30 December 2014

Lessons from the Holocaust

. @PaddyVipond. #TortureReport. #torture. #warcrimes. #ICC4USA.

Guilt and Responsibility: Lessons from the Holocaust

If you shoot a person dead, you are rightly held accountable for their death. What happens if you press a button to initiate a machine that shoots a person, are you just as responsible? How accountable are you, if you are in the room at the same time that the process is occurring and you choose to do nothing to stop it? Where does the responsibility for the death of a person begin and end?

In the late 1930’s and the early 1940’s, Nazi Germany and its allies and satellite states embarked on a process of human extermination. The event we know as the Holocaust saw the most depraved and barbaric actions human beings are able to inflict upon each other. Though exact figures are impossible to decide upon, approximately 11 million people were killed for being considered sub-human. Among them were the deaths of over six million Jews, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis looked to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the earth.

In camps set up around central and eastern Europe, victims were transported to their deaths. The names of these camps will forever be etched in the history of the human race. A constant reminder of the cruelty that we as a species are capable of: Treblinka, Belzec, Buchenwald, Chelmno, Sobibor and Auchwitz are places that are considered as manifestations of pure evil. It is important to remember though, that evil did not create such suffering and destruction: humans did.

When the Second World War ended, those serving under Hitler were able to remove their uniforms and return to society. (A problematic situation which Brad Pitt’s character attempted to overcome in the movie Inglourious Basterds by carving a swastika into the head of Nazi military personnel.) The wartime period had been nothing but a bad dream to them, and as they washed their hands of their country’s Nazi past, so too they washed their hands of the events they had participated in. One man who did this was Oskar Groening.

Once the war had ended with the surrender of Germany, Groening spent a few years in Britain, before returning home in an attempt to lead a normal life. For years Groening did not fully divulge the role he played in the war. Though he admitted to being in theSchutzstaffel (SS), he chose to omit certain parts of his service. Decades after the war, whilst Groening was leading a comfortable middle class life he encountered a group of people who denied the Holocaust had ever happened. Upon reading their pamphlets and leaflets, he replied, “I saw everything, the gas chambers, the cremations, the selection process. One and a half million Jews were murdered in Auschwitz. I was there.”

Oskar Groening was a former employee of Auschwitz, who at this time is under investigation in Germany and has recently been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder. After enrolling in the SS and working as a bookkeeper for a year, he was transferred to Auswchitz where he became the accountant of the extermination camp. His primary role was to sort and count the money taken from the Jews who were transported there, before sending it to Berlin. Groening very rapidly learnt of the camps actions, but after several months accepted his role within it and referred to his job as “mundane”.

Recently I discussed Groening’s case with two of my housemates, and was astonished to hear that they both believed the man to be innocent of any wrong doing. In what rapidly escalated into quite a heated debate my housemates insisted that Groening was not guilty, and was not responsible in any way for the deaths of the 300,000 Jews. The reasons they gave were that he never actually killed any Jews himself, and that he was in a system that forced obedience and eliminated choice.

I was told that calling this man guilty was ridiculous. He had no choice in the role he played, as the brutality and forceful nature of the Nazi military meant that he had to follow orders no matter what. Groening also never directly participated in any of the killings of the Jews. He did not unload them from the trains — though he was present, he did not beat them with batons or rifles, he did not force them into the “showers”, and he did not handle the poisonous substances which would bring about their excruciating deaths. As a man that caused no direct deaths, he could not possibly be guilty.

Furthermore, if Groening was to be considered guilty then so must those soldiers who rounded up the Jews to be transported, so must the train drivers, and so must the UK government who knew about the massacres yet turned away Jewish refugees regardless. As early as 1941 the Allied forces knew of the Nazi plans to exterminate large numbers of Jewish people, and yet the governments and military decided to do nothing. My housemates argued that if Groening was guilty, so too was almost everyone else.

I agreed somewhat with the point regarding the guilt of the UK government, and upon stating that to my housemates it was again labelled as ridiculous. But I don’t think that it is. And I believe that if both my housemates were to really fully comprehend the issue, then they would be forced to come to the same conclusion as I have.

It is interesting to note that both the housemates that I had this discussion with are vegetarian. I had asked them why they did not eat animals, and they both said that it was because they did not want an animal to die in order for them to survive. Eating meat was a redundant activity as you do not need it to sustain human life, and if you were to eat meat then you were responsible for the death of that animal. I completely agree with them on this point, and it is precisely that reason as to why I am a vegetarian, but through their explanation of why they do not eat meat, the hypocrisy and lack of coherent thinking is evident.

How can eating meat make someone responsible for the death of an animal, but working for the SS at Auschwitz not make someone guilty of the death of Jews? After all one does not directly kill the animal, one does not take the knife and slit its throat, but through a process of indirect association eating meat is intrinsically linked to animals being slaughtered. You cannot eat meat without an animal dying, and you cannot work as an accountant at an extermination camp without humans being gassed.

Groening openly admitted that he saw himself as “a small cog in the gears”, but it is small cogs that allow the machine to continue to function. The farmers that rear cattle for slaughter are cogs, the truck drivers that transport cattle are cogs also, so too are the customers that purchase meat from their local supermarket. If we truly think that the only people guilty of an animals death are the ones that slit its throat in the slaughterhouse, then we are deluding ourselves. Everyone in the process plays a role, and every role comes with a measure of guilt and responsibility.

One of my housemates presented me with a hypothetical scenario whereby a police officer was ordered not to interfere with a burglary on a house. The police officer’s superior directly stated that they must stand and watch, and allow it to happen. I was then asked if this police officer was guilty of the burglary, to which I responded that in part, of course they were. Once again my housemates were outraged. They believed that as the police officer was following orders not to interfere, and not to interrupt, they were absolved of guilt or responsibility.

On the topic of following orders and having no opportunity to go against your superiors, I was reminded of the well-known experiment by Stanley Milgram where ordinary people are encouraged by a man in a white lab coat to give lethal electric shocks to strangers. The experiment highlighted the role that an authority figure has on what actions we take, and how far we are willing to take things if we simply follow orders. This was presented to me as proof that the SS man, Groening, was not guilty of anything, as not only did he never physically and directly kill anyone, but he was also forced into conducting the actions that he did.

Using the Milgram experiment to absolve someone from guilt is incorrect, and it is clear the German legal system sees that, hence why Groening is still being charged with a crime. Those who were giving the electric shocks in the Milgram experiment would have faced similar charges had the shocks been genuine. Though the orders came from above, they played the role of actor and without them no action would have occurred. Milgram’s experiment itself never intended to focus on the innocence or guilt of those conducting the shocks, the experiment was conducted in order to measure obedience. From the findings of the experiment, it is clear that humans are obedient subjects when faced with an authority figure, it does not say that we are innocent subjects when faced with an authority figure. Quite obviously you can be both obedient and guilty.

For me, Groening is guilty. He is a man who not only volunteered to enter the SS, a group who were renowned as being ideologically loyal and driven to carry out Hitler’s wishes, but he is also a man that made very little attempt to escape the situation he found himself in. Perhaps more concerned with his career, he continued to count the money of dead Jews day after day, despite knowing of their fate in the gas chambers. He was even witness to some of the murders stating that he once saw a child “lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew that women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately. [He] saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying had bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

My housemates would argue that Groening was unable to leave such an institution, that he had no choice but to stay there, and that perhaps he was a victim of circumstance. It is strange then that in 1944 Groening had a transfer application accepted, and was moved away from the camp. In Daniel Goldhagen’s excellent history of the Holocaust, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, he highlights numerous instances were Nazi officers or military personnel transferred from positions, refused to follow orders, or fled their posts as they did not agree with the work being done. To assume that the Nazi regime allowed for no freedom of choice for its participants and followers, is to make a tremendous error in thinking.

As I mentioned earlier, the machine cannot work unless all the cogs are moving and working in unison. The situation that all individuals of the modern era have found themselves in is that we are all cogs in the machine of the state, whether we like it or not. Therefore the greatest problem for Anarchists and other anti-government groups and movements is that by simply existing, by paying taxes and buying products, we are complicit, to a degree, in the actions of the government that “represents” us.

This is why the well-known phrase “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” resonates so much with me. Not only does this phrase state that you should be angry about what the government is doing to you and your friends, but it also states that you should be angry about what actions the government are conducting in your name.

Through our taxes, and through the representative democratic system — which gives legitimacy to those that have been voted in — governments are able to illegally invade other nations, kidnap, torture and imprison foreign peoples, privatise previously public-owned institutions, and support, and defend, tyrants, dictators and human rights abusers around the world.

Though we are all but minuscule cogs in the machine that is the modern state, we are cogs nonetheless. Without us the machine cannot function, but with us it is able to commit atrocities across the globe. To deny that we are in no way responsible for the actions in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanamo Bay is to take the same stance as Oskar Groening. Though he is perhaps more guilty for the deaths of the 300,000 Jews than we are for the inmates being held in Cuba, it would be incorrect to say that we are entirely innocent.

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The State Needs Crime

. @kevincarson1. #police. #policeviolence. #diein.

In Saturday Night Live‘s parody of Citizen Kane, on a slow news day Charles Foster Kane says, “if there’s not any news, we’ll make some,” and begins randomly shooting people out the newspaper office window. That’s the first thing I thought of on reading reports that two plainclothes California Highway Patrol cops found themselves outed — in the process of attempting to instigate looting by protesters! — during a march through Oakland and Berkeley against two recent grand jury decisions not to indict cops who had killed unarmed black men.

That’s right, attempting to instigate looting — you didn’t misread. According to eyewitnesses livetweeting from the demonstration, the two officers — posing as demonstrators — were would-be “instigators of looting” (Courtney Harrop, “Undercover Cops Outed and Pulled Guns on Crowd,” Storify, December 11, 2013). Protesters in the group they were attempting to infiltrate spotted them as fakes and outed them to the rest of the crowd. One of the panicked cops, captured in a photograph that immediately went viral, pulled his gun and began threatening the surrounding marchers.

Police provocateurs as instigators of crime is an old narrative. As Earth First! organizer Judi Bari famously said, “the person that offers to get the dynamite is always the FBI agent.” From the December 1999 Seattle protests on, the anti-globalization movement was rife with rumors of undercover cops always being the first to suggest smashing store windows. Nearly every “terror cell” busted by the FBI since 9/11 turned out to have been organized every step of the way by federal agents. Indeed the “terrorists” were usually so incompetent they could barely function even with FBI guidance.

Just as Charles Foster Kane manufactured news where there was none, the state manufactures crime where none would otherwise exist.

It does this, in the first instance, to create a pretext for using violence to suppress its immediate critics — the protesters against corporate globalization, the Occupiers, marchers outraged by racial injustice. The state always attempts to tarnish any movement circulating the message that “Another World is Possible” or casting doubt on the legitimacy of the existing system of power. It has done this by dismissing them as “reds,” “anarchists” and “outside agitators” — as in the post-Haymarket repression and the post-WWI Red Scare — and if necessary by simply fabricating crime.

But beyond that, the state needs us afraid so we’ll be willing to grant it power. A society made up of people who trust rather than fear each other, confident in their own ability to keep themselves safe through peaceful cooperation with their neighbors, is an inhospitable breeding ground for state power. The state needs crime — even if it has to invent it.

Translations for this article:

Citations to this article:

Kevin Carson, The State Needs Crime, Before It’s News, 12/13/14

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26 December 2014

Shock to the system: stateness in crisis

. @hjbentham. #stateness. #police. #policebrutality. #ICantBreathe.

Activists and bloggers who oppose the excesses of the state such as its domestic and international surveillance, the excesses of police brutality and murder in the United States, and unilateral military aggression, do not portray themselves as radicals. This is seen as necessary because openly opposing strongly held global norms and legal concepts to justify global change can be a little politically corrosive to oneself – “bad politics” as one antistatist once told me.

Personally, I have no problem with being seen as a radical or an antistatist, or even involved in “bad politics”. Even at my L’Ordre blog hosted on the mainstream Beliefnet website, I may seem vitriolic in my criticism of the behavior of many states and my rejection of all nationalist icons and affections. Comparable with the same approach taken by controversial protest groups such as FEMEN and Pussy Riot, I am of the view that people have to be shocked and shaken out of oppressive cultural norms in order to mitigate their divisive effects on the only true commonwealth in a globalized world – the commonwealth of humankind.

For the above reason, I often label myself as an antistatist, even though I deplore labels and don’t actually have the anarchist leanings that most self-labelled antistatists exhibit. Although I do my best to convince others to take the same stances as my own, I’m not forcing any views on anyone. My disregard for Her Majesty the Queen, the so-called Sovereign, is my own. I don’t expect others to automatically share it, nor do I fail to cooperate with the people who still hold the Queen to be a legitimate authority.

When I invited J. M. Porup to the Mont Order, a provocatively named and presented club believed by some to be a secret society, and which has no actual political or religious delineations, he let me know that he wasn’t an antistatist. I would argue that he already is, based on the sociology that informs most of my writing. To cut a long story short, I consider antistatism to be not necessarily a rejection of laws and state authority, but of “stateness”: a term I have found especially useful.

By stateness, I mean what can also be termed “police order”: coercion of the people, indiscriminate surveillance, espionage, assassination, torture, the arbitrary violence and cruelty of troops with sham legitimacy and no popular mandate, arbitrary arrests, et cetera. Such things ensue when a state fails to obtain legitimacy from the crowd, as has been demanded of every state since the dawn of political modernity from the blade of the French Revolution. Today, these symptoms of total regime illegitimacy and failing cohesion are growing rapidly in the industrialized world or “West”, but are most severe in the world’s so-called “greatest” country: the United States of America.

The only thing great about the United States is what will happen to it. As the two most transforming events in political history thus far have been the Sack of Rome and the French Revolution, it is inevitable the fall of the “world’s only superpower” will be the third.

I take my definition of stateness from American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, who is a strong influence on all my blogging. I wrote an analysis based on one of his longer futurist essays for Dissident Voice, which helped to crystallize my understanding that stateness – including the global political superstructure of the nation-states – is in crisis. We are faced with an abyss, and where we are now is as a tightrope over it. We can either retreat back into old-fashioned nationalistic ways of thinking, or humanity can overcome the nation-state once and for all, and courageously reach the other side. Humanity must transcend the Nineteenth Century nation-state.

As already stated here, the crisis of the interstate system and of stateness itself is witnessed in the declining legitimacy and social cohesion of states, helped along by the unstoppable circulation of people and ideas across flimsy, outdated borders in our technologically enhanced porous world. I break slightly from Wallerstein in my recognition of technology as important. It is the only reason many of us communicate and challenge mainstream narratives and prejudices at all. Without its proven power to reshape the political landscape, you wouldn’t be reading this essay.

A recognition of the centrality of technology in global social change has led me to share many of the aims of transhumanists and social futurists, so I contribute my own theses at their publications. In a way, our lobbying to transcend suffering and death itself through the benevolent use of science and technology cannot be separated from the noble objective to overcome sclerotic political norms such as the nation-state.

Quite simply, it isn’t consistent with the character of humankind to be satisfied with “nature” or “nation” and the limits these constructs place on human potential. It is incumbent on us to dream, to break free of all the narrow structures that have anchored us to this planet to endure so much ugliness, emaciation and conflict.

We must lend our ear to pioneers like Jacque Fresco, who brought us the idea of the post-scarcity Resource-Based Economy (RBE) and M. Amon Twyman, who theorized the Virtual Distributed Parallel (VDP) State. We must transcend these old-fashioned nation-states, if we are to transcend other troubling facets of our present existence. We might never banish our suffering and mortality via the modernities of technology and medicine, if we cannot also overcome scarcity and the division of humankind by this violent prison of nation-states.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Exclusive to ClubOfINFO. Reprinting not permitted.

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The Image of Revolution

. #ICantBreathe. #AmericanSpring. #downfalloftheregime. #Ferguson. #DieIn.

We are fascinated by the image of rebellion. The present generation came of age amidst global unrest and upheaval, from the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity movements in the West. Its immediate impulse has been to identify with those in the streets, even in the case of ill-fated and dubiously progressive movements. The image of defiance fulfills a deep seated need in those of us who are fundamentally dissatisfied with the status quo — it offers the illusory promise of hope. But the events of the past few years have demonstrated a complete lack of coherent thought on the nature and aims of revolution. Victories have thus been squandered where they were earned, and revolutionary momentum has stalled. Defiance is not enough.

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 exemplified this problem. Protestors demanding “bread, freedom, social justice,” and the collapse of the regime massed across the nation. At the height of the Tahrir Square protests, millions surged into the streets. The inevitable crackdown was defeated, and the army stepped in to remove Mubarak from power. At this point, we were told, the revolution was essentially complete. This optimism, however, was misplaced. The interim military government appointed its own commission to review and amend the constitution, changing little. Egyptians were exhorted to elect a new parliament and a new president, in essence, to rebuild the state with fresh faces. The resulting Muslim Brotherhood government failed to deliver any substantial progress, and a military coup swiftly brought its rule to an end. Egypt is once again subject to a dictatorship.

Few in the present generation would have predicted the tragic demise of the revolution in 2011. Most were seduced by an image of revolution embodied by the pageantry of protest — the occupation of public spaces, chanting, fireworks — but devoid of real content. We were made to believe that the demise of a dictator — a single man — could pave the way for popular democracy. We believed that simply electing a new government could deliver legitimate change. It was no obstacle that this model provided precious few opportunities for those in the street to participate in politics, nor was it an issue that it implied a swift and relatively painless end to revolutionary struggle.

Rebellion itself became a spectacle. It was cynically marketed by media outlets and states to suit the needs of realpolitik. It was no accident that many of the channels aggressively promoting these revolutions were state owned. Al Jazeera, owned by the Qatari royal family, took the lead during the Arab Spring. Its programming is so entwined with Qatar’s political fortunes that Qatar has used its media coverage as a bargaining chip in international negotiations. Russia Today, which is owned by the Russian state, zealously broadcasts footage of unrest across the rest of the world, Russia, of course, omitted. For their part, Western news channels conveniently neutralized the message of the world’s revolutionaries, implying that their struggles were being waged in the name of some version of the Western political order.

At its very worst, the spectacle of revolution deceived some onlookers into supporting outright reactionary causes. In Ukraine, where local anarchists warned of the opposition’s dangers from the very beginning, foreign observers found themselves promoting an “uprising” whose foot soldiers were ultra-nationalists and fascists. Many still support a “revolution” in Syria whose most potent elements are authoritarian reactionaries funded by foreign governments. This historically blind perspective ignores the nature of fascist and reactionary movements, which have been accurately described as a “revolution from the right.” Opposition to the status quo does not imply liberatory aims. It should come as little surprise that both “populist” uprisings have delivered so little to their respective people. By ignoring the actual content of revolution, we condemn ourselves and our allies to inevitable failure.

Substituting one president or parliament for another is not a revolution. A revolution is a struggle against the injustice in society as a whole. This struggle cannot occur without a fundamental confrontation with the state. In Egypt, bread, freedom, and social justice could not possibly have been delivered by the election of a new government. The deep structures of the state — the security services, military, bureaucracy, and their associated corporate interests — remained almost entirely intact. As such, it was easy enough for a new pretender to assume the mantle of the old dictatorship. In Ukraine, the opposition made it clear from the very beginning that it was merely seeking to get a hold of state power. It is no accident that Ukraine is still in the grips of a corrupt oligarchy.

The revolutions of our era consistently lack the final push necessary to win popular freedom: dismantling the state. Powerful constituencies, from the military to institutional political parties, will always seek to divert the focus of unrest to manageable institutional channels like parliamentary elections. As we witnessed in Egypt and Ukraine, genuine revolutionary forces can be co-opted into party politics or simply ignored. This process is even underway in Ferguson, where local politicians seek to transform popular outrage into support for a particular party at the ballot box. This urge on the part of the powerful represents nothing more than a desire to protect the deep institutions of the state from popular outrage. One can vote new managers of the state into office, but one cannot simply vote the state out of existence.

If state power is the foundation of oppression, war, and the monopolization of property, then a genuine revolution must dismantle state power. There can be no half-measures or gradual steps in this regard. There are thus only a few simple questions that the observer may ask of any revolution: Does it struggle for the freedom, equality, and dignity of the people? Does it oppose institutionalized hierarchy and authority wherever it may be found? Does it seek to shatter the state? If a movement cannot answer any of these questions positively, then it deserves neither our support nor our sympathy. To the contrary, if it can, it deserves nothing less than the ardent support and aid of all those who struggle together in the name of freedom.

Where a revolution is made that a new government or party can come to power, its promise is betrayed. And where a revolution shakes the foundations of society and the state, its promise has only just begun to be fulfilled. For a revolution is nothing more than the decision of the people to take power once more into their own hands, freed of the domination of the powerful and the privileged. Without a fundamental change in the political and economic structure of society, “revolution” is merely an image to distract us from the magnitude of the task at hand. Let us cast aside our illusions — the real revolutions are yet to be won.

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Warning of Animal Farm: Inequality Matters

. @dsdamato. #liberty. #antistatism. #poverty. #inequality. #injustice.

Recently, in a comment on my short piece, “The Libertarian Road to Egalitarianism,” philosopher and prominent libertarian Tibor R. Machan cited George Orwell’s Animal Farm as an example of what happens when we attempt to do something about inequality. To Machan, inequality is a “fabricated problem,” and Orwell’s fairy story is a cautionary tale on the dangers of trying to remedy it. Upon reading his comment, I was somewhat nonplussed, for it had never occurred to me to read Animal Farm in such a way. Indeed, since reading the novel for the first time, I have understood it to offer a warning almost antithetical to that of Machan’s reading.

It seemed to me then, as now, that Orwell’s Animal Farm in fact counsels on the problems with inequality, the results of granting special rights and privileges to some politically connected ruling class. Orwell skillfully illustrates the fundamental problem with political authority, its inherent conflict, that confronted with the incentives which favor abuses of power, lofty philosophical ideals are readily discarded. Orwell’s whole point is that the pigs never actually take their rhetoric about equality and reestablishing the farm on fairer terms seriously — that they almost immediately begin to take advantage of their distinctly unequal position on the farm to exploit the rest of the animals and hoard the luxuries for their own private use and enjoyment. Animal Farm thus succinctly demonstrates the connection between political power and economic power. When inequality in the former is instituted as a matter of legal fact, inequality in the latter follows unavoidably. Free market libertarians are often uncomfortable with the left’s condemnations of economic inequality, arguing that in principle libertarianism can take no issue with inequality itself.

After all, if we favor individual rights, open competition, and private property, we ought to accept whatever results they yield. Strictly speaking, that’s all true enough. It seems to me, however, that a thoroughgoing libertarian critique of society as it is today must include a critique of economic inequality as a symptom of the lack of economic freedom and the persistent interferences of political power to favor and enrich a rich elite. In his biographical study of Thomas Hodgskin, historian David Stack describes Hodgskin’s belief that “the worker could be liberated by the full application of bourgeois morality.” For Hodgskin, Stack writes, “Inequality and misery, social order and the anti-peace” were all functions of the law, artificially imposed and not the result of “any inherent inequalities in the system of production.” If existing economic injustices flowed from the operation of positive law, then “socialist strictures against laissez faire were mistaken.” Hodgskin lived and wrote in a time when it was easier to articulate a view that was both liberal and socialist. The underappreciated legacy of thinkers like Hodgskin makes the case (frequently made at the Center for a Stateless Society today) that libertarians ought to be wary of embracing the term “capitalism,” and trumpeting it as a thing that we favor.

Like Hodgskin, today’s market anarchists do not object to the mere fact that capital is compensated for its part in the process of production. The worry — which can only finally be allayed by observing a now hypothetical free market and finding out — is that capital is overcompensated due to a position of privilege which the State confers on it. “One is almost tempted to believe,” wrote Hodgskin, “that capital is a sort of cabalistic word, like Church or State, or any other of those general terms which are invented by those who fleece the rest of mankind to conceal the hand that shears them. It is a sort of idol before which men are called upon to prostrate themselves . . . .” Among Hodgskin’s central insights, habitually overlooked by most free marketers, is the idea that the fact of exchange in and of itself does not prove the absence of exploitation. Unequal exchange is exploitative insofar as one party to the exchange has an unfair advantage, one gained from the coercive prevention or restriction of competition. Considered on the micro level, unequal exchange might manifest in, for example, the employment relationship or an agreement for consumer goods or services. On a larger scale, unequal exchange analyses may aid our understanding of the way that the poor, developing world interacts economically with the rich and developed West.

In the world of Animal Farm, the pigs employed violence as a way to preserve their position of power; the other animals worked increasingly long hours for less and less, with the pigs ruling as lords of Animal Farm — the name of which was eventually changed back to its original name, Manor Farm. The original mantra, “All animals are equal,” is gradually, almost imperceptibly supplanted by the idea that “some animals are more equal than others.” Machan’s interpretation of Animal Farm forgets that Orwell was a socialist, and as Orwell scholar Craig L. Carr observes, the famous novel is straightforwardly warning about the “betrayal of the egalitarian ideal.” Following the pigs’ revolution, the ouster of Mr. Jones, “[a]n economic system that legitimates material inequality remained in place.” Orwell is interested in the use of language. In all his work, including Animal Farm, political fustian is the mechanism through which the noble goals of the revolution are “rendered consistent with the privilege and superior position of the upper class.” The language of libertarianism and free markets is analogously important to the beneficiaries of economic privilege. Without it, people would recognize corporate power for what it is, a creation of political violence and coercion, a class system as real, observable and quantifiable as any before it. Criticizing inequality ought to be important to libertarianism to the extent that we take our own free market ideas seriously and see the political economy of today as far removed from our model. Libertarians should accordingly welcome socialism and class analysis as found in the work of leftists like Hodgskin and Orwell. It’s time we start emphasizing liberty and equality, not liberty or equality.

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23 December 2014

Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras

. @knappsterdotbiz. #ICantBreathe. #police. #policebrutality.

Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We’ve already seen the results of numerous technology “solutions” to that problem.

The introduction of mace and tasers to police weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with “suspects” (“suspect” being law-enforcement-ese for “anyone who isn’t a cop”). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn’t produced de-escalation either. Quite the opposite, in fact — now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police car “dash cams?” That’s obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam always seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced and analyzed against law enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that’s 400,000 hours per day of random warrantless searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn’t go so far as to have 1984‘s Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can’t be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action — as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 — it’s incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee an end to police violence is to bring an end to state “law enforcement” — in fact, to the state itself.

Citations to this article:

Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras, River Cities’ [Iowa]Reader, 12/10/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police should not be behind the camera, they should be on-camera, Libby, Montana Western News, 12/09/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras, Detroit, MichiganChronicle, p. A3, 12/03/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras, Macomb County, Michigan Advisor & Source, 12/12/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, CamerasThe Arab American News, 12/05/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Why Police Body Cameras Aren’t the Solution, Counterpunch, 12/04/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras, Newton, IowaDaily News, 12/04/14
Thomas L. Knapp, Police Should Be On, Not Behind, Cameras, Before It’s News, 12/02/14

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Slavery, Sweatshops: Free Enterprise?

. @dsdamato. #eradicatepoverty. #labour. #liberty.

Wage Slavery and Sweatshops as Free Enterprise?

The conservative American Enterprise Institute offers yet another defense of sweatshopsfrom a self-styled advocate of liberty and free markets, Professor Mark J. Perry. Indeed it is more than just a defense; it’s a selective compilation of quotes and anecdotes hailing sweatshops as perfectly praiseworthy routes out of poverty.

Typical free market defenses of sweatshops focus on the fact that “sweatshops are better than the available alternatives.” These defenses also tend to emphasize sweatshops’ role in a “process of development that ultimately raises living standards.”

When authority precludes other options, using systematic state violence over a course of decades to divest people of their rights and resources, of course sweatshop employment begins to look like a good option, even the best one.

But this selective redaction of history is just how so many supposed champions of free markets earn their reputation for turning a blind eye to economic injustice. Market anarchists find no coherent or principled reason why defenders of freedom, competition, and individual rights ought to waste our words making apologies for the kind of wage slavery offered by sweatshops.

The phrase “wage slavery” tends to really pique most free marketeers, who often object that the employer-employee relationship is one of simple voluntary agreement and contract.

A legitimate contract, however, assumes that relations, up until the point of “agreement,” have been absent of coercion and duress. But what if they haven’t? What if history has been a series of tragic and violent misadventures, a long list of appropriations, injustices, and other villainies carried out by the state to enrich a small ruling class?

Would we still want to defend sweatshops, or would we start to attack them on free market grounds? As William Bailie wrote, “Wage-slavery is merely the modern phase of chattel slavery.” Like the market anarchists of today, Bailie saw capitalism not as a process of advancement and development, but as an “economic retrogression” under which personal freedom had been retarded.

Market anarchists have more faith in freedom, entrepreneurship, and the sovereign individual than most self-described advocates of free enterprise. We don’t believe that, uninhibited by arbitrary restrictions like intellectual property law and given free access to common resources like the land, the people of developing countries would freely choose to work long hours for low pay under the most inhumane conditions.

Apologists for sweatshops tend to ignore the problem of land monopoly, as Murray Rothbard put it, the problem of “continuing seizure of landed property by aggressors.” Rothbard argued that the legitimate owners of land are “the true possessors,” rather than those “whose original and continuing claim to the land and its fruits has come from coercion and violence.”

The history of what is today regarded as the developing world, the site of most sweatshops, is marred by political land monopolization and theft that has driven wages down and rents up. Such deep political coercion has nothing to do with real free market principles.

One wonders whether “free market” defenders of sweatshops really do believe that we got to the current status quo using the free enterprise road, which would arguably make the economic conditions of today entirely defensible.

It may be that sweatshop defenders acknowledge the historical predicates of sweatshops while nevertheless seeing it as important to recognize sweatshops as the best alternative for the poor in the developing world. But no one really denies that fact on its own — on the contrary, market anarchists simply contend that these phenomena are unjust and untenable as they exist in the world today.

Translations for this article:

Citations to this article:

David S. D'Amato, Wage slavery and sweatshops as free enterprise?, Newberry, South Carolina Observer, 12/05/14
David S. D'Amato, Wage slavery and sweatshops as free enterprise?, Winnsboro, South Carolina Herald Independent, 12/02/14
David S. D'Amato, Wage Slavery and Sweatshops as Free Enterprise?, Before It’s News, 11/30/14

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19 December 2014

'First Step is Admitting It’s Torture'

. @knappsterdotbiz. @CIA. #TortureReport.

The US Senate’s minimal, partial, heavily redacted summary of its report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program is out. That report’s reception by establishment media turns out to be at least as demonstrative of the problem it addresses as the report itself.

As any recovering addict will helpfully inform you, the first step is admitting the problem. The US government and American media (and presumably following them, the America public) still resolutely refuse to do that.

In story after story, we see references to “enhanced interrogation” and “brutal interrogation tactics.” Those are weasel words. They’re not admissions of the problem, they’re attempts to talk around the problem.

We’re not talking about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Nor are we discussing “brutal interrogation tactics.” The subject in question is torture.

Torture is clearly defined in US law (18 US Code §2340): “[A]n act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

Torture is clearly defined in international law (the UN Convention Against Torture): “[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

These summations in the laws of states are informative, but we don’t really need them to conclude that the actions described in the report — waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the forced infusion of substances into victims’ rectums, to name three — are torture, all torture and nothing but torture. There exists no reasonable definition of torture that the described actions don’t conform to.

From that primary conclusion we must inevitably draw a secondary conclusion: The persons involved in the torture, from the operators actually implementing it all the way up the chain of command to the president of the United States, are violent, dangerous criminals and would be recognized as such in any sane society, regardless of whether or not codified law existed to describe their offenses.

The question, of course, is what to do about it. “Mainstream” suggestions range from “nothing” to “hold some Senate hearings and hope it goes away” to “appoint a special prosecutor and let him throw some of the less well-connected criminals under the bus so we can get on with life.”

Even at the radical end of the spectrum, suggestions tend to run to things like putting the US under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and conducting a wholesale rendition of the gang, from top to bottom, to the Hague for trial.

The second step in 12-step addiction recovery programs involves recognizing a “higher power.” The second step in any torture recovery program is recognition that the existing temporal “higher power” — the state — is in fact the real problem.

The state bestows extreme power upon its agents, especially over prisoners and detainees. That power corrupts, enabling those agents to abuse and torture, as social psychologists observed in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

The state’s structure also protects its agents from accountability, shrouding discussions of state violence in euphemism, turn the debate from torture as a crime to torture as policy. Furthermore, the state’s monopoly on law leaves prosecution and adjudication up to the state itself. Torturers know they’re unlikely to face justice.

If we tolerate the state, we tolerate torture. It’s time and past time we stopped tolerating either.

By Thomas L. Knapp - More articles by Thomas L. Knapp

Image via anarchistart.com.

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'Shutdown Theater'

. @knappsterdotbiz. #antistatism. #govshutdown.

It’s surprising what passes for high political drama these days. After a DC dust-up similar to, but neither as exciting as watching paint dry nor as convincing as professional wrestling, the US House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” bill to fund the federal government through September 2015, passing it on to the US Senate, which most expect it (as I write this) to pass as well.

Why does the whole thing fail as theater? Two reasons:

First, it lacks the true conflict essential to a good yarn. Protagonists and antagonists. Winners and losers. One side wants one thing, the other wants something not just different, but substantially incompatible. “Cromnibus” fails on that level because all sides transparently want the same thing — to keep things going exactly as they’ve always gone.

Secondly, the stakes are too low. “Government shutdown” just isn’t the bogeyman it used to be. Multiple iterations of invoking it and occasionally bringing it on stage for real expose it as, well, not very scary. “Non-essential” government services will temporarily shut down if we don’t settle this, quick! Woooooh, scary. Pass the popcorn, please. And change the channel.

When even “progressive” Democrats like Elizabeth Warren threaten “shutdown” to get their way, it’s just too obvious that there’s no real shutdown in play. Per Chekhov, “[i]f you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” If Warren is willing to pull the trigger, we know that the gun isn’t really loaded.

Inside the Beltway, the big question — passed back and forth between cast, directors, producers, etc. — is never “should we stop doing what we’re doing?” That’s just not on the playbill, folks. The only question of importance to politicians is “how do we keep doing what we’re doing without losing the audience?”

Here are my big questions for the audience:

1)  A government “shutdown” applies only to “non-essential services.” If the services aren’t essential, why are they provided by the state in the first place? Or to elaborate a bit, if we’re going to tolerate a coercive monopoly like the state at all, shouldn’t that monopoly at least be limited to things that are absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, essential?

2) If something is absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, essential, why would we trust that thing to a coercive monopoly either? Lacking incentives to deliver the goods — since it forces us to pay for them whether they’re delivered or not and forbids us to seek them elsewhere — such monopolies invariably degenerate into the kinds of amateur theatrical productions we’re talking about here.

Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren, John Boehner et. al concern themselves constantly with how to keep the show going. Time for the rest of us to start thinking about lowering the curtain on it.

Image via anarchistart.com.

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Belem: Siege, Drug War & Police State

. #Belem. #drugwar. #Brazil. #policestate.

The night of November 4th in Belem, capital of Brazil’s Para state, was terrorizing. After the death of Corporal Figueiredo, from the Tactical Ops (Rotam) of the Military Police of the State of Para, at 7:30 PM, there was a violent retaliation, killing nine people, according to the official numbers, six of whom were undoubtedly executed. The victims appeared concurrent to the Rotam operation intended to arrest those responsible for the death of Corporal Figueiredo. Despite the official number of deaths, most people believe many more were killed during the night.

Rumors, audios, and videos were widely shared though WhatsApp and Facebook while the executions happened, showing what was happening on the outskirts of Belem. There was an unofficial curfew in several places on the periphery, given the expectation that there would be a violent retaliation to the death of the policeman and that the death squads that was wreaking havoc (presumably made up of military policemen) did not intend to take any prisoners. This group supposedly was covered by the official Rotam operation and they intended to kill any suspects.

It is important to highlight here that the deaths did not occur due to gunfights or resisting arrest. They were outright murders. The state government itself recognizes in an official statement that they were homicides, even though it does not conclude that the Military Police took part in them. Luiz Fernandes, Secretary of Public Security of Para, also admits that investigators are working on the hypothesis that death squads were acting there.

However, the sequence of events cannot be understood unless we comprehend their context: The local drug war dynamics.

In Belem, 66% of the population live in irregular buildings, favelas (slums) or the like, which, first, sprouted up near the center of the city (such as neighborhoods Guama, Jurunas, and Terra Firme — the last one being the stage of the murders) and, more recently, in the suburbs. They are very dense areas, with very little space between houses, allowing for the settlement of a large number of migrants from the state’s countryside and from the neighboring state Maranhao.

These areas, however, not unlike many others in Brazil, are marked by precarious access to basic utilities, like sewage disposal, and poor protection of the dwellers’ property rights (despite expropriations and evictions being uncommon in Belem). Moreover, as a result of drug prohibition, they end up under the rule of violent dealers.

Some time ago, it became known that the drug warlords were financing the militias. According to a report from the beginning of the year about the actions of militias in Guama and Terra Firme, these groups were formed by criminals and policemen (generally who are no longer formally affiliated with the Police) for the protection of drug dealers against other dealers and the police. They also regularly extort the local population. According to a Terra Firme dweller, who was quoted on the above report:
They ask people for money and kill whoever gets in their way. It is criminals killing criminals, but there are several honest citizens who are victims as well. When they are bothered by someone, they create a situation for a crime to happen.
The group which acts in the Guama neighborhood, made up mainly by retired police officers, is supposedly involved in the murder of young people, those “who walk around the streets at the wrong time, thieves and drug users,” as a local put it. Out of fear, silence prevails.

The story also tells that the police usually work on the hypothesis that these are hired gunmen, who are paid to enforce debts or murder the borrowers, denying the existence of militias and death squads that are financed by stolen money from the local populations. The events of the 4th seem to have changed that perception, since the government itself has admitted that death squads have been involved.

The general fear after the death of Corporal Figueiredo illustrates how real police, militia, and drug violence is in these areas. This fear has, for the first time, reached the richer areas of Belem, areas unfamiliar with the day to day uneasiness that the poor suffer through. Like never before, the night of November 4th made people, from very different social backgrounds, share the same fear.

Therefore, the murders were not a simple “isolated case,” but a perennial reality for the poor people of Belem, many of whom know or are related to someone who was murdered, were evicted from their homes by drug dealers, or just generally avoid staying out late (always!), afraid of what might happen to them.

These people, who suffer in every imaginable way, are denied the most basic and elementary way to reduce violent crime in Brazil: the end of the war on drugs. There is no reason, at all, that Brazilian cities should top the rankings for “most murders” in the world besides the failure of prohibition. Many cities are even more dangerous than Belem, but the causes of violence are similar. Most murders in Belem and elsewhere are related to drug feuds.

One of the main libertarian causes is the end of this abhorrent policy that takes away individual rights, puts behind bars many thousands of peaceful people and kills more than any substance addiction.

People who live in poor areas (and in other places, naturally) are sold the idea that only more repression will be able to solve the problem of public security. The drug user is the scapegoat and their frequent summary executions by the police are often welcomed.

Due legal process seems to be a burden to the police in Brazil, and its very existence seems to provide them with an even broader license to kill. We lose sight of the deep connections between the police, drug dealers and militias. The poor are the ones most exposed to the resulting police state, and the naive faith in the police as a guardian of order can only worsen their condition.

Belem shows vividly the monstrosity that the war on drugs is and its consequences to the urban dynamics in poor areas, marked by violence everywhere.

The main cause of all these deaths is not the lack of police repression or more executions, but the state itself and its criminalizing impetus, that enriches warlords and makes peripheral communities ever more vulnerable.

Translated by Erick Vasconcelos.

Citations to this article:

Image via anarchistart.com.

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High-ranking psychopaths are pushing for a nuclear war with Russia, seemingly intentionally

If the US leaders wanted to wage a thermonuclear war that would destroy America and the world, we would not be here to talk about it. Presid...

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