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Monday, October 21, 2013

Rx for Revolution

Pugachev Administering Justice by Vasily Perov

"We were probably the most conservative-minded revolutionaries who put through a successful revolution." Kevin O'Higgins

"If they have real grievances redress them, if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them . . . . If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. "  George Washington, letter to Henry Lee, 31 October 1786

"I am a monarch of God's creation, and you reptiles of the earth dare not oppose me.  I render an account of my government to none . . . ."
Napoleon Bonaparte, speech at Breda, 1 May 1810

While the exact precipitants of overt rebellion are perhaps impossible to predict, history does grant us absolute certainty that the next regime will be a fundamentally conservative one.

The revolution of 1789 may have been reasonably foreseen given that country's horrific long-term economic trends and decades of fiscal mismanagement by the French Crown.  However, before Easter 1916, few would have dared prophecy an end to nearly 800 years of English dominance in a disgruntled and disenfranchised but thoroughly exhausted and demoralised Ireland. And even today it is more than a little perplexing as to why 1773 in particular should be the occasion for violent resistance to British Crown policies which had been pursued at least since 1696, when William III established the Lords of Trade.  But inevitably each of these momentous events was succeeded by a conservative regime.

The art of successful revolution lies in the reconciliation of the iconoclasm required to dismantle the old regime while simultaneously projecting the familiarity (comfortable or otherwise) required to elicit the confidence of the political nation.  It is, to say the least, a difficult thing to achieve.

During the ten thousand years or so since the adoption of agriculture demanded a fixed ordering of society along more or less arbitrary lines, the specialization of labor has reinforced the naturally uneven distribution of qualities among its members to the point where the presumption of "standing"--the moral right for the individual to meaningful participation in society's ordering institutions--is not so much questioned as it is ridiculed as inchoate nonsense.

In sedentary societies the economic imperative is conformity, based on the conviction that the fundamental questions of physical necessity have been adequately resolved, and that all that is required is their implementation and further elaboration along the established lines.  Deviance, dissent and variation are no longer viewed as presenting valuable new contributions to society's repertoire of resources and techniques, but existential dangers.  This is to say, the only value the individual has to offer society is his consent.

Therefore it is to be assumed that there will always be a fundamental cleavage between the political role of the productive classes (i.e., the masses whose lives are almost wholly given over to the performance of economically productive activities) and the leadership class (i.e., those few who supervise the toil of the many).  Whether or not a given laborer is cleverer than a given member of the ruling classes matters not--his very status as 'laborer' undermines his ability to effectively assume a leadership role.  The fact that the current incumbent may be spectacularly stupid does not matter either, because it is not the validity of the individual which is crucial, but that of the overarching social model, which is usually taken for granted.

As long as the leadership class are capable of wringing at least a subsistence level of economic productivity from the orthodox model, their privilege cannot come under serious internal challenge.  The only people likely to express dissatisfaction are those whose opinion, by definition, does not matter.

So, in other words, the onus on the successful revolutionary is to present himself not as the successor to the existing regime, but the restoration of the productive primal order which justifies the inescapable suppression of individuality which is the lot of the vast majority of people in sedentary societies.

Very rarely combined in one person are both the social facility needed to convincingly perform such an astounding feat of hypocritical playacting and the wisdom needed to recognize and productively direct a cadre of competent followers from the unruly mass of displaced peasantry which is the inevitable result of rebellion.  One is tempted to say that, relatively speaking, serviceable acting skills are more easily found than acceptable management skills, given the extreme infrequency of successful revolutions, but that would be to ignore the fact that given society's conservative nature, the opportunities for play acting are so much more abundant than the opportunities for active management.

In light of all this, it shouldn't surprise us at all that successful revolutionaries, almost without exception, are a very conservative lot.  Indeed, to the extent that a successful revolutionary accepts (or at least does not avowedly contradict) any egalitarian ideals incidental to the movement that brought him into power, he is obliged to balance them against pressing threats to the public to preserve fundamental inequalities. 

This was accomplished in the early days of the Republic of Ireland by Fianna Fรกil's reinforcement of Catholic orthodoxy and an Anglophobic rhetoric which were aimed more at crippling internal dissent and managing unrealistic economic expectations rather than accomplishing their stated objective of political independence of the entire island from Britain.

Washington was faced with a more unique challenge in that, as captain of an entirely new polity, there were few established institutions commanding the unequivocal allegiance of all the former colonies.  He generally steered a very careful, non-committal course between the near anarchic egalitarianism favored by many prominent social philosophers, like Jeffersons and the muscular authority proposed by thinkers preoccupied by the economic development of the American federation, such as Hamilton.  But when this uneasy equilibrium was put to a decisive test, he was not ambiguous.  He quickly availed himself of the opportunity to used armed force against an unpopular minority, the so-called Scots-Irish of America's backwoods regions, to underscore the primacy of the east coast political elites during the Whiskey Rebellion.

In the wake of the disasters of the early revolutionary period, including the generally abysmal conduct of the War of the Second Coalition by the Directory, Napoleon almost immediately recognized that a more dramatic, conventional sort of authority was required to restore public confidence.  He lost little time in leveraging his military credentials to the consulship, and ultimately emperor's throne.  From then on, whatever remained of the high-flown ideals of the Rights of Man were to be brutally (but, within France at least mostly willingly) subordinated to the glory of the French Empire.

Even if we allow ourselves to indulge in the momentary thought that the recent incredible dysfunctions on display in the US Congress heralds the immanent collapse of American Empire, we should be under no illusion that what replaces it will be the dawn of a Utopian society.  Even if the new order is established only after considerable culling, it can in no way base itself on the active political participation of its subjects, for the simple reason that the fundamental top-down economic paradigm remains unchallenged. 

So-and-so or such-and-such may be president or prime minister tomorrow; we may or may not find ourselves with the opportunity to vote over contentious legislation; we may or may not be allowed to assemble in public spaces.  But no one at all seriously expects that he/she will not be required to report promptly as ordered by the workplace supervisor.  Indeed, that we may not be allowed to do so is a very mortal terror.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We Are Legion

Detail from the frontispiece of the 1651 edition of Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan"

Any experienced manager will tell you that the single most challenging part of his or her job is not to be found within the mass of technical details that run through a given project's design, but keeping their workers productively occupied during the inevitable yet unpredictable lulls and logjams that force their way through at inopportune moments.  Power outages, equipment failures, traffic jams, sudden, urgent changes in customer specs, etc., etc., will all, at one point or another, intrude upon the orderly execution of any significant project, totally f*ckin' up your sh*t unless you can convincingly improvise on short notice.

Time is money, and labor is only borrowed, not owned, so you sitting there on your hands is usually not an option.  Unless you do something about it now now NOW you're gonna be up sh*t creek, mon frere.  The consequences don't bear thinking about.

And to add insult to injury, your team, just as inevitably as these interruptions will occur, will view them as opportunity to prove the old adage "idle hands are the Devil's workshop".  Sure, the odd individual here or there may prove to have some initiative of their own, seizing some previously unidentified flexibility within their own assignments.  But that flexibility will always be limited.  And frankly, despite the pseudo-folksy drivel of communistic America-haters like Garrison Keillor, it is simply mathematically impossible for ALL the children to be "above average".

The sad truth of the matters is that all men are NOT created equal.  We will never become successful managers of our own affairs until we admit that plain fact.  It is not merely an absurdity, but a malicious deception to tell a child that he or she can "grow up to be anything." 

A blind narcoleptic will never become an airline pilot.  A child suffering from uncontrollable tics and spasms will not become a band saw operator at a wood mill.  A soul burdened by excessive concern with ethics and transparency will never become an investment banker or politician.

The responsible parent or manager admits this up front. 

When a child or worker's lack of direction has led them away from the path of contented productivity, the loving parent or manager will provide his or her charge with an acceptable alternative path forward.  The excellent parent or manager will guide or her charge to the discovery of their own path forward.  The execrable parent or manager will let the chips fall where they may, hoping he or she won't get crushed in the fallout, whatever may become of his or her charge.

Sadly, it is the last sort of management style which seems to have captured the popular imagination for the last several decades, cynically perverting the laudatory notions of 'equality of opportunity' and 'equality of dignity' into the sick and destructive lie of 'guarantee of outcome' to give licence to the wicked and corrosive chaos that destroys faith and cohesion within a society.

The Law is not applied.  The weak and powerless are punished more severely[1] than the powerful and the privilegedRighteousness is punishedPrudence is ridiculedThe youth are not cultivated, but are left to wander the streets aimlessly like feral animals.

'Leading from behind', is a lie, because, in fact, leadership presupposes initiative.  'Leading by example' can only apply to those very few destined to become leaders themselves.  'Aggressive leadership' is a laughable oxymoron, because anyone emotionally mature and responsible enough to be an actual leader understands that the goal is mutually productive engagement--and that it is completely impossible, and indeed an abominable notion, to reduce another human soul to abject conformity.

The true leader will display 'engaged leadership'--an in depth sense of his or her charges' capabilities and contributions to the team that can only come from genuine and unforced interactions that are mutually reinforcing.  The true leader understands that he can neither destroy nor remake those who would be his or her followers, and so commits him or her self only to those endeavors which are worthy of the team.

This last point is why America is suffering in chaos, why there can be no true leadership here.  No American is willing to admit that the idea of the U.S.A. as some kind of comic book superhero is a perverse joke.  We have committed ourselves to an unrealistic and utterly inhuman project that is not only doomed to failure, but requires us to savagely destroy ourselves in the process.

[1] "But federal research shows that the average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender is longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Only Real Reason American Conservatives Fear Gay Marriage

“The most effective form of police state is one in which the masses police themselves.”

Wives and children are little policemen.  Miniature Stasi agents.  Watching your—and more importantly, making you watch your own--every movement.

That, in a nutshell is it.  No more no less.  The traditional family model’s importance is solely the control of potential political subversion. 

They don’t care about Biblical injunctions against sodomy.  Hell, they’ve got the Vatican anchoring their side.  And last time I heard, Pope Benedict XVI was forced to resign due to pressure from a powerful cabal of high-level sodomists. 

Also, check out George Rekers' ‘stache.  A real Freddy Mercury type of thing going on there.  The Protestants are no better than the Catholics on this one.

I had the poor fortune recently of spending four hours at a local watering hole listening to an old college buddy of mine go on and on (and on and on) about how sh*tty his life was, how the boss was an *sshole, and how all he got at home from the old lady were complaints and insults, whining about how his crappy salary didn’t give them enough to meet the bills, and how the kids were always coming down with some bug or another and needed some type of treatmentment that his worthless insurance policy didn’t cover.  The litany seemed endless.

So how do you respond to this type of emotional toxic dump?  You may have a different opinion, but it seemed pretty clear to me at the time:  don’t respond at all.

I mean, seriously, what could I tell this guy?  “Just divorce that f*ckin’ hag and get on with your life, already!  Look at me—never married, never been married, never thought about getting’ married.  Got no kids—or at least none that I know of.  And I’m living the life of Riley.  Sure, I’ve got no television set or cable.  So if you was to quiz me on the latest episode of Jersey Shore or Duck Dynasty or whatever, chances are I’d fail miserably, but I regard that as an acceptable price to pay.  You tell me which of us has the better life?”

No, clearly that would not do.  For one thing, it would be just too brutal, even if every word of it is true.  You just don’t kick a guy when he’s down, just that simple. 

Plus, I know this guy well enough.  He wouldn’t have responded with anything remotely like, “Yeah, Liam, you’ve got me on this one.  Boy, did I really f*ck up when I married Trudy.”  No, he would have said something more along the lines of:  “Liam, you’re just not getting the whole picture here.  No offense or anything, but you’re as ugly as sin.  You’ve got the complexion of an olive loaf and the hairline of something that’s been left in the ‘fridge too long.  There was never any chance of you getting married in the first place.  You’ll never know the miracle of birth, the wonder of watching your kid’s first steps and whatnot.  Not to be cruel about it, but there’s a whole dimension to life that you only begin to discover when you become a father.  No offense.”

Such views reveal, unintentionally yet very convincingly, the architecture of the conservative’s plan to control society:  control it by sentimentalizing the very means of oppression.  If my friend was inhibited from effectively challenging the immorality inherent in contemporary capitalism by his family’s incessant demands upon his time and resources, he was absolutely precluded from even questioning it by the delusion that the bars of his prison cell as wonderful gilded doors.

Throughout history, all the greatest thinkers have been terrible husbands and parents:   Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire.  And really, when you get down to it, Jesus may have been able to walk on water, but not even he could have achieved anything noteworthy if he’d listened to his Jewish mother and settled down and gotten a law degree like she’d insisted.  Family life is the yoke of mediocrity.

It scares the living bejeebers out of conservatives that their most effective means of surveillance and control might be prized from their filthy paws.  If legitimization of personal relationships is not monopolized by a centralized hierarchy and enforced by arbitrary violence, what is to prevent people from seeking their own happiness?

For the vast majority of its history, the Church hasn’t given two sh*ts about marriage except as a means of political control. 

Oh, occasionally they illegitimated the offspring of some royal union on the grounds of consanguinity during the Middle Ages.  But that was only enforced against rulers the Pope didn’t like.  Jeez, look at the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs.  Theirs was more like a family shrub than a tree.  Tons of first cousin marriages and more than one uncle/niece marriage, to the point where the dynasty collapsed upon itself in a fetid soup of incest with Carlos II, “El Hechizado” (i.e., “the Cursed”).  All tolerated because of their uncritical endorsement of the papacy.

But the relationship between the spouses themselves wasn’t even considered important enough to merit an official sacrament until the Protestant Reformation gave the Church a reason to claim a monopoly on all marriages.  Clear through the early 1500’s we have literally tens of thousands of examples of courts upholding as legitimate and perfectly legal the informal union of individuals who did nothing more than privately declare themselves to be married—without so much as the presence of a third party witness.  This type of off-the-books yet fully recognized transaction is at the core of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette”, and is notably celebrated in the marriage of young Margery Paston and Richard Calle of the “Paston Letters” fame.

Back then, that sort of do-as-you-like behavior could be tolerated for the lower orders of society, when autocracy was the only political endorsed by ‘right thinking people’ everywhere.  No point in spending a lot of time actively policing people whose opinions could not, even theoretically, matter.

That all changed with the advent Martin Luther.  The inescapable implication was that, in theory, if not in actual practice, that every man and woman had a right to interpret the world as he or she sought fit—despite the zealous efforts of Luther himself to convince peasants that a Protestant peasant was still just a peasant.

Until the late 19th century, peasants had far too much to do to ensure their own mere physical survival, much less develop elaborate ideals about proper social and political relationships.  There was still little political need to officially proclaim a monopoly on all human relationships.

But what do you do in a world of plenty?  When technology has increased human productivity several hundred times over and yet minimum required caloric intake remains just the same as it ever was?  How do you justify an arbitrary authority when systems are so diverse and interdependent that no one person or institution could ever hope to control the economy’s physical choke points?  Even if they are inclined to apply a brutal physical violence, conservatives become like sharks, doomed to circle their prey, endlessly and sleeplessly, inevitably to fatigue themselves with their own greed.  Even sharks must die.  Much better to convince the serfs to police themselves.

This, when you think of it, on a planet as horribly overpopulated as our own, is the most compelling social function of child bearing.  Without the cutesy factor of kids, with their aura of charming innocence and all-consuming dependency, how long would most of us put up with the ceaseless and irrational demands of marriage?  What, maybe five percent, tops?

What kind of decent state-subsidized Ponzi scheme or illegal military adventure could a nation sustain if a mere five percent of your population were too preoccupied to resist?  If the shabby ideological framework of neoliberal capitalism chains us to our economic masters, the ridiculous and totally ahistorical conservative notion of ‘traditional’ marriage and childrearing chains us to our spiritual masters.