Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

The Power of Principle

November 04, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

So I got into a little twitter spat a few weeks ago.  One of the people I follow made the following statement:

Some bloggers feel it’s better to be principled than in power.

Naturally, I objected. The conversation turned into one of those us v. them tropes.  Us, in the case of this twitterer, being  progressives.  Whatever that means.

We have to stop the conservatives.  We have to choose between “2 years of investigations about birth certificates, or trying to inch forward with our agenda.”  (I’m not sure what “our” agenda is.  Mine doesn’t include assassinations, American citizens or not, or massive bailouts to hedge funds.)

More importantly, it’s a false choice.  You don’t have to compromise your principles to have power.  You only have to compromise them to have the kind of corrupt, coercive power that has gotten us into this craphole.  Didn’t Martin Luther King have both power and principle?  How about Gandhi?  Emma Goldman?  James Baldwin?

The people whose power lasts are those whose power comes from their principles, not from selling their principles out.  It’s not naive to think that people shouldn’t sell their principles to power.  It’s naive to think that someone in power who has sold their principles can do us any good.

And now the progressives/democrats/liberals/whatever are out bemoaning their loss of congressional seats.  And they wonder why.  Hello out there!  People know when you are willing to sell out your principles and they generally don’t like it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the actually tweet that started this all was referring to the five bloggers that Peter Daou thinks are “bringing down the Obama presidency.”  I thought I must have somehow made a mistake, that I was misunderstanding.  I mean surely it was not being suggested that the media should become a cheerleader for the democrats.  Guess it was my turn to be naive.  The twitter convo is below.   A third party jumped in.  He actually quoted Macchiavelli – – fucking Macchiavelli.  I kid you not.

And these people wonder why they keep losing.


Me: I don’t understand.  You think Greenwald et al shouldn’t write about those things?

Shoq: I think they can be constructive critics without threatening to tear down any progress we’ve made against a rabid right.  In fact, it’s helping to drive us farther off a cliff.

Me: They aren’t working for the democratic party.  That’s not their job.

Shoq: I don’t work for them either.

Then this guy jumps in:

JeffersonObama: Greenwald, Olbermann should help the Dems by posting voting info and supporting all Americans opposed to Teabag sycophants

Me:  Journalists/Bloggers jobs are to tell it like they see it, to give people info to make informed choices…Despite what Fox may have people believe, it is not their job to be partisan hacks

JeffersonObama: Fox News is the reason their voters are organized to vote on election day..they have maps, sites & work with 501s, 527s & GOP

Me: So just our side and their side, leave your principles or honesty at the door.  Win, win, thought to what you win?

JeffersonObama: Our bloggers tell our voters to hate Obama, our values and then fold up and run. Bloggers are Cowards. Some of us are fighting

Me: I’ve never heard Greenwald say people should hate Obama.  Being in lockstep with dems when they are wrong is not brave.

JeffersonObama: Simply, as Machiavelli writes, “The answer … it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” Stand up & fight

Me: LOL.  The only thing people seem afraid of is being principled even when it means giving up their “we’re the good guys” bs

JeffersonObama: Bloggers like you hate our party more than GOP. That’s fine, but at least don’t discourage our fighters to take on GOP-Teabags

Me: You miss the point.  I don’t hate.  And I definitely don’t make life out to be a football game btwn 2 teams of 9 yr olds

JeffersonObama: I’m not talking Football. I’m noyt talking low brow slogans..I’m talking about winning in politics..not meant for some obviously



P.S.  In case you missed it, Glenn Greenwald took Daou and the rest down.

Is Universal Possible?

September 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Politics

A couple weeks ago, I went to a forum at Cato called Are Liberty and Equality Compatible?.  (Cato, meh.  Free lunch, score!)  The short story is that James P. Sterba was trying to find a way to squeeze a liberal philosophy into a libertarian mold.  What he came up with was this:

1.  Libertarians believe in negative liberty.  Nobody should be aggressed against/interfered with.

2.  If the rich should have the liberty to enjoy their excess without being interfered with, then the poor should have the liberty to take what they need from the rich without being interfered with.

And presto chango, a positive liberty becomes a negative liberty.

Clearly, nobody at Cato was buying this, not even the leftists in the room. But if anyone had been buying it, Sterba would then have tried to convince them that what we are really talking about is a conflict between different equal liberty principles.

The rebuttal was from Jan Narveson.  I’m not going to go into the whole back and forth.  You can watch it on Cato’s site if you are interested.  I just want to talk about one of the core elements of Narveson’s (common) argument.  He believes that we need to look for principles that all people can agree to, based on their rational self interest.  And he thinks the non-aggression principle is the bees knees.

But can everyone really agree to that principle?

In the context of our argument of rich v. poor, non-aggression only goes so far.  At some point, non-aggression no longer serves the rational self interest of the poor.  Non-aggression against United Fruit Company was an absurd prospect for a land-starved Guatemalan.  Sterba could have made a stronger case that a certain amount of equality (or at least basic needs being met) is a prerequisite to widespread adoption of the non-aggression principle.

More importantly for this discussion, define aggression.  There are some people who think it is aggression to break a bank window (even though the only consequence is a few hundred dollars from the bank’s coffers).  But some of those same people don’t think it is aggression to pay off corrupt officials in order to buy huge swaths of productive farmland in Africa and then ship the products to Dubai while the Africans in that country starve.

And there are people who think the exact opposite.

Of course, the six hundred pound elephant in the room during that discussion was property.  One of the reasons we can’t agree on a definition of aggression is that we can’t agree on who gets to use what resources.  Land is one of the most contentious issues in the world, as is what lies below it.  Those conflicts are not going away any time soon.  Maybe never.

I like principles.  I spend a lot of time trying to root out what principles people are operating from.  But I’m not sure we are going to get very far if the plan is to convince 7 billion people to define aggression the same way and agree not to do it.  And while I pick on the core libertarian principle here, I could write this post about universal human rights and come up with an equally skeptical conclusion about universality.

Universal may not be possible.  And if it is true that universal is not possible, then what?