on green capitalism

This is part of a (planned, i.e. possibly nonexistent) series of blog posts where I post choice ideas from stuff I’m reading.

Today’s selection comes from Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow’s The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden (NYU Press, 2011). Most times I don’t bother to critique capitalism, but sometimes it just needs to be said. I love the extremely clear, no bullshit approach of this passage:

Nativist environmentalism and environmental privilege are further linked and reinforced by a common view of environmental politics and social change we call “the Aspen Logic.” The Aspen Logic is a worldview that people across the mainstream political spectrum embrace, but one that is particularly prominent in liberal and Democratic political circles. The idea is that environmentalism and capitalism are entirely compatible and not in fundamental opposition. … The Aspen Logic is hard at work in the en vogue fixation with the so-called green economy. The fundamental problem with an idea like green capitalism is that it presumes that capitalism is, at root, a just system that only needs regulation and reform. We reject this premise for what should be obvious reasons: because capitalism is a hierarchical, violent system of production, consumption, commerce, and governance that inherently views people and ecosystems as variables to be manipulated for the benefit of a minority. … Therefore green capitalism does not result in a transformed society marked by ecological sustainability and social justice because (1) it is not possible and (2) because that is not the goal. (pg 14-15)


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consensus vs. unanimity

Now that I’m back in my first world homeland, I’ve started participating in some local Occupy events. Occupy is of course more or less a massification of the organizing principles many anarchists (and others) have long valued. General Assemblies, consensus, and non-hierarchical “leadership” are nothing new, though of course the whole idea is that they will necessarily work a little differently in each particular context because each group should be autonomous in meeting its own needs.

So I tried to withhold judgment when I first started seeing the term “voting” applied to supposedly collective decision-making processes around the country.  Especially when it seemed that in many groups “consensus” had turned in to something more like “90% approval.” Contrary to what you might expect, I don’t think the biggest problem here is the lack of unanimity (though I am skeptical—a post for another day). The biggest problem I see is the elision between voting and decision-making. These are not the same thing! And that should be the whole point.

Voting is individual. Each individual weighs the information available to them, and then makes an individual judgment and casts a vote. This can be done with consideration to the way the outcome might affect others, or to the way that others are voting, but it is still a fundamentally individual act. Voting is also a moment. It doesn’t include the entire process of deciding the options or what people are voting on.

Consensus, by contrast, is a collective process. Consensus isn’t something that just happens at the end of a discussion, the way a unanimous vote might, but is an entire process of decision-making. It may start with an initial proposal, but proposals are brought to the group for consideration and improvement, not for approval/disapproval.  Consensus is something that is built, through careful consideration and adaption of the ideas of everyone present. The idea is that through consensus you get a better outcome or decision than might have happened otherwise, because consensus doesn’t just consider everyone’s vote or opinion equally. Instead it actually becomes something greater than the sum of these opinions. It isn’t just that there are no sore losers (though that can be one advantage), but is a true product of the collective.

The very idea that you could “bring something up for a vote” in a consensus process is antithetical to the process. If there is actually consensus in the group, the group should arrive at consensus. This isn’t some mystical moment, but it is something that can at least partially be felt. If it’s obvious that anyone in the group still has concerns, then there isn’t consensus. If it isn’t obvious, then the focus of the process should shift to feeling out any remaining concerns, addendums, or alterations.

This is a fairly important distinction that is at risk of being lost in what seems to be a fairly large sector of Occupy Everything. Absent of the clarification between the two, participants seem to gravitate toward what is most familiar. In the case of the US, that is individualized voting. And it seems to me that we already know what voting directly rather than for representatives doesn’t look too different from the referendum system already in place in most states. You know, the one that’s completely vulnerable to right-wing manipulation by moneyed interests to do things like pass anti-immigrant laws.

Without consensus processes that actually reflect the spirit and power of collective decision-making, Occupy risks becoming little more than a critique of representative democracy rather than a radical space for building community.

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Has the Tea Party changed US politics for the better?

Political scientists in the US have a sort of conventional wisdom that the informalization of politics—meaning protests and politics in the street instead of in the legislature–is always a bad thing. Mostly because it is usually accompanied by instability of democracy, of the economy, of the whole working system that makes a political entity like a nation-state.  And I agree, this kind of instability can be really risky. The conventional wisdom argues that it’s precisely this context that can open doors to military dictatorships, violent coups, and especially the rise of the Third Reich. They argue that you don’t actually want things to change too fast.

But this firstworlder is a staunch believer that the informalization of politics is the only politics that can be of any use to the poor. A formal political apparatus is really never going to be in the best interest of the poor, though obviously some governments will be better or worse. But the poor are not meaningful constituents of a formal politics, and thus legislative or electoral politics are only ever going to be minimally responsive to the poor, at least without an accompanying informal politics–the threat of roadblocks, strikes, and so on.

And because of that, in the midst of all the excitement (at least on the internet) about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I have started to ponder whether the left shouldn’t be thanking the Tea Party.

Bear with me, because this idea is not fully baked, but my theory goes like this: a lot of the conventional wisdom on the left, at least the mainstream part of it, argues that we must stick with the Democratic Party. We need a broad-based movement, and sticking with the (supposedly) centrist left is our only chance for real change, they say. The unions and the anarchists and the environmentalists need to join hands, like in Seattle 1999, and pull the party with us to the left if we want real social justice, goes the argument. The Tea Party, with their wack-o radical ideas and supposed disdain for the establishment Republican Party, has been doing just the opposite. They have been dreaming of the country they want to see and then demanding it [I’m not sure that’s true, since I don’t believe the Tea Party is actually a grassroots movement, but we’ll overlook that for the moment]. In other words, the Tea Party has provided a counter-narrative, showing that one way to get the party to follow you is not to coddle and cajole it, but rather to spit in its face until you have it begging for your votes.

The Tea Party has yanked the country far to the right, forcing us all into a situation of high stakes politics instead of the constant call to compromise. Could it be that we can thank the Tea Party for showing the US left that if we want to make another world possible, we can’t just hide behind the Democratic Party waiting for them to make it for us?

It’s a half-baked theory, and as a social scientist I’m a little scared to throw it out there without having researched the important empirical facts, but it’s an idea I’m tossing around…

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the church of anarchism

One of the impetuses for starting this blog was this realization: anarchism is my faith.

I have been anti-“organized religion” and unable to convince myself of the existence of any kind of deity for my entire life (it’s easy when you are unbaptized and raised by people with vaguely Christian, undefined belief systems). I have never considered myself a person of faith, and the word “spiritual” never speaks to me. I didn’t embrace the identity of atheist for a long time because I rejected the idea of defining myself at all in terms of religion (atheism meaning that theism is the standard and I am the exception). I felt that religion, spirituality, and faith were essentially irrelevant to my life; I have a holistic view of the world and how it works that simply does not include (or need) a deity or other belief system to make it work.

But one day I realized that my view of the world is profoundly anarchist. Anarchism, for me, is the way I imagine how religion must be for other folks. It is a belief system that shapes the way I act, how I interpret events on both a macro- and micro-scale, and is my moral grounding. It is an irrevocable part of my identity in the most basic ways.

I can’t help it, and I can’t change it, which is one of many reasons why I spend so much blog space talking about anarchism as a thought crime. I cannot live my life attempting to not be an anarchist, even if being an anarchist makes me ‘illegal’ in some sense in the U.S.

One of my favorite passages in sociological writing is from Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life. A lot of the book is full of offensive racist garbage, but the conclusion describes my anarchist ‘faith’ profoundly:

…“we can say that the faithful are not mistaken when they believe in the existence of a moral power to which they are subject and from which they receive what is best in themselves. That power exists, and it is society.”

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on the interwebs today: criminalization of thought

I like to catalog evidence of the US government’s criminalization of thought here, in case any of you think I am a crazy conspiracy theorist overstating my case. And it does sound crazy  sometimes (though maybe only to those of us raised with white privilege–I suspect it is a lot less crazy sounding to African Americans who may be more used to viewing the US government as an institution of unjust repression).

But it’s undeniable, too. To whit, even Gawker, hardly a bastion of left-wing anything, is posting about the CIA/Bush administration targeting of Juan Cole. And let’s not forgot the ongoing FBI probe in Minneapolis targeting anti-war activists.

It may seem to some of you dear readers that I am overreacting, and that such individuals, if guilty of no wrong doing, will be acquitted and the FBI/CIA will leave them alone. Or, if they have committed illegal protest acts, then they knew the risks they were assuming and should not shrink from facing the penalties.

Here’s the problem with that: the reason the CIA was gathering sensitive personal information on Juan Cole is so that they could find a way to silence his political speech in his personal life. Perhaps an email policy violation at the University of Michigan. Perhaps even just gathering unrelated details that could be used to accuse Juan Cole of a crime down the road in several years.

Think of any movie you’ve seen about the civil rights struggle in the southern US: remember those scenes where the car gets pulled over, and then the cop busts the light bulb, and then takes the cars occupants to jail or worse? FBI and CIA probes are like that. The order in which these events unfold really matters. Searching for unrelated wrongdoing in order to shut up someone’s political speech will probably turn up something that can be used against someone, but that doesn’t mean it was a justified search.

And another point, perhaps to be elaborated in a later post: these governmental probes, infiltrations, investigations are not the exception but the rule.

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on the interwebs today: (astonishingly) racist campaign ad

Today I was confronted with a campaign ad so racist and misogynist that it’s hard for me to find anything else to say about it. There’s little analysis to be done, because if you are confused by why portraying young black men = gangbangers (no room to doubt) yelling “give me your cash bitch” at a white woman legislator, while  a faceless female ass shakes in the middle of the screen is racist and misogynist, I don’t know if I can help you understand it.

Here’s the ad on Gawker.

And here’s what Scatterplot had to say about it.

What I guess I can say about it is that the fact that such a thing can be aired in an effort to actually convince someone of something is a truly terrifying statement about politics in the United States. Just like I see from the Republican presidential primary debates, the supposed center is starting to be terrifyingly to the right. One of the few comforts for me in this climate, I guess, is to continue to seek out pockets of autonomy, moments of liberation, and keep seeing “revolution” as a constant everyday process rather than as the end-goal or single event.  Because if it wasn’t clear in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s crystal clear now that the United States is not going to see any kind of truly democratic seachange anytime soon, the backlash in Wisconsin notwithstanding. Not if this discourse is the criteria for where votes go…

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on the interwebs today: everybody hates Lebron James

Let me just start by saying: I am not really a sports fan, and I am definitely not a basketball fan. I know next to nothing about the NBA and am not that interested to learn. However, when I got on the internet this morning the collective schadenfreude at the Miami Heat’s loss was unavoidable. It seemed like every other message on social networking sites was a celebration of the Mavericks’ win, and this from people who were neither from, nor live, anywhere near Texas.

Something about this immediately doesn’t sit right, since almost all of these people are white and they just seem so damn excited to demonize a Black man. Over at the Nation, Dave Zirin wrote a nice post about James’ post-game quote and how it reflects a collective decision to direct anger at an athlete rather than at, say, our politicians. What Zirin doesn’t quite spell out, but what stands out for me, is the fact that people (mostly white people, I’m guessing) seem to have an easier time enforcing moralistic narratives on Black athletes. It’s hard not to feel like James’ choice to join the Heat is not somehow related to the feeling that he should be grateful and humble for the success he’s found, which is a profoundly racialized narrative. The schadenfreude from last night’s game just seems as though people are glad to see James ‘put in his place.’

Meanwhile, over at New Black Man, David Leonard discusses the complexity involved in such situations, illustrating nicely how sports fandom isn’t just about the politics of race, but yet at the same time always is.

Updated to include this link to a post about Ohio’s decision to “honor” the Mavericks for beating Lebron James.


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