Tag Archives: politics

Consider the possibility

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit hanging around the online communities of the kind of people we are worried about reaching here, and I am here to tell you: They are using their critical thinking skills.

They are fully literate in concepts like bias and in the importance of interrogating sources. They believe very much in the power of persuasion and the dangers in propaganda and a great many of them believe that we are the ones who have been behaving uncritically and who have been duped. They think that we are the unbelieving victims of fraud.

Which is not to set up some kind of false equivalency between sides. But I do want us to consider the possibility that we don’t need to talk across that barrier, and that it might not be possible to talk across it. That we need to consider that if it’s true that vast swaths of the voting populace are unbelieving victims of fraud, that there’s not much we can do for them. That we may need instead to work to invigorate our allies, discourage our enemies, and save the persuasion for people right on the edge.

But, again, I’m saying all of this to you as someone who has not figured this out.

Tim Maly.


Glad to see the debate on UBI is starting to get beyond the surface gosh-wow. From a bit at Teh Graun:

In their incendiary book Inventing the Future, the authors Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek argue for UBI but link it to three other demands: collectively controlled automation, a reduction in the working week, and a diminution of the work ethic. Williams and Srnicek believe that without these other provisions, UBI could essentially act as an excuse to get rid of the welfare state.

W & S are smart to suggest those provisions, but I’d suggest there are a few others necessary to avoid the trap that the aspiring nosferatu of the Adam Smith Institute are so keen to spring.

So, look: the state sets a standard rate of UBI, presumably on the basis of some basic standard of living; perhaps they even put it on an inflationary ramp so it increases over time. Lovely: everyone can afford the basics, and you can work to level up from there is you want to.

However, if housing provision is still predominantly handled by the private sector, rents would rapidly raise to the highest point that the UBI would bear, coz rentiers gonna extract rents. Ditto privatised medicine. Ditto food production. Ditto infrastructural provision. In an unreformed market economy, whatever the set rate of UBI was would be inadequate very quickly — like, a matter of years rather than decades, if not faster. Because when we talk about markets being efficient, that’s what we really mean: their rapid maxing out of all possible rent extraction in any given system. (Yeah, you though efficiency was all about using less, didn’t you? That’s a useful illusion, which is why you’re encouraged to keep it. But no: market efficiency is exactly the opposite, in that the efficient market leaves nothing unused.)  In a nation of legitimised thievery and tollbooth economics, putting money in the poor man’s pocket serves only to enrich the thieves over the long run; hence the poorly-disguised boners around the C-suite table at the ASI, no doubt.

This is not to dismiss UBI, to be clear; it’s a rational and achievable reform of state welfare systems. But in the absence of land reform, significant regulation of businesses, and the partial or total renationalisation of infrastructure and housing, it will fail, and fail fast. If you want to provide the basics to everyone, you’re going to have to intervene in the systems of provision… and you can bet your bottom dollar that the ASI won’t be genuflecting to that idea any time before the heat-death of the universe.

Prometheanism and apocatopia

I’m not sure quite how I discovered the post-nihilist bloggings of Arran James; I think he must have written something about the Neo-Reos or the Accelerationists that someone linked me to a while back. There’s something important in this closing passage from a longer think-piece on the rise of Prometheanism, which James hopes may represent an end to the “depressive” or melancholic politics of the moment:

Have the politics of resistance and the politics of withdrawal really been a kind of stalling gesture? We have demanded infinite demands and finite demands and we have demanded unity and demanded an end to calls for unity. We have demanded ceaselessly. But while we demand we address some Other: I can’t do it, you do it. And this isn’t just a critique of electoral politics but extends to those who would drop-out or disappear, as well as those who “would prefer not to” or who wish not to get their morals dirty. All of these positions amount to the same thing: the absence of a political desire. Perhaps this is how our political cartography should begin to be carved up: those with the desire for revolution; those with the demand for revolution; those whose remain within the imaginary; those who place themselves at the infrastructural. This infrastructure may be the material infrastructure of things, but it could also be considered the psychic infrastructure of illusions. Promethean desire is first and foremost the thirst for new illusions, and a turning away from the ‘withdrawals, secessions and mere interruptions’ (Tosacano) that we’ve grown used to.

I felt like I was having a finger pointed at me. In a good way.

Worth reading alongside this here video of novelist and all-round left-intellectual dreamboat China Mieville talking at this year’s Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference on the limits and necessities of utopia in the context of ecological and social justice:

Surveillance and legibility: systems of seeing

“Networks weird people.” Quinn Norton and Ella Saitta explain the yin-yang nature of network effects — and the complicity of hackers and “geek culture” in such — to the Chaos Communications Conference.

This is of considerable interest to me, for two reasons. First of all, because legibility is a big part of what my doctorate is about: the systems on which we depend are illegible to us, and in the same way that the state needs to “see” its citizens to interact with them effectively, we need to “see” our infrastructure; however, this would be counterproductive for those who own and control infrastructure, leading to the ironic endgame of the atemporal, wherein the illusion that society is separate from nature is both sustained by and projected upon the very metasystem which binds them inseparably together.

Secondly, because I’m increasingly convinced that an unexamined methodological positivism is at the root of solutionism and geek exceptionalism alike; it’s the dark side of scientific epistemology, a faux-empiricist position wherein that which cannot be quantified cannot exist. It’s also a central plank of neoclassical economics, and neoliberal political theory. Ironically, however, it has created the ultimate machine for forcing humans to confront the subjectivity of the human experience, namely the internet. This is the ideological paradox at the heart of atemporality: the more finely the metanarratives are shredded by our distrust, the more desperate we are for someone to stitch us together a comforting and authoritative story from the fragments. In such an environment, curatorship is power, as Rupert Murdoch knows very well; curation imposes a narrative on the fragments it collects together by excluding the ones it discards.

But what if you gave an exhibition and nobody came? Curation with no visitors is like art with no audience, a scream in the wilderness. So the complementary power to curation is that of distribution: the ability to not only shape the narrative, but to get it in front of the right audience.

He who owns the pipes controls the flow.

Alan Moore and Athenian anarchism

As always, Alan Moore provides plenty of value for money in this interview at New Statesman. I’m pulling out this particular chunk primarily because it’s a nice way to remind myself I’m not the only person who thinks like this… though I’m sure there are plenty of folk who’d happily tell me that sharing my politics with a perpetually stoned post-modern pseudo-occultist and writer of comics isn’t anything to be proud of.

But you know what? Fuck those people. Take it away, Mister Moore:

I take this seriously, I don’t like to vote because I don’t believe in the democratic process, and I don’t believe that it is democracy. Democracy as I understand it is demos – the people shall rule. It doesn’t say anything about the elective representatives shall rule. I think in Dodgem Logic there was an option that got put forward that I would find preferable, which was the Athenian way.

Yes, you get summoned –

Yes, it’s by lottery, if there is a decision of national importance to be made, a jury or a parliament will be decided by lottery. They will hear both sides of the argument, they will vote, the jury will be dissolved. So there’s no way you can vote for extra privileges for MPs because you won’t be one. It’s more in your interests to vote for what is in the general interest of the broad population that you will be returning to.

So, I’m not saying that it’s a flawless idea but its maybe one of the ideas that we should start thinking about, because I really think that this is pretence of democracy at best.

Yeah, and a handful of marginal constituencies get to hold the balance of power.

Yeah, that’s it, also back when I was working with the Green Party in local politics back in the 80s, there was the idea of proportional representation, which would have meant that if the Green Party had got one per cent of the vote they’d would have had one per cent of the MPs.

And yes, if the British National Party, or the National Front as it was then, would have got one per cent of the vote you might have ended up with a National Front MP, but I could’ve gone along with that. That sounded like it would at least been fairer

But this AV thing is nothing to do with proportional representation [we spoke before the referendum]. It’s another way of organising the deck chairs on the Titanic. We do need something a lot more drastic than that. Yes, we need some alternative to our current system, that wasn’t it.

So, no, I don’t vote, I believe in direct political action. I mean, some friends of mine from Wales, where I bought a ruined farm about 15 years ago, one of them had gone over to Romania and seen the volunteer orphanage that was trying to help out people that they’d rescued from the state orphanages, which were horrifying, stuff that you wouldn’t want in your head.

And this guy who was an ex-Welsh rugby player with a face like someone had tried to put a fire out on it with a shovel, everything that you’d expect of a great, big former rugby hero. He was over there on business, he saw this going on, and he couldn’t live with not doing anything.

So he came home and got a bunch of liver-damaged, unemployable drunks from Wales to go out there with a couple of lorries and materials that he’d guilt-tripped business colleagues into donating, and they built an orphanage and a hospice within two weeks with electricity and water.

What I’m saying here is, if you look at the world and there’s something that you can’t live with or there’s something that you don’t agree with, don’t vote for someone who tells you that they’re going to put that right, because they’re not. They are trying to get you to vote for them, they will tell you anything in order to get you to vote for them.

The underlined passage is my own emphasis, and the main reason I wanted to reblog this here. Whenever I get into a discussion of anarchist models for democracy (and no, that’s not an oxymoron, as Moore demonstrates above), it’s always the most staunch defenders of democracy-as-she-is-played who tell me that the danger of letting everyone and anyone play the game is that you might get people with really dodgy views – views contrary to democracy itself, in fact – having a say in the political process.

To which I often say “yeah, so what?”

It’s not a response that wins me many new friends, thanks to the spurious logic trail that goes “Person X believes people with fascist viewpoints have as much right to have their voice heard as anyone else, therefore Person X tacitly supports fascism”. I do not support or even condone fascism, but I’m aware of the dichotomy in leftist politics that enshrines freedom of speech at the same time as trying to exclude opposing ideologies from the conversation. The intent is pure, but I think it’s actually counterproductive.

“But Paul, if you let the fascists speak, they’ll bamboozle stupid people into believing their poisonous lies!” Possibly so, yeah, but by silencing them you’re not just acting counter to your own espoused ideologies, but also giving them the additional persuasion-ammo of suppression (“come hear the truth that They don’t want you to hear!”).

Certainly in the contemporary UK political scene, fascist rhetoric is almost entirely based on this sense of exclusion-from-process, and it feeds on that vague sense of one’s privilege being eroded that gets stoked by tabloid media playing to the peanut gallery (“OMG so many brown people on benefits OMG the white working class male is a victim of reverse racism OMG!”). When it comes to fascism, I’m a strong believer in the old adage about “giving ’em enough rope”; give a fascist the publicity he so craves, and he very quickly makes it plain that he’s in favour of things that the vast majority of people are actively repulsed by. Drive them underground, however, and they can manage their in-clique channels with greater fidelity. All politicians lie, but fascism requires the greatest level of deceit applied to the greatest percentage of the population; if you force them to communicate off the public radar, you forego the chance to publicly scrutinise – and critique – those communications.

Few things corrode untruth as quickly as wide exposure; I suspect a BNP MP in Westminster would be the worst possible advert for the party. Currently, for the vast majority of floating voter types, the BNP are a vague threat that lurks in Northern towns and the London boroughs that you don’t go shopping in, and as such are of little concern in anything other than the abstract – you know, “it could never happen here!”. Well, it could – and if it does, how will you recognise it when you see it? Indeed, if you’ve not been exposed to the sort of rhetoric used by fascist ideologues, you might find yourself falling for it while piously believing yourself to be a modern and progressive type of person. (UKIP, anyone?)

I think my problem with the counterargument is that it’s enshrined in a passionate commitment to protecting representative democracy, but it demonstrates a lack of faith in representative democracy’s ability to produce a fair government that actually represents the people in the way to which it pays perpetual lip service. Or, to put it another way: if you can’t trust representative democracy to improve people’s lives to such a degree that the majority of them will vote in ways that expand and advance that central conceptual remit, then there’s a pretty serious flaw in the system, and you’re admitting such by saying that not every voter can be trusted to vote correctly. “You’re free to elect the people who you feel best represent your views… um, but you mustn’t listen to those people.” See what I mean?

At this point someone usually points out that Hitler was legitimately elected in Germany, which is very true. It’s also a massive simplification of a very complex and turbulent period in German politics – not to mention the politics of the rest of the world – and conveniently overlooks the fact that the democratic process in Germany at the time had become fatally discredited in the eyes of much of its electorate. And yes, that’s exactly the same reason the duplicity of people like the BNP gets traction in the UK at the moment; as such, the rational response is not to pillory the fascists and fuel their persecution complexes, but to make the system more open, more accountable, more transparent. Fascism – and right-wing politics in general, if we’re going to talk in terms of that old binary – thrives on secrecy, on whispered reports of unverifiable injustices and shadowy conspiracies. Make it obvious that the lies are lies, and the lies lose their power. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and so on.

This is also why I have a very ambivalent relationship to legislating against hate speech, because that legislation is a tacit admission of hate speech’s power, amplifying its effect among those who already feel disenfranchised; the best solution to hate speech is true speech. And if anything, as much as the constant battle to [x]-101 people about issues that should really be canonical in an enlightened society is exhausting and tedious in the extreme, I think the anyone-can-say-anything scrum of the internet shows us that it works, albeit very slowly. Outsourcing that advocacy to representatives is tempting for exactly that reason – there are countless nicer things to be doing, after all – but by concentrating that power of advocacy in a limited number of hands, you’re assembling the scaffold of hierarchy along which authoritarianism will creep and grow.

If we’re too lazy to work for a better world, we have no one to blame but ourselves as that better world slips out of sight.

Which is why I am an anarchist.