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Grid Not Goal – Part 1: Parenthood

February 3, 2012

human reproduction
[Image via: legalizecrime]

FRIENDS, YOUR MONTAG WOULD MAKE A SHITTY ANARCHIST. I lack virtue. Without virtue, anarchists are nothing but governors, warlords, and cops.

[I wanted to respond to an ages old comment from Justin, before the real world intervened. (His comment came in right around the time I lost my job.) I also meant to respond to Abonilox’s not-so-recent-recent-now post, and by way of chiming in on these, hoped to kind of save face with my friend Frederick on my anarchist leanings. Anarchism as “grid not goal.” This will take three or four posts to lay out and then, aside from possibly tuning-up a couple of old posts, we’ll see about winding The Stump down, and moving on to something new.]

What is virtue? I asked Justin a while back, in a pretty off-handed way, if being principled was a virtue, and he responded:

[Emphasis added.] I don’t think there is such a thing as being principled as a binary virtue. We all draw boundaries around what people should be treated with some list of rights, and what people can be disposed of in any way.


Like right now, you think you are principled because you have a problem with Bin Laden being summarily executed. Those who don’t have a problem with that scenario presumably do have the same problems you have in others. The problems boil down to, it was morally wrong to do that to him (because that could one day be me.) For most people, being Osama Bin Laden, arch terrorist, master mind of 9/11, is so unthinkable, so alien, that he exists in a category of unPeople, that are not afforded consideration for what principles apply to the real people. [Justin

Have to admit I was rankled at that highlighted bit when I read it, and in a way still am. Though I am coming to terms with it here as I compose a post confessing my lack of virtue.

Well, following Badiou, who says ethical truths must be universal, and if I read him correctly, would characterize virtue as taking part in a truth-process, through militant fidelity to a universal principle. To be principled is virtue.

Take this notion of radical egalitarianism, which I daresay is a universal truth worth pledging fidelity to, (whatever that means living in the system that we do.) “No matter how powerful — regardless, even, of an individual’s utility to society — every person’s time is of equal value.”

The Abonilox asks, living in the system that we do:

…does it follow that we are obliged to remedy this inequality? That is, if you happen to have been rewarded (under this system) for the accident of being born a white male in the west, is there a moral obligation to diminish yourself in some way? [Abonilox]

To the first question, Badiou says “Yes!” As to the second, I’m guessing as a white male in the West, that the answer is “Probably.” Which is the curse of human consciousness! “Hey, I dreamed up a radical new paradigm for all human interaction. Are we now obligated to live by it?”

“Is it true?”

“I think it might be.”

“Then yes we are, goddamnit, if we are to call ourselves ethical beings.”

But here’s the problem: I bred. Ms. Montag and I have offspring to consider, and they are extremely compelling little fuckers when it comes to drawing Justin’s boundaries. Not that I would deny the people outside of this set {Montag's Loved Ones} consideration in my model based of radical egalitarianism, but despite that consideration, my closest peeps trump all. Blood is thicker that water, or whathaveyou. So, here we part ways with principled anarchist thought.

From Peter Marshall’s introduction to The Anarchist Writings of William Godwin, a passage on Godwin’s early strict utilitarianism:

…the principle of impartiality, which arises from the fundamental equality of human beings and is the regulator of virtue, Godwin’s view of utility led him to some novel conclusions. While all human beings are entitled to equal consideration, it does not follow that they should be treated the same. When it comes to distributing justice I should put myself in the place of an impartial spectator and discriminate in favor of the most worthy, that is, those who have the greatest capacity to contribute to the general good. Thus in a fire, if I am faced with the inescapable choice of saving either a philosopher or a servant, I should choose the philosopher — even if I were the servant. If the servant had been my brother, my father, my sister, my mother or my benefactor, the case would be the same. ‘What magic’, Godwin asks, ‘is there in the pronoun ‘my’ that should justify us in overturning the decisions of impartial truth?’

…sentiments like gratitude, friendship, domestic and private affections which might interfere with our duty as impartial spectators have no place in justice. It might be more practical for me to prefer my friends and relatives, but it does not make them more worthy of my attention. [Marshall, p.30]

And, where it’s my offspring in particular who compel this thoughtcrime, this break with virtue, we should note the parting of ways with the idea that all power structures should be challenged, as it relates to another fairly common Anarchist notion, expressed by Hakim Bey when he calls “the Family, those ‘misers of love’ who hold hostages for a banal future[.]” To hold true to Anarchist ideals, to refuse to exercise power over, to allow the full freedom the human spirit craves, to let young people run wild to be raised by their own unmitigated experience of the world and its inhabitants, sounds beautiful and poetic. But it simply does not coincide with my experience of parenthood, which has been one of an unconditional love I never knew was inside me to give, and feeling a calling to the project of child rearing.

Whatever extent these feelings are owed to my being a white male product of the West in the society that elevated the nuclear family to a fetish, there is something genuine there, beyond mere cultural indoctrination. There is magic in the pronoun “my,” when it comes to my progeny. (Let’s forget the implications of using the possessive form here. I don’t mean to say, “Here are my young people, they have to do whatever I tell them.” But rather, “Here are my relations, their wellbeing is of the utmost importance to me.”)

It is in the interest of keeping a roof over their head and their sense of security intact that I don’t strategically default on the mortgage, or evade taxes to protest the war machine, or start a grow operation in the basement, or don a ski mask and throw Molotov cocktails at the Bank of America, or whatever it is Jack Crow would like to see happening next. ;-) In short, despite my freed mind, they do the job the nuclear fetish is intended to do, they keep me occupied and docile in a way that doesn’t allow me to act on anarchist principle. The experience of fatherhood has rendered me fundamentally incapable of virtue.

[Unstructured notes and thoughts that didn’t make it into the post if you continue after this point.]
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October 20, 2011
tags: ,

From:NPR Communications
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:12 PM
Subject: From Dana Rehm: Communications Alert

To: All Staff
Fr: Dana Davis Rehm
Re: Communications Alert

We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone’s participation in an Occupy DC group. World of Opera is produced by WDAV, a music and arts station based in Davidson, North Carolina. The program is distributed by NPR. Lisa is not an employee of WDAV or NPR; she is a freelancer with the station.

We’re in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.

As a reminder, all public comment (including social media) on this matter is being managed by NPR Communications.

All media requests should be routed through NPR Communications at 202.513.2300 or We will keep you updated as needed. Thanks. [via: Corrente]

Simeone has been fired.

Causality of Death

October 15, 2011

HUMANS CAN DIE in any number of ways. The ways are infinite!

However, adopting the deterministic view, I say: I’m only going to die once. While it may seem there are a million different ways I could bite it, there is, truthfully, only one that is going to ultimately do me in. So, everything I do or that happens to me impels me toward that specific end.

It seems weird that human memory is so much more reliable than foresight if this is the case.

Memory recalls how I got here. ‘Here’ being like the death that dictates every “choice” and circumstance that leads up to it. The here that I experience–me, sitting, typing these words–is the only possible result of what came before, that which I remember. For instance, if I hadn’t read Timothy Morton’s post on causality last evening, I would almost certainly be working right now, as I should be! (I’m going to pay for this later.)

I have to admit, though, determinism isn’t very satisfying. I would rather know that choice is real. That, if there are instead an infinite number of parallel universes with unique time-lines of events, that somehow, through my choices, I might blunder onto the one where I die peacefully, at a reasonably advanced age, having not outlived my offspring, who will be there holding my hand.

Perhaps the unknowable possibility is enough impetus, to more than simply persevere, to strive to live well.

American Fall

October 13, 2011

RATHER THAN “American Spring” (it’s the wrong time of year,) or “American Autumn” (meh,) wouldn’t American Fall have had a nicer ring to it?

Of course, what IOZ says is right on the money:

Occupy Wall Street is no revolution, and we are in no danger of replacing democracy with democracy. The protests are symptomatic of something else; they do signify change, even though they are neither the cause nor the ultimate result of it. These sorts of things are like melting glaciers and long tomato seasons: phenomenal indicators of a self-catlyizing reaction across a whole vast and complex system of systems. [IOZ]

Once can only hope that the “something else,” and “these sorts of things,” are things like the decline of global corporate empire and American power. Maybe capitalism itself? It’s obvious, at least, that there is some kind of geopolitical realignment of power underway. #OWS is a symptom of that, not an agent of actual change in terms of shifting power. So the malcontent, the overly-weepy pessimist, can’t help but wonder: is it even too much to hope that #OWS can influence any sort realignment of widely-held perceptions* of the machinations of financial power? [*See how your host adroitly avoids using the term ‘public opinion.’]

They have been, and will continue to be, criticized for the lack of a clear, unified goal and a list of specific demands. Though, I’ll admit being partial to one slogan heard early on, “Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing.” For a minute it seemed the occupiers might be trying to forge a festival-like public space where new, more egalitarian means of exchange and divisions of labor might develop, a sort of petri dish of alternatives to profit motivated capitalism. It’s not clear #OWS was ever that, really. The whole thing seemed to get bogged down in the development of, well, the democratic town hall meeting.

The unified message might have been seen in a demonstration that, yes, people are perfectly capable of getting along without The Economy. The unspoken demand might have come in the form of a realization among the horde of human participants who drive crony capitalism: better to let it fade into obscurity without a fight.

Democracy is FAKE (Part 2)

October 3, 2011

THE OCCUPY WALL STREET “General Assembly” decision making process, what I’ve read of it, is interesting. But I sense that changes are afoot. The group is starting to produce documents “working drafts” at the moment, but it would seem to indicate that there is some sort of organized core of people working on actually writing stuff down, distributing it, and, what, preparing to put it to a vote? Unless I’m wrong and they’ve some sort of open-source wiki of the document that anyone can edit or something along those lines. If so, then what follows may be moot with respect to the OWS moment in time.

One of the Principles of Solidarity under consideration is “Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy.” [source] Which makes Old Montag a little weepy, ’cause democracy is EVIL! The rejection of democracy that has been put forward here at The Stump is based in democracy’s basic assumption of inequality. (Which is not just the unequal value judgments foisted on us by an amoral system of financial power, but also the intrinsic need within a functioning democracy for trusted authorities to steer the ship as unequal superiors.)

Another Principle put forward by the OWS group is “Redefining how labor is valued.” Which makes Old Montag a little weepy, ’cause FUCK YEAH RADICAL EGALITARIANISM! [Hat tip: Devin Lenda] The radical egalitarianism put forward here at The Stump acknowledges that any person’s time spent contributing to the cooperative efforts of the group, regardless of utility, is of equal value.

What is the difference between voluntary, mutually beneficial,cooperative social relations and “social order” where individuals are expected to submit to custom: traditions, norms, hierarchical authority? Under the second, the relation stops being voluntary. The individual is forced to give up a part of themselves when they submit to it. Is “culture” a better word for this, maybe, than “society?” IDK.

The basis for inequality imposed by the impulses of financial power are easy to understand and can be discerned by simply asking the question: “Is there money in it?” It’s the second type of inequality that’s difficulter to pin down. What is the essence or basis for social inequality, specifically hierarchy?

What of death, the base and terrible equalizer, the only measure by which every person is acknowledged as equal? Could it be that human foreknowledge of death and fear of uncertainty is how certain specialists come to be esteemed above other members of society? Doctors, who delay death, Philosophers who help one prepare for death, Mystics who offer a sense of certainty about the hereafter, Generals who deal death to our enemies so that we may live.

Is it a false dichotomy? (Appologies, Charles Davis!) Perhaps it simply comes down always to measures of power. It’s simply that the power that currently holds sway over our social imagination is the financial power we’ve been talking about. People are willing to pay for the treatment and drugs to extend their life; to pay tuition to learn, wield, influence, and preserve society’s accumulated knowledge; pay a tithe to ease their conscience, sooth their worry, to petition some higher power for leniency or forgiveness; to purchase, at all costs, security…

The danger in venerating authority, even well-meaning, trusted experts, is that democracy doesn’t arise from, nor constitute, the consent of the governed. Democracy operates in service to a system of control. Once a movement is committed to democracy, the only matter left to decide is what form of power will be surrendered to.

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Wall Street is FAKE

October 3, 2011

Image illustrating the marriage of financial and state power
Image: jamie nyc

HERE’S TO the Occupy Wall Street folks. Interested to see what comes out of all of this. Interested to see how real powers deal with the movement. Will they strike a deal, or deal a strike?

As a gesture toward solidarity, I’ll refrain from posting my inane philosophical musings, which seem kinda out of place against the background of OWS. Instead, I reckon what what Crispy has to say is worth considering. And anyone interested can read about my own economic disestablishmentarianism right here.

Inequality is FAKE

September 22, 2011

I’M SO FAR TO THE LEFT my liberal friends think I’m a reactionary small-government conservative. Which is true in a way because you can’t get much more small-government than evaluating all exercises of state force through an anarchist framework, and refusing to acknowledge any as justified or legitimate.

The Abonilox recently sketched out Left and Right positions on equality (while noting that most people’s views “fall somewhere in the middle”):

The person on the left embraces a radical view of equality that presumes and rationalizes all inequities to some form of environmental phenomenon that can be ameliorated by willful intervention (presumably by members of an educated class trained to identify such problems).

The person on the right tends more to a fatalist perspective and is more accepting of inequality insomuch as it is obvious that there are inferior specimens everywhere he or she looks. That they are less successful is not an environmental deficiency so much as a congenital one. [Abonilox]

Like the stance on government mentioned above, I find myself holding a somewhat more radical view than the Left, while sharing some aspects of the Right position. Deterministic rather than fatalistic, I recognize a certain kind of inequality: that people will differ in their aptitudes and appetites, and differ in their capacity to produce intended effects. This is the acknowledgement of the unequal distribution of power, the evidence of which is painfully plain to see. I diverge from the Right position in denying that a value judgment should be drawn from these differences. How is it that someone bound by necessity (or fate!) can be found inferior, or somehow less human, for simply persevering in their situation?

My sense of equality is an ideal. It’s FAKE. It does not obtain. Here it is nonetheless: No matter how powerful — regardless, even, of an individual’s utility to society — every person’s time is of equal value. That entrepreneurial ability, or test taking ability, or influence peddling ability are rewarded so much more richly than a strong back and a willingness to get dirty, is demented. The system of rewards is indeed a function of a demented religion of financial power. It is a system by which circumstance dictates whose potential will be fulfilled, and whose will lie dormant for lack of training or education or simply the lack of official sanction. Under such a system, circumstance always favors established power, and gatekeepers and nepotists reign.