Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gratitude is servile

It is easy to confuse gratitude with what might better be called appreciation.

Gratitude assumes someone or something to which we owe our thanks, a benevolent and powerful other that bestows gifts: a king, a divinity.

Appreciation is possible without a gift-giver. Atheists can appreciate. Christians have no choice but to be grateful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you can read this, you have been domesticated

Domestication is a technology of control in which organisms are prevented from living according to their evolved expectations and forced into a way of life that suits the needs of another species.

Humans aren’t the only domesticators. There are several species of colonizing insect that practice simple forms of agriculture, for example. Some ants practice animal husbandry by herding aphids and milking them for a sweet liquid excretion called honeydew. And a species of African ant has recently been found that apparently runs rudimentary factory farms in which other insects are raised for meat.

A domestication-based lifestyle has dramatically different repercussions for humans than it does for social insects, however. Ants don’t risk altering their authentic wild nature in the process of cultivating mushrooms or herding aphids. The ants are colonized to begin with. But whenever humans adopt domestication-based ways of life, they invariably end up domesticating each other. They also end up directing technologies of control inwardly, colonizing and taming their own wild and authentic human nature.

Human lifestyles based on domestic domination didn’t exist anywhere on the planet until 9000 years ago, and didn’t become the norm until sometime during the last couple millennia, perhaps. What that means is that each of us is born with the physical, psychological, and social expectations to live as wild and authentically-human beings.

We still carry wild nature within us—every one of us, in every cell and during every breath. The proof of this is all around us.

The proof is in the massive and ever-expanding prison industrial complex. The proof is in the militarized police. The proof is in ubiquitous surveillance and pervasive monitoring. The proof is in the thinly disguised state propaganda called public education. The proof is in the behavioral pharmacology force-fed to school children who have difficulty ignoring the pulse of life that beckons to them from the center of their being. The proof is in the locks on our doors and the security lights around our houses, arrayed like the searchlights of a concentration camp.

Why would any of these be necessary unless we were, at our very core, wild creatures forced to live like captive animals in zoos, wild creatures forced to live in concrete and asphalt enclosures that bear little similarity with our natural habitat, wild creatures who would surely escape the moment we discover a hole in the fence.

If you can read this you have been domesticated, but the tendrils of domestic control just barely penetrate the surface, and their grip is shallow and tenuous and in need of continual reinforcement.

The first moments in the journey toward rewilding, re-embracing your own authentic humanity, involve little more than a quick convulsive shake. Eradicating the global culture of domestication itself, however, may involve a bit more time—and convulsions on a tectonic-scale.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I hate progressives (part 2)

To be fair, the term progressive as it is applied in any given social or political situation, is somewhat ambiguous. Like its cousins, liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc., it can mean different things to different people in different contexts. Nevertheless, there is a core nexus of beliefs, assumptions, and opinions—an underlying thought-form—that might be applied collectively to folks who adopt the progressive label.

Progressives take civilization as a given, as a natural part of the universe on par with oxygen or gravity. The existence of the system itself is never in question. It is an essential necessity, the ground from which all else is built. The problem is not the existence of a system, it’s that we haven’t got the specific details quite right. With a few minor tweaks (and perhaps a couple major ones) humankind can realize its manifest destiny as supremely civilized beings—or at least we can continue to progress in that direction., a typical repository of progressive-oriented notions, provides a list of the four pillars of progressivism that can help us flesh out some of the delusional contours of the progressive thought-form.

The first pillar is freedom. Sounds pretty good so far. But because progressives are so virulently pro-civilization, and since the history of civilization is a protracted tale of the violent oppression and eradication of every imaginable form of freedom, it is reasonable to approach this progressive pillar with a bit of skepticism.

The pillar of freedom apparently consists of two parts (sub-pillars? legs?): a freedom from and a freedom to. Let’s take a look at the freedom to first. The freedom to is defined as the “freedom to lead a fulfilling and secure life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity. This includes physical protections against bodily harm as well as adequate income, economic protections, health care and education, and other social provisions…” which translates pretty directly as “we should all be free to be fully functional servomechanisms of the global consumer cluster-fuck machine.” Freedom from refers to the freedom to operate in our personal lives in accordance with our personal beliefs without “undue” interference. The terms undue and interference, however, are left eerily open to interpretation. Presumably progressives believe that the government and/or unnamed powerful others should be allowed to interfere at some level or for some reasons. What this level is and what reasons would qualify aren’t specified, but apparently there are features of our personal lives—things we might do or believe—that are in need of regulation.

The second pillar, opportunity, is focused on political and economic equality. No need for detail here. Basically, everyone should have equal participatory access to the political and economic machine. All people from all demographic categories should be allowed to vie for positions in the service of their corporate masters that are consonant with their abilities, and the spoils should be apportioned according to merit.

The third pillar is responsibility. Apparently we all have responsibility for each other. I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it is something like the Christian idea of original sin, something that we inherited because of some shit our ancestors did. The description of this pillar reads like that scene in the The Wrath of Khan where a dying Spock says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Unfortunately Spock’s logic doesn’t work—it implies that needs are commensurate with each other, that they are comparable and somehow quantifiable. It also assumes that we are capable of adopting a psychological orientation toward strangers that is entirely alien from the perspective of our evolutionary heritage as social primates designed for life in small highly-intimate groups.

And then there is this nugget (worth quoting at length if only for the typo):

“This requires pubic [sic!] investments in things like transportation and trade, innovation, a skilled workforce, courts to protect patent rights and contract agreements, public safety and other measures that support the creation of wealth and help to make individual prosperity possible. It also requires progressive taxation, meaning those who have and earn more should pay more to help support the investments in things like schools, transportation, and economic competitiveness necessary to advance the interests of all.

A key component of responsibility involves ecological and social sustainability. This requires on-going stewardship of our land, water, air and natural resources, smart use of energy, and the responsible consumption of goods…”

The deep oxymoronic juxtaposition of those two paragraphs should be glaringly obvious. And this is where the progressive thought-form shows its true delusional genesis. Consumption and wealth creation are simply not compatible with ecological and social sustainability, respectively. Consumption means that what used to be there is not there anymore, and wealth is only created through systematic impoverishment.

The final pillar is cooperation. But what is meant by this is that we all learn to adopt the same progressive goals and that these goals somehow involve improving the lives of everyone. Here we are told that “Progressives believe that if we blindly pursue our own needs and ignore those of others, our society will degenerate.” This, however, flies directly in the face of historical fact. “Our” society came into being as a result of those in power blindly pursuing their own needs by actively preventing others from pursuing theirs. Welcome to civilization 101.

Truly, the use of the pillar metaphor is entirely unwarranted. Even rotted bamboo stilts would provide more supportive structure that this.

If left unanalyzed, the core of the progressive thought-form is superficially appealing, and in some ways almost irresistible. Freedom, opportunity, responsibility, and cooperation all make for delicious sound bites. But there is an ugliness lurking just beneath the surface. It’s like a rich and sweet artistically crafted dessert—the frosting on an expensive wedding cake, for example—where the flavors are rat-tested concoctions of artificial chemicals, the sweetness comes from diabetes-inducing concentrations of high-fructose corn syrup, and the richness comes from an overabundance of trans fats and related carcinogens.

Bon appetite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why I hate progressives (part 1)

An article that appeared recently at Common Dreams about the rise of something called “the sharing economy” provides some minor insight into the deep delusions progressives suffer from.

Examples of the sharing economy include Minneapolis’ Car2go car sharing service, where for a membership fee you are given access to “smart cars” that you can drive and then leave at your destination for the next Car2go member who finds herself in the general vicinity and in need of transportation.

As the rich get richer and rarer and the masses gain in mass and poverty, I suspect that this sort of thing will become more popular as a way for corporations to continue to sell their products to people who are no longer able to afford them individually.

This sort of thing has superficial appeal to those of an anarchist persuasion as well. It smacks of the collectivist ideal and provides an illusory sense of cooperative community involvement that is compelling.

But the author takes a trip to the emerald city by invoking the idea of “the commons,” calling the cellphone signal airspace and city streets that are being used by the Car2go members part of the commons, and then claiming that by combining a sharing economy with the commons we are on the verge of “a whole new economic and political paradigm.”

By expanding the notion of the commons and reducing the reliance on private ownership, we are heading toward an economic techno-utopia, a “techonomy” that, “With a few tweaks, an Uber-like system, for instance, could help low-income people get to work” (which is of course where all zeks belong—forced labor being the reason they were created in the first place). Eventually the masses won’t need to own anything themselves, so they will be able to live on far less than the exorbitant wages their corporate masters have to pay them now.

The article ends with: “For when we operate as though we are all in this together—because we are—we will discover a tremendous abundance of goodwill, imagination, and the drive to create the kind of future we want to live in.”

Welcome to Oz.

I’m going to set aside the “who’s we?” for now. I’m also going to forgo discussion about how one would go about ensuring mass cooperation in a “techonomy” without resorting to massive coercive force. Instead I want to focus briefly on the chimeric incoherence of combining industrial mass technology with the idea of the commons. The idea of a technological commons makes no sense outside of utopian (or dystopian) science fiction fantasy.

Lets’ take the example she uses of cellphone airspace. The commons is supposed to represent a resource shared by all, something that everyone has access to or can participate in as they pursue their own goals and needs (the original commons was a pasture that anyone in the village could use for grazing livestock—food, unlike portable Facebook access, being a real need). The sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum allocated to cellphones hardly qualifies as something shared by all. For one thing, you and I would never be allowed to set up our own personal two-way intercity radio system and talk to each other over frequencies in the cellphone range. In addition, cellphone communication requires—duh!—a cellphone, and, typically, monthly payments to a cellular service provider. The industrial infrastructure supporting cellular communication is commercially owned and under the control of immense corporate bureaucracies and buoyed by intricate international trade agreements underwritten by an unimaginably massive and incomprehensibly deadly military. It does not qualify as a commons if there are restrictive entry conditions, if you and I are free to use it as long as the corporate gate-keepers get their ransom.

Maybe the internet would make for a more potent example. The internet has long been referred to as a kind of commons. But the same corporate entry conditions apply here as will. I need a device to access the net. Yes, I could go to the local library and get access on devices there—but someone (you and I) had to purchase those computers through offerings of corporate tribute called tax dollars.

The gatekeepers must have their blood sacrifice one way or another.

In order for cellphone airspace or the internet to be true commons, we would first have to eliminate corporate industry. We would have to eliminate the need for factory wage-slaves. We would have to dissolve the entire commercial consumer fabric of industrial society.

We can have a technological commons, perhaps, but not while the leviathan still breathes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A response to Ernest Becker

Ernest Becker was a mid-20th century cultural anthropologist and prolific writer. It is a potent irony that The Denial of Death was the last book he published before dying of cancer in 1974 at the too-young age of 49.

From a 21st century standpoint, Becker’s perspective on human psychology seems hopelessly backward and out of date, part of the long death rattle of Freudian psychoanalytic mysticism whose echoes still reverberate in the clich├ęd advice offered by “experts” on daytime television talk shows. But Becker was no champion of Freud, and the “denial” he speaks of is something more than a simple defense mechanism.

His main thesis starts with the existential condition of human beings. In trying to make sense of our lives, we confront a fundamental dualism. On the one hand, we are vulnerable animals perpetually at risk from the larger and uncontrollable universe—creatures with bodies susceptible to accidents and disease, bodies that are destined to decay and disappear forever. On the other hand, we are meaning-making beings with an unlimited capacity to create symbolic worlds. We are at once restricted by our bodies and the physical reality of our inevitable death, and at the same time we inhabit an abstract world of cultural meanings in which we can imagine ourselves as part of something transcendent and immortal.

For us to see reality for what it is, including our own complete dependency on external things and our own complete and thoroughgoing powerlessness and ultimate meaninglessness, would be too terrifying. Fortunately, culture provides us with all kinds of ways to disguise the truth. According to Becker, culture is nothing other than a reservoir of meanings for hiding ourselves from the truth—culture is a gigantic ego defense mechanism.

Our lifestyles are “vital lies” that include “a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation.” The vital lies we tell involve a heroic component: we see ourselves as heroes of one sort or another. Society has a hero structure throughout, with ready-made storylines so that people can fit themselves snuggly into the tale of immortality. “In other words, men use the fabrications of culture, in whatever form, as charms with which to transcend natural reality.”

The need to be a hero, to stand out as an individual, is a means to deny the truth of our status as contingent beings, the truth that nothing that we do is really in our control. We need the illusion of being self-caused beings. “As one’s whole life is a style or scenario with which one tries to deny oblivion and to extend oneself beyond death in symbolic ways, one is often untouched by the fact of death because he has been able to surround it by larger meanings.” As a consequence, we live lives of cultivated and ultimately destructive ignorance. “Even if the average man lives in a kind of obliviousness of anxiety, it is because he has erected a massive wall of repressions to hide the problem of life and death…but all through history it is the ‘normal average men’ who, like locusts, have laid waste to the world in order to forget themselves.”

But Becker is talking about life within the oppressive grip of civilization. The need for immortality—or the desire to extend life beyond its earthly allotment—seems a natural result of the emptiness of civilized existence and the sense we get that something is missing, the feeling we have that life should be something more than what it is. A hunter-gatherer is surely as aware of the transient nature of her own life as I am—and perhaps even more so, with the regular exposure to death in close proximity and unsheltered by slaughterhouse or mortuary. But the transience itself is absorbed as part of a complete and fulfilling existence. Immortality is built-in from the start, in a sense: as a part of the land, as a part of the ongoing life-and-death coming-and-going that is all around at all times. There is never a chance for the experience of separation—alienation—to find foothold. Mere transient authentic human existence is immortality. The possibility for anything else is incomprehensible.