Friday, October 31, 2014

Eradicating the Nation-State

. @hjbentham. #antistatism. #anarchism. #VenusProject. #nostate.

This article originally appeared at Dissident Voice in 2013, but is being reprinted due to its relevance to recent and upcoming events including Remembrance Day.

If we want a world without exclusion and inequality, we must discredit all the structures and institutions that only exist to keep inequality in place. Of these, one of the most devastating is bafflingly legitimized by most people globally, including those people who are worst-off. In fact, one could make the argument that those who are worst-off are the most vocal about the self-determination of “nations”, the idea of constructing a nation-state for one’s exclusive status-group. All nation-states get their basis from fraudulent arguments, and their very existence runs directly contrary to the goal of an egalitarian regime. Therefore, it is arguable that all nation-states deserve to be criticized and finally eradicated by the oppressed, rather than legitimized by them.

Social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein has presented historical insights that show how the nation-state system that defines international relations is basically the superstructure of an exploitative global economic system that must divide people and restrict numerous rights and freedoms to survive. The nations, when we analyze them, can each be found to be based on historical exaggerations. India, for example, was primarily constructed by nationalistic zealots leading history to their desired conclusions. In reality, in a fully informed mind there is no India or should be no India, because any number of possible countries could have existed instead of India. The same can be said of the United Kingdom, although it is more credible to make the argument about newer states with more recent sordid histories such as the current South African regime with its recent experience of apartheid – another system of exclusion, much like the “nation” still accepted as so-called South Africa.

The world is tiered to offer different groups different levels of wealth and power. And the international system, by separating people into nation-state units and confining people to them on the basis of fraudulent historical claims, bears a great portion of the guilt for the vast disparities of wealth and power in the world. The only reason a nation-state can be richer than another is because nation-states are believed to be legitimate democratic units to represent people internationally, but they are not. Were they to all be simply rejected as illegitimate, none of the international inequality producing the sore of the North-South divide would then be justifiable. None of the discrimination against migrants throughout the world would then be justifiable, and neither would any use of armed force by one state against a weaker state.

The nation-state as we know it today is the product of two significant events: the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The former established the idea of sovereignty and the latter established the idea of popular sovereignty and redefined the citizens to be an inclusive category involving every member of the “nation”. Since the French Revolution, most norms in international relations have been developed from that history which established how states are to be recognized as legitimate. The United Nations still defends sovereignty and self-determination, the latter of which is basically an extension of popular sovereignty and a brainchild of Woodrow Wilson. However, as enlightened as the French Revolution was in its time, the Jacobin ideology of nationalism was also unfortunately supportive of jingoistic ideology, and ultimately legitimized the doctrines of fascism and Nazism in the Twentieth Century. This has to do with the faulty premises of the idea of citizenship and the antinomy of citizenship and human rights. If humans are equal and are to be given inalienable rights, there are no citizens, because citizenship is necessarily exclusive.

It may be alluring, or even justifiable as a short-term strategy, to get involved in the nation-state aspirations of an oppressed people for self-determination, such as the Palestinians. However, oppressed as the Palestinian people may be, their real oppressor is the nation-state system they lend credibility to by aspiring to find protection in the body of a nation-state. Zionism is the epitome of nationalist evil in our time, and the coffin of obscene Zionism and its many equivalents around the world (which include dangerous Sinhalese and Indian nationalist ideologies among many others) would not be the attainment of Palestinian statehood but the de-legitimization of all nation-states. As such, it is justifiable to say that one does not simply refuse to recognize the State of Israel, but that one refuses to recognize any nation-state. Some nation-states may be committing massacres at the present time to defend their ideological claim, but all of them justify their power and their possession of arms on the same basis that the massacres are committed.

Imagined Communities, the name of his best known work, is the term Benedict Anderson uses to describe nations. With the development of communication infrastructure and the development of one language within a geographic area, an illusory sense of community develops among people in that area. Nations are always asserted by rulers using such things as common language or ethnicity as mere excuses, and the nation-state is constructed upon the nation by legitimizing the fallacious idea of a nation for the sake of gaining recognition among similar entities and the acquiescence of the people within the state’s jurisdiction. Thus, in the same way that churches require believers, nation-states require those who believe in the nation.

Nationalism has been opposed often throughout history. However, unfortunately, what most of its opponents were always attacking was not the nation-state but the concept of a nation. They were quarrelling over creating a more inclusive nation, but this is a misguided approach. Extending citizenship, giving more rights to people within the nation, et cetera, is not good enough. The very idea of a nation, as imagined when popular sovereignty won out in the French Revolution, must be taken apart. With it, the idea of citizenship must be taken apart and discredited.

The argument should not be about creating global citizens, but about abolishing all citizenship. Citizenship is necessarily exclusive. One cannot produce certificates that are inalienable, for then the certificates would negate themselves. One does not make the slaves free. One abolishes the institution of slavery, and with such abolition the free man is also abolished because the distinction between slave and free man shall cease to exist. Thus, it is abolition of the institution of citizen and non-citizen that we must act toward, and this is the abolition of citizenship, the institution in question. The principles of tolerance and equal treatment among people cannot support the survival of the institution of citizenship.

What should be aspired towards is not the eradication of states or the eradication of government (as anarchism aspires towards) but the elimination of a particular kind of unit, the nation-state. Nation-states are founded upon historical fabrications, constructed to segregate communities in the world and force them to accept an ideology that enforces international inequality. Furthermore, nation-states and the concept of citizenship cannot be divorced from its roots as an ideology that repeatedly supports exclusion or other actions tantamount to racism. All present institutional racism stems from the ideology of nation-states that is accepted by most people. To eclipse this model, only the model of a single democratic government over all persons in the world is suitable to provide equitable and benevolent governance that cannot be accused of hypocrisy. But voicing support for an alternative system is not as important as letting go of the archaic system currently in effect.

The next Mandela would surely be the man capable of breaking the legitimacy and power of the nation-state model itself (in all countries founded on fraudulent historical arguments and delusions of community, whether officially described as a “nation-state” or not). The archaic and oppressive institutions of nationality and citizenship must be broken in our time, during the transition period of the world system, and perhaps South Africa would be the most fitting place for that change to be first agitated and displayed to the world. The “nation” entities with the flimsiest and most sordid histories, such as South Africa with its apartheid past, should be targeted for dismantlement first. Everything that ties the people of the so-called nation must be questioned and thrown into doubt. Tell them how nothing in fact ties them but their humanity, and the same thing ties all of us, inside or outside our borders and no matter what petty details a sheet of paper may say. If out of many, there comes one, then disavow the nation-state ideology and believe in a world without “citizens”, a world where humanity can find the correct form of democratic representation under a single system and authority.

In sum, the nation-state is destructive, abusive and unnecessary and it ought to be abolished in the long-term. The associated ideology of citizenship should be targeted for eradication too, no matter what reactionary dangers this eradication may entail, because that ideology is the basis for a great deal of exclusion and preferentialism. Question history, question the “nation”, and do not pay any respect to such a fallacious idea. Don’t sacrifice the truth of the trajectory of history, so you can accept what a government has taught for the manufacture of acquiescence to exclusion and inequality.

Become part of the conversation. Submissions welcome. Also consider leaving a comment in the comment thread.

Originally published at Dissident Voice on 16 April 2013.

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‘More to Industrial Enclosure than Patents’

. #patents. #opensource. #innovation. #technology.

Eric Blattberg, writing for VenturBeat, reports (“Tesla Motors: Please infringe on our patents for the greater good,” June 12) that electric car manufacturer Tesla will henceforth permit all comers to exploit its innovations. “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” says Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

I think the importance of patents in enclosing the motor industry is overstated. Legal precedent around the issue has consistently favoured openness regarding component replacement for a very long time. Anyone is free to manufacture a component designed to replace a part of a patented system without thereby being guilty of infringement. With few exceptions, moreover, automotive patents pertain to details competitors easily design around. Yet the motor industry as it stands today is a supremely enclosed industry, due to product standard, safety and emissions regimes.

Musk understates the mainstream industry’s interest in electric propulsion. All the major manufacturing groups have programmes ready and waiting, complete but for the regulatory framework needed to protect them from entry en masse by a profusion of new start-ups. It is in a sense choreographed, as it usually is: As I said before (apparently somewhat controversially), the mainstream industry’s agenda is an agenda of change, but a specific single programme of specific changes at specific times. If it’s not in the script, it must be killed — but I believe electric cars are very much in the script. They have too much going for them from a corporate capitalist viewpoint — far more to my mind than they have going for them from an ecological viewpoint.

For starters, they eliminate all that finicky skilled labour required to put together an internal combustion engine properly. They eliminate all that variability of parts that constantly tempts the customer to get above herself technologically. The electric car has too much potential at last to become the one-part, disposable car not to be a hugely important part of established manufacturers’ long-term plans. Not least, increasing the digital-electronic content of the car makes it much more permeable to the established software “intellectual property” legal tradition, which is much more onerous than that around IP in automotive hardware.

Certainly Tesla is closer in nature to any established major manufacturer than to the loose networks of local component-makers and assemblers I’d like to see. Two factories on two continents and a three-digit weekly output would have made them distinctly plutocratic in the ’20s. Nor are they any exception to the state-enforced idiomatic requirement for the techniques of mass production, or they would not have been legally tolerated, especially in California. Electric propulsion frees them from the regulatory burdens pertaining to internal combustion engines — that was the loophole that allowed the company to operate at all — but their products remain subject to the entire edifice of supposed safety regulation, including expensive destructive testing in development and anti-tampering legislation in use.

I wonder about the motivation in forgoing these patents, given that many are relatively toothless. Tesla obviously wishes to play the heroic underdog, to imply solidarity with the open-source movement despite operating in an industry legally effectively prohibited from embracing open-source methods in any meaningful way. Open-source becomes trivial when subject to the sort of model conformity which a type-approval regime requires. The resulting lack of diversity of possibility and ad-hoc flexibility is analogous to the difference between representative democracy (let’s all vote on what same things all of us are going to be required to do) and anarchy (let’s all do different things, as and when we variously choose.) Hence, no technological change but only political change is capable of changing the motor industry. Tesla’s very existence counts against them.

The popular perception that anything that runs on electricity must be eco-friendly, contrary to the consensus in serious off-grid alternative-energy circles that electricity is a premium source which should be reserved for lighting and communications and little else, could not have come cheap. I’m seeing it more and more: People honestly believe that a toilet hard-wired into a house’s electrical system uses less energy than a toilet that has no electrical connection at all; who honestly believe that running an electrical resistance oven off a few PVs is only a matter of time. That didn’t grow by itself.

Tesla doesn’t have that kind of money, but someone has an interest in spending it. Tesla is not the only company with an interest in an analysis according to which the great problem is that 90 million of the 100 million cars made annually are not electric, instead of the more sensible view that the problem is that those 90 million cars are made at all, to satisfy the demands of a largely artificial mobility scenario. And outside that artificial situation, with its pressure of traffic, frequent stop-starts, and noise, not to mention intensive policing and huge infrastructural investment, I submit that the electric car as such has little or no benefit.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Breaching the Social Contract

. @JSDiedrich. #anarchism. #prison. #AmericanDream. #USA. #state.

America leads the world. No other nation imprisons more people than we do. Over 2.2 million men, women, and children currently reside in penitentiaries; another 4 million are under criminal supervision. In the past forty years, the incarcerated population has increased by a factor of five. Billions of our tax dollars are spent maintaining prisons and jails [PDF]. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik writes, “The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.” In an effort to ameliorate this sad state of affairs, many have proposed sentencing reforms, educational programs, statutory alterations, and other tweaks of the system.

Maybe it’s time to radically rethink the nature and purpose of criminal law itself. Maybe it’s time to look to another legal theory — contract law.

Despite sharing common roots, criminal law and contract law are different. In the United States, as in other jurisdictions, contrasting theory, substance, and procedure distinguish the two doctrines. Many people consider criminal behavior to be a breach of the social contract. If so, then why don’t we apply contract law principles to crime?

Crime as Breach of Contract

Consider Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s formulation of the “social contract”:

What really is the Social Contract? An agreement of the citizen with the government? No, that would mean but the continuation of [Rousseau’s] idea. The social contract is an agreement of man with man; an agreement from which must result what we call society. (General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, 1851)

Proudhon equates the social contract with social expectation: how do individuals expect each other to behave under normal circumstances? Indeed, every society establishes its own norms to which its members are expected to adhere. Yet to truly be a “social contract” the state must also be party to it.

Criminal behavior amounts to a breach of the social contract and a violation of implicit social norms. For example, we do not expect our neighbors to take our stuff. We denounce theft as an illegitimate means of acquiring property.

Contract Law Principles

In general, contract law attempts to put victims of breach in as good a position as they would have been if the contract had been performed. The “expectation principle” requires the breaching party to compensate the victim just to the point of making her as whole as she had expected to be (either by economic equivalence, restitution, or both) and not beyond.

The remedy for property crimes (as social contract breach) seems intuitively obvious: give the victim back her things. After all, the point of contract remedy is to compensate the victim, treat the breaching party fairly, and promote economic efficiency. As Oliver Wendell Holmes declared, “The duty to keep a contract at common law means a prediction that you must pay damages if you do not keep it — and nothing else.”

Penalty Clauses

Because of these broad principles, penalty clauses are not enforceable. A clause that reads, “If Smith does not pay Jones $20, then Smith must pay $100 instead,” would not be upheld in court. Holdings barring the enforcement of contractual penalties and quasi-penalties litter American case law.

Penalties have been questioned and derided for centuries. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the villainous Shylock agrees to loan Antonio money. However, under the contract, if Antonio defaults, he must forfeit a pound of his flesh.

Shylock: Go with me to a notary, seal me there
Your single bond; and, in a merry sport,
If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.

Why the harsh penalty? “If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.”

Antonio defaults. At trial, someone offers to pay twice the contract price to save Antonio from Shylock’s knife. Shylock, however, insists the court enforce the deathly penalty. After ostensibly honoring his wish, the judge cleverly turns Shylock’s argument against him, preserving Antonio’s life.

Social Contract Penalties

The social contract includes at least two penalty clauses. First, if a party breaches, then he is punished (the “criminal”). Second, if a party breaches, then the aggrieved party (the “victim”) is cast aside and ignored.

Under the current bifurcated system, a criminal caption reads State v. Smith, not Jones v. Smith. The victim is not a party to the suit. Instead, the state assumes its position as a placeholder for the victim, whether or not the victim approves. Like Shylock, the state then begs for the enforcement of penalty clauses. Someone breached the social contract. Punish her!

In equating justice with punishment, we forget about the victim. Sadly, with full enforcement of the penalty clause against the breaching party, the victim also suffers a penalty — she is cast aside and ignored. Our addiction to penalties has given rise to the largest prison population in the world. In contrast, a more rigid application of contract law principles would preclude the application of penalty clauses, focusing instead on fulfilling expectations, compensating for losses, and making the victim whole again.

Many crimes violate person, not property. How would we remedy social contract breaches such as battery, rape, and murder? While the answer is not clear, to enforce penalties seems dubious at best. Civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow once noted, “All communities and states are in reality ashamed of jails and penal institutions of whatever kind. Instinctively they seem to understand that these are a reflection on the state.” Perhaps Darrow was correct in thinking that “nearly every crime could be wiped away in one generation by giving the criminal a chance.”

Moreover, common law courts rarely award emotional damages resulting from a contract breach. Such damages fall into the realm of tort law. However, Hadley v. Baxendale, a seminal case from nineteenth century Great Britain, established the “foreseeability rule.” If damages resulting as a consequence of breach could have been reasonably foreseen, then they can be recovered. All parties to the social contract certainly can “reasonably foresee” the consequential emotional damages of violent acts like rape.

The law treats contracts differently than it treats crime. But should it? Isn’t criminal behavior just a breach of contract — the social contract? When a thief steals from his neighbor, doesn’t it make sense to repay the neighbor and restore her expectations? In criminal law, penalties deprive liberty without compensating the victim. We punish both the criminal and the victim; only the state comes out ahead. The common law refuses to enforce contractual penalties for good reason. Perhaps that principle should be applied to criminal law, as well.

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Why open data matters in education

. @aseem_sharma. #open. #opensource. #opendata. #webwewant. #education.

Rajan attends a school in a small village located around 140 kilometers from my hometown of Amritsar, India. Otherwise an active boy who is adept in handling numbers in the ledger book at his father’s convenience store and who loves playing flute, he falls into the depths of apathy and indifference the moment he enters his classroom. Rajan is not at fault for the abrupt change in his behavior at the school. He attends a school that has one teacher for all its students from classes starting from the first standard through the fifth standard, that has no proper infrastructure, a dilapidated library, and an obsolete teaching methodology.

In an environment where the students do not get personal attention indispensable for nurturing their strengths, where the teachers lack the professional training to bring sophisticated teaching methods in the classroom, and where the concept of a customized curriculum is unheard of, Rajan's distrust in his school is not surprising. Like him, millions of students in India in particular, and the developing world in general, get lost in the complex maze of the schooling system. Interestingly, these millions are counted in the educated and literate sections of governmental statistics. These scenarios are indicative of the fact that the solution to the problems of education transcends far beyond just opening up schools in the rural areas of the country.

Nelson Mandela once said that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." It thus becomes a responsibility of both the public and the private players to create a system which maximizes the potential of children in their formative years. The way students learn can be constructively influenced and improved. In the long run, quality of a person's life grows proportionally to the quality of education of the person.

Similar to the way open source changed the way technology is built and used, open data has begun to change the way the world looks at data. Open data provides an opportunity to resolve some of the world's most complicated problems, whether in private sector or public sector. Businesses and governments have already started to realize the benefits that opening up the data and using/reusing it can bring. Joel Gurin, senior advisor at the Governance Lab at New York University, writes in his book "Open Data Now" that “open data is the world’s greatest free resource—unprecedented access to thousands of databases—and it is one of the most revolutionary developments since the information Age began."

Education in general and schooling system in particular is one area where the journey has just begin and there is still a long way to go. In comparison to other areas, it is one such critical area which is still largely untouched by innovative solutions, especially when it comes to people living at the 'bottom of the pyramid'. In such a scenario, what role can open data play in improving the situation? Why is it relevant to the education system? What new approaches does it offers to the problem in context? A few perspectives in this regards are as follows.

Contextual intelligence

Approximately 5500 kilometers away from that village near Amritsar is Finland, where the standards of schooling system and education take a 180 degree turn. Whether it is a sprawling suburb of Espoo near Helsinki or the thinly populated Lapland, the country's 62,000 teachers and 3,500 schools ensure that their students get the best of education and grow as responsible citizens. Finland has consistently performed high on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15 year olds in more than 40 global venues.

Whether it is deciphering text or manipulating numbers, Finnish students are among the top performers in the world. Teachers rarely stand at the front of the classroom for the entire 50 minutes, and it is typical to see students walking around from one workshop to another which exemplifies high degree of autonomy in thinking and decision making that the students have. There is an evident disparity in educational systems and the growth of students across the world. Open data increases the understanding of this disparity across different countries tremendously. Solution providers can better understand what works where and what does not works in what parts of the world. They can also understand and analyze the situations most amicable for creating a learning environment.

A dashboard on the World Bank's open data website vividly showcases, along with other statistics, the stark difference in the autonomy in planning and management of school budget between Burkino Faso and Finland. These kind of visualizations created from open data increases the contextual intelligence and consequently equips the solution providers to focus on areas which need the maximum attention.

Improved understanding of the problem

Anything that can be measured can be resolved. Applications built on top of open data can be used to monitor among other things, the learning patterns of students, their performance patterns, teacher absenteeism, and on a larger scale regions that perform better and regions that perform poorly. This creates a better grip on the problem we are encountering as well as the scale of the problem. An educational map indicating the best and the worst areas and the scale of the problem in each of those areas can assist both the private players and the public entities to customize solutions accordingly.

Efficient public-private partnership

With the push to open data in the government sector in the US, under the leadership of Aneesh Chopra, who served as the first chief technology officer of the country, umpteen opportunities have been created for start up entrepreneurs and public sector employees. The shift of the policy towards opening up the data to the public has enhanced the collaboration opportunities between government and the citizens. Many initiatives like the School of Open, School of Data, and Open Knowledge are collaborating with public sector across the developing world to assist them make better use of their data. A bootcamp organized by the School of Data in conjunction with the government and the civil society organizations resulted in the participants creating a map showcasing whether schools in Moldova encourage rather integration or segregation. Innovation in the educational sector can result from the effective collaboration of open data, public policy and start up business dedicated to change the landscape of schooling system.

Lessons from other fields

Jay Bradner, a researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, was stuck by the explosion of data about the human genome on one hand and the reliance on primitive anti-cancer drug like arsenic on the other. Bradner was a big believer in sharing research in open data. He began work on a compound that could interfere with malignant cells in a rare kind of cancer called midline carcinoma. He shared his data with other labs and got important insights from Oxford, and soon showed that the compound, which they called JQ1, could stop the growth of that cancer in mice. He later shared his research at the earliest prototype stage which in turn attracted interest from various pharmaceutical companies, academic labs, and start-ups. This example from the healthcare field exemplifies that when research comes out of an isolated lab, it benefits society at a faster rate. Many businesses in various industries ranging from telecommunication to transportation have benefited from open data. The same success built on the common methodology of leveraging open data can also be replicated in education. 
I strongly believe that improving the state of education and making children better learners is a human endeavor. It requires understanding the behavior of children, what motivates them and what demotivates them. Technology solutions based on open data can strengthen and fuel that human endeavor on which much of our future depends.

Image via Twitter user: @opencorporates.

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