When people say that the job, purpose, goal, intent, etc. of something is to do something entirely different and often at near total odds with what it actually does, because someone once proclaimed these unsubstantiated and never-happening outcomes to be the job, purpose, goal, intent, etc., it calls into question their analytic framework. When someone says that the drug war is a failure because instead of stopping drug use, it destabilizes narco-producing regions of the world, brutalizes the underclass, perpetuates inequality, and foments the expansion of the police-prison state, then that person has mistaken a slogan for a product. When someone muses that our "strategy" in Iraq or Afghanistan is a failure because it is not producing "a durable, non-violent resolution to . . . political conflicts", then that person is a fool. And when someone says that late, post-industrial capitalism fails to "bring together willing buyers with willing sellers in order to produce value," then I wonder in what idealized world of pure form and meaning has this man been living, because obviously, if you consider the current American economy and the global system in which it is embedded, the production of "value" is incidental to the continued concentration of material wealth and political influence. That is the point. It isn’t a failure of the system. It is the system. […]
And you can be very worried and confused by this. It might strike you as unsustainable. Politically destabilizing. Socially dislocating. Deeply inequitable. Harmful to the long-term project of republican governance.
Which, I’d say, is precisely the point. Cui bono, motherfuckers? Last time I checked, there were still some fuckers getting rich. Meanwhile, the American citizen is increasingly a cash-poor, at-will worker whose docility is enforced by his total dependence on the whims and good will of his employer. Capitalism! Ain’t it grand?
Yep, crony capitalism is alive and well in America.
IOZ is also absolutely correct about the drug war and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whenever anyone labels something a war it should be immediately distrusted. There are only two kinds of wars: Defensive wars and wars of Plunder.
There is no such thing as a Nation-Building war or a Spreading-Democracy war. There is no just war except a war fought in self defense – not preemptive defense, not some abstract defense of freedom. And if our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not defensive wars (and they aren’t) then they must be the other kind. Likewise, if our war on drugs is not a war of defense (and again, it isn’t) it must be the other kind as well.
When our government wages a war overseas against terror or domestically against drugs (or overseas against drugs and domestically against terror) or when they tell you that they’re trying only to stabilize Afghanistan or resolve the conflict in such a way as to make a graceful exit, etc. these are lies.
When we are told that the mission in Iraq is drawing to a close while tens of thousands of American troops remain, and tens of thousands of international private mercenaries are required to prop up our continued diplomatic presence in that country – this is also a lie. And even if the politicians and bureaucrats who have inherited these wars think they are doing what is right and what is just, well they should know better. They should see the lie more clearly than anyone, because they’ve inherited it, too.
Likewise, it is a lie to call our capitalist economy truly free or to excuse the government from its elaborate collusion in propping up monopolies and crowding out small businesses and entrepreneurs from the marketplace. The military-industrial complex is one of the favorite targets of progressive antipathy, but this sort of incestuous big business/big government relationship is alive and well across the economy. Even the healthcare reform bill, which I supported, is a great example of big business and big government working together to profit off the little guy. (I supported it because I think it can be improved upon and made to work more for the little guy and less for the big insurers, medical cartels, and other supply side beneficiaries, whereas the status quo made such reforms impossible.)
I’m not an anarchist, but I’m quite sympathetic to anarchism as an ideal. If we could strip away all the stupid government regulations and subsidies and protectionism from the market – those things which allow capitalists and corporations to so utterly dominate commerce and rob people of their capacity to say, run a bakery out of their house instead of forcing them to rent commercial space and invest in expensive equipment, we would have a much freer, much less corporatized world. We would cleave away the foundation upon which so many of these corporations sit, upon which so many of these hugely overpaid and overrated CEO’s rest their laurels.
Where my anarchist tendencies run their course, however, is when it comes to our basic services and our basic safety nets. I am a staunch supporter of public education though I am very critical of the way we have implemented it and believe we could learn a thing or two from the unschooling movement (and of course, private schools are generally no better in this regard); of public healthcare (though I think it would benefit greatly from the open-source movement) and so forth. I think the government should be in the business of paving roads, even if we’ve paved far too many. The public sphere is important and, at least in this world where most people are not civic minded enough to be good anarchists, we should maintain and nourish it in whatever ways we can. We should not ‘privatize’ it – government may often be bad, but private enterprise operating within the protective wing of the state and under the guise of privatization is often much worse.
For instance, here in Arizona they are talking about ‘privatizing’ some of our state parks. (I use scare quotes because this word does not mean what they say it means…) This would amount to giving out rents to private businesses so that they could charge fees and earn profits off of people wanting to come spend time on public land. In an ideal world, these parks would simply be protected from development and people could come and go freely, little to no maintenance required. Perhaps volunteers could be brought in to help clean up and so forth. But in a less ideal world – in this world – I think managing state parks with state employees is far preferable to ‘privatization’. Ditto that for ‘privatized’ prisons. If we want to save money on prisons we should look at ways to make fewer Americans criminals, rather than making up silly crimes so that corporations can profit off of them. And yes, I realize that anarchists and mutualists like IOZ and Kevin Carson are not in favor of this sort of ‘privatization’.
In any case, I think we can learn a great deal from anarchy, however implausible its application in this particular society.
P.S. – I meant to say, but didn’t, that unlike war our capitalist system – however flawed – is not intentional. As a system it has no goal. It is not a conspiracy of warmongers. The results may be that the little guy is often screwed by government/business collusion – but more often than not this is unintentional. Or rather, often good intentions lead to bad results. There is not, as IOZ suggests, some elaborate plan – some purposeful, guided effort to screw everyone – built into our economy. But it often happens none the less. War, on the other hand, really can be the result of powerful people making conscious decisions which end up fucking us all over.