Saturday, July 13, 2013


Okay let me rap this down, because I just haven't seen this explained elsewhere even though it seems like common sense:

Bullying is akin to drug addiction.
  • Most people do not do it.
  • Everyone is susceptible to doing it.
  • Some are more susceptible than others.
  • It activates the same dopamine pleasure centers in the brain.
  • Once you develop a taste for it, it becomes a hard habit to break.  
Okay but let's go the next step:
  • Most activity on Wall Street is a form of organized bullying.
  • Austerity (such as the austerity that EU bankers are forcing on Greece right now) is bullying for pleasure.
  • The Republican Party is an entire political party based on bullying.
  • The low prices for consumer goods and high profits for U.S. firms are often a result of U.S. bullying around the world.   
So: much of our economy, much of economic policy, and nearly a third of Americans are in the throws of this destructive behavior that is akin to addiction.

Neoliberalism as an ideology, much of the pundit class, and most academic economics departments exist to give cover to bullying. David Brooks' entire career is based on giving polite intellectual cover to bullies (and he is well compensated for his services).  

So if we were going to do something about it, what would be the steps?

Well, like drug addiction, we:
  • educate people about the dangers of bullying (whether that is on the playground or on Wall Street or in Congress.);
  • take steps to nip it in the bud when we see it (arresting Wall Street Bankers for their role in the housing bubble and collapse would be a good start);
  • set up a system of rewards and punishments such that people are rewarded for cooperation and excluded from polite society if they show signs of bullying (anti-trust laws, Glass-Steagall before it was repealed, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are attempts to stop economic bullying through law and policy).  
Of course another way to stop a bully is to become a bigger bully.  But that just starts the whole process all over again with a different set of actors on top.  The great failures of communism in the 20th century all stem from trying to become the bigger bully and from not realizing that in addition to winning -- you actually have to change the game (by replacing bullying with intersubjectivity). The great genius of Jesus, Gandhi, and King are that they realized that in addition to winning, you actually have to change the game.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013


Capitalism is the delusion
that through domination
we can achieve immortality. 

Where I'm at

Okay so this started coming to me so I may as well write it down: 

Most of the problems of the modern world are caused by capital. Global warming, deforestation, toxic waste, mining, slavery, the global financial collapse in 2008, massive and growing inequality, sweatshops and 1300 dead in a factory in Bangladesh, food that doesn't have any food it in, the obesity epidemic, the rise of type 2 diabetes, 1 in 10 Americans on antidepressants, 11% of kids diagnosed with ADHD, most cancers, corruption of our political system, imperialism and neo-imperialism, death squads, the drug trade -- all of these are caused by capital. 

The evidence to prove that case is obvious, overwhelming, and incontrovertible. You do not have to be Marxian to understand this but apparently it helps -- Marx and the schools of thought that have evolved from his initial insights have done the best job of illuminating the problems caused by capital over the last 150 years. 

BUT, and here's the thing that most Marxians and anarchists do not understand -- getting rid of money, property, or markets does not necessarily solve these problems. Indeed the places that have tried to rid themselves of property, money, or markets (for example, the Russian Revolution, China under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot) have produced all sorts of horrors of their own -- genocide, famine, prison labor camps, authoritarianism, a massive system of corruption (indeed corruption IS the political system in those countries). Part of the problem is that money is a funny thing -- what is it? -- a stored symbol of value, a universal method of recording promises between unrelated parties? It's pretty tough to replace that without introducing all sorts of additional problems and complications. 

So I guess where I'm at is that many of the fiercest criticisms of capitalism are indeed correct. And also many of the fiercest criticisms of alternatives to capitalism are also probably correct. The only viable alternative that I can see at this point is the Scandinavia model -- capital is allowed to do its thing, but it is controlled and directed towards more socially useful purposes through massive taxation, financial regulations, currency controls, taxes on financial transactions, etc. (I get that not all of these measures are in force at one time depending on the country). But capital is always the genie that gets out of the bottle, that figures out how to spill beyond its container in ways that poison the entire system. I'm open to other alternatives, I'm just not seeing them yet. (I guess zero growth economics looks promising too, but it's still so new that I don't fully understand it yet).

The not so subtle dog-whistle of the term "Islamist"

Okay, I've got a beef with the word "Islamist." LOTS of respected news organizations use it -- from the NY Times to Smithsonian Magazine. It is supposedly used to differentiate fundamentalist-Muslims-who-want-to-hurt-us (the Islamists) from moderate and liberal Muslims. But my sense is that the term "Islamists" is a code word for "it's okay to kill these guys." We do not have a corresponding term for fundamentalist Christians, Buddhists, Jews, or Hindus. Either we should start dividing up all religions between their violent fundamentalist wing and their more moderate wing using the "ist" construction (Christianists, Buddhistists, Judaists, Hinduists, etc.). Or we should drop the term altogether and treat people as individuals according to their actual words and deeds.