Thursday, May 29, 2008

EcoGeek on Wired's Environment Issue

Wired's latest issue is kind of sad, really. While I generally enjoy the magazine, sometimes they try just a little too hard. Their cover story is "Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What it Means to Be Green", which shocks "environmentalists" by claiming you can keep your SUV and run your A/C while eating non-organic food and you'll do more for the environment. It's not just that I disagree with the premise, it's that they are aiming to seem edgy and heretical when they're really just being boring and contrary. There isn't a single original idea in the article.

Anyway, I was planning to write my own rebuttal, but EcoGeek already did the job pretty well, if briefly. Check it out.

[via WorldChanging]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vegetarian is not vegan

PETA: Be Like Oprah, try a Vegetarian Diet Today!
Oprah Winfrey is trying a vegetarian diet, and we challenge you to do the same for at least seven days! After signing our Pledge to Be Veg for Seven Days, we'll send you all the resources that you'll need to get started.
What's wrong with this? PETA claims to be an animal rights organization. Why are they claiming Oprah, who is very publicly going vegan for 21 days, is trying a "vegetarian diet?" Why doesn't that headline read "try a vegan diet today?"

Because PETA's leadership are a bunch of hypocritical cowards, is why.

It's obvious, of course. PETA is afraid that if they ask people to go vegan, people will think that's too radical and shy away. It's why nearly all of their handouts, sites, and other promotional materials ask people to "Go Vegetarian" or, even more slyly, "Go Veg." Now with Oprah, they won't even say the word vegan on the front page of their site. They offer a free "Vegetarian Starter Kit" full of vegan information.

The people at PETA aren't (always) stupid. When you dig down into the guts of their site or listen to some of them speak, they'll plainly and correctly state that veganism is the only ethical way to eat and live. But as with most of their campaigns, they intentionally blur the line between what is ethical and what is merely less unethical. What they don't seem to realize is that veganism, which they quietly claim to promote, will continue to be seen as "too radical" and will continue to be seen as difficult as long as they avoid using the word and act like cutting out meat is enough. If "the" animal rights organization can't bring itself to ask people not to hurt animals by going vegan, that's a problem.

Now, the obvious retort is that as long as they secretly promote veganism, who cares if they call it vegetarianism for convenience or efficacy? And the obvious response is that everybody knows vegetarians eat dairy and eggs. Hell, a lot of people think vegetarians eat fish! When PETA tells people to go vegetarian, they may stop eating most meat, but they will feel free to continue to eat other animal products, resulting in immeasurable suffering and death for the animals involved. It's akin to convinvcing a serial killer to start beating people up instead of killing them because, one day, he just might stop altogether. And then giving him an award.

Take PETA's various Sexiest Vegetarian contests, among other things: when PETA conflates vegetarians and vegans, the result is rewarding, celebrating, and congratulating animal exploiters. Vegetarians are animal exploiters. I'm not saying they are "bad people." I'm not saying they aren't more ethical on this issue than meat eaters. But it is a simple fact that eating dairy and eggs harms animals. And that doesn't even touch on the awards PETA routinely gives to corporations that harm and kill animals such as Whole Foods. Wolfgang Puck is given the 2008 Most Progressive Chef award because he gets his veal (!) from free-roaming calves! Burger King is awarded for promising that a portion of their dead animals are gassed!

If PETA is an animal rights organization, what business do they have giving awards to people that harm and kill animals?

PETA, the public already thinks you're radical and extreme and a little bit nuts. Get some courage and say what you mean. Then do as you say.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Targeting the DNC

Something I forgot to mention in my post on the FBI infiltrating vegan potlucks to root out anti-RNC terrorists: any vegan radical enough to blow up the Republicans ought to be a threat to the Democrats as well. Maybe even more so.'s banner proclaims:
U.S. Out of Iraq Now! Money for human needs, not for war! Say no to the Republican Agenda! Demand peace, justice and equality.
All laudable goals, of course. And with "Democratic" subbed in for "Republican," all apply equally well to the DNC in Denver. Anyone who would protest the RNC had better protest the DNC as well, because they're just as poor at securing peace, justice, and equality. The Democrats are not the solution to the problems of a Republican presidency. The Democrats, and any presidency they win, are in many ways worse than the Republicans because they should know better.

Luckily, those of us on the radical left know this. There are already groups organizing to protest the DNC as well, and it isn't the conservatives doing the organizing. The Democrats will always be part of the problem until we make them part of a solution.

FBI Thinks Sociable Vegans Are Terrorists

Warning: vegan food makes you kill!

Moles Wanted - City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul)
What they were looking for, Carroll says, was an informant—someone to show up at “vegan potlucks” throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. The effort’s primary mission, according to the Minneapolis division’s website, is to “investigate terrorist acts carried out by groups or organizations which fall within the definition of terrorist groups as set forth in the current United States Attorney General Guidelines.”
Granted, there is likely some small level of overlap between vegan potluckers and people who think Republicans are evil. But let me say as someone with some experience with the whole vegan potluck thing: vegans usually talk about food when they're eating. Vegan food, even. And even if they're talking about how stupid, inept, or cruel Republicans are, they certainly aren't spending their social time organizing political protests or terrorist activities. They came together to eat food without animal products in it. If they wanted to protest the RNC, they'd have gone to, I dunno, one of the actual events, perhaps?

This raises many issues, of course. On a personal level, there is the continued conflation of veganism with "animal rights terrorism." The vast majority of vegans I've known oppose violence as a whole, which is kinda why they oppose the violence done to billions of animals each year in the first place. Vegans are the last people who would be plotting some sort of terrorist action against a convention. You may be surprised to learn that the bulk of radical animal activists are not vegan. They're hypocrites, of course, but it's true. A commitment to veganism almost by definition repudiates harming human animals as much as harming non-humans.

Additionally, there is the continued conflation of protester with terrorist. Let's pretend for a moment that the FBI found RNC protesters at, of all places, vegan potlucks. What crucial information might they glean from them? Who's making signs, where to meet, stuff to yell? Protests that turn violent, and they are rare, are pretty much never planned to be violent. Civil disobedience is not terrorism. Stupid kids at protests bashing up a Starbucks is not terrorism.

Finally, there is the issue of covert infiltration as a socially acceptable means of intelligence gathering. For my part, I strongly oppose covert activities of all kinds, be they police, FBI, CIA, or military. I advocate transparent, open governance, including in the prevention of crime or terrorism. I think that privacy trumps security every single time, and I would much rather live in a world in which people could meet and discuss whatever they pleased without fear of obvservation, even if what they pleased was illegal, than one in which the probability of terroist activity was diminished by some miniscule percent through covert infiltration. I have no reservations about this point.

Vegan potlucks "fall within the definition of terrorist groups?" Really?

[via Majikthise]

Disqus Commenting

I don't get a whole lot of comments. But nonetheless, after hearing about Disqus on net@night, I have added it here as a comment system. On the surface level, this adds threaded commenting, which is nice. But on a larger level, there is now a cross-blog community of commenting. Socialization of blog comments. It's something you have to use to really understand, and I'm hoping more blogs I like will start using it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Political Agnosticism

It probably comes as no surprise that I've been thinking about politics.

I've written before about why I think that radical democracy ought to be the central focus of any political system that claims to care about justice. I think that, contrary to popular belief, very little about our present political system in the United States is actually democratic (demos "people" kratos "power"). We live in an oligarchy (oligos "few" archos "ruler"), and the fact that we get to ratify the decisions our few rulers make through elections every two, four, or six years doesn't magically make "rule by the few" into "power of the people."

I have advocated anarchism on this blog before, but almost any discussion of anarchism is bound to end in disaster. For one thing, the vast majority of people still associate anarchy with chaos. Anarchy can mean "chaos," which doesn't help, but the fact that there is actually a rich history of political philosophy that also happens to carry that title is entirely foreign to most Americans, and many elsewhere. For another, a fringe sect of the so-called "libertarians" (e.g., capitalist market fundamentalists) have latched onto the word as well. Googling anarchism, particularly if you focus on material from the United States, will often get you websites promoting stateless capitalism. This, of course, is utter bullshit as anarchism (an- "no" archos "ruler") is entirely incompatible with capitalism since the latter requires the few (owners) to rule the many (employees). That this rule is economic rather than political is irrelevant. There is no such thing as "anarcho"-capitalism, nor "libertarian" capitalism.

Furthermore, even within the actual political philosophy of anarchism, there are a multitude of tendencies and beliefs. These range from labor-union syndicalism to gift economy communism to technology-shunning primitivism. The anarchisms of Mikhail Bakunin, Piotr Kropotkin, Leo Tolstory, Emma Goldman, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky may share many features, but they are not identical. Then you've got a lot of young kids running around who just want to "smash the state" because they don't like obeying rules. Some anarchists are against representation, some anarchists are against voting, some anarchists are against rules at all. Anarchism as a singular coherent movement is essentially dead.

For this reason, my anarchism is best thought of as a critique of power rather than a plan of action or a blueprint for the future. Anarchism, to me, simply asks of all authority: is this justified? Anarchism is in many respects, political agnosticism.

I am an atheist. I do not believe in any gods, or anything supernatural at all. I can state "there is no god" with just as much confidence as I state "there is no Santa Claus." But at the same time, I am ultimately agnostic. I cannot know there is no god, just as I cannot know that gravity will continue working. But in both cases, the odds are so astronomically slim and the evidence so overwhelmingly against that there is no reason to suspect otherwise. Agnosticism does not mean that one can't take a stand once the evidence comes in, it merely means one accepts that they may be wrong before it does, and they may be proven wrong later.

In politics, the case is never quite so clear. We can rather simply rule out many things that fail to lead to a just outcome, one that maximizes people's ability to influence decisions that affect tham. Authoritarianism and capitalism are immediately discarded as horrific. But what exact combination of direct democracy, delegation, representation, laws, norms, and the interplay of personal versus collective power and rights will optimize outcomes for all involved is impossible to say.

But we can nonetheless make our best predictions on the basis of the evidence available. I think the modern "democratic" state as we know it is not that answer. But I suspect that the answer is not as simple as direct democratic communities as most anarchists seem to prefer. I suspect that there is a place for representation in decision making, but representation subject to far more constraints than exist in any state that exists today, and representation that doesn't ever take the place of direct democracy when such is preferred by those who are affected. I suspect that there is a place for codified laws and a constitution, and indeed a "government," but one which is entirely voluntary to submit to, in which dissenters may personally seceed at any time (though they will obviously lose any benefits participation grants, such as access to the society's economy). I suspect that the best economy is not a market, but is not centrally planned. I suspect that people will compromise on some issues, but fight tooth and nail for others. I suspect that people don't mind delegating authority over things that they simply don't care about, but want the ability to take it back when they do care.

Yet I don't know any of these things. I do know that we will never find out as long as we simply obey the rules that are handed down to us, and pretend that choosing between a handful of rotating rulers will ever give us the opportunity.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Authority Party

It is often said that the United States has a two-party system of government. The Democrats and the Republicans (and their predecessor parties throughout history) are diametrically opposed and, thanks to this opposition, ensure that no one set of interests can rule indefinitely. There will always be a powerful opposition party waiting to challenge those in power.

This has never been true, and is even less true now.

There is only one political party with only one party platform. This party is duplicated in full, with minor variations, and alleged to be two. This party is the Authority Party, of which the Democrats and the Republicans are twin wings.

The existence of the Democratic and Republican Parties is the primary strategy authority uses to limit dissent. The fierce competition between Democrats and Republicans during elections, and on the floor of the Congress, is akin to the competition between Old Navy, the Gap, and Banana Republic for customers: they're all owned by the same people, and the illusion of choice ensures that the owner always wins.

There are token differences between the Democrats and the Republicans that have real consequences for voters. This is necessary, because it forces people to choose the side they support in fear of those consequences being realized. For example, nonconsensual-pregnancy advocates must vote Republican in the hope that women lose control over their bodies. Pro-choice people must vote Democrat to ensure that women don't lose more control over their bodies. Neither side can afford to waste a vote on anybody else for fear of the consequences.

The most surprising aspect of authority is that there are no members of this party, no leaders. The system is self-perpetuating. Democrats truly believe they are distinct from Republicans. There is not one big conspiracy in a smoky room to divide up the United States between the two ruling powers. There are two big conspiracies in two smoky rooms, each conspiring to do the same thing as they other, convinced that they are doing big, important work. Protecting private capitalism and maintaining hegemony is hard.

The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. This is true, and as long as we, the governed, consent to authority it will continue to rule us. Unfortunately, authority is strong and we, as individuals, are weak. Even a thousand people refusing to vote, or to pay taxes, does essentially nothing to challenge authority. Until and unless there is a mass anti-authoritarian movement, authority will inevitably use its power to invoke fear and extract consent from the majority to further drive down dissent.

Don't fear. Don't consent. Dissent.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Around the Web

Some random bits:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Please excuse my absence, I've been a little bit busy.

One thing younger people with radical political and religious positions hear sometimes is, "When you're older, you'll change." My parents were fond of saying, "When you have children of your own, you'll understand." I think the idea is that stability is more important once you're invested in the system. When you have more to lose, you might want to lose it less. I don't think I got the message.

I'm only a week and a half into fatherhood, but if anything it has solidified my political and (anti-)religious beliefs. I now have an actual person in my arms that will inherit the future we give her, and I want desperately for it to be a good one. So far from making me settle down to accept the status quo as inevitable and try to fit her into it, I am more driven than ever to be politically active.

I want my daughter to grow up seeing her parents working to change things that are wrong. I want her to know from the beginning that you don't just have to settle for how the world is. Despite my views, I have been slow to get involved in many local protests and actions. Now I want not only to be more involved, I want my daughter to be right there with me holding the signs, listening to the speeches, passing out the leaflets, being educated and educating and living the revolution in the present.

I don't mind if my daughter wants tattoos and piercings and listens to music I find intolerable. Maybe her way of rebelling one day will be to believe in god, to eat meat, to scold an aborting mother, to buy a Hummer. Who knows? They're her choices to make. But my daughter will not grow up learning from her parents that those things are right and good or even acceptable. My daughter will be able to make those choices informed that there is another way if she wants it.

At the very least, she'll know more about government and economics than her social studies teachers ever will.