30 October 2018

Present necessity

So, Canadian, so we start with "peace, order, and good government".

This is a problem, because a whole lot of people have widely divergent ideas about how to define those things.  ("A settler can shoot indigenous persons if upset with them" is still a legally-protected position in Canada, for example.)

There's also the problem that "permanent emergency" is usually thought of as a political device rather than a material condition. We're moving into circumstances in which it is our material condition.  (Temperature peaks several centuries from now.  Everything gets worse until after the temperature peak somewhere.)

So, problem zero; retain enough technological civilization to keep feeding ourselves AND get through the peak temperature period.  (Just like you have to eat every day, you can't go above 35 C wet-bulb for very long and live; the solution to these problems has to be continuous.)

As these things go, we haven't got much longer with stable agriculture; if we lose that, we're done.   You can't maintain civilization during a famine.  (Innumerable historical examples!)

But we also can't do anything effective towards the "local post-carbon toolkit" and "post-agricultural food supply" problems because most of the population is intensely committed to the status quo.

What does it take to get off the status quo?

  1. prosperity; 
    • in the time of angry weather, the existing housing stock is worthless.  The remnant middle class is defined by home ownership, and they vote.  Anything that acknowledges the worthlessness of the extant housing stock or the impracticality of the post-war suburban distribution pattern is a political non-starter.  So any political solution must involve a massive public home replacement program at guaranteed values.
    • wages are too low because of rent extraction and wealth concentration; the wealth concentration is a major source of political opposition to any change to the status quo of the role of society being to guarantee concentrations of wealth.  The way in which the infrastructure changeover is organized has to produce immediate, obvious increases in the material prosperity of pretty much everybody
    • you can use less energy if you're more efficient, but you can't generally get people to accept a lower standard of living.  Hot showers, good communications, soft beds, and a varied diet are absolute requirements of any intended social reorganization because everyone knows this isn't temporary.  This is the new pattern for civilization up to and past the temperature peak.
    • really large fractions of the population do not care about the future more than they care about not feeling that they have lost status right now.  A major sales effort will be required.
  2. accounting
    • capitalism works by keeping costs of the books to increase what can be considered profit.  (If you have to pay people what they want for their homes, that mine won't make money (or happen at all), et  multi cetera.)  It turns out this is how you get most of our current problems. 
    • You can keep a market economy but you have to do the accounting accurately.  General-case emissions taxes would be a good start.  (All emissions, not just carbon.) Otherwise, the system is missing feedbacks and inevitably becomes destructive.
    • the human trick is ganging up on problems; we're darn near eusocial.  Current capitalist orthodoxy insists on individuals or corporations.  We're going to need more, and flexibly arrived at, patterns of collective organization.  Which means we're going to have to forbid the "protect wealth concentration" version, which is the social equivalent of a destructive invasive like phragmites or kudzu.
    • some model for ecological services that prices them accurately (that is, these things are expensive; killing soil by paving it should ALSO be expensive)
  3. technology
    • we've got (nigh) all the pieces
    • major challenges are all "do something that will really displace an incumbent" political problems, rather than technical possibility.
    • we need something that doesn't depend on long supply chains or just-in-time fulfillment or presume an integrated trans-national economy of several billion. Those aren't bad things, but they're not resilient things.  We need to replace the Industrial Revolution coal, iron, and brass toolkit with something a couple million people can keep going over a (relatively) small geographical area, and build up from there.  Trade is good but all the ports are going to drown; we mustn't plan on steady, high-volume trade.
  4. food
    • decarbonized agriculture; no fossil carbon anything, whether fuel, fertilizer, or pesticides.
    • post-agricultural food supply; this necessarily means management practices that increase diversity and disparity of the organisms because we're going to be compelled to optimize robustness in the food supply, rather than productivity per person (which is what mechanized agriculture optimizes).
    • diversity; the massive reliance on wheat, maize, and rice is going to end.  We're going to be eating a lot of weird stuff and need to work at getting as much of it into the future as we can.
    • bioaccumulating anything-that-isn't-food is a problem; plastics, pseudo-hormonal compounds, persistent toxins in pesticides, anything like that. Keeping a reliable food supply means not doing that.  (An organism turns food into shit; an ecology turns shit into food.  If the ecology can't turn it into food, you can't emit it.)

Systems have common properties

They can all be modelled as stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Current anglosphere politics never mentions constraints.

So; extractive capitalism as practiced is the idea that you get rich by some combination of not permitting costs on the books, or at least by not permitting costs on your books.  Anything you can charge a rent for is an opportunity for extractive capitalism.  Flint, Michigan's created water crisis (it's a real crisis, but it happened because someone created it by means of improving their extractive position without regard to anything not on their books) is a simple example.  So is the classic "landlord won't do maintenance" tenancy problem.

This has three large problems.  One is that the outcomes are undesirable to the majority of the population, and in nominal democracies this ought to allow adjustments as to what must be accounted for when determining profit.  Two is that the available loot has diminished sharply from the 19th and 20th centuries; about the only really major opportunities involve extracting from your internal population, which is most of what creates problem one.  Problem three is that it's increasingly obvious that this whole "not including in the determination of profit" accounting is going to stop; it might stop due to a collective rush of sense to the head, or it might stop due to an extinction event, but it's going to stop.

Systems get more extreme in preference to changing to some other system.  What we're seeing with the rise of fascist politics is the absolutely standard oligarch response to "you'll have to stop looting"; genocide is much preferable to any diminished profit, and looting produces profit, so.... (Yes, really.  The purpose of a system is what it does.  If what it's doing is genocide, that's what's it's for.  The current atmospheric carbon load trend direction is unquestionably genocide.  There are lots of others.)

It's important to keep in mind that the "let's murder a minority" response isn't inevitable; it's even quite trivial to not have that.  (Raise wages until people are economically secure.  Oligarchs never pick this one.)

The prefered material outcome is for wages to rise, and the spread in incomes to drop.  This is why I like income and asset caps; no only does it remove the "if I can keep these people dying of being poisoned off the books, I can make enormous quantities of money" motivation, it makes it hard to buy political influence.  Between not being all that much more prosperous than anybody else and everybody being relatively decently provided for, buying influence gets difficult.

29 October 2018

Constructions of democracy

Democracy is a creature of the hoplite phalanx, the fyrd, the oared warship, and the regiment of riflemen.  Democratic institutions arise and prosper in conditions in which large portions of the population are required to participate in the mechanisms of territorial control.

The need for riflement stopped being so as of 1915; the need for troops and industrial workers stopped being  the case about 1970.  We've seen circumstances where democracy benefits no-one for two whole generations now. (If you're not an oligarch, you can't use the political process to improve your economic circumstances; if you are an oligarch, you can't have the law entirely as you desire.)

This is the core problem with saying "vote!"; voting doesn't get you anything you want.

It's entirely possible to fix that, but it requires a political calculation that it's better to address current material needs than to maintain the status quo.  It's not easy to get a political system to do that; the status quo is always more advantageous to the powerful than change.  (In Canada, we've got to the point where major parties are pretending to embrace change.  Be interesting to see if one actually does, rather than becoming more and more willing to commit atrocities to maintain the status quo.)

24 October 2018

Justice and Legitimacy

Just is the label used for the acts and conditions which increase the perceived legitimacy of government.  (The only legitimacy a government may have.)

Democratic forms of government presuppose agreement on the nature of justice.  (Justice the word "displaced Middle English rightwished", a term which might be easier to think about having fewer statues.)

If instead you have a party which constructs their notion of justice as "does not levy taxes" and another party which constructs their notion of justice as "provides for the common needs" (defense, transport, education, environment...), you get a situation in which the legislative priority becomes damaging the legitimacy of the government in the view of the other, opposed party.

This happens even if it is not intended; a legislature in control of the first party prefers the homeless to die in doorways to raising taxes. The dead diminish the legitimacy of government in the view of the second party, whether or not this was the first party's intent.  Should it become the first party's intent -- if they recognize that the way to secure their power involves creating a belief that the second party's ideals of justice are materially impossible -- you get the first party adopting a legislative agenda which, to the second party, amounts to "maximize injustice".

It's not accidental and it's not incidental to economic goals.  It's in pursuit of a sincerely held ideal, an ideal which insists that being concerned with the count of the dead in the doorways is not just.

(Remember that bit about how any moral system can give arbitrary results if you can pick the context?  That's what this is.)

22 October 2018

The cruelty is a means

There's been a bunch of people asserting that the cruelty is the point.  I can see where they're coming from, but, no, the cruelty is a means.

Any moral system is fundamentally arbitrary; you can get any result you want through selecting context.  (You can watch this happen in most of the press.)

If moral systems are widely used, this creates a social role for "selector of moral context"; it doesn't matter if it's as priest or a psychologist or a tabloid editor or a judge or a local gerontocracy.  Someone's social role involves picking the context for the moral judgement.

Once you've got the role, you want to keep it.  Keeping it requires that other people in your social system acknowledge that you have the power to declare the moral context.  Arguments over who has this power have historically tended violent; "a priesthood of all believers" is a statement that everyone (in context of its time, every male head of household) got to set their own moral context and make decisions on that basis.  There was a generation of war in consequence, because any existing system wants to keep existing and will not and cannot tolerate having the basis of its social power removed.  And this is a kind of power that must be used to be maintained; there's a constant competition for who really gets to say, socially.

That's what the cruelty is for; you use cruelty to demonstrate your power to set the moral context. (If it doesn't have a potential social cost to agree with it, it wouldn't be a demonstration of power.)  Facts explicitly and necessarily have nothing to do with it.  (This is why you have a class of very rich people proud of their innumeracy.)  People go along so they can reinforce their goodness, which is inherently what people say they are.

It's not the poor who go anti-vax; it's the upper class.  They go anti-vax because having to acknowledge intractable facts is equivalent to having to admit that good and bad are not what they say they are; that they do not have entire control of the moral system.  And in a moral system, either you have the power to declare the context -- to say what is good, and what is bad -- or you do not.

This is precisely why authoritarians insist that the problem is _saying bad things_, rather than doing bad things; saying bad things about people questions their authority, which is functionally the power to declare the context for moral judgement.  It's precisely why low-status authoritarians support the whole system; it's a known context in which they are good.  That's pretty much what it's "for" at the participant level; you've outsourced a lot of your insecurity management to the people deciding what the moral context is.  You get a lot of truly vehement responses, because any threat to this, even apparently entirely trivial threats, is equivalent to "I am going to hurt you until you admit you're a bad person".

Pretty much anyone engaged in that exercise of power started as a child in a moral system social context, and they aren't necessarily conscious of how it works and they either want to be good -- which requires a greater authority to convey -- or they're completely disinterested in anyone else's notions of good and bad, having defined "good" as "I get what I want".

The fix for this is not a better moral system (that great trap of the social left); any moral system inherently requires that selection of context because "good" and "bad" are preference statements and inherently contextual.  (Someone has to be doing the preferring.)

The fix is to argue measurable material outcomes and organize society around those; the difficulty is that most people would rather be good.  It's not a live-and-let-live circumstance.