Monday, March 25, 2013

Homeland Synecdoche

My immediate reply to John Cusack was that if you grant a libertarian his point about civil liberties you grant almost everything. But it may be more precise to say that you grant exactly half of it, at least as goes Ron Paul libertarians. The other half is foreign policy, for which the Drone War of course stands synecdochally. Either way, I don't think Cusack really disagrees with Rand Paul about "half of what he believes". I think (like many of us) he's just having a hard time letting go of that last tenth worth of sentimental attachment to the welfare state.

The argument for the drones is that they are part of an elaborate, pro-active, and more or less permanent act of self-defense. But is it really true that ... if the Empire pulled back to its sovereign territory, i.e., those fifty "united states" in North America, and guaranteed to its population at home the liberties it claims to be spreading abroad ... is it really true that the result would not be vibrant, free, caring communities, but, rather, communities overrun by foreign hordes that "hate freedom"?

I don't think so. I think the homeland would do just fine if it allowed communities to organize their creative and productive energies themselves through free, local collaboration. Obama once rejected the false choice between freedom and security. I must admit I was charmed. But I now see what he meant. A libertarian would have been (they no doubt were) worried, and rightly so. Because it actually is a choice.

90% of the problem is liberty and security. End the Drug War at home and the Drone War abroad and you solve it almost entire—again, at least synecdochally. To continue to insist that libertarians are "half wrong" is just another example of business as usual for War, Inc. The anarchist left, that is, must recognize that "End the Drug War at home and the Drone War abroad" also addresses, synecdochally, 90% of their concerns, and stop distinguishing itself from the so-called "right". Let's get it together. Let's get it done.

Post Script
What I'm saying is that, on matters of homeland security and foreign adventure, the left and the right are almost entirely in agreement. I mean the actual left and right, i.e., those who do not hold to what Norman Mailer called the "the pusillanimous sludge of liberal and conservative bankruptcies", namely, the center. (See this post, from a time when I was nurturing the hope that Obama would facilitate Mailer's "hip" coalition of left and right.)

What I am saying is that, if they really thought about it, the grass roots of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street would see that they agree on 90% of the issues. If they could begin with those issues, they would move America, and therefore the world, toward an audaciously hopeful future. It would not be the utopia that either of them imagine of course, mainly because it would not express their sentimental attachments to race and class (a complicated set of a attachments I don't want anyone to try to understand too quickly.) But they would also realize how little this utopia actually matters to them once they get down down to the ordinary work of building their communities, i.e., rebuilding them after the ravages of the last seven decades of incorporated war.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Fresh air,
meaningful work and
sensual play.

Once what Brecht called "the basic food position" has been sorted out, a decent society, it seems to me, would safeguard opportunities for these four elements.

As always, I suppose I'm being simple-minded and naive. But I'm trying to construct a scale of values. I think we're too eager to do big things in this world. I think we need to get back to basics.

Friday, March 08, 2013

A Poem

Dressed as a servant
she goes often to the sea.

As if to return the stones
the shore keeps stealing.

In the moonlight, she lets
the garment fall, and steps

into the soft, black waves,
her servitude complete.

(Note: This poem has been with me for years now. I don't know what it means, and I'm not even sure I like its imagery. But there it is. Sometimes one just has to accept the poems one is given by the muse.)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


"We make ourselves pictures of the facts," says Wittgenstein (T2.1). It struck me this morning, after my run in beautiful spring weather, where WCWilliams' Spring and All was on my mind (and on my lips, actually: I ran into my old boss), that this has been the theme of all my thinking for the past ten years at least. Sometime during my PhD studies I got stuck on a simple question:

"Yes, Ludwig, that may be, but HOW?"

I even played the ball over to Williams:

"If you can imagine the red wheel barrow, we'll grant you all the rest." (This is also a play on the opening sentence of Wittgenstein's On Certainty.)

Wittgenstein and Williams had, from opposite directions (philosophy and poetry) discovered, let's say, the "modern imagination". They both realized that it was in trouble.

Williams was very explicit about this in Spring and All. Like him, I believe there is a sense in which life is "hell" (S&A, p. 43) for those who, while trying to stay alive (and viable) in the modern world, insist on the primacy of imagination. We are under constant siege by entirely well-meaning people who simply don't know what they are working day and night to destroy.

Somebody's got to imagine the facts. Acts, too. Or we'll live in a world of mindless facticity, a history of heartless activity. We're getting there.

Saturday, March 02, 2013


I used to talk about pangrammatical "homologies", but I now think (and I think someone did point this out to me once a long time ago too) that they should be called "analogies", specifically "identities of relations". Here's one:

Understanding is to science
obedience is to politics.

Here's another:

Knowledge is to power
understanding is to obedience.

This way of thinking about abstract notions owes something to Pound's "ideogrammic method" and Wittgenstein's "method of perspicuous presentation", both of which approach the alleged "essences" of things in terms of the "family resemblances" that can be established between them.

The Greek analogia, Wikipedia tells me, was at one time translated into Latin as proportio. That sense is useful to me here. I believe in keeping things "in proportion". I believe that our culture has become unhinged because it has lost its sense of proportion about stuff like:

Nature : Culture :: World : History

World : History :: Science : Politics

Science : Politics :: Space : Time

And time is, accordingly, "out of joint".

Democracy in a Free Society

In my last post, I tried to describe the basic monetary and fiscal structure of a "free" a society. The title of this post is intended to be a bit disorienting: we have grown used to thinking of "democracy" as a kind of synonym for a "free society". But it seems to me that Western democracies today draw this assumption into question. We elect our leaders, but our state is highly controlling.

So I want to raise the question of whether democracy has a place in a state that (a) taxes only the productive capacity of its land (over which it is sovereign) and (b) pays a minimum living wage indexed to the price of basic food and shelter to all citizens.

First of all, the state will still have military and police forces. It will therefore have foreign and domestic policies that will be enforced. It will also run a range of services and utilities. In my view, in fact, it would be best for the state to provide free education at all levels (access to which would solely be based on merit, i.e., demonstrated ability at the previous level). I'm also in favor of state-supported research, and the integration of research and teaching at the university level. I tend to think that the state should build and fund hospitals (but I must admit that the health care debate in the U.S. has produced persuasive "libertarian" arguments against the "market distortions" that this implies).

I believe that the state should run all power, water, sewage, and waste utilities for the simple reason that major utilities are best run as monopolies and therefore will not benefit from exposure to market forces. Here the state's "industrial" aspect would become apparent. After all, it will be taxing the "productive capacity" of a particular plot of land. If that land has access to large amount of publicly supplied water and power, then surely it will have higher capacity for production. A suitable site for a factory, therefore, will pay much higher taxes than a comparably sized area in a desert.

Those are just my suggestions for how to use the sovereign power of the state to tax land owners and distribute purchasing power. Obviously, it would be possible to make all the relevant policies by a democratic process.

Here's how I think that could be organized. Every 1000 citizens living a particular area, elect one representative. "Cities" (boroughs) of 300,000 now have a representative body of 300, who select a council of 30. They select a representative to a state congress, which also selects a smaller group of councils. There would be no national elections for "national office". Officials at all levels would be selected from the population of representatives of 1000 citizens.

In my utopia, then, taxes are paid solely by those who own the land. And the laws are made solely by representatives elected by the people who live on the land, who then elect representatives at higher levels. Taxes would be paid proportional to wealth, not income, and laws would be made proportional to the will of the people, not money. The nation's leaders would constantly be talking to and negotiating with the "tax payers" (a limited and surveyable bunch of tycoons, one might imagine) on behalf of the citizens. And the nature of that conversation would be largely about the distribution of purchasing power in the society.

I understand the somewhat unhinged, utopian feel of this proposal. But it really is merely an ideal. I intend to approach reality with it "in mind" in the weeks to come.

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Simple Solution

I've given the subject of this post some more thought. And it has resulted in what I think is my basic political manifesto, at least in regard to fiscal and monetary policy, which is of course at the heart so much other policy.

I believe in doing away with all forms of taxation except for a tax on the productive value of land*. A government, after all, is territorial. My political philosophy, in any case, is to keep governments tied to their territories.

I also believe in doing away with all forms of social benefits except for the payment of a basic living wage to all citizens. The wage should be indexed to the cost of renting a reasonable home and buying a reasonable amount of staples. It should ensure survival without any draw on the citizen's time. It should also ensure the existence of a market for goods and services within the borders of the nation.

That is: the only money the state collects is a tax on land owners. And everyone gets a particular amount of money, printed and paid by the government, I guess every month would be the most suitable. ("Printed" would today probably mean simply direct deposit to whatever account a citizen specifies.)

Only people who want to own land will therefore have to deal with the revenue service. It would be part of the decision to get into that business. The cost of collecting and policing taxes would be unproblematic, and any evasion could be dealt with simply by appropriating and selling the land on which taxes are owed. (There would obviously be all the usual "due process" around this.) I think of the money collected by this means as money that would simply be collected and destroyed.

What is interesting here is that taxation would be the main instrument of monetary policy. It would keep inflation in check. Fiscal policy, the spending of the state would be fundamentally inflationary. The state would simply print whatever money it needed, fully cognizant that it would devalue the currency if it did not, over the long term, collect the money from the land owners.

This idea is age-old. I believe it is vaguely "Jeffersonian", and certainly something Ezra Pound would understand. It would seriously impede "progress" (understood as the process by which the rich become richer). It would not make the concentration of wealth impossible, but it would make those who are very wealthy, i.e., own a lot of land, much more responsibility.

It would also solve the unemployment problem (without, intriguingly, solving the employment problem.) Consider, people would want jobs (to earn more money than their living allowance) but they would not need them (because of the allowance) and they would have time to do whatever they wanted. So they could volunteer in whatever organization they hoped to work for. At some point a manager would notice that this is the kind of person we want to have around, and a contract would be negotiated. Simple.

I don't have any particular demands of the level of "democracy" that I hope to see, by the way. So long as everyone had money to buy food and basic necessities, and were otherwise not interfered with by the state, I think "freedom" would have arrived. Finally, let me say I would not be against implementing this kind of government globally.

Lots of things would change under this system. I'll write about that in the days to come. (What this has to do with language, philosophy and poetry, will soon become clear.)

*Update. May 10, 2013: My heart is in the right place, but I think this focus on "land" is a retrograde agrarian fantasy. It seems like there's a pretty simple alternative, namely, a "wealth tax". Let all taxation be a tax on the wealth of the citizens, i.e., whatever the government needs to collect it just takes from the accumulated wealth of those who have it. If you own say, .0001% of the nation's wealth, you pay .0001% of the nation's bills. Simple. (Actually it's even simpler since the nation doesn't really have to collect money to "pay its bills". It just prints whatever money it needs. Since those who accumulate wealth, however, are really just using their activities to collect the money distributed by the national dividend, i.e., harness its purchasing power. It is entirely fair to have them hand over the money they've collected in proportion to their long-term success in collecting it.) As proponents of a wealth tax point out, you are simply paying your fair share for the basic government service of protecting your property rights. The mere act of destroying all the money collected in taxes is already protecting the value of your property against runaway inflation (since the government is already printing the money for the following year's national dividend.)