ponzi_scheme_greedLike many people, I suspect, I’ve been doing lots of reading to try and get a grasp on the current economic crisis. The topic is incredibly important, as we’re look at an unprecedented failure of capitalism and the distinct possibility that capitalism will radically transform — possibly into something post-capitalist (especially if we push it). While economics can be confusing and intimidating, there are a number of good pieces on the subject out there, including some that capture more of the bigger picture, in terms of power relations and potential outcomes. I’m going to suggest a few of my favorites here:

This article takes particular note of the power plays initiated by the financial section oligarchs — in particular from the perspective of an IMF economist whose job in the past has been to break up such oligarchies in emerging nations.

A great overview of the historical root causes of the current crisis from a decidedly left perspective.

This piece is more of a populist call out, naming names and taking note of specific sleezy actions. Notable as a reflection of current popular sentiment.

Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.

“But wait a minute,” you say to them. “No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what’s left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?”

But before you even finish saying that, they’re rolling their eyes, because You Don’t Get It. These people were never about anything except turning money into money, in order to get more money; valueswise they’re on par with crack addicts, or obsessive sexual deviants who burgle homes to steal panties. Yet these are the people in whose hands our entire political future now rests.

A solid Marxist/communist analysis of the historical roots of the situation and contradictions within capitalism. Wraps up with the predictable call for a communist worker’s party, of course.

For us the real question was “why did it take so long to come about in the first place?”. Global capitalist growth over the last fifteen years has been largely based on two inter-related features — the exploitation on an enormous scale of cheap labour power in the so-called “emerging economies”, especially China, and the ever burgeoning sums of money produced in the global financial system which seemed to have less and less connection to the production of surplus value. We were using metaphors such as capitalism seems to be defying the law of gravity (as well as the law of value) in that more and more fictitious capital was being created which had less and less relation to the actual production of real commodities. However, like the cartoon characters who can run off cliffs and hang suspended in the air for a time before finally falling to earth, capitalism’s apparent defiance of the law of value has now come to an end.

Don’s piece is a far more complex and nuanced view on the crisis, responding to numerous other writings on the subject, and taking particular note of the potential opportunities for more repressive social democracies or  insurgent fascism.

Here’s my point. The left is going to have to organize itself, not the working class or the ‘people’. One of the French post structuralists noted that the question isn’t so much why the masses don’t rebel against power as it is why they internalize that power relationship and enforce their own subordination and misery on themselves. At moments of crisis such as we are entering, this internalized acceptance of subordination will break at many points and masses of people will start to think and act in ways that would have seemed irrational to them a short time before. The role of the left is to recognize these elements of epistemological break and attempt to generalize them and incorporate them into an anti-capitalist social bloc. To accomplish this, the left must learn for itself what is to be done and how to do it, before presuming to educate others on these questions. And when we makes a start on this task, it will involve a little boldness, taking a few chances, some might prove to be embarrassingly inadequate; some might fail the risk/benefit analysis; but that’s the path to being a part of a revolutionary process, though it’s not necessarily the path to a comfortable life.

Some follow-up discussion on this article can also be found at the Three-Way Fight blog.

This writer makes an intriguing effort to map out how the crisis will play out over the next few years, making specific note of the likelihood of a resurgence of racism, nationalism, and fascism. I don’t agree with all of the assertions, of course, but it’s well worth reading.

If anyone has other recommendations, please post them in the comments.

Jamais Cascio over at Open the Future notes some similar sources.

Quick Links 3-25-08

March 25, 2008

* Interview with Ursula LeGuin

My utopias are not blueprints. In fact, I distrust utopias that pretend to be blueprints. Fiction is not a good medium for preaching or for planning. It is really good, though, for what we used to call conscious-raising.

* Inside the Twisted Mind of the Security Professional
Just as important for subversive minds.

* Build Your Own War Bot
A wiki resource for the hacktivists working on the future anarchist air force.

* How to Make Your Phone Untappable
Interview with Phil Zimmerman, the creator of PGP, about his new Zfone software for encrypting VOIP calls.

So unencrypted VoIP is vulnerable not just to government wiretapping but also to cyber-criminal spying.

With traditional telephony, our threat model was mostly government wiretapping. With VoIP, anyone can wiretap us: the Russian mafia, foreign governments, hackers, disgruntled former employees. Anyone.

Historically, there’s been an asymmetry between government wiretapping and everyone else wiretapping that’s been in the government’s favor. As we migrate to VoIP, that differential collapses. The government itself is just as vulnerable.

* Zfone Project Start/Download Page

* Fake Anarchist Sites
Details on how http://anarchy.net and related sites are not really anarchist at all.

Quick Links

January 23, 2008


* The Great Firewall: China’s Misguided — and Futile — Attempt to Control What Happens Online

Today, anyone in China can send a sensitive message if they are minimally savvy, and that fact is transforming the political discourse. True, technology has not led to the overthrow of the Communist Party, as some had predicted — the party has even harnessed the Internet for its own purposes. But this does not mean that Beijing has insulated itself against political change driven by technology. Its critics have unfettered access to mass communications, and the Internet — not the Communist Party — is the main influence on public opinion. No shield, golden or otherwise, can protect them from the public. China’s leaders should know this.

* Swarm Intelligence

Swarm intelligence, not just as a way of coordinating street battles, is a rich field of study for anarchists. The notion that highly complex projects and behaviors can be coordinated without any centralized authority has been an article of faith for anarchists for a long time.

* Who Makes the Rules?

Which scenario is most likely? It depends a bit on how fast the truly disastrous manifestations of climate change hit. Climate catastrophe happening earlier than currently projected would push towards the more proactionary worlds. It also depends a bit on whether governments and corporate leaders continue to lag community and activist groups in terms of willingness to embrace big changes to fight environmental risks. Centralized responses may end up being too little, too late if wide-spread bottom-up models take root.

* I Spy With My Orbital Eye

One of my favorite early pieces for WorldChanging was the essay Greens In Space, arguing that space exploration, particularly robotic exploration, is ultimately in support of the Bright Green future. Of particular importance are the satellite systems used to observe changes on the Earth’s surface.

* CRN Task Force Scenarios

For the year 2007, the major project of the CRN Task Force was to begin producing a series of professional-quality scenarios of a near-future world in which exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing becomes a reality. The purpose is to offer plausible, logical, understandable “stories” that illustrate the challenge of contending with the implications of advanced nanotechnology. What will that future look like? What can we learn from picturing it now that might help us avoid the worst pitfalls and generate the greatest benefits?

* Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial — and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive.

* Biowar for Dummies

Brent is one of a growing number of researchers who believe that a bioterrorist wouldn’t need a team of virologists and state funding. He says advances in DNA-hacking technology have reached the point where an evil lab assistant with the right resources could do the job.

I decided to call him on it. I hadn’t set foot in a lab since high school. Could I learn to build a bioweapon? What would I need? What would it cost? Could I set up shop without raising suspicions? And, most important, would it work?

* The EDGE Annual Question -2008

This year’s question: What have you changed your mind about? I particularly like the responses by Sam Harris (Mother Nature Is Not Our Friend) and Stewart Brand (Good Stuff Sucks).

* Overcoming Gender

Your gender assignment and sense of sexual identity is an imposition. Like many of your other characteristics, you are largely the result of a genetic lottery that happened beyond your control. Consequently, you are in no small way predetermined. Your physical and psychological capabilities are very much constrained and dictated by your genetic constitution.

* DIY Guide to Rebuilding Civilization

A new zine project:

We’ve all wasted enough time reasoning with the primitivists. It’s time for less talk and more action. Say that the Collapse does come–just as hard as Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan have salivated–I don’t want us sitting around, ringing our hands and dumbly staring at suddenly useless anarcho-syndicalist union cards. I want us prepared.

* WTA Matching Grant Drive

The immediate objective is to upgrade our communications to give transhumanist opinions a stronger voice. The generous matching grant by the Life Extension Foundation and Cartmell Holdings means that if we raise $25,000 independently we will secure a total of $50,000 in funding for the WTA, enabling the organization to shift into a higher gear… Any gift you make to the WTA will be matched dollar-for-dollar until January 31, 2008.

Quick Links 8-23-07

August 23, 2007

Sorry about the long silence — both of us were hit by some life-changing events and other business this summer. We’ll be getting back on track here shortly. In the meantime, here are some collected items to get you started.

* Top 10 Transhumanist Technologies

Good list.

Transhumanists advocate the improvement of human capacities through advanced technology. Not just technology as in gadgets you get from Best Buy, but technology in the grander sense of strategies for eliminating disease, providing cheap but high-quality products to the world’s poorest, improving quality of life and social interconnectedness, and so on.

* Sam Harris: The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only really be wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is. Otherwise, right and wrong would be mere matters of social construction, and any society would be at liberty to decide that raping and killing children is actually a wholesome form of family fun.

* The OUT campaign

Richard Dawkins and his supporters launch a campaign for atheists to out themselves and take a more vocal stance:

It follows that a major part of our consciousness-raising effort should be aimed, not at converting the religious but at encouraging the non-religious to admit it – to themselves, to their families, and to the world. This is the purpose of the OUT campaign.

* Religious “priming” promotes cooperation

Interestingly, subjects who had identified themselves as non-religious weren’t any less giving than believers. Also significant is that another group, primed instead with “civic responsibility” concepts, were as generous as the group primed with religious thoughts.

* First Armed Robots Patrol in Iraq

Robots have been roaming the streets of Iraq, since shortly after the war began. Now, for the first time — the first time in any warzone — the machines are carrying guns.

* Armed Robots Pushed to Police

Armed robots — similar to the ones now on patrol in Iraq — are being marketed to domestic police forces … None of the gun-toting ‘bots appear to have been deployed domestically, yet. Both cops and company officials say it’s only a matter of time, however.

* Scientists Apply for First Patent on Synthetic Life Form

We think these monopoly claims signal the start of a high-stakes commercial race to synthesize and privatize synthetic life forms. And Venter’s company is positioning itself to become the ‘Microbesoft’ of synthetic biology. Before these claims go forward, society must consider their far-reaching social, ethical and environmental impacts, and have an informed debate about whether they are socially acceptable or desirable.

* Artificial Life Likely in 3 to 10 Years

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of “wet artificial life.” … “We’re talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways – in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict.”

* Security-Theater Cameras Coming to New York

Steve Swain, who served for years with the London Metropolitan Police and its counter-terror operations, doubts the power of cameras to deter crime. “I don’t know of a single incident where CCTV has actually been used to spot, apprehend or detain offenders in the act,” he said.

* Popular Arguments For and Against Longevity

George Dvorsky covers the pros and cons.

* Why Progressives Should Care About Human Destiny In Space

“From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty,” said Edgar Mitchell, one of only 12 humans to have walked on the surface of another world. “You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'”

* Green Junta? Avoiding an Authoritarian Military-Environment Elite

Wells warns that of a Green Junta that could bring about a right-wing agenda by stealth, in the name of environmentalism.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.