Friday, September 25, 2009

Star Trek Fridays: The New Trek and Nerd Insularity

Okay, instead of another classic TOS episode, I wanted to post one of my favorite recent gags from The Onion:



I still crack up every time I watch it. Besides being quite hilarious, it also hits the mark pretty well. Now, I'm a pretty unabashed nerd and I love Star Trek with pretty much every fiber of my being. But, I think this Onion piece pretty well captured the ridiculousness of some of the opposition to the new flick. Now, discussion of nerd conflict and insularity in general is pretty tired, and even moreso when it's an attack or defense of the Star Trek franchise (and especially the new flick), so I won't get into it. Any quick Google search can take you into the thick of the horrors that such a discussion entails, so I'll just leave well enough alone.

Anyways, hope that made you chuckle and have a great weekend!

Human Sexual Response - Fig. 14


I dug this one out of the archives to rip and upload for general enjoyment this weekend. Boston's very own Human Sexual Response and their debut album, Fig. 14. These guys had some controversy with playing an explicit song on television or something (which you can read about at the Wiki article), but I'm mostly familiar with them since members of the band later played with guys like Bob Mould and Frank Black. So, that's pretty cool.

Anyways, this particular album is long out of print, and even the band compilation which collected this album along with other cuts from the group is longer being manufactures (and used copies don't appear to be cheap), so for anyone who doesn't wanna drop lots of cash money on out of print cds, I just ripped a copy of this excellent 1980 New Wave/Post-Punk release for your listening pleasure (and mine). You have two flavors to choose from:

FLAC (Level 8)
or
MP3 (-0 VBR)

Enjoy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Atheism & the Public Sphere



Not that there's a shortage of discussion on this subject, but occasionally (well, okay, regularly) I'm reminded that I'm part of pretty disliked minority in America - the atheist. Why do I say this is a disliked group? Well... let's start with the opinion some have that atheists aren't fully human (upshot: we're probably actually robots). I'm going to go through a few recent articles and studies which, unfortunately, mostly speak for themselves.

1. Intolerance for atheists in the United States is strong. In a recent study, it was found that an astonishing 61% of Americans believe "moving away from God" is at the root of our social ills. 31% of this country would be characterized as "Religious Traditionalists," and of that group, over 40% favor denying non-believers political rights. James Gibson, the author of the study, warns that these findings suggest that atheist would do well to reconsider revealing their lack of belief in the public sphere.*

*This is especially insane when we consider some of the United States' demographics. This YouTube video is actually pretty illustrative here:



This, unfortunately, jives with other information we already know (for example: that the American electorate would never vote for an atheist as president). In some states, it's actually technically illegal for an atheist to hold public office (despite a 1961 Supreme Court ruling declaring such requirements unconstitutional).

I don't want to overstate the case and claim that, as a nonbeliever, I'm about to be rounded up and put into a labor camp or something, but for a lot of Americans tolerance of non-belief isn't even in the realm of possibilities - outright hostility is the norm. And even for those that don't actually advocate taking away my rights (such as they are), a strong majority of Americans think that those that think as I do are the primary cause of America's social problems. Which brings us to my next point.

2. Atheists are blamed for pretty much anything. Don't think that's true? Well, apparently atheists are responsible for global warming. Also, teaching evolution in schools leads to eugenics, abortion and racism. Advocating for godless evolution is so bad that concerted efforts have to be made to keep a film about Charles Darwin from premiering in the United States (never mind that 1 in 3 Americans don't understand Darwin's link to evolution anyways). These are just a few recent examples in a culture in which the majority believes that atheists are at the root of our social problems. So, in a culture where people advocate taking your rights away and blame you for eugenics, what can an atheist do?

3. Atheists are usually told to shut up and not speak their mind. In the study discussed in point #1, the conclusion reached was that atheists need to be very, very careful with who they reveal their non-beliefs to. This is a rather kinder and more sympathetic version of a mantra that seems to be all over the popular discussion of the issue: that atheists need to pipe down. Without getting into the real fringy stuff, a fairly mainstream and non-evangelic type complains about the "aggressive" and "tedious" New Atheists represented by Richard Dawkins et al. Of course, this is an example of the position that most in Western society subscribe to: that evangelizing on behalf of religion is acceptable in the public sphere while advocating against religion in the public sphere is still taboo. And let's not make any mistake here: this isn't about railing against anyone's beliefs in the private sphere. By definition, if your beliefs are truly relegated to that realm then no one would have any idea what they are. No, if your religion is affixed to your sleeve and and you bring it into the realm of open discourse then it is absolutely a a valid subject of critique. As an atheist, I have never been afforded the courtesy (one that I don't want anyways, as I'm comfortable defending my position from so-called critiques) of immunity from public criticism. No attempt to respect my positions or comfort level in the public sphere has ever been afforded and, quite frankly, it shouldn't be. Once a position is in the realm of the public, the public has a right to interact and dissect that opinion.

The real offense these New Atheists commit isn't a "tedious" position, but instead daring to challenge the accepted social order of what constitutes valid public discussion. For those claiming that this is a uniquely American problem, look at the UN's Anti-Blasphemy Resolution to see how pervasive the idea is that religious belief deserves special protection from criticism in the public sphere. While some countries are more comfortable with the idea of criticizing particular religious institutions, it is rare that you find open discourse critical of religious belief itself. Even in secularized Western Europe (who are so enlightened they tire of uppity atheists from America and seek to repress religious freedoms in public), the notion that no one has a right to be critical of another's personally held beliefs seems to hold sway. I would, again, argue that whatever beliefs enter the public sphere are open grounds for critique (merciless critique, if necessary). By definition (and I can't stress this enough, hence repeating this point several times), if we know what one's beliefs are, they have entered the public sphere.

As a side note, I would argue that (Western) Europe has dealt with religion exactly backwards: using state power to curtail freedoms while at the same time discouraging open discourse. This manages to combine the worst of intolerance for public discourse with the heavy handedness of institutionally-driven "solutions." So, kudos on that one Europe.

No, my concerns with how people treat atheism is twofold: a) while debate and critique is welcome (as I'm pretty sure I'm in the right anyways), disingenuous and anti-intellectual rhetoric seems to be the normal response as opposed to rigorous, logical opposition; and, b) the power dynamic is slanted such that criticism of atheism is normalized and accepted while the opposite is discouraged. Paul Fidalgo is helpful here, illustrating the climate that we live in:
Truly? Not only do we not have the right to criticize people's claims about the nature of existence or their treatment of human beings under the auspices of revealed dogmas, but even a hero of the fact-loving left is telling us that we can't even think that someone is off their rocker if they believe in reincarnation, the societal benefits of genital mutilation, transubstantiation, winged horses, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Maddow almost certainly did not intend her remark to be taken to the lengths to which I am now pushing it, but it remains indicative of a mindset that places beliefs that deal in the supernatural as off-limits to anything but the most neutered analysis.
and
[...] I feel there is a soft self-censorship implied here that is indicative of my larger complaint. (I don't mean the following as a beating-up on Beers any more than I mean to beat up on Maddow, which is precisely not at all.) Because I think it is about proving people wrong. Otherwise, are we as nonbelievers, rationalists, and secularists not simply sitting in a circle, merely agreeing with each other over coffee and bagels? "Challenging others" is an important and noble goal, but if we have ruled out persuasion, what is the purpose of challenging beliefs? To what end?
Somewhat dubious usage of the term "political correctness" towards the beginning of the article aside (a post for another day), the entire article does an excellent job explaining the problem the sensitivity towards "offense" that atheists have to deal with in public discourse, and the lack of allies from anywhere when it comes to combating this attitude.

So, in the end, we're left with a few realities and goals. First, that atheists are considered wretched scum and villainy here in the United States, and the cause of social decay in general as well as global warming, racisim, and anything else you can think of. Second, the reality of this climate is that we're probably safer to speak out against religious belief little and communicate our own stances even less. Third, that there is a pervasive stance among most political stripes that, while discussion and evangelizing on the behalf of religious belief is tolerated and even encouraged in the public sphere, the same allowance is not afforded for non-belief. Fourth, if the public sphere is to afford religion and religious belief its spot outside of the private, then atheism deserves the same courtesy. To do otherwise would negate the point of talking about atheism, which is to encourage a commitment to rationality in the public sphere. If atheists are not "allowed" this, if they are ridiculed as coarse and tedious when they attempt to seize the same rights and privileges that the religious are afforded, then the point of public discourse is lost, in favor of some mealy-mouthed commitment to shielding others from offense and a disingenuous pseudo-tolerance for belief.

To close, for my own amusement, I'll leave on the delightful insanity of Victoria Jackson:

If that doesn’t reek of Daniel 3:6 and Revelation 13:15 I don’t know what does! 

Communists do not allow Bibles.  When I was a child, my Dad was writing a check to an organization that smuggled Bibles into Russia.   I said, “Why do they have to sneak Bibles?”  Dad said, “They’re Communist.” 

Atheists do not like Bibles. 

All decisions and most political issues all come down to whether you are FOR GOD or AGAINST GOD. 

The reason Liberals-Communists-Atheists don’t like Bibles is because they do not want the competition.  “No man can serve two masters…”  Matthew 6:24  You cannot worship God and the State.  You must choose one.
Remember: The current social climate holds that it would be wrong for us to criticize these beliefs, since it might make Victoria Jackson feel uncomfortable.

Further Reading:

-Made by Mammals (for the groovy graphic)
-Research on Political Tolerance "Ominous" for Atheist Americans by Paul Fidalgo
-...Obviously by Ricky Gervais

For a Lot More Further Reading:

-The Secular Web Library
-Historical Writings @ Positive Atheism
-Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker*
-Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett*
-Freethought Radio @ Freedom From Religion Foundation*

Addendum: Looking over this post (which I worked on in a few different sittings), my intent definitely changed from the beginning of the post to the end. Originally, I mostly just wanted to complain about how atheists are treated in America, but by the end I think I hit upon a more interesting - but interconnected issue - conduct in the Public Sphere. While it's obviously all tied together, I think that perhaps breaking out a public versus private sphere discussion would be fruitful for a future post. Just a thought.

*Addendum II: I mostly included free articles or online libraries for further reading, but thanks to Hayden for suggesting these books for additional reading. I've read the latter (which is excellent), and will definitely be checking out the former. So, if y'all have any other books or articles that you would recommend, let me know and I'll add them here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Star Trek Fridays: The Trouble with Environmentalism

Well, not really trouble for me, but apparently it was for Paramount when "The Trouble with Tribbles" was being made. Originally, writer David Gerrold was trying to craft a story on ecological devastation caused by removing a critter from its natural habitat. At it went through rewrites, the story became about a whodunnit plot and the devastation the tribbles represented took a back seat to a comedy story. Now, I'm not complaining: "The Trouble with Tribbles" is one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time. But, it's worth keeping in the back of your mind where the story originally came from as you're watching. And since it's turning into kind of a crappy day weather-wise around these parts, what could be better than battening the hatches and watching this classic episode of Star Trek?

TOS, 2x14: The Trouble with Tribbles


Not much more to say, today. Environmental politics is an area you can probably expect a post from me on in the future, but for now just enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Iggy and the Stooges - Raw Power [Original Mix]


Howdy all,

Taking a short break from the political to bring a music download. For those not in the know, Iggy Pop is one of my favorite musicians and his landmark third album with The Stooges, Raw Power, is generally considered the blueprint for Punk Rock. Released in 1973, it anticipated all the fury and anger that would come with Punk in the mid-70's.

Anyways, the album has sort of a storied history in terms of mixing. Originally, Iggy set about to mix the album (some of these leaked early mixes are available as the album Rough Power), but David Bowie ended up taking over the project and did the final mixes of the album that Columbia ended up pressing. Many, Iggy Pop among them, were dissatisfied with this mix and talks of a remix which would reclaim the "real" Raw Power continued for years. In 1997, Columbia was planning on a remix and reissue of the album and asked Iggy Pop to handle the new mix. He did and, well, the results were - at best - mixed.*

*GET IT?!

The new album, as Iggy himself proudly proclaims, is mixed entirely in the red which creates one horrible block on the audio spectrum. You can see a pretty good demonstration of the results of the new mix of Raw Power here. Needless to say, the final result was a really, really loud album that totally cut away all the nuance of the original release and led to lots of digital distortion. Even I, not exactly an audiophile, noticed.

But here is the tragedy of this woeful tale: with the remix released the original Bowie mix went out of print. Alas for those interested in something that sounds good, not just loud. Luckily, after close to a decade Columbia repressed the original mix of the album on vinyl and (with the Columbia pressing out of print), a Sundazed pressing (they had already reissued the first two Stooges albums on vinyl) followed in 2008.

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is my own rip of the original mix of Raw Power from the Sundazed reissue, made available since - as of this post - the only version of the album available on compact disc or digitally is still the 1997 Iggy Pop mix.

EDIT: Downloads removed. See latest update for more.


EDIT (10/19/09): It's been brought to my attention that the FLAC and MP3 links are down. They seem to have been removed from my Mediafire account, possibly by me accidentally (I was doing some housecleaning recently). In any case, I no longer have the FLAC files handy but I re-upped the MP3 album onto a different file hosting site, so hopefully this will work for a while.

EDIT (04/13/10): When I posted this rip, the original mix of this album wasn't circulating readily on blogs or public torrent sites and wasn't legally available in digital form. As of this week, the original mix of Raw Power has been reissued on CD and from iTunes. I highly recommend everyone purchasing a legitimate copy of this classic album, either on the previously mentioned formats or the still-available Sundazed vinyl.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

RIP Jim Carroll

Jim Carroll, one of the great punk poets, passed away last Friday at the age of 60.

These videos speak for themselves:





RIP.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Note from the Management

I suppose I should have mentioned that my good friend Gene has been added to the roster of contributors here. Well, he has, and the post below is his. There's no set schedule or distribution of duties or anything like that, I just wanted to provide him a place to post whatever he feels like that might not fit into his own quite excellent music blog.

So, yeah, welcome aboard Gene!

Happiness is a Warm Gun

Hello, I'm Gene, and I've been invited to blog here by your friendly blogmaster Kevin. I'm an anarchist (I sometimes identify as voluntaryist or mutualist so as not to frighten the layman) of the left-libertarian persuasion, so I combine libertarian or market anarchist analysis with more traditionally left-wing concerns. I'm a former Marxist and former anarcho-communist, so I'm also kind of an outsider to typical libertarian culture. I take much of my political inspiration from the orientation represented at the Center for a Stateless Society, but I also draw on other sources. My philosophical tastes run toward Buber, Siddhartha, Chuang Tzu, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, so you won't see me using the self-ownership axiom nor do I only engage in strict deontic arguments. I'm in favor of individualist anarchists and social anarchists working together and exchanging views. While I do exclude certain anarcho-capitalists as allies (due to racism, monarchism, or other tendencies that cut against the grain of anarchism), I think, contra Iain McKay's Anarchist FAQ, that market anarchism is just as legitimate an approach to anarchy as anarcho-communism.

Allons-y!

The following thoughts about gun control and libertarian gun culture were brought on by discussion about this link:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0911/p02s15-usgn.html

From the article:

But the interests of the gun industry aren't always the same as those of civil libertarians, many of whom are gun owners, says Mr. Patrick. The issue of police militarization is of particular concern, he says. "There's been a sort of creeping sociological phenomenon out there, where people are wondering, 'How many guns do the police need?'"

One might also wonder: how many guns does a private citizen need?

So how do we respond to the question of private ownership of weapons? We can talk of reducing aggregate violence in society, but there are two kinds of violence, private and state, where state use of violence is always presumed legitimate. Importantly, though, because state violence is seen as legitimate, it is moreover used to suppress private violence. People define state violence out of aggregate violence. So when it comes to gun ownership, advocates of gun control believe in using state force (violence and threat of violence) to reduce aggregate violence. The assumption is that guns in private hands are more apt to be used in an immoral way.

My problems here are that
  1. state violence is by far the more routine of the two by virtue of its very acceptability in statist society,
  2. in gun control you rarely see a concurrent move to decommission the state—even if we concede legitimacy to police and military gun ownership, if civilians are totally disarmed, why should the police remain thus armed so heavily?
  3. using the more routine form of violence to suppress the other is itself a routine moral calculation that I do not believe is seriously questioned,
  4. that moral calculation ought to be questioned in light of the history of the state, especially in the 20th century where the state acquired a much greater ability to apply violence to such a degree that it absolutely dwarfs the private capacity for violence, and where concomitantly the state has engaged in the worst atrocities in human history.

The combined result of an increase in state and individual amassing of weapons may be the same—the valorization of violence in society and the perpetuation of the Hobbesian culture of fear—but I don't think each element, taken on its own, implies the same result. Furthermore, I question whether reducing private capacity for violence by means of state violence entails the result (reduced aggregate violence) desired if one includes state violence as part of aggregate violence in light of the four points I mention above.

At the same time, I question the libertarian gun culture. For the layman, libertarianism and gun ownership are rather synonymous. Yet while valorizing guns we still talk of peaceful association, voluntary order, and mutual aid. Why emphasize guns at all and not those places where we differ most strongly from the state? Yes, it's possible that they may provide a check against state encroachment, but as time passes and the United States government grows more and more powerful domestically while not totally disarming the populace, I begin to think this an unwarranted assumption. The fact is, the state has a far greater capacity for violence—insurrection would not accomplish much. Justin Raimondo recently wrote an article on this very subject:
http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/index.php/2009/09/03/guns-and-roses/

The irony of this supposedly “radical” tendency is that they don’t take their own rhetoric all that seriously. On the one hand, we are told that the State is evil, a vicious monster capable of the most heinous crimes imaginable—and yet the lightness with which they take this threat tells a different story. They don’t really believe the State is going to retaliate, at least not in a way that will cause them harm any more serious than spending the night in jail. They really believe they can stand up to the Leviathan, that they can “go Galt,” as they put it, and withdraw from “the system.”

The utopianism and revolutionism of the FSP-ers are inextricably intertwined: Both underscore the essential naivete of a strategy that underplays the real power and evil of the State apparatus they disdain. Such a mistake could be fatal to those who make it, and surely fatal to the libertarian movement if it should ever become widespread.

The power grab has continued unabated and gun ownership has not stopped it. The cool response by the government to these libertarian stunts is not because the government fears such people. Sure, they've been put on the watchlist—any growing anti-authoritarian tendency is of concern to the state—but not as a threat to power itself. The most they fear is assassination. While that does have disrupting effects, there are mechanisms in place to keep the state functioning. No prior instance of political assassination in the United States, even of Presidents, has resulted in the toppling of the government. You can't assassinate a structure. You can't assassinate a state of mind. That's just what the state is—a philosophical-psychological condition. It retains a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given territory, but that monopoly and its legitimacy are not maintained by force but by acquiescence. As Étienne de La Boétie observed, a king is just another man if he is not obeyed.

What purpose does the emphasis on guns in libertarianism serve? For many, I suspect, it's to maintain a rebellious aspect. It's about image, just as it is with the Marxist who raises a gun in defiance. There's still more to the issue, though. I grant the legitimacy of self-defense and deny any duty to obey the state whether it comes to surrendering weapons or filling out a census. Yet I doubt the idea that gun ownership has provided any check on the state—in the age of the neutron bomb, the bunker buster, and the multiple kill vehicle, what can a rifle do? Even if you have a hundred individuals like Simo Häyhä, the state has shown no compunction against using extreme force to destroy an enemy. Besides the implausible idea of a check on the state, gun proponents often speak of defense against other individuals. Again, I grant the legitimacy of self-defense, but are we not the group promoting the idea that society (as separate from the state) is a predominately peaceful affair of spontaneously ordered cooperation? I understand keeping a weapon for defense against home invasion—that's an individual's right, no question—but to carry guns full time? Where is the faith in peaceful spontaneous order there?

Furthermore, the state itself is sustained by a fear of violence. Much of the justification of the state for most people rests on implicit or explicit Hobbesianism (by that I mean the idea that in a state of nature we naturally war against each other rather than cooperate). The state creates a perceived state of emergency such that without it, all would go to hell. Yet this immediately raises the prospect of the state's penetration into society. The state cannot be everywhere at once, even if we want it to be, so if we are naturally more rapacious than not, why should we relinquish our fear? Sure, it might be better with than without, a statist might think, but we're still basically in a condition of emergency. The thin layer of civilization provided by the state isn't ever-present and moreover not inherently stable. Also, the state often promotes the idea of its powerlessness as a ploy for gaining more power. Rather than reducing fear and thus the amount of violent response in society, the state increases it intentionally as a means of legitimization and garnering of extra power (for a case study, see the Patriot Act). I believe some libertarians implicitly buy into this Hobbesian paranoia and even contribute to it.

Well, enough kvetching, you might say, what do you propose instead? Well, I believe we must build the new society in the shell of the old as the Wobbly slogan goes. Concentrate not on violently confronting the state, but on avoiding it. Whether through countereconomics as recommended by agorism or through the program suggested by Kevin Carson or both, we need to build our anarchist society now. We can start by providing mutual aid and work our way up to more difficult tasks. We can also treat one another in a more anarchistic way, eschewing coercion and hierarchy and promoting in Buber's terms an I-Thou relationship. Yet still we must confront the state somehow. What means are available to us? I believe the time of the gun as a check on power has passed, and the time when it would be useful in resistance is not yet here—and even if it were, such violence is undesirable. Since the state rests on fear and on acquiescence, we must attack it there, first by combating Hobbesian paranoia and the culture of fear by emphasizing free association and spontaneous order rather than violence, and secondly by means of nonviolent resistance—satyagraha. For the latter, I direct the reader to this superb essay in two parts by Carl Watner, "Without Firing A Single Shot":

http://www.voluntaryist.com/forthcoming/withoutfiringashot.php
http://www.voluntaryist.com/forthcoming/withoutfiringashot2.php


(This article, like all those on Complete Control, may be subject to further editing for clarity. Fnord.)



ADDENDUM: I should also note that even though I believe self-defense is legitimate, I believe it to be tightly constrained by proportionality. For this reason I completely reject the flagpole scenario of Walter Block and other libertarians of that stripe. I also think that nonviolence is often advised even in cases where self-defense is permitted. For that reason I sometimes refer to myself as a pacifist, though not an absolutist one.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Star Trek Fridays: A Taste of Biopower

I'm gonna try out a new feature here at Complete Control: Star Trek Fridays. Every Friday, I'll post some kind of Star Trek related thing. It may just be a link to a good episode or clip on YouTube, or some tidbit about Star Trek in pop culture or the sciences or whatever. That said, I definitely have an in-depth post on Star Trek and anarchy coming down the pipe, so that should surface one of these days. But, hey, let's get it started by watching a favorite episode of mine from the Original Series:

TOS, 1x23, A Taste of Armageddon

Okay, well, in some ways this isn't what we'd call a "great" episode in the classic sense, mostly because some of the technological concepts are a bit on the crazy side, even for Star Trek. But I think as a study in the power of the state it's somewhat informative. Here we have two civilizations with no outward show of punitive force to keep people in line (literally in line in this case, standing in lines to be murdered by their government), but they enact policies hostile to life under the guise of humanitarianism and the pursuit of making some live. With the kind of technology techniques at the disposal of the alien race in this episode, it functions as an excellent example of Foucault's biopower. And there's more than a whiff of Huxley here too, with the controlling nature of the state not found in 2-minute hates but in the pursuit of empty luxury and stability.

A pretty cool episode, I think.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On State Control

So, this is (slightly) old news but I think it's worth bringing up here. In the United Kingdom, the government is planning on spying on families with 24-hour surveillance to ensure that they're raising their kids appropriately. This is - to borrow and paraphrase a friend's observation - a sort of amalgamation of Orwell, Huxley and Foucault. The government will also be creating their own private army of inspectors to carry out random inspections of homes under this program. Jesus.

Okay, it's pretty obvious how I feel about this sort of state action - it's fairly appalling. Even people a lot more sympathetic to the necessity of the state to "keep the rabble in line" (as they say) should be fairly disconcerted with these latest actions. And, well, some are. But not nearly enough people are. There should be uniform outrage over these kinds of government programs and - granted, I don't live in the country - I'm not getting a sense of it.

Look, it sounds like the people under the jurisdiction of this surveillance program are pretty lousy parents. I don't pretend to know or understand every single factor that went into why there are people doing such a poor job raising their children that it would lead to a general sense that the state SHOULD be intervening. I will just say that, as part of the human condition, folks generally tend to take advantage of opportunities put in place for them. In this case, the pervasive welfare apparatus of the U.K. incentivizes people to not work and collect benefits through state programs. I don't blame the people for doing this - it's an utterly rational response to a system designed to force individuals to become dependent on the state for their lives. So, we marginalize the poor (through regressive laws that punish certain behaviors and create cushions for the already privileged. A law professor of mine was fond of the quote "[t]he law, in its majesty and equality, makes equal to both the poor and rich the crime of sleeping under a bridge"), create systems that paradoxically force them into a situation where it's both eminently rational to continue being poor (to receive state benefits) while punishing them from being in a condition to use those programs. Now, I don't want this to sound like a "the poor are lazy" position or anything like that (or, alternatively, a "every single person who is poor is 100% a victim and no one is responsible at all for their conditions" type position), but it's worth noting - since this is a post on how state power works - that the state already has fairly sophisticated systems for marginalizing people and keeping them marginalized - usually under the auspices of being compassionate and enlightened.

All that out of the way, wherever one comes down on the issue of how things got to this point, the more critical issue at hand is whether or not a state program of 24 hour surveillance is appropriate or not. As in, appropriate when considering that we don't want our society to wither away and die. The conclusion that should coming screaming to your brain is: no. Not it is not. Foucault can be very helpful here. His concept of Biopower is illustrative of the dangers states represent these days, and why programs like these need to be resisted at all costs.

The concept of Biopower is, at its most basic, that methods of control have developed through technology to the point where the state is now capable of control at previously unimagined levels of breadth (i.e. entire populations) and depth (i.e. state control penetrates to your very body). Foucault referred to this as the poles of discipline and regulatory controls. These are changes in control brought out by the emergence of the modern state, modern capitalism, etc.

The key to all this is to understand the break in control methodology from the past. So far, we've identified the spheres of control that the state now shows interest (I would generally expand the definition of state to include a sort of state-corporate axis of power), but not the essential break from the past. That's the change in the state from ruling through threat of death to the levying of protection to portions of the population. The parlance I learned it as is: the state shifted from deciding who dies and thus allowing some to live to deciding who lives and this allowing others to die (AIDs victims, for example).* This is a much more subtle and pervasive form of control - on the surface much more of Huxley than Orwell - and it's much less likely to be challenged than the older, more brutal methods of control.

*In an interesting twist, a recent spinoff of the concept of Biopolitics is the notion of Necropolitics which actually reverses the decide live/let die trend again, but with the controlling apparatus of breadth and depth already in place. It's no mistake that this is a concept developed in Africa, home of some of the most brutal states on the planet right now. I'll have a link to a paper on Necropolitics at the bottom of this post.

So, under the guise of humanitarianism, the state is able to extend its power over its subjects. The textbook example of biopower in action here in the United States is the government's involvement in abortion. Abortion laws are about the mass control of the bodies of the entire female population, with the state being able to levy its power against the reproductive organs of females.

In the UK, now, we have an example of the government rolling out a program of Big Brother-like proportions where rewards and punishment are doled out based on the health of a child's body and what substances you may or may not have in your own. This is the final cutting away of any personal sphere that the state doesn't have jurisdiction over. And if people who read this think that it will stop at "only" the 20,000 or so families targeted right now... they need to keep in mind the nature of state power, which is to continue growing itself.

That's why this kind of stuff is insidious, that's why it's wrong. It isn't just about what happens to one group of people, it's about redefining what parts of you - your actual physical body - that the state has controlling jurisdiction of. This may be happening overseas right now, but none of us should be foolish enough to this this trend isn't starting here at home too.

Maybe soma holidays aren't so bad.

Further reading:

-From Biopower to Biopolitics by Maurizio Lazzarato
-Necropolitics by Achille Mbembe

Addendum: This is definitely a post you'll be seeing direct sequels to, so consider this "part one of an ongoing series." And, of course, any post that relates to the state and government policy is intimately related to this post, so there will be many indirect sequels. So, yeah, don't think this is the alpha and the omega of my thoughts on state power.

On Health Care

So, obviously the big issue of the day (month, year, etc.) is health care. I'll preface this post by stating that I have a few different views of how I see health care and the health care debate:

1. We can do a "realist" analysis where we limit our expectations on what can actually get done and judge health care based on that. Taking into account the kind of dollars that flow from Big Pharma and the insurance industry into the coffers of Congress (yes, Little Timmy, into the warchests of Democrats too) helps us stake out what we think might actually get accomplished. In the end, this is more or less where I'll fall in terms of whether I consider what ends up getting passed as a net gain or not.

2. That said, it still behooves us to seriously consider what it would actually take to "fix" health care. I don't think of this as dreamy pie-in-the-sky nonsense but, instead, the kind of analysis we all need to be doing on this and any other number of issues. Then, we can analyze the "realist" alternatives and pick the one that at least begins to get us traveling down the road to real solutions to the problem at hand.

3. In terms of opposition to Obama's plan, while I have a number of reservations about it and may ultimately not support it, let's call a spade a spade: most of the vocal opposition to the plan has been utterly nuts. This does terrible damage in a few ways: a) It makes opposition to health care reform look ridiculous in general, b) it further marginalizes honest opposition and criticism of the Obama Health Plan (or its variants), c) in marginalizing those criticisms, it seriously cripples the chances of actual, constructive input being given to help make the health care reform bill better - or at least less bad. While it shouldn't be surprising to anyone who pays any attention at all to politics, the health care debate has obviously been dominated by a team-first oriented approach and, especially in the case of the opposition, tactics of pure obstructionism. It's not surprising in the least, but it's still disappointing and it's hurting this country.

4. I have no interest in debating whether Obama is good or evil or thinks he's doing right or wrong. I supported him in his election bid and I believe he generally thinks he's pursuing policy that will help most Americans. To me, most of issues here are institutionally grounded and playing musical chairs with leadership wouldn't be too helpful anyways.

Okay, those bits are out of the way and point #3 was a bit longer since I don't plan on revisiting crazy claims about Death Panels and all that - mainstream Dems have to spend enough time countering that stuff so there's no point in rehashing the more insane criticisms here. Moving on.

Let's start by laying down some framework for what we're talking about. We can generally discuss health care reform by reading about it, to there isn't really any reason not have a basic grasp of what's being proposed.

So, in a nutshell, the plan is to tighten up some regulations on insurance providers making it harder for them to kick your coverage due to pre-existing conditions and to force some increases in who private insurers can cover. Fine, I guess. Unlike some of my fellows, I still think the plan outlines by Obama will make things a bit better than they are now, especially if some sort of "public option" is developed. However, even the sort of public option envisioned by Obama et al. is no great shakes - just something akin to an option of last resort. Ah well.

The biggest problem is that, despite how heated the debate on all this has been, there's a distinct whiff of "re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic." If you look at the plan, not much is actually changing. We're really just re-adjusting and making some new incentives and regulations. But nothing very major in any way. Look, the way I see it is that health care reform can go down three different routes:

1. A shift towards Canadian or European-style government run health care.
2. The status quo with some minor shuffling of incentives and regulations.
3. A libertarian/anarchist approach that would eliminate state-privileged monopolies and regulatory systems, more on this in a moment.

It seems insane to me that anyone could watch last night's speech by the President, read the basic analysis of the plan, and come away with any conclusion other than this is falling squarely in route #2. This should be one of those "no duh" kind of things. Even if the discussed "public option" makes it in, that's no real game changer in terms of the analysis. Now, the "realist" analysis in me says we really shouldn't expect options #1 or #3 happening anyways, so as far as "status quo" options go, Obama's plan is alright I suppose. But it kind of feels like I'm being forced to answer the eternal Mountain Dew or Crab Juice question here. There has to be a better way, right?

Well, yes, exactly right. Either options #1 or #3 would, to my mind, be a major improvement over what we have now. Minor tweaks here and there might help a few people out - and I certainly don't want to marginalize their experiences or be petty enough to suggest they don't matter - but in terms of a long term policy solution, the adhesive bandages just ain't gonna cut it. Now, the upshot of even this tepid reform plan is that it at least starts framing some of these issues in terms of a path that could lead route #1. Small comfort maybe, but hey, that's the upshot.

Maybe this makes me a bad libertarian lefty, but I can't help but look at countries like Canada and think: "that's still a hell of a lot better than what we have now." So, if this is the first baby step to that kind of system I'll be (sort of) happy. To my mind, the promise of expanding state power at least has the possibility of enticing our lawmakers into going up against the insurance and pharmacutical companies. And, in this blogger's humble opinion, it's at least slightly better to have power amassed in the hand's of a state apparatus that purports to serve the will of the people than a handful of multi-national corporations that don't even pretend to serve anyone but their shareholders. Again, I guess I'll take the crab juice here.

The above point #3 - an anarchist/libertarian approach to health care - seems ultimately the most satisfactory to me. A good write up of it can be found here. I think, if nothing else, this critique should serve as an excellent starting point in terms of what really needs to get done to fix health care. From the linked article:
  1. Stop offering protection to patents and copyrights.
  2. Eliminate hospital accrediting and professional licensing rules, leaving a variety of flexible, competing market-based certification systems to do the job.
  3. Limit malpractice awards to actual damages plus the costs of recovery (including reasonable legal fees).
  4. Repeal regulations that prevent the sale of insurance across state lines and the prevent the operation of what amount to insurance schemes by health professionals.
  5. Alter the tax code to de-link employment and insurance. (This change would have the potential to boost net taxes, of course, if it weren’t made in tandem with the tax cuts for which I’ve argued.)
  6. Replace the FDA approval process with alternative, voluntary private certification systems.
  7. Eliminate agricultural subsidies.
So, at best, Obama's plan is only addressing a sliver of the overall problem. While doing some tweaking on the insurance end of things may bring some welcome changes (hell, I trust an insurance agency to do right by me about as far as I can throw 'em), we're still firmly entrenched in "deck chair" mode until some of those points, ESPECIALLY points #1 and 2, are addressed.

Once you accept the bulk of those points as basic problems with health care here in the United States, the obvious solutions become ones of deregulation, but real deregulation. It's not enough to faux-deregulate and keep monopolistic powers entrenched. The whole point is to open up the arena of health insurance to allow lots of people to offer it, provide cheap medicines and medical services, and give real, sustained access and choice to people.

So, here's where the judgment call comes in. If the libertarian/anarchist model is the preferred choice out of the three presented, does it make sense to set a path towards socialized medicine first? In other words, does pursuing #1 as a short-to-medium term goal derail efforts towards the long-term goal of #3? In my judgment, the two need not be mutually exclusive efforts. While we have to be wary about the growth of state power, I still see the growth of state power at the expense of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries as something that's easier to manage and fight in the long term.

In terms of reform, I foresee (rose colored glasses on here) a gradual process that simultaneously develops a Canadian/European style socialized health care system while at the same time loosening the stranglehold on copyright and patent protections. I think that given some of the unique tendencies in American society and politics, the government won't ever eliminate - or hobble as critically - the private insurance industry as we see in other countries. I hope that as plans to develop state run health care progress, the counter-balance will be increasing deregulation of private alternatives to placate citizens concerned with the amassing of state power. This has the benefit of accomplishing some of the goals set forth in an anarchist health care plan while framing it in terms of what we may realistically expect policy-wise.

At some point, of course, the state as an entity needs to be dealt with, but hopefully by that point we'll have seen enough deregulation and opening in the private market that most folks will come to see the state option as superfluous. That's the hope anyways.

How do we accomplish this? Obviously, this is a long term plan and whatever happens with Obama's health care bill (personally, I think a bill will be passed) the long term goals and considerations can't be forgotten or overlooked. Unlike some of my voluntaryist friends, I still see value in working within institutions. Indeed, I think there would be a real public current in favor of my loose program of the simultaneous development of a state option coupled with deregulation in the private sector. Since health care is regulated and controlled to the hilt right now, people looking for alternative solutions need one of two things to happen: 1) the collapse of the state or 2) deregulation from the state. While I see the first option as possible goal in the long term, in the short and medium term I think deregulation is a possible and, dare I say realistic goal. While the nature of the state is always towards increased power and control, careful vigilance can stem some of this and, in some areas, even roll back this control. I think a careful program of working both within the system and without it may yield some success.

In any case, I think we've all gotten to the point where we realize something needs to be done - because plans to simply perpetuate the status quo will lead to ever increasing misery. Let's hope we can see real positive change in our lifetimes.

Further reading:

-Health Care: An Anarchist Approach by Gary Chartier
-How Government Solved the Health Care Crisis: Medical Insurance That Worked - Until the Government "Fixed" It by Roderick T. Long
-Forcing Insurance Companies to Cover Preexisting Conditions is Immoral by Sheldon Richman*
-Obamacare: Status Quo on Steroids by Sheldon Richman**

*Addendum: In the comments section, Gene posted a link to the above linked article. I've included it since I think it's some excellent food for thought. I've given some cursory reactions in the comments section, but some of the issues discussed may be worthy of a dedicated post in the future.

**Addedum II: Gene has posted another excellent link in the comments section, added here. Another from Richman, this delves into some other important/interesting issues touched on in this post and worthy of further considertation.

A Few Orders of Business

Hey all,

I know it's been a while since I last posted here on the blog - and even longer since I last posted anything of *substance* Well, fear not, I am not deceased. I'll actually be having a real post with real content up later today, but first I wanted to lay out a few orders of business:

1. I'll be doing some sidebar housecleaning. Adding some some stuff I'm reading these days and removing stuff that doesn't interest me any longer. I might add a new section for internet forums I like, too.

2. While I don't post here as often as I like, I DO have a Twitter account and Facebook profile. So check me out there.

3. There may be a few other tweaks around this site in the coming days. Nothing major.

4. I WILL be trying to post here more regularly. Both content-based posts and more superfluous stuff. I've also gotten some requests on old uploads and whatnot to either offer lossless copies or re-upload. Don't worry, I've gotten those messages and I'll get to them when I get a chance.