Autodidactic Social Critic & Professor of Contemporary Political Opinion Formation at the International University of Knowhere.
is the editor of this publication and the developer for the website. He runs the blog "Transferics" at transferics.com
is an actor and activist known for Cheers, Zombieland, and environmentalism.
is a student and fencer involved in militant direct action against the intergalactic imperial superpower, Gem Homeworld.
is too mysterious for a bio. Even I, the omniscient and wise editor, don't know who she is!
is an abhorrent and vile disease that has infected the biological spaceship referred to by other homo-sapiens as Alfie Killick. Symptoms include artistic ambition, a love of the avant-garde and an unwholesome obsession with the destruction of the status quo. You can track the progress of this dangerous threat to our normality here:
A playing card that outranks all others (c.16th century);
Big strong business daddy (c.2004);
Literally Hitler (c.2016);
Putin-cucked chief executive (c.2017)
The Democratic Party
Oops, the extremely unpopular war-hawking corporate-friendly political aristocrat lost to
a reality TV star whose entire campaign was an endless stream of racist gibbering.
Hey, should we stand up for leftist principles now?
No, let's blame shadowy Russian hackers and keep the unpopular corporate agenda and respectability politics.
Jerks who keep covering up our zines with their zines. Do they even know how gay space communism works?
British English: Someone who believes in an anti-authoritarian approach to socialism.
American English: Haha what's that? Sounds like an oxymoron
Using violence against people who want to kill minorities is just as bad as wanting to kill minorities.
We need to beat them democratically!
Anyone who does anything other than marching, leafleting, and fundraising for sensible, realistic, democratic reform.
The best way to solve a problem caused by pumping too many chemicals into the air is to carry out a megascale experiment pumping chemicals into the air!
The generation that comes after millennials.
Statesmen involved with creating international governance to manage the global state of capital (20th century).
Evil jew bankers with supervillain money powers that control everything and took your job away and love murdering babies with Hillary Clinton (21st century).
Pieter de Beer
A vote for representative democracy (a.k.a. republicanism), is a vote against unity.
At its peak, republicanism is a popularity contest.
Someone like Trump, who is arguably one of the most hateful and bigoted people to ever hold the office of President in the United States, can legitimately gain presidency over a global superpower by using representative democracy, which discourages participation through its obvious charade.
In a representative democracy, the constituency is encouraged to disengage from the political process, bar a single vote once every 4 years. What little engagement remains is to attempt investment of our political capital in whoever has most closely aligned with our values. The irony is that in order to fix this, there needs to be more political engagement and acumen, which is the hallmark of direct democracy.
Which leads us to ask, if we need to fix the problems of representative democracy by using direct democracy (which is when the power to govern lies directly in the hands of the people), then why bother with representatives at all?
Give every citizen the means to influence policy, and allow administrative control to be limited to the state, or preferably the municipal level. Confederate under a single constitution, but allow each municipality to have relative autonomy. No representatives needed.
This is just one possible route that could be developed if everyone wasn't busy arguing over which representatives are least representative.
At its core, representative democracy is a system of division that leaves a majority against a group of minorities. There is no intention of unity or progress, just keeping the status quo and using the division as a distraction, while embezzlement and corruption are imbibed in along with a healthy dose of abuse-of-power. Divide and conquer! And we don't see it because we’re so busy arguing about which politician has the most flawed policy.
The argument is commonly made that direct democracy is a tyranny by the many. Not that there is any evidence to support this idea, and certainly there are far too few examples for this statement to be considered a valid generalisation.
But, assuming that this is correct, representative democracy is arguably worse, since it concentrates power in just a few hands. Anything that is supposedly wrong with direct democracy, is orders of magnitude worse when applied to representative democracy.
So which is Better, Representative, or Direct Democracy?
Representative democracy requires high levels of trust in the ability of representatives to make decisions that represent the wishes and interests of the constituency.
Direct democracy requires high levels of political engagement, and a relatively high degree of understanding of the subject matter being decided on. Which means relatively high levels of education, and low levels of economic inequality, are quite important (though not deal-breakers).
We would have to establish what constitutes "better" in order to make a comparison.
If by "better" we mean lower levels of corruption, higher levels of service delivery by government, and a higher degree of regulatory innovation, then direct democracy is almost certainly a better system.
If by "better" we mean government more responsive to industry interests, an electoral process that is easier to install and maintain, and a legislative process that promotes conservative values by rejecting the majority of legal changes, then a democratic republic is the better system.
Representative democracy incentivizes disengaging from the political sphere by convincing the populace to hand over their political will, making direct democracy virtually impossible to implement. And, ironically, I think that direct democracy is more representative of the interests of the public than a representative democracy could ever be.
Now, we've entered the digital age, and as such should be seeing the democratic process reflect the technical and technological advance we're making as a species. Unfortunately, representative democracy is deeply entrenched in global politics, and is going to take a monumental effort and level of engagement by the public to be ousted by direct democracy. This doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done, merely that it won't be a simple matter of saying "let's try this new idea"
Can Representative Democracy lead to Anarchism?
In short, no.
Representative democracy is a powerful weapon against anarchism. Simply put, no anarchist movement can beat it, because the very idea of anarchism prevents a leader from arising and taking the people into the future. Within the republican world, anarchism is nothing more than an ideal, and since an anarchist party (because of inherent paradox) cannot exist, republicanism will continue the ridiculous search for a ruler that will free the people, even though no such ruler can ever exist. Belief in representative democracy is the belief that freedom is impossible and we all deserve to be ruled by flawed politicians.
Democracy and anarchism are not mutually exclusive. They simply are not compatible if we're dealing with representative democracy.
There are some excellent decision making platforms that do not require representatives or a national government. A confederation of autonomous municipal districts doesn't need to give away political power to those with vested interests that do not align with their constituency.
Anarchism is not statism, so it cannot be judged by statist values, yet there still needs to be some form of legislation, which is currently far too complex for an average voter to comprehend, let alone reach complex decisions about. However, legislation that is too complex shouldn't even see the light of day.
There is absolutely no reason that legislation can't be expressed in natural language. We live in an age with software systems abound that could simplify the legislative process. But political parties and government have a vested interest in maintaining a system that is easily subverted by capital. This becomes obvious when we see how many members of Congress depend on corporate money for election.
Again, legislation that is too complex for those to whom it applies to understand, is very obviously oppressive, and should not be permitted. All 'legalese' can be translated to natural language, and this translation could be automated. Mass participation in group decision making can be simplified through social networks that cluster decision makers according to their centrality to proposed legislation.
How are you going to clean up the existing system without higher levels of political acumen and participation, which are pre-requisites for direct democracy.
Once you have an actively engaged populace, why revert to representatives?
An argument then usually gets made about how the vast majority of people don’t have the time or inclination to participate regularly in a direct democracy. The truth is, these same people have ample time to discuss these topics on social media platforms and online forums, and I'm saying it's as simple as designing an effective app.
We are automating in every industry, at every level. There are actual political decision making platforms that already exist and are open source, so they can be adjusted as needed, at marginal cost. This software is specifically designed to facilitate the creation and maintenance of policies and legislation.
This software would highlight legislation according to its centrality to the reader. So the more relevant the legislation is to you, the higher its rank in your "news feed". People that don't live in your area, will have lower centrality to legislation that affects you, and thus are less likely to be asked for input. Experts in specific fields may provide viewpoints that don't require regional proximity, so expertise would be another variable in the ranking.
Regulatory establishment and compliance are not complex. They are simply couched in legalese in order to render them inaccessible, as exemplified by statements such as this Department of Justice regulation: "When a filing is prescribed to be filed with more than one of the foregoing, the filing shall be deemed filed as of the day the last one actually receives the same."
Surely we can find a way to conduct the affairs of governance using a model which operates more like a local council or guild, where good ideas can flow inward from the community and be acted upon and bureaucracy can be minimized or avoided.
What if adhocracies, project-based governance in which the relevant people form a temporary group for the purpose of solving a problem and then dissolve once the problem is solved, replaced most of the functions of current government? Instead of simply getting advice from experts, actually elect from among the experts and groups central to the issues at hand, groups to solve the problems, whose influence does not extend beyond their given task. Once the problem is solved or found to be intractable, dissolve the adhocracy. If needed, vote in another group to solve the problem.
Since the 1930s, the US President and other high officials frequently have used ad hoc organizations. The Hoover Commission, the Committee on Civil Rights, the Gaither Committee, the Scrowcroft Commission, and the Tower Commission are a few examples. So it’s not as if Ad Hoc governance is entirely new within this arena.
In most representative democracies, we are not given the opportunity to vote for our true preference, but from among the representatives that have managed to gain the most corporate sponsorship. There is a strong correlation between the winning party and the size of the advertising campaign they could afford because of corporate sponsors.
This is not a choice, but the illusion of choice. Like selecting between competing brands of cereal, but they're both produced by the same company, making the competition artificial.
There are hundreds of initiatives all over the US, and thousands globally, to try and engage local communities in local governing. It isn’t that far a stretch imagining a system in which these initiatives allow for the current form of government to be rendered obsolete, and for direct democracy to form a coherent replacement.
There is a better way than republicanism, which has given us Trump. Isn’t it time we found that way?
The Americas, about 49 years into World War III: Trump's presidency was the beginning of a period of dynastic rule of the U.S. by wealthy families.
Wal-Mart, during the first decade of WW3, acquired Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and got a supermajority of Wal-Mart shills in Congress and Canadian parliament.
The United States, Canada, and the northern parts of Mexico have been turned into the Objectivist Realm of Walton (ORW), divided into the following territories:
Bentonland: Ruled by a royal council of the S. Robson Walton and Jim Walton lineage, Bentonland stretches from what was once known as Louisiana up to the Great Lakes,
then over to the Atlantic. This is the primary administrative region of the ORW, with the Bentonland council forming the head of the ORW state. Bentonland manages 43%
of the world's finance and around 86% of the Western world's logistics.
Pacifica: Region of the John Walton lineage. The territory stretches from the Western border of Bentonland, down to the ORW's holdings in Mexico, to the Rocky
and Sierra Nevada mountains. Pacifica is the bread basket and weed baggie of the country, as well as being home to the Transhumanist Arcology of Silicon Valley
and its important software industry. Though originally ruled by Christy for a short period, fanatical Lukasites denounced her as a pretender to
the throne and assassinated her while she was traveling to a fundraiser on her private hyperloop line. Lukas has since had a long reign, but he has not been
seen for years; the popular theory is that he has retreated into hiding with a research team to race to the Singularity before one of his successors murders him.
Cascadia & Borealis: Starting at the Sierra Nevada Mountains and going up through former Canada eastward to Lake Winnipeg, Cascadia is the territory of Ann's lineage.
Borealis is the remaining region of former Canada and is the territory of Nancy's lineage. As an important cultural center, Cascadia is home to most of the realm's hipsters.
Cascadia and Borealis had a small civil war in 2036 over ownership of the realm's sports teams, so as part of a treaty agreement, they have split them into the
East and West divisions.
Texas: A landlocked autonomous zone ruled by Alice Walton, who is now 116 and has no legitimate heir. This has been a libertarian stronghold since Alice decreed that DUI
and seatbelt laws were forbidden and male prostitution was legal.
Most of the poorer classes live in Wal-Mart Supercolonies. They are self-contained biodomes supplied with Wal-Mart's flawless automatic logistics system, and
Wal-Mart allows to people to become customers in exchange for a pledge of voluntary service. The contract lasts 50 years and does not include access to
education, healthcare, or ample leisure time, and the A/C is often broken. Employment is competitive; the stores are usually highly-contested territories, with
different parts of the store controlled by entrepreneurial factions, warlords, and tribes. Some of the largest businesses in these cities are faction war voyeur,
shopping channels for old people, and the VR e-sports industry.
The faction wars and e-sports are both accompanied by displays of nationalism and are often attended by many important Waltons and Kroenkes. Alice is often
a celebrity participant in both and has an undefeated record despite her age old habit of sneaking from her flask during the events.
The Waltons and their separate society of quadrillionaires all live in isolated climate change apocalypse shelter domes, like in Big O.
This model is prevalent not just in the ORW Empire but also the Kaizen Corporatocracy of Japan (NKK). Japan is ruled by Sumitomo-Toyota General Industries, who partnered
with Lockheed-Martin and General Atomics to build a giant robot army to fight World War III against Russia and China.
Though we're not winning WW3, we are in a temporary cease fire, and we have recently taken back Taiwan,
as well as a strategic corridor through North Korea. During the ceasefire we have begun hardening our naval positions with swarms of railgun-wielding unmanned surface vehicles,
and forming a planned offense from space with orbital bombardment satellites. Soon our capitalist Crusade will be leading our righteous army of disruptive
entrepreneur pilots to Hunan, the birthplace of the original Chinese heretic, Mao Zedong.
We are unsure of the future of our great laissez-faire dynasty, but praise be to the Waltons, we will fight until we are completely out of stock to smash the dirigist bureaucratic
scum. Our drones are many and our phones the latest, and we will certainly exact our revenge on those bastards for hacking our elections and cutting off our supply of
Capitalists will own fully-automated supply chains that can produce nearly anything you can think of.
In order to subsist, we will need to start businesses trying the bottomless cornucopia of consumer products
available via the internet and putting them in weekly and monthly subscription boxes, such as Stitch Fix,
Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron, The Mysterious Package Company and Fuego Box.
Our daily lives will revolve around shopping using borrowed demurrage currency, which becomes worthless after a few days,
to buy a variety of products, try them all, then sell them to people who make their living running different
subscription box services. This will create a complex, contradictory, and increasingly brittle web of economic alliances,
much like the system of military alliances between fiefdoms in late feudalism.
Personally, I will be running Teaboo: a subscription box of fresh gyokuros, kabusechas and senchas from the Shizuoka prefecture,
shipped in envelopes made of original cels from popular anime classics such as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon and Lupin III. I am currently
open to any VCs for round one of seed funding. I will also be starting a kickstarter where subscription preorders will be available
for those who enjoy the art of Japanese anime and want to help form a strategic alliance against those pompous patricians at Art of Tea.
For the exact same reason we shouldn’t want unilateral policy power in the hand of any one person, we ought not want unilateral veto power on policies in the hand of any one
person. Both enable a minority of one to stop policies. This is regardless if it is in the hand of one person (extreme centralization of power) or in the hands of everyone.
On the political level this leads to incoherence, breakdown of political life, and loss of dynamism, by making it so everyone has to agree every time anyone makes any political
decision, preventing decisions from being made and being dissented to without people parting ways. A polity is made resilient having by at least a degree of diverse ideas and
challenging minority opinions which helps cultivate better policies as well as virtues through deliberation. The right of an individual to veto any political decision is not
one I would want others to have, nor something I would like to have. I want the right for people to be free from rulers. I want people to have an obligation to make sure
others are free from rulers, and the means required for rulerlessness (such as a guaranteed means of existence) and the development thereof. Such a formal minimum
standard/limit (nomos/law) of non-hierarchy should be transcended into the qualitative realm of political, economic, and social freedom and self management and through fostering
virtues that enable us to do more than merely be non-authoritarian. Such a transcendence does not negate the formal minimum standard/limit (nomos/law).
Within those boundaries of rulerlessness, direct democracy based on a simple majority (to ensure decentralization of power within decision making processes for accepting and
vetoing decisions) ought to decide on various political scales how to resolve incompatible preferences. People ought to have rights to argue against a decision, disagree,
re-appeal, move to another neighborhood/political unit, refuse to participate in implementation, protest, attempt to combine preferences and vote on the combination compared
to the other options, form their own factions, and revolt against rulership and be provided with the means to do all of the above.
Development of post scarcity:
Enables people to have a material foundation to participate in direct politics
Enables greater degrees of free association
Makes it so many “incompatible preferences” become compatible through greater degrees of ephemeralization and liberatory technical potential.
However, such a liberatory technical potential
does not mean that the end of incompatible political preferences is upon us, for society, preferences, city management, and technology will still descriptively develop and
prescriptively should, unless we want a monotone society without movement nor dissent.
There are certain types of social activities that can sweep you up, where participation is mutually enforced. Anyone who has been in a good circle pit knows this.
You choose to jump in, but you will be launched along the path of the pit whether or not you're even trying to keep going. When the energy level drops, though, the
pit suddenly dissipates. Sometimes this is when the music stops, or sometimes it's just when it slows down. Either way, without the psychic force of the music, the
social and physical force of the circle pit loses its reason for existing. Without the psychic force of the music, the people who are in the pit, who made the choice
to form or join it, stop following the rules of the pit, thus annhilating it.
Sometimes you have the opportunity to do something selfish. You are well aware that it's selfish, but it will also help your friends, family, or others you care
about. You wouldn't have done it normally, but you have a responsibility to help your people. Maybe the only reason it's a selfish action in the first place is
because of some bullshit institution like money. The person you harm through this action would certainly not be happy about it, but they might understand if you
explained, and definitely would, if they felt how you felt. Perhaps you'd feel worse about it if you knew all the ramifications, or if you could feel how they
feel. You are a kind bastard.
Both of these are reflections of the structural problems we need to tackle to create a society free of rule. We often may focus intense hatred on people who are
oppressing us. But many of them, rather than being evil scum, are swept up in the hurricane forces of capitalist institutions. Maybe they even want to get out,
but they are carried away by the cycles of capital gains, inflation, boom, and bust. Many are just kind bastards who are looking out for their own. Some might
even just be afraid to fall, for themselves or for their families. The capitalist pit involves such psychic force that it transforms psyches, turning normal,
caring people into rich, criminal assholes. We will never know whether there was a malicious intent in capitalism or whether it just evolved to be so fucked up.
And on the other hand, there are plenty of bastards among your preferred revolutionary class.
Rather than a class struggle, we need an annihilation of class. We need to stop, or at least quiet, the psychic stimulus that propels people through the pit,
following the rules of class struggle. The pit is propelled mostly by those who can be certain that the circle will hold together. If confidence in the
integrity of the pit is shattered, the pit will shatter as well. If enough people were to suddenly exit, confidence in the rest would disintegrate. Finance,
central to capitalism, is heavily based on confidence. Psychic force can have profound effects on it. The housing bubble was caused by confidence, and in
2008, confidence collapsed, with the economy following.
Capitalism is not about maximizing your speed through the pit, but about being faster than everyone else. Those on the inside can travel the circle many times
with little effort, and the smaller the inner circle is, the faster they get and the less effort they have to make. Not only can they themselves go fast, they
can push people out of the inner circle, towards the outer edge, where the path around the circumference takes much longer and much more effort. There are
people at all distances from the center that make the effort to move much faster than everyone else. They won't necessarily move closer to the inner circle,
and they often clobber slower-moving people. Many of them are kind bastards who will give their friends a push, or clobber those who are trying to push their
friends toward the outside.
The more people follow this logic, the larger the pit becomes, until those on the outside are pushed against the wall, and start to push back. Most of the
time, the inner circle's integrity is maintained by the nucleus of people who are following the inner circle's logic, or just trying to make sure their
friends don't get clobbered. The outside could organize and use their superior numbers to break the inner circle and the nucleus of this capitalist pit,
then start their own. But unless they change the logic of the pit, they will just end up with a new inner circle. This logic can be strongly influenced
by the music the pit forms to. Right now we're listening to some bro-friendly, generic, tough guy hardcore band. If the rest of us steal some instruments
and join together to sing posi powerviolence songs instead, we could drown out the chugs and grunts, undermining the logic of the pit.
Gentrification spatially resembles a circle pit. Poor people are shuffled around in circles through the city, pushed forward through the pit by wealthier
people, unwitting footsoldiers in the war of one class against another. Many kind bastards are unfortunately gentrifiers. The force at play isn't a
mechanical push, but it's every bit as propulsive. The force of money, of inflation, is the centripetal force that creates the pit and pushes the poor
along through the space of the city. Every stumbling step the poor take is followed with more inflationary force. Most often this takes the form of rent
hikes, but all costs of living can contribute an inflationary push through the pit. Over time, the pit expands to include ever-larger suburbs. The poor
create cultural wealth, and the wealthy capitalize on it, building newer, more expensive housing developments, and creating businesses that more expensively
replicate the existing cultural wealth.
The reaction against those in the same “class” or specific identity as the oppressors (white men, hipsters, bourgeois, etc.), or even against the
oppressors themselves, will not change the structure of oppression. Reactionary finger-pointing to someone you feel is personally responsible will
not result in solutions to the problems. The results can be only oppression by a different group, or segregation. Neither of these options are progressive,
humanist, liberatory or utopian. Hating your oppressors is understandable, but not productive. Punishment doesn't prevent crime, nor will it prevent
oppression. Only structural changes will prevent oppression in the long term.
Kind bastards will change when another way is possible for them. They'd rather be kind than bastards, but the force of the pit pushes everyone to be a
bastard. It's the rules of the pit that makes bastardly acts justifiable by the kindness it does for their people. They are pushing you along because
everyone else is doing it, or because someone else will do it anyway, or because others are doing it to them. We need to change the rules of the pit
to one where selfishness can't be justified by altruism, where helping your people doesn't harm others. We need to make the kind bastards care that
people are being pushed around. We need to make humans and ecologies our ingroup, and unite around our common aversion to zombies or killer robots
(please don't engineer either of these, you accelerationists out there).
We need universalism to get the kind bastards on our side, to drown out the exclusionary tough guys. Dividing people up by classes and presuming that
anyone from a certain class will maintain alliances with that class is anti-humanist, essentialist, and reinforces the ideology of class in the first place. We need
coherence, reason, and enlightenment to shatter the capitalist pit, to form one where no one is pushed against the walls, where there's no race to win.
Municipalism can destroy the gentrification pit and transform the way the rules are perceived.
Many of us, complaining of the poverty that befalls us or other ordinary people living here, have gotten the patronizing lecture from the armchair economics expert: If
you're in the US you're actually in the top 1%. Yeah, take that, you whining, millennial bernie bro! This is certainly true when we're "looking down" at the rest of
the world, who are indeed effectively enslaved to us in the first world and provide us with our clothing, our home goods, our electronics, and our toys. They are often
in devastatingly squalid conditions, and it can feel unethical buying nearly anything in our society, because it's just about certain that someone suffered for it to be
there on the shelves.
However, when we look up, the view should infuriate us even more: If the global 1%, who make around $50k, a typical middle-class income in the US, tower over the global
99%, then the billionaires orbit our planet. A hell of a lot of people are worse off than we are, but this is to increase the wealth of a small group of
people. Capitalism produces wealth for some by witholding wealth from the rest, using the held wealth, or the promise of it, to subject people to the whims of those
who hold it.
On the left is someone's house, and it's such a big deal, it has a name: Antilla. This house is 27 floors (though since each floor is the same height as two floors in a normal
building, it's closer to 60), has more total floor space than the Palace of Versailles, and cost $1 billion to build. Six of those floors are devoted to the owner's
luxury cars, and the seventh has a car service station. The house is a residence for a family of five, and has a full-time staff of 600 people. It has three
helipads (and a floor below them for air traffic control), nine elevators, several swimming pools, a health spa, salon, ballroom (of course, what mansion is
complete without a ballroom?), 50-seat movie theatre, yoga and dance studios, and an ice cream room. Oh, and a
snow room, which is literally a room where it snows indoors. Did I mention this place is in Mumbai?
Most of us will either rent our house for our entire lives or will take on near-lifelong debt to get a single-family home, if we're lucky enough to have a good job that
isn't slated to disappear in the coming years. Mukesh Ambani, owner of Antilla, didn't need to ask the bank for permission to buy this house. It's only 4.5% of his
net worth of $22.4Bn. None of us will ever even see a billion dollars, unless we live in Mumbai and look up at this goon's mansion. But like, I'm just a hater.
There are 1226 billionaires in the world. That's about the same as the number of people killed by police last year and also the number of people who will fit in a large
ballroom. "The Network of Global Corporate Control" is a study in PLoS One that analyzes one million of the ownership relationships between 600,000 transnational
corporations (TNCs). The authors find that the nucleus of the network is about 1400 TNCs. It's not made explicit there, but it seems likely that the 1226 billionaires
are owners of these companies. Not all billionaires are equal, though: "only 737 top holders accumulate 80% of the control over the value of all TNCs".
If a billionaire (someone who has at least $1 billion in investible assets) were to invest his billion and achieve a modest 5% return, "he would have to spend
$137,000 every single day in order to" lose wealth, according to a 2014 presentation by Tim Di Muzio which reports most of the facts here (and he then invites us to think
about this in relation to the philanthropy billionaires get praised for). The rich compete with one another on who has the most expensive yacht. The one Tim reports has
3 swimming pools, 2 helipads, a submarine and a missile defense system. Since then, a bigger, more expensive one has been built.
But it gets far more ridiculous and problematic when we step back from the individual things that they have: The ultra-wealthy have created essentially an entire economy
that is just for them, a group of companies that sell nothing but luxury goods and services for them. We peasants will never get anywhere near being able to afford a
single item from one of those companies, and will probably never even see any of those things, except in pictures. If one of us even got close enough to get our poor
on it, we would probably be tazered and dropped in the street puddle in front of the building. That's not all, though: These companies are traded on stock markets, and
they didn't just get the modest 5% return, they got an 18% return. Billionaires invested in these companies would need to spend half a million dollars, every single day,
in order to get any poorer.
Billionaires are primarily older, and over the next 2 decades, they will be transferring $1 trillion to their children. When we say we're against capitalism, this is
exactly what we're against: This isn't a rational mode of human organization and progress, it's a dynastic system of rule. If you ever hear about "the Illuminati",
this would be the closest thing to the real Illuminati. It's not an evil conspiracy, though, it's what the structure of capitalism inevitably produces. A system where
the only real social responsibility is to accumulate wealth will inevitably lead to a small group of amazingly wealthy people and a lot of people being left behind.
These people will get wealthier until the rest of us get fed up and revolt.
But even if we revolt, even if we go full-on French revolution and murder every billionaire, and wash the streets with the blood of the rich and take away all their
money, it still won't fix the problem in the long term. As long as we have capitalism, we will end up with millionaires and billionaires controlling everything. They'll be
getting more or less whatever they want from other people, while the rest of us are happy just to live in a house and have a couple hours a day to eat, drink, be
outside, play video games, or do art. Most of us would rather have more leisure time, and it isn't physical or social realities that are preventing this from happening;
we're restraining ourselves by following a myth that capitalism will make us all richer, when it really stifles our potential in service of a tiny minority, who get
richer by virtue of nothing more than being rich already.
A lot of us are dissatisfied with the system, but don't know what to do. Some of us chose to believe in an anti-establishment narrative given to us by an opulent
billionaire who lives in a place much more like Antilla than our house, and who will definitely not be doing
anything to challenge the establishment. The establishment isn't just "Washington insiders" or corrupt politicians, the establishment is the structure of the system
that leads to political insiders and corruption. We need to resist the establishment, but not just resist; we need to build our own social order, taking
care of one another to ensure that all of us can do what we want to do, rather than what someone with the money that we need to survive wants us to do.
We are not choosing to oppress the global 99%: our range of choices within capitalism reflect the necessity for those on top to exploit those below them. We
can, however, choose to work with one another to create an alternative. If the ultra-wealthy want to create their own economy and become trillionaires, we will
need to create our own that neutralizes the power of their money and privilege. We can rule ourselves, provide for ourselves, and decide for ourselves what it is
that our industry should produce. We can decide based on ethics and not money, and so we can then choose not to enslave, oppress, or exploit 99% of the world in
our own favor.
Podcasts for Smashies
Srsly Wrong: Two Canadians discussing all the nuances of political topics. srslywrong.com
At the Barricades: Jason Yawn of Trial by Fire and Free Children of Earth interviews well-known lefties like Abby Martin and Lee Camp.
PhiloChat: Brand-new podcast by one of our contributors. Informative conversations about philosophy. philochat.com
Chapo Trap House: Three dirtbags talking shit about pundits and Turkish politics, couched in 7 layers of irony. Find on Soundcloud
Thanks to the downfall of the Soviet Union and other nominally communist countries, decades of red scare propaganda, and a poorly-fought intellectual war against socialism, people today widely believe that capitalism, or just markets, are indispensible for determining how we should provision resources. This belief has given rise to alternative systems such as "parecon", market socialism, distributism, market anarchism (which is a leftist stance not to be confused with "anarcho"-capitalism), and so on. There is a diverse ecosystem of these ideas, but they are all largely motivated by the same red scare and neoclassical propaganda. There are a few basic ideas at the heart of this belief:
Allocation is so complicated that no mechanism could possibly accomplish it as well as markets: This is the most common, and is based on ideas initially espoused in "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth" by Ludwig von Mises. There are numerous and manifold absurdities with the economic calculation problem, which I will not get into here. To briefly touch on it, the idea that we could not, in the information age, deal with a complex, information-based problem, except by using a millenia-old technology invented for the purposes of provisioning standing armies, is a bold claim that requires substantially more support than the double-standards and arguments from incredulity that the Miseans and their ilk present.
Markets are naturally emergent and it will be impossible to get rid of them, so we must embrace them: This is also a very common argument, and often makes a point of the existence of black markets in the aforementioned "socialist" countries. Unfortunately for this argument, markets do not emerge naturally, and even the Soviet Union thoroughly used markets and money in its state-driven functions. Without using currency, without taxes being imposed on citizens, and without a plethora of goods available for purchase, there is no reason for markets to form.
People will not cooperate without markets/markets best deal with our natural self-interest or greed: This is the human nature argument. This argument has been addressed numerous times before, so I will simply restate that humans have many natures, proven by the fact that not all humans act greedy or self-interested.
On the contrary, markets do not solve any allocation problem; decentralization of decision-making simplifies allocation, and markets decentralize decision-making to a certain extent. However, they also introduce additional problems, primarily serve the ends of money creators, and are based on coercion and rule, controlling human behavior through a system of sanctions and privileges. Allocation without markets is indeed possible, desirable, and necessary. Using modern concepts in mathematics, logistics, and computer science, we can come up with a basic idea of how to accomplish it.
The Duty of the Commonwealth
In markets, obtaining survival needs and luxuries is contingent on fulfilling the whims of someone with money. This is a social duty that forces the masses to do the bidding of those in control of money creation and distribution. In a society free of rulers, we still need some manner of coordinating social activity to achieve social needs, such as building and maintaining infrastructure and caring for the elderly and disabled. For obvious reasons, it is important to share resources and help one another, and to be included in markets, there is a social duty to fulfill. This is a necessary component of any society.
Citizens of a society organized without rulers and without markets would still have certain duties or obligations expected of them. Though there may not be rulers, there are still rules, and there are still consequences to violating them. There are some large-scale projects that will be necessary for basic social function; some of these would be done by volunteer, but it's unlikely that all would be. In that case, the community political body would need to enact a mandate, which would select by some mechanism (vote, lottery, etc.) enough qualified candidates to complete the project. Those selected would have a duty to make a good faith effort to work on the project through completion, or to provide a good reason that they cannot. There is no reward for this; we should, as much as possible, strive not to create institutions in the shape of Skinner boxes, reducing human agency to control behavior through sticks and carrots.
The thing most people are concerned about today when discussing a system of provision is how new products are created. Production of something new requires choosing the size of an initial production run. Businesses cannot predict how people will respond to a new product. Markets do not have magical predictive powers, so businesses have to do market research to discover this. Non-market processes to decide how to allocate resources would have to do something similar. In other words, no special new process would have to be created for this step.
Crowdfunding sites highlight another way to predict demand for a new product. We can simply create a listing describing the product, and collect preorders for it. This gives us a good starting figure without any guesswork. The clever market enthusiast would say that this will not work the same way, that some of this demand will be illusory, since without paying money, they aren't risking anything by saying yes. However, this is a fairly weak argument: People get buyer's remorse and products often become "vaporware" even if they get funded. There is not a 1:1 match either way. Because the distribution process happens over time, it doesn't matter much if the first guess is exactly right. If there are leftovers, they can be held for later demand, and the production target can be adjusted downward; if there is more demand than expected, the production target can be adjusted upward, and those who didn't get the product can wait until more are made.
Others are concerned with innovation and how it could be engendered outside of market competition. For one, competitions of ideas do not also need to be competitions for survival. The need for market participants to compete for their lives or for the existence of their organizations, rather than stimulating innovation, stimulates risk aversion. The quid pro quo nature of the market leads investors to demand results-based funding for research, which stifles innovation and again stimulates risk aversion. Markets demand some form of intellectual property, whether something akin to patent law or simply secrecy regarding a business's developments. Without it, there is little stopping a company from monopolizing a market by using everyone else's ideas rather than developing their own. However, when it comes to innovation, adopting one another's ideas is the wiser choice. Software has evolved at a blistering pace in large part because developers started a movement aimed at doing exactly that.
In order to have a rational method of provision without the use of money and prices, we need to perform calculation in kind, which simply means "economic calculation" using actual, material units, as opposed to using prices. When creating a product, service, or project, its specifications will be written in a computer-readable standard. This should be considered a requirement for receiving the materials needed from the commonwealth. The particular standard doesn't matter a whole lot, since computer systems are easily able to deal with multiple standards. The standard will include the measured properties of the product (for example, a steel specification would include its tensile strength, hardness, etc.), a name, ID, and description, unit size, and necessary inputs. Each of those inputs would themselves be modeled in the same manner.
The last item is important because it's what allows calculation in kind to take place. Those familiar with programming concepts will see that there is a recursive relation between products: Each product contains a map of the products that compose it. This mapping creates a tree from each product to the most basic materials that compose it (technically they would not be trees, since there would be cycles, e.g. energy must be used to produce energy), which means two products will be comparable in terms of common units. These common units are multidimensional, making them more complicated to deal with than the one-dimensional price, but they are also actually measuring something meaningful, unlike a price. The comparison can be made on the basis of the differences between the two. In other words, if we're comparing two ways to achieve the same result, we can ignore the similarities between the two and analyze only the differences.
When economists speak of the necessity of economic principles, they are typically talking about opportunity cost. In other words, they are concerned with how to decide what to do with scarce resources when there are competing ends for those resources. The only rational way to decide this is to set some priorities to resolve conflicts. In capitalism, the higher priority item is whatever will generate more revenue. In a command economy, it would be whatever the state believes is more important. These priorities are used to decide which of the competing ends should receive the scarce resources they need.
While artificial scarcity is heavily created in the capitalist system, and most probably in an alternative market system as well, real scarcity does exist. That makes it important to have some
sort of method to deal with scarcity when it does happen. Our non-market system needs to have its own set of priorities. In our system, this can be done very impartially. We can measure the
priority of a resource based on how important it is to the measured demands of society. I mentioned earlier that proceeding from a product through its components generates a tree. Taking all
these trees together would produce a very large graph, which is increasingly connected (meaning there are more paths to the same node) from the products to the basic components.
In graph theory, centrality is the measure of a node's influence in a graph. Centrality is used, for example, in Google's PageRank algorithm to measure the importance of a page to a search phrase.
Its influence is, roughly, the number of paths that go through it. If we were to examine all possible paths through a graph, the highly-central nodes would appear most often in those
paths. Applying a centrality measure to the resource graph will give us a figure for each node (resource) we can use to resolve conflicts between competing ends--the end with the greater
priority wins. To give an obvious example, if we had limited water and were deciding what to do with it, food crops would be prioritized over tobacco, because food is more important to the
functioning of the overall system than tobacco. Priorities help us connect costs and outcomes, so that a dirty factory that produces cigarettes would not be produced instead of a clean factory
that produces insulin, even if the cigarette factory is more highly demanded.
For its initial production run, a business needs to make a guess based on the measurements it took. It will then track the rate of consumption of these initial products, and adjust the amount it
needs to subsequently produce based on this measurement. Again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel here. This guess, check, and adjust process can occur without the use of prices or markets.
We could even use something like a store, without the part where you give money for the thing you want. This would make demand tracking a matter of keeping a ledger on the amount in the store by
taking inventory of deliveries and of the items in the store. For products not intended for end users, as in factors of production, it is less likely they would be put in a store. In this case,
just-in-time manufacturing can be used. Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is a modern logistical strategy, where products are only manufactured when they are demanded. Tracking demand would be a
duty of the manufacturer.
For services, we can track the utilization rate of the service, as well as the material needs for the typical utilization rate. Utilization rate, to put it simply, is the ratio of use to non-use. If a service is available for 8 hours a day and it is used for 6 hours a day, the utilization rate is 6/8 or 0.75. Making a service available to multiple users is a well-studied problem called queuing theory. Using measurements of the average rate that users arrive to use the service, the average time it takes to serve the user, and the desired level of service (the likelihood that a user will have to wait in a queue), queuing theory can tell you exactly the number of servers to use.
Markets lack any way to actually budget real materials. The cost of a material is the money required to get humans to extract it. This includes the money paid to the workers, money paid to the landowner,
as well as the instutional fees paid for the damage done through the process of extraction. There is no connection to the actual (long-term) availability of the material--capitalist businesses care only
about the rate at which it is extracted and sold. Even when a survey is done to find out how much of some resource there is, it only goes to a certain point--businesses don't know the total reserves,
they only know the proven reserves.
An ecological budgeting system needs to be based on the replenishment rates of the resources it's budgeting. If a community can replace 100 trees per year, then it cannot sustainably harvest more than
100 per year. Periodic budgeting makes this idea the basis of the accounting system. Budgeting is done on a fixed period, such as a month. The replenishment rate for resources, normalized to this
period, are the absolute limit for the budget. Following our tree example, the monthly budget for trees would be 8. This should be considered a limit, not a guideline; ideally, consumption should be
less than this. There is no borrowing from future periods and no substituting one resource for another to get around the limits.
An indispensible quality of money, according to the economic calculation problem, is that it can be used as a common basis for comparison. To compare to different things with different properties and
different compositions, we need a common factor between the two. The need for this is exaggerated in the calculation problem, as things must still be compared for their specific properties even if they
have prices attached to them, but it's still useful to be able to compare two different things using a common basis. Calculation in kind already has a common basis of comparison, which is energy.
Energy is required for all activity, so any activity, such as a production process, can be compared to another in terms of its energy consumption.
Using periodic budgeting, we establish a second common basis of comparison. We can now compare things using the resources they consume in terms of units of time.
This allows us to examine the benefit of expending resources to affect the amount of time something takes. For example, we could find out when expending additional
energy and materials to speed up a transportation system no longer produces any benefit. Using time as a common basis unit, it may even be possible to use existing
process scheduling algorithms that computer operating systems use to provision computing time to provision potential projects with commonwealth resources.
This would eliminate much of the work in implementing an unproven system. Time value will be covered in more depth later.
Put all these elements together, and we get a basic system of allocation without markets. Production and other social activities are done on the basis of voluntary initiative, unless the community
decides that there is a project that is necessary and requires conscripted labor. These projects will have members selected according to some mechanism such as lottery. Each budgetary period, groups
that need resources will submit proposals into a queue. This will get easier over time as the data model is developed further. When the submission deadline hits, the queue will be emptied, in priority
order (see: priority queue or heap), until the budget limit is hit. Proposals that leave the queue will have the consent of the community to use resources from the commonwealth for their specific ends.
The community can institute rules for being considered worthy of inclusion in the queue, such as preventing proposals to use resources of the commonwealth for commercial gain, and producing a
machine-readable representation of the result.
Allocation without markets is both conceivable and possible. This particular concept has been developed over the years and is by no means complete, but is more than enough of a starting point to build a
working system. Some parts of the concept, such as periodic budgeting, would be useful in any system of allocation. Others are strongly-coupled and would have to be implemented simultaneously in order
to be useful.
While advocates of markets allege or imply that markets are an apolitical system, in reality there are no apolitical systems of provision. The system described above is no exception--it is based in
anti-authoritarian politics, ecological principles, libertarian muncipalism, and the open-* movements of the 21st century. Like any political system, it will require constant evaluation and criticism
to ensure that it adheres to the anti-authoritarian principles that are important to us as anarchists. Like any political system, speculating on how it could be is much easier than doing the work of
building it and imbuing it with political agency. However, conceptualizing such a system is important to counteracting pro-market propaganda and to set goals for ourselves to strive towards.
The system may not be perfect, but that's not the end of the world. As long as it functions correctly for the most important things, i.e., food, water, shelter, things can still work out. Whereas
economists criticizing alternative allocation systems presage certain doom for any system that fails to fulfill the slightest whim of its participants, in reality people are able to go without a lot
before they start rioting. After all, the majority of people on Earth are little more than slaves, and work tirelessly just for their basic needs. What's really important for a system of provision
is that it fulfill those basic needs and free people from toil. Only after that is done for all people do we need to begin thinking about doing more.
The labor theory of value (LTV) is commonly associated with Marxism, though versions of it go back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Marx actually never used the phrase “labor theory of value,” writing only of a “law of value” and socially necessary labor time. The Marxist LTV can be summarized as: Economic value is (or perhaps, should be) defined as the fraction of society's output of socially necessary labor time (as in the proportion of all labor produced by whatever you consider to be your economy). To contrast, liberals typically believe in subjective value, that economic value is defined in terms of utility to the buyer.
Labor theory of value is a far more progressive and humanistic conception of value: Rather than the hedonistic subjective theory, which treats pleasure as inherently valuable, the labor theory treats human effort as
inherently valuable. We use money to mobilize people into laboring; we should base price on the amount of labor that went into the item, not based on the willingness of the buyer to pay for their hedonic pleasure. The
latter allows the capitalist to thrive. It turns an equal exchange of labor into an unequal exchange of hedonic pleasure.
However, the labor theory of value also has some major problems. First, “labor” is very hard to define and even harder to quantify:
Marx split labor into the categories of productive and unproductive in order to make a number of other arguments in Kapital. I won't get into how it relates to other parts of Marxism, because I'm not a Marxist, and there
are plenty of works by other people who understand and can explain it a lot better than me. It's enough for us to understand that there is no rigorous definition of productive and unproductive labor; it's essentially a
judgement call on the part of the observer to differentiate productive from unproductive labor.
We can't observe or measure “labor”, not only because “labor” is now split into two categories, but because it simply is not quantitatively measurable. What unit corresponds to labor? How much exactly is one labor? How much of labor is it? We not only have to measure how many labors each person is engaging in, but also the total number of labors that all of society puts out in order to determine the fraction of total labor each person is contributing.
Marxist economists use prices as a proxy for labor. However, there are many ways that a price makes for a poor tool to measure labor:
Economic activity takes place within a bureaucratic state formed by a national government and other capitalist organizations. Industry therefore has increased costs in order to comply with arbitrary and often unreasonable demands by the state.
There are also direct costs to the capitalist state, such as taxes, fees, fines, and so forth, that contribute to costs above simply labor.
Workers are paid wages that vary conflictually, according to the political power of the workers against the employer. The cost of labor, therefore, doesn't vary only according to productivity.
The capitalist takes a profit over the cost of whatever activity they derive revenue from. The margin of profit again varies conflictually according to the political power of the buyers versus the capitalist.
Human activity nearly always has some material cost as well as having a labor cost.
Wages do not distinguish between productive and unproductive labor, and wages are the basis of labor cost.
We could treat these additional costs as really being labor costs embodied in a commodity to erase the differences in costs. However, these embodiments of labor also have all of the above problems.
Price as a measure of labor makes for a very poor tool. Broadly, many of the criticisms I've listed here belong to a known critique called the “transformation problem”. While it's usually treated as a problem of transforming labor quantities into prices and back, the real problem is attempting to use a theory of value to explain a price. Prices are not measures of value, they are measures of all of those things I listed above. Attempting to explain a price with a theory of value is as nonsensical as attempting to explain an IQ with a theory of mind.
While the idea of a quantity called “labor” is untenable, I don't think we should throw out LTV entirely. In it lies an excellent progressive ideal: Human effort is valuable. Some Marxists flip the term to become “value theory of labor” in order to emphasize this. I prefer to generalize this: Human agency should come above hedonic pleasure in determining how we shape our world.
Time banking is a related concept to LTV. Rather than trying to quantify “labor”, time banks simply use hours. Under the LTV, one worker's hour may represent a different amount of labor than another worker's hour. Time banking is even more egalitarian: One hour is equal to another hour. Whereas exchange in dollars or labor vouchers privileges some over others, in timebanking everyone is equal. This also means that time banking does not have any of the peculiarities of labor units, and has an actual unit of measure.
TimeRepublik is currently the largest international time bank. It is built as a website which allows users to exchange services for timecoins, and one timecoin is one hour of someone else's time. Since it's just a single website, TimeRepublik is a very centralized system, and all users must operate within this system. Timecoins cannot be used outside of the web application (contrast with Bitcoin which is designed more like a distributed protocol). While the service itself is highly centralized, TimeRepublik's economy is decentralized to the highest degree possible: There are currently no functional businesses in TimeRepublik, exchange is between individual users only. It also only allows the exchange of services: Goods cannot be exchanged, and materials required to perform a service need to be paid for outside of TimeRepublik.
Time banking is very simple to understand, very egalitarian, and difficult to exploit. However, it is still based on exchange, entitlements over others' time, and is not easily compatible with goods production. Like other alternative economies, it has the task of building whole supply chains and achieving a sufficient ecosystem of goods and services to separate from the capitalist economy. If time banking became sufficiently important without being sufficiently closed off from the capitalist economy, it's likely that it would be capitalized on and thus exploited for benefit and/or sabotaged.
I think we should follow time banking to its logical conclusion, and embrace the philosophy of temporalism. Temporalism begins with the time theory of value—not as an explanation for prices, but as an explanation for why & how time is valuable.
The most uncontroversial part of this time theory of value (TTV) is that time has value. It's self-evident that time has value. Time, for us, is the scarcest resource. We all need and want as much time as we can get. We can't create or discover more time (not yet, anyway). Time passes invariably and irreversibly, so we either use it or lose it. We can also observe that time is important to us from our actions: We expend immense quantities of resources in order to save time; We will often place our value of time over other ethical values, for example by opting for convenience over environmental safety; We very reasonably choose to spend most or all of our money to enjoy our time now, rather than soberly saving it for an unlikely way to achieve more time and enjoyment in the far future.
Time can be free or unfree. Unfree time can be better referred to as obligatory time. The difference is simple: free time is time we are free to spend any way we like, while obligatory time is time we spend on necessities, duties, or under coercion. Free time is self-evidently preferable to obligatory time.
Time can be personal or social. These are not necessarily exclusive categories; we can work to achieve personal and social goals simultaneously. Social time is, broadly, the category of time spent on social activity or towards social goals. This includes the much narrower (and highly criticized) Marxist category of “production”, social time spent on producing goods or services. Personal time, on the other hand, is the category of time spent on personal interests or towards personal goals or fulfillment.
Any activity that a human society wishes to partake in requires some sort of human effort, and therefore time. This time must come from the portion not reserved for personal obligations. Reducing the time needed to fulfill personal obligations increases the time available for all other activity. The remaining time is divided into free time and social obligatory time. Most, if not all, other activities require materials and energy, as well. Both require time to be made available for use. We can use this fact to analyze any human activity completely in terms of time.
There is a pretty rigid limit on the amount of effort that may be put forth by humans in a given week, and therefore on what we can accomplish and how fast. We can roughly calculate it with relatively few facts:
On a weekly basis, each person has 168 hours of time to allocate. Realistically, we need at least 77 hours per week (8 hours for sleeping, 3 hours for miscellaneous) to fulfill physiological obligations. We could probably imagine a more Spartan lifestyle that takes up less personal time, but 11 hours a day of personal time seems a fairly reasonable figure to achieve basic comfort. Taking this figure and multiplying by the entire human population, that means about 600 billion hours per week is available for social activity.
It's pretty doubtful that we will achieve anywhere near 100% utilization of that time, of course. Even in the modern workplace, a really good utilization rate is about 80%, and that's for the conscripted time of able-bodied, working adults. First, the labor force (working-age adults) is only about 60% of the population. That brings the total hours down to about 360 billion. Not all working-age adults actually work, so given a labor force participation rate of 60%, we can cut the available hours down to about 215Bn. A realistic, decent utilization rate would be under 60%, giving us around 130Bn hours.
This is the (fairly optimistic) absolute limit on what we can accomplish in a given week, if all time not spent on personal obligation were spent on social goals. To compare this to a distinctive project we are all familiar with, the Apollo space program is estimated to have cost about 131Bn man-hours. In other words, every week we have the power to change the world as much as one Apollo program. Today we use this power to build a megamachine of wealth accumulation for a handful of blue bloods.
We may consider the possibility of increasing this figure through automation. Automated equipment is not as infinitely variable as humans, requiring programming and physical design for a certain task. Automation can essentially transform a small amount of time performing a single design task into a much larger amount of time performing a repeated physical or intellectual task. Mechanization fulfills a similar role but generally requires a greater degree of additional human management compared to a computerized solution. Automation can add an indefinite number of hours to human social time, but it does require some amount of active commitment, however small.
The Value of Time
We can begin asking more interesting questions about time. First of all, does all time have equal value? It's pretty intuitive that free time is more valuable to us than time spent on obligations. We would like to spend our scarce time on what we like, rather than what we must. We would like to have the most free time possible, and the least obligatory time possible. However, by merely doing whatever we want, without intentionally cooperating with others and without organizing that cooperation, we are not achieving the highest possible free time. A solitary person is nearly helpless compared to the natural world, and that is even more true in the human world. Humans work together to achieve results greater than the sum of their parts.
Economists have written favorably about “the division of labor,” but they generally treat it as universally liberatory. Division of labor is simply the way that time is freed for other activities. The economists cannot conceive of a division of labor that results in less free time overall. However, were we to honestly examine the division of labor, it would be hard to conclude that it has increased free time. Today we have less leisure time than we did in the mid-20th century. While automation is happening, the division of labor has simply changed to put more people into bureaucratic roles. Our free time is being eroded by the forces of inflation, stagnation, and debt. While we have numerous technologies that can liberate us from toil, they are used for exactly the opposite purpose, for the wealthy to further colonize our time and force us into other forms of toil.
It's not only technology that colonizes our time; capitalism has numerous “spooks,” as Stirner would put it—ideas that restrict our freedom—such as debt, the nation-state, and so on. These things are mere constructions of human thought, yet they are treated as real and allowed to oppress us, materially, psychologically, and temporally. The ability to think temporally and value our own time is at the root of freeing our time. When we think of the division of labor temporally, we can understand where the liberatory potential of dividing up labor lies.
We can divide labor in ways that have more or fewer desirable roles and more or fewer undesirable roles. If there are more desirable roles, then there is a greater likelihood that a person will consider time spent in that role to be free. If there are more undesirable roles, then there is a greater likelihood that a person will consider time spent in that role to be obligatory. Therefore, by dividing up labor in a way that has as many desirable roles as possible and as few undesirable roles as possible, we increase overall free time.
We can divide labor into roles that oblige more or less time from the performer, and free more or less time for others. We want our roles to oblige as little as possible while freeing as much as possible. By creating roles that are highly effective at liberating time, each of us has more free time to spend.
Our obligatory time can be personal or social. Preparing food and sleeping is personal obligatory time. Making products or raising children is social obligatory time. Wage labor is, in one sense, obligatory, in that you are performing some service for another person; but in another sense, it is personal, since it is done simply so that the laborer can acquire the means to survive. The need to earn income causes personal obligatory time to be somewhat social. However, reductions in the need for wage laborers' time, such as through mechanization and automation, are perverse under capitalism: Rather than leading to an increase in free time, they undermine the power of labor, leading to falling wages and therefore a decrease in free time.
This does not need to be the case. With a liberatory social order, a reduction in the need for laborers' obligatory time would lead to an actual reduction in laborers' obligatory time. What we need is a system of social obligation that is focused intensely on creating free time for all, rather than giving control over the obligatory time of the many to the few. If we make a social agreement to spend some of our time on social obligations, we can free time for others far in excess of the obligatory time each of us has to spend. We would benefit as well, by our personal obligations being taken care of by others' social obligations.
Time can be more or less free. If we have many possible ways to spend our time, then our free time is more free; if we have few possible ways to spend it, it is less free. The “many worlds” theory of time is one expression of this fact. On one end, there is the single possible timeline possibility, where everything is essentially predetermined. On the opposite end, there is the infinite diverging timelines possibility, where everything that can possibly happen does. Each of us is following a path through time which can be closer to one end or the other on the spectrum.
Our modern society is quite stratified in terms of the amount of free time we have, but this is really, at most, about a hundredfold difference (in weekly terms). What is by far more stratified is the degree of freedom that people have in their free time. People who are especially poor have access to little or nothing to do during their free time; people who are poor in rich countries might have TV and alcohol; people who are wealthier might have a few toys; people who are truly wealthy have everything those below them have and more. Most people are closer to the single possible timeline, while a small handful are closer to the infinite diverging timelines, following their preferred path through it.
Technology, when it is available to us, adds degrees of freedom to our free time. However, poor use of technology can also destroy degrees of freedom. It can destroy forests that people hike in or beaches that people relax on. Social organization can add free time as well as adding degrees of freedom to it. Likewise, poor social organization can remove free time or degrees of freedom. We live in a highly authoritarian, stratified, scarcity-based society. The amount and degree of free time we have is aggressively restricted for most of us. However, we consciously accept this, because it has been normalized and legitimized to us.
Let's examine one of the basic assumptions of our modern society: A doctor is worth more than a clothes cleaner. Is a doctor inherently more worthwhile than a clothes cleaner? Using a temporalist analysis, we would say, “is a doctor's time inherently more valuable than a clothes cleaner's?” To anyone raised capitalist, the answer is so obvious it seems like a silly question; of course a doctor is more valuable than a cleaner, doctors save lives while clothes cleaners just clean clothes. However, it's not always true that doctors save lives, many just generally keep us healthy, eating well, prevent dental or genital problems, or make us look aesthetically-pleasing. On the other hand, EMTs also save lives, but no one seems to be advocating they be placed in equal regard to doctors of any sort.
Either way, let's step away from an emotionally-loaded term like “saving lives” and look at it temporally: Doctors increase the time we have available. Whether it's by actually saving our lives, curing our illnesses, or by just making us healthier in general, the actual effect is that doctors give us more time. When it's put this way, doctors seem less uniquely vital and worthy of exalted status. And, to be perfectly fair, clothes cleaners do exactly the same thing: They give us more free time, by taking on a social obligation to free us from personal obligations. Does a clothes cleaner give us as much free time as a doctor does? Probably not, but who has ever even tried to make that calculation? The higher value of doctors is simply assumed to be true, because it's not easy to become a doctor and because we look at the situation with emotionally-loaded ideas.
Let's concede that a doctor will probably free more time than a clothes cleaner will. Does that mean doctors must be exalted to a superior social status, being paid vastly more than the clothes cleaner?
Let's rephrase that: Is every moment of a doctor's time more valuable than every moment of a clothes cleaner's time? Is the time a doctor spends eating lunch more valuable than the time a clothes cleaner spends eating lunch? If, through
the use of technology, a doctor is able to free even more time for others, does that mean that the doctor's time has become more valuable? It seems to me that the answer to both is no.
Time spent eating lunch is personal obligatory time and not particularly valuable, whether it's a doctor or a clothes cleaner doing it. A doctor's time does not become more valuable when a new machine increases the doctor's efficacy.
What problems have we uncovered, here? First is the problem with considering individuals in terms of their role in society: A person can be a doctor, but that person is not always a doctor. We can define “doctor” only in social terms, because it's a social role. When we speak of the value of doctors, we are not speaking of the value of individuals who are doctors, but of the role of doctor. A doctor who doesn't really help anyone is not inherently more valuable than a clothes cleaner who helps a lot of people. It is the action of practicing medicine, of fulfilling the role of doctor, that is valuable. Likewise, if a clothes cleaner is not valuable, then it's the role of clothes cleaner that is unvaluable, not the person who is the clothes cleaner.
What do we really mean when we ask if a doctor is more valuable than a clothes cleaner? Today, what we really mean is, “should a doctor be given more freedom than a clothes cleaner?” We are looking for a legitimization of the doctor's higher status in society. First of all, note that the way we do this is through force: Doctors use the leverage of their important role to charge more money, and with that additional money they can use economic force to mobilize people in their service. If it's truly self-evident that doctors are more important and it's natural that we give more important people a permanently high social status, then what need is there to formally enforce such a status? If it needs to be enforced, then it's not a fact, but a norm. Norms can change, and this one should.
Until we live in the fully automated luxury communist utopia, we will have some social obligations. Communities inevitably have to make membership and inclusion in the community contingent on some social obligations. Today we need to earn money to pay our way through society; a post-capitalist community will need to have some sort of social obligations, as well. Whereas today our obligations are extremely hierarchical, it's possible to make them non-hierarchical. One conception of this is mutualism, which has a long tradition in anarchist thought.
Temporal obligation is a different way to conceive of non-hierarchical community obligation. A community would decide what social activities it considers necessary. It would take the work needed to perform those activities, as well as the work needed to fulfill the personal needs of the community. The number of hours needed to complete these activities would be estimated and divided evenly amongst the working population. Each person would then have a duty to spend that many hours contributing to those necessary social activities.
This is distinct from time banking in that it is not an exchange program. Working X hours does not entitle you to X hours of someone else's time. It is simply a condition of membership to a community. If the estimate is off, or if technology or process changes reduce the number of hours needed to perform the same activities, the required hours of service can be adjusted. Thus, rather than automation limiting the power to earn a wage (as in capitalism) or reducing the time earned for exchange (as in time banking), it reduces obligatory time and gives us more free time. If work can be made more enjoyable, then more people will spend their free time working, and thus reduce the obligatory time required of everyone.
Dividualism and Utopian Temporalism: Practical and Idealistic
Systems of privilege have brought ruin time and again throughout history. For every enlightened person of high status, there is a thousand ignorant & unscrupulous ones, and a million people of low status. In our system, this means billions live in destitute poverty, while thousands live in unimaginable wealth and privilege beyond the wildest dreams of any ordinary person. In human societies, it means resistance from those who are low status, much of which is today called “crime” and “terrorism”. While we normally think of these activities when we think “violence,” they are almost always reactions to violence or coercion. We waste incredible amounts of time on attacking these reactionary forms of resistance, when, really, it would be far less of a loss to change the institutions that are being so heavily resisted.
If eliminating most violent crime and terrorism is not worth the cost of having equal status to a clothes cleaner, then it's clear that those who claim to be interested in eliminating crime would rather maintain a system of superiors and inferiors than to actually eliminate crime. There are other stated concerns which some have than simply the direct loss of status. For example, the idea that we need some people to receive additional privileges to “incentivize” them to work; here it is presumed that the reward of privilege is what guides human behavior, and that those who are in high-status positions are there because they are needed for some higher purpose.
The amount and degree of temporal freedom we have should not be distributed according to systems of privilege. We should not structure society as a Skinner box, handing out rewards of privilege for performing certain tasks. Post-scarcity has been possible for half a century, and in today's world, most scarcity is artificial. Incentivization in such a state is particularly authoritarian. Whereas long ago, scarcity was to a large degree natural and there was a forceful distribution of luxuries to the upper class, today we use rationing to enforce destitution in the lower class. This is so we can “incentivize” people using rewards that are (in reality) plentiful for all, in order to coerce them into fulfilling certain roles.
We should instead structure society so that the process or intrinsic result of performing tasks is the reward, so we don't need to incentivize anyone into performing them. When the near-inevitability is on the horizon of full technological unemployment, we shouldn't need to incentivize people into doing anything. If no one wants to clean clothes, then we should automate clothes cleaning. If it's not possible to automate clothes cleaning, then we can try to make it a socially obligatory role, or eliminate the role of clothes cleaner and absorb the task of cleaning clothes into our personal obligatory time.
We should see doctors as dividual (see “On Dividualism,” Vol. 1), relational roles that some people choose to play for a portion of their time, rather than individual, permanent identities. Medical care is important, but so is cleaning, so is farming, so is construction, yet we scarcely ever question why these roles fit into our system of privilege the way they do, and whether we should do this in the first place.
A utopian social system must learn to differentiate between a person and a role. Dr. Maheswaran is a person, while doctor is a role. If we were to really run the numbers on the amount of time freed by a doctor compared to a clothes-cleaner, we very well might find that a doctor frees more time than a clothes cleaner. However, this doesn't mean that Dr. Maheswaran is more valuable, but rather that a doctor is a more valuable role. Thus, we would want to encourage more people to take on that role: not by giving doctors command over the social obligatory time of society's peons; instead, by making the role of doctor more accessible to anyone who wants to partake in it, by making it more enjoyable, more fulfilling, more of an activity that people would want to do in their free time.
While time banking could eventually be used to price goods based on the number of hours it took to realize them, this figure will not account for the non-human processes that went into them. Because it's based in exchange, only the time of humans and human organizations can be meaningfully and effectively considered. While this is a great idea for egalitarian exchange, it doesn't bode well for sustainability. A complete lack of accounting for ecology is very unlikely to magically turn out okay. The only way we could be sure to fix it would be, in classic tactic, to add a second system on top which establishes a different, conflictual logic to add the goal of sustainability.
Temporalism, by contrast, can be used to establish a system of accounting that both treats all human time as equal while also including sustainability and non-human labor as integral parts. This is done by taking the concept of replenishment rate, the rate at which resources regenerate themselves or are otherwise made available for human use, and inverting it. Rather than budgeting based primarily on money stocks, material stocks, or energy stocks, we budget based on temporal flows.
If sustainability is defined as not spending more than you earn, then a sustainable budget is simply one where the limit to spending is earnings. During the period of a budget, there will be a certain amount of available energy, materials, and human time generated or made available. For that given period, an amount of energy, materials, or human time can be considered in proportion to the total time the period spans. Each joule of energy, liter of water, and kilogram of material, therefore, has some cost in time, representing the duration of time needed to make it available.
There are a lot of important details that can be discussed about this system, but this may be too large a topic to get deep into here. I will note that an important characteristic of this is its ability to serve as a common basis of comparison between heterogeneous, complex products: Both their inputs and outputs can be compared in terms of time. Since all of us want time, this is not only an empirical and realistic basis of comparison, but also one that analyzes a quantity that is inherently valuable to us all. It's also one that's very intuitive and simple for anyone to understand without any special education. Everyone is familiar with how long a day is, and that cost is meaningfully comparable to the human experience.
In recent decades, we have lost sight of genuine human ambition. With the defeat of the labor movement, the fall of the USSR, and the gradual destruction of Western science by neoliberalism & anti-intellectualism, our dreams have fallen from the stars and landed in a shopping mall. Space exploration is a traditional human ideal stretching back millennia, yet today the only reason our new private space programs have for existing is to exploit space for private wealth. Utopianism is dismissed as naïve idealism, rather than a long-term ambition for humanity to reach for. The height of human ambition is navel-gazing individualist tech such as virtual reality and transhumanism.
Temporalism should be at the heart of a resurgent utopianism. A temporalist society would seek to make space travel one of the degrees of freedom available to every human who wants to partake in it. A temporalist society would seek to free all human time, to make space and other human horizons freely-available to all, and to make the infinitely-diverging timelines state of freedom a reality for all people. A temporalist society would seek to eliminate aging, and therefore to make time a completely abundant resource, for all people. We should not only not give in to despair, we should set our expectations even higher: The world of tomorrow will not be a fascist whitelash, or a liberal compromise, or a primitivist genocide, it will be fully-automated immortal libertine temporalist playtime.
Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard is a book that brings together many topics familiar to us--ecological destruction (climate change, but far more than just climate
change), food and water security, corporate rule, genetic modification, the decline of public health, the rise and fall of empires, and others, into a unified critique of
our modern agricultural system. Even more importantly, he offers the possible solution to many of these problems, in a way that can "feed the world" while restoring
ecosystems and producing healthier, more diverse food crops, along with fuel, fibers, and medicines.
Following in the footsteps of others in the permaculture tradition, particularly Bill Mollison and P.A. Yeomans, Mark Shepard, a jolly, sarcastic farmer from a farming
family, is not a hardcore environmentalist, but is clearly socially and ecologically aware. He is pragmatic and prefers not to let his main point be distracted by the
"climate change debate" or right-left politics, so while there is a clear undercurrent against capitalism, ecological destruction, and so on, the book is overwhelmingly
focused on praxis. He very strongly urges people to become farmers and/or adopt these practices, as much and as soon as possible.
He places credit for most of these problems squarely on the very way we do, and always have done, agriculture. It's not only the monocultures, fertilizers, pesticides,
or industrial form that agriculture has taken, but the basis of agriculture on growing annual crops. Annual crops, while growing very quickly and producing lots of
calories, require destroying entire ecosystems in order to begin planting. They eliminate the diverse biomes that are responsible for producing all the organic matter
that becomes topsoil, that are responsible for "pest management" and "weed control" in environments ordinarily untouched by humans. They don't emerge until long into
the warm season, and leave cropfields as bare brown dirt for the majority of the year, making farmland highly vulnerable to soil erosion.
In other words, Shepard's view is the social ecology of permaculture: The reason our food security is threatened, the reason agriculture is so destructive to the
environment, and the solution to these issues, lies at the very root of how our agricultural system relates to nature. Our problem is trying to dominate nature by
knocking down and ripping up and plowing through all living things, dropping some grains or beans in the ground, then engaging in chemical and biological warfare with
nature in order to grow a field full of corn or soybeans. The solution is to realize that we are part of an ecological system that is extremely powerful and resilient,
but we are a part that can positively reshape that system in our favor, rather than trying to resist it with increasingly advanced and destructive technologies.
Shepard favors the savannah biome, as it's the biome that can support the highest number of mammals compared to any other. Our domesticated animals are descended
from those that occupied savannahs. The US, prior to the arrival of the European settlers, was covered with oak savannah, and the settlers, knowing only annual
agriculture, destroyed that environment in order to plant their huge fields of nothing but single species of grains and legumes. Mark says we need to use savannahs
as our food-producing systems, raising perennial, woody crops that produce not just calories, but complete nutrition. Animals are extensively included here, as they
are significant contributors of ecosystem services that allow healthy plants to grow, build topsoil, control weeds and pests, and finally produce or become additional
food for us.
The basic philosophy or method behind Shepard's agricultural practice is STUN, or "Sheer, Total, Utter Neglect". He points out the extreme inefficiency and lack of
reason behind our current agricultural practice: Farmers spend the majority of the growing season running huge, fossil fuel-powered equipment across their fields
dozens of times, plowing and spraying, and each pass through costs money, time, energy, and resources, all for a single harvest at the end of the season. The STUN
method has the aim of creating resilient, self-sufficient, ecological cropping systems, where the only work needed to keep the system productive and in balance is
to harvest from it.
He points out that farmers are really solar energy, water, and air harvesters, because it's these three components that are chiefly responsible for building plants'
bodies and eventually producing the food and other biological resources we need. Annual cropping is the least efficient way to accomplish this--annual crops are
relatively short, they don't emerge from the soil until long after perennial plants have left their dormant stage, and the monocropping systems harvest essentially
nothing but a flat plane of solar energy. In contrast, a fully-realized savannah biome has grasses, shrubs, vines, and trees of varying height, that begin harvesting
energy much earlier in the year and much more efficiently thanks to the three-dimensional nature of such a system.
He emphasizes, as did his mentor Bill Mollison, that permaculture needs to not only be about ecology, but also human benefit. If there's no good reason for us to
engage in permaculture, why would we do it? The restoration agriculture practices that Shepard outlines in this book give us lots of great reasons to become engaged.
We would have full, nutritious diets of a large variety of foods, meat that is not only ethical but ecological, as well, fuel and lumber from coppiced wood and nut
husks that can be used in most existing infrastructure and is carbon-negative, and various fibers and medicine all from the same system. This can be not only prosocial
but also profitable, as farmers can grow some pricey niche crops in the same space as staple foods, while hedging the risk of crop failures or low market prices
against the literal ecology of other products that they grow.
A diet of apples, chestnuts, hazelnuts, raspberries, currants, grapes, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork, milk, morels, shitake, and maitake is possible to produce
within the same agricultural land. And contrary to the current environmentalist narrative, not only will this not cause harm to the land, it will restore the soil
and local ecosystem. Advanced permaculture farms that adopt similar techniques are functional farms, but also havens for local wildlife. Fuels can be made from nut husks,
which are compatible with existing wood-burning furnaces or more advanced gasification technologies, and are as energy-dense as lignite coal. The resulting char is both
a potent fertilizer and a way to treat soils with heavy metals in them, locking up the heavy metals in biologically inert forms permanently. These are the sorts of solutions
we need to appeal to both environmentalists as well as more typical liberals and conservatives.
After years of sullen, ascetic conservatism concerning environmental matters, Mark Shepard is one of a new wave of ecologists that supports positive, radical change
of ecology in order to save it, rather than impotently trying to keep it the same, to keep it "natural". He emphasizes that life is evolutionary, and that trying
to maintain it in a fixed state is a futile effort that will lead to weak, underdeveloped systems and yet more ecological problems. This is especially the case today,
where humans are causing profound, unprecedented change to the environment, which living systems will have to adjust to one way or another. As a radical, I support radical
change of not just human systems, but ecological systems in relation to humans, as well. Radical change of our relation to ecological systems that not only improves
human lives but improves non-human lives as well is the political holy grail.
Rating: 5/5. Shepard's method is radical and offers real hope to solving ecological problems. His writing style is warm, fun, and inspirational. The book offers enough detail
for someone with agricultural knowledge to start changing their ways immediately, while not being overly prescriptive. He effectively builds on previous efforts, being neither
too abstruse to someone unfamiliar with permaculture nor too repetitive to someone who is. I would call this a must-read for social ecologists.