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October 8th, 2010 by Edward Miller

I have often referred to myself as a progressive but I have felt increasingly uneasy doing so. The word ‘progressive’ like nearly every other term which refers to a political ideology has become so broadly applied as to become virtually meaningless.

Historically, the term conjured images of Teddy Roosevelt and “Fighting Bob” La Follette. Progressives were seen as outspoken and fiery advocates for the common man. They were trust-busters, anti-monopolists, and anti-corporatists. In terms of foreign policy they were at times divided, but when it came to economics their voice was loud and clear: “We demand that big business give the people a square deal.”

The rest of that Roosevelt quote reads as follows: “in return we must insist that when any one engaged in big business honestly endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.” So progressivism was hardly anti-capitalist by any stretch of the imagination. It was simply a movement which sought to rectify the imbalances of power that had been usurped by the business elites. In the context of the era, this often happened through compromises, picking out “good trusts” from “bad trusts,” and later through the mixed bag of the New Deal.

In the present day, the Democrats have dusted off the progressive moniker and appropriated it for themselves. At their best they see themselves as nostalgic curators of the memory of the post-war economic order. The one which propelled the longest period of sustained rising wages and growth in US history. At their worst, Democrats are merely the friendlier face of corporatism. Unfortunately, if opinion polls are to be believed, the image which seems to be prevailing is the latter one. Thus, the good name of progressivism has been dragged through the mud, and all the Democrats have to say to their disappointed public is, “stop whining.”

Even if we for some reason concede the best of intentions to the Democrats, and conclude they are hoping to achieve progressive change through corporatist means, it is self-defeating lunacy at best. Defending these lunatics gets us nowhere. Virtually nothing hoped for by genuine progressives will come to pass unless our discourse changes dramatically, and we once again find that fighting anti-corporatist spirit.

Perhaps it is blasphemy to say, but what if progressivism’s historic achievement, the New Deal economy, is no longer viable? Kevin Carson has written a number of damning critiques of the progressive movement. Instead of engaging in the quixotic task of perpetually reforming bureaucracies that will inevitably corrupt, we must recognize that the era of big business, big bureaucracy, and big infrastructure needs to come to an end. There are no “good trusts.” With its crowning invention of the Internet, the corporate-state apparatus has laid the seeds for its own obsolescence.

I suspect Carson is wrong when he says that progressivism was fundamentally misguided from the start, considering the realities of the Gilded Age through the WW2 era and the fact that it’s doubtful the Internet would be here so soon otherwise. Though, since the Internet has arrived, perhaps it is time to recognize that now more than ever we need to re-orient our economy towards Lewis Mumford’s neotechnic ideal.

We must usher in an era of flexible manufacturing networks, digital fabrication, and distributed production. This sort of resilient model is our only hope against the converging crises we are experiencing, from the economic to the ecological.

Can progressives take the lead? We cannot go on defending the ever more draconian nature of the so-called “Intellectual Property” regime, the enormous corporate-captured regulatory system, the blood-sucking finance sector, and the gargantuan military-industrial-complex. We must stand firm against them, like a bull moose!

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January 6th, 2009 by Edward Miller

The Washington Post reported that Sanjay Gupta has been approached to be the new Surgeon General.

The notable thing about this pick is that he has spoken out about life extension research and the ultimate goal of biological immortality.

Could this mean we will see a shift of focus away from disease-specific cures and toward prevention and anti-aging research? Such a focus would be among the best long term investments we could possibly make. As that old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

150,000 people die per day. The economic and social consequences of this are enormous. If we can make even a little headway on this issue, it would be extraordinarily beneficial.

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November 23rd, 2008 by Edward Miller

Obama and the Democrats have come sweeping in. Now what? All those fundamental liberal democratic rights which we have been fighting to maintain throughout these past dark years of GOP dominance now suddenly seem in much less danger. A good portion of the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration have already been promised to be rolled back.

Obama and the Democrats have already agreed to the following policies:

  • Prevent the militarization of outer space.
  • Prudent withdrawal from Iraq
  • Expand public service opportunities
  • United States Public Service Academy
  • Carbon Tax
  • Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance
  • Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
  • Protect NASA funding for basic research
  • Close Gitmo and End Torture
  • End Warrant-less Wiretapping
  • Repeal PATRIOT Act
  • Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets
  • Re-regulate the financial markets
  • Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests
  • Government transparency
  • Protect Abortion Rights
  • Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action
  • Negotiate international environmental agreements (but not Kyoto, unfortunately)

Should we continue to rail about the same old stuff? Or just sit back and hope everything turns out ok without public scrutiny? Absolutely not.

I have compiled a list of issues which activists should pursue, some of which are taken from Charlie Stross’s list. However, my list is systematically ranked by priority. We want to prioritize issues of high utility, attainability, and obscurity. Obscurity matters because advocating for the same old stuff is of little marginal benefit, since one of the major functions of activists and bloggers is to spread awareness, not to complain about the same old stuff that everyone knows about.

Feel free to add your own issues and rank them accordingly, or critique this ranking method.

—————
U = Utility (1-10)
A = Attainability (1-10)
O = Obscurity (1-10)

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Prizes for Technology Commons (U=9 A=6 O=8) 23

Competition and rewarding innovation are the bedrocks of technological advancement under capitalism. However, some urgent areas are in need of a boost, such as fuel efficiency, biotechnology, alternative energy, and space technology. There have already been successful prizes through NASA and DARPA for robot cars and space elevators, why not ramp up and extend this idea? The X Prize Foundation is another good example of such an endeavor. Unfortunately, all of these competitions did not require the resulting technological breakthroughs to be open to all through the Public Domain, despite the public funding. Why not start a billion dollar prize for energy efficient motors, instead of paying vastly more down the road to bailout our environment?

We must create a similar prize for Cultured Meat, considering that the UN shows that the meat industry is more harmful on the environment than all of our cars put together. (PETA already made a million dollar prize, but it is not nearly enough, and doesn’t specify Public Domain)

Georgist Land Value Taxes (U=8 A=5 O=9) 22

The property tax is a crucial policy for boosting innovation and preventing land from going to waste, but it needs to be a tax upon the land itself and not improvements. As property taxes now stand, they discourage land improvement. A georgist land value tax would make hoarding land in unproductive ways unprofitable, thus boosting the efficiency of land distribution. It also limits the amount of hardship rent places on labor and productivity, and allows for a collective benefit from land, which is a common resource. This policy would likely entail increasing the proportion of taxation coming from property taxes and lowering all other taxes.

Tax breaks for PC vendors who distribute Open Source software (U=5 A=8 O=9) 22

Open Source software is the vanguard of the new revolutionary decentralized mode of production which will characterize post-scarcity society. The sooner it becomes the dominant platform for desktop users, in addition to its current stronghold in the server sector, then the sooner this new model will become more broadly understood. This will in turn decrease transaction costs and technology costs making society more productive, since we will have even better software than before, yet pay no money for the software itself.

Stronger Overtime Laws (U=8 A=7 O=6) 21

A good combination with the Basic Income. As productivity increases, we should all share in the fruits by reduced labor. After our first really massive boost in productivity, the Industrial Revolution, the US enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Yet, despite all the massive productivity improvements since then, there have been no further reductions in the workweek.

Basic Income (U=10 A=3 O=8) 21

The single highest-utility government policy that could be enacted. A Basic Income helps promote a post-scarcity society. It invigorates civil society and frees us from wage slavery. Along with any other policies which combat wage slavery, this would also serve to incentivize the automation of menial tasks, which will help free us from dehumanizing toil in the long run. It also obsoletes the current pay-as-you go Social Security set up and removes the perverse incentives created by need-based welfare. It could be paid for through some of the other policies recommended here which cut spending or boost tax revenue, along with the money that otherwise would have been spent on needs-based welfare and Social Security. All citizens over the age of 18 and all immigrants who have resided in the US for longer than 18 years should receive the Basic Income.(Obscurity increasing as the Palin “spread the wealth” issue fades from memory)

Intellectual Property Tax (U=9 A=3 O=8) 20

All revenues from Intellectual Property must pay a fee to register with the government, and then must pay a flat tax upon all revenue from that intellectual property. If the government is going to defend one’s state-sponsored monopoly, one must expect to pay for this privilege. Clearly this would change copyrights from an opt-out to an opt-in system. Also, this must be coupled with Intellectual Property reform to get rid of ridiculous “business method” patents, algorithm patents, obvious patents, and other such abuses of the system.

Boost Estate Tax (U=7 A=6 O=6) 19

Estate taxes prevent the inter-generational centralization of wealth. Taxes are horrible, but if someone has to be taxed, rich dead people are surely at the top of the list. Even Warren Buffet, the richest man in the world, recognizes this. There was a time when there were whole countries controlled by a class that existed purely through inherited wealth, rather than productive activity. This was known as the aristocracy. Let it remain in the dustbin of history. This requires going further than just repealing Bush’s cuts.

Stop Subsidizing Unsustainable Agriculture (U=9 A=3 O=6) 18

The subsidized corn industry in the US is harming the economies of other countries, resulting in food crises, and diverting the use of perfectly good food towards the production of horribly unsustainable “biofuels.” Furthermore, it is keeping unhealthy fast foods at artificially low prices since most of it contains corn syrup or corn-fed animal products. It is shameful that we use our political power around the world to force open markets abroad, and yet subsidize our agriculture at home resulting in food riots abroad and the destruction of foreign economies.

Ethical Consumerism in Government (U=7 A=5 O=5) 17

The government has enormous buying power and virtually a monopsony in some markets. Why not use this power to mandate strict energy efficiency standards and promote sustainable modes of production? All newly purchased government vehicles, even aircraft, should meet very strict fuel standards. All government computers should use Open Source software and all government agencies should release all information in open formats. Strong human rights standards for employees must be met for all government suppliers and contractors. Healthier foods in all publicly owned facilities is also urgent.

Cut Military Spending (U=8 A=5 O=3) 16

The United States accounts for 50% of all military expenditure, and most of it goes toward bloated and useless programs like SDI. Attaining significant cuts in the most blatantly unnecessary programs is quite feasible. Yet, these expenses could be cut in half, freeing up enormous amounts of money for social programs and infrastructure which are currently decaying from lack of funding. The attainability on this issue is variable though, depending on how much cuts are desired.

Single-Payer Healthcare Insurance System (U=9 A=5 O=2) 16

The collective bargaining power of government can reduce medical costs considerably and also immensely reduce the paperwork mess that is the US medical system. Canada has proved vastly superior to us in both those respects, and is considered to actually be saving money through their system. By taking profit out of the equation, this will this stop insurance companies from denying coverage for any reason or no reason at all. For those who wish to use private supplemental health insurance, such as for cosmetic surgery, that would still be possible. A single payer system will also encourage preventative treatment, since it would save the government money. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Progressive Taxes (U=5 A=4 O=5) 14

The poor and middle class should pay a lower percent of their incomes to the government than the rich. This is already true formally, to some extent, but it has been formally eroded through the years. Yet, informally, it is widely known that there are numerous legal loopholes such as stock appreciation and offshore accounts which the rich take advantage of to avoid taxes. Warren Buffet noted that his receptionist paid 30% of her income as taxes, while he only pays 17% even without tax shelters.

Speculation Tax (U=5 A=7 O=3) 15

Day traders and hedge funds can play all sorts of games with stocks and ignore any sort of value investment strategies, by buying stocks only to dump them immediately. This causes all sorts of financial havok and can even ruin smaller companies. Creating a speculation tax would encourage long-term investing and tax the externalities caused by speculation. It would only need to be set at a rate below 1% in order to achieve the desired effects and generate a considerable revenue. This type of tax is often called the Tobin Tax, in honor of James Tobin, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has advocated for it.

Accounting for Externalities (U=4 A=7 O=4) 15

The most-discussed untaxed externality is currently CO2. Many have proposed a Carbon Tax, or more convoluted schemes that amount to the same thing. A Carbon Tax would be a great idea, and Obama has actually agreed to this, but there are many other examples. Simple policies like taxing plastic bags, say a nickel a bag, could cut down immensely on the unsustainable packaging that is used. If a single-payer healthcare system is enacted, “sin taxes” upon cigarettes would be seen as more justifiable, and other taxes upon alcohol and so forth could be considered. If marijuana was legalized, the same could be true for that.

Prosecute White Collar Criminals (U=6 A=5 O=4) 15

All predatory lenders, insider traders, fraudsters, corrupt bureaucrats, and those who improperly funneled bailout money should be put on trial and imprisoned.

The End of Poverty (U=10 A=2 O=2) 14

Cost-effective and decentralized solutions for eliminating extreme poverty like vitamins, iodized salt, condoms, and mosquito nets are at the top of the list for those interested in alleviating extreme poverty and suffering. Other good ideas like the LifeStraw are being put forth. The Democrats actually have talked about this and consulted with Jeffrey Sachs and other experts. Furthermore, there is tons of non-profit attention given to this. Yet, considering the low commitment to previous “Millenium Goals” perhaps more activist prodding is required, though compared with other goals, which can indirectly aid this goal, activist resources might be best utilized elsewhere.

Corporate Taxes (U=6 A=4 O=3) 13

As reported here, “A 2004 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that 61% of American corporations, including 39% of large companies, paid no corporate income taxes between 1996 and 2000. Last year, corporations shouldered just 14.4% of the total U.S. tax burden, compared with about 50% in 1940.”

Corporations receive personhood and limited liability protections, and those privileges necessitate they take on the responsibilities of a person. Namely, they must pay taxes. I imagine closing these loopholes would be difficult.

Legalize Pot (U=5 A=5 O=3) 13

The time has come. The war on pot is a horrible waste of resources, prison space, border patrol, and so forth. Let it become a regulated industry like tobacco that can generate taxes and legal economic activity, as opposed to breeding an outlaw culture. Considering the low but increasing attainability, I think this is more of a long term goal.

Prosecute War Criminals (U=4 A=3 O=2) 9

All warmongers and torturers should be put on trial and imprisoned. This includes Bush. If we don’t… talk about a Moral Hazard. It would be worse than Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Yet, the amount of persistent pressure needed, in light of strong special interests pushing the other way, is immense. Perhaps other policies which attack the root of special interest power would be more effective.

Gay Marriage (U=3 A=5 O=0) 8

Homosexual couples should be allowed to have all the same rights, but honestly, this issue is used as a wedge by Republicans to scare voters away from all liberal causes, and Karl Rove and company have been amazingly effective at doing just that. This issue will likely resolve itself as time goes by, and trying to speed it up while there are significant segments of the population with archaic beliefs only endangers all the more fundamental issues such as the ones listed above.

————

We certainly still need to keep tabs on the policies which the Democrats have already agreed to, and perhaps the next good project would be to calculate the likelihood each of these Democrat promises will be kept, and the amount of pressure that needs to be consistently maintained. Given limited activist resources, knowing this information is urgent.

———

(02/11/2010) UPDATE:

Seems the Democrats predictably didn’t keep their word on their promises, but to a much larger extent than I had imagined. Here is a recap:

Prevent the militarization of outer space.
Prudent withdrawal from Iraq – FAIL
Expand public service opportunities
United States Public Service Academy – FAIL
Carbon Tax – FAIL
Ease Transition to Single-Payer Health Insurance – FAIL
Legalize and Fund Stem Cell Research
Protect NASA funding for basic research – FAIL
Close Gitmo and End Torture – FAIL
End Warrant-less Wiretapping – FAIL
Repeal PATRIOT Act – FAIL
Repeal Bush’s cuts on the Estate Tax and upper tax brackets – FAIL
Re-regulate the financial markets – FAIL
Limit the power of lobbyists and special interests – FAIL
Government transparency – FAIL
Protect Abortion Rights
Class-based, not race-based, Affirmative Action – FAIL
Negotiate international environmental agreements – FAIL


This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License

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February 21st, 2008 by Joseph Carpenter

One of the main – and one of the most criticized – features of a state is that it claims a monopoly on power. For a democratic state, this isn’t an incredible problem as it is controlled by its people, ensuring it is a public good and not one based on the interests of a few. In an autocratic state, this means that the tyrant is the only one with a legal means of self-defense – and often the power extends well beyond defense.

However, the United States has a lot of work to do until it can truly call itself a democracy. Its current system has been rightly criticized as empowering the few at the expense of the good of the many. And, with organizations(recently euphemised as “private military corporations” or similar names), largely outside of US law, elite interests certainly are more protected.

The problem with these organizations as well as the conventional police and military is that they often are shielded from public scrutiny. Steve Mann in 2002 wrote in 2002 that “secrecy, rather than privacy,” is what the true cause of state-sponsored violence, or terrorism.

Because the general public is underrepresented in this monopoly of power, something must be done to ensure it can defend itself from these largely secretive organizations. Enter sousveillance. People, equipped with cameras and other recording devices, can adequately protect themselves from threats from above – those that operate surveillance. Edward told me that a police officer recently spoke to one of his classes and said phones equipped with cameras are making police behave more ethically. Without a camera, it is often the police’s word vs. yours, and it is obvious whose word is worth more. Without documentation, actions like this could easily have been covered up:

However, not all police officers are like the one in this video. In fact, a large majority of them are good people. But if this was the only documented case of police brutality, it would be one too many. But sousveillance will also offer protection for more common harms to the individual.

If personal wearable cameras become widespread, street violence such as muggings would likely be drastically reduced. With the act nearly always caught on film, many would-be-criminals would be safely and ethically deterred from committing crime. This is the nonviolent solution to the question of personal security – there is no need for concealed weapons.

It should be imperative that each citizen carries with him some form of device whose contents can be uploaded to decentralized websites like Youtube, Flickr, Facebook, or Myspace. The information will be essential in legal cases against the odd police officer getting carried away with his baton or taser, or the mugger or pickpocket. When there is objective and undeniable evidence of wrongdoing, only then will these actions be deterred – and much more strongly than simply eliminating the immediate threat with violence.giant water slide

Also paramount is the fact that this technology should be afforded to everyone. A person that cannot pay for some type of camera is no less important than one that can. Indeed, the people that cannot afford cameras are disproportionately the targets of attack. This is a matter of public security, and the government ought to hear this argument. If you meet with local politicians, please, bring this idea up.

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February 20th, 2008 by Edward Miller

Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig, who has done some amazing activist work as a lawyer toward reforming intellectual property laws and the founder of Creative Commons. He is also the founder of the Free Culture movement.

Lessig has now expanded his horizons and is starting a new movement: the Change Congress Movement. His goal is to rid congress of the corruption caused by our broken money-based political system. This noble goal would go a long way to changing a fundamental problem that has been stifling all hopes of real progress.

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December 26th, 2007 by Edward Miller

I. Introduction

Knowledge is power, or so the old axiom goes. There is a great deal of truth in that statement. While they are not the same thing, they are mutually dependent. Power determines the types of knowledge which can be produced and reproduced, and vice versa.

Consequently, feedback loops are created which promote certain types of knowledge and practices of power based on reproductive fitness. Just as with natural selection, dominance is achieved by those with the highest reproductive fitness. In human history, the result of this process has been a highly routinized transnational system of power relations characterized by the perpetual consolidation of wealth.

A primary reason why the transnational capitalist system has become routinized is that those with centralized power have long controlled the means of knowledge production, such as the news media, the publishing industry, and the educational system. Individuals who are assimilated into this system are conditioned to engage in actions, communications, and transactions on a day-to-day basis which recursively reinforce the structure of the system. This is what Anthony Giddens calls the duality of structure.

Oppression and warfare have overwhelmingly developed in the context of centralized power, whether that power is political, religious, corporate, or otherwise. These problems not only manifest themselves in obvious examples like global superpowers but can be seen even in the smallest of communities and families. The current situation is an especially dangerous one, since technological progress has amplified our power to destroy. Yet, reversing technological progress would be both foolish and futile. To avert crises, socio-political change is necessary.

Since centralization of power continues to plague human civilization with numerous crises, some form of decentralization is needed. Those who engage in second-order analysis, and understand how the process of power-knowledge reproduction functions, recognize that they must play by the rules of the system. The methods of decentralization must be constructed to have high reproductive fitness, and yet, by their structure, impossible to be co-opted as centralizing forces.

II. A Brief History of Centralization

Since the dawn of civilization, certain people have amassed more wealth and power than those around them. There are all sorts of reasons for this, such as differences in luck, talent, inheritance, unscrupulousness, etc. From these imbalances arise unequal power relationships and hierarchies form.

As is usually the case, that power is used to further enhance and maintain the power of those who wield it. Throughout most of history, a popular method has been direct coercion, such as the establishment of empires and institutionalized aristocracies. In modern times, indirect actions such as investment, marketing, and lobbying are preferred, and the methods are continually being refined over time.

In just this past century, humanity has suffered through two World Wars and stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Since power is still highly centralized, the potential for future cataclysms has by no means disappeared.

III. What is Decentralization?

Decentralization is a process whereby the distribution of power becomes more diffuse. Since power is so fundamental, this can affect every aspect of society from the inside out. Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist intellectual, defined decentralization as the true measure of progress:

“True progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of free federation from the simple to the compound, in lieu of the present hierarchy from the centre to the periphery.” (1911, Encyclopaedia Britannica)

By this, Kropotkin meant we should be working towards decentralizing all aspects of life, with the ideal being a society without hierarchy where all relationships are based on the free association of equals. This is a profound challenge, and may be a never-ending one. Moreover, our opinions may not always align on how to best achieve this goal. Yet, it is a goal worth striving for.

The virtues of decentralization have been recognized from all corners of the political compass. In the West, at least since the time of Ancient Greece, it has been accepted that some degree of decentralization is desirable. A more formalized understanding of it has been around since at least the 1800s. Marx is widely credited for being among the first to study this, and he saw the transition from older systems like feudalism to capitalism as a long trend of decentralization. Though society is still highly centralized, there has been gradual progress toward decentralization made possible by advances in technology, especially communications technology.

Critical thinking, our internal defense mechanism against harmful ideas and the true currency of any healthy democracy, is actually a decentralized force. Accordingly, it is bound up with our access to information. Without the printing press, democracy might not currently exist. Democracy is a decentralized mode of governance that requires the distribution of a tremendous amount of information. It is understandable that the Enlightenment and modern democracy came only after its invention, and rather quickly after. The more widely available books are, the more relative power every individual has. One cannot reflexively defend one’s human rights unless one is aware that those rights are being trampled upon. Knowledge truly is power.

By that same token, without mass printed bibles, people had no other choice but to learn religion from authority figures. Thus, it makes perfect sense that Luther and Calvin sprung up shortly after the printing press. The Protestant Reformation challenged the need for clergy to interpret the religious texts which were becoming widely available. Even more radical theological criticism soon followed as philosophers began printing books of their own and further debating the logic behind their positions.

Democratization has even been taking place within families and sexual relationships. The ideal of equal respect between individuals, virtually an explicit goal of democracy, may never be completely attained, but there is a higher degree of equality now than ever before. Since the Women’s Rights movement and Sexual Revolution, both women and men are less confined to predetermined roles, and there is a higher expectation of communication and mutual agreement between family members.

It must be noted that in certain contexts, some centralization can be necessary given certain practical realities. Parenting would be an obvious example, since young children are unable to care for themselves. Other justifiable contexts for centralization could include defense against threats to world peace. President Eisenhower informed us in his farewell address that, as a result of involvement in the World Wars, the United States has created a highly centralized Military-Industrial Complex. However, he warns us that even though it was created out of necessity, we must remain critical toward it.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.” (1961, Farewell Address to the Nation)

Thus, even in cases where some degree of centralization seems wholly justified, people should remain deeply skeptical toward it. What is just in one moment in history is not necessarily just in another.

IV. Is Capitalism a Decentralized System?

When the laissez-faire economist Friedrich von Hayek spoke of decentralization, he used it like a synonym for capitalism, and characterized socialism as merely centralized economic planning.

“If we can agree that the economic problem of society is mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place, it would seem to follow that the ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. We cannot expect that this problem will be solved by first communicating all this knowledge to a central board which, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders. We must solve it by some form of decentralization.” (1945, The Use of Knowledge in Society)

A number of contemporary economists have myopically begun to think of capitalism as the final, natural, and most decentralized state of affairs. Surely capitalism was more decentralized than the systems it evolved from; however, contrary to the claims of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, capitalism and democracy do not always reinforce each other. Capitalism has existed, and continues to exist, under a number of political systems, including theocracies like Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, capitalism will always encourage some degree of market interventions because it is in the interests of those who have accumulated wealth to further bolster their power through lobbying for favorable subsidies, regulations, and so forth.

Even the most progressive policies like environmental regulations and anti-trust laws have been lobbied for by enormous sectors of business. The reason is these interventions change the distribution of wealth in such a way that some will profit more than others. This sort of rent seeking behavior is inevitable within capitalism, and always creates some degree of corporatism, or state-sponsored artificial imbalances in the market.

Therefore, all things considered, mixed economies are actually more natural than so-called free market capitalism, especially considering only the former has ever existed. In any event, just because something is natural does not mean it is correct or desirable. That is a prime example of an Appeal to Nature, an all-too-common logical fallacy.

V. Social Ecology vs Tragedy of the Commons

Capitalism, including its mixed economy form, has far-reaching consequences, and is predicated on certain conditions. This is where Social Ecology, a concept formulated by Murray Bookchin, becomes relevant.

Social Ecology argues that the root cause of our environmental problems is the same as the our social problems: the way people treat each other (greed, power centralization, etc). There is a old notion which has been coined, “the Tragedy of the Commons.” Commons are any public goods, such as uninhabited lands, which are not formally owned by any one person.

Unfortunately, instead of rationing, it is perceived to be in the interest of people to use up as much of a public good as possible, as quickly as possible. This can lead to complete devastation of the common resource. As any game theorist would know, while it may be better for everyone to cooperate and not engage in wanton destruction, people have a tendency to take more than their share. This leads to a breakdown of trust and the new rule becomes “all against all.” While this isn’t always the case, nor must it be a permanent feature of human civilization, it is nevertheless a feature of our present reality that must be addressed.

Some have decided, based on a narrow view of this tendency, that greed is the quintessential trait of human beings. The being they envision is not Homo sapien, but Homo economicus, a fictitious species interested purely in maximizing self-interest. Humans are much more dynamic and multifaceted, and we are also more biased and illogical, than the mythical Homo economicus. The reason our society is so obsessed with consolidation of wealth is because of the way power and knowledge are reproduced in society, not because it is our defining characteristic.

As Immanuel Wallerstein points out, capitalism, by its structure, necessitates the “endless accumulation of capital.” From a sociobiological perspective, this feature gives it incredible reproductive fitness, which is why modern liberalism and capitalism is the only system to ever form an integrated “world-system.“ Although we are in a more decentralized age, and emperors, kings, and warlords are more rare, capitalism still promotes massive centralization of power. “Endless accumulation” is a recipe for disaster, or rather tragedy (of the commons). Except, the commons we are talking about right now could be the entire Earth, considering trends like global warming, nuclear proliferation, the militarization of outer space, and new weapons of mass destruction.

We must overcome this endless centralization by creating more rational modes of production that can coexist with, and eventually supplant, the capitalist world-system. Any such new mode of production must be structured in such a way as to be non-hostile toward capitalists, and even profitable, but also impossible to be co-opted to the point where its decentralized principles are compromised. The remainder of this treatise deals with such practical solutions.

VI. Scarcity

Murray Bookchin also created a concept of “Post-Scarcity Anarchism.” Thus far, all economic systems, by definition, have had to deal with the problem of scarcity. There has only been a limited amount of resources, and it must be allocated somehow.

The gradual reduction of economic scarcity has been a great factor in society’s decentralization. It is possible to envision a society in which scarcity has been eliminated to such an extent that there is little need for economic systems like capitalism or socialism. Considering the virtually exponential advancement in technology and the seemingly limitless amount of matter, space, and energy in the universe, it seems silly to think that we will be forever confined by scarcity.

Only an infinitesimal fraction of the Sun’s energy hits the Earth (about one hundredth of a millionth of a percent). Yet, every minute, enough energy travels to Earth to meet the current needs of the world population (6.6 billion people) for a whole year. The reason solar power is not yet ubiquitous is that the technology is not presently efficient enough or cheap enough to be justifiable from a cost/benefit standpoint; however, progress is happening quite rapidly. Nanotechnology has already begun to boost efficiency and holds great promise for future improvement. Eventually, as progress continues, energy could become as abundant as air.

Decentralized manufacturing has been going on for as long as humans have walked the Earth. For ages people have been able to be somewhat self-reliant by growing their own food, sewing their own clothing, and being generally handy with things. The reason it cannot be used in every circumstance is that it is so labor intensive and not always practical, especially with regard to capital-intensive industries. Technologies does make these things easier, such as plows or sewing machines, but a good deal of labor is still required. The key to changing this is automation. The Fab@home project is a great start. The designs for their “desktop manufacturing” device are completely open source and allow for the automatic construction of simple items right from home. RepRap takes this a step further and prints out most of its own parts, and is able to use plastic that has been recycled or fermented out of local organic matter. The concept of a self-replicating device takes this to a completely new level, and could allow for an exponentially higher amount of productivity.

As nanotechnology advances, molecular manufacturing comes closer to reality. This would be an order of magnitude more efficient and versatile than something like RepRap. Using molecular manufacturing, even production of goods that are currently capital-intensive, such as microprocessors, could be decentralized. It could theoretically reduce economic scarcity to the point where nobody will be forced to work for sustenance and people will be free to follow their creative instincts.

New developments in technology have already virtually eliminated scarcity in certain areas. Knowledge has, until now, always been extremely scarce in the sense that a majority of the population usually is unable to access certain information based on a number of factors such as illiteracy, inability to afford information, geographic and logistical issues, and so forth.

The Internet has allowed for information to no longer be anywhere near as scarce, at least among those with access to the Internet. It is important to note that there is a digital divide. 90% of the world still lacks internet access, but at least now with the ever increasing speed of technological advancement and programs like the One Laptop Per Child initiative, extreme inequalities in access to information may one day be a distant memory.

Knowledge, and the power that comes with it, can now be transmitted instantaneously across the world and copied endlessly. This has allowed for not only a more abundance of knowledge, but new modes of production. Wikipedia is a prime example of decentralized information sharing. The content is no longer provided by large centralized institutions, but by you and me. Sites like YouTube or Digg are also decentralized in this way, but Wikipedia is decentralized on two levels.

VII. The Copyleft Meme

Wikipedia, and its offshoots like Wiktionary, use Open Source principles. That means that the creators of the MediaWiki software have placed the code online for free for everyone to download, modify, tweak, redistribute, or repackage in any way they see fit, with one important exception. This has allowed many private websites to freely use the wiki format for their own purposes. However, the MediaWiki software isn’t merely public domain, it uses a particular open source license called the General Public License (GPL).

The GPL is the most popular and philosophically superior Open Source license. While there is a great deal of freedom provided for, there is a very important stipulation that those who modify a GPL work must also place their modifications under the General Public License. At first glance, this idea may seem mundane, but upon further inspection it is astoundingly revolutionary. This is what makes Open Source possible. It is structured in such a way that it cannot be co-opted by centralizing forces, since those who want to add value to the work must, in turn, share their additions. This idea is known as “Copyleft.”

If this were not the case, and the GPL were more permissive, it would be possible for a company to simply fork the software, add lots of modifications, put it all under copyright and close the source. This is one of the dangers of the Apache license.

Additionally, the nature of the GPL has allowed Open Source projects to become effective in a memetic sense. According to Richard Dawkins, memes are ideas that reproduce similarly to microorganisms, with human minds as the hosts. Memes which are most effective are ones that have high reproductive fitness.

Memetics implicitly recognizes the duality of structure and the nature of the relationship between knowledge and power. Yet, it provides a fascinating reductionist perspective since it argues that it might be more productive to think of memes as the true guiding forces of this new natural selection, and human minds as mere hosts.

Religions are often given as examples of the most efficient memes. Many of the major religions are so highly tuned that their hosts are willing to evangelize in the most remote regions of Earth. Some religious memes have been known to even override basic survival instincts and compel the host to commit suicide for spiritual reasons.

Democracy seems to have a similar quality. Representative democracy is by far the most common form of governance in the world. According to most estimates, there are over 120 representative democracies and much of this can surely be attributed to its reproductive fitness as a meme. Some criticize Open Source as having an almost religious-like quality that compels people to evangelize its virtues. This is not too far from the truth, considering that openness an decentralization coupled with Copyleft principles has very high reproductive fitness. An important difference is that most democracies are not structured in ways that prevent abuse by centralized powers, such as regulatory capture and outright corruption, whereas copyleft is less vulnerable in this respect.

Knowing this, it would make sense to keep this in mind and domesticate our memes in order to further enhance their reproductive fitness, yet ensure their incorruptibility. By recognizing that people are constantly tweaking their ideas to become highly infectious, one is engaging in second-order cybernetics. This allows for a modicum of freedom insofar as one then possesses the capability to consciously engineer memes. Using this power, one could choose to promote long-term sustainability rather than leaving it up to evolutionary roulette, which has so far favored a narrow and destructive form of self-interest. Just as we are beginning to take our genetic fate into our own hands through genetic engineering, we need to pay equal, if not more, attention to memetic engineering.

VIII. The Many Faces of Open Source

This idea of Open Source started with two projects: GNU and Linux. These projects were attempts by hobbyists to make homebrew operating systems. They published their code online for free and without many restrictions on use. This attracted huge followings from programmers all over the world, and eventually the corporate world became interested and it grew to a multi-billion dollar industry.

It was a completely new and revolutionary way to produce a product. Never before could production involve the collaboration of thousands of people from across the globe, let alone result in free products. Of course the principles of decentralization are not lost because of corporate involvement because of the nature of the GPL.

It is promising that all of this can grow with our current socio-economic structure, and no violent revolution is necessary. Surely Wikipedia is not throwing molotovs at the headquarters of Encyclopaedia Britannica!

Currently, there are a host of open source software projects. Some of my favorites are Ubuntu, Firefox, OpenOffice, and KDE. There are many many technical reasons why these products are superior to proprietary alternatives, including cross-platform portability, customizability, security, and the ability for peer review by thousands of computer programmers. Closed source is simply less flexible in all these respects. Software is much like a cooking recipe with step-by-step instructions for a computer to follow. Ever try to customize a recipe that is kept secret? It can get pretty messy.

Software is not the only thing that can be produced in a decentralized way. Art, music (Creative Commons), movies (Elephant’s Dream), architecture, hardware (OpenSPARC), and even beverages (OpenCola) can all be open sourced. This sort of thing is a boon to artists of all types who love to remix old works to create novel juxtapositions in a hassle-free manner.

The content of Wikipedia, in addition to the software, is under a copyleft license called the GNU Free Documentation License, since the terms of the website require all contributors to follow this license. Although, because of the flexible nature of Open Source, the content of independent wikis can have restrictions about who is allowed to post, and they can place the information created by those people under copyright.

Of course it must be realized that these tools can be used by centralized authorities to make their own operations more effective. Even the US intelligence services have set up their own classified wikis, known collectively as Intellipedia, to coordinate intelligence data. Thus, although the MediaWiki software is incorruptible by centralized forces, its uses are not.

However, this is nothing surprising since all technologies give users, whoever they may be, more power. This includes those who believe in freedom of information and government transparency, such as those who provide access to leaked government documents. A website called Wikileaks has been set up for just that purpose.

IX. P2P

A related concept is P2P, which is a decentralized mode of data distribution. The best examples of P2P are file sharing networks. Napster was the first big one, but there quickly arose a variety of others. GNUtella is an open source and fully decentralized P2P network. Recently, the open source BitTorrent protocol has become immensely popular. In 2004 it was reported that Bittorrent alone accounts for a startling 35% of all web traffic. Each of these networks and protocols can be connected to using client software, such as the open source program FrostWire.

Piracy and intellectual property issues aside, what is great about these sorts of systems is that if independent artists, filmmakers, musicians, or programmers want to share their creations they don’t need to invest in multi-million dollar server computers, nor rent such servers, in order to make their content available to people. This is also great for those who are downloading, since they get incredibly fast download speeds.

X. Distributed Computing

Another development in the world of decentralization is distributed computing. Grid computing has long been common practice. Using lots of smaller processors in unison to create larger computers or even supercomputers has been standard practice for those with large computing needs, typically governments and large corporations or institutions. Unfortunately, it is incredibly costly and cannot be afforded by just anyone.

Distributed computing is a way to make use of numerous computers over the internet to split up tasks and have them all work together to solve a single problem. Thus, if many people donate their spare processing power, especially when their computers are idle such as in screensaver mode, a project could have a functional supercomputer without the cost.

There is an open source software program called BOINC that facilitates the majority of these type of projects. One of the most famous distributed computing projects was SETI@home which was sponsored by NASA to look for signs of intelligent life. There are many other uses of this technology though, such as Rosetta@home and Folding@home which are studying the structure and folding mechanisms of proteins, which can lead to new cures for diseases and anti-aging therapies.

Of course, as with any other technology, this idea has also been used for malicious purposes. Cyber-criminals have employed this concept to create “botnets.” By exploiting holes in software, it is possible to upload malware to a computer undetected, including distributed computing software. Some modern botnets can have the combined power of millions of PCs, which is enough to bring down virtually any website it wishes to target.

While security will always be an issue, at least it has been proven that open source development models are generally more efficient at discovering and patching security vulnerabilities.

XI. Enhancing Profitability via Open Source

Most of the examples I have given so far are non-profit examples. However, Open Source is big business. Billions of dollars are made through it. Companies like Red Hat (Fedora), Novell (OpenSuse), Google (OpenSocial), and Sun (OpenSolaris, Java, OpenSPARC) all make enormous amounts of money indirectly through open source. Whether it is by providing technical support services or by improving brand recognition. In fact, most of the bigger open source projects, such as the Linux kernel, are funded by corporations such as these, and the programmers are often employees of these companies.

If a company decides to open source a product, this tends to attract a community of developers. Thus, software development costs can shrink since individual coders or other organizations are free to make improvements that can be peer reviewed and merged into the software. Even just open-sourcing the specifications of hardware can have this effect with regard to driver development. Since Intel and AMD have open-sourced their graphics drivers, the free software community has embraced them.

Furthermore, the fact that Open Source software is often free in price provides huge incentive for businesses to use it to cut costs. That is why Apache is the most popular webserver software in the world, and runs many of the largest corporate websites. (Unfortunately, Apache does not use a copyleft license, so it is a corruptible form of open source).

In addition to cutting overhead costs, Open Source can also cut the cost of products. Wal-Mart realized this and is now selling $200 computers like hotcakes that run a version of Ubuntu linux. Thus, this stuff doesn’t merely co-exist with capitalism, but the profit motive can actually become a major driving force toward decentralization.

It is also a benefit for governments, which is why so many have decided to use open source software, including: Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, etc. It is even widely used in the government of the United States, including the US Department of Defense.

Openness also has subtler, yet more profound, benefits than pure cost-cutting. Whenever there is any new conceivable space, virtual or real, that can be owned, there is usually a frenzied rat race to own it. People love to copyright or patent everything under the sun (see: Amazon.com’s 1-click court case). To maintain this ownership, the owners require strong enforcement. Often, governments acts as a proxy for that enforcement. This inevitably results in restrictions for users.

Companies are beginning to realize the futility of placing restrictions on users with schemes like DRM. These restrictions are always reverse engineered and bypassed. Thus, the companies that use them do not prevent piracy, and the companies that do not use them are applauded by their customers for a hassle-free experience.

The same was true when IBM created some of the first affordable personal computers. Companies such as Compaq reverse engineered the computing architecture and created IBM “clones.” Realizing the advantage this could give them over closed competitors like Apple, IBM finally woke up to the futility of keeping their designs secret. They opened up their computer hardware architecture to allow for “IBM Compatible” PCs, and only then did the personal computing revolution really get started, allowing for massive profits for all involved.

Thus, decentralization of industry reduces the number of areas in which any sort of economic force is necessary, be it private corporations or public institutions. Yet, this generates vast amounts of prosperity for most other industrial sectors and society as a whole.

It is actually possible, via dual licensing, to make money directly off of open source software. According to this business model, anyone is allowed to use the software for non-profit or personal uses under the terms of the GPL, but corporations must pay licensing fees. MySQL and Trolltech are some of the classic examples of the effectiveness of this model. It is precisely because there are such large numbers of users who do not pay anything that a community is formed upon which the business can grow. This provides interesting ways to make profit in which both the corporation and the users receive all the benefits of open source discussed previously, such as peer review, portability, lower development costs, etc.

This dual licensing model also limits the scope of the consolidation of wealth in society, because it only draws revenue from other centralized entities and provides a public service for all non-profit uses. Yet, it is precisely by providing this public service that they gain an edge over their competitors and increase profitability. It is very likely that dual licensing, or similar models, could have applications beyond the software industry, especially as other industries learn the value of sharing intellectual property.

XII. The Necessity of Open Biotechnology

Many of the new opportunities for decentralization are thanks to the greatest information-sharing explosion since the printing press, the Internet. After the Internet, the only foreseeable communications revolution will be through the enhancement of human beings themselves. Two ways to go about this are biotechnology and brain-computer interfacing. It is imperative that these new technologies, which will so radically reshape the human condition, become open source.

As we speak, corporations are gobbling up patents on all sorts of biotechnologies. In fact, they are beginning to patent the entire genomes of natural and genetically modified species. Most outrageously, they have even begun patenting the human genome, which by any definition should be part of the commons.

Considering the dangers of all this, we must start open-sourcing and decentralizing biotechnology as quickly as possible. Luckily, there are some “biopunks” working toward this goal, such as CAMBIA, but for the most part these industries are highly centralized. It is vitally important that the business world quickly wakes up to the increased profitability of decentralized biotechnology, and begin to support such efforts.

It is in the interest of every corporation that does not own biotechnology patents and not directly profiting from biotechnological knowledge to fight for open source biotechnology. Indeed, all of these corporations should band together and form organizations to promote open source biotechnology. The same process should be used for nanotechnology and virtually any other industry that hampers progress via patents, especially emerging technologies that could have huge impacts on the human condition.

XIII. Sousveillance

Centralized powers have always had far more ability to monitor others and, simultaneously, maintain their own privacy. For most of the age of electronic surveillance technology, this has remained true. Governments and corporations had access to this technology, but nobody could monitor the monitors.

The growing amount of surveillance is inevitable, and so is the resulting reduction in privacy. The only way to prevent abuses is to create decentralized surveillance systems where everyone, not just the government or large corporations, can monitor public spaces.

Cameras have become much cheaper, smaller, and ubiquitous. In particular, cell phone cameras have allowed some of this potential to be seen. Many criminal acts and incidences of police brutality have been captured with cell phone cameras and posted on the Internet for all the world to see. Thus, ordinary people become better at policing themselves and are less subject to the whims of those who would cause them injustice.

Our privacy is decreased in virtually any realistic scenario of the future, but at least with decentralized surveillance, aka sousveillance, ordinary people have power to monitor as well. Open source camera technology would be a logical next step toward furthering this goal of equal access.

With the development of satellite imaging systems, we have the same old story. At first it was only accessible by elites. Recently there has emerged websites and software, such as Google Earth and GPS systems, which allow for just about anyone to access satellite surveillance. Though one is still reliant upon corporations to provide this imagery, and there is a great deal of censorship with regard to places on Earth that governments don’t want displayed. These potential problems must be kept in check.

XIV. Direct Democracy through Technology

Despite how commonly some deride the intelligence of the general public, there is actually an amazing amount of collective intelligence and creativity that has only begun to be tapped.

Technology is already being employed in not-so-radical ways in current US elections to allow for electronic voting and ballot counting. The problem is that these electronic voting machines are closed-source. This has led to allegations that the results from these machines are inaccurate. Disturbingly, there are few options to verify the results since the designs machines are shrouded in secrecy by the corporations who manufacture them.

As with capitalism, the current predominant form of democracy is not the final, natural, or most decentralized state of affairs. It is important to understand the opportunities for more direct systems of democratic governance that are becoming possible because of new technologies.

Part of the reason representative democracy has been so appealing is the fact that implementations of direct democracy have had lots of technical and logistical difficulties. Now with better communication technologies, such problems could be a thing of the past. This opens up new possibilities for grassroots organizing, “crowdsourcing,” workplace democracy, and even direct democratic political governance.

It is even possible to democratize science through the use of these new technologies. One idea that has been proposed is dubbed “Wikiscience.” Using the methodology of Wikipedia, it is possible to allow hundreds of scientists to work together in ways that were never before possible, and create a more transparent scientific process with peer review along every step of the way.

XV. Conclusion

Technological progress undoubtedly has stemmed primarily from the capitalist system, yet that system is by no means perfect and should not be seen as the End of History. As the World Social Forum claims, “Another World is Possible.”

Throughout history, as new technologies have been created, there has usually been a mad rush to conquer and own them. When the printing press was invented, the manufacture of consent was born. At the same time, people began using this technology to print literature on radical topics like democracy.

With the advent of new technologies like the Internet and biotechnology, we have the same old story rehashed for the 21stcentury. Those of us who are using Open Source principles to decentralize industry, information, and politics are on the front lines of this age-old battle. We are the modern day revolutionaries.

In this era of user-generated content it is becoming increasingly apparent that the public is far more critical and reflexive than it is given credit for. By utilizing this stored up power-knowledge via decentralization, there is great potential for creating positive, transformative feedback loops in society.

It is imperative that the methods of decentralization used are structured to be as incorruptible as possible, much like the model of Copyleft, with high reproductive fitness. That is the only way to ensure their success.

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September 5th, 2007 by Edward Miller

Is the US an Empire? Should it be?

Long before the US could even fathom being the sole world superpower, Thomas Jefferson coined the term “Empire of Liberty” to describe his vision for the United States.

I have attempted to understand Jefferson’s motivations for this. Considering the way power functions in human civilization, it seems that imperialism was nearly unavoidable, and perhaps Jefferson recognized this in a very sober fashion.

He noticed the great potential for a more free and peaceful world under representative democracy. Now this form of government has become the most prevalent in the world, and much of the credit is due to the United States. The US involvement in World War 1 and 2 could be construed as defending representative democracy, even if economic and security reasons were the biggest motivator.

Yet, the imperial urge persists, as it has, for millennia. World conquest is not a new idea. Alexander the Great, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Lenin, and Hitler have all tried it. This disregard for the sovereignty of others tends to extend inward as well, towards ever greater percentages of the domestic population. Yet, populations are not always passive observers, but at the right moment, with the proper communication and organizational techniques, they can become a revolutionary force. Such a force formed in the American colonies in the late 18th century.

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson recognized the foolishness of jumping to revolution too hastily.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”

However, he also knew how quickly a government could become corrupted, and that is why he spoke of revolution as a duty whenever the government strays too far from its principles.

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Yet, that same revolutionary force can easily become corrupted as well. Indeed, when Jefferson became President, he said the following:

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

This clearly proves that he understood that centralization of power is the root of most political problems.

I think he also understood that the way the constitution was set up made it harder to corrupt than previous systems. The checks and balances conceived by Montesquieu really are somewhat effective.

So how does contemporary US imperialism fit into this? Now that the US is the world’s only superpower, and it spends more on its military than nearly every other country on earth combined, I think it is time once more to reassess our motivations.

One of the rationales for building this empire was to make things better for the world, and I would argue this has indeed happened. If one looks at death tolls, it seems apparent that the true heirs to centralized holders of power such as Genghis Khan and Napoleon were the Nazis and Soviets who were probably responsible for over 100 million deaths each.

Technology has vastly increased the capacity for killing, yet the US has not killed comparable numbers of people to those other empires.  When the US death toll is added up (Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, proxy wars, WW1, WW2 war crimes, etc) it is still significantly less.

Does this mean we should be satisfied that the US only killed tens of millions? Should we just sit back and be content with this? Only eggheads care about multi-syllabic words like decentralization, right? Truly believing in things like democracy and freedom is for children, right?

I recently came across an article from the Hoover Institution titled “the Intellectual Roots of America-Bashing,” which was the most serious conservative attempt which I have found to refute Hardt & Negri, Wallerstein, and Chomsky.

This article does not actually refute these scholars, it refutes an interpretation of them which is easy to succumb to: that the US is categorically worse than other nations.

When one reads a book like Chomsky’s Failed States, it tends to make principled people infuriated at the government. It certainly had that effect on me when I checked it out from my public library.

The real reason it is so infuriating is the hypocrisy of the government more than anything else.

Often when one reads history, one hears about horrible things that happen while the population remains blissfully ignorant. Rarely does one experience feeling like one of the deluded themselves.

That is what is so shocking about the book, and although it mostly focuses on the United States, I never got the impression that Chomsky felt the US was categorically worse than other empires, just way more similar than one would like.

“…the United States is very much like other powerful states, pursuing the strategic and economic interests of dominant sectors to the accompaniment of rhetorical flourishes about its exceptional dedication to the highest values” (Chomsky, Failed States pg 203)

At the same time, there are virtues of the US, as Chomsky agrees. One of the main virtues is evidenced simply by the existence of books like Failed States. Free speech really does exist. If feeling like one of the deluded is rare, having books that spell it out for you easily accessible from government-run libraries is nearly unheard of.

“After all, the United States was the first modern (more or less) democratic society and has been a model for others ever since. And in many dimensions crucial for authentic democracy – protection of freedom of speech, for example – it has become a leader among the societies of the world.” (Chomsky, Failed States pg 205)

That is what is extra frustrating about recurring attempts to repeal civil liberties and the derision toward international law (the creation of which, catalyzed by the US, was one of the greatest accomplishments in world history)

If one takes a sober Jeffersonian perspective, things like US nationalism and militarism are necessary to promote when the time calls for it. I would argue though that there have been no serious threats to US hegemony since World War 2. As scholars such as Wallerstein and Hardt & Negri have shown, the main motivation behind post-WW2 American foreign policy has been to protect the transnational economic system which has created the current elite class.

Even if one does think that it is sound policy to overthrow democracies and prop up dictators whenever it suits short term interests, those who support the US’s need to remain powerful usually support it because of the principles that the US supposedly stands for or at least to achieve outcomes which are superior to the alternatives.

I would argue that some have become so wrapped up in the short term empire-building that they completely forget the Liberty part of it. Power becomes an end in and of itself, rather than a means to improve the world.

Thus, I call on all supporters of the American Empire to shed politically correct dialogue. Without mincing words, defend why you support the empire.

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