Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Sixth Floor Museum: An Anarchist Review

I was just in Dallas and wanted to see the sights. As it turns out, the only real sight in Dallas is the museum that commemorates John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It must be sad to be a city only known for where someone was shot. But I digress.

What nuggets of wisdom did The Anarchist Review glean from the experience? Did I finally crack the case? Figure out Lee Harvey Oswald’s true motives? Unfortunately the answer is no. Despite walking over the same area thousands of people have walked over, and watching the same footage thousands of people have pored over, no new revelations on this great criminal mystery came to my keen mind.  But some important observations I do have.  (My thoughts on the crime investigation at the end).

The museum is a government museum, and as with all things coming from that fountain of guns and propaganda, must be taken with a grain of libertarian salt, if you will. However, to be fair I do feel the government is not trying to hide things in the museum and does its best to give accurate information. You just need to understand their engrained biases.

One of the most interesting aspects (outside of the intriguing criminal investigation) was a board near the end of the museum about results of the shootings.  The first thing on the list is that congress passed a law that made it a federal crime to kill a president or vice president.

Are you kidding me? What is the government’s solution to everything: write some words down on a paper to add to the long list of laws that no one reads. The layers of lunacy in this are just too much. If only there had been a federal law against killing the president, I am sure Lee Harvey Oswald would have put down his rifle, traded it for an American flag, and joined the crowds of people cheering the visit of President Kennedy.  

The other even more disturbing thing about the law is that it means the death of us commoners is not a federal crime. What does this say about a government By the people, for the people, and of the people? If the governments put protection of itself over protection of the people, does that not make it government By government, for government, and of government?

What was the number two listed outcome from the shooting? A large increase in security spending. More money to the secret service and CIA. It is curious every tragedy almost inevitably leads to an increase in federal spending. 9/11 led to an explosion in the security state, Kennedy’s assassination did the same for the secret service.  

After the section on the direct results was a section on the legacy of President Kennedy. This is wear government bias comes in strong. Clearly it is a museum memorializing Kennedy’s death, so it is not going to air all his dirty laundry. Kennedy adoration is particularly strong. The clips from his speeches are eloquent. He is smooth and good-looking. Definitely the Barak Obama of his time.  The video presentation focuses on four things considered his legacy: The Civil Rights Act, the space race, volunteerism, and the arts. There are major issues with his approaches to these things but those will be covered in other anarchist reviews. I want to note a particular paragraph at the end of the exhibit.

The paragraph states that historians debate the effectiveness of JFK’s time and what benefit he actually created. But after discussing all the different opinions, the paragraph states his effect has been “overwhelmingly positive.” So basically, regardless of the facts or whatever happened, despite what historians say, JFK is a huge success because we say so. As is typical of government the guy has to be a success because he was part of government and what government does is always right.

Even I was almost brought to tears by the video they made about his life. Inspiring music, inspiring speeches, apparently good causes. What is not to love? They also show some polls that confirm how American’s have consistently rated JFK as the best or among the best presidents of all time. Is this based on data and reality, or a successful PR campaign? Based on what I saw at the museum, it is fully and entirely the result of nice speeches and a smiling face, good video shots and not a scrap of reality.


Notes: I don't really buy into most or any of the conspiracy theories. However I do find it interesting that the group that most clearly benefited from the assassination was the CIA an secret service. If there was some organization behind it, that would be my guess. Likely of course they would work through a mob group, not themselves, an only a very few would know about it. But honestly it seems unlikely. It appears as if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but I would not be surprised if he did not. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Fantasy or The Day After Tomorrow for America? An Anarchist Review

The Hunger Games has captivated readers and audiences alike over the past years since its release. It has sold over a million copies and pulling in almost 700 million at the international box office. It is easy to guess why. The book is a fun and full of non-stop excitement. The read is well-paced and keeps you on edge. Love, romantic conflict, violence, beauty, sex, nostalgia, the book has it all. Here at The Anarchist Review the question we put forward to the reader is what does The Hunger Games mean to our society? That is a question we attempt to answer. (Note: this is a review of  The Hunger Games book not its sequels or the movie.)

There is no shortage of doom porn floating around libertarian circles. The Hunger Games feels like it could fit in nicely next to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World  for a perfect libertarian doom salad. The common theme of such libertarian reviewers is that our future is held in these books unless we change something. 

Indeed, there are many parallels between Panem and our current situation, but first for the benefit of the .1% of the population who has not seen or read The Hunger Games let me give a recap of the scenario.  A country called Panem in North America is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. Each district specializes in producing some item, most of which goes to the Capitol. The districts are varying in wealth, but are mostly poor. The closer the connections one has to the capital, the wealthier. The protagonist is from the coal-producing District 12 which is located in current Appalachia.  The Capitol is in the Rockies (Salt Lake City?).  The Capitol rules the citizenry with an iron fist. To further demonstrate its power over the districts and avoid rebellion, once a year they hold the Hunger Games. Basically two people (a boy and a girl) between the ages 12 and 18 are chosen from each district to battle to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol.  Every year 24 kids are thrown together and only one survives, the Victor, who is lavished with wealth and fame. Obviously going to the games is a death sentence, so it is dreaded in the districts.

As of now Washington D.C. does not hold gladiator type games between teenagers from the different states. Also, D.C. is much closer to Appalachia than to the Rockies. So not a perfect fit, however there are some very relevant comparisons between The Hunger Games and today’s society.

In Panem your wealth is tied not to your work ethic or good ideas, but rather where you were born, or rather how close to the capitol you were born. The Capitol controls who is wealthy, who succeeds, who is poor and who fails. With federal spending exceeding three trillion dollars, and billions more handed out to Wall-Street via QE and other monetary trickery of the Federal Reserve, the Panem system is not that much different than our own.  Maybe you are laughing at me saying this is a ridiculous comparison. But is it?

The U.S. government spends 40% of GDP. That means if you take everything that all 300 million people make, the government spends 40% of it. That is a load of money. Google had revenues of 15.7 billion last year, Wal-Mart did 469 billion. The U.S Government spent 3,455 billion dollars in 2013. That means the spending power of the largest company in the world was less than half, less than a seventh of what the U.S government unleashes in terms of spending power. Google, the supposed king of the internet can only unleash 0.5 % of what the Federal government can. Companies make or sell products that we choose to use. The U.S. government simply pulls the money out of our paychecks without permission. Imagine how much you can influence who is wealthy and who is poor when you can outspend any other single entity by seven times? Also when you are able to take arbitrary amounts of money from people’s pocket books and distribute it to whoever you wish?

The unfortunate reality is that so much of success is not based on a company’s ability to provide a good or cheap product. It is based on the company’s ability to get on the government’s good side. Look at the Sugar industry in the United States. In 2013 The Florida Sugar Cane League, the American Sugar Alliance, and American Crystal sugar spent over 3.5 million dollars in lobbying. As a result Sugar in the United States has a large protective tariff and over the past 40 years has cost as much as double in the U.S. as opposed to outside it. Every regular person in the United States is essentially paying for politicians to get wined and dined by the Sugar Lobby. They pay in higher sugar prices, increasing the price of all their food and increasing the wealth of lobbyists, politicians, and Sugar corporations.

Look at the successful business in the world. Look what industries are hiring and giving big bonuses to their CEOs? Go to job fair. What businesses are there? If it is a technical/engineering job fair I can almost guarantee who you will see: government supported monopolies (i.e. utilities) the government (bureau of land/water management), and government defense contractors (Boeing and Lockheed Martin). Why is that? It is because they have a steady stream of “guaranteed” dollars flowing in from the Capitol. 625 Billion dollars were spent last year alone on building the war machine. That is 625 billion dollars taken out of people’s pockets, people that actually produce something people use, like computers and software and hotels and houses, in order to pay for bombs and a bunch of engineers to sit around and make death machines.  If they produce a product that no person would ever buy, it matters not. The money is there.

Go to none-engineering career fair. There will be a large swab of companies from education, healthcare, and finance. Three industries which are heavily regulated and subsidized by federal and state governments. Once again the government has chosen who succeeds and who fails. 

In The Hunger Games, the people in the Capitol do not work at all; they spend all their time on frivolous activities. The people in the Districts have incredibly strict laws that they cannot leave their areas, and barely have enough food to live.

What about here? For the most part, the capitol is not filled with people who spend their time dying their hair other colors and getting plastic surgery. Washington D.C I have heard actually has a pretty hard working atmosphere; everyone is a busybody trying to get things done. Which is scary.  However, what do they really accomplish? They write words on a piece of paper. They make laws. The tell people well where to move their guns. They produce nothing. They produce nothing that people can use. Their paper-passing is just as frivolous as the lives of the hair and prep team from the Hunger Games. The protagonist says this of them “It’s funny, because even though they’re rattling on about the Games, it’s all about where they were or what they were doing or how they felt when a specific event occurred. ‘I was still in bed!’ ‘I had just had my eyebrows dyed!’ ‘I swear I nearly fainted!’ Everything is about them, not the dying boys and girls in the arena.” 

Is it too much of a stretch to assume that politicians may be just or even more callous than these hair-dressers? They get their money by looking good and sounding nice and not offending people. They get their money by getting donations from wealthy people in trade for special privileges that hurt everyone else. They send thousands of men and women to die in Iraq and Afghanistan and they sleep peacefully at night in their suburban homes paid for by the labor of productive Americans. They argue about laws and send papers around from one office to another while men are dying because of their actions. Is this any less frivolous, any less callous than the speech of the hair dressers?

True, we do not have most the country working to pay for the lavish lifestyle for the politically connected, except we do. We do not callously ignore the deaths of people who die in the name of the country, yet we do. Since 2004, when drone attacks begin, as many as 951 civilians, which includes 200 children, have been killed by drones in Pakistan alone. This does not include the wedding guests who died in Yemen and other deaths around the world

Are we that far from The Hunger Games? Is our society really that much different than the one we look upon with such abhorrence? We let over 4,000 of our own die in Iraq so we could be unified and patriotic. Are we that much different than a society that lets 24 of its own fight to the death to maintain peace and order in society? Is this not exactly what the deaths of all our military is all about? That is why we have parades and ceremonies for the survivors, for the Victors if you will. Is there a difference?

Hopefully by now the reader is questioning if we are not exactly who the Hunger Games is talking about. You may be convinced that The Hunger Games is the day after tomorrow for America. Well I hate to burst your doomsday bubble, but it is not. Despite my radical political opinions, I affirm that this will never happen. There will be no Hunger Games here. Ever. How can I say that? What evidence is there?

We are not at the base of state power, we are at the pinnacle of it. This three-thousand year-old paradigm of the state is fading with Slavery and other barbaric institutions of the past. Will the powers that be relinquish voluntarily? No, of course not. Evil will not relent. Evil people will hold on with all they have to the source of power and livelihood. The state has created millions of dependents. This is of course to the state’s advantage because it means millions are interested in keeping it alive and well. But in the end it cannot. The state is simply inefficient. Violence and evil do not help people, do not produce good results, and do not produce anything of value. The state cannot compete with ingenious and innovation and entrepreneurship. It just cannot. Despite all the taxes, all the regulation and other violent actions the state will raise against free people attempting to serve others, but in the end it will be to no avail. The progress of man cannot be stopped.
Generally the villain is not taken down by the good guy, the villain is taken down through his (or her) own vanity, pride, irrationality, lust for power, or whatever it be. His own arbitrary authority is what will implode and destroy the bad guy. And so it will be with the state. Technology will get better so that free-seeking people will be better able to escape the state. Bitcoin. Sea-steading. The internet. All sorts of things will help to set us free. And the state will be left alone, and all the evil it harbors, crumbling under its own complete inefficiency. There is no stopping the revolution. There is no stopping the revolution.

In these hunger games it will only be evil that will be starving. And I can’t wait.

Let the games begin. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Les Miserables on revolution: An Anarchist Review

Can you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men, that is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!  - From Can You Hear the People Sing in Les Miserables

Here they talked of revolution
Here it was they lit the flame
Here they sang about tomorrow
And tomorrow never came
Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs and empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more
-From Empty Chairs and Empty Tables in Les Miserables

Les Miserables is a fantastic tale of love and loss, justice and mercy, revolution and power. It has enchanted and inspired millions. The interplay of personal stories interwoven into the grand story of the failed French Revolution of 1832 is fantastic. There are so many applicable topics The Anarchist Review could cover in this story: religious freedom versus political freedom or Justice versus mercy, but I have chosen the topic of revolution.

Multiple questions are brought up by this tale: What is Revolution? Who starts revolutions? What is Revolution good for?

A little background on Victor Hugo, the author, and why he wrote about this. Hugo personally witnessed some of the proceedings of the 1832 revolution or June Uprising as it is referred to. As in the play/book/movie, the uprising lasted only two days: from June 5 to June 6. It was in fact a pretty minor blurb, especially considering the large number of uprisings and revolutions that France has been through. If it were not for Victor Hugo this uprising of 3,000 people, would have faded into the annals of history known by only to a few erudite historians. 

Thanks to Hugo, however it is one of the most well-known events in history. Hugo himself was a Republican, and strongly sided with the republican revolutionaries.

Now to the tale of revolution. During the song Red and Black, Enjolras, the revolutionary leader, asks if revolution is “simply a game for rich young boys to play?” He says (or rather sings) this at the ABC pub where wealthy middle-class men come to discuss politics. Most are young, some are sons of aristocrats. These young men feel they are liberating the poor from oppression and “They will come one and all. They will come one and all” to support them in their just cause. However, their prediction is fatally wrong.

Revolution is often assumed to start with poor disgruntled workers who rise up to shake off the shackles of their oppressive governments. Yet Les Miserables is saying the opposite, that it is a bunch of wealthy middle class men who get angry and try to stir up the masses. 

So what is the revolutionary story? As one who has considered tattooing, “Liberty or Death” across his back, it would be nice to sympathize with revolutionaries. Perhaps, however, the story of Les Miserables has lessons, particularly for young fire-brands like me.

So without further ado, The Anarchist Review takes a quick plunge into the history of revolutions to uncover the truth.

Revolutions generally go through three stages, the fall of the old regime and rise of a moderate regime based on the old paradigm just adjusted, rise of a radical (and often tyrannical) government, and a return to moderate in the so-called Thermidorian reaction. Crane Brinton notably analyzed this in his book The Anatomy of Revolution. Though it is not a perfect fit for all revolutions, many of the large revolutions in history have followed this pattern, most notably the English, the French, and the Russian.

Brinton points out that it is not the super poor who start revolutions. Genuine lower-class revolutions are almost non-existent with the notable exception of Haiti’s slave revolution. The revolutionaries are generally idealistic middle-class white guys, “born of hope,” as Brinton puts it.

In the first stage, the moderate stage, the relatively unorganized middle-class men who have gained support of the lower-classes often because of extreme conditions are able to take down the first regime. This is the exciting stage where the lower-classes are involved. They are not the instigators, but they jump on the cause, mostly because they assume things cannot get worse than the status quo.  This group often is unorganized and lacking a strong leader, they often do not want to completely oust the former government as much as they simply want to change it. In France this meant forming a constitutional monarchy. They wanted to keep the king, just add restraints and grant more power to the middle-class. After all it is a middle-class revolution, the poor are involved in creating chaos, but when the tables come out and negotiation begins, they are not present.

The next stage is where an organized radical group with a strong leader sweeps in and takes control. In England it was Oliver Cromwell, in France, Robespierre, in Russia, Lenin.  Are these men from humble backgrounds who strive to help their fellow poor brothers? Let us have a look:

Oliver Cromwell: He was born into the middle-gentry, i.e. upper-middle class. He was a land-owner and politician for most of his life. Not exactly what we would consider a “worker.”

Robespierre: A politician and lawyer descended from lawyers. Robespierre, despite being from a somewhat troubled home (born out of wed-lock), he was just about as middle-class and white-collar as they come.

Some revolutionary spirit during Robespierre's Reign of Terror

Lenin: He was born to nobility. Yes, you read that right, Lenin, the Marxist radical of Russia was born into a noble family. It is not true that his parents were not born noble, however they were born rich. Before Lenin was born they were basically awarded a title and became “hereditary nobility.” Lenin, like so many Marxists, knew more about the plight of finding a good chef then they did about the plight of workers.

This is not meant to be an exposé or surprising revelation. These men are not really considered great men of history. All three were at the helms of extremely violent and bloody regimes. But they fit the bill of the radical revolutionaries of the world. Men with great idealistic visions which when attempted to put into practice end up killing loads of people. For example, Robespierre’s short rule in France led to over 40,000 deaths.
After the radical stage there is a return to a moderate stage, and often, in the long run a return to the former government. In France and England a King was returned to the throne (albeit with constitutional restraints), and Russia, well Russia still has the sort of strong dictatorial leaders it has head since the time of the Russian empire.

Revolutions results? Day to day life of workers ends up being basically the same. Religions and habits remain unchanged. As Brinton says, “[The revolutions’] results look rather petty as measured by the brotherhood of man and the achievement of justice on this earth. The blood of the martyrs seems hardly necessary to establish decimal coinage." Basically in the end the revolutions are, like most wars, fights between rich people about who can exploit who, with the lives of poor people often being tossed around as collateral. A few of the rich kids playing the revolutionary game die as symbols, but most of the blood shed is the blood of workers whom the revolution is supposed to benefit. The Reign of Terror in France which was meant to uproot all royalist support, killed far more people from the lower classes then it did nobility or royals. 

From looking back at history it seems Victor Hugo had revolutions about right. One of two things happens. The middle-class revolution gets support from the lower-classes and causes chaos and uprising. The government changes three or four times and ends up basically how it started. The other possible scenario is the one told by Hugo. The lower-classes do not come to support the cause because of misjudgment of how bad their plight actually or unwillingness to die for the cause. In either case if you start the revolution you probably end up dead with your friends wondering what your sacrifice was for.

Here at The Anarchist Review we have plenty of revolutionary blood. Those that know me know I am anti-establishment and idealist. Lots of people probably assume I would be the first one running down the street waving a Gadsden flag to start the next American revolution.

However, I have to side with history. Revolution in the end is a game for rich white boys to play which almost always ends in meaningless violence. It is a bunch of rich kids who look at the lower-classes and say, “I know what they need.” When in reality they care more about aggrandizing themselves, then helping the poor. They have grandiose ideas not rooted in reality. They claim to fight for liberty when in the reality they are seeking power.  Outside of the American Revolution, it is difficult/impossible to find a revolution which could be remotely described as “successful.”

Despite all my fiery gusto for change and revolution, I am afraid it is the slow gradual changes that win out. Why? Because people are gradual changers, society changes gradually. And while government is not society (a common error); government, at least partially, reflects society. Ultimately government only changes because it has to. Society changes government, it is impossible to do it the other way around. People, not power, rule the world. So despite my radical leanings and position, I feel I must give deference to that great conservative thinker Edmund Burke who predicted the French Revolution spiraling out of control.

“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.” – Edmund Burke

My suggestion for young men like me who so greatly yearn for change in the world is not to turn to guns, violence, and revolution, but rather to reason and technology, thinking and persuasion, that is how we will win the war.

Do not go start political revolution. Stay home, get married, have children, raise them peacefully, write a book, and live another day.

 If we go the path of revolution we will end up like those of Les Miserables, with “empty chairs and empty tables, where [our] friends will sit no more.”