Posts tagged ‘Freedom’

November 10, 2011

How To: Democracy

by nkwilczy

A Professor today, towards the end of a class which had predominantly featured the Frontline Special “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandella” asked us how democracy could be “taught” to people inexperienced in its practice.

The words, though I know he did not mean them in such an abrasive way, struck me as thick in Western thoughts of cultural superiority; I had this vision of unwashed masses beseeching the wisdom of a “more experienced” people. I saw Kipling, and he asked me to share his burden.

But I know my Rousseau, so I tried to explain that a government of any sort, and especially a democracy, if it is to succeed it has to be tailored to the needs and customs of the people who practice it. Greek democracy did not look like German democracy, does not look like American democracy, and none of these look like Japanese, Brazilian, or Swedish democracy.

So I tried to go into details, about how you have to know the nuances of a culture, that the concepts must be translated into their intellectual pantheon building on what these hypothetical unwashed masses already know and believe. Most of all, that if what you seek to impose on these masses is an idea formulated by foreign academics without popular support, then what does democracy even really mean? It must build on the democratic tendencies of the culture and seek to combat the harmful civic tendencies, or else it fails to incorporate the ideas of the governed and fails primae facie to be a democracy.

Like many things I say, no one seemed to understand.

So, after a few moments of awkward silence he ended the class with the question, “Well, who would want the job of teaching these emerging countries about democracy.”

No one raised their hand and I was not surprised, it is hard enough to teach people in the United States about democracy.

December 14, 2010

Andean Night Monkeys

by nkwilczy

In it you will find a wide variety of fascinating political writings. I liked the Doomsday poem, personally, but I also contributed ‘And Justice for All,’ an extremely short story. I don’t know what to say about their labelling system, my intention was never that a cleanup crew would be seen as legitimate law enforcers, it was just about a critical mistake and panic and the inevitably dirty and unjust consequences, but I guess I’ll let you decide for yourself.

September 17, 2010

Political Independence

by nkwilczy

I want to start this post off with a short bit about our newest member of the Supreme Court. The only “dirt” that could be found on her during the confirmation process was a paper she had written on how internal divisions gutted the socialist movement in New York. It’s funny how much Supreme Court Justices spend most of their previous careers acting like they belong to a sleeper cell. Still, I think an obvious lesson can be taken from the premise of the text.

For my purposes I will divide the mass of politically aware Americans into three categories. I understand these three categories to represent oversimplifications, and I feel like I should warn people of that before I start talking about any of them. A lot of people use words like “conservative” or “liberal” as though they are all encompassing worldviews and total political ideologies, as though if you are pro-choice then you have signed a contract swearing to uphold the interests of trial lawyers or if you support gun rights then you must also support supply side economics. These broad generalizations and parodies of political ideologies work to form the basis for a sort of mild paranoia about the “other party” that reinforces loyalty and group cohesion among the two parties.

So that in the end, regardless of where you started out as a single issue voter, let’s say you are an environmental activist, in the end you will work with the teachers unions or the trial lawyers because it’s better than the “GODDAMN REPUBLICANS” or on the other hand if you work towards a smaller government then you can also end up supporting pro-life or various religious causes because again it’s better than the “GODDAMN DEMOCRATS.”

These are all people who started out as single issue voters. Many of them still are. The way that Americans have entered into political awareness for generations has been as single issue voters and it is a clear, logical system and a cornerstone of our democracy. You get into one issue, you maybe have some success with local government petitions or elections, you get that notion that you have made a productive addition to our democracy in some way and then you’re hooked. And then you start working on other issues.

I am explaining here that the connections that bring the two dominant political parties together are illusory. The perceptions reinforce the reality until the connections seem much more concrete than they actually are. We ally with the other “democrats” or “republicans” because we are told by other people that they are on our side, not because there is an actual ideological connection. If you compare it to parliamentary systems then the two political parties in America resemble coalitions more than actual political parties. Some of the most successful politicians in American history have made their reputation on that fact, “Big Tent” anyone?

I said at first that I would divide politically conscious Americans into three camps and so far I have only provided two. Democrats and Republicans. But there is a third option and I will explain it in a word: Unaffiliated.

I have personally been an Unaffiliated voter in this sense since I registered. I registered Libertarian and they lost their party status in NC a month after I registered and though they regained it I never bothered to re affiliate. In any event for our purposes here Unaffiliated voters include people who associate with every and any third party as opposed to the two dominant parties.

But Brah, you might say, then you are lumping in the Green Party with the Constitutionalists and the Libertarians with the Socialists. There are no ideological connections here, and in fact some of these groups disagree with each other on critical issues. If you say this then you clearly understand my point. In American political alliances these things do not matter.

There is a saying about managing the Democrat’s electorate, that it is like “herding cats.” You can see how this is caused by exactly the sort of factors that I’m talking about though, the lack of ideological connection between the factions. I don’t mean to understate the political diversity of the GOP, they are neither all corporate lackeys or ignorant rednecks, there is a wide variety of political tradition to their coalition. I won’t deny that the coordination and discipline of the party officials is uncanny, and when you see them mobilize every single seat they have in the Senate to block job bills or unemployment benefits for their own constituents. But I would argue that this sort of tight personnel organization does not in fact reflect any stronger of an ideological bond.

Those of us who prefer not to affiliate ourselves with either party wear our independence with pride. We are not tied to your issues. We care about what we care about and when issues that are important to us come up, and we vote erratically (in every sense that the combination of words can be understood). We make up our own minds to the extent that we are able, and this independence is a real virtue, the saving grace of the American democracy is the freethinking electorate.

But we can make our virtues into idols. And when we allow our political independence to get in our way and undermine our political goals. Because we let it divide us so that we don’t even bother going afield to find new perspectives to solve problems in other ideologies, we ignore compromises we never even know are there.

If bringing together Democrats is like herding cats then what I propose is a substantially more daunting proposition. Politically conscious Unaffiliated Americans are like snapping turtles. Many of them are involved in proselytizing people at any opportunity. They want to bring in new voters to the system, hoping for protest votes from people who would usually protest the system by abstaining, or if you openly disagree with them on fundamental issues (as independent minded people are wont to do) then they will even go so far as to argue with you. What I propose is that snapping turtles should put their differences aside and try to find common ground.

Why? What do they have to gain? What do we have to gain?

There is a need in this country for a serious national dialogue. There is a need for new ideas and new approaches to the problems that face 21st Century America. Internet Piracy has created a world where we will have to re-evaluate in a serious way the existing copyright system and it’s enforcement. The demand driven consumer capitalist post-industrial economy is showing serious signs that it may not in fact be a self-perpetuating model, and there is an obvious need to deal with the massive trade deficit that ensues. There is a need to reform much of our corporate model, where there is high regard for executives who add little actual value to the products and have frequently over the past decade offered little in the way of leadership. There is global warming. There are on top of this all sorts of real and obvious problems with a petrified two party political system that has failed to address even the most basic of these issues. We are talking about a political system that only in the last year managed to pass the sort of basic healthcare reform that Richard Nixon proposed our nation could use.

I don’t want to tell you that these things will mean the end of the American Era. I don’t mean to say that it is the end of the world. We can’t have that sort of freaked out mentality about these problems if we want to solve them. These problems are not bigger than life, they are life sized.

But it will require serious discussion of these problems. We will have to break down the barriers that keep us from talking to the people who disagree with us if we want to have those conversations. We can all agree on one thing, the two party system is not solving America’s problems. Start finding places to agree.

But then again we are snapping turtles…

August 18, 2010

Terminology: Freedom

by nkwilczy

There has been a lot of talk about freedom lately. So Let’s talk about freedom.

First things first, what is Freedom? What does it mean to be free?

It seems to me that freedom constitutes an unimpeded choice from options. We have, for instance, a variety of careers available to us in America. You can be an accountant or a DJ or a janitor, the choice is yours. There will be no forces that impede your decision-making. You are, in this case, “free” to choose your career. Freedom does not constitute guaranteed success.

But if you take the position that we are free in this way in America then there are a number of obvious holes in your logic. The recession makes it doubly obvious, what if there’s no jobs available in your chosen field? The unemployment rate is too high to pretend that it represents a choice made without interference.

Because freedom, in practice, in America, is extremely materialistic in nature. Allow me to make an example. If you are poor you have the freedom to possess a radio or a small television or whatever you can afford to entertain you, but if you are wealthy then you have the freedom to make an unimpeded choice between a HD TV, a 3D TV, a Blueray player, while still having unimpeded access to all of the aforementioned options of the lower socioeconomic classes. If you are rich in America you are, therefore, more free. This is why materialism is such a dominant philosophy in the United States, having a position in many people’s minds somewhere between a religious devotion and a serious drug habit.

Now, let’s say for the previous example that the wealthy fellow is a CEO and the poorer one is a janitor. You can make the case that if the janitor worked harder he would be able to advance his career to equate the income of the other man. In practice though this is obviously not the case, if it were the case then CEOs would represent the hardest working members of their companies, brought up from the inside. This is not the case. We should admit that the next time the Janitor fills out an application he’ll be putting Janitor down as his work experience, if you go back further into their respective pasts you will find that 9 times out of 10 there is also a broad difference between their educational backgrounds. Let’s say the CEO went to a private school where he was coddled with a high idealistic teacher to student ratio somewhere in New England and the Janitor went to a substantially shittier public school where the teachers had run out of patience for their students and the guidance counselor had no idea what they were doing and didn’t help anyone get into college or get scholarships. These things are not the fault of the janitor, but they do end up placing arbitrary impediments on his choices (read: makes him less free). Because of this he is limited in career choices

This also exposes the ‘self made man’ for the hoax that it always has been. The truth is that we do not start out in the same places and the same choices are not available to us from the start. We are all introduced to different influences according to the accidents of our births. The ‘self made man’ is simply too self absorbed to give due credit to those influences.

Freedom is also psychological, and those influences will heavily shape a person’s psychology. This is a complicated concept, so let me unpack it. When I say that freedom is psychological what I mean is that you only really have access to the choices you are aware of. If you are raised in a one room apartment, by cynical adults then you probably have a different conception of the sort of options that are available to you than you would have if you went to private schools and were treated like a golden boy. These are radical ends of the spectrum but the truth is that there are billions of shades between them. Each of them represents a different extent of freedom, the only way to explain this is that freedom has a deeply personal psychological aspect. Anyone could (read: is free to) rap as well as Lil’ Wayne for instance, but few people have the psychology to accept and appreciate that choice. Not that they even choose to pursue it, I’m saying that few people are even aware that the choice is there. If you don’t know the choice is available then this represents to me an impediment on what we have defined for the sake of this post as ‘freedom’.

Now, all of the impediments on freedom I have discussed so far have been economic in nature, not political. In America no matter what your economic situation you can chose to be a Klansman or a Socialist or a Republican or whatever you want. You can express these opinions freely, with once again certain economic conditions, and also certain psychological conditions in how well you are able to articulate and make your philosophy empathetic.

Government gets involved in the debate about freedom, as though it’s percentage of the GDP represented some sort of slave labor sector where people are routinely tortured. The reasoning behind this is, as far as I can tell, as follows. Because freedom is economic, we express our wealth and our freedom at once by making consumer choices. Devout Vegan Locavores express these characteristics through their consumer choices the same way that vapid bimbos express their own characteristics and psychology through their consumer choices. They are free to decide what to buy, and what they buy reflects how free they are. If you are free enough to only afford a sixteen inch regular ass television how will you feel when your neighbor is unloading his enormous plasma screen? You will then see that your neighbor is more free than you because he has a wider array of choices and has selected the finest of them to display to vastness of his decisions.

This is where Government steps in as the bogeyman, because they take taxes. This money that could be used to express your consumer choices and your freedom instead is shanghaied for public betterment. To build schools or provide stabler economic conditions for children, to positively impact their psychology (read: freedom). So that the end result is that instead of having the right to a fair opportunity, or the right to food or shelter, or the right to a good education, the one right that we hold sacred is the right to keep up with the joneses.

This idea rests on the crux that if certain members of the society are ‘maximum free’ that is, free to buy anything out of any array of choices, which is apparently best established with marginal tax rates for the top incomes, then we are as a society ‘more free’ And if you take that idea seriously, if you think it has merit then there is probably little I could do to convince you otherwise.

But my counterpoint is that America was founded as a country with freedom and justice for all. So if taxation limits your consumer choices then I am ready to accept that as a fair sacrifice to provide opportunities to other people. Because Freedom is about being able to make unimpeded choices from options.

So I don’t think that Bank of America should have the ‘freedom’ to charge outrageous overdraft fees or to malign their customers in any of the various ways that they institutionally do so. I don’t think that internet companies should have the ‘freedom’ to limit bandwidth to particular sites. I don’t respect the ‘freedom’ to rob banks so why should I put up with any of that shit. If recognizing freedoms means also denying other freedoms then we must take a very careful look when talking seriously about freedom. If the freedom to rob banks causes such problems because it violates other people’s freedoms to do stable business then I suggest that we take a utilitarian view of freedom. Our goal is to create the most freedom, and spread as evenly as possible. If the bank robber succeeds then he alone reaps the benefits of freedom, he’s the only one free to make consumer choices. More people will be free to make consumer choices if he is prevented from robbing the bank so we stop him.

But then we also have to limit the bank’s ability to rob you, we also have to make sure that businesses do fair business and don’t rip off their customers. We also make sure that our drugs pass basic safety tests and that our meat is inspected. We could give the producers the right to rip off the consumers, but then we limit the freedom of the consumer just as much as we expand the liberties of the producers. We would trade the casual freedom to eat steak in a city distant from dairy farms for the freedom to sell shoddy products.

So I suggest that it is possible that we the people may have come together as a nation to discuss the balance of freedom and have done so for hundreds of years. For decades I admit the conversation has been puerile and irrelevant, and run by individuals who advocated the aforementioned view about providing select individuals with ‘maximum freedom,’ and this is exactly why this issue must be brought up and discussed in a clear way. It has been a immoral and ineffective policy, and we have to consider alternatives. But I often feel like people consider Government the anti-freedom, which is a philosophy that is not helpful when going into a necessary operation to reform to create a working government out of this disaster we have on our hands in America.

I suspect there is a root to this evil.

Go set a Benjamin on fire.

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