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The Left Improves Control of Britain’s Labour Party

2018 January 16
by Ian Welsh
Picture of Jeremy Corbyn

Picture of Jeremy Corbyn

Three new seats on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) were created and filled thru voting of members. All three went to Corbyn supporting members of Momentum, a grass roots organization created after Corbyn was elected leader.

They then replaced the chair of the disputes committee, Ann Black, with Christine Showcroft, another Momentum member.

Black, the replaced chair, had ruled that 130,000 Labor members who had joined for five pounds couldn’t vote in the last leadership election (the one called to unseat Corbyn), but had to pay another 25 pounds. This ruling was clearly anti-Corbyn. There were also a lot of purges of members throughout that campaign, purges which virtually all seemed to hit Corbyn supporters.

Corbyn’s margin of control of the Labor party’s adminstrative apparatus is still scant, but it exists.

The next step appears to be a review of whether or not all Labor Members of Parliament should be subject to mandatory re-selection: ie, have to win the right to represent Labor in their riding. Most MPs strongly opposed Corbyn during the leadership challenge, and party members feel that those MPs do not represent them.

I believe this should be done, or Corbyn is likely to be hamstrung if he does win election as Prime Minister.

All of this may seem very insider baseball, but control of major parties is vitally important in democracies. Thatcher said that her most important victory was Tony Blair’s election: because Tony Blair, as a “third way” politician, would not undo what she had done. He agreed with her on the deep questions of how Britain should be run, even if there were differences at the margin.

With the two main parties both neoliberal, there now truly was “no alternative”. Corbyn’s victory, and the left gaining control over Labour now means that there is an alternative.


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“The Drum Major Instinct”, Speech by Martin Luther King

2018 January 15
by Ian Welsh

This seems appropriate, and will reward you if you read it all the way thru.  (MP3 link)


This morning I would like to use as a subject from which to preach: “The Drum Major Instinct.” “The Drum Major Instinct.” And our text for the morning is taken from a very familiar passage in the tenth chapter as recorded by Saint Mark. Beginning with the thirty-fifth verse of that chapter, we read these words: “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him saying, ‘Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.’ And he said unto them, ‘What would ye that I should do for you?’ And they said unto him, ‘Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.’ But Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye know not what ye ask: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ And they said unto him, ‘We can.’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.’” And then Jesus goes on toward the end of that passage to say, “But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”

The setting is clear. James and John are making a specific request of the master. They had dreamed, as most of the Hebrews dreamed, of a coming king of Israel who would set Jerusalem free and establish his kingdom on Mount Zion, and in righteousness rule the world. And they thought of Jesus as this kind of king. And they were thinking of that day when Jesus would reign supreme as this new king of Israel. And they were saying, “Now when you establish your kingdom, let one of us sit on the right hand and the other on the left hand of your throne.”

Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request? But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course, the other disciples got mad with James and John, and you could understand why, but we must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.

Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.

Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.

I got a letter the other day, and it was a new magazine coming out. And it opened up, “Dear Dr. King: As you know, you are on many mailing lists. And you are categorized as highly intelligent, progressive, a lover of the arts and the sciences, and I know you will want to read what I have to say.” Of course I did. After you said all of that and explained me so exactly, of course I wanted to read it. [laughter]

But very seriously, it goes through life; the drum major instinct is real. (Yes) And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. (Make it plain) It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? (Amen) [laughter] You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. (Make it plain) But it feeds a repressed ego.

You know, economists tell us that your automobile should not cost more than half of your annual income. So if you make an income of five thousand dollars, your car shouldn’t cost more than about twenty-five hundred. That’s just good economics. And if it’s a family of two, and both members of the family make ten thousand dollars, they would have to make out with one car. That would be good economics, although it’s often inconvenient. But so often, haven’t you seen people making five thousand dollars a year and driving a car that costs six thousand? And they wonder why their ends never meet. [laughter] That’s a fact.

Now the economists also say that your house shouldn’t cost—if you’re buying a house, it shouldn’t cost more than twice your income. That’s based on the economy and how you would make ends meet. So, if you have an income of five thousand dollars, it’s kind of difficult in this society. But say it’s a family with an income of ten thousand dollars, the house shouldn’t cost much more than twenty thousand. Well, I’ve seen folk making ten thousand dollars, living in a forty- and fifty-thousand-dollar house. And you know they just barely make it. They get a check every month somewhere, and they owe all of that out before it comes in. Never have anything to put away for rainy days.

But now the problem is, it is the drum major instinct. And you know, you see people over and over again with the drum major instinct taking them over. And they just live their lives trying to outdo the Joneses. (Amen) They got to get this coat because this particular coat is a little better and a little better-looking than Mary’s coat. And I got to drive this car because it’s something about this car that makes my car a little better than my neighbor’s car. (Amen) I know a man who used to live in a thirty-five-thousand-dollar house. And other people started building thirty-five-thousand-dollar houses, so he built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house. And then somebody else built a seventy-five-thousand-dollar house, and he built a hundred-thousand-dollar house. And I don’t know where he’s going to end up if he’s going to live his life trying to keep up with the Joneses.

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. (Make it plain) And that’s where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted. I guess that’s the most damaging aspect of it: what it does to the personality. If it isn’t harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that—you know, and I’m sure you’ve met them—that really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves. (Amen) And they just boast and boast and boast, and that’s the person who has not harnessed the drum major instinct.

And then it does other things to the personality. It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) There are some people who are influence peddlers. And in their attempt to deal with the drum major instinct, they have to try to identify with the so-called big-name people. (Yeah, Make it plain) And if you’re not careful, they will make you think they know somebody that they don’t really know. (Amen) They know them well, they sip tea with them, and they this-and-that. That happens to people.

And the other thing is that it causes one to engage ultimately in activities that are merely used to get attention. Criminologists tell us that some people are driven to crime because of this drum major instinct. They don’t feel that they are getting enough attention through the normal channels of social behavior, and so they turn to anti-social behavior in order to get attention, in order to feel important. (Yeah) And so they get that gun, and before they know it they robbed a bank in a quest for recognition, in a quest for importance.

And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, (Glory to God) he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. (Amen) And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up. (Make it plain) And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct.

Now the other problem is, when you don’t harness the drum major instinct—this uncontrolled aspect of it—is that it leads to snobbish exclusivism. It leads to snobbish exclusivism. (Make it plain) And you know, this is the danger of social clubs and fraternities—I’m in a fraternity; I’m in two or three—for sororities and all of these, I’m not talking against them. I’m saying it’s the danger. The danger is that they can become forces of classism and exclusivism where somehow you get a degree of satisfaction because you are in something exclusive. And that’s fulfilling something, you know—that I’m in this fraternity, and it’s the best fraternity in the world, and everybody can’t get in this fraternity. So it ends up, you know, a very exclusive kind of thing.

And you know, that can happen with the church; I know churches get in that bind sometimes. (Amen, Make it plain) I’ve been to churches, you know, and they say, “We have so many doctors, and so many school teachers, and so many lawyers, and so many businessmen in our church.” And that’s fine, because doctors need to go to church, and lawyers, and businessmen, teachers—they ought to be in church. But they say that—even the preacher sometimes will go all through that—they say that as if the other people don’t count. (Amen)

And the church is the one place where a doctor ought to forget that he’s a doctor. The church is the one place where a Ph.D. ought to forget that he’s a Ph.D. (Yes) The church is the one place that the school teacher ought to forget the degree she has behind her name. The church is the one place where the lawyer ought to forget that he’s a lawyer. And any church that violates the “whosoever will, let him come” doctrine is a dead, cold church, (Yes) and nothing but a little social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.

When the church is true to its nature, (Whoo) it says, “Whosoever will, let him come.” (Yes) And it does not supposed to satisfy the perverted uses of the drum major instinct. It’s the one place where everybody should be the same, standing before a common master and savior. (Yes, sir) And a recognition grows out of this—that all men are brothers because they are children (Yes) of a common father.

The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivism in one’s thinking and can lead one to feel that because he has some training, he’s a little better than that person who doesn’t have it. Or because he has some economic security, that he’s a little better than that person who doesn’t have it. And that’s the uncontrolled, perverted use of the drum major instinct.

Now the other thing is, that it leads to tragic—and we’ve seen it happen so often—tragic race prejudice. Many who have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem. Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior. A need that some people have to feel that they are first, and to feel that their white skin ordained them to be first. (Make it plain, today, ‘cause I’m against it, so help me God) And they have said over and over again in ways that we see with our own eyes. In fact, not too long ago, a man down in Mississippi said that God was a charter member of the White Citizens Council. And so God being the charter member means that everybody who’s in that has a kind of divinity, a kind of superiority. And think of what has happened in history as a result of this perverted use of the drum major instinct. It has led to the most tragic prejudice, the most tragic expressions of man’s inhumanity to man.

The other day I was saying, I always try to do a little converting when I’m in jail. And when we were in jail in Birmingham the other day, the white wardens and all enjoyed coming around the cell to talk about the race problem. And they were showing us where we were so wrong demonstrating. And they were showing us where segregation was so right. And they were showing us where intermarriage was so wrong. So I would get to preaching, and we would get to talking—calmly, because they wanted to talk about it. And then we got down one day to the point—that was the second or third day—to talk about where they lived, and how much they were earning. And when those brothers told me what they were earning, I said, “Now, you know what? You ought to be marching with us. [laughter] You’re just as poor as Negroes.” And I said, “You are put in the position of supporting your oppressor, because through prejudice and blindness, you fail to see that the same forces that oppress Negroes in American society oppress poor white people. (Yes) And all you are living on is the satisfaction of your skin being white, and the drum major instinct of thinking that you are somebody big because you are white. And you’re so poor you can’t send your children to school. You ought to be out here marching with every one of us every time we have a march.”

Now that’s a fact. That the poor white has been put into this position, where through blindness and prejudice, (Make it plain) he is forced to support his oppressors. And the only thing he has going for him is the false feeling that he’s superior because his skin is white—and can’t hardly eat and make his ends meet week in and week out. (Amen)

And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy. And if something doesn’t happen to stop this trend, I’m sorely afraid that we won’t be here to talk about Jesus Christ and about God and about brotherhood too many more years. (Yeah) If somebody doesn’t bring an end to this suicidal thrust that we see in the world today, none of us are going to be around, because somebody’s going to make the mistake through our senseless blunderings of dropping a nuclear bomb somewhere. And then another one is going to drop. And don’t let anybody fool you, this can happen within a matter of seconds. (Amen) They have twenty-megaton bombs in Russia right now that can destroy a city as big as New York in three seconds, with everybody wiped away, and every building. And we can do the same thing to Russia and China.

But this is why we are drifting. And we are drifting there because nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. “I must be first.” “I must be supreme.” “Our nation must rule the world.” (Preach it) And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I’m going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in Vietnam. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

But God has a way of even putting nations in their place. (Amen) The God that I worship has a way of saying, “Don’t play with me.” (Yes) He has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, “Don’t play with me, Israel. Don’t play with me, Babylon. (Yes) Be still and know that I’m God. And if you don’t stop your reckless course, I’ll rise up and break the backbone of your power.” (Yes) And that can happen to America. (Yes) Every now and then I go back and read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And when I come and look at America, I say to myself, the parallels are frightening. And we have perverted the drum major instinct.

But let me rush on to my conclusion, because I want you to see what Jesus was really saying. What was the answer that Jesus gave these men? It’s very interesting. One would have thought that Jesus would have condemned them. One would have thought that Jesus would have said, “You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?”

But that isn’t what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, “Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you’re going to be my disciple, you must be.” But he reordered priorities. And he said, “Yes, don’t give up this instinct. It’s a good instinct if you use it right. (Yes) It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. (Amen) I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do.”

And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, “Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.” This is what Jesus said to James and John. “You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.” (Amen)

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.” (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.” Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, “In Christ there is no East nor West.” (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.” He didn’t have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It’s the only way in.

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.

Major Governments Can Shut Down CryptoCurrencies at Will

2018 January 14
by Ian Welsh

Government can shut down the cryptocurrency experiment any time it wants. Government money creation worked because the government insists you pay taxes in their money and they have people with guns. Crypto exists as long as governments wants it to and no longer.

There is a great deal of triumphalism in the crypto-world, because it has made a bunch of people rich. People who get rich virtually always think it is because they are great people. They feel empowered and so on. (And, according to the research, generally become selfish jerks with a reduced empathic response.)

The simple power relationship is this: Any government can put the hurt on crypto and largely shut it down in their country simply by criminalizing it and having their taxation folks watch the entrances and exits.

Crypto can be badly hurt by three governments: China, the EU, and the US, in exactly the same way. Crypto is arguably in violation of a host of security laws as it stands, and could be made more illegal any time a regulator or government chooses to.

People with guns beat people with cryptography. Code is not law, and the people who thought it was were fools. Law is what people with something approaching a monopoly on violence in an area say it is, and nothing else.

Peer-to-peer financial networks are a good idea: Cutting out banks for exchanging money is a good idea. (Bitcoin is a bad way to do both, but that’s not this article. Other coins do a better job.)

But it must be allowed by those people who control organized violence, and if they choose not to, all your technical wizardry will not save your networks, even if some crippled, black web version remains.

Nor is money creation quite what you think it is. Money exists mostly because powerful people want to be able to coerce the non-powerful through either taxation or debt-farming. Other benefits are incidental, if appreciated.

That doesn’t mean that crypto can’t, in theory, grab money creation from banks (though co-optation is far more likely). It means that, like banks, whether crypto can do so rests on whether they can cut a deal with, and prove their usefulness to, state-sanctioned, organized violence.

This is all it is ever about.


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Manufacturing Violent People

2018 January 11
by Ian Welsh

One of the largely unacknowledged problems of prison is that it manufactures bad people.

When someone is arrested, it is often a traumatic event. It’s backed up by the promise of violence, and even death if someone resists.

Police are often brutal, and, once in prison, one is surrounded by dangerous people. The least sign of weakness will make one into a victim, so one must pretend to be tough, no matter what. Months to years of living like that, plus the real possibility of new trauma from rape, assault, or battery, along with the certainty of living in near constant fear will likely give the person trauma and rage issues, and teach them that the best way not to be a victim is to be a victimizer.

When they get out…

This is made worse by the fact that once you’ve got a record, good jobs are largely closed off from you. Even a lot of bad jobs are, as so many employers do criminal records checks now that it is easy.

Poor, traumatized, and used to violence as a solution to problems; having been taught that admitting any weakness will just get you victimized, you’re very likely to turn to crime and even violent crime.

Prison in all Anglo countries created worse, harder criminals. By making a lot of poverty illegal, by locking up junkies (who should be in for treatment), and by disproportionately locking up minorities for crimes for which whites tend to skate (most drug use crimes), we tend to create the very monsters we think we are protecting ourselves from. And when we don’t create them, we make them worse.

There is another possibility: Norway has half the recidivism rate of the US because they treat their prisoners well. They don’t throw them into a situation with a great threat of violence, including rape, instead they genuinely try for rehabilitation.

Hurting people who have already been hurt makes them worse, not better, in most cases. It teaches them that violence is the way of the world, and that the strong do what they will to the weak. Victims become victimizers.

This is a choice. A lot of the people we lock up don’t need to be locked up: They have committed no crime of violence. There are other ways to deal with them, from medical help to removing their ability to do harm (like forbidding bankers to ever be involved with the financial industry ever again, seizing their ill-gotten wealth, and garnishing their income until they have paid back the billions they destroyed through their fraudulent actions. No money, no position = no power. But they can have good jobs which don’t pay more than median wages.)

And once they are in the system, we could choose not to treat them horribly, and not put them in a position where the other inmates will brutalize them further. This can be done, because other societies do it.

If we choose to perpetuate the violence, it is because, like Justice Clarence Thomas of the US Supreme Court, we think rape is part of the punishment.

Which, to be clear, makes us rapists. If you support criminals being raped, you’re little different from some asshole cheering a rapist on, screaming, “He has it coming!”

Perhaps, having tried cruelty for most of our history, we might consider trying a bit of kindness and a lot of “no harm”?

At the least, even if it doesn’t work (and the evidence is that it does), we wouldn’t be complicit in generating more violence.


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The 2020 Celebrity Election Will Be Far Crazier than 2016

2018 January 8
by Ian Welsh
Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah is apparently considering running in 2020. As Matt Stoller notes, she isn’t a joke: Unlike Trump, she is extraordinarily competent, widely loved and owed favors by at least a plurality of important famous people in the US, including many of the best selling authors.

People have not come to terms with all the consequences of Trump’s election. Every truly popular celebrity in the US has to be looking at Trump’s victory and thinking “I’m smarter, more handsome, and more loved than he was; I can win.”

Bernie Sanders? Kamala Harris? (Insert politician here)?

None of them have more star power and fundraising ability than someone like Oprah. (And remember Oprah does run a company and does it competently.) And many of these people are good on TV. Like, well, really, really insanely good. You expect them to lose a TV debate against some politician?

Then we add in the billionaires, like Facebook CEO Zuckerberg. What other billionaire is now thinking, “Screw buying politicians, they can’t be trusted. I’ll just run myself?” Zuckerberg, of course, is not charismatic, but that much money buys a lot and Facebook itself is insanely influential and even if he “removes himself,” well, I bet Facebook’s algos will somehow work in his favor.

2020 isn’t going to be a normal election. It is going to be far crazier than 2020.

And heck, if I had a vote, I’d vote for Oprah (or Clooney) before most Democratic politicians, especially if they say “universal healthcare, fuck the bankers, and no wars” like they mean it.

I suspect many Americans would too.

Remember, Trump won, in the end, because enough people were sick of regular politicians to take a flyer on him. A celebrity with more charisma and brains is entirely viable and will be considered seriously.


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The Law of Heaven

2018 January 7
by Ian Welsh

In all the myths, heaven is only for good people.

This isn’t because those who run heaven want other people to suffer, it is because heaven is heaven because of the people.

Heaven is just a place where you are surrounded by good, loving, kind people.

What destroys heaven is bad people. Oh, heavens can handle a few bad people: They can be rehabilitated or be watched carefully, treated kindly, and deprived of any power to hurt others. But they can’t handle a lot of bad people.

Heaven IS kind, loving people who take care of each other and take care of the world. Kindness not just to people, but to all life, because life depends on each other. This doesn’t mean being a sucker, it doesn’t mean feeding yourself to a tiger, it means recognizing that tigers have a place.

I will give you two laws of heaven:

1) Neither money nor power buys anything that matters. Education, health care, or skipping security lines at airports. Nothing works in a society if the elites know that they will not be getting what the majority get.

2) Default to kindness (or good.) The bar for doing anything evil is huge, because if you fail, all you’ve done is evil. If you do something kind, then at least you’ve done something kind even if you fail. This is most important in the routine way you run your society. If you run a society based on greed, selfishness, and fear, then that is what people do all day and have done to them. That is the sort of people they become.

You become what you do, which includes what you think and feel. People who do good, and feel love, are good people to have in your society.

This is conceptually simple. It is hard to execute, of course, but failure to execute it means we will always live in hells of varying intensity, lucking occasionally into good societies, and losing them without really knowing either how we got lucky, or why we lost the good.


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The Telecom Revolution Is Mostly Authoritarian

2018 January 3
by Ian Welsh

All major communications advances have had both liberating and authoritarian uses. And, I believe, every one has been stronger on the authoritarian side than on the liberating side.

Writing improved access to knowledge, but it was primarily used by nobles and temples to track slaves, debt, and workers wages (in grain.) It enabled centralized states and a vast web of debt-slavery (with interest rates in Mesopotamia often at 30 percent or so.) Without writing, centralized states always amounted to feudal states; with writing, central administration, and bureaucracy were possible.

Taxes could be tracked, property assigned, and citizens could, in effect, have files (and very often did.)

The telegram, which triggered the real beginning of the modern telecom revolution, centralized control in capitals. Viceroys and governors lost power, rebellions were more easily crushed (because news could travel fast) and companies could be run from HQ far better.

Each continued step in the electronic telecom revolution has continued the centralization, and the invention of recording devices and video cameras made possible a type of surveillance not possible before.

The problem with prior surveillance states was that they required a lot of people. They were inefficient. Paying everyone to watch everyone else has sharp limits. It also doesn’t record everything: What you were doing 14 years ago at 2:17pm in the afternoon is not usually available to be used against you now, when circumstances have changed, and something “on you” is needed.

Modern computer networks, which allow files to be easily shared, mean that your life is available to anyone with access, which increasingly, due to all the leaks, means anyone who really wants to know.

These records already control a vast amount of your life: Your credit score is used not just to determine how much money you can borrow, but often by landlords to see if they will rent to you, and by companies to decide if they will hire you. A criminal record makes almost all good jobs unavailable, and you can’t just “leave town” to avoid that.

China is putting together a central scoring system which will give every single citizen a number. Spend a lot of time playing computer games? Lower score. Have friends who say bad things about the government online? Worse score. And so on.

Meanwhile, the combination of security cameras everywhere and biometric recognition systems based on face, gait, and even infrared profile, means that combined with AI, where you are all the time can be tracked and stored. Cameras increasingly have audio attached.

And heck, most people in the first world now voluntarily carry a phone with them which acts both as a tracking device and a bug (turning the microphone on to listen to you is trivial).

Online, everything you do is tracked: where you go, what you buy, who your friends are, what sort of words you say, what your political opinions are, and so on. This information, while it still misfires often, can generally tell if your sick, what you’re sick with, what you want to buy, how your finances are doing, if you’re pregnant or have a young child, and far more besides. It will only get more all-encompassing as AI and algos improve, and as more information is hooked into the web.

It takes quite a bit of work now to go dark, and a great deal of work to leave your past behind. Even faking your death is harder than it used to be.

Further, computer networks make centralized control far, far easier. Even telephones in the age of expensive, long distance calls were not as good as what we have now. You can run Shanghai from Beijing or New York: or New York or San Francisco from Shanghai.

There has been a liberatory effect, best understood by those of us old enough to remember before the internet was widely available: It amounts to “information at our fingertips,” and it is far more a good than a bad. No longer, if we don’t know and don’t have a book at our fingertips, do we have to find an expert or run to a library for most inquires. If we want to learn about many things, including advanced topics like engineering or law, we need only an internet connection.

This is a real increase in freedom from experts.

But this is outweighed by the horrors of close supervision, as in Amazon warehouses, where workers are tracked not even minute by minute, but in seconds per task, by remote electronic supervision.

This is hell. This is the sort of supervision that could be used only rarely, at great cost, in the old world, because the supervisor had to be right there, with you.

Meanwhile, drones assassinate people in every continent but Australia (I think) and Antarctica, from central control in America. This easy assassination is something no one could do 30 years ago.

This is technology with hellishly authoritarian potential, and history tells us it will be used that way. The printing press may have broken much of the power of the Catholic Church, but it also led to states we still call absolutist.

The same will be true of these telecom technologies, especially combined with AI behavioural pattern recognition.

The bet, on the part of elites, is that this tech breaks the inefficiency problem of classical authoritarian surveillance states: only a few people, comparatively, are needed. It will require a few percent of the population at most, not the previously necessary twenty to thirty percent for true comprehensive surveillance (with all the possibilities of petty corruption that then ensue: The USSR’s surveillance was extensive, and eventually worthless.)

There is a widespread myth in our society that Progress is always Good.

It is not. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it isn’t. Generally, it is mixed, with bad dominating.

Right now, in much of the world, the good of the telecom revolution seems poised to be swamped by the bad (and this is without even discussing the data coming in showing that the more time you spend on your phone/computer, the unhappier you are. This data is not mixed, it is virtually all bad.)

Technology which can be used by elites to make other humans inferior, will be. It always has been, and it always will be, and the only way that is challenged is by commoners rising up, often violently, to insist otherwise.


The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Happy New Year

2018 January 1
by Ian Welsh

I hope my readers had good years in 2017 and will have better ones in 2018.

It’s going to be an interesting year. Trump is fairly clearly in the throes of dementia. We need to avoid a major conflict with either North Korea or Iran. And we can expect, barring large, unexpected events, that the Republicans will lose control of the House and possibly the Senate at the end of the year.

All the best to all people who act with good will in this new year.