Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania, blah, blah

This post isn't about the Pennsylvania primary. This post is about before the primary, when progressive folks like Amanda Marcotte said things like this:
For obvious reasons, a lot is riding on the primary today, though I wouldn’t say it’s all over after today, because god knows Clinton and Obama could come out neck and neck, and this could all continue on.
Emphasis mine.

On the contrary, though. Absolutely nothing was riding on that primary, or on any of the primaries. Some small but non-trivial amount is riding on the presidential election in November, sure. But there is absolutely no amount riding on the decision between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The competition between the two is utterly, entirely meaningless.

Quick! Pop quiz: name the candidate!
  1. Which candidate proposes a health care plan that gives "consumers" a choice of which for-profit corporation you want to give money to, as well as a government-run program?
  2. Which candidate wants to remove troops from Iraq while "strengthening" the military's ability to kill people in the name of "security?"
  3. Which candidate will "secure our borders" from the brown immigrant hordes of Mexico?
  4. Which candidate wants to reduce carbon emissions through a market-based cap-and-trade system?
  5. Which candidate supports global capitalism and American hegemony?
  6. Which candidate is sponsored and approved of by corporate interests such as health insurance providers, oil and gas companies, drug companies, and weapon manufacturers?
If you answered "both, because they're fucking identical" to any of the above, you get an A for not being a sucker for pretty words and pictures.

There is no compelling reason to prefer Barack Obama (or John Edwards, or any other former candidate) over Hillary Clinton, or the reverse. Their few good points are the same, and their many bad points are as well. All that matters is not having a Republican president again, and even that really doesn't matter enough to care for any more time than it takes to cast a vote. Change happens elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Clinton on Iran

Via Lenin's Tomb: 11th Hour Clinton Ad Features Bin Laden
ABC News' Chris Cuomo asked Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Transparency in animal agriculture

Elaine Vigneault has started calling for the installation of video cameras in slaughterhouses in response to recent revelations of animal cruelty — revelations that are only news to those who haven't been paying attention. Elaine being an ethical vegan committed to animal rights, I have no doubt that she is sincere in her advocacy of this measure, and that she believes it would lead to good outcomes for the animals killed for meat.

I think she is wrong.

First, I need to go out of my way to emphasize that I think that transparency in animal slaughter would result in some, perhaps even most, animals suffering less before being killed. That is to say, I think that video cameras in slaughterhouses would indeed lead to enforcement of animal welfare laws. This is, of course, exactly what Elaine says in her sample letter to congress to get the ball rolling.
Transparency is a really good step to improving farm animals’ lives and preventing egregious cruelty like that shown in the HSUS video. It’s also a great idea to improve accordance with labor laws, public health laws, and environmental protection laws.
I agree that transparency has a good chance of achieving those goals.

The question I have is: are those goals worth achieving? Certainly, all animal rights advocates (and all decent human beings) would rather animals suffer less than more, all things being equal. Nobody would argue that, say, a chicken with room to flap its wings (unlike virtually every chicken used for food today) would not be better off than a chicken that cannot. The issue is not whether some measure will achieve some welfare goal, but wether it will achieve that goal to the exclusion of the ultimate goal that I, Elaine, and other advocates of animal rights wish to achieve: the abolition of animal use entirely.

The argument is that, after drawing attention to the most egregious cruelty and ending it, people will choose to continue paying attention to the not so egregious killing part, and eventually start objecting to that as well. The problem here is that it is no surprise to people that animals are killed for meat. Everyone knows this. They only object, to the extent that they do at all, to it being done in an inhumane manner. Once they are assured by all of this transparency that the animals aren't being mistreated while being killed, they will stop paying attention. In fact, if history is any indication, they will consume more meat, secure in their knowledge that the meat came from cruelty-free slaughter.

I know this seems counterintuitive to some vegans, most of whom weren't born believing in animal rights. We think, "If only they can see what happens, they'll stop." And in some sense, this is true. Seeing how awful slaughterhouses are, through Meet Your Meat or Earthlings or anywhere else, has made many a vegan. But those videos do not come with the promise of fixing the problem. Transparency in slaughterhouses doesn't say to the public, "Look at how cruel animals are treated, let's stop eating them." Transparency in slaughterhouses accepts slaughterhouses! Transparency in slaughterhouses says, "Slaughter, but slaughter gently!"

Can we see the difference here? We can work to end cruelty in a way that also works to abolish animal exploitation. It can be done. This isn't how to do it. We only have so much energy to spend on advocating for animals, and we ought to focus that energy only where it will best achieve our goals.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Food security

George Monbiot wrote an article about food security in which he plainly stated that the best thing we could do to ensure that everyone has food to eat is all go vegan. He then promptly said it's impossible and that he won't do it, so we should just give up on that idea right now.

If only Martin Luther King had learned from the Monbiot school of activism: "I have a dream, but it's not really feasible. I guess racism isn't so bad, as long as you cut it out with the lynching."

Or Abraham Lincoln: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But we can't realistically expect anyone to give up their slaves, so let's just keep fewer of them around and call it even."

Or John F. Kennedy: "We choose to go to the moon. But we may as well give up now, because getting to the moon is really hard."

Give me a fucking break. Not only is being vegan morally right for the animals, not only does it dramatically improve our ability to feed humans, not only does it help the environment, but it isn't actually hard at all. It's trivially easy, especially for anyone in a modern society, to eat an abundance of healthy and delicious vegan food without any more or less effort than it takes to eat an abundance of healthy and delicious non-vegan food.

Stop making excuses.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Urban living

Some people I've talked with who are into environmentalism and anarchism expect the future to be decentralized not just in politics, but in geography as well. They want to essentially undo urbanization and let people live in small towns and communities, in harmony with nature, and so on. I think this is absolutely the wrong way to go, both for ourselves and for the environment.

Here's an example of why:

This is a map showing carbon dioxide emissions per capita. Red is bad, pale green is good. Notice anything surprising about that map? The urbanized East is far greener per capita than the spread-out West. It takes a certain minimum amount of infrastructure to support people, and there are efficiency gains to be had by putting more people in less space.

High-density urban living, supported by technologically-mediated organic vegan farming and renewable energy, could maintain populations as high or higher than we have now while reducing our environmental impact.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fixing the country in 4 easy steps

This is true pie-in-the-sky fantasy, here, folks.

  1. Form community assemblies. This is a pretty common request from the Left, and I should hope it is pretty self-explanatory. They're called communes, councils, assemblies, but they're all the same: direct democracy on the local level. There is absolutely no reason why a neighborhood can't be self-determining, making decisions that affect nobody but themselves. These assemblies need not be miniscule; based on every time direct democracy has been implemented in the past, the majority of citizens won't care to attend every meeting, and some may not really care at all. Somewhere in the vicinity of 400-600 adults members would probably work out well. In the modern world, of course, many decisions affect more than one community. At the very least, it would be necessary to confederate with other communities for economic reasons, as resources are not magically divided such that all communities can be self-sufficient.
  2. Dissolve the states. As it turns out, we have a fairly well-divided system of confederal government in place, but we really only use it every two years: congressional districts. Correcting some of the more egregious acts of gerrymandering, we note that there are between 400-600 congressional districts in the country, arranged by geographic proximity and population, proportionate to the scale of the assemblies that make them up. If each community in a district elected a delegate to a district council, we'd have confederated democracy for regional policy and administration ready to go. At that point, there would be no need for state governments as we know them now. Each district council would be composed of delegates who are themselves members of community assemblies, recallable by these assemblies, and the right to initiative and referendum by the members of the community assemblies would be universal. Policy decisions would be made directly, face-to-face, at the community level and passed upward to district councils for coordination, not made at the state or national level and orders sent down.
  3. Abolish the Senate.Without states crying for "state's rights," and rejecting the idea of hierarchy on principle, the idea of an upper house becomes redundant. A unicameral national council would take its place -- essentially, the House of Representatives. Of course, these delegates would be integrally tied to the district council whose policy directives they carry to the national level for coordination, and to their own 500-member community assembly whose interests they still represent. Recall, initiative, and referendum would again be universal and easy to call for, making the delegates accountable.
  4. Eliminate the presidency. That's right. We need an administrative branch of the political system to enact policy democratically decided in community assemblies and coordinated through district and national councils. We do not need a king. The idea of a singular chief executive is a throwback to an era in which state was vested in a person.

And "poof," all is well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tim Wise on White Privilege

Via Alas, A Blog. Someone I know recently wondered aloud why hip white anti-racists love Tim Wise so much. It's a good question; after all, he's not saying anything black people haven't been saying for longer. I think it really just comes down to not being able to dismiss him as self-serving. Not that any hip white anti-racists would intentionally or consciously do such a thing to a black speaker, but having someone with privilege speak against it to others who have it is meaningful in its own way. Black people are expected to know that white people have social power. And just as no serious critic can fault black people gathering and speaking to these issues, it's hard not to find value in seeing white people gathering to speak against white privilege for a change, rather than simply gathering to wield it.

In any case, you can't say the man doesn't know what he's talking about.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The role of reform

There is a difference between "wanting reforms" and "reformism." Liberals are reformists by definition, not revolutionaries. The liberal position holds that the basic structures and institutions of our society, representative government and capitalism, are flawed and we must alter them to make them more just and equitable. Reform is the goal, and this is the defining feature of reformism.

For those radical leftists who ultimately want something more, reform cannot be the goal. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't seek reforms in the short term. Ending the Iraq War, for example, is only a reform. It doesn't challenge war and militarism itself, but it is something that radical leftists desire. There is a long history of a "minimum program" that leftists have sought, which is on the surface not all that different from what the more progressive liberal seek. The difference is that leftists see this program as a stopgap measure to be sought concurrently with a "maximum program" of revolutionary change.

This difference between reformist liberals and revolutionary radicals is why leftists should avoid participating directly in electoral party politics by forming parties and running candidates. Working within the system accepts the limitations of that system. That isn't to say that radicals should not vote for candidates who support their vision of a minimum program, but they should never run candidates or form parties built around that program. Every time such a tactic has been tried, most catastrophically with the German Greens, it inevitably results in the "radical party" becoming indistinguishable from the reformist liberal parties already in existence. When you are focusing on winning campaigns rather than making changes, you have to appeal to broad audiences. Your focus is on taking power rather than dismantling it. This is no strong criticism of the individuals involved, it is just the price of participating in the system.

The solution to the paradox of achieving reforms without becoming a reformist is to achieve them not from inside, but from outside. Putting political pressure on those who are already or will be in power (indeed, threatening them in nonviolent but meaningful ways) to reform is the revolutionary method of achieving them. This ranges from mass demonstrations to civil disobedience to, yes, participating in elections. Doing all of these extra-systemic activities allows the revolutionary to build solidarity and movement cohesion, to improve people's lives in the present, while agitating for meaningful change in the future.

Ultimately, the goals of reform to a revolutionary are threefold.

First, reforms should help people who need help now. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and economic inequality are real and present, and to ignore them now while hoping to solve them after the revolution tells the people who are suffering their effects in the present that the Left doesn't give a shit about them. If we want a movement to grow, we have to offer those who would benefit most from the movement a chance to improve their lives without mere promises of utopia.

Second, reforms should be educational. This is especially relevant during an election cycle, when people are paying slightly more than their usual zero attention to politics. There are many people who do not even recognize that there is a problem, much less think anything can be done about it. Calling for a minimum living wage (while being explicit that it is necessary because capitalism is unjust), for example, keeps attention on issues that we face, rather than on the soma of comfortable consumerist middle class life. Reforms must always aim to increase tension between the people and their rulers.

Finally, reforms have a value simply by giving people hope. If our only goals require mass consciousness, and mass insurrection, and we face the prospect of spending our entire lives never seeing those goals realize, it is no surprise that many radical youth simply grow up and give up. Winning small changes in the system that are aligned with the values we support gives a sense of progress to a movement that faces enormous obstacles. Yes, the sense of progress is illusory, but it is a functional placebo, keeping spirits high and reminding us that change is possible.

Ultimately, we need mass involvement of people in the struggle for liberation. Until we have a majority of people on our side, though, we need to put as much pressure on those in control of our collective destiny as possible, through all the means at our disposal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bush sucks

Don't take it from me, take it from 109 professional historians. A mere 98.2 percent of historians surveyed called Bush's presidency a failure. More than 61 percent of those surveyed rated Bush the worst president in history, and an additional 35 percent put him in the bottom third of presidents.
“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”
Unbelievable, I know. Can you believe a whole 1.8 percent of historians actually think Bush is a success? Jeez.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

We got no beef with milkshakes

We were out of coffee beans, so I had to go out into the wilderness of a local shopping center at the wee hour of 8:30 this morning. I found myself having to drive through a Chick-Fil-A parking lot, and I saw an advertisement for "hand-spun" milkshakes. It featured one of Chick-Fil-A's iconic gramatically impaired cows with a sign that read, "We got no beef with milkshakes." The implication, of course, is that milk isn't fatal to cows and therefore they don't object.

Were a cow to actually be capable of such a statement, the sign would more likely read, "Stop raping us, kidnapping and murdering our boys, enslaving us to steal our milk, and selling us to murderers when we're no longer useful as slaves. Thanks."

One of the many parts of the "vegetarian" paradox is that the dairy cows that vegetarians accept being used for milk and cheese suffer as much or more than the beef cattle that the same vegetarian will vociferously protest. This is not a matter of factory farming, it is inherent in the production of milk, even on the most hippie-friendly, free-range, organic, grass-fed dairy farm in the world.

First, cows don't just magically produce milk on command. They produce milk for a very specific purpose: to feed baby cows. Before the milk production process can even begin, they have to get pregnant immediately, so farmers must artificially inseminate the cows rather than let nature take its course. That's something that, were it to happen to a human, we'd call "sexual assault" at best.

Once the cow gives birth to a calf, in the natural world the calf would then drink the milk the cow is producing. But if we're going to steal the milk from the cow, we can't have some calf drinking it all. So farmers have to get rid of the calves. Where do you suppose they end up?

Veal or beef.

Yes, the dairy industry is also the veal industry. Every time the animal-loving vegetarian eats a cheese pizza, she is supporting a practice that is notoriously barbaric and certainly not consistent with love of animals. And once the cow is incapable of producing more milk, well, she gets slaughtered, too.

I think it's fair to say that cows do indeed "got beef" with Chick-Fil-A's milkshakes.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I must assume

From "The Unity of Ideals and Practice" by Murray Bookchin.
Certain basic concepts are fundamental to traditional leftists, especially to social anarchists, and when I encounter people who call themselves social anarchists, I must assume that, if their politics is to have any meaning, they still uphold these concepts. I must assume that social anarchists, like other leftists, understand that capitalism is a competitive market system in which rivalry compels bourgeois enterprises to continually grow and expand. I must assume they understand that this process of growth is absolutely inexorable, driven by the "competitive market forces" of production and consumption—as the bourgeoisie itself acknowledges. Nor can these "forces" be eliminated as long as capitalism exists, any more than a class-dominated economy could ever put an end to the exploitation of labor. Social anarchists, I must assume, understand that if capitalism continues to exist, it will yield catastrophic results for society and the ecological integrity of the natural world. So inherent are these features to capitalism that to expect the capitalist system not to have them is to expect it to be something other than capitalist.

Further, I must assume that social anarchists, like other leftists, believe that if humanity is ever to attain a free and rational society, capitalism must be completely destroyed. Social anarchists are distinctive among leftists, however, in maintaining that the social order that must replace it must be a collectivist, indeed a libertarian communist society, in which production and distribution are organized according to the maxim "From each according to ability, to each according to need" (to the extent, to be sure, that such needs can be satisfied given the existing resources of the society). Social anarchists agree, I must assume, that such a libertarian communist society cannot be achieved without the prior abolition not only of capitalism but of the state, with its professional bureaucracy, its monopoly over the means of violence, and its inherent commitment to the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Social anarchists agree, I must further assume, that the state must be replaced by a democratic political realm, one that comprises "communes" or municipalities of some kind that are in confederation with one another. Anarchosyndicalists believe that it is essentially workplace committees and libertarian unions that will structure these confederations. Anarchocommunists advance a variety of other forms, and my own will be summarized later. But when I meet a social anarchist, I assume that he or she shares these minimal, underlying common principles: the basic analysis of capitalism and its trajectory that I have described, as well as the imperative to replace competitive market-oriented social relations with libertarian institutions.

Didactic as my presentation may seem, I contend that to abandon any of these principles is to abandon the defining features of social anarchism, or of any revolutionary libertarian Left. To be sure, it is not easy to advance such ideas today. Former leftists who have themselves surrendered some of these principles in order to accommodate themselves to the existing society incessantly sneer at revolutionary leftists who still maintain them, accusing them of being "dogmatic," dismissing the coherence they prize as "totalitarian," and impugning their resolute social commitment as "sectarian." Moreover, in a time when social and political ideas are being blurred beyond recognition, principled leftists are advised repeatedly to relinquish their militancy—and presumably succumb to the mindless incoherence and pluralism that is commonly hallowed in the name of "diversity." Most of all, they are subjected to pressures to renounce the Left and blend in with the accommodation that is prevalent today, as so many of their former comrades have done.
Posted simply because it's about as concise an explanation of the basic assumptions of social anarchism as I've seen. Bookchin's view both of what is wrong with the system, how to address it, and what to replace it with is quite similar to my own.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Vegan interactions

I have a couple of coworkers who like to tease me about being vegan. This is something that bothers a lot of vegans, sometimes to the point of not wanting to even befriend omnivores at all. But it doesn't bother me one bit, and not only because I get to zing them back about being animal exploiters.

See, veganism isn't a boycott, it's a protest. My role as a vegan in an omnivorous world is to stand in for those beings that don't have a voice: the animals people use and consume. So every time they make a joke about me not being able to eat whatever animal-based food is served at whatever function we're attending, I know that I am forcing them to realize that they are eating animals, and not just anonymous "meat." No omnivore can have a meal around a vegan, or a conversation regarding food with a vegan, and not have that moment of cognitive dissonance in their minds.

Humor is a defense mechanism, and I'm glad they turn to it. It means my veganism is working.

I am also heartened by a very brief conversation I had with one of those coworkers shortly after we met. She may not even remember it. She asked me if I consider my pets to be my property. Of course I said I didn't. Then she said that she hates it when people treat their animals as property. This encourages me because I know the seed is already planted. I am a vegan not because of the tremendous suffering inflicted on animals, though that would be reason enough, but because I simply do not think animals are our property to use as we see fit. My coworker agrees, she just hasn't taken the step that extends that belief to animals other than pets. The seed is already planted.

And that is what veganism is about. The abolition of animal exploitation cannot happen overnight, if it ever does. My abstaining from participation in that exploitation doesn't really do anything to prevent it directly. But the seeds are being planted every time a meal is had and a joke is told, and with time, the culture will change. What was accepted yesterday is abhorred tomorrow. That's how it goes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Group sanctions imprisonment, theft, and murder

An animal-exploiting company called Eggology was recently certified "humane" by Humane Farm Animal Care, the first "liquid egg product" producer to be so labeled. Humane Farm Animal Care is a group, allied with hypocritical animal welfare advocates, that believes that is is acceptable to imprison, steal, and kill without your consent if you are unlucky enough to be a species other than homo sapiens. This is, of course, a boon to the multibillion dollar industry devoted to the imprisonment of, theft from, and murder of other species: the meat, dairy, and egg producers.

The level of absurd hypocrisy is visible from the very first criterion that an animal exploiter must meet to be "certified humane."
  • Allow animals to engage in their natural behaviors
Last time I checked, living was an animal's natural behavior. By the group's own standard, no meat can be certified "humane." If I'm not mistaken, the production of milk for calves, and the suckling thereof, is an animal's natural behavior; therefore, dairy production can't be certified "humane."

But of course both of these things are certified, along with the "liquid egg product," because "humane" certification, like all animal welfare reforms, are not meant to benefit the animals, but to benefit the exploiters of animals by making the exploitation more palatable to consumers. The certification of Eggology eggs as "humane" is a great victory for Eggology's profit-making potential, not for the chickens who the company exploits. But try telling that to "radical animal rights groups" like PETA who routinely give awards to companies for their efforts to more efficiently kill and sell animals.

Incidentally, this is made overt in the second criterion for "humane" certification:
  • Raising animals with sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress
You know what would really limit the stress put on animals? Not fucking using them in the first place!