A Citizen of the Internet – first thoughts

9 December, 2010

“A constitutional amendment was offered to create a new fourth branch of government for American citizens whose ‘primary residences were virtual networks’.” – Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” – John Perry Barlow

“The general concept is simple, there are people that want to send a message that the Internet is a sovereign territory” – Barrett Lyon

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I do not trust the government of the country of my birth. I do not feel any loyalty to them, or any other country, whatsoever. At best, I see them as an especially powerful mafia I have to kowtow to and buy services from. The closest thing to patriotism I have ever felt is to the Internet.

So, why can’t I take Internet as my nationality?

Barlow’s Declaration of the the Independence of Cyberspace is now nearly fifteen years old – which coincidentally is about how long I’ve been online. The internet was a very different beastie back then.

In the last couple of days, the fallout from the Wikileaks affair has spread far and wide. Julian Assange is in a British jail on what even skeptical observers note is a rather enthusiastic prosecution of an alleged sexual assault charge. Few doubt the real reason he is there is pressure from the US government. Ranking members of that government have called for his assassination. Wikileaks has been hit by multiple DDoS attacks – and, perhaps inevitably, Anonymous have responded with a wave of DDoS attacks of their own against targets which have supported the pressure on Wikileaks and Assange (from Paypal, Mastercard and Visa to the Swiss bank who froze his assets).

On the same day as Assange was arrested, the US Dept of State sent out a press notice, thus:

The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.

…New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.

I’m not quite sure what is worse – the staggering hypocrisy of this, or that the US think we’ll not notice that, or that they simply don’t care.

My own country’s government – run by a weak coalition government which is acting like they have a landslide mandate – is cutting vital services to the poor and disadvantaged to pay for deficits caused by their banking pals’ having been caught running the largest Ponzi scheme in human history… and their representatives have the gall to blame those poor and disadvantaged for the financial mess. Students are taking to the streets in protest. They are not my rulers, except by virtue of monopoly of violence and general habit.

When we’re at the point where The Economist refers to Anonymous as “a 24-hour Athenian democracy” I think it’s time to at least consider the idea. (Although, as my esteemed colleague David Forbes points out, that also means unruly mobs…)

There’s plenty of precedent for dual-citizenship (such as my being both a citizen of UK and EU), as well as transnational exemptions based on residential status – think diplomatic immunity. (And if ever there was a system that sums up the idea of privilege overriding local law, it’s diplomatic immunity… though as a quick-and-dirty way to get Internet Citizens protected, granting all such citizens diplomatic status under the Vienna Convention would do nicely! After all, every Internet Citizen is potentially a post-state actor unto themselves…)

There’s also precedent in such ideas as the World Citizen aspect of the Bahá’í Faith, as well as libertarian proposals for independent states such as Sealand.

Citizenship implies abiding by, and contributing to, a social contract. Doing Your Bit. I have to tell you I’m far happier doing that for the internet than for any state. It’s rules, customs and rituals make more intuitive sense to me than any state I have ever heard of. And yes, I would cheerfully give up my right to vote in the UK and EU for the rights and responsibilities of Internet Citizenship. (Dear David Cameron – that’s what a Big Society really fucking means.)

(Of course there’s intrinsic problems with being Citizen Internet. As I was writing this, I had an ISP issue that required multiple reboots of router & 2 hours on tech support. The physical infrastructure of the internet is indeed reliant on meatspace hardware located in post-Westphalian states. But then again, a huge amount of the wealth and culture of those states is now internet-based… some form of detente is surely negotiable. And perhaps the Wikileaks fallout is the first ugly step towards such a detente.)

(I’m also very aware that saying The Internet is a gross oversimplification of a whole bunch of different, sometimes competing, cultures. A key issue would be finding some common ground among all users – from attitudes to censorship to trolling to vandalism. But having a set of ground rules all citizens can accord to is surely the first necessary step for a citizenship, yes?)

The single biggest issue with declaring the internet as a sovereign territory is that nation-states have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from this. But then again, that doesn’t make it unthinkable – those nations once also had a lot to lose by making slavery illegal. (I can imagine quite similar arguments from them, too – “We own that! You can’t take our property!”) The quote from Bruce Sterling’s political SF novel Distraction comes from near the end of the book, after a post-financial crash US has to negotiate with a new power within it’s borders, nomadic tribes who conduct most of their social admin and political apparatus online (think Whuffie on steroids). I can easily imagine circumstances where the US would have to come to an understanding with non-state (or rather, post-state) actors. Another quote from Distraction goes, “Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations”.

OK – so let’s assume through some miracle the Powers That Be allow Internet to be recognised as a nationality. There’s a rotating crowd of randomly selected Anons sitting at the UN or something. What does that actually do?

One advantage I can see is that all those Blue Laws which use the phrase “based on the prevailing standards of the community” go away. My community is the Internet. Our standard for sexual freedom is /b/. (Obvious exception – and perhaps a necessary precondition – is zero-tolerance of actual child pornography and images of actual rape.) I also imagine that property and privacy laws would develop rather differently… the most important part for me is that those who wish not to play the same games as their home state have somewhere to call home. It would also be somewhere (for a rather virtual definition of ‘somewhere’, of course) where organisation to survive failed states and other antiquated tribes can be accomplished.

No doubt existing state actors would cause all kinds of problems for the Internet Citizen – governments tend to do that. But then again, they do that between each other – as the Wikileaks cables clearly show.

And for the states which claim to be democracies, it’ll show one possible result of truly sharing power among the people.

——————

NB – This isn’t a working proposal. It’s not even really a manifesto, yet. It’s perhaps just a naive dream… but it’s one that obsesses me increasingly. If anyone has useful ideas to contribute to this, sing out!

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Voting

6 May, 2010

“Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations.” Bruce Sterling, Distraction

Election day begins. And, for the first time in the 28 years I have been eligible to do so, I am going to vote.

I always vowed that I would never ever do so, unless a candidate or party came along that were supporting at least some of my non-standard views, were not merely players in the status-quo game. I also vowed I’d never vote against a party or position rather than for one, unless the BNP or similar scumbags stood a chance of winning.

(How serious was I about that? I didn’t vote against Thatcher.)

I despise party politics. I think it a vile mash of knee-jerk bollocks veneered with hypocrisy and histrionics. I’ve seen good, honourable people I knew personally become part of the party machinery and rendered either irrelevant or absorbed into the Borg Continuum. Churchill’s line about Democracy being “the worst system of government except for all the others” never struck me as enough excuse to support it. My reply to questions on why I didn’t vote was, “Same reason I don’t gamble in Vegas – the House always wins.” The longer version is; governments effectively perform experiments on the entire population of their country while in power, based not on science but various economic and (HAHAHAHA) moral principles, with no training in doing anything other than winning and dealing. I’d love to see candidates have to show an understanding of this simple fact and act accordingly – rather than their usual skills of rhetoric and corruption.

I’ve worked in the British Civil Service (Treasury), so I’ve seen how the game is played. Like working in a sausage factory, but far worse for your sense of smell.

I was one of the few on the night that misbegotten mad-eyed cuntbag Tony Blair was elected who stated outright that he’d be a worse whore than the Tories for corporate cock. That ended any chance of voting for the working-man-gutted version of Labour. And the behaviour of that vile man we called The Smiler and his glum successor in regard to unjust foreign adventurism, erosion of civil liberties and in the end their inability to realise the oligarchs they served would sell even them into the ground – and then demand compensation when the economy noticed the fraud – and Labour gave it to them… no way could I ever vote for them, even to stop a return to Conservative rule.

My disgust for the Tory hypocrisy on matters such as homosexuality, and their utter disregard (now shared by ‘Labour’) for the non-rich, non-elites renders them unacceptable under any circumstances to be given power again. They think they deserve to rule us plebs – reason enough for them to never do so ever again.

The LibDems blew their chance with me by their cowardly “oh we’ll fix it later” attitude to the Digital Economy Act (and that after writing personally to my local MP on the subject, I was fobbed off with press releases.) Also, another status-quo white public schoolboy as leader. Same song, slightly different verse.

Greens just seem overcommitted to their special-interest angle (and a little Luddite for my taste) and the other small parties are right-wing wankers of various stripes.

I also never considered it right to just turn up and spoil the ballot paper, or just piss it away on a Monster Raving Loony Party-like candidate. Given the options I faced, I felt (like that line in Slacker) that withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy, so that’s what I did.

So why change the habits of an adult lifetime now?

Because I have a local candidate whose platform comes from the poor bastards who usually just suffer political decisions rather than make them – ordinary people. He stands for a controversial and important position in social change – drug legalisation. And, in the very likely hung parliament, it’s a time when a single voice could actually be heard and do some good.

I’m voting for the People’s Manifesto candidate, Danny Kushlick.

(More on the People’s Manifesto here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_People’s_Manifesto)

EDIT: One way that I think voting should be changed is to allow actual voting against a candidate, rather than having to vote for someone else as a protest/attempt to curb them. Simple enough – one column for Yes, one for No. You can tick one candidate in one column, not both. That way, those who wish to express the (all-too-common) view that “they’re all scum but this fucker shouldn’t be allowed near anything even vaguely resembling power” can be accounted for.


Guttershaman, “…of Jedi and jail”

2 May, 2010

So, like I was saying earlier – this Jedi walks into a Job Centre

Because it’s a British Job Centre and we’re the proud world leaders in intrusive CCTV surveillence, the staff ask our hero to lower his hood. (Of course he’s in hood and robe – Jedi, remember?) He politely refuses, on the grounds that doing so is against his deeply-held beliefs.

So they chuck him out. And he sends a letter of complaint.

A couple of weeks later, the Job Centre send him a formal apology for disrespecting his faith.

This delightful tale of modern manners is interesting to me for many reasons.

For one thing, it hit the news a couple of weeks before the finale of another case of alleged religious disrespect, one where the complainant didn’t get the result they wanted. In this case, it was a Christian woman, a nurse, who was asked not to have her crucifix-on-a-chain visible at work. She sued the hospital and lost.

The parallels are notable. For one thing, both complainants were making a fuss about a display of their faith which is not defined as either a right or requirement of their belief – the Bible has no “Thou Shalt Have Jesus On A Stick Swinging Around Thy Neck” commandment and the Star Wars films have many examples of Jedi doffing their hoods in a variety of public and private settings.

The major difference, the thing that really interests me, is that the believer in a completely fictional faith actually got more respect and better treatment than the one from the long-established, allegedly historically-based one. That’s a first, I think.

And it’s a game-changer.

What happens when belief systems which cheerfully admit they are based on fiction get the same recognition in society and law as the ones that claim they’re not?

So far, the established religions have a hard enough time admitting any other faith deserves the same recognition or rights they they have. The case of Patrick McCollum in the US offers a sad example of the situation as it stands. McCollum is a Pagan priest who wants to be a prison chaplain. So far, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is refusing him permission to do so. The reason they offer – which is supported by a Xtian protest org perfectly named The Wallbuilders – is that there are two tiers of religious belief under the US Constitution. The First Tier consists of the so-called Big Five faiths – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American – who have all the rights and privileges. The second tier – everyone else – simply don’t.

Needless to say there’s a lot of pressure from pagan groups, and people who seem to have actually read the Constitution, against this opinion. The case is, to date, unresolved.

But now we have this precedent, that Jedi-boy has all the rights and privileges of any other believer.

I use that word ‘privilege’ carefully. Its original meaning, ‘private law’, seems more than a little significant under the circumstances. One rule for the First Tier… and there’s nothing so galling to the privileged as being made to share with the rest of the group.

There is of course one New Religious Movement that’s managed to secure itself all manner of rights and privileges – the Church of Scientology. Suffice it to say that recognition of your faith’s status is fairly easily enhanced by having access to lots of expensive lawyers. (Though it doesn’t seem to have helped them any in their home state of California, as noted above. Maybe there are some things money can’t just buy?)

(Interesting to compare this to the UK situation. As I understand it, members of any faith, including pagan, can be prison chaplains in Britain. I don’t know if anyone’s tried to be a Jedi chaplain yet, but I do know that all of the 139 prisons in England and Wales and many of the 16 prisons in Scotland have the equivalent of their own Scientology chaplains and spiritual services… and there are precisely three Scientologist prisoners in the whole system.)

So – how does society decide which beliefs should be respected? Who decides? On what basis? Who gets to choose what is called real?

Obviously, the belief systems which hold the current monopoly of privileged status aren’t going to give up their exclusive specialness without a fight – which, judging from previous displays of their intentions towards anyone disagreeing with their beliefs, will involve everything from whiny protests to inciting murder. So there’s that to look forward to.

Meanwhile, my position is this:

I honestly believe all religions and beliefs are, at best, stories. Possibly stories with some level of truth to them, but no less mythological for all that. We can debate the degree of ‘truth’ at the core of each ’till the cows come home – but it seems to me a politeness for all beliefs to meet on an equal playing field. Certainly, the hard core believers will insist that their faith deserves privilege above the others because theirs is the Real True Truth… but after the first fifty or so different flavours of believer stating that with a straight face, it gets real old, real fast. Either raise all beliefs up to the level of the most-favoured… or bring them all down to the lowest. No special pleading, no tax breaks, no exemptions from civil law on grounds of belief. Everyone gets the same treatment. From the Jewish Anti-Defamation League to the Na’vi one. From Sunni and Shia to followers of Sol Invictus and Satan and Scooby-Doo.

Then, finally, perhaps we can all compare notes about what we believe, and how we see the world, like civilised people.

Yeah. Sure.

(Next time on Guttershaman – looking deeper at the ‘Hyper-Real’ religions via the work of Adam Passamai, who coined the term.)


Sara Robinson’s “The Truth about Consequences”

23 April, 2009

A truly outstanding and stirring piece by Sara Robinson, taking both sides of American politics to task over the CIA torture and other actions of the Bush regime that Obama has said he wants to move on past – starting with noting the difference between conservative and liberal concepts of authority, freedom and justice:

Understanding that difference may explain something about how we got here.

For conservatives, the goal of discipline is to assert the power of external authority. In their worldview, most people aren’t capable of self-discipline. They can’t be trusted to behave unless there’s someone stronger in control who’s willing to scare them back into line when they misbehave. Don’t question the rules. Don’t defy authority. Just do what you’re told, and you’ll be fine. But cross that line, dammit, and there will be hell to pay.

In this view, the whole point of punishment is for greater beings (richer, whiter, older, male) to impress the extent of their authority upon lesser beings (poorer, darker, younger, female). I’m in control, I make the rules, and I’m the only one of us entitled to use force to get my way. Since emotional and/or physical domination is the goal, the punishments themselves often use some kind of emotional or physical violence to drive home that point. Spanking, humiliation, arrest, jail and torture all fill the bill quite nicely. I’m not interested in what you think. Do as I say, or I will be within my rights to do whatever it takes to make you behave.

Note, too, the hierarchical nature of this system. Those at the top of the heap enjoy the freedom that comes with never being held accountable by anyone. This exemption is implicit in conservative notions of “liberty,” and is considered an inalienable (if not divine) right of fathers, bosses, religious leaders, politicians, and anyone else on the right who holds power over others. The privilege of controlling others’ liberty, without enduring reciprocal constraints on your own, is at the heart of the true meaning of “freedom.”

Liberal parenting books, on the other hand, talk a lot about “logical and natural consequences.” Since liberals believe that most people are perfectly capable of making good moral choices without constant oversight from some outside authority, the goal of discipline is to strengthen the child’s internal decision-making skills in order to prepare him for adult self-governance.

…I don’t have research on this, but I’m pretty sure that after eight years of the most lawless presidency in history, most of us had “restoring real accountability” fairly high up on the Hope and Change list when we cast our votes for Barack Obama. We were craving that even-handed, reasonable, cleansing moment—a season of transparency that would show us where we went wrong, let some air and light into the wounds, and allow us to begin to heal. He sounded for all the world like the kind of morally serious person who understands the difference between right and wrong—and between that kind of old-fashioned even-handed inquiry that simply finds what it finds and deals with miscreants without fear or favor, according to the demands of the law; and a partisan witch hunt that’s conducted for no higher purpose than terrorizing your opponents into submission with naked displays of unchecked power. He seemed like just the guy to do it.

So the last thing we expected was to hear him warbling that same terrified-Democrat line, starting within days of his inauguration. Fortunately, as outrage over the torture memos spreads, both the President and Congressional Democrats seem to finding their moral feet again. And not a moment too soon, either—because if they blow this one, it’s nothing short of the end of America as we know it.

When the administration says that “we’re not looking backward” and “we’re not out to assign blame or punish anyone,” what it’s really saying is that there no longer any real relationship between cause and effect in our government. The very idea of consequences has absolutely no meaning. If you have access to enough money and/or power, there is nothing you can say or do, no amount of money you can steal, no lie perfidious enough, no fraud brazen enough, no treason heinous enough, to get you so much as called up before a hearing to explain yourself.

And that’s a truly frightening development.

Postmodernism in modern banking

5 March, 2009

Hmm… is this becoming a series of posts on ‘posts’?

(Not a bad idea… lends me to fond recollections of Julian Cope and I backstage at one of his gigs, both utterly stoned as could be and him looking me deep in the eye and describing my wives and I as “the most post-christian family I know”. Good times.)

No, this one is about modern banks and how their decline and fall started as a modernist movement, but soon fell into post-modernism as it got non-linear…

The original conceit comes from a New Yorker article (found by Letter From Here blog),

Melting into Air – Before the financial system went bust, it went postmodern.” by John Lanchester

Have a toke on this… it’s long, but satisfying.

There’s something almost nineteenth century about Buffett’s writing on finance—calm, sane, and literate. It’s not a tone you’ll readily find in anyone else’s company reports, letters to shareholders, public filings, or press releases. That’s because finance, like other forms of human behavior, underwent a change in the twentieth century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts—a break with common sense, a turn toward self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn’t be explained in workaday English. In poetry, this moment took place with the publication of “The Waste Land.” In classical music, it was, perhaps, the première of “The Rite of Spring.” Jazz, dance, architecture, painting—all had comparable moments. The moment in finance came in 1973, with the publication of a paper in the Journal of Political Economy titled “The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities,” by Fischer Black and Myron Scholes.

The revolutionary aspect of Black and Scholes’s paper was an equation that enabled people to calculate the price of financial derivatives based on the value of the underlying asset. Derivatives themselves had been a long-standing feature of financial markets. At their simplest, a farmer would agree to a price for his next harvest a few months in advance—and the right to buy this harvest was a derivative, which could itself be sold. A similar arrangement could be made with equity shares, where what was traded was an option to buy or sell them at a given price on a given date. The trade in these derivatives was hampered, however, by the fact that—owing to the numerous variables of time and risk—no one knew how to price them. The Black-Scholes formula provided a way to do so. It was a defining moment in the mathematization of the market. The trade in derivatives took off, to the extent that the total market in derivative products around the world is counted in the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Nobody knows the exact figure, but the notional amount certainly exceeds the total value of all the world’s economic output, roughly sixty-six trillion dollars, by a huge factor—perhaps tenfold.

It seems wholly contrary to common sense that the market for products that derive from real things should be unimaginably vaster than the market for things themselves. With derivatives, we seem to enter a modernist world in which risk no longer means what it means in plain English, and in which there is a profound break between the language of finance and that of common sense. It is difficult for civilians to understand a derivatives contract, or any of a range of closely related instruments, such as credit-default swaps. These are all products that were designed initially to transfer or hedge risks—to purchase some insurance against the prospect of a price going down, when your main bet was that the price would go up. The farmer selling his next season’s crop might not have understood a modern financial derivative, but he would have recognized that use of it. The trouble is that derivatives are so powerful that—human nature being what it is—people could not resist using them as a form of leveraged bet.

And then, once the results of all these leveraged bets became clear (an awful lot of basically useless financial instruments and toxic debts) it all went a bit… postmodern.

The result is a new kind of crash. The broad rules of market bubbles and implosions are well known. They were systematized by the economist Hyman Minsky (a student of Schumpeter’s), in the nineteen-sixties, and their best-known popular formulation is in Charles P. Kindleberger’s classic work “Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises” (1978). Tulip bulbs in the sixteen-thirties, railways in the eighteen-forties, and Internet stocks in the nineteen-nineties are all examples of the boom-bust cycle of a mania leading to a crash. As Morris points out, however, a credit bubble is a different thing: “We are accustomed to thinking of bubbles and crashes in terms of specific markets—like junk bonds, commercial real estate, and tech stocks. Overpriced assets are like poison mushrooms. You eat them, you get sick, you learn to avoid them. A credit bubble is different. Credit is the air that financial markets breathe, and when the air is poisoned, there’s no place to hide.”

The crisis began with defaulting subprime mortgages, and spread throughout the international financial system. Thanks to the new world of derivatives and credit-default swaps, nobody really knows who is at risk from the wonderfully named “toxic debt” at the heart of the trouble. As a result, banks are reluctant to lend to each other, and, since the entire financial system depends on interbank liquidity, the entire financial system is at risk. It is for this reason that Warren Buffett was doubly right to compare the new financial products to “weapons of mass destruction”—first, because they are lethal, and, second, because no one knows how to track them down.

If the invention of derivatives was the financial world’s modernist dawn, the current crisis is unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism. For anyone who studied literature in college in the past few decades, there is a weird familiarity about the current crisis: value, in the realm of finance capital, evokes the elusive nature of meaning in deconstructionism. According to Jacques Derrida, the doyen of the school, meaning can never be precisely located; instead, it is always “deferred,” moved elsewhere, located in other meanings, which refer and defer to other meanings—a snake permanently and necessarily eating its own tail. This process is fluid and constant, but at moments the perpetual process of deferral stalls and collapses in on itself. Derrida called this moment an “aporia,” from a Greek term meaning “impasse.” There is something both amusing and appalling about seeing his theories acted out in the world markets to such cataclysmic effect. Anyone invited to attend a meeting of the G-8 financial ministers would be well advised not to draw their attention to this.

Give the whole piece a read, it’s quite illuminating. And while you’re there perhaps you can answer one of the great mysteries of our time – why are the cartoons in the New Yorker so uniformly shite?


Post-capitalism, and how to get it

5 March, 2009

Kim Stanley Robinson, one of SFs greatest ever world-builders and a passionate Green futurist, has a plan… and he calls it, becoming a post-capitalist society. Here’s a taste:

Am I saying that capitalism is going to have to change or else we will have an environmental catastrophe? Yes, I am. It should not be shocking to suggest that capitalism has to change. Capitalism evolved out of feudalism. Although the basis of power has changed from land to money and the system has become more mobile, the distribution of power and wealth has not changed that much. It’s still a hierarchical power structure, it was not designed with ecological sustainability in mind, and it won’t achieve that as it is currently constituted.

The main reason I believe capitalism is not up to the challenge is that it improperly and systemically undervalues the future. I’ll give two illustrations of this. First, our commodities and our carbon burning are almost universally underpriced, so we charge less for them than they cost. When this is done deliberately to kill off an economic competitor, it’s called predatory dumping; you could say that the victims of our predation are the generations to come, which are at a decided disadvantage in any competition with the present.

Second, the promise of capitalism was always that of class mobility—the idea that a working-class family could bootstrap their children into the middle class. With the right policies, over time, the whole world could do the same. There’s a problem with this, though. For everyone on Earth to live at Western levels of consumption, we would need two or three Earths. Looking at it this way, capitalism has become a kind of multigenerational Ponzi scheme, in which future generations are left holding the empty bag.

You could say we are that moment now. Half of the world’s people live on less than $2 a day, and yet the depletion of resources and environmental degradation mean they can never hope to rise to the level of affluent Westerners, who consume about 30 times as much in resources as they do. So this is now a false promise. The poorest three billion on Earth are being cheated if we pretend that the promise is still possible. The global population therefore exists in a kind of pyramid structure, with a horizontal line marking an adequate standard of living that is set about halfway down the pyramid.

The goal of world civilization should be the creation of something more like an oval on its side, resting on the line of adequacy. This may seem to be veering the discussion away from questions of climate to questions of social justice, but it is not; the two are intimately related. It turns out that the top and bottom ends of our global social pyramid are the two sectors that are by far the most carbon intensive and environmentally destructive, the poorest by way of deforestation and topsoil loss, the richest by way of hyperconsumption. The oval resting sideways on the line of adequacy is the best social shape for the climate.

This doubling of benefits when justice and sustainability are both considered is not unique. Another example: world population growth, which stands at about 75 million people a year, needs to slow down. What stabilizes population growth best? The full exercise of women’s rights. There is a direct correlation between population stabilization in nations and the degree to which women enjoy full human rights. So here is another area in which justice becomes a kind of climate change technology. Whenever we discuss climate change, these social and economic paradigm shifts must be part of the discussion.

Given this analysis, what are my suggestions?

  • Believe in science.
  • Believe in government, remembering always that it is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and crucial in the current situation.
  • Support a really strong follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Institute carbon cap-and-trade systems.
  • Impose a carbon tax designed to charge for the real costs of burning carbon.
  • Follow the full “Green New Deal” program now coming together in discussions by the Obama administration.
  • Structure global economic policy to reward rapid transitions from carbon-burning to carbon-neutral technologies.
  • Support the full slate of human rights everywhere, even in countries that claim such justice is not part of their tradition.
  • Support global universal education as part of human-rights advocacy.
  • Dispense with all magical, talismanic phrases such as “free markets” and promote a larger systems analysis that is more empirical, without fundamentalist biases.
  • Encourage all business schools to include foundational classes in ecology, environmental economics, biology, and history.
  • Start programs at these same schools in postcapitalist studies.


Slumbering Albion – Philip Pullman, liberty and censorship

28 February, 2009

Philip Pullman has written a splendid and passionate rant, called “Malevolent Voices that Despise Our Freedoms”, about the way Britain is sliding into a state of passivity against governmental control.

“To mark the Convention on Modern Liberty, the children’s author has written this article for the Times Online”, the header reads. But not long after the piece was posted, it was removed from the Times Online site with no explanation.

Whatever the reason for the removal, such disappearances are treated as damage by the internet and routed around… the piece has been reposted in several places (I found it on Issac Bonewits’ blog). Take a moment to read it, please.

A sample:

We are so fast asleep that we don’t know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation – after all we have an Established Church – or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?

…The new laws whisper:

You don’t know who you are

You’re mistaken about yourself

We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless

We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you

And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity

Whatever your opinions are, we don’t want to hear them

So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are

And we do not want to hear you arguing about it

So hold your tongue and forget about protesting

What we want from you is acquiescence

To quote XKCD…

Fuck. That. Shit.