Friday, August 28, 2009

The Blood of Tyrants

In social contract theory, the public must give that authority it enjoys in a "state of nature" to a sovereign with the power to enforce contracts. What is widely assumed to be the "genius" of the US constitution is the "right to keep and bear arms" so that individuals keep part of their "natural" authority in case they need to rely on themselves to protect their liberty. This contradiction is playing out before us but there seems to be no rational commentary attempting to explain or understand it. Can you voluntarily surrender power for the greater good yet at the same time hold on to as much of it as you think you might need?

The recent "town halls" have brought to a boil a long simmering segment of the population who don't see the statement about "spilling the blood of tyrants" as just some rhetorical flourish and have decided to exercise their "right to bear arms", much to the consternation of the liberal public. Those of us on the Left (especially revolutionaries) have long realized the actual potential of armed uprising ( remember the Panthers) because we have seen first hand the awesome, overwhelming power of the State. What would have happened to me had I been wearing a sidearm to the FTAA protests in Miami? Revolutions don't overwhelm the State military by force any more, they do it with ideas or they don't do it at all.

These "Tea Baggers" were of course cheering the police on as they broke up anti-war/ pro-immigrant demonstrations or labor strikes because their theoretical understanding is weak and superficial but their instincts are right on, they sense the breakdown in order, they sense the social contract dissolving as prosperity and national power evaporate but they have not yet had to confront the reality of their pathetic revolver in the face of the militarized State. Egged on by demagogues and carefully selected readings of the Federalist Papers, they are crumpling John Rawls' social contract up into a little ball and proclaiming Patriotic Anarchism as the Flag of Liberty. I would imagine there was lots of the same sentiment just prior to the civil war.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More Democracy Deficit

While yours truly was enjoying a day off by picking numerous large trout out of a Big Hole riffle, my dedicated wife decided to go see what a "Listening Session" by Montana's right-wing Representative Dennis Rehberg might entail. After all, in a Democracy, it is important that our elected representatives hear what We the People are thinking so that we can remain One Nation Under God. Right?

Dennis Rehberg is a fabulously wealthy "good old boy" who wears a big white cowboy hat which instantly identifies him as someone who is oppressed by Big Government. His "listening" consists mostly of telling homey stories and jokes, then going through the seven or eight conservative talking points he has managed to memorize, and finally asking "The People" to come to the microphone to describe how much they hate the government and all its programs. Imagine his surprise (and that of his gun loving constituency) when Mrs. Trout pipes up in support of socialized medicine and paying for it by reducing the size of the military-industrial complex! Boos and jeers erupted along with demands she give up the microphone (which she refused to do) while Rep. Rehberg smiled like the Chesire Cat. "Listening" to vets on disability, old people on Medicaid, ex-loggers in job traing programs and ranchers with subsidized grazing bitch about "Nazi govment" and taxes is music to his ears.

Meanwhile our Senator, the erstwhile Max Baucus has dispensed with even the pretense of Democracy and announced he will not be meeting We the People during the August recess. He won't even be bothered with the shoddy facade! Which in a perverse way is admirable.

I do admire my wifes courage in speaking out to a crowd of well-armed nuttos but I fear she still clings to the idea that this is a discourse, that "public reason" still guides communal life and that "virtuous " citizens still accord preeminence to their interests as "indivisible parts" of "the whole community" who will discount their merely "private interests" and support an open and experimental social order. This ,of course, can never be the case when the state is not "nuetral" ,when it is a capitalist state with a capitalist government and hers are only capitalist rights protected by a capitalist press/media and capitalist judiciary.

Following that ordeal we went to an evening concert by the Drum Brothers where cowboy hats were replaced by tie-dyed shirts, the BudLight replaced by chardonnay and Chai, the gun toting fear and beligerance replaced by dancing and smiling. The two Bitterrroots, and never the twain shall meet. At least never under capitalist "democracy".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hold This Max

There was one beautiful moment during the Montana "Town hall" healthcare reform meeting that probably escaped most watchers but early into it, Barack Obama took off his coat to do the old "roll-up-my-sleeves-and-get-to-work routine , turned around, and handed it to the slightly mortified "smilin" Max Baucus, Montanas senior Senator. Max is the White House lackey charged with making sure "reform" means getting more profits to the health insurance industry and being the bosses coat holder had layers of meaning (at least to a theory wonk like troutsky).He sat there sheepishly holding his masters coat trying to look serious and engaged. The poor citizens took the whole Spectacle seriously and asked polite questions and the media praised the over-all civil tone of the fake "discussion".

As to meaning, first, despite the lack of ethnic diversity, Montana is home to lots of racists and I would have loved to have seen their faces during the exchange. Secondly, every Montanan knows Max is a spineless intellectual featherweight who has built a career on hollow, feel-good rhetoric and carrying water for corporate America. To see the eloquent, smooth, confident Obama dismiss him so...effortlessly...,was a treat for those of us who are sick to death of the perpetually grinning fool. One can picture Max and Grassley talking for hours about their favorite Golden Girls episodes while watching child porn in the Capitol steam room.

As for health-care reform, it has turned out exactly as all radicals knew it would, just as all such "reform" does, just as the Employee Free Choice Act did, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc etc... The big question is whether Labor and other "progressives" will have finally have had enough with capitalist "politics", the capitalist state, or capitalism in general.

Obama is only doing his bit, his assigned role, but even he seems a little shocked by the total vacuousness of the formal "democracy" he seems to believe in so much. The idiot attacks, the rumours, the nutso gun folk etc, might be rending a hole in his own optimism and belief in Markets.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


This angry exhortation by Helmut over at his great blog Phronesisaical perfectly expresses the irate, liberal refusal to accept the obvious.

"To back off legislation because a small minority who haven't actually read and tried to understand the bills, incited by demagogic "news" sources and cynical and immoral Republican political leaders, have come to shout unthinking epithets at others trying to explain the bills would be to bow to mob rule. It would express a fundamental denial of trust in democracy, which is not a matter of who shouts the loudest no matter what people like Noonan say. Real discussion implies a willingness, however slim, to change your mind if another's view is stronger and more sensible than your own. This is the basis of public rationality, which is fundamental to the very nature of democracy, particularly our founding Jeffersonian version."

Same as it always was. Yet many still cling desperately to the belief that capitalism and democracy are somehow compatible. Notice how even this intelligent analyst fails to include economic forces in his list of regressive reform fighters. This is because political-economy has been torn apart, separated, in the public consciousness through an effective capitalist campaign of social engineering, culture creation and Spectacular performance art.

Well meaning liberals and progressives want to believe that there still exists a "national conversation" or a "civil discourse" or even a debate over policy. They need to believe that they have some influence over decisions which affect their lives, that self-determination actually exists. My fervent hope is that this current "debate" over health care reform will finally wipe the shroud from their eyes ( like the war in Iraq failed to do, the Empoyee Free Choice Act failed to do and countless other episodes failed to do?) Of course Conservatives long ago bowed to the rule of economic logic and openly and cynically mock the naive "believers" as they coldly manipulate their moronic minions with Guns, God, Gays and Greed.

Max Baucus and Barack Obama are coming to Montana soon to "discuss" health care reform and it is up to radicals to tell them and the public that the charade is over, to bring the inherent corruptness of the process into the bright, August,light of day.