Saturday, September 22, 2007

Are we ruled by the Pod People?

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine speaks the unspeakable, that unregulated Capitalism demonstrably does not produce the results it promises.
AlterNet: WorkPlace: Can Radical Capitalism Survive the Disasters It Creates?: "As Klein sees it, free market shock therapy may actually have succeeded in achieving its true objectives. Post-invasion Iraq may be 'a ghoulish dystopia where going to a simple business meeting could get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded.' Even so, Klein points out, Halliburton is making handsome profits -- it has built the green zone as a corporate city-state, and taken on many of the traditional functions of the armed forces in Iraq. An entire society has been destroyed, but the corporations that operate in the ruins are doing rather well. Klein's message, then, seems to be that -- at least in its own, profit-centred terms -- disaster capitalism works."
I'm a Libertarian and my faith in any particular socio-economic system is tied directly to my own Libertarian litmus test. "What's in it for me?"

This undoubtedly sounds selfish and anti-social, but both ethically and economically, if I do not first consider my own interests, any concern I have about the interests of others will be purely theoretical. I will have no money and no power and therefore my concerns about others will be utterly irrelevant.

Furthermore, any rational system of economics or government first presumes that whatever you do, people will act according to their own perceived self-interest, whether or not you think they should from ANY given social, moral, economic or philosophical viewpoint. You may persuade a great many, perhaps, you can coerce many more, but the proportion that cannot be so influenced will rise with the degree of restriction and the amount of force expended until at some point it all ends with a whimper or a bang.

This is why "The government that governs least, governs best." That government generally avoids setting up positive feedback loops that destroy the whole system in the name of maintaining it.

But it's a publish or perish world and there is no idea so obviously and inherently stupid that you cannot find some very well-credentialed idiot proclaiming it as the new gospel.

Economic and social policies that are presented as "Free Market Capitalism," that have the obviously predictable effect of restricting market access to the powerful, the well-connected and the heavily armed is anything but a Free Market, and perhaps something other than Capitalism.

After all, the objective of Capitalism is to make money by addressing problems to the benefit of all concerned. While there are great sums (and great power) for a few in dealing with disasters in the manner discussed by Klien, the net result is always a measurable loss for most and a severe reduction on the total possible amount of profit - as well as a sharp restriction on the total number of profitable enterprises. The Capitalism she speaks of is the "Capitalism" of vultures and junk-bond financiers.

Now, when the response of our government to a nationwide credit crisis is to facilitate publicity for government auctions, it's time for the great majority of people to realize that we are governed by those with the same ethics and economic foresight as "Make Money Fast" spammers.

It's clear to me - even if it's an observation that seems obscure to most other Libertarians - that whether it's a Government or a "Military-Industrial Complex" that sees my petty concerns about life and liberty as irrelevant in The Greater Scheme Of Things - I have no obligation to respect, much less comply with their idiot diktats.

This is especially true when said idiot diktats are so very obviously stupid with a long track-record of unintended consequences. I merely need to add the risk of being caught to the rest of my risk/reward calculation and compare that to the cost of compliance. If the metrics of the first are more attractive than those of the second - I know what I will do. And, whatever you may protest, I know, in a statistical sense, what YOU will do, too.

The NeoCons have made it clear that their vision does not include any common interests - public infrastructure - like, say, levees, earthquake-upgrades for interstate overpasses and aging bridges - are "a problem for the free market." But of course, a free market that is underwater is not a market at all nor is a market you cannot get to because the roads are impassible. Perhaps mentioning a market that has just been truck bombed or smart-bombed would be bloody redundant, but it's also bloody common in our foreign bastion of the "unfettered free market."

Likewise, any common concern about public health is dismissed as being "inappropriate," a sort of Socially Darwinistic view that if you get sick and cannot afford health care, your fate is of no concern to society - as if that lack of concern forestalled any individual, entrepreneurial efforts founded upon the realization that the constitution and social contract had been "retasked" to toilet paper.

Well, my dear plutocrat, there are a lot of folks who, faced with the dilemma of paying their bills or taking care of themselves, will have no ethical concerns about the impropriety of sneezing into your Cobb Salad, or for that matter, robbing your house. Perhaps that's a fate you seek to forestall by living in gated communities with high overheads for security - which leads to fairly much the same economic outcome as having been mugged repeatedly.

I am, myself, an absolute supporter of the RIGHT to bear arms. I have very, very different feelings about a society where there is an obvious NEED to bear arms. Indeed, that's one aspect the establishment of the right was intended to forestall - the rise of lawless powers that, by dint of force would naturally arise if the people themselves did not have the inherent right to answer force with force.

Which they do. And are doing. It's an inalienable right, after all. Whether or not you define the exercise of that right as a "crime," it is the right of all people to survive, to make a living, to feed their families and to move about freely, whatever your objections to the consequences of their actions may be. Any law that has the direct and predictable effect of interfering with that is unethical. (Never mind whether or not it's immoral - ethics are not so much about right and wrong as they are about cause and effect.)

This is the direct consequence of the manifest contempt with which "the people who matter" treat "the people who don't matter," the people who, having gained power and influence, see no obligation to do more with it than gain more money and power at the expense of those not YET willing to shoot them down like dogs.

The obvious "whatcha gonna do about it" attitude of the wealthy - is tellingly and naively portrayed by our dear Blonde, Paris Hilton. Hilton's obvious contempt for expectations of some minimum level of social accountability - or indeed, some evidence of consciousness that there are standards being violated - is an illustration of a very real mindset that most of the very rich are a little more careful about keeping within their own circles, lest those not so privileged realize that in a very large number of cases those "rules" were put in palace to enforce behavior that people like the Hiltons found profitable and to punish behavior they did not find profitable. From their viewpoint, there's no earthly reason why they should have to comply with them and broadly, they do not comply when there are no cameras around.

So we can thank Paris for being so very "blonde" about the fact that her "privilege" is not based in right, but in fact based upon not being caught in such a way that bribery and influence cannot alter the outcome.

(And frankly, despite her flaws which are the result of growing up in a community and context as isolated from normal society as a "holler" in Appalachia with no road leading to it, she does seem determined to make an effort to become a useful and creative human being, beset with the usual deficits and handicaps those who are destined to become useful and creative look back to in regretful thanksgiving for the wisdom provided by mistakes well made.)

So, as she painfully learns her lessons, let us at least not ignore the implication that she has lessons to learn, realities that she doesn't understand. This is true of the majority of her social class, people who have become so alienated from our culture that they may as well be pod people from Mars, as this now-classic AlterNet article about a cruise sponsored by The National Review so wittily demonstrates.

"I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, " Of course, we need to execute some of these people," I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. "A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country," she says. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get." She squints at the sun and smiles. " Then things'll change."
Oh, indeed they would, my dear. But possibly not in ways the National Review is likely to advise you of beforehand.

By the way, I happen to be a fan of the National Review - I grew up reading it, along with The New Republic. An informed citizen cannot ignore viewpoints they disagree with. Indeed, they need to seek them out and challenge their own preconceptions on a daily basis. I've gotten to the point when, if someone seems to be reinforcing my world view far too consistently, I start to wonder if they are simply appealing to my prejudices instead of my intellect. But when I find myself in agreement on an issue with ... picking at random - Lenin, Milton Friedman, the Holy Bible and Whoopi Goldberg, I start to think I might be on to something.

I have arrived at my own worldview by that process, by virtue of being largely unprotected from the consequences of my own actions, and with the blessing of being kept outside of a social circle that may otherwise have maintained my innocence of certain unpalatable, but very consequential realities.

One of these things that is true - and unpalatable - is that the "side" you are on by virtue of birth, social class, race, national origin or religion is not correct by definition, nor is it's world-view the only valid one. Even more importantly, the fact that you are on a "side" does not mean that the side is on YOURS. Indeed, that is almost never the case, and inevitably the case if you do not understand that all such social circles and arrangements involve an exchange of power for protection and security - and that unless you demand a due return, it's not at all predictable that you will get anything in return but smoke blown up your butt.

It's apparently also quite unpalatable, frightening and incomprehensible to most people that rights of people OUTSIDE of their circle matter, if for no other reason than the fact that they will defend them against your trespasses, evade your attempted restrictions or, if left no other resort, piss in your coffee as you discuss the difficulty of "finding good help these days."

People who wish to have Authority without any understanding of the need to be an actual, informed, competent authority on the domain they have authority over and are accountable for are really quite pathetic poseurs, and history will be filled with snide footnotes regarding their amazing capacity for arrogance and self-delusion in the face of utter catastrophe if the grownups do not do something.

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