As I've argued previously, the society we live in today strongly encourages us to reason meritocratically, and to embrace notions such as that your moral value depends on whether and how highly others value you. In extreme cases, this can include dismissing people and their needs wholesale (such as when we categorize the other as our property, or as a pest or monster). Now as I see it, Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have made compelling cases that both this way of thinking, and the accompanying conviction that it's okay to employ violence to "put people in their place," or to realize a desired outcome, have to be actively taught, as they aren't very intuitive; and that even though most people alive today think this way, in our better moments we will still strive to embody egalitarianism and respect for all life -- which also happens to be the only stance that is consistent with the notion that equal needs merit equal consideration (as the alternative will always mean at least some people are being treated as means). And there is quite compelling archaeological and anthropological evidence suggesting that hierarchical organizational forms are a relatively recent development, after a long period in which humans organized themselves along fairly egalitarian (if violent) lines.
Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already done a lot to analyze and explain the rise of neoliberalism. Both agree that it should primarily be understood as a political project, aimed at discouraging, and keeping 'ordinary' people from participating in politics, after the events of the 1960s.* But where Harvey's account of the start of the counterrevolution only includes the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". He notes, describing the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy:
This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.
In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin convincingly argues that a large part of what drives reactionaries is the desire to silence and repress (or, in academese: deny voice to) others, who they call or consider inferiors. This partly from a strong belief that their putative inferiors have no right to speak (or to be heard), partly from a fear that loss of personal status if the latter are heard or successfully organize themselves; and partly from a conviction that society can only function properly when everyone 'knows their place'. I found Robin's explanation intuitive and thought-provoking, and it led me to wonder what the analogous desire and world-view were of those who the media refer to as 'the (center-)left' (called liberals in the US, liberal or social democrats elsewhere), given that I knew that the overwhelming majority of in no way subscribe to the ("radical") egalitarianism, inclusiveness and solidarity that I take as central to leftism.
For decades, we've been hearing how everyone should 'take responsibility for their actions,' and that we are each responsible for our 'success' (or lack thereof). And because this is obviously pretty glib, it's fostered a kind of reflexive denial in others. As such, we seem to me stuck in a false dichotomy, which leads us us to ignore a very important point. Namely, that we are actively socialized not to take responsibility for our actions, and not to apply our values, for a large part of our lives. Namely, when we perform institutional roles, especially but not limited to when we do 'our jobs.' And that seems to me a pretty important omission, given the amount of time we spend acting out such roles (aside from 'worker', 'boss' or 'manager', also 'student', 'teacher', 'parent' and so on), because of how influential those institutions are, and because what we do while working for institutions tends to affect how we think and act 'privately'.*
Some thoughts on "How to Turn Litter into Money": Linking Promises, Money and Violence
Reintegrating the dismal science
There are a number of ways to explain what money is, and what it allows us to do. Sadly, the "origin story" that we were all taught in school is a very misleading morality tale, in which exchange of goods is presented as a wholly separate sphere of life. Supposedly, humans were stuck with a so-called "barter economy" until they invented money. This is a complete fairy tale, and this matters a great deal.
Veganism, and "so long as we accept violence in any form, we accept violence in every form"
As I've explained elsewhere, pretty much everyone is taught how to systematically devalue the equal needs of (at least some) others. By the time we reach adulthood, this 'skill', and the meritocratic moral logic that undergirds it, are deeply rooted, though people obviously differ greatly in how broadly they apply this logic. As such, few of us manage to (completely) ignore the many distractions (skin color, nationality, gender, ethnicity, intellectual ability, wealth, mannerisms, religious affiliation, and so on) we are taught to care about, and to embody the kind of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and solidarity that, abstractly, nearly all of us know is appropriate (and required). The question I want to talk about here is how this relates to our stance on the use and killing of other animals, and how our thinking about the other animals as inferior affects how we think about how we may treat and view other humans.
On the need for ideological control (and debt peonage) in democratic societies
Until 2008, I had mostly ignored economics as an area of study, as the subject bored me, and I found the mindset too unpleasant. The 2008 financial crisis made me realize that was a mistake, however: economic policy couldn't be left to experts. But where to start reading?
Since I figured I should avoid economics textbooks, I did the next-most responsible thing: I started reading the serious and specialist media, paying particular attention to how critics explained matters. Most of their explanations struck me as unconvincing for the same reason, though, as they said little about the role played by elite fraud and grifting, even though it was perfectly obvious that the run-up as well as the "rescue" were wildly profitable to the already-rich. And I'd already noticed that the media carefully avoided making an issue out of the perfectly blatant grifting that was going on in the context of the invasion and "rebuilding" of Iraq and Afghanistan. So I broadened my search until I encountered Naked Capitalism, and shortly after that David Harvey's work.
Life under Meritocracy -- embodied edition
I am a dutch white guy with a lower middle class background, among the first in the family to go to uni, and with an extended family that strongly encouraged me to embrace petit-bourgeois (Calvinist) cultural values and aspirations, in a society that does the same. As a youth, I encountered few positive role models or like-minded folks, while I got lots of confirmation that I was different, which I didn't know what to do with. Due to social awkwardness, some early bullying and the like, and because I equated social status, likability and attractiveness, I also long doubted both my general likability and physical attractiveness. This gave me the freedom to not care much about people's appearance beyond basic hygiene, as I saw these as facts of life for everyone.
Nonviolent Communication -- an introduction
A large part of the reason I started this blog is to introduce others to Marshall Rosenberg's nonviolent communication. I ran into his work about a half-decade ago, shortly after going vegan. It resonated with me very strongly, because he and his work showed me not just why it is so easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone's needs have equal value, but also how we can learn to listen for and express what's alive in ourselves and in others, and how to separate the strategies we come up with to meet our needs from the needs that we try to meet that way, and to always focus on the latter. Briefly put, NVC showed me how language enables and reinforces domination structures and inequality, both inside our heads, and in the societies we produce through our actions.
Remarks on the Game of Thrones ending
(Note: this post probably won't be interesting to people who haven't read (part of) ASOIAF and watched most of Game of Thrones. Before reading this, please first watch Ellis's video. :) )
Visitors to this blog might wonder as to why I'm posting about this show. Obviously, this whole universe is miles away from the kind of egalitarian solidarity I espouse. But what I find interesting about it was how enthusiastically and uncritically this show was embraced, given how reactionary this universe is, with the partial exception of Daenerys and those she converts to her cause, what with the mass of the population mostly counting for nothing, being trod underfoot by elites who go about their business. The fact that most (re)viewers don't comment on the politics of it all disturbs me, as even Ellis (who -- to her credit -- at least makes the politics a topic of discussion, and has done so in the past with other shows, even if her expressed opinions are very safely liberal) is either unwilling or afraid (for reasons of branding, monetization or sponsoring?) only calls it out the ending for being lame writing (which it was), without pointing out that this is par for the course when it comes to "entertainment".