amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, April 24, 2017

Decelerationist Grumblings

If futurologists were really progressive they would be celebrating struggle not speed.

Social justice is built at the speed of life, not the speed of light.

Beware the one who peddles violence via velocity.

Freedom happens at the speed of consent.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Still Having Occasional Thoughts

Utopia and dystopia are futurological variations on satire and panegyric in which criticism is blunted by prediction for marketing purposes.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ten Theses On Taxes And Democracy


An Amor Mundi Tax Day tradition:
One 
Hostility to taxes is commonplace among anarchists, as well as for right-wing "conservatives" whose advocacy of "smaller" or "more limited" government amounts to anarchism -- since advocacy of ever smaller, ever more limited government without indicating what good government actually is and alone can accomplish is substantially equivalent to anti-governmentality. Exploitation of discontent over taxes is also commonplace among neoliberal/neoconservative right-wing politicians and thinkers who want to ensure taxes subsidize primarily the fortunes of incumbent elites through extractive-industrial-financial corporate-militarism backed by complacent consumerism and organized violence. I for one do not want to smash states, but to democratize them. And an understanding and championing of taxes should be no less indispensable to the work of democratization as its obfuscation and demonization is indispensable to the work of anti-democratization.
Two 
Taxes are not really the price we pay for a civilized society -- in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s, influential phrase -- for civilization is priceless. This is just to say that commonwealth is not a private commodity but a public good. Taxes are not, for example, fees for discrete services that might be provided otherwise, nor are taxes a price for which there might be discount alternatives. Perhaps the true spirit of Holmes' phrase is captured best in a negative formulation: anti-tax zealots would appear to believe that civilization is the only free lunch.
Three 
Certainly taxes are not theft, as anarchists of the right and the left are so pleased to declare, since taxation is a precondition for the constitution and ongoing intelligibility of the claim to ownership on which notions of theft depend in the first place.
Four 
Neither should taxes be mischaracterized as forced contributions to what might instead be charitable causes, since the basic rights secured through taxation cannot be regarded as matters of charity else they are not truly rights but mere favors bestowed by privileged elites.
Five 
Taxes are not, however annoying they may seem, burdens on our freedom so much as essential enablers of freedom. Taxes, government bonds, and public fees support the public investments maintaining the legal, infrastructural, and administrative material conditions alone within which political freedom can abide.
Six 
Taxes ameliorate undemocratic concentrations of wealth and authority to secure sufficient equity among citizens of diverse fortune. The equity valued by democracy ensures that the diversity also valued by democracy does not disable the demanding and costly democratic processes facilitating collective responsibility, expression, criticism, problem-solving and the interminable reconciliation of the aspirations of all the people with whom we share and contest the present world.
Seven 
Taxes pay for the maintenance of institutions providing nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes. Taxes pay to secure basic needs to ensure that the scene of consent to everyday association is reliably informed and is non-duressed by the threat of deprivation, inequity, or insecurity. And taxes pay for the accountable administration of commons and public goods without which they are inevitably violated and exploited for short-term profit-taking by minorities to the cost and risk of majorities. Far from representing quintessential state violence, taxes are the enabling condition of a democratic state facilitating nonviolence.
Eight 
Taxes coupled to representation itself ("No Taxation Without Representation") tie the maintenance of government as such -- an organization invested with legitimate recourse to force with all the clear dangers inhering in that state of affairs -- inextricably to public accountability and democratic legitimacy.
Nine 
Taxing more those who profit more by their personal recourse to the shared inheritance of human knowledge and culture, to the shared substance of precarious environmental resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing, and to the ongoing benefits of collaboratively maintained infrastructure, institutions, norms, trust, legitimacy, and security is not unfair in the least. Progressive taxation follows quite simply from a recognition of the indisputable fact of our radical inter-dependence as both productive and vulnerable beings in the world. This same recognition, of course, is also the foundation for fairness.
Ten 
Whenever a right wing politician declares all government wasteful, criminal, or corrupt you should pay close attention, because he is revealing his intentions. Wherever government is meant to be of by and for the people, to be anti-government always means to be against the great majority of the people.

Monday, April 10, 2017

They Call It The Cloud

"The Internet" is the buzzsaw into which the genius of already more than one generation has been poured and sprayed out as a bloody mist.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Friday, March 31, 2017

Contract Ratified!

Our first union negotiated contract was overwhelmingly ratified by the membership yesterday.

Come what may, I have acquired a host of benefits and guarantees at school that really turn things around for me. I will now get paid to perform professional functions, like advisement and committee work. I have gained the right to a week's paid bereavement should a loved one die. If the school cancels a class at the last minute, there is now a few hundred dollars' fee I would get to defray all the costs of designing the course (not to mention the cost of turning down possible alternate courses elsewhere). I have gained good faith consideration to re-teach successful classes if they are offered again later. Perhaps you will be shocked to discover that I have not had these benefits before.

Speaking of such little shocks, since I have been teaching at SFAI as a member of the "Visiting Faculty" full time since 2004 and since past service is being respected or "grandfathered" in the calculation of new positions and salaries it is actually conceivable that the result of our labor struggle for me personally will be a shift from thirteen years of single-semester appointments with at-will contracts (that is a "contract" you can be fired from at any time, for any reason, and even without a reason) at the bottom of the school's pay scale, I could now suddenly find myself re-designated a "Senior Lecturer" with a three-year renewable contract, a 20% raise or more, grievance procedures and representatives securing my job position, and a host of new protections and supports.

These days of Trump Republicanism have been deranging and demoralizing, but this labor struggle at SFAI has been years ongoing and it bears remembering that there is always so much more than one thing going on at once in politics.

I was one of the "founders" of SFAI's Visiting Faculty Association in (I think it was) 2012, back when we had to pretend to be a social club to find a space to air grievances and organize under the eyes of a suspicious administration (we're on our third President since then!) that was obsessed about keeping us from ever assembling, organizing, even communicating... You know, not a single colleague with whom I participated in those very first few Visiting Club Association events is still at SFAI with me -- one found a marginally better adjunct job for which she uprooted her whole life, another left adjunct teaching altogether as a no-win situation. They were not wrong to leave, we are not wrong to long to live better lives. It's just that these struggles take forever. They have vicissitudes -- there are many false victories and also false dead-ends. Everything feels like it is going to hell, and then something you've been fighting forever for suddenly goes well. This is true of all politics, but I must say that the lesson of the political struggles I have not simply followed but in which I put my ass out there in the world in a real way for a real length of time (union stuff in middle age, say, Queer Nation stuff in my youth) is that eventually you win much more than seems possible when things seem worst.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Union!

I voted today to ratify the first contract negotiated by a committee of my colleagues and representatives of my union at SFAI. You may remember our struggle to be represented by SEIU 1021 in the first place, documented in a series of posts here, mostly a few years back, especially in 2013 and 2014. All these years in between, a handful of dedicated adjuncts just as precarious and exhausted as me have been going round after round after round with the administration on my behalf. There have been stretches months long during which I all but gave up hope that this day would come -- I can only imagine the demoralization and rage folks on the committee in the very belly of the beast have been living through all these years... Years! If the contract is ratified, as I expect it to be, it may well be a life-changing event for me. After the dust settles in upcoming weeks I'll report on the aftermath, and perhaps gather all the posts narrating this mini saga together.