Libertarianism, communism and freedom

April 17, 2018

“Liberal” is a weird word. To people in the European tradition it means someone for whom free markets are important, and personal liberty is tied up with wealth and the removal of barriers, and so a nowadays a “non-conservative” member of the right. At one time this kind of liberalism was radical, now it is simply a way of enforcing the power of money, hence it sits well with the establishment. In America this position is “libertarian” while the term liberal implies a person who thinks that we should all get on with each other, that government should be helpful, and that participation in government should not be restricted to the wealthiest.

“Communist” is equally a weird word, because communism as a aspiration is radically different from the communist powers which used to exist. There were as many varieties of communism as liberalism. Originally communism meant the withering away of the state, liberty and co-operative freedom. This kind of communism recognized that freedom and life required other people, and sometimes required help, not simply the removal of barriers. Too much poverty and violence does not grant freedom, or the capacity to act on what freedom is available. Later, official communism simply supported the power of the Communist State and its rulers. Official communism was not an egalitarian arrangement.

“Freedom” is also weird. Some people have asserted that freedom is recognition of necessity, which often seems to mean keep carrying on with oppression. Personally I think there is no liberty without enablement, and without some degree of equality. Sure there will always be some inequality as people don’t have equal abilities or good fortune, but massive inequality usually means that the society is being run for the benefit of those at the top (who may not have great ability and who have some protection from ill fortune). Consequently the liberty of those people has to be curtailed slightly for the benefit of others. It is, for example, usually agreed that a person’s freedom to use their ability to beat other people up, or kill them, should be limited, so it is with other freedoms. Freedoms can always contradict, that is why it is a struggle.

In a complex system attempts to impose either order and freedom can have unintended consequences. Imposing the freedom of the market can lead to freedom for the wealthy and non for everyone else. Imposing equality through the State can lead to lack of freedom for almost everyone. We perhaps need to carry these oppositions and contradictions in mind, and allow something new to arise, rather than simply assert what we believe to be true, but which has never worked.

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short libertarianism

April 13, 2018

Libertarianism seems to function as the friendly propaganda for the neoliberal project of tipping all power relations over to the side of the corporate sector and weakening any power that ordinary people may use to contain that sector.

It occupies a similar space to that libertarian communism occupied with respect to Stalinism – except (and its a vital except) that some libertarian communists were some of the fiercest critics of Stalinism. If libertarians say they are against corporate power, they never want to eliminate that power before they eliminate the check of government restriction on it.

This is why there is rarely any real facture between libertarians and ordinary politician conservatives, because they are both about preserving and increasing the power of money.

Any real conservative would recognise that libertarianism reduces all virtue and value to profit and stay as far away from it as possible. And any real anarchist would have nothing to do with supporting religious or corporate authority.

Libertarianism is fake news.

Commercial in Confidence

April 12, 2018

Commercial in-confidence is when a government makes an agreement with a private company either to outsource work which could be done by the government or sells off public property to a commercial concern, and at least some details of the contract are not to be revealed to tax payers.

Usually commercial in-confidence is used to hide details the public might object to such as: exit fees the government might have to pay if the work is not done on time; agreements that freight has to pay extra charges if it is landed in another port; tax and royalty concessions; changes of a road’s route so the toll charges can make more money; or simply paying more than is necessary to friends and donors. Yes this all refers to real cases…

In terms of social category theory the government identifies with the private sector and judges them with a friendly eye and aims to support them, while it sees tax payers as a hostile other who are ignorant.

Let’s be clear. If Taxpayers’ money is involved then commercial in-confidence should not exist after the contract is signed. It is our money, and we should know how it is being spent and what we are giving away. If companies don’t want to participate under these conditions, then that is their business and we probably don’t want them to participate.

Commercial in-confidence is simply a cover for commercial incompetence.

So far privatisation has failed, and it is largely because of these confidences, and sometimes because public servants do a better job.

Minorities rule….

April 12, 2018

The interesting thing about Australian Coalition Government’s policy which has been revealed by the so called “Monash group” which is pro-coal, is that policy appears to be dictated by the fear of not offending five non-cabinet MPs.

This means our climate and energy policies, in a lower house of 150 people, is being decided by less than 10% of the members (I’m adding extra people to their cause out of generosity). This is not remotely democracy in action – this is rule by the miniscule; the fleas controlling the dog.

How does it come about? Firstly because those 5 people have the support of the Murdoch Empire and the Minerals Council of Australia, which have helped make resistance to the idea of climate change, a hallmark and definer of conservative politics. Indeed they supress discussion of climate change to make everything about an ‘economics’ that is concerned with the profit of established corporations. Mass protests against climate change just don’t get reported, while tiny protests against the left do. Even those radical conservatives like One Nation who think international corporations are destroying local customs and culture, and need to be checked, support fossil fuel companies who are as international and destructive as they come. Any right winger who breaks on this issue will be misinterpreted, seen as a traitor, seen as losing nerve, and punished. Any right winger with principles, fears they will lose selection.

This is polarized information group dynamics in action, and stopping discussion. These groups can be created for this purpose, and are reinforcing it. The 5 people become exemplary examples of a right wing ‘us’ group – while *possibly* moderate people like the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull become outsiders, who have to continually demonstrate their group loyalty, by not steering too far away from the extreme, and by refusing to challenge that extreme. In this situation the so called ‘centre’ suffers – even when the official ‘left’ move further right to capture its shifting point, and even if ‘the people’ show their commitment to renewables by plopping them on every available rooftop.

The dedication of the far right is reinforced because they stick to the Murdoch Empire and do not see contrary evidence, or have it explained away for them well enough. They are hung up on being just and fair (so if anyone is doing less to mitigate climate change than them, they can always argue it is just for them to support even less action) and they suffer the Dunning Kruger effect, were they do not realise their ignorance in the field and subsequently cannot recognize competence in the field – and they reinforce their ignorance out of group loyalty and the sense of persecution which comes from being wrong.

And so it goes. It could be combatted by strong leadership which stood up for principles and argued against them for the good of the country. But we are probably not going to get that. All we can hope for is that the people themselves get on with the business of lowering carbon emissions, getting their workplaces to reduce emissions, protesting against government sell outs to corporations and doing everything else they can. While voting Labor and Green is useful, it will not be enough either, because they continually move to the right, to keep on side with the powers.

It is up to us, to do we what we need to do to survive, and to take government back should we want.

Organisational Ignorance vs Organisational Stupidity

April 2, 2018

I suspect “organisational ignorance” should be distinguished from “organisational stupidity”, even though they are related. Some level of organisational ignorance is normal and inevitable, some levels of organisational stupidity have to be cultivated.

Knowledge implies ignorance, and in some cases creates ignorance. Firstly people know what ‘knowledge’ is by its socially made contrast with what form of belief or practice serves to illustrate ignorance to the group holding the knowledge. Thus literate groups can assume illiteracy is ignorance of letters, theological groups can assume science is ignorance of God and Salvation, Platonists make Sophism an exemplar of ignorance, and so on. Groups usually do this kind of thing, to reinforce their boundaries, and to give them energy by making some other behaviour or belief ‘bad’.

Knowledge tends to create ignorance because, in complex interactive systems (and all social and ecological systems are complex), knowledge tends to be incomplete and a simplification. As such, what people know (and are supported in knowing) can actively direct attention away from areas of crisis and change, particularly if the knowledge has been successful, or associated with success (however that is measured) for a long time. We can see this with climate change; modes of waste disposal and profit acquisition which have brought success for the last 200 years are now threatening the conditions for that success. Hence many people are continuing as normal to destroy themselves, because there is no apparent alternative which delivers exactly the same benefits and distribution of benefits. This is also propelled by organisational and hierarchical stupidity, but more later.

Some knowledge is definitional and relatively easily shared once definitions are agreed, but that does not mean it is always accurate. I would claim mathematics is this kind of knowledge – so it can be very powerful as well – but I’m not particularly bothered to argue about this at the moment.

So knowledge and ignorance tend to be socially intertwined, and mastery can be a mark of status – in which case new knowledge can be dismissed if it comes from the wrong people – this is one place ‘organisational stupidity’ starts coming in.

Organisational stupidity is the active structuring of an organisation or a situation, so that new, different, or more accurate, knowledge is rejected. Punitive hierarchy is one way of generating stupidity. If people in a hierarchy routinely punish underlings for diversion from the official line, then everyone ends up ignorant and stupid actions become the norm. The more those actions become the norm, they more they seem part of the cosmos, and the more they probably become intensified to remove the chaos they generate. People at the top don’t tell people what they actually plan, to protect themselves and their knowledge. So everyone operates in a haze of fear, guesswork as to what is going on, and stupidity. This is further reinforced if mastery of organisationally approved knowledge is a mark of status, and those with status try and remove those challenging them, as those challenging them do not see “common-sense” or “understand reality”. Relatively accurate knowledge can become downplayed or even heretical and forbidden, as when Trump refuses to allow information about climate change to appear visibly on government websites.

Computer software encourages organisational stupidity when managers who have no idea what their underlings do become the consultants during requirements collection and the actual users are ignored, and have to adapt to what was thought to be an improvement.

“Siloing” is the horizontal form of this structural stupidity, in which people in different parts of an organisation do not know what other parts do, but fantasise about them, and attempt to control what the others do. For instance, when admin tries to control academics, or give them more admin work to encourage “responsibility”, or rewrites computer programs to stop necessary fudging or whatever. Getting others to do your work seems useful initially, but ultimately it stops you from having any quality control over that work.

Complexity can reinforce stupidity because, as nobody above knows what is possible in an engineering or social sense, and what is their fantasy is usually what is done, so they demand what they would like (even if it is not possible or not yet possible) and accuse people who tell them this is not possible as lacking positivity. Sales people generally don’t know what is possible either and agree to make the deal, because there is a lot of money being thrown around, and if they don’t get it someone else will. So the sale goes ahead and people get locked into the costly process of making the impossible, or the badly designed, work.

There is a sense in which capitalism furthers organisational stupidity, because;

  • 1) It’s organisations are extremely hierarchical. Even when they are supposedly level, there can be huge differences in power.
  • 2) Only the immediate small-future bottom line counts (but there are many other important things).
  • 3) Wealth becomes the only value, so plutocracy becomes the norm, and anything that produces wealth must be good.
  • 4) It depends on hype about existent and non-existent products to prevent other products being successful. So the environment is constantly full of informational falsity, even above the idea that wealth is the only measure of value and competence.
  • 5) Its managerial structures depend on managers fighting for allocation of internal wealth to allow their section to work and to give them status, and this may obstruct any observation of the external environment the company exists within.
  • 6) Elimination of costs, can eliminate worker satisfaction and competence, and leads to free-loading waste being approved without consideration of long-term consequences. Cost defined something as ‘unpleasant’, not to be observed or investigated, and to be removed forcibly.
  • 7) In takeovers, to establish power and discipline, those people who know how the victim firm works are nearly always sacked, as the victor reckons these people do not know anything, or might challenge their knowledge. So the firm begins its new career being forced into boxes and behaviours that may well not work for them.
  • The contemporary form of governance, which I call “distributed governance” which is power that is diffused through society via networks means that very few people with power have responsibility, or feel they have responsibility. Responsibility is elsewhere, so there is no need to know anything other than how to keep your own power and reinforce your own knowledge, and the chances of feedback overtly pointing out mistakes is extremely low, so managers do not learn from those mistakes. This helps reinforce stupidity.

    If these general points are correct, it does imply that decent knowledge workers may sometimes have to chose to engage in “revolutionary activity” even against their own organisational stupidity, or resign themselves to pointlessness.

    Luck as a social force

    March 28, 2018

    Contingency plays a massive part in social events, indeed in all kinds of events not just our lives; that is why we can tell its important in our lives.

    We rarely control the outcomes of much activity, and we interact with situations that we do not cause and cannot influence much, but do influence some little bit. There are important choices we make, and we may not realise how important they were until we look back on them. At the time the choices may have seemed trivial – going to a particular party, leaving to urinate at a particular time, turning our eyes away from the road, not responding to a phone call, being ill at a particular time. This sort of contingency can affect whole countries, as it affects people who make decisions. We might call it the “for want of a nail effect”, given the famous verse.

    Contingency also affects the coming together of different events at specific time, such as an infrastructure failure compounded by economic crisis and a drought, even if we may say that certain behaviours and policies make this contingency more likely. The effect of the contingent combination may not be predictable – how will people respond? It is exceedingly difficult to see, in advance, how fortuitous circumstances will allow particular social groups to gain an influence that they previously did not have because the new circumstances ‘obviously’ favoured them over others (in hindsight). Any kind of evolution is contingent on circumstances, even if organisms are not controlled by circumstances.

    I’d suggest being skeptical about any non effect of ‘luck’ in social life. The idea that luck is not important is a very convenient ideology for those who are wealthy because it implies that they are were they are, totally because of their abilities and skills, and are thus justified in having wealth while others don’t. While if success involve luck then they are were they are by luck as well as by skill.

    Complexity theory implies that we are incapable of predicting events in detail, although we can predict general trends, because of the massive interconnection of things/events and feedback between things and events. Thus we may predict the decline of the US under the pressures of successful capitalist domination, but we could not predict how it will turn out. In 2010 we could not really have predicted the rise of Trump and his cronies. Whether this unpredictability stems from the human inability to model things completely outside the system itself (so while we cannot predict specific events, if an all knowing God exists then that God may be able to predict successfully), or because it is in the nature of the system (even an all knowing God cannot predict specific events), is irrelevant for human contingency.

    Because of unpredictability and complexity we always contend with unintended effects, some of which may be good, but probably more will appear to be complications – as the number of patterns which seem disordered is far greater than those that seem ordered and beneficial. Social life is precisely about dealing with the unexpected, as well as the expected. Often people deal with the unexpected by pretending it has not happened. This retains the vision of order, but weakens people’s ability to deal with reality. The unconscious has a tendency to strike back.

    The importance of contingency does not mean analysis is impossible, but it does mean that we need to factor in contingency as part of that analysis, and look at rare events rather than be remain happy with what appears to be common. This is particularly so when we appear to be entering a realm, the Anthropocene, where we have no prior experience whatsoever.

    Art as exploration and propaganda

    March 27, 2018

    Terry Pratchett argues somewhere that art is a mode of experiment; someone goes somewhere in imagination and honestly tries an imaginative experiment to explore the consequences of imaginary acts. This can be non-ideological in that the artist genuinely allows what happens in their imagination to happen without deliberate control. OR it can be ideological propaganda in which the predetermined good guys win without much of a hitch and everyone opposing them is evil and ultimately doomed… this latter probably usually happens when the person is fearful of being wrong. It unfortunately is the world view of monotheism – nothing can challenge God or ‘his’ chosen.

    Both ways involve a world view, which they are reinforcing or challenging.

    Both ways can be art, one is useful and one is propaganda. However, the distinction is vague as propaganda can be worthwhile (think of 1984) or simply implausible or destructive (ie Atlas Shrugged), but in either case propaganda can be influential, and is likely to be more influential than experimental art because it lets people keep the same opinions as they have already (or reinforces them). While Lord of the Rings is more like propaganda, it veers closer to experiment than either of the other two – especially in the moment (which I may not be remembering correctly) in which Tolkien allows a few orcs to tell their story about persecuting elves…. There was an opening there that he refused to follow – probably because of his monotheism – for the good guys to be good, the others had to be completely evil.

    Why is there Pollution?

    March 27, 2018

    Economic production demands the production of waste, as things are transformed into other things and they are transported around. The question is whether this waste is processable by the ecology in general. If the ecology it is dumped in cannot process it, or the waste is poisonous to humans or other creatures and plants then it can be called pollution.

    Pollution often occurs when people do not have to take responsibility for their own waste (ie they can dump it on someone else), when dealing with waste would interfere with profit (when profit is considered particularly important or sacred), when they have technology which produces waste but don’t have technology that can process that waste into something useful or harmless, when they think of the world as infinite and able to take any amount of waste (or when they think their personal waste is trivial), or when they don’t have to take political notice of those people or ecologies harmed by the waste.

    It is probable that contemporary forms of civilisation have developed because of the historical cheapness of dealing with pollution. That is that people who produced the waste largely did not worry about those who suffered the waste. Now there is so much pollution being produced that everyone is starting to be affected by it, there is more recognition that it is a problem. The Global Ecology cannot process the waste our economies emit.

    It seems likely that because of our historical experience, many people in power cannot imagine a civilisation without pollution, or their own power and wealth continuing without pollution. Therefore they insist it is someone else’s problem, and that nothing should be done.

    In the long term, pollution only exists because anti-pollution politics is not strong enough or is too compromised with alliance with those who produce waste.

    The Political Right and the ‘Bottom Line’

    March 8, 2018

    Do the right look after the budget bottom line in government?

    Probably not anymore. Not if it interferes with giving taxpayer’s money and possessions to the corporate sector.

    In the US, we have corporate tax cuts, massively increased military spending and license for corporations to pollute and poison people – none of this will apparently cost the public anything.

    In Australia, the Right wing Coalition has blown out the debt since taking over, and plans to blow it out even more, with more military spending, more spending on supporting the Adani corporation dig up and burn enough coal to wipe out climate stability, tax cuts for corporations who don’t pay any tax and so on.

    Then there is the Coalition in NSW. They apparently have plenty of money to throw at developers, while selling off public goods, making life easy for coal miners to pollute, and destroy our water table, and harder for ordinary people to protest. They constantly make massive commercial in confidence deals with public money. They sign contracts with private enterprise before business cases and Environmental Impact Statements are finished. They support the idea of public money being spent on private enterprise sports stadiums, when the sports organisations are tax exempt because they are supposed to provide their own facilities. They make totally stupid decisions with public transport – new trains without toilets on long routes, new trains that can’t fit in the tunnels, new tunnels that can’t fit normal stock. They dig up rail access into the centre of Newcastle so that developers can build on the ex-tracklines. They think that a major new tax on transport in Sydney (through the Westconnex set of motorways) is a great idea as long as the tax is a toll going to private enterprise, and it won’t end up funding public hospitals, schools or renewable energy research – and the public funds the building of the new roads. Cost, of course, blows out massively as it is remuneration for private business, and people get thrown out of their homes and undercompensated. This is either a pure waste of money and incompetence, or a deliberate policy about giving money to those who already have it, at the cost of everything else. The other way of seeing this is as normal crony-capitalism in action. The corporations control the parties who control the State, and the State exists to benefit the ruling corporations.

    The last two Federal Coalition leaders, have both failed to deal with any of the problems we face at all – in fact they have run away from them, tried to put the cost on the less wealthy, or have simply made the problems worse.

    It is always easy to pretend to live prosperously if you sell off your assets and overspend – eventually it hits, and that could be the grand idea, bankrupt the government and throw ordinary people to the wolves. Sometimes, as Walter Steensby says, it looks as though the neoliberal philosophy thinks that people and nature are just costs and an obstruction to its own development, and they need to be disposed of.

    The Right often only seems to worry about the bottom line when there is a chance that money might be going to people who actually need it to survive.

    What is ‘Crony Capitalism’?

    March 5, 2018

    Crony capitalism describes two situations: the situation in which different capitalists co-operate to distort the market and maximise their profits, and the situation in which people in government either support, or are bought by, corporations to make laws that favour those corporations, or offer some other kind of subsidy, protection or help. More generally, the second half of the definition describes the case in which the State largely governs on behalf of big business, because business is defined as possessing all the virtues and abilities that matter to the society, and many businesses collaborate to maintain the general dominance of business and crush resistance.

    In crony capitalism risks of business and costs of business are usually diffused onto the general taxpayers (with the wealthy often paying little tax). For example, in crony capitalism, pollution and environmental destruction is encouraged as it lowers costs to business, and usually just poisons the poorer sections of the population, who don’t count. Any regulations which try to enforce business responsibility for their actions are usually seen as ‘red-tape’ and repealed. Laws are generally designed to help maintain business benefits, and the courts arranged so that non-wealthy people have relatively little chance of success in using the law against business power.

    Crony capitalism encourages situations in which ‘workers’ organising to protect their rights, conditions and wages, are frowned upon or prosecuted because they disrupt business, while federations of business organisations are considered normal and acceptable.

    Crony capitalism is driven by, and results in, plutocracy.

    Crony Capitalism is the normal form of capitalism, and power plays are a normal part of competition in markets.