Archive for August, 2017

What do neo-Nazis want?

August 20, 2017

Is it possible to understand what neo-nazis want from the right wing commentariat who are supporting, or excusing, them? A few things, perhaps.

1) Nazis want to be categorised as heroic victims, fighting a justified fight. Consequently those protesting against nazism (who are classified as ‘alt-left’) must have attacked them unprovoked. Even if the neo-nazis were carrying semi-automatic weapons, metal poles and the like and threatening to use them, and the opposition were not. Even if they announced they wanted to kill people in advance of the march. Even if they do kill and maim non Nazis, it is the fault of the others, or the reporting of these events is ‘fake news’. Nazi Violence is excusable while non nazi violence is bad. [The category ‘alt-left’ is useful to neo-nazis and their sympathisers as it implies that opposition to Nazis is itself a form of extremism and has little in common with mainstream US values.]

2) They want to portray their commitment to threatening others for the sin of existing or speaking, as being justified by ‘free speech’ or ‘Tradition’, so as to weaken opposition to them.

3) They want to be seen as defending American Tradition against corruption, but they are only interested in defending the authoritarian parts of that tradition, such as slavery, white supremacy, male supremacy and so on. However, they can also want to argue that the American State is corrupt because it has supported the violence they would approve of, if they did it themselves.

4) They want to categorise anyone who opposes them as corrupt and deserving to be threatened. Good and evil are white and black. So they want everything to be seen in terms of binary opposition. All members of a social category they despise are automatically evil, no matter how many counter examples they might know.

5) They want to portray all forces within the State as corrupt, except for those on their side (white and black again). Nazis want to be seen as struggling to take the State back for the people. But they do not want to challenge real power until they get that control and they attempt to gain control by intimidating non-Nazis and preventing resistance – ‘heroically’ of course.

6) They want supposedly ‘threatening’ people to despise, otherwise they have no energy. Hence they portray “whiteness” as under massive threat from people they categorise as Jews, Blacks, Mexicans and intellectuals, who don’t have that much power and who may not resist too much. They want to see despised people as a disease. They also want their opposition to attack everyone affiliated with them, even if that affiliation is fragile – as that provokes ingroup loyalty.

7) They do not want to blame unequal wealth, or corporate power, for the problems of the US, as that might be too much confrontation.

8) All you have to do to be classified as potentially good in their eyes is to be categorised as ‘white,’ however that is defined, and not support people they classify as ‘non-whites’. They want that category to have wide application and automatically give people privilege to declare others evil and attack them.

9) No matter how fractured, they want the opposition to Nazism to be portrayed as monolithic, coordinated and corrupt, as that then magnifies their own victimhood and strength.

10) One reason they flourish, is because they are going along with general Republican motifs. Everything above has been part of the Pro-Republican media campaigns for years. But this cannot be said, as orthodox Republicans who denounce them are also the enemy. They want to make this a Republican vs Democrat thing, to get ordinary Republicans to ally with them.

11) There probably are people who support some positions espoused by neo-nazis but who are not neo-nazis and will eventually become repelled by the whole worship of blood and violence. It is a strategic mistake not to recognise this possibility, and to drive these people into further alliance with Nazis. This is difficult.

12) They want Jewish people and Black people fighting over who is most threatened. After all, that weakens the opposition.

13) They don’t want to be ignored. But they will heroically smash things up until they are not ignored. So don’t bother ignoring them.


The Purpose of Business

August 14, 2017

The purpose of business is profit.
(keep costs low and charge as high as possible)

Profit means survival.

If something is profitable, then it will be done.

If it is destructive to others, or hurts others, and profitable then it will be done.

If it looks like high level executives will make a greater profit and their actions destroy the business, then it will be done.

If business can use government to share its costs with taxpayers, or alleviate its responsibilities for harm, and that action increases profit, then it will be done.

If its beneficial to others and costs, then it won’t be done.

If it costs the high level executives, then it probably won’t be done.

If a business can appear to be doing good, while doing nothing to affect profit or increase cost, then that can be done, but it might not.

Types of Difference

August 9, 2017

When discussing difference, it is important to have an idea about the different kinds of difference.

Let me distinguish several types. This is not an exhaustive discussion

a) Categorical difference.
You can insert every relevant item into one or other category. The things inserted in each separate category have little in common.
However, there is usually always a level at which everything has something in common, and something that differs… so this is harder than it looks. For example, horses and rats both have four legs, teeth, two eyes, two ears, tails, give birth to live young, and so on, and yet we all usually agree about which category any particular specimen will go into. Horses and sharks may also have things in common… although the similarities may well be less striking, but you can probably think of similarities if you try hard enough.

b) Binary categorical difference
Not only are the things supposedly easy to insert into categories but they are also classed as ‘opposites’. Usually, but not always, men and women are inserted into such categories. In our culture men are supposed to be aggressive as opposed to passive, not be obsessed with appearance, be non-maternal and so on. Some forms of feminism accept categorical difference, or even binary difference, and argue that women have particular abilities and understandings which have been ignored or condemned by the patriarchy. Given the enforcement of categories this is likely to be correct at the moment, even if not ultimately true.

c) Statistical difference
This is were it is recognised that the categories are actually a bit fuzzy. For example, men are generally taller than women. However, very few people would claim that all men are taller than all women. I suspect that most, but not all, gender characteristics are like this. Consequently, the more rigidly the categories are enforced the more people may feel they do not fit in. Are tall women actually men? Are men who like children, really women? Silly yes?

d) Culturally enforced difference
In this case, what are declared to be categorical differences are made absolute and enforced, and such categories occupy places in a power system. The rich are better, hence they get education and this proves the poor are ignorant and stupid and so on. Men get encouraged in violence, women discouraged.

e) Taboo categories
These are reserved for those things/processes which do not fit socially important categories. Cloven hoof animals, transgender people and such. These things are often defined as unclean.

Psychology and language as forms of control: gender, race etc

August 9, 2017

Psychology is always ingrained in politics, because politics is about the ways that people think that the world, and its people, work.

In general psychologies will support the ruling groups – no real surprise there. Aristocratic psychologies say that members of the aristocracy possess particular virtues and innate abilities which justify their position, and that non-aristocrats generally do not have them. Capitalist psychologies explain that people are primarily selfish, competitive and accumulative, and so on. In this psychology, the wealthy are wealthy because of their abilities and virtues which are not possessed by the poor. Racist psychologies explain that the master race is inherently better at whatever is required for ruling and the other races are naturally subordinate, lazy and stupid. Patriarchal psychologies attribute all public virtues to men, and explain that women need, or want to be, controlled, and are naturally inferior or subordinate, only interested in children etc.

Evidence can easily be found to explain and support these positions. It usually is.

I suspect that most of these psychologies are actually based upon violence. Patriarchy is a good example as, statistically, men have more mass, more musculature and more leverage than women. Socially they are trained in, or have experience, applying violence, while women are discouraged or forbidden from learning. Hence women, as a whole, are subordinate to males of their class. Culture and social practice increases and reinforces the subordination. People who don’t feel they match the categories in play have to be careful, or they will suffer.

I tend to accept those depth psychologies which suggest that we all have characteristics which are defined as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – the question becomes do we integrate them, or do we suppress our ‘opposites’. Patriarchy tends to inculcate the idea that men are either better women than women, or that the male ‘feminine’ parts (like real women) should be suppressed. Depth psychology is more in favour of awareness, integration or synthesis. I also suspect that as nature and environment tend to be identified with women, they are also suppressed as a matter of course in patriarchy. In a racist society similar forces could be at work. We could associate some of the repressed parts of our ‘selves’ with the supposedly other race.

The point is that whatever your theory of psychology, it will likely flow from your politics, and affect your politics and affect your sense of self.

Language is also political.

This should not be surprising either. Language expresses and conditions how we perceive and categorise or classify the world.

Patriarchs fight hard for the right to talk of people as ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’ and to use the pronoun ‘he’ for the general person. This is because this classification renders the default and important person male. It implies males make history and culture, while women are entirely secondary. The language incorporates power relations. If you don’t believe it try calling a male patriarch ‘she’ and see what happens.

Logically those opposed to patriarchy, prefer to talk of ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ and humanity rather than ‘Man’, and use gender neural pronouns to talk of people as a whole. This form of classification also strikes me as more accurate.

Personally if a person asks you to use ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘hir’ or whatever to refer to them, I think it is polite to do so. It is not polite to obliterate an entire gender.

The distinction often made in the social sciences between sex and gender, is a technical distinction, not to obliterate gendering but to clarify issues and remind us that gender descriptions and requirements may vary with culture and with individuals. Gender has also used been used in linguistics and grammar for a long, long, time as some languages classify things without sex as having gender.

Naturally this distinction challenges patriarchy, because patriarchy looks pretty stupid if gender categories/classifications are not absolute, and is therefore resisted by patriarchal gender police.

In general, social categories tend to provide people with their place in society giving other people expectations about what they can expect from those people and defining how they can behave towards them.

If you want to govern large numbers of people then constructing and enforcing the categories in which they insert themselves and from which they construct their identities, is a great step towards that governance.

So if you support patriarchy it helps you if you can make sure gender categories are tight, and people define themselves in terms of gender. If you run a racist society it is helpful if you can make sure racial categories are tight and people define themselves in terms of race and so on.

Language and psychology are rarely politically neutral.

Economics and public discourse

August 6, 2017

Because there appears to be no provision for Comment on Jessica Irvine’s article in the Australian SMH today, about the benefits of economic ‘reforms’ and the decline of economics in schools along with public discourse, here it is….

It is certainly true that people often have a great ignorance of economic history and Jessica Irvine has revealed she is one of them.

Before the “great economic reforms”, even the right wing Coalition party could tend to govern on behalf of everyone, not just the wealthy corporate sector. Wages rose steadily above inflation. Social mobility was real. People born into poverty could work and make it into the middle class, something almost impossible now. Education was largely free to help the mobility and, under Whitlam, became generally available to all adults as well. People could afford houses. Homelessness was rare or voluntary. People could drop out to explore life or art or science or politics or business without fear of being disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Strong Unions gave people security and clout. People extended their participation in government and so on.

This did cause some fear amongst the establishment; it was something to be curbed – as the ‘proper elites’ were being challenged. People who had previously been quiet about their suppression were becoming economically secure enough to make noise.

Despite Irvine’s claims, we were largely insulated from “international contagions” until the 70s oil shock when the multinational oil companies made a fortune out of crisis, and started funding free market think tanks to promote the power of their class. Since then we have suffered from overseas shocks routinely, the last major one originating in the corruption and stupidity of the dominant players in the US financial and housing market, and which penalised ordinary Americans, not them. Nowadays even the most conservative commentators wonder how we will survive a downturn in even one overseas market (China). Jobs have been exported. Manufacturing has declined. We largely cannot make our own products. Minerals are routinely given away to miners. We ignore, or even encourage ecological collapse if it makes money for the wealthy. Major financial institutions appear to continually suffer from corruption, fraud and scandals, which, before ‘reform’, were rare and penalised. Wages are no longer increasing, and the wealth of society is being redistributed back to the financial elite.

Whatever the intentions of those involved, the ‘great reforms’ have led to an economy in which Plutocracy flourishes, and the rich are nannied and treasured, while ordinary people are abandoned. It is not an improvement, and its success requires that economics is not thought about, that economic history remains distorted and that public discourse becomes trivial. Economics has to mark an ‘unconscious’, as real thinking about the subject, might lead to radical politics and the overturn of ‘free market reforms’. Ignorance is inculcated by dominance.

It is no surprise, in this situation, that real economics is not taught in high school, and it is no surprise that business studies replaces it. Business is were you get wealth and status. Business is, we are told, the important thing, the privileged thing. Naturally students are attracted to it. Naturally subjects based in dispassionate knowledge decline. That is the result of the reforms. We breakdown in an ignorance that supports power, but which leads to breakdown.

Relations of power, Varieties of Power

August 5, 2017

Since Norbert Elias, it is customary to think of power as a relation and not as a possession. Power is constantly challenged and risked when it is applied. It often has consequences which are not predicted which may undermine that power, but it tends to follow particular, easily activated, patterns and routines.

Power depends a lot on social imagining, on fear of what would happen if it was found out we were not obeying, or imagining that those who appear powerful are legitimate in that power, rather than flimsy. Basically, power depends upon compliance and habit as much as on violence.

I think it would probably be useful to think about the sources of coercion and power. That way we could actually see why, and what kind of, organisations tend to coercion and what the bases of that coercion might be.

There are a lot of people around who see power as possessed only by institutions they don’t like. Libertarians, for example, only see the problem with the supposed power of the State, they hardly ever see economic power or plutocracy as a threat. Awareness of the potential origins of power might be useful to analysis and action. We may also be able to discuss non-coercive power and its importance. For example if co-operation is banned then few people will be able do anything…

First of all let me try to make an initial list of sources of coercion, and then discuss each one in other posts. The list is certainly not exhaustive, and other suggestions are welcomed.

1) Control of violence, and the appearance of legitimate violence. This can be possessed by institutions such as the police, by social categories such as ‘men’, or by wealth (‘I can buy protection’).

2) Economic power. This primarily arises from Wealth and Ownership or property relations. It appears in the ability to extract wealth from others, or from the labour of others, or from control of food supply. This is generally known as Plutocracracy.

3) Power over cosmologies. This is generally religious being known as theocracy, but can manifest through those who control any other form of ‘ideology’ or ‘world view’. In our world this comes through things like neoclassical free market economics, which tells us what is valuable, and how societies should be organized and patterned, and how things really work. This does not mean there are not other forms of economics, there are, but they have little influence unless they can look like the orthodoxy. Note the cosmology does not have to be accurate to work as a source of power

4) Organisation itself confers power. The organized are generally more effective than the unorganized (up to a point). Occupying a position in an organization may demand subservience from others. This is usually known as ‘bureacracy’, but nowadays that suggests a particular type of government organisation, but organization is visible in business and religion and so on, so we need a more general term, say Organising…. There may be more than one organising acting in a society. Possibly the more different types of Organising the better. Organising may be fractured; for example the State, or the Corporation, is rarely uniform, and there is competition and incoherence between various parts of that body.

5) Some power or status, or lack of power and status, arises from occupying a particular social category, (gender, race, or age etc.). This often blends with organising, as occupation and position in a hierarchy can give and exclude from power. This is usually part of the society’s cosmology. It is supposedly natural that ‘men’ demand obedience from ‘women’ or one ‘race’ from another. Categorising.

6) Control over access to communication or control over the structures of communication. This usually depends on having access to one or other of the above sources. This means control over who can be heard, who’s ideas are promulgated, what counts as news and what doesn’t etc. It needs to be noted that control over communication does not mean access to accurate information; the more tightly controlled the patterns of communication are, or the contents of that communication, the less likely it is that the contents are accurate. Those in charge may be ignorant.

7) Control over allocation of risk of danger, hurt and health chances – also usually depends on having access to one or other of the above powers. Nevertheless this is not negligible, and the results can severely damage the opportunities that some people have in life.

8) Networked legitimacy. This indicates the way that different sources of power can reinforce each other, and become part of daily habit, and appear natural. OR in which they can cut across each other and open up vulnerabilities for the establishment.

9) Inertia. There is a power which is based in the difficulties of change, in the fact that people tend to behave as they have in the past, in that people don’t know what to do when something new arises. This is the power of conservatism – not to be confused with the self-named political movement, which is rarely conservative

More than one source of power will frequently be controlled by the same people, or by people in opposition to each other. For example, aristocracy usually arises from a combination of control of violence, plutocracy and social category. It is also based on kinship as a mode of Organising.