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Scott Siskind on Capitalism, Wealth, & Power February 15, 2021

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Why might anyone be critical of someone as calm & nice as Scott Alexander Siskind? Here is an example of how Siskind thinks about capitalism & wealth, from the Slate Star Codex subreddit on March 23, 2019.

This kind of thing is why I wrote Against Bravery Debates | Slate Star Codex. People can have such different impressions of which position is “in power”, and it can be so infuriating to hear someone saying the opposite of how it feels. I don’t blame you for writing what you did, I think you honestly hold a really different position from me and it’s probably just as justified, but I want to give my emotion reaction to this.

For me, “capital is really ideologically powerful and its propaganda controls your mind” seems so distant from reality. I was probably in college by the time I heard anyone who had anything good to say about capitalism, and it was always weird autistic contrarians who everyone hates like Robin Hanson. Everyone fashionable, high-status, socially-adept, and keyed into organs of information like schools or media seemed to be pushing the same message of “we need more equality”, “greed is evil”, “corporations are fat cat polluters”, “if you don’t want a bigger welfare state you don’t have compassion”. I was shocked and delighted to encounter e.g. Bryan Caplan for the first time. And Bryan strikes me as one of the realest (as opposed to astroturfed) people in the world. If you had to choose either Bryan Caplan or Matthew Yglesias to be a shill hack, well…

When nrxers talk about the Cathedral, I find it tempting – sure, they flirt with conspiracy theory, but it seems they’re at least good conspiracy theories, in the sense that they explain a real phenomenon. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories have their flaws, but one of their strong points is that Kennedy is in fact dead. If you’re coming up with a conspiracy theory to explain why people are biased in favor of capitalism, that seems almost like coming up with an Obama assassination conspiracy theory – not only are conspiracy theories bad, but this one doesn’t even explain a real fact.

Trump got elected after promising tariffs and immigration restrictions that no business or plutocrat wanted. Bernie Sanders was on the top of the prediction market for the next Dem nominee as of last week (today it’s Biden, but Sanders is close behind). The richest people in the world spend most of their time constantly apologizing to everyone for trumped up charges, and loudly (one might say fearfully) confessing they don’t deserve their wealth. This just really doesn’t seem like the world where capitalism in control of the narrative, unless it’s doing some weird judo I’ve never heard communists try to explain.

An alternative would be that socialists, populists, and other anticapitalists have basically won the war of ideas/propaganda entirely, and capitalism still nominally exists in its current form basically because politicians feel pressure not just to please the populace directly, but also to keep the lights on (in the broad sense of having a good economy).

| But you have to acknowledge that capital is really “in power” right?

Not really, no. Capitalists have money, which is great for buying material goods. But it can’t buy power, sex, popularity, or any of a dozen other currencies. It’s helpful for getting those things; I’m sure Jeff Bezos has a better love life than an equally-attractive poor person, and Howard Schultz is at least being taken slightly more seriously as a presidential candidate than Joe Nobody. But Schultz is going to lose miserably. Mark Zuckerberg keeps hoping if he donates enough money to charity everyone will stop hating him, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

The latest studies suggest that the rich do not get their policy preferences enacted more than any other class (a study came out before showing the opposite, but it seems to have been wrong). I’m not sure what else you mean by “capital is really in power,” other than that rich people can be yachts or something.

| Where is the “yes let’s overturn capitalism” side of the debate represented? Certainly not in the editorial line of any major newspaper, TV station or radio station.

I’m tempted to take an extreme contrarian position that everything interesting happens in a parallel status economy. The money economy isn’t “in power”, it’s a (weak) brake on power, or a force orthogonal to power that is helpful in not concentrating power 100%. That’s why overthrowing capitalism keeps producing authoritarians. I mean, it’s better represented than libertarianism. Yes, the Overton Window goes between “slightly more capitalism” and “slightly less capitalism”, but the “slightly less capitalism” side seems to always have the upper hand. I agree the war of ideas isn’t yet a total massacre, I’m just saying the anti-capitalist side always seems to be winning, and pro-capitalist on the defensive. Propaganda victory exerts weak pressure on reality, it doesn’t shift it all at once.

(also, what I said before about keeping the lights on)

& here some possible info into Siskind & company from an anonymous poster in the same subreddit at the same time. Content warning: ableism.

Many of Scott’s house-mates from the rationalist community are extremely weird and awkward (I guess I can’t name them without sharing personal info so you’ll have to take my word for it) and are often sad about their lack of status. They are very wealthy by worldwide standards if not by the absurd local-regional standards which is still enough to at least feel obligated to feel guilty by community standards. (Think: people who are making making donations MIRI well over the US median household income)

If you combine this with the frequent inability of people perceive their own privilege and the high levels of narcissist-like traits exhibited in the rationalist community you end up with people around you saying “I have all this money and yet no one respects for the Gift to the world that I am and instead keeps treating me like a weirdo…” and maybe you start thinking money doesn’t matter much.

Some of this likely stems from conflating status and power as a result of overvaluing what other people think of you as a result of living in a group house (similar to how high-schoolers are stereotyped as thinking their life is over at every bump in their social lives).

Let me offer an alternative explanation (in pseudo mathy terms so the rationalists can pretend that its deeply insightful): Power is a normalized product of many factors: P_you = (F1_you * F2_you * F3_you … * Fn_you)/(sum(product(Fn)_everyone)) and many of these factors are highly correlated with wealth: education, connections to other people with high power: things like free time, safety from starvation, good health, affiliation with socially powerful groups, level of control over the time of others (e.g. owning a business), freedom from biological/social persecution… Some of these factors could rightfully be considered latent forms of wealth in themselves (in that they inevitably result from or lead to wealth). As a result, P changes with wealth raised to some high power but weakness in a non-wealth respect can still handicap you.

So yes, you can have some modicum of wealth and still have low power by being very weak in other respects, such as not having enough EQ to realize when your “just asking” has ventured into extremely offensive and impolitic waters or too much selfishness to cut it out if you do realize. This does not change the fact that wealth is a universal solvent able to radically simply many concerns and a nearly impassable barrier for many goals.

Over time, you become your friends in many respects. Choosing who you spend time with is one of the biggest things someone can do to influence their future personality. Comparing the Scott of today to the one who wrote the anti-libertarian FAQ feels to me like looking at someone who hasn’t made the best decisions of this kind.

On Slate Star Codex & Scott Alexander February 14, 2021

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A few years ago, I spent a considerable amount of time engaging with folks in the Slate Star Codex community. I can confirm that Scott Alexander Siskind attracts a lot of fascists, racists, & bigots. I learned about contemporary scientific racism in part because SSC fans *kept on* bringing it up & I wanted to refute them. Siskind maintained distance from the more openly oppressive & offensive followers. But it’s got to be more than coincidence.As others are emphasizing, the fandom scene around Siskind is a major pipeline of fascist & eugenicist recruitment. I tried to humanize social justice warriors to SSC folks & argue against the oppressive narratives popular among them in shared rationalist terms. While the experience was always intellectually simulating, I eventually moved away from that approach. As pleasant as aspects of SSC culture are, the persistent prominence of fascism & eugenics ultimately says the most about the project.

I hope Siskind’s current notoriety doesn’t lead more people down the recruitment pipeline. I might quibble about certain details, but overall I support the negative attention Siskind & SSC are getting.

I still intend to write a longer piece aimed at Slate Star Codex types that argues disability radicalism makes the focus on IQ & so on irrelevant.

Yes, humans differ & society only accommodates specific minds & bodies.

Yes, people lie about this & refuse to accept reality.

The solution ain’t to double down on selection, but rather to create environments where all feeling beings can thrive.

The IQ debate highlights the utter hegemony of meritocracy. It’s an overwhelmingly intra-eugenicist dispute where hardly anyone even acknowledges the underlying assumptions, much less challenges them.

Scientific racist: “Ability differs between populations, so fuck equality & fuck you.”

Liberal eugenicist: “No, ability only differs between individuals. Equality of opportunity facilitates selection.”

Mystical meritocrat: “It’s not about ability but the choice to work hard.”

Each of these jerks supports having some thrive while others languish, whether determined by the free market, the experts, bureaucrats, or what have you. They’re all eugenicists, including the mystical meritocrat who will never admit it.

Likewise, disavowals of IQ typically retain the concept of intelligence in normative terms & reinforce its social value: “Only idiots believe in IQ! (Implied: I am very smart!)”

Only communists take the relatively radical position of (theoretically) wanting everyone to have absolutely equal access to material nice regardless of intelligence or ability of any sort. They rarely entertain notions of *social equality*, however.

The Hour Is Still Drawing Near November 26, 2020

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“The armed uprising of the Navajo Indians of New Mexico denying the authority of the United States has all our applause.” – Antonio de P. Araujo, December 27, 1913

By the time the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) published this statement of support, the so-called Beautiful Mountain Uprising was over. The small band U.S. officials wanted prosecuted had accepted that fate a month earlier, on or around Thanksgiving Day. This supposed revolt involved conflict & coercion but no serious injuries.

Many media reports sensationalized the incident as a full-scale rebellion. Familiar with the Yaqui people’s tenacious military resistance to colonialism, Araujo apparently let these exaggerated news stories & eir hopes persuade em something similar was happening. While Aruajo’s account is largely fanciful as far as I can tell, I’m sharing my translation of it here in deep sympathy with eir dreams of Native liberation. That’s what I’m thinking about today. The dramatic decolonial reckoning Araujo yearned for in 1913 wasn’t as close as ey thought, yet I still believe it approaches.

Araujo’s article:


The armed uprising of the Navajo Indians of New Mexico denying the authority of the United States has all our applause.

The Navajo Indians have given their cry of freedom from Yankee domination, although in truth, nearly five hundred of the tribe have never recognized the authority of the Americans.

Since Mexico lost the territory of New Mexico as a result of the American invasion of 1847, the Navajo Indians have been going through a long torment under North American domination and although many times they have resisted by means of arms the invasion of their lands by the barbarians, and have waged battles with the soldiers in yellow that Republican like Democratic presidents have dispatched to fight them, the conquerors have persisted in peacetime in imprisoning their men and raping their women.

The Indians have awakened to their right, and some revolutionary propaganda that our comrades in New Mexico have made among them has been successful.

Our Indian brothers have been in arms since last September 17, a fact that the capitalist press has made known until now that it is impossible to hide the truth.

Fifteen hundred Indians are fortified in the Beautiful Mountains in the northwestern region of New Mexico, and they refuse to surrender some Indians whom the bandit marshals of the United States are trying to capture. The first platoon of henchmen that left Santa Fe for Gallup and the Ship Rock Agency, in Indian territory, returned to their barracks full of fear when they saw the attitude of the Navajos. Later, the government of Professor Wilson, the “democrat” servant of the interests in Washington, ordered the troops in yellow that garrison the Mexican border to leave for New Mexico to subjugate the Indians, but seeing that the situation in Texas is highly compromised by the attitude developed there by the Mexican comrades determined to take action in the event that the state perpetrates the assassination of Rangel and comrades, revoked the order and instructed the forces that garrison the state of Nebraska to march to defeat the Indians.

The Navajos have declared that in case they are attacked by the soldiers in yellow, they will resist until the last moment, burn down the Ship Rock agency and kill those in their charge.The Indians are not upset by the dispatch of troops and respond to the pacifist agents through the mouth of their leader, Black Horse: “We will not surrender, we will fight.”

The true Americans of the continent are right, because the pureblood Indians are the true Americans. And as they are well armed, well provisioned and encouraged by some of the most notable of the tribe, they will carry to the last their desire to live free in the beautiful mountains of the northwest corner of New Mexico, or perish in defense of their right trodden by the white-skinned bandits, the henchmen of Wall Street who want to subjugate every man they calculate is of “inferior” races.The act of the Navajos to deny the law and the announcement of punishing any Indian traitor or friend of the American exploiters, are to be commended, and that the situation is truly serious for the Yankee government is evidenced by the following dispatch that one has made public. of the members of Professor Wilson’s cabinet, and which comes from a Major of the army in yellow who once tried to dupe the Indians: “This recalcitrant gang has been defying the authorities since September 17 and has been called to the ordered by Chee Dodge Peshlaky and Mitchell, the most influential men in the tribe, and also by most other Navajo chieftains, but to no avail. To besiege their camp requires 500 men, and in my judgment they cannot surrender out of hunger. They have threatened the lives of friendly Indians and merchant Walker. The Indians have also threatened to burn down the Agency and the Wood Mill that is six miles from their camp and kill the ‘white’ men employed there. The Navajos have been defying the law for months. Delaying their arrests longer will mean they get reinforcements from those who are now friends of the United States.”

Ah! What a beautiful awakening of the North American Indian! The adventurers’ atonement is not far off. The hour is drawing near.


Y en español:


El levantamiento armado de los indios navajos de Nuevo México negando la autoridad de los Estados Unidos, tiene todo nuestro aplauso.

Los indios navajos han dado su grito de libertad de la dominación yankee, aunque en verdad, cerca de quinientos de la tribu jamás han reconocido la autoridad de los americanos.

Desde que á raíz de la in invasión americana de 1847 perdió México el territorio de Nuevo México, los indios navajos han venido pasando un largo calvario bajo la dominación norteamericana y aunque muchas veces han resistido por medio de las armas la invasión de sus tierras por los bárbaros, y han empeñado batallas con los soldados de amarillo que presidentes republicanos como demócratas han despachado para combatirlos, los conquistadores han persistido en tiempo de paz en encarcelar á sus hombres y violar á sus mujeres.

Los indios han despertado á su derecho y alguna propaganda revolucionaria que nuestros compañeros de Nuevo México han hecho entre ellos ha tenido éxito.

Nuestros hermanos indios están en armas desde el 17 de Septiembre último, hecho que la prensa capitalista ha dado á conocer hasta ahora que es imposible el ocultar la verdad.Mil quinientos indios están fortificados en las Montañas Hermosas en la región noroeste de Nuevo México y se rehúsan á entregar á algunos indios á quienes los bandidos marshalls de los Estados Unidos tratan de capturar. El primer pelotón de esbirros que salió de Santa Fé para Gallup y la Agencia Ship Rock, en territorio indio, lleno de miedo regresó á sus cuarteles al ver la actitud de los navajos. Después, el gobierno del Profesor Wilson, el “demócrata” sirviente de los intereses en Washington, ordenó que las tropas de amarillo que guarnecen la frontera mexicana salieran para Nuevo México á subyugar á los indios, pero viendo que la situación en Texas está altamente comprometida por la actitud que desarrollan ahí los compañeros mexicanos decididos á entrar la acción en caso que el estado perpetre el asesinato de Rangel y compañeros, revocó la orden é instruyó á las fuerzas que guarnecen el estado de Nebraska que marcharan para batir á los indios.Los navajos han declarado que en caso de que sean atacados por los soldados de amarillo, resistirán hasta el último momento, quemarán la agencia de Ship Rock y matarán á aquellos que estén á su cargo.

Los indios no se inmutan con el envío de tropas y responden á los agentes pacifistas por boca de su jefe Caballo Negro: “No nos rendiremos, lucharemos.”

Tienen razón los verdaderos americanos del continente, porque los indios de raza pura son los verdaderos americanos. Y como están bien armados, bien provisionados y animados por algunos de los más notables de la tribu, llevarán hasta el último su deseo de vivir libres en las hermosas montañas del ángulo noroeste de Nuevo México, ó perecer en defensa de su derecho hollado por los bandidos de piel blanca, los esbirros de Wall Street que quieren subyugar á todo hombre que calculan que es de razas “inferiores.”

El acto de los navajos de negar la ley y anuncio de castigar á cualquier indio traidor ó amigo de los explotadores americanos, son de encomiarse, y que la situación es verdaderamente grave para el gobierno yankee se evidencia por el siguiente despacho que ha hecho público uno de los miembros del gabinete del Profesor Wilson, y que proviene de un Mayor de ejército de amarillo que en otros tiempos trató de embaucar á los indios: “Esta recalcitrante banda ha estado desafiando á las autoridades desde el 17 de Septiembre y ha sido llamada al orden por Chee Dodge Peshlaky y Mitchell, los hombres de más influencia en la tribu, y también por la mayoría de otros jefes navajos, pero sin resultado alguno. Sitiar su campamento requiere 500 hombres, y á mi juicio no pueden rendirse por hambre. Han amenazado las vidas de indios amigables y la del comerciante Walker. Los indios han amenazado también quemar la Agencia y el Molino de madera que dista seis millas de su campamento y matar á los hombres ‘blancos’ empleados en el mismo. Los navajos han estado desafiando á la ley durante los meses. El retardar sus arresto más tiempo, significará que obtengan refuerzos de aquellos que ahora son amigos de los Estados Unidos.”

¡Ah! ¡Qué bello despertar del indio de Norte América! La expiación de los aventureros no está lejana. La hora se acerca.


Regeneración 170, December 27, 1913, page 3.

Remembering Ricardo Flores Magón November 21, 2019

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Decolonization, Uncategorized.
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Ricardo Flores Magón died 97 year ago in Fort Leavenworth Penitentiary while serving time for writing against WWI & for anarchist revolution. Whether directly by a guard’s hands or indirectly by medical neglect, the prison killed him.

Despite various contradictions, RFM’s thought & life continue to inspire me & to shape my convictions. I believe that RFM receives insufficient attention as an anarchist theorist, especially for his insurrectionism & articulation of Mexican Indigenous communal traditions.

RFM adhered resolutely to anarchist principles to the end. In the 1918 manifesto to anarchists & workers worldwide that the US government used to charge him under the Espionage Act of 1917, he & Librado Rivera wrote the following:

In order to ensure that unconscious rebellion doesn’t form with its own arms the new chain that will again enslave the people, it’s necessary that we, those who do not believe in government, those who are convinced that government, whatever its form and wherever it shows its face, is tyranny, because it is not an institution created to protect the week, but rather to protect the strong, place ourselves at the forefront of circumstances and fearlessly proclaim our holy anarchist ideal, the only human, just, and true ideal.

RFM likewise criticized the Bolsheviks in February 1921:

I fully understand your disappointment at seeing so many comrades supporting the Lenin-Trotzky’s government. I am not, of course, in favor of allied intervention in Russia; we must oppose it, but we must refrain from showing Marxian tyranny as means to gain freedom. Tyranny cannot breed but tyranny. It is better to intensify the propaganda of our Ideal to the utmost.

& in June of the same year:

I have been watching day by day the compromising and killing of the revolutionary principles in Russia. It is grievous, of course, to see the wanton assassination of the vague hopes of the peoples, but nothing is lost in the long run. If they believe to-day that Freedom can be gained through Dictatorship, they will be wiser to-morrow, and will conquer Freedom by breaking all shackles. Cheer up!

Born in Oaxaca, RFM developed his ideology from experience in Indigenous & land-based mestizx communities, from facing state repression as a student protester, & from extensive reading of anarchist texts such as Peter Kropotkin’s *The Conquest of Bread*.

RFM rose to prominence in the movement against the de-facto dictator Porfirio Díaz. Persecution forced him into exile in the USA in 1904. The Partido Liberal Mexicano began as broad opposition party but grew steadily more anarchist as time went on.

The PLM included Indigenous members like Fernando Palomares (Mayo) & Primo Tapia de la Cruz (Purépecha). The party focused on solidarity with Indigenous peoples in & the Yaqui in particular. Yaqui leader Luis Espinosa described the Yaqui struggle as aligned with anarchism.

RFM defended the Mexican Revolution against ignorant & racist attacks by European anarchists, including from Luigi Galleani. RFM stressed the communal past & present when making the case that the Mexican people were well-suited for anarchist communism.

Scholars continue to debate RFM & his family’s exact social position; Claudio Lomnitz, for instance, counsels caution about any claims of Indigenous identity. Regardless of the details, there’s no question of his familiarity with & ties to Indigenous communities.

The depth of RFM’s thought defies summary. I encourage folx who’re interested to read his writings, which you can find for free via archivomagon.net. Most of them are in Spanish, but some are in English. *Dreams of Freedom* has English translations of key pieces.

Disclaimer: Like many radicals of the era, RFM was overbearingly ableist, stridently antiqueer, & rather masculinist. He tended to denounce anyone who disagreed with him as a traitor. The PLM was at times anti-Chinese & the 1911 Baja California campaign was a disaster.

I finish for now with the concluding lines from that 1918 PLM manifesto:

Let every man and every woman who loves the anarchist ideal proclaim it with tenacity, with stubbornness, taking no notice of taunts, without fearing dangers, without regard to the consequences. Shoulders to the wheel, comrades, and the future will be the unfolding of our ideal. Land and Liberty.

A Salute to Korryn Gaines: Live Free, Die Young September 23, 2016

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Because I live under a rock and/or because the police kill so many people it’s hard to keep up, I just learned about Korryn Gaines today. After watching the video of the traffic stop that serves as backstory to Gaines’s fatal encounter with police on August 1, I’m struck by how Gaines behaved with the cops about as I’d like to. Eir analysis during the traffic stop was on point: “So who the fuck are y’all? A bunch of fucking gang members!” Bold as a lion, indeed.

A couple days ago, the authorities who killed Gaines decided they done no wrong. Shocking.

Maybe I’m missing it, but I ain’t finding any outpouring of support for Gaines from anarcho-capitalists, libertarians, anti-government militias, and so on. I see a positive piece or two (example) plus various ones (example) criticizing Gaines’s supposedly poor choices. This seems weird. It’s almost as if a bunch right libertarians consider Gaines part of the outgroup.

I don’t encourage hurting any feeling being, but mad love and respect to everybody who refuses to bow down to authority.

Gaines tried to live free and ended up dead. If enough people practice the same commitment to liberty, they won’t be able to kill us all.


Self-Determination in the Cyborg Economy: The Dakota Access Pipeline September 8, 2016

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I just got back from a local solidarity rally for the folks resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The action itself was energetic and utterly familiar, with all the classic rally elements: signs, speeches, chants, intersection blocking, media presence, and so on. For Albuquerque, it was an impressive turnout. I didn’t think to put on sunscreen and ended up sunburned.

To the Red Nation revolutionaries who participated in the event as well as to many other observers, the mobilization against the pipeline stands out as a shining example of Native resistance to colonialism. The pipeline, in this analysis, comes in a long tradition of resource-extraction projects that harm Indigenous peoples for the benefit of corporate elites. Opposing the pipeline then amounts to a struggle for survival, a struggle against bodily and symbolic death.

The pipeline likewise conforms to the pattern of supposed development that contaminates the environment, inflicting health problems on populations located by the development site and to some degree on the public at large. This dynamic disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples but isn’t limited to colonial encounters. Industrialism to date has myriad victims. Technological mass society has produced wonders at great cost, and these costs haven’t been evenly distributed.

While the present economy indeed requires oil to function, as numerous environmentalists argue, focusing on alternatives makes more sense than expanding extraction of fossil fuels. Proponents of the pipeline unsurprisingly emphasize immediate monetary benefits and overall economic efficiency, invoking the free market. Sadly, as sketched above, the energy market has a set record of negative externalities. Business as usual ain’t working.

The DAPL controversy highlights the tensions and contradictions of the United States as a colonial entity and of the broader industrial economy. It raises questions about property and belonging that can’t be coherently addressed without attending to the country’s settler-colonial history and present.

The standard team-sports mentality of social struggle and the complexity of the issues may well give some of y’all pause. To what extent are the protests about the pipeline specifically? To what extent are they about the representational politics of standing against colonialism and capitalism? To what extent are they about global environmental issues such as climate change, and to what extent does this map to pipeline itself?

I don’t have definitive answers to these questions. I advocate support for the folks putting their bodies on the line and for the principle of self-determination as well as for sustained curiosity about the best course forward.

You can donate to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe via their website.

Ancaps for Trump and the Hope Bloc: The Curious Appeal of Electoral Politics August 25, 2016

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At a protest against military and CIA recruitment the other day, I had the the fortune of running into a self-identified capitalist anarchist who eventually revealed that ey supports Donald Trump for president of the United States. I recounted this encounter on social media, including Reddit.

Many at r/Anarchism and r/Anarcho_Capitalist alike downvoted and raged. Those in the former subreddit disparaged my interest in potentially collaborating with an outgroup, ancaps and market anarchists. Those in the latter threatened to oven me and to throw me out of a helicopter for being part of an outgroup, anticapitalist anarchists.

Screenshot (104)As you might expect, this experience viscerally pushes me to recant and return to my people, to declare they’re right that ancaps are just a bunch fascists. Simultaneously I remember that community is an oppressive myth or at best a presently unfulfilled dream, that I don’t have and probably shouldn’t want a people. It’s too glib to dismiss everybody who identifies as ancap or thereabouts based on these examples.

I’m filled with righteous indignation that anybody who identifies as an anarchist could support Trump, but I wonder if this outrage is overblown and/or if I should react similarly to left anarchists who counsel voting for Hillary Clinton (and perhaps for Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein too).

The differences between these candidates and social meaning supporting them do matter. Left anarchists and anarchist sympathizers who argue for Clinton as the lesser evil typically do so at least in part from a place of good intentions, from a desire to strike a symbolic blow against white supremacy and to minimize the harm caused to oppressed groups. To me there’s no question that Clinton’s stated policies are less awful than Trump’s stated policies. On the other hand, there’s a lot of question about whether a Clinton presidency would cause less harm than a Trump presidency.

Do these supposed good intentions sufficiently explain why I’m less hostile toward Clinton supporters? I’m not sure. I suspect it’s got just as much to do with my cultural affinity for Clinton supporters as with any rational assessment of harm. I mean, Clinton supporters infuriate me, sure, but not to the degree Trump supporters do. I’m compelled by circumstances to interact with Clinton (and Sanders/Stein) supporters far more than with Trump supporters. (Unlike like William Gillis, I don’t live in an anarchist bubble.)

The Hope Bloc for  Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration highlights how close left anarchists can get to the Democratic Party. Despite that laughable episode, which I didn’t support but sympathized with more at the time than I do now, rather few anticapitalist anarchists consider Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Cindy Milstein, and company to be enemies of the revolution. Instead we blush, feel bad about ourselves, and say they were just confused, caught up in the moment.

I don’t dispute that pragmatically supporting Trump in 2016 is worse than pragmatically supporting Obama in 2008, but exactly how much worse is it?

Detained with Dignity: Reformism in a Nutshell June 8, 2016

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism, Anti-imperialism, Feminism, Queer politics, Uncategorized.
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California is taking action to ensure that trans immigrants are treated with dignity at detention centers.

This quotation and the linked article highlight the absurdity of reformism. Sure, a modicum of respect is better than the alternative. But detention centers shouldn’t exist at all!

Even by liberal standards immigration law and detention centers are unmitigated bullshit. You can make a reasonable argument for prisons and cops within the liberal tradition, valuing both stability and freedom. You can’t do the same for an immigration policy any more elaborate than basic registration.

Immigrant detention and deportation are horrific practices akin to the now widely condemned WWII-era policy of interment camps. Kidnapping, caging, and forcibly relocating people based on where they happen to have been born? How can that be anything but nightmarishly illiberal?

This isn’t a difficult or complicated issue, yet representative democracy still can’t get it right.

Democracy never! How about liberation instead?


Once More against Pinker: Science and Colonialism August 29, 2014

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A Facebook argument with James Hughes has prompted me to return to the task of refuting Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. If not for Pinker’s popularity – particularly among futurists – I wouldn’t bother, as the absurdity. self-indulgence, and sloppiness of Pinker’s arguments strike me as overwhelmingly obvious. As Louis Proyect writes, Pinker’s views amount to Thomas Hobbes plus Pangloss. But since the Hughes’s “Problems of Transhumanism” series remains one of my favorite things to come out of the whole scene,  I figure I might as well reflect on why such a seemingly clear thinker would positively cite Pinker. I suspect it’s based on either unfamiliarity or – more likely – the sheer appeal of statism sanctioned by scientific authority. The amount of support Pinker and eir ilk receive from futurist and rationalists indicates the potency of colonial discourse and its imbrication with scientific discourse.

As ably described by Stephen Corry, Pinker’s narrative of ever-declining violence retreads a old colonialist path and relies on dubious if not downright fallacious numbers. R. Brian Ferguson examines Pinker’s invocation of archaeology and finds it wildly inaccurate. The archaeological evidence in fact suggests no warfare and little interpersonal violence for thousands of years in some regions. Surveys of skeletons in certain regions and periods indicate a violent-death rate of 0-1%.  “When considered against the total record,” Ferguson writes, “the idea that 15 percent of prehistoric populations died in war is not just false, it is absurd.” I’m skeptical of any firm claims about prehistoric violence rates, but by my reading of the data Douglas Fry’s “n-shaped curve” constitutes the best generalization. I think it’s more useful to look at violence specifically and historically.

At best, prehistoric skeletons that show trauma only indicate a likelihood of death by interpersonal violence. Even an arrowhead in a spine doesn’t unambiguously demonstrate an intentional killing; the same might well have been a hunting accident. Conversely, some or many of those who left skeletons with no signs of trauma may have perished via human attacks that did not damage bone. The evidence doesn’t allow for much beyond thoughtful guesses; it certainly doesn’t provide the statistics Pinker asserts.

On the whole, Pinker spins a dreadfully familiar tale based on European colonial tropes of savagery and Western progress. Ey’s characterization of nonstate tribal peoples as dramatically more violent than European-based state societies that continue to practice settler colonialism and genocide actively enables the latter processes. The supposed violence of the colonized serves as an alibi for colonial horrors, the idea that colonialism was and is necessary to tame the fierce savage. Pinker likewise notably downplays recent violence from the United States military in Asia and the Middle East. It’s all for the greater good, of course! A war to end all wars and all that.

Pinker’s celebratory progress narrative has to date proved irresistible to multitudes in the futurist scene. We all like to imagine mighty force of science on our side. Various anarchists and communists have staked the same claim. It’s a valuable rhetorical bludgeon, but I’m dubious that science can ever offer solid answers to political questions. As we see with Pinker, those who trumpet science often fail to fulfill its ideals at even a basic level. Nor can science necessarily ever escape its association with European colonialism.

The notion of transhumanism guided by luminaries like Pinker and their civilizing mission makes my blood run cold.

Layla AbdelRahim’s New Piece on Education April 15, 2014

Posted by Summerspeaker in Uncategorized.
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[S]chools use grades and other psychological and physical punishment to coerce future resources (workers) to comply with the hierarchical order. Namely, good grades promise a higher place in the food chain; lower grades and bad reports threaten with hunger, homelessness, social isolation, and suffering either from unemployment or performing menial tasks in underpaid jobs in often horrendous conditions. School evaluations serve to justify the apathy on the part of those who exploit the suffering and labour of those whom this hierarchical socio-economic system forces to the bottom of the food-chain.