Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The older I get, the more radical I become.

This is, apparently, in contrast to much of the population, who retreat to the safety and warmth of an ever-growing conservatism in the face of accelerating social and technological change. People who were fired up and active against the status quo in college get jobs for Boeing when they graduate. Is it simply a decline in virulent, youthful energy? Is it making peace with the establishment, resigning yourself to complacency that things can never change?

There is very little about which my opinion has not steadily and unremittingly shifted ever leftward over time, away from nearly all tradition and normalcy.

In high school, I was fairly apolitical. I thought of myself as a Democrat because I remembered my parents saying they preferred Michael Dukakis to George Bush in the 1988 presidential election. My eight-year-old memory might have been imperfect, as my parents now say they have no recollection of saying such a thing. But I felt a general sense that the Democrats were better than the Republicans.

Somehow, in my first few years of college, I decided I was a libertarian. I don't really know why that happened; I think I liked the libertarian social positions and didn't know enough about their economic positions to care. I had no reason to think that capitalism couldn't solve the world's problems. I think I may have been foolish enough to think of the libertarians as super-Democrats, extending the principles of personal liberty to all aspects of life. I never thought to consider that the libertarian conception of liberty amounted to having the freedom to choose who to sell yourself to.

Interestingly, it was around this time that I found myself defending communism to people as an ideal, while I apparently seemed to think that it was a utopian ideal and that the best-case scenario in the real world was market capitalism. I think I might have been a nascent neocon.

I followed the 2000 presidential campaign, but I didn't vote in the election. I favored John McCain initially. I was unsophisticated in my political analysis; he said things I liked and so I liked him. In the final election, I would have voted for Gore had I cared enough to vote. After all, he was a Democrat so he was probably better than Bush -- and as a Texas resident, I wasn't enamored with Bush's performance as governor.

But that 2000 campaign inspired me to pay attention to politics. I minored in political science and I became active in some groups on campus. I started to consider myself a liberal and even a progressive, but in retrospect I'm not sure just what progress I was in favor of. I had come to determine that on the whole the government was more useful than harmful, and that there were many things that markets could not provide but government could. On social issues, sure, I was progressive. I was in favor of gay rights, I was a member of feminist groups. But that was borne of a general sense that people should be treated equally and fairly. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, though I had the sense to know that the already-percolating invasion of Iraq was bullshit.

It was around the time of the invasion and occupation of Iraq that I stopped thinking of myself as a liberal. I opposed the war, but in the course of my investigation into anti-war philosophy and activism I learned that most of the people who opposed war also opposed a host of other things I took for granted. And so I read, and I learned.

One can almost trace my path along a political spectrum as I slid from liberalism into progressivism on to social democracy and democratic socialism. I fell in love with the Scandinavian model: a market with a strong safety-net to catch those who fell through the cracks. There were many important things that could not make a profit that could be provided by a government. I strongly supported welfare programs, and I grew enamored with the idea of a basic income guarantee. I thought of socialism as an inspirational goal, but a distant one. All we could do was aspire to reform our institutions in increasingly beneficial ways.

I voted for Ralph Nader in 2004.

I continued referring to myself as a progressive, because I wasn't entirely convinced of the socialist program. I think it was my lack of true concern for economic issues. I didn't really understand the point of all that talk about "ownership of the means of production." I was interested in people having the necessities they needed to live, universal health care, and social equality. Whether corporations existed or not wasn't that important to me, though I did try to be conscientious about sweatshops. But I thought such things were the problem of individual companies, not a problem with the system itself.

By 2006, I had started calling myself a socialist, though I did retreat to "progressive" in mixed company. But even then, I was a market socialist. I understood how private ownership of the means of production and unfair bargaining power in labor markets resulted in some people working for a fraction of the wealth they generate, while others keep the remaining wealth without working at all. Private investors and the pursuit of profit ensure that the employees will always receive the least the employers can get away with giving them. So by giving workers ownership of the means of production through economic democracy, we could ensure that exploitation was impossible.

In the second half of 2006, I started thinking that this still might not be enough. So all Nike employees are equal partners in Nike, and share in the profits their company earns. What does this do to solve the issues of monopoly and inter-company coercion? How does Wal-Mart fairly distributing profits among its workers end the problem of Wal-Mart destroying local culture and small businesses? If there is still competition in the marketplace, there is still inequity. Some people collectively get ahead at the expense of others who collectively fall behind. It's better than capitalism, but that's a low bar to clear.

Market socialism also doesn't do anything about an increasingly unrepresentative government. I have long favored electoral reforms such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation, initiative and recall. Such things would go a long way to mitigate the problems with our governmental system, by giving people more control over their representatives. But it doesn't do anything about the fact that decision-making on every level is still reserved for a minority, even if that minority is chosen by the majority. Furthermore, each level of government is more powerful than the one below it. The national government can make decisions binding on states, and states on cities. While this can be good in cases of civil rights, it means that power is as far from everyday people as possible.

I think I'm an anarchist*.

If somebody asked me today, I believe I'd describe myself as a libertarian socialist. Anybody who knows anything about libertarian socialism knows it's just a way of saying anarchism with a different emphasis. I want a society that has a government, but doesn't have a State. I want a society full of diversity and participatory decision-making in both politics and economics. I don't want a society of cut-throat competition as in capitalism, but I don't want centralized planning as in state socialism. I want decisions of all kinds to be made as closely to those affected by them as possible, in proportion to the agree that they are affected. When decisions affect ever-larging numbers of people, whatever confederation makes them had better be accountable to those who deal with the benefits and consequences.

This is my political thought, but my opinions on other matters have followed the same spiraling trajectory from typical to liberal to eccentric to radical. I was an omnivore, then I became a vegetarian, and now I'm a vegan. I laughed at gay jokes, then I merely supported gay rights, and now I want the concept of sexual orientation to be meaningless in light of freedom to love and fuck as one chooses. I was raised Catholic, then I was agnostic in high school, and now I am an outspoken atheist. I was apathetic to women's issues, then I was a feminist ally, and now I am a patriarchy-smashing feminist myself.

Liberty! Equality! Solidarity!

I'm glad I'm growing up.

* Of course I refer here to anarchism as the opposition to heirarchy in politics and economics and the history of political thought examining and elaborating on that opposition, presently espoused by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, and Howard Zinn. I definitely oppose pop-cultural "anarchy," the implementation of which consists primarily of randomly fucking shit up.

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