay marriage approval is around twice as high than interracial marriage approval was when it passed in 1967 [1].)

Another, perhaps more precarious example, is the fight against Central and Latin American immigration into the United States. In all actuality, the best thing for a "free market" is an influx of cheap, easily exploitable labor. It is in fact cheaper to hire "illegals" [a slur we should all despise] for agricultural labor than pay for the acquisition, operation, and upkeep of contemporary farming technology! Why then, would the capital statists be against it? The answer of course is that they are not, hence the fact that we lack a single definitive piece of legislation preventing it. Despite the predominantly Austrian-Capitalist right roundly coming out in favor of closed borders and a slowing of even legal immigration, they understand that this would deal a huge blow to the industries they have (and continue to) make their fortunes by. What they have done instead is create a moral rallying point for their ideological flock to fall behind. The neo-liberal democrats in turn know that streamlining the green-card process would hurt their pocketbooks by forcing companies to pay fair wages to day laborers, and thus are content to only preserve the steady stream of refugees, not protect the individuals. In America, a First World nation, we have groups of vigilante civilians patrolling our Southern border almost 24/7! This of course is completely ineffectual; there is no plausible way to man the nearly 2,000 mile border. But we see again the same two results: Polarization of the working class via sensationalized xenophobia, and the dubbing of a whipping boy for citizen unrest in regards to unemployment and federal social spending. These people do not steal jobs from Americans; they simply save the agricultural mega-corporations (supposed "job creators") money, and in fact contribute to consumer spending levels (which is the true job-creating force.) They are not a significant drain on healthcare, education, or other governmental assistance (11 million people costing less than $11 billion in 2010 [2] out of a federal expenditure total of $3.172 trillion) because they have every incentive to fly as low under the radar as possible, or risk deportation.

But there is another side that places their vague understanding of "unmitigated freedom" over the need for an equitable politico-economic environment.

These critiques is sure to earn me the ire of fellow left-thinkers, but we will look at two liberal schools (with admittedly inconsistent interpretations) that have seen rapid growth in recent years: The marijuana anti-prohibition movement and the new brand of technology-conscious social-liberal. 

The pro-marijuana lobby has emerged as a more serious movement than ever in recent years, no longer reserved for freshmen political science students and bored, aging hippies. They have seen some of their strongest organizational power rise from the neo-libertarians who are themselves finding strength primarily through the internet and social media. While the candidates who represent these individuals should not be classified as such (they share much more in common with the neo-conservative mega-corporate shills and state's rights fetishizing constitutional preservationists,) their philosophy in this regard is sound within classic libertarianism: The government does not have the right to intercede in the matter of what substances a citizen chooses to put in his or her body. Despite the poor examples the American people have been granted recently, it is important to remember that true LIBERtarians do indeed belong to the left. These anti-prohibitionists take full advantage of their newfound "edgy," anti-statist image and solid foundation of young people willing to share their poorly researched, cited, and assembled propaganda across the internet. It is not that I disagree with these people (yet another topic I will touch on in a later series,) but they fail because as much as they are able to regurgitate (usually accurate, if a little hyperbolic) facts onto their doubters, they fail to grasp who and why they are fighting. Large lumber companies, in true Capitalist Statist fashion, put pressure on the federal government to make marijuana illegal starting around 1936 because hemp could make more paper than trees, cheaper. They paid off journalists to write about the "horrors" that came with it's recreational use and even produced numerous films such as the still-hilarious "Reefer Madness." But as we moved further into the 20th century, more and more practical uses emerged, and large firms holding control of industries that might benefit from it's application knew it could be disastrous to see it re-enter the market. This is why the financially ruinous War on Drugs of the early-70's continues. This is exactly why even states experimenting with decriminalized recreational use still have moratoriums on the growing of industrial hemp (though of course once they can buy from a medical distributor or other regulated source these folk's thirst for freedom seems to dry up with their cottonmouth.) But of course we again see our two consequences of passive social movement: polarization of constituencies by making those who support legalization risk being identified as soft on crime or *gasp* using drugs themselves, and a shifting of blame for prohibition onto lawmakers (both under the thumb of the capitalists and otherwise.)

Yet another waste of everybody's time we can thank social-media for: the internet PC-police. I should state first off that I am naturally much more sympathetic to these folk's attitudes. They embrace the true spirit of leftist universal-inclusion that is so lacking in the centrist modern Democratic Party. What they are lacking, similar to the examples above, is an understanding of why they must fight and an effective means of implementation. Anyone who has spent extended time on various youth-driven websites will know exactly the individuals I am talking about (if you are on twitter, check out @TumblrTXT for some real gems.) They have decided that vastly more important than tackling the structure breeding inequality is to cyber-bully everyone who does not share their unique understanding of "polite" language. Their ironclad rules are of course constantly changing, what terms are pejorative slurs one week will be proudly be used self-referentially the next. We saw this in particular last year with the term "slut," which while I agree is an ugly term, has it's applications in casual contemporary conversation. What I believe must be understood is that this is language of weakness, displaying only a lack of creativity. But to suggest that men and women who use sex to manipulate unwitting partners are being "oppressed" by such language is simply laughable. Surely there are those branded as such undeservedly, but can the same not be said about names like idiot, or psychopath, or bigot? (Some of the PC-party's favorite insults) They overlook two facts in particular: Sexist, homophobic, racist, or otherwise prejudiced vernacular always has and continues to enter the modern parlance because of a system that breeds inequality, ignorance, and indifference, and it's users are often as much a victim of said system as the group these predominantly white, upper-middle class cyber-crusaders have deemed to be offended. Secondly, that no truly obstinate individual will ever receive a passive-aggressive email from someone they share little to nothing in common with in terms of beliefs, background, or education and be suddenly struck by the realization that they are behaving intolerantly. In fact, much like the WBC, they seem more likely to scare off would-be allies, earning themselves names like "Feminazis," a term I find far more sexist, demeaning and contemptible than words like "slut" or "bitch," which can at least be argued to A) have basis in an individual's history of negative behavior and B) be so commonplace as to have been removed from their original meaning, as opposed to the former, which is used against women who have the "audacity" to stand up for their human rights. But of course the supreme irony of this movement (if we can call it that) is that in their quest for comprehensive tolerance they are in fact creating a hostile environment for those that do not share their dogmatist views of what is culturally acceptable (making them no different from those they actively revile.) Now, do I agree with most everything these folks are (on a philosophical level) striving for? Of course! Do I agree that we all must be more careful in our speech and ever-conscious of the effect our words have on others? Most definitely! Do I think that obdurate social-conservative holdouts should be exposed as such? YES! But we must be aware of how best to combat the attitudes of those we disagree with.

Passive [in]tolerance's role as a placatory structure

In every example I have presented above, we can see that there are two common flaws and two common unintended consequences.
-Flaw 1: Inert, marginalized action
Westboro Baptist Church of course knows by now that for all the hoopla they cause a few days out of the year, their numbers are not growing and they will not produce any sort of change in the minds or policy of Americans. Xenophobes and immigration-paranoid racists can never stop the thousands of innocent workers that come to the US every year to make a better life for themselves and their families. For all their huffing and puffing, anti-prohibitionists are most likely going to continue to buy pot from readily available illicit sources and take a nap. While internet warriors for justice may have the best of intentions, it is extremely rare that they will change anyone's attitudes or behaviors, much less create a more open and caring world. These groups are all inherently placatory because they serve no one but their operators, who are provided a relatively safe outlet for their beliefs.

-Flaw 2: A lack of education
If any member of WBC were allowed sufficient time to be deprogrammed and re-entered into society, perhaps even introduced to a homosexual person and taught a thing or two about the natural world (i.e. god doesn't actually cause hurricanes because he's mad two bros did it in the butt,) they would likely renounce their previously held views and feel like a royal douche. If citizens of border states understood that they have nothing to fear from Hispanic immigrants, they probably would not feel the need to ostracize or outright attack them. If anti-prohibitionists understood exactly why marijuana was and is illegal (and were equipped to shake off their spurious, trendy political messiahs), they might consider changing their tactics. If young cultural pluralists understood the origins of discrimination, they would be better equipped to put an end to it. Nothing allows for the subversion of a society more quickly or effectively than poor education and mis/disinformation. 

-Consequence 1: Polarization of the populous
This is important to remember because it has the most bearing on our immediate future. We must bear in mind that though we may loathe, fear, or simply disagree with someone, we are united in our mutual subjugation under unrestrained financial capitalism and a system that has made it clear it is no longer under our control. While it can be unpleasant hearing someone use impolite language, they perhaps are not as educated as yourself or lack the moral fortitude not to use it, and you must recall that they share equally in your greater struggle against the forces that created their prejudice. To treat them at once as the enemy does all of us a disservice.

-Consequence 2: Ordination of a mark for the diatribe of citizen unrest
This is without a doubt the most important point to take from this entry. This is the fail-safe for any placatory structure should the masses become impatient with their demands and attempt more drastic forms of social agitation; the forging of a vessel to bear the brunt of their motility. Though we are presented with many options as to the placing of blame for our multitudinous social impediments, we need only look to who benefits most to see who the true culprits are. It is undeniably, in the cases stated above (and indeed in many others,) the Capitalist Statists who stand to gain from the fracturing of the working class. From this we learn we must be ever cautious of any movement that promises alleviation of a symptom without acknowledgement of it's origin illness.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

S1:E2-Following the Green in the "Green Movement"

"You look at a wind turbine... Somebody makes the blades, somebody makes the tower, somebody makes the gear boxes, the electronic controls. Those parts can come from China, India- or from Buffalo." -George Sterzinger, Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

In the same way we see feckless trendy altruism further the goals of the imperialists and compradors, misguided eco-friendly practices often benefit those responsible for the current environmental crisis.

Let's take a peek at the shameless irony of Fiji Water: You can read here about their ardent promise to create a cleaner, healthier product. In fairness, none of this is false advertising. Their facilities are certainly progressive in their construction, for which they recently built a windmill to help reduce energy consumption, and they utilize natural PET packaging that requires 24% less energy to make, is recyclable and creates 40% less solid waste then glass bottles (though when was the last time you bought a glass bottle of water?) Plus, it comes from natural aquifers, so it must be healthier, right? They may charge more money for it, but certainly we, as consumers, can rest easy knowing we are buying responsibly.

There are many, many people who genuinely believe this. There are people who, armed with this knowledge, will abandon their usual brand of choice for Fiji Water.

Their company name is not simply marketing. Swiss Miss hot cocoa is not actually flown in from Switzerland. Fiji Water is imported directly from the Fiji Islands, 5500 miles from Los Angeles, and where only half the population has access to clean water themselves. It then travels another 3300 miles to the East Coast (not to mention how far it travels to reach European consumers.) You are paying seven dollars for a bottle of water that is in reality no cleaner, healthier, or safer than what could have been produced down the street. This produces 84,396 metric tons (168,792,000 pounds) of CO2 every year [1]. It is laughable to believe any sort of measures they take can be considered in the interest of our ecological health. 

Some would point out that the benefits of a "green" product can outweigh the costs to our environment.

This generally seems to boil down to one or both of two arguments,

Trade is good, aiding all parties involved:
I hate to keep picking on Fiji, but I hear this argument from brand-loyal fans and fair-trade fanatics all the time. Be aware, this is nothing short of a polite rephrasing of "The White Man's Burden," a favorite creed of the colonialists. There persists a belief in most Western circles that if the Third World wishes to join in our fantasy world of unrestrained consumption, they need only collude with it's forgers, and that it is our responsibility as consumers and business owners to interact with them as much as possible. By the saving graces of white capitalists, they can pull themselves out of the muck and mire of their barren homelands and build a new country with what resources we leave behind. While this is consistent with contemporary economic theory, in practice we see that the results are anything but. Fiji Water was founded in 1996 by David Gilmour, a Canadian billionaire who in fact OWNS the Wakaya Island in the region, and employs only 400 residents (not even paying them fair-trade wages, and moving his offices off the island to avoid paying taxes to the country) [2]. Nor do these inexcusable money-saving methods result in lower prices for the consumer, exhibited perhaps most clearly by Fiji. Even should he begin paying workers appropriately, it would do little for the local people or their economy. Since the passage of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT- which I will note was not an "agreement," but rather a policy dictated by the politico-economic elite,) in 1947, the resulting World Trade Organization (WTO) has ensured developing nations are kept to such a condition by raising tariffs on any imported goods, and lowering them on raw materials, which are then used to make goods that can be sold back to them. We have seen frighteningly comparable results from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA,) which has strangled countless family-run and/or smaller operations in the US and Mexico, everything from farms to mines. This is the natural result of unregulated financial capitalism, something I will touch on more in a later series. 

Manufacturers are setting precedents that will be adopted by other firms if they wish to remain competitive:
This slow-and-steady mindset is simply a justification of consumer apathy and  displays a complete lack of faith in our ability to demand legislature obliging ecological responsibility. Bottled water is an inherently destructive and environmentally exploitative industry, despite what those who profit from it will tell you. There can be no preventative measures taken to change that. The myth of "clean coal" is another frequently touted example of how we can, through bureaucratic oversight and slight changes to production processes, still live by the standards we have for the past hundred-odd years. Even if this were true, the situation demands immediate action, and we quite clearly do not have time to wait for the free market to catch up while the poles melt. The truth is, capitalists have no incentive to do anything that would directly interfere with their profit margins. Any "green promise," any commitment to a cleaner product (either rhetorical or in practice) is done only for the sake of convincing you, the consumer, that they have your interests at heart and are thus worthy of your business. The Nash Equation, when applied to the economics of our situation, clearly shows that in any such collusive structure, market participants will mirror the others activity only to the point where it becomes most profitable to all of them, without any business "left behind," regardless of the impact on others (in this case the environment.)

Others still will claim there are no real "green" solutions, or present other (unrealistic, illogical, ineffective) ones.

Disregarding the detestable apathy of the former, I'd like to take a closer look at the two seemingly-rational elucidations I've heard most recently on how to tackle the climate crisis,

Conscious consumerism can save the planet:
It's true that a great amount of waste could be negated if we were all a little more choosy about what we buy. Many retailers organize themselves so that more eco-friendly products are made clearly distinguishable, be they organic, recyclable, biodegradable, or what have you. It's also true that we don't need to get eliminate all the waste we are creating. Mother Earth does a pretty stellar job of keeping up, frankly. But these folks are forgetting the vast amount of pollution created before the product reaches a store's shelves. Plastic water bottles, while still detrimental, make up but a fraction of our environmental expenditures when compared to chemical waste and carbon emissions resulting from their manufacturing/transportation. I in no way wish to remove responsibility from the shoulders of consumers, but they are equally victims of a very small population (producers) committing a very large crime (ecological genocide.) This "solution" also leaves the task of creating an educated populus capable of discerning which products are safe for the environment and which are not.

Self-elected withdrawl from the market:
"Surely if we all picked up and moved away from the cities, built little cabins or lived like nomads, and foraged or grew all our own food, we could restore the world to it's natural pristine condition, right?" Do not listen to these people. They are at best overly optimistic and at worst delusional. Of course that quote is hyperbolic, but this disposition exists in many less radical forms as well. You will never convince any large numbers of citizens in a developed nation to leave behind their precious comforts, abandon their current life of abundance or create a new system for trade. And this is hardly something we can judge them for! But even ignoring this most obvious fact, we find the same genetic flaw in this argument as the one before it: It would require a massive educational overhaul that no government or private corporation would ever be willing to provide. What impetus would they have to teach people how to live outside the system they created and benefit most from?

The Green Movement's role as a placatory structure

We find an eerily similar quandary in these philosophies as we do in those of the unexamined altruists (which was of course intentional on my part): There can be no real progress as long as we operate within the confines of the system that created what threatens us. This is not a coincidence; you will find they share quite a bit in practice. They serve to provide the citizens of Capitalist Statism with an outlet for their well-founded concerns, without in fact challenging the domination (political, financial, or ideological) of the ruling class. Business continues as usual for all parties involved, save for the consumers, who now perhaps sleep more soundly believing they have done something admirable or even in the least bit effectual. You are buying that contentedness, you are paying someone real money you earned for something that is not only intangible, but innately false.

The environmental threat we are facing is an urgent one. Do not waste your time, your money, or your dignity on their mind-games. Their mission, while latent, is found when you follow the green.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

S1:E1-The Myth of Constructive Altruism in an Imperial Society and Globalized World

"It is immoral to use private property in  order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair." -Slavoj Žižek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce.

Actions undertaken by either a government or it's citizens to address socio-economic inequality they have had a direct hand in creating is not only delusive, it is subversive to the humanitarian motivations they are supposedly acting upon.

There is a small rural village in Nigeria, North of the Kalabari Settlement, in one of the lushest and most resource-laden regions in Africa. The Alkugan people residing there, already relatively impoverished, have ceded their oil wells to the Bayelsa State Government[1], a stabilizing force for most of the Niger Delta and  the main employer of labor in the region. However, the loss of these oil wells has created a downturn in the economic health of the town, as state acquisition removes control of production and prices from the hands of it's residents.

Let's look at this hypothetically: Enter one concerned parish from outside of Madison, Wisconsin, who has begun fundraising for a relatively secular mission trip to the village. They will stay for one month, helping to fix up houses and dig new water wells for residents, while bringing food and blankets and providing some basic medical care. When they arrive, they find themselves extremely well-received. The townsfolk are grateful for their presence and the gifts they provide, and happily share their unique history and culture with the curious visitors. The Americans return home two weeks later, feeling worldly and fulfilled, certain that they have done a great service to the people they have met. This of course sounds lovely; certainly the Alkugans are healthier and more comfortable, and Wisconsonites can sleep soundly knowing that they have made the world a safer place.

It would be doing a disservice to many kindhearted, well-intentioned people to suggest that these practices are inherently wrong. I would like to state for the record that I believe charity and philanthropy are two principles that should valued above all others. These individuals serve an example not only of the compassion we should hold for our fellow citizens of Earth, but also of the motivation and willingness to sacrifice that is necessary if we are ever to see true change in the world around us. It is the incarnation of these beliefs into action that I find lacking effect, and the ramifications of their implementation most disturbing.

To return to our abstract, after the few weeks of cortege, life returns to normal for the habitué of our little village. Normal is not good. While technically under the protection of Bayelsa, armed gangs run most of the Delta, becoming de facto sovereign rulers as they embark on campaigns of arms dealing, human trafficking, and most importantly, bloody runs on state-owned oil operations (sometimes even holding prolonged control of wells and rigs.) These new localized "governments" seize any foreign aid that comes into the area, distributing it amongst their ranks. The petro-insurgencies then sell these products back to residents at a huge markup, using the subsequent cash to pay off local police. Despite the best efforts of aforementioned Americans, the future looks grim for those of the Kalabari. For all they have given, the situation has in fact been worsened as the armed militias see gain (both ideologically and financially) from the reclamation of ministration.

The United States is unfazed by (and often encouraging of) providing aid to countries that have (or have begun building) socialist markets and governance.

This should not be misconstrued as an attempt to cultivate positive relations with a nation of differing economic climate. There is a very clear subversive nature to these efforts. By fostering dependence on foreign aid, the hegemony is strengthened as the myth of benevolent capitalism sows distrust of local (democratically elected) socialist administrations. Free labor provided by thoughtful organizations sounds good at face, but we must remember what this does to the local economy. Despite being a capitalist effort, they cause ruin to trade by disenfranchising local business and end up displacing work that native peoples count on as much as any others to provide for their families. Here's a lighter look at the side effects of such charitable projects.

In addition, the US has a long history of arming groups such as those seen in Nigeria [2] and indeed the world over (See Nicaraguan Contra, Venezuelan Rebel Militia, Columbian counter-FARC etc.) While professedly pro-democracy, the past fifty years have seen legally elected reformist governments in Guatemala, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Syria, Indonesia (under Sukarno), Greece, Argentina, Bolivia and Haiti overthrown by US funded military groups. These criminal syndicates are (like any other) inherently capitalist. The capitalist state's action is not based on any sort of desire for bloodshed or organized racism. It is the system itself that it inherently violent and the american empire that is inherently racist. While not the elementary goal, the ensuing brutality and wars of attrition are coercive forces that weakens the faith in (and thus the power of) the social governments of targeted regions. It funnels resources (quite literally in the case of Nigerian oil wells) that should go towards infrastructure, industry, and the citizens themselves into fighting crime funded by the west.

We also need to look at the consequences of misinformed altruism in our own country.

Like the international efforts described above, there are often unseen (or at times hidden) repercussions of such efforts in your backyard. What must first be remembered is that the leading non-profits in America are nonetheless private organizations that pay out huge sums to their CEOs and chairpersons. James Mongan, owner of Partners HealthCare Systems in Boston takes home $4.3 million a year, including up to $2 million in bonuses (not to mention he pays a miniscule amount in taxes given the nature of his career.) We must remain vigilant in our oversight of such groups, and ever aware of their business practices beyond the arbitrary mission statement. Despite continued efforts of concerned residents, UPMC in Pittsburgh is still filed as a not-for-profit organization despite making a record-breaking $523 million in 2006, and refusing to heed the public's concerns when they routinely close inner-city clinics and move to wealthy suburbs. You can read more here about their pathetic attempts to justify not paying their employees a living wage.

This isn't to say that many can't do plenty of good for the community. But with the non-profit structure comes two unfortunate and unregulated ramifications. The first is easy moralism, and with that comes the threat of preceptive manipulation. Any outspoken critics of such a group can easily be branded as callous or even misanthropic, making any attempts to modulation difficult. Consecutively (much like we have seen abroad) the dependence created by such associations give them an easy platform for bending the less fortunate to their way of thinking. Churches may be the nonpareil model, often recruiting and gathering flocks by fomenting an idea of contingency among those they profess to be aiding. Secondly is the distinction between state and private magnanimity, namely, the political power that comes with these group's successes. Not only can they now afford to fund powerful lobby groups locally and in Washington, many lobbies themselves are registered not-for-profits! A popular patsy recently is The Salvation Army, who has donated huge amounts of funds to various "pro-marriage" (homophobic) groups. Despite the cheery demeanor of the bell-clanging Santa Claus outside your grocery store, they provided funds to other groups that openly endorsed Uganda's not-unfairly dubbed "Kill the Gays" bill, which would make homosexuality punishable by execution or life imprisonment.

Altruism's role as a placatory structure

The fundamental flaw I mentioned at the beginning of this entry stands true: These actions do not serve to benefit the individuals they claim to in a productive manner because they fail to address the factors that created the problems they claim to be solving. That is not to say that they are innately negative, or that they should not be performed, only that we need to take a more cohesive and critical look at the motivations behind them and should seek more constructive mechanisms for alleviating the ills we are tending to. True altruism is only possible when we are prepared to tackle the system that forges penury. We have been shown that America's capitalist statism's role as an empire is the undeniable culprit of said dissimilitudes.

They tolerate charity and indeed embrace it, as it keeps intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate masses busy while often servicing more nefarious purposes. It allows for subjugation by creating an illusion of social change.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

3rd Time's a Charm

I plan on beginning (again) with a series I'm calling "Placatory Structures of Capitalist Statism."

Let's first breakdown two phrases I will be using consistently throughout my blog:

State Capitalism
 can be described as an economic system in which commercial (for profit) economic markets and activity may be modified or controlled by the state, with management and organization of the means of production undertaken in a capitalist manner - even if the state is nominally socialist [1].
From this, we can induce that Capitalist Statism is a system in which social markets and activity may be modified or controlled by the capitalists, with management and organization of communal resources undertaken in a socialist manner - even if the state is nominally capitalist.

While perhaps not a perfect definitionthere is more than enough evidence to suggest that this is similar to the functionality of the U.S. for (at least) the past hundred years. Take for example, the "campaign contributions" made by J.P. Morgan Chase to the members of the last Senate Banking Committee:

                                    Source:Open SecretsZero Hedge

They are, of course, not even the worst offenders. Here is a handy list of officials from various administrations who also collected a PAYCHECK from various Fortune 500 Companies. 

You may need to zoom in on your browser to read this info-graphic more clearly

We are at a point in American history where profit motive has eclipsed the ethical obligations our legislators and other governmental officials have to their constituents and fellow citizens. The Capitalist Machine rolls ever onward, swallowing democracy in it's path. These people not only decide when and where our money goes to what, but are responsible for every policy made for our "protection" and posterity. 

The second phrase we should familiarize ourselves with is Placatory Structures. Let me be completely clear: I am in no way ever suggesting that Ben Bernanke and the Rothschilds sit down with the President and the unnamed head of Mainstream Media Inc. and plot ways to subvert the concerns of the population or in some way suppress revolutionary momentum. You will hear no such conspiracy nonsense from me at any point (in this series or this blog.) I pride myself on providing the reader only with fact from which they are free to draw their own conclusion, and building my arguments solely on quantifiable, empirical data. But the truth is that a market as large and diverse as ours functions in many ways like a living organism (or perhaps family of organisms,) that grows and evolves and develops mechanisms of self defense. It has grown so dense and exists in a ecosystem (the global financial environment) so lush, that it is growing increasingly adaptive, and much like a human body clones it's own proteins to attack infection, all of which are then excreted, neo-liberal capitalism has developed processes of assuaging the public's concerns and neutralizing any subsequent action by utilizing it's most inherent genetic functions.

Tentatively, the series will move as follows:

Series 1:Entry 1-The Myth of Altruism
Series 1:Entry 2-Following the Green in Green Industry
Series 1:Entry 3-A More (or Less) Tolerant World for Sale
Series 1:Entry 4-The Conspiracy Conspiracy
Series 1:Entry 5-Capitalism in Crisis?

Some of these I have selected for their timeliness and fleeting relevancy (provided I can get to writing them in time.) I have chosen to forgo many of the more obvious choices (the military-industrial complex, organized religion, the bipartisan model) so as not to begin quite so pedantic, in the understanding that most folks reading this will have already grasped the more deranged nature of these institutions, and so that I may explore them with greater depth later on.