We do what we’re told, told to do

30 07 2013

A criminal hacker criminally hacking a criminal hacker site: perfect.

I’m a cheapskate, so I rarely see movies in the theaters, but I’m thinkin’ I might get out the crowbar to see Elysium: divided society, Matt Damon, subversion, breaching the gates—sets me lil’ lefty heart aflutter!

So what does this have to do with HackBB and the so-called Dark Web? Well, it seems that so many techno-dystopias are predicated not just on an extreme divide, but also on a criminal space through which the untermenschen traverse to get to the high society or the denizens of the overlord society may slum for pleasures or sins or openings not found in their clean space.

I don’t know if that’s what happens in Elysium, but I’m bettin’ there’s some kind of passing going on.

As for other portrayals, Neo traded sims (is that right?) on the down side, Tom Cruise’s character got new eyeballs in the alleyways of Minority Report, Winston met Julia in the slums, Ethan Hawke’s character traded up to a new life in Gattaca, and on and on.  These netherspaces are dangerous, but also allow for freedoms not allowed in safer places; they might be dangerous precisely because they are free.

Dangerous and free: down- and up-side side, all in one.

We Americans like to celebrate the wholesome goodness of freedom—libertarians and anarchists, most of all—leaving a consideration of the ambiguities of liberty to scolds and scholars. Any problems with such freedom are laid on the character of those who “abuse” or “take advantage” of it, those who don’t know properly how to live freely.  Freedom is good for good people (of which we inarguably are) and bad for bad people.

So, how to preserve freedom for the deserving? Take it away from the undeserving. And how do you know who’s undeserving?

Welllll, that’s where things get tricky. You can define certain behaviors as crimes, and define those who commit those crimes as undeserving of freedom, but if you seek to stamp out every possible crime, you end up classifying everyone as a possible criminal—from whom it is acceptable to take away their freedom because: criminal!

If, however, you don’t want to treat everyone as a possible criminal, you have to tolerate a certain amount of crime. The obvious parallel is Madison’s observation that liberty is to faction what air is to fire: the only way to eliminate the problems of liberty is to eliminate liberty—an intolerable prospect, to Madison.

Even societies which are themselves intolerant of liberty allow spaces in which residents may act against the law, if only to vent harmlessly (and privately) a dissatisfaction which might otherwise be directed against the governing powers. Unless a regime is capable of stamping out every last discontent—and thus far in modern societies, only North Korea seems to have approached this goal—it has to figure out instead how to channel those discontents away from the center.

In free societies, there has been a similar kind of “blind-eye” sensibility for a whole variety of crimes (gambling most obviously), coupled with the creation or allowance of red-light districts to where other types of crime might be confined—and surveilled. It’s not that a security service is able to track every shady act in the shady zones, but that they know where to go if things get out of hand.

Which brings me back around to the Dark Web: A key feature of crime areas is that they are at least somewhat open to the police, but as encryption and anonymizing software like Tor have spread, it makes it difficult for the police to follow the criminals.

This is a problem.

Yes, it’s a problem in an obvious way: it allows child pornographers and identity thieves and the whole rotten lot to flourish. But it’s also a problem in a more insidious way, insofar as it allows private and public authorities to cast suspicions on any who don’t care to have their data dissected by corporations or cops. Because criminals hide their activities, then it must be the case that anyone who hides her activities is a criminal.

I’ve banged on about the privacy-shredding implications of this before, but here I’m making a slightly different point: As some kinds of crime and criminals become harder to follow, those who are tasked with following them are granted greater and greater leeway in their efforts to track them down. The deserving free must be protected from the undeserving, but as it becomes harder to identify the undeserving, the deserving themselves are scrutinized.

Thus some of the deserving-free readily hand over their freedom in order to signal their status as deserving, while others protest they ought to be able to retain both their status as deserving and their freedom, and still others say, screw it, if you’re going to treat me as a criminal, then I’ll throw my lot in with the criminal. That latter group might try to pass as deserving, making no overt protest and perhaps making a show of their adherence to the rules, but otherwise tolerating and perhaps taking advantage of the opportunities in the underworld.

The police might go after the protesters—they are visible, after all—but in doing so they are really attempting to get at criminal and their fellow-travellers.

Consider the approach of the FBI to environmental protesters in Seattle:

An attorney who’s working with local climate-change activists who’ve been approached by the FBI said activists were approached again yesterday. “They told him [the activist] that they wanted to talk to him because they were afraid that someone was going to get hurt in the course of the coal-train campaign,” she said. “They said something to the effect of, ‘we are afraid that someone is using the climate-change movement for nefarious purposes to hurt people.'”

As The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley points out,

It appears in this case that the FBI is not trying to solve a crime related to coal-train protests. Instead, agents are dropping by the homes of climate-change activists to express concern that they, by virtue of their activism, are involved in something that might become criminal. Or maybe they’re just trying to frighten people away.

Either way, it sounds like stop-and-frisk for environmentalists.

The mere (f)act of dissent is disreputable, and dissenters to be judged not on their arguments but by the (f)act of dissent itself, which, in this case, is seen merely as a cover for criminality.

Grrr, this post is getting away from (now you appreciate those quick hits, don’t you?), but I’m trying to make sense of trends toward both greater division and increased social-securitization.

No, I don’t believe that the US is a dystopian totalitarian state, nor do I think we’ll become one in my lifetime. But it seems that as more and more people find it difficult to support themselves above the line, they’ll dip below it in order to survive. And as more and more people dip below, the security state will grow in order to capture and segregate them from those above, which will lead to greater efforts to pass or to avoid capture, which further justifies the extension of the security state.

At some point, everyone becomes a suspect, guilty until proven innocent.

I’m amused by the HackBB story because it seems to me a clear case of, well, just desserts. But as much as I’m discomfitted both by the folks who make a living on the Dark Web and the hysteria it sets off in the security apparatus, it might, like other dodgy neighborhoods, be one of the few places where the innocently-guilty may live freely. The danger provides the freedom.

If so, it might be the case that the only thing worse than its existence would be its extinction.

~~~

h/t Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish





I’m as free as a bird

1 06 2013

Is freedom possible for human being?

Sure—conditionally. And there’s the rub.

dmf asked in response to the last post whether one could “step out of one’s socialization”, to which I can only say. . . I dunno.

As to “how does this work”, well, you can become aware of your socialization (if only partially), and as a result of that awareness alter your relationship to the forces which have shaped you. Is this awareness “freedom”? It could be, or it could simply be a precursor to said freedom.

It would seem to me that such awareness is necessary to an understanding of freedom in which the individual is able to make meaningful choices about her own being. This doesn’t mean she would have to go against her socialization, but it would mean that she would have to have some sense of other ways of being such that the decision to remain on the path on which she was set can be understood as a free decision.

Such a decision wouldn’t be absolutely free—“absolute freedom” is a nonsense concept—but it could (not necessarily would) be as free as any decision about human freedom. And that the decision is free doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be terrible or tragic: a person could freely choose a life of sacrifice or pain. If she knows she is choosing a life defined by hardship, she may choose it freely, nonetheless.

And that is my objection to closed systems: they block out knowledge of other ways of being. In  countries and cultures in which freedom is prized less than other values, such shuttering of the mind might be necessary, even laudable. Advocates of such systems are themselves free to argue in favor of closure, and I might understand why they’re making such arguments: tradition, truth, obedience, survival, even love.

But if the case for their way of being requires ignorance of other ways of being, it’s tough to see how they have any case at all.





We don’t need no thought control

29 05 2013

Does it infringe upon the rights of parents to raise their children to insist that they educate their children up to a certain point and to certain standards?

Yes. So?

We in the US (and most other places on the planet) sensibly grant parents the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this particular right is conditional, not absolute. If they neglect or abuse or deny medical treatment to their children they will lose those rights, and once the children reach certain ages (these vary depending upon the circumstances), the parents lose those rights, regardless.

(“Right” is an awkward term to use in this case, largely because rights are assumed—not by me!—to be absolute and inalienable, such that to speak of “conditional rights” seems nonsensical. “Privilege”, however, seems too cramped a term; “authority” works pretty well. . . so, ah, yeah, I’ll use authority here on out.)

In any case, what I now call “authority” and what others might insist is a “right” has nonetheless come to be seen as something which, unfortunately unique among our understanding of rights, is paired tightly to “responsibility”. The default mode is parental authority/right/responsibility for children, such than an abuse of authority/failure to meet responsibility leads to loss of said authority/right.

Christ, I’m really talking around the issue, aren’t I? Nothing like spending two days in a writing seminar to unmake one’s ability to write.

Anyway. That we as a polity might infringe upon parental authority is neither new nor necessarily unjust. We might have good reasons to be suspicious of state mandates regarding children—see the history of removing Native American children from their homes, as unjust a policy as there was—but it is also the case that, absent state action, children suffer at the hands of their parents.

I can’t really object to religious or cultural communities wanting to instill their values into minor members of their communities (even though I do), because as deep a civic republican as I am, I am also a narrow civic republican who thinks pluralism is the bee’s knees (even if I am occasionally exasperated by those bee’s knees).

I”m losing the thread again, aren’t I? Shit.

Okay, I’ll just skip to the conclusion since I”m obviously skipping all over the place anyway. Requiring parents to educate their children is not an unjust limitation of their freedom to raise their children as they see fit, because parents ought not have the freedom to deny freedom to their children.

And the parts I skip over? All of the tough balancing between parents’ rational desires to pass their values along to their children and what to do when those values hinder their kids’ abilities to make, when they come of age, their own decisions. Amish and Satmar and FLDS children are not just Amish and Satmar and FLDS members, but individuals who, like every other individual, deserve to be recognized in and covered by the law, and not merely covered by their parents.

Or something like that.





We don’t need no education

27 05 2013

If your local  high school students thought Martin Luther King had something to do with slavery or never heard of Abraham Lincoln, you’d probably think, Huh, that’s a pretty lousy school.

And if those local school students attended a school  in a community in which education is required only through the 8th grade?

Would you think, My, isn’t it wonderful that the oppressive state isn’t forcing that nice community to teach anything contrary to their values?

Or maybe, How marvelous that parents retain the right to so completely control their children that those children are utterly unequipped to find their own way in the world, and are thus effectively prevented from ever leaving the community?

It’s even better when they get state support for such community-building. . . .





Nothing left to lose

7 07 2012

I’m a lazy, lazy woman.

Sometimes this can lead to problems (especially when laziness is combined with or otherwise abets procrastination), sometimes it makes my life easier (as when a desire not to do things in a particular way leads to a better way to do those same things), and sometimes means someone else gets there (wherever “there” is) first.

Not getting there first is usually considered a bad thing, but in the case of laying out my objections to libertarianism, my laziness has meant that others have done the work—to which I will now simply link.

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

That is what we are about to argue, but it is based on months of discussion with the Bleeding Hearts. The conversation was kicked off by the critique one of us—Corey Robin—offered of libertarian Julian Sanchez’s presignation letter to Cato, in which Sanchez inadvertently revealed the reality of workplace coercion.  [more]

That intro was written by some of the good folks at Crooked Timber, Corey Bertram, Corey Robin, and Alex Gourevitch, in a kickoff post on workplace coercion, Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace. This was followed by Coercion vs. Freedom (taking on Tyler Cowen & Alex Tabarrok’s critical responses to the post) by John Holbo; Infringements on Worker’s Rights (where are the women in all of this?) by Belle Waring; Let Me Be the First To Second. . . (again on Cowen, and different schemas of coercion), by Henry Farrell; and, Henry again, Markets and Freedom (commenting on Matt Yglesias’s misunderstandings). I assume there will be more posts on CT about this, but this gets one satsifyingly into the weeds on workplace conditions.

To be honest, I would not have started my critique of libertarianism on these grounds—would have started with something even more basic, such as the misconception of the human condition on which libertarianism unavoidably rests—but another drawback to laziness+procrastination is those who get there first start where they want, not where I want.

More substantively, I think the CT critique, insofar as it is a liberal critique of libertarianism, fails fully to grasp the structure of workplace (or shall I say, labor? ) inequality and owner-domination—which is simply another way of stating that it is not a Marxist critique of labor relations.

Chris Hayes’s book, Twilight of the Elites, offers yet another perspective on this issue by taking on the notion of meritocracy. He notes

We hope that the talented children of the poor will ascend to positions of power and prestige while the mediocre sons of the wealthy will not be charged with life-and-death decisions. Over time, in other words, society will have mechanisms that act as a sort of pump, constantly ensuring that the talented and hardworking are propelled upward, while the mediocre trickle downward.

But this ideal, appealing as it may be, runs up against the reality of what I’ll call the Iron Law of Meritocracy. The Iron Law of Meritocracy states that eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanisms of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible. The Principle of Difference will come to overwhelm the Principle of Mobility. Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up. In other words: “Whoever says meritocracy says oligarchy.” (via David Atkins)

Atkins notes that insofar as liberals and leftists focus on a merit-based politico-economic system, they miss the role of luck:

But to call Lloyd Blankfein “lucky”, or to say that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were simply “fortunate”–that’s something altogether different. That’s revolutionary. It cuts against the dominant discourse of the institutional left and right to reorient the entire social contract. It challenges not only the ethic of equality of opportunity, but also the legitimacy of much of the inequality of outcomes.

No, not revolutionary, not even close, but a charge which may destabilize pat theories of merit-based systems. And, anyway, I think John Rawls addressed this forty years in his Theory of Justice: you need to set up a system wherein the luckless may still lead decent lives.

More to the point, for the theory of “luck” to be revolutionary, it would have to go beyond (as Atkins does not) the usual genuflection to “hard work” (Hard work is still a key to success, of course.—DA) to inquire into both the nature of said “work” and what counts as “hard”, as well as what role luck plays in determining the definitions themselves.

Consider lazy-based example: If I set up a scheme which allows me to do more with less effort or work, would that work still be hard? Add luck: What position would I have to be in to allow me to set up said scheme? How would I have gotten into that position? And what are the chances that the politico-economic system in which I lived would not only have and allow me access to the resources necessary for set-up, but would also recognize the scheme and its outcomes as desirable?

Shorter version: what counts as merit and merit-worthy varies, such that luck is itself at least partially a function of that variation.

I’m interested to read Hayes’s book because I wonder how far he goes in his critique of merit, and whether he thinks the concept should be altered or expanded or should instead be tossed. I don’t know where I stand on this beyond the sense that the morality of merit should be downgraded, but even that sense is merely a suspicion, not a full-fledged argument.

Perhaps that’s one place I could add something to the critique of libertarianism (and, for that matter, capitalism): the justness—to the extent they care about justice—rests on a naive definition of merit, such that those who have more deserve to have more and those who have less deserve to have less.

Or maybe I’ll have lucked (!) out again with my laziness, and Hayes will have gotten there first.





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: The sky is falling!

26 02 2012

Kids going to colleges! Episcopalians not being Southern Baptists! States separating from churches!

It’s hard out there for Santorum.

And women, oy, women, fooled by feminists and secularists into wanting jobs and guns and contraceptions and everything! Amirite, Republican ladies?

Now, to be fair, he wouldn’t actually mandate that women remain barefoot and pregnant, but there’s no reason for the government to make it easy to women to purchase footware, is there?

No good can come from that.





Martin Luther King, Jr.: American political philosopher

16 01 2012

Every man must ultimately confront the question, “Who am I?” and seek to answer it honestly. One of the first principles of personal adjustment is the principle of self-acceptance. The Negro’s greatest dilemma is that in order to be healthy he must accept his ambivalence. The Negro is the child of two cultures—Africa and America. The problem is that in the search for wholeness all too many Negroes seek to embrace only one side of their natures. Some, seeking to reject their heritage, are ashamed of their color, ashamed of black arts and music, and determine what is beautiful and good by the standards of white society. They end up frustrated and without cultural roots. Others seek to reject everything American and to identify totally with Africa, even to the point of wearing African clothes. But this approach leads also to frustration because the American negro is not African. The old Hegelian synthesis still offers the best answer to many of life’s dilemmas. The American Negro is neither totally African nor totally Western. He is Afro-American, a true hybrid, a combination of two cultures.

Who are we? We are the descendants of slaves. We are teh offspring of noble men and women who wer kidnapped from thie native land and chained in ships like beasts. We are the heirs of a great and exploited continent known as Africa. We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire, and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.

But we are also Americans. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. In spite of the psychological appeals of identification with Africa, the Negro must face the fact that America is now is home, a home that he helped to build through blood, sweat, and tears. Since we are Americans the solution to our problem will not come through seeking to build a separate black nation within a nation, but by finding that creative minority of the concerned from the ofttimes apathetic majority, and together moving toward that colorless power that we need for security and justice.

In the first century B.C., Cicero said: “Freedom is participation in power.” Negroes should never want all power because they would deprive others of their freedom. By the same token, Negroes can never be content without participation in power. America must be a nation in which its multiracial people are partners in power. This is the essence of democracy towards which all Negro struggles have been directed since the distant past when he was transplanted here in chains.

Martin Luther King, responding to the Black Power movement, in Where Do We Go From Here?








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